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The 10 Most Interesting Comics of January

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Joe Ollmann/Drawn & Quarterly

Each month, we round up the most interesting comics, graphic novels, webcomics, digital comics and comic-related Kickstarters that we recommend you check out.

1. The Abominable Mr. Seabrook

By Joe Ollmann
Drawn & Quarterly

William Seabrook was a writer who gained renown and success by traveling to locales considered exotic and unknown to most white people during the ‘20s and ‘30s. He once tasted human flesh in order to write about cannibals in West Africa (though because he believed that the natives had given him ape meat, he ate human flesh in France after he purchased it from a hospital). But his true claim to fame was bringing the idea of the Haitian zombie to a wide audience. Seabrook’s interesting life was scandalous and disturbing for its time. He had a penchant for bondage and alcohol and would eventually drink himself to death.

Cartoonist Joe Ollmann has been working on this exhaustive biography of Seabrook for over 10 years. Almost every page is drawn in a dense, nine-panel grid and Ollmann packs in as many excursions, marriages, benders, and kinky dalliances as he can. It’s a compelling look at an interesting literary figure who is mostly forgotten today.

2. Beowulf

By Santiago Garcia and David Rubin
Image Comics

This visually stunning graphic novel is the latest adaptation of the famous poem. Spanish writer Santiago Garcia and artist David Rubin are faithful to the original but depict it with a modern visual style full of ultra-violence, gory details, and dynamic page designs. There are moments that come filtered through modern Hollywood horror and action films like Alien, Predator, and 300, in an effort to evoke the modern association of the word epic. Rubin, currently the artist on Dark Horse’s Ether, is an inventive and exciting artist who is about to become a superstar in the States. This book was originally published back in 2013 in Spain and is seeing its first English-language release this month.

3. Love is Love

By various
IDW and DC

Writer Marc Andreyko organized a star-studded assortment of writers and artists to create one- to two-page stories with an LGBTQ focus for this anthology benefitting the victims, survivors, and families of last year’s Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. DC Comics and IDW have joined forces to publish it, meaning we get an interesting mix of mainstream and indie creators telling some heartfelt stories about coming out, acceptance, and dealing with the truth of this tragedy; some of the stories feature familiar DC superheroes. The contributions range from heavy-handed to heartbreaking and profound. The contributors include big name comic creators like Mark Millar, Gail Simone, Jason Aaron, Jason Latour, and Jonathan Hickman as well as some comics-friendly celebrities like Patton Oswalt, Taran Killam and Damon Lindelof.

4. Superman Vol 1: Son of Superman

By Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Doug Mahnke and Jorge Jimenez
DC Comics

DC’s “Rebirth”—a relaunch of all their titles that aimed to overwrite 2011’s “New 52” relaunch—has largely been a critical and sales success. This month, the first batch of Rebirth-branded trade paperback collections hit stores, and most of these books are really worth checking out, especially if you’re a longtime DC fan who has been turned off by the direction the books have taken over the years. Unlike with a reboot, this relaunch is continuing the current status quo but with a tonal change to re-embrace the classic feel of DC’s style of super heroics. Of all these titles, Superman has the heaviest lift to make since DC had literally killed off Superman leading up to this relaunch. In this new book, they attempt to replace him with an older version of the character, transported from the multiverse along with his wife Lois and their son, Jonathan. This new Super-family is now attempting the trick of slipping into the lives of their deceased counterparts without anyone else realizing what’s up. Where this is all going and how DC makes it stick will be interesting to watch.

5. Resist!

By Various
Desert Island Bookstore

The first comic of the Trump era is a true work of political expression distributed for free during the Inauguration and the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. Resist! is a 40-page tabloid curated by Françoise Mouly, famed art editor of The New Yorker and co-creator of the influential 1980s alt-comic Raw. Mouly’s daughter, the writer Nadja Spiegelman, collaborated with her and Gabe Fowler of Brooklyn’s Desert Island Comics to sort through over 1000 submissions they received after a post-Election call for entires. The comics and illustrations chosen are from mostly female artists (contributions selected from male artists are pushed to the back in a section called “The Man Cave”) that include comics legends like Lynda Barry, Alison Bechdel and Roz Chast. Finding a copy may be tricky at this point, but if you’re lucky, your local comic shop may have one.

