Emil Ferris/Fantagraphics
Emil Ferris/Fantagraphics

The 10 Most Interesting Comics of February

Emil Ferris/Fantagraphics
Emil Ferris/Fantagraphics

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 Wild Storm #1

By Warren Ellis, Jon Davis-Hunt and Ivan Plascencia
DC Comics

Twenty years ago, Warren Ellis began writing Stormwatch for superstar artist Jim Lee’s new company, Wildstorm. That title would lead directly into The Authority, a comic that would influence the storytelling style of superhero comics from that point forward and made Wildstorm (by then owned by DC Comics) one of the most important publishing imprints of the early 21st century. Things change quickly in comics, though, and by 2010, DC shut down Wildstorm, folding some of its characters like Grifter and Midnighter into the newly rebooted DCU.

Now, DC has recruited Ellis to curate a new line of Wildstorm comics beginning with a 24-issue series called The Wild Storm, written by Ellis himself along with artist Jon Davis-Hunt. Some classic characters and concepts like The Engineer, Jenny Sparks, Wetworks, and the HALO Corp. will get rebooted and some new ideas will be introduced, all with Ellis’s familiar penchant for political paranoia, tough female leads and cutting edge technology.

2. My Favorite Thing is Monsters

By Emil Ferris
Fantagraphics

Flipping through this 300-plus page graphic novel, you can understand why it might have taken its author 15 years to create. Made to look like the notebook diary of a 10-year-old girl, each page is filled with elaborately rendered drawings done in ball point pen on lined paper. But Ferris’s early process on her debut book was dramatically disrupted when she contracted the West Nile Virus, becoming paralyzed from the waist down and losing the use of her right hand. This did not deter the 40-year-old single mom from re-focusing her life on making art and finishing her book. If that wasn’t enough, Ferris faced one more obstacle when the shipment of final printed copies of the book was detained by the Panamanian government after the shipping company went bankrupt, delaying the release of this book by four months.

The first of two volumes, My Favorite Thing is Monsters is a fictional memoir about a young girl in 1960s Chicago who is trying to solve the murder of her upstairs neighbor, a Holocaust survivor. Ferris pulls in elements of horror films and pulp magazines as well as an aesthetic of 1960s underground comix to tell a challenging story about history, family, outsiderism, adolescence, and murder.

3. Wonder Woman Rebirth Vol. 1: The Lies

By Greg Rucka, Liam Sharp and Laura Martin
DC Comics

The first volumes of DC’s Rebirth-branded trade paperbacks are hitting bookstores six months after the relaunch of all of DC’s ongoing titles. Wonder Woman has been one of the best of these Rebirth comics, spearheaded by fan-favorite writer Greg Rucka, who returned to the character with the mission of fixing some continuity discrepancies that arose during DC’s last reboot. Published biweekly, the comic has an interesting publishing schedule because it jumps between two ongoing stories every other issue: the first, a “Year One” tale of Diana’s first encounter with Steve Trevor and the world outside her Amazonian home, and the other, a present day adventure with Trevor, Etta Candy, and Barbara “Cheetah” Minerva in which Diana journeys back home to rediscover her past. DC is logically collecting each story separately so Volume One contains just the present day story. Veteran comic creators Liam Sharp and Laura Martin produce breathtakingly detailed work here, full of stunning exotic locales and a visual rendition of Wonder Woman that is beautiful and regal yet also physically solid and intimidating.

4. Pretending is Lying

By Dominique Goblet
New York Review Comics

Goblet’s 2007 graphic novel is being published in English for the first time through the brand new comics division of the venerable New York Review of Books. It is a personal, revealing memoir told with a variety of experimental art styles, jumping between multiple narratives. Each section explores Goblet at a different point in her life from childhood to motherhood. The award-winning artist came out of the Franco-Belgian independent comics scene of the 1990s and was an early contributor for influential publisher Frémok. She crafted the stories that comprise Pretending is Lying over the course of 12 years, and while they are ostensibly about Goblet herself, they are even moreso about her relationships with the three most important people in her life: her father, her boyfriend and her daughter.

5. Black History in its Own Words

By Ron Wimberly
Image Comics

Though really more of a book of illustrations than a comic, this book is a labor of love from an exciting new voice in comics. Wimberly manages to pick thought-provoking quotes from a range of influential African-American voices and work them into a striking portrait of the subject done in his bold, graphic, and energetic style. His choices of subjects are interesting and, in some cases, more contemporary than you might expect for a “black history” project. His subjects include Angela Davis, Spike Lee, James Baldwin, Laverne Cox, George Herriman, Dave Chapelle, Serena Williams, Ice Cube, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and more. Wimberly’s project began at The Nib in 2015 and has since turned into something of an ongoing project with this book debuting some brand new portraits.

