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The 10 Most Interesting Comics of February

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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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25 Things You Should Know About Tucson
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The west is still wild in Tucson. Surrounded by breathtaking mountains, Arizona’s second-largest city attracts artists, astronomers, outdoorsy types and at least one rare cat. Read on for more Tucson trivia.

1) Some of the earliest evidence of corn cultivation in North America comes from Pima County, Arizona, where Tucson is located. Archaeologists have recovered kernels estimated to be 4000 years old within 60 miles of the city.

2) Towering above the downtown area is an iconic mountain called Sentinel Peak. Look at it from a distance and you may notice that the base is darker than the summit. The native Tohono O’odham people called this landmark Ts-iuk-shan—which is a corruption of their word for “black base.” Spaniards later turned Ts-iuk-shan into Tucson.

3) On March 20, 1880, a passenger train rolled into Tucson for the first time. Mayor R.N. Leatherwood sent out telegrams to dignitaries to publicize the occasion, writing to Pope Leo XIII that the railroad now linked "this ancient and honorable pueblo" with the rest of the Christian world. Newspapers began calling Tucson “the A. and H. Pueblo,” which gradually shrunk to its current nickname, “the Old Pueblo.”

4) If you’re a stargazer, Tucson is one of the best spots in the U.S. for astronomy. In 1972, Pima County enacted a “dark sky” code to regulate the brightness and number of outdoor bulbs in an effort to help local observatories like one at Kitt Peak. Now Tucson suffers from far less light pollution than most cities do, allowing stars and planets to shine through the darkness.

5) Above Broadway Boulevard, you can walk through the belly of a giant metal snake. A covered bridge for pedestrians and cyclists, this serpentine structure is designed to look like a diamondback rattlesnake, whose gaping jaw and fangs form the entrance.

6) By day, it looks like a big plastic doughnut. But after sundown, the solar-powered Desert O sculpture lights up in an array of vibrant colors. The ring, owned by the city of Tucson, is 6 feet in diameter and uses LED lights to create a brilliant display with a different color combo for every night of the week.

7) In 1970, then-mayor Jim Corbett called Tucson's East Speedway Boulevard the "ugliest street in America." At the time, it was enveloped by garish billboards that obscured the city's beautiful vistas. Then Life magazine ran a two-page photo of the forest of road signs and advertisements. The embarrassing spotlight led to Tucson's sign code, passed in the 1980s, which gradually limited billboards and tacky signage.

8) According to Guinness World Records, Davis-Monthan Airforce Base in Tucson has the largest aircraft repair shop and storage facility on Earth. Covering 2600 acres, it could house 4200 aircraft and 40 aerospace vehicles at one time, while still leaving room for 350,000 production tools.

9) In 2013, a new species of scorpion was discovered in the Santa Catalina Mountains, which are visible from downtown Tucson. Biologist Rob Bryson Jr. discovered the species in the Santa Catalinas' "sky islands"—isolated mountaintop habitats known for their biodiversity.

10) Cyclists should consider dropping by on the last Saturday before Thanksgiving for El Tour de Tucson, Arizona's largest and longest-running cycling event. The series of races attracts more than 9000 bike enthusiasts per year and usually raises about $2 million for local charities.

11) Hugo O’Conor, an Irish colonel in the Spanish army, is regarded by some as the founder of Tucson. Although a Spanish mission had been operating in present-day Tucson since 1692, and Native American communities before that, O’Conor arranged to have a military base for Spain's army set up on the site in 1775, resulting in a population boom for the city. O'Conor's red hair and courage in battle gave him the nickname “The Red Captain.”

12) The United States Handball Association Hall of Fame is located on North Tucson Boulevard.

13) Five years after peace was declared in the Mexican-American War, the U.S. bought the lower third of Arizona, which included Tucson, from Mexico. The $10 million transaction, known as the Gadsden Purchase, was finalized in 1854 and added a 30,000-square-mile territory to the United States. The expansion allowed Gadsden, a railroad promoter, to build a transcontinental railroad through the new territory.

14) One of the largest rock shows in the country, the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show attracts around 50,000 people annually. In addition to hosting gemstone scholars and dealers, the annual convention has exhibited the most dazzling rocks in existence—like the Hope diamond, lunar rocks collected by NASA astronauts, and the eye-popping Logan sapphire.

15) The Arizona State University Sun Devils and the University of Arizona Wildcats have a longstanding rivalry that dates back to their first meeting in 1889. Each year, the teams compete for the Territorial Cup, the oldest rivalry trophy in college football. The Wildcats play regular home games in their 56,000-seat stadium in midtown Tucson.

16) Speaking of the University of Arizona, it was founded in 1891—21 years before Arizona achieved statehood.

17) Tucson's world-class culinary scene was recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2015 as a “Capital of Gastronomy.” Only 18 cities around the world have been given this title, and no other American city has cracked the list yet. Jonathan Mabry, a historic preservation officer in Tucson, filed the application for the city. “There are more heritage foods grown within 100 miles of Tucson than any other city in North America,” he told Smithsonian.com.

18) The Fourth Avenue Underpass doubles as a one-of-a-kind photo gallery. Roughly 7000 tiles bearing black and white portraits of 21st-century Tucsonans line the walls.