6. Loose Ends #1

By Jason Latour, Chris Brunner and Rico Renzi
Image Comics

About 10 years ago, a four-issue series called Loose Ends began publication through small press publisher 12 Gauge Comics. It was a “southern crime romance” by a young creative team led by Jason Latour, an artist who was making his first attempt at writing a comic. The final issue was never released, but Latour and Rico Renzi would soon go on to create the popular Spider-Gwen character for Marvel, and Latour would team with writer Jason Aaron to create the award-winning Southern Bastards, southern gothic crime that seems born out of this book in many ways.

Now, the series is finally being completed and re-released to a wider audience through Image Comics. The book’s artist, Chris Brunner, is a talented but still mostly unknown creator who will surely turn some heads and make a name for himself when more people check this book out.

7. Libby’s Dad

By Eleanor Davis
Retrofit Press

Eleanor Davis is prolific at creating short comics that pop up in various small press anthologies and one-off publications like this one which comes through Retrofit. It is a beautiful minicomic about that age when you’re still a little too young to fully grasp the world around you. The story takes place during a pool/slumber party at the house of quiet, somber Libby. Her group of friends can’t help but buzz about a rumor they heard involving Libby’s dad pulling a gun on her mom. The comic is told from the point of view of Alex, the youngest and most impressionable of the group and is drawn in a crayon-like manner that captures a nostalgic, child-like simplicity.

8. Supergirl: Being Super #1

By Mariko Tamaki, Joëlle Jones, Sandu Florea and Kelley Fitzpatrick
DC Comics

Thanks to the success of the new TV show, there's room in the market for multiple books with varying takes on Supergirl. This new four-issue series, written by Caldecott Medal award winner Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Eisner Award nominated artist Joëlle Jones, brings some YA-style teen drama with an origin story set outside of normal DC continuity that avoids all the typical Kryptonian setup. Kara Danvers knows there is something different about herself—especially during a memorable scene involving a super-powered zit—but she is more concerned with normal teenage girl stuff like yearbook photos, high school track and hanging out with her friends than being a superhero. This type of superhero story—removed from the intricate web of continuity and crossovers—is what companies like DC need to do more of in order to bring in the kind of audience that loves the Supergirl TV show.

9. Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

By Damian Duffy and John Jennings; adapted from the novel by Octavia Butler
Abrams

Octavia Butler’s 1979 novel Kindred is a classic work of sci-fi literature about an African-American woman who is transported through time from her suburban home in the 1970s to a pre-Civil War plantation where she encounters her ancestors: a white plantation owner and the black woman he has made his slave and concubine. Damian Duffy, an academic who has written about underrepresentation in comics, and John Jennings, an African-American artist and educator, have the honor of adapting this work into a new medium for potentially a new audience.

10. Adventure Time: Marshall Lee Spectacular

By Melanie Gillman, Mariko Tamaki, S.M. Vidaurri, Trungles, Asia Kendrick-Horton and Audrey Mok
Boom! Studios

As an added incentive for Comixology’s new “Unlimited” subscription service, the premier digital comics company is launching a line of original comics. The first of these books is a one-shot from Boom! Studios popular Adventure Time comics featuring Marshall Lee, the gender-swapped version of one of the show’s stars, Marceline. This comic features three stories by a group of diverse, up-and-coming creators led by award-winning writer Mariko Tamaki.

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The Elements
9 Diamond-Like Facts About Carbon
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iStock / Collage by Jen Pinkowski

How well do you know the periodic table? Our series The Elements explores the fundamental building blocks of the observable universe—and their relevance to your life—one by one.
 
 
It can be glittering and hard. It can be soft and flaky. It can look like a soccer ball. Carbon is the backbone of every living thing—and yet it just might cause the end of life on Earth as we know it. How can a lump of coal and a shining diamond be composed of the same material? Here are eight things you probably didn't know about carbon.

1. IT'S THE "DUCT TAPE OF LIFE."

It's in every living thing, and in quite a few dead ones. "Water may be the solvent of the universe," writes Natalie Angier in her classic introduction to science, The Canon, "but carbon is the duct tape of life." Not only is carbon duct tape, it's one hell of a duct tape. It binds atoms to one another, forming humans, animals, plants and rocks. If we play around with it, we can coax it into plastics, paints, and all kinds of chemicals.

2. IT'S ONE OF THE MOST ABUNDANT ELEMENTS IN THE UNIVERSE.

It sits right at the top of the periodic table, wedged in between boron and nitrogen. Atomic number 6, chemical sign C. Six protons, six neutrons, six electrons. It is the fourth most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen, and 15th in the Earth's crust. While its older cousins hydrogen and helium are believed to have been formed during the tumult of the Big Bang, carbon is thought to stem from a buildup of alpha particles in supernova explosions, a process called supernova nucleosynthesis.