6. Weird Detective

By Fred Van Lente, Guiu Vilanova and Mauricio Wallace
Dark Horse Comics

Comics are rife with homages to the work of horror novelist H.P. Lovecraft, but there’s never been one that is so reverent and irreverent at the same time. Best described as “Law & Order with Cthulu,” this five-part series (released this month in trade paperback form) follows an NYPD detective whose body is inhabited by a tentacle-ridden creature from another world. His uncanny ability to instinctively solve almost any crime paired with his complete and total inability to act normal when interacting with other people is simply explained away by fellow cops as his “being from Canada.” His charade gets more difficult when he gets a new partner who has been charged with investigating him. With a lot of deadpan wit, Van Lente makes otherworldly, unspeakable Lovecraftian horror accessible and often hilarious while still being really unsettling.

7. Angel Catbird Vol. 2

By Margaret Atwood, Johnnie Christmas and Tamra Bonvillain
Dark Horse Comics

Acclaimed novelist and geek culture ally Margaret Atwood is back already with the middle volume of her graphic novel trilogy, which launched last September. This tongue-in-cheek tale of animal-human hybrids gets even more fanciful by introducing some faux-mythological characters in the vein of volume one’s Count Catula like Queen Nefer-kitty and Atheen-owl. This is a light-hearted comedy-adventure with a message that intersperses facts about caring for stray cats with the type of loony storylines you would find in Golden and Silver Age era comic books.

8. Dissolving Classroom

By Junji Ito
Vertical

Junji Ito is one of Japan’s great horror manga creators, known for works like Tomie and Uzumaki. His latest book, making its English language debut this month in the States, is a collection of loosely connected short stories. Ito’s ultra-realistic style is intricate with extra attention paid to grotesque scenes depicting horrific things like melting faces. There is a satirical bent to these stories that explore societal issues surrounding beauty, vanity and more.

9. Lovers in the Garden

By Anya Davidson
Retrofit Comics

Exploitation comics have been a popular trend for the past few years, with a number of comics deriving their lo-fi aesthetic and storytelling style from blaxploitation and grindhouse films as well as underground comics. Davidson’s addition to the genre is part blaxploitation, part feminist crime noir set in 1970s New York. This 64-page graphic novel follows an ensemble of characters including a black female reporter, two Vietnam vets, and a drug dealer who cross paths in a violent and engaging romp full of quirky, Tarantino-like conversations.

10. Spaniel Rage

By Vanessa Davis
Drawn & Quarterly

Originally published in 2003, Spaniel Rage is a collection of daily sketch comics about Davis’s day-to-day life as a single woman in New York City. It’s a little more Curb Your Enthusiasm than Sex in the City though. There’s some dating, but also a lot of self-doubt, awkward encounters with co-workers, honest conversations with friends, and self-deprecating jokes. The comics are all very loosely drawn, full of mistakes and smudges which only add to their honest and approachable charm. Davis has proven to be an influence on a lot of today’s young female cartoonists and this re-release aims to show that the work retains its relevance and influence more than a decade later.

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Zach Hyman, HBO
10 Bizarre Sesame Street Fan Theories
Zach Hyman, HBO
Zach Hyman, HBO

Sesame Street has been on the air for almost 50 years, but there’s still so much we don’t know about this beloved children’s show. What kind of bird is Big Bird? What’s the deal with Mr. Noodle? And how do you actually get to Sesame Street? Fans have filled in these gaps with frequently amusing—and sometimes bizarre—theories about how the cheerful neighborhood ticks. Read them at your own risk, because they’ll probably ruin the Count for you.

1. THE THEME SONG CONTAINS SECRET INSTRUCTIONS.

According to a Reddit theory, the Sesame Street theme song isn’t just catchy—it’s code. The lyrics spell out how to get to Sesame Street quite literally, giving listeners clues on how to access this fantasy land. It must be a sunny day (as the repeated line goes), you must bring a broom (“sweeping the clouds away”), and you have to give Oscar the Grouch the password (“everything’s a-ok”) to gain entrance. Make sure to memorize all the steps before you attempt.

2. SESAME STREET IS A REHAB CENTER FOR MONSTERS.

Sesame Street is populated with the stuff of nightmares. There’s a gigantic bird, a mean green guy who hides in the trash, and an actual vampire. These things should be scary, and some fans contend that they used to be. But then the creatures moved to Sesame Street, a rehabilitation area for formerly frightening monsters. In this community, monsters can’t roam outside the perimeters (“neighborhood”) as they recover. They must learn to educate children instead of eating them—and find a more harmless snack to fuel their hunger. Hence Cookie Monster’s fixation with baked goods.