3. IT'S NAMED AFTER COAL.

While humans have known carbon as coal and—after burning—soot for thousands of years, it was Antoine Lavoisier who, in 1772, showed that it was in fact a unique chemical entity. Lavoisier used an instrument that focused the Sun's rays using lenses which had a diameter of about four feet. He used the apparatus, called a solar furnace, to burn a diamond in a glass jar. By analyzing the residue found in the jar, he was able to show that diamond was comprised solely of carbon. Lavoisier first listed it as an element in his textbook Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, published in 1789. The name carbon derives from the French charbon, or coal.

4. IT LOVES TO BOND.

It can form four bonds, which it does with many other elements, creating hundreds of thousands of compounds, some of which we use daily. (Plastics! Drugs! Gasoline!) More importantly, those bonds are both strong and flexible.

5. NEARLY 20 PERCENT OF YOUR BODY IS CARBON.

May Nyman, a professor of inorganic chemistry at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon tells Mental Floss that carbon has an almost unbelievable range. "It makes up all life forms, and in the number of substances it makes, the fats, the sugars, there is a huge diversity," she says. It forms chains and rings, in a process chemists call catenation. Every living thing is built on a backbone of carbon (with nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and other elements). So animals, plants, every living cell, and of course humans are a product of catenation. Our bodies are 18.5 percent carbon, by weight.

And yet it can be inorganic as well, Nyman says. It teams up with oxygen and other substances to form large parts of the inanimate world, like rocks and minerals.

6. WE DISCOVERED TWO NEW FORMS OF IT ONLY RECENTLY.

Carbon is found in four major forms: graphite, diamonds, fullerenes, and graphene. "Structure controls carbon's properties," says Nyman.  Graphite ("the writing stone") is made up of loosely connected sheets of carbon formed like chicken wire. Penciling something in actually is just scratching layers of graphite onto paper. Diamonds, in contrast, are linked three-dimensionally. These exceptionally strong bonds can only be broken by a huge amount of energy. Because diamonds have many of these bonds, it makes them the hardest substance on Earth.

Fullerenes were discovered in 1985 when a group of scientists blasted graphite with a laser and the resulting carbon gas condensed to previously unknown spherical molecules with 60 and 70 atoms. They were named in honor of Buckminster Fuller, the eccentric inventor who famously created geodesic domes with this soccer ball–like composition. Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering this new form of carbon.

The youngest member of the carbon family is graphene, found by chance in 2004 by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov in an impromptu research jam. The scientists used scotch tape—yes, really—to lift carbon sheets one atom thick from a lump of graphite. The new material is extremely thin and strong. The result: the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

7. DIAMONDS AREN'T CALLED "ICE" BECAUSE OF THEIR APPEARANCE.

Diamonds are called "ice" because their ability to transport heat makes them cool to the touch—not because of their look. This makes them ideal for use as heat sinks in microchips. (Synthethic diamonds are mostly used.) Again, diamonds' three-dimensional lattice structure comes into play. Heat is turned into lattice vibrations, which are responsible for diamonds' very high thermal conductivity.

8. IT HELPS US DETERMINE THE AGE OF ARTIFACTS—AND PROVE SOME OF THEM FAKE.

American scientist Willard F. Libby won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 for developing a method for dating relics by analyzing the amount of a radioactive subspecies of carbon contained in them. Radiocarbon or C14 dating measures the decay of a radioactive form of carbon, C14, that accumulates in living things. It can be used for objects that are as much as 50,000 years old. Carbon dating help determine the age of Ötzi the Iceman, a 5300-year-old corpse found frozen in the Alps. It also established that Lancelot's Round Table in Winchester Cathedral was made hundreds of years after the supposed Arthurian Age.

9. TOO MUCH OF IT IS CHANGING OUR WORLD.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important part of a gaseous blanket that is wrapped around our planet, making it warm enough to sustain life. But burning fossil fuels—which are built on a carbon backbone—releases more carbon dioxide, which is directly linked to global warming. A number of ways to remove and store carbon dioxide have been proposed, including bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, which involves planting large stands of trees, harvesting and burning them to create electricity, and capturing the CO2 created in the process and storing it underground. Yet another approach that is being discussed is to artificially make oceans more alkaline in order to let them to bind more CO2. Forests are natural carbon sinks, because trees capture CO2 during photosynthesis, but human activity in these forests counteracts and surpasses whatever CO2 capture gains we might get. In short, we don't have a solution yet to the overabundance of C02 we've created in the atmosphere.

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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