3. BIG BIRD IS AN EXTINCT MOA.

Big Bird is a rare breed. He’s eight feet tall and while he can’t really fly, he can rollerskate. So what kind of bird is he? Big Bird’s species has been a matter of contention since Sesame Street began: Big Bird insists he’s a lark, while Oscar thinks he’s more of a homing pigeon. But there’s convincing evidence that Big Bird is an extinct moa. The moa were 10 species of flightless birds who lived in New Zealand. They had long necks and stout torsos, and reached up to 12 feet in height. Scientists claim they died off hundreds of years ago, but could one be living on Sesame Street? It makes sense, especially considering his best friend looks a lot like a woolly mammoth.

4. OSCAR’S TRASH CAN IS A TARDIS.

Oscar’s home doesn’t seem very big. But as The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland revealed, his trash can holds much more than moldy banana peels. The Grouch has chandeliers and even an interdimensional portal down there! There’s only one logical explanation for this outrageously spacious trash can: It’s a Doctor Who-style TARDIS.

5. IT’S ALL A RIFF ON PLATO.

Dust off your copy of The Republic, because this is about to get philosophical. Plato has a famous allegory about a cave, one that explains enlightenment through actual sunlight. He describes a prisoner who steps out of the cave and into the sun, realizing his entire understanding of the world is wrong. When he returns to the cave to educate his fellow prisoners, they don’t believe him, because the information is too overwhelming and contradictory to what they know. The lesson is that education is a gradual learning process, one where pupils must move through the cave themselves, putting pieces together along the way. And what better guide is there than a merry kids’ show?

According to one Reddit theory, Sesame Street builds on Plato’s teachings by presenting a utopia where all kinds of creatures live together in harmony. There’s no racism or suffocating gender roles, just another sunny (see what they did there?) day in the neighborhood. Sesame Street shows the audience what an enlightened society looks like through simple songs and silly jokes, spoon-feeding Plato’s “cave dwellers” knowledge at an early age.

6. MR. NOODLE IS IN HELL.

Can a grown man really enjoy taking orders from a squeaky red puppet? And why does Mr. Noodle live outside a window in Elmo’s house anyway? According to this hilariously bleak theory, no, Mr. Noodle does not like dancing for Elmo, but he has to, because he’s in hell. Think about it: He’s seemingly trapped in a surreal place where he can’t talk, but he has to do whatever a fuzzy monster named Elmo says. Definitely sounds like hell.

7. ELMO IS ANIMAL’S SON.

Okay, so remember when Animal chases a shrieking woman out of the college auditorium in The Muppets Take Manhattan? (If you don't, see above.) One fan thinks Animal had a fling with this lady, which produced Elmo. While the two might have similar coloring, this theory completely ignores Elmo’s dad Louie, who appears in many Sesame Street episodes. But maybe Animal is a distant cousin.

8. COOKIE MONSTER HAS AN EATING DISORDER.

Cookie Monster loves to cram chocolate chip treats into his mouth. But as eagle-eyed viewers have observed, he doesn’t really eat the cookies so much as chew them into messy crumbs that fly in every direction. This could indicate Cookie Monster has a chewing and spitting eating disorder, meaning he doesn’t actually consume food—he just chews and spits it out. There’s a more detailed (and dark) diagnosis of Cookie Monster’s symptoms here.

9. THE COUNT EATS CHILDREN.

Can a vampire really get his kicks from counting to five? One of the craziest Sesame Street fan theories posits that the Count lures kids to their death with his number games. That’s why the cast of children on Sesame Street changes so frequently—the Count eats them all after teaching them to add. The adult cast, meanwhile, stays pretty much the same, implying the grown-ups are either under a vampiric spell or looking the other way as the Count does his thing.

10. THE COUNT IS ALSO A PIMP.

Alright, this is just a Dave Chappelle joke. But the Count does have a cape.

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iStock
A New App Interprets Sign Language for the Amazon Echo
iStock
iStock

The convenience of the Amazon Echo smart speaker only goes so far. Without any sort of visual interface, the voice-activated home assistant isn't very useful for deaf people—Alexa only understands three languages, none of which are American Sign Language. But Fast Company reports that one programmer has invented an ingenious system that allows the Echo to communicate visually.

Abhishek Singh's new artificial intelligence app acts as an interpreter between deaf people and Alexa. For it to work, users must sign at a web cam that's connected to a computer. The app translates the ASL signs from the webcam into text and reads it aloud for Alexa to hear. When Alexa talks back, the app generates a text version of the response for the user to read.

Singh had to teach his system ASL himself by signing various words at his web cam repeatedly. Working within the machine-learning platform Tensorflow, the AI program eventually collected enough data to recognize the meaning of certain gestures automatically.

While Amazon does have two smart home devices with screens—the Echo Show and Echo Spot—for now, Singh's app is one of the best options out there for signers using voice assistants that don't have visual components. He plans to make the code open-source and share his full methodology in order to make it accessible to as many people as possible.

Watch his demo in the video below.

[h/t Fast Company]

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