19) Four national flags have flown over the Old Pueblo. Spain ruled Tucson and the rest of Mexico until 1821. Then Mexico itself took over, but sold Tucson and much more territory to the United States in 1854 (see #13). When the Civil War broke out, the city joined the Confederacy and flew the Confederate flag from February to June 1862. Then Union forces, bearing the American flag, took the city back

20) Tucson is the oldest incorporated city in Arizona (and has been since incorporating in 1877).

21) For a few weeks in 1933, radio listeners in Tucson could enjoy a local show hosted by a very young Ray Bradbury. At age 12, he landed a gig at KGAR reciting comic strips on the air every Saturday night. “My pay was free tickets to see King Kong, Murders in the Wax Museum, and The Mummy,” he later reminisced. “You can’t do any better than that.”

22) El Charro Café is the oldest Mexican restaurant in the U.S. continuously operated by the same family. It may also be the birthplace of the chimichanga. As the legend goes, they were invented by Monica Flin, who established El Charro in 1922. She once flipped a burrito right into the fryer, splattering oil everywhere. Since kids were within earshot, she resisted the urge to curse and yelled “chimichanga,” a slang word that means thingamajig, instead.

23) The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures is truly larger than life. A gallery of scale models, it boasts more than 300 tiny room boxes and houses. Some examples predate the Revolutionary War.

24) Downtown, a street known as Calle Carlos Arruza honors one of the greatest bullfighters in history, Mexican-born Carlos Arruza, whose nickname was El Ciclon (The Cyclone). According to historian David Leighton, Calle Carlos Arruza is one of the very few streets—possibly the only street—in the U.S. named after a bullfighter.

25) Only two non-captive jaguars, the largest cats in the New World, are known to reside within the U.S. One of them, nicknamed El Jefe, is a Tucson celebrity. Discovered in 2011, he can be found stalking the Santa Rita Mountains 25 miles south of the city. Jaguars are a near-threatened species: biologists estimate that about 15,000 are left in the wild.

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The Night the Brat Pack Was Born
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If Emilio Estevez had opted to pay for his movie ticket, the Brat Pack might never have been born. It was spring 1985, and Estevez—then the 23-year-old co-star of St. Elmo’s Fire—was being profiled in New York Magazine. The angle was that Estevez had just signed a deal to write, direct, and star in his own feature, That Was Then... This is Now, an opportunity that was rarely afforded to young Hollywood talent. Estevez was two years younger than Orson Welles was when he performed similar duties for 1941’s Citizen Kane.

That youthful exuberance was on display as New York writer David Blum followed Estevez in and around Los Angeles for several days gathering material for the story. With Blum in tow, Estevez decided that he wanted to catch a screening of Ladyhawke, a fantasy film starring Matthew Broderick. For reasons not made entirely clear, he preferred not to have to pay for a ticket. According to Blum, Estevez called the theater and politely asked for free admission before entering an 8 p.m. screening.

It's likely Estevez was just having a little fun with his celebrity. But to Blum, it was indicative of a mischievous, slightly grating sense of entitlement. Blum’s assessment was that Estevez was acting “bratty,” an impression he felt was reinforced when he witnessed a gathering of other young actors at LA’s Hard Rock Cafe for the same story.

What was supposed to be a modest profile of Estevez turned into a cover story declaration: Hollywood’s “Brat Pack” was here, and they had decided to forego the earnest acting study preferred by their predecessors to spend their nights partying instead.

The day the story hit newsstands, Blum received a call from Estevez. “You’ve ruined my life,” he said.

The June 1985 cover of New York magazine
New York, Google Books

Blum’s label had its roots in the Rat Pack of the 1960s, so named for the carousing boys' club led by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. Whether it was accurate or not, the performers developed reputations for squeezing every last drink, perk, and joke they could out of their celebrity well into middle age.

That dynamic was on Blum’s mind when New York dispatched him to cover Estevez. After he arrived in California, Blum took note of the fact that a tight cluster of actors seemed to have formed a group, both on- and off-screen. Estevez was close friends with Rob Lowe and Tom Cruise, and all of them appeared in 1983’s The Outsiders; Lowe and Estevez were co-starring in St. Elmo’s Fire, a coming-of-age drama that also featured Andrew McCarthy and Judd Nelson; Estevez and Nelson gained a lot of attention for 1984’s The Breakfast Club.

To Blum, Estevez was more than just a multi-hyphenate; he appeared to be the nucleus of a group that spent a lot of time working and playing together. And in fairness to Blum, Estevez didn’t dissuade the writer from that take: Fearing he was coming off as too serious in the profile, Estevez asked Lowe and Nelson to hang out with him at Los Angeles’s Hard Rock Cafe so Blum could see the actor's lighter side.

Nelson would later recall that he felt uneasy around Blum. “Why is this guy having dinner with us?” he asked Estevez. Lowe, meanwhile, was busy flirting with women approaching their table. The group later went to a "punk rock" club, with a Playboy Playmate tagging along.

As celebrity hedonism goes, it was a tame evening. But Blum walked away with the idea that Estevez was the unofficial president of an exclusive club—attractive actors who were soaking up success while idling late into the night.

Blum returned to New York with a different angle for his editors. He wanted to capture this “Brat Pack,” a “roving band” of performers “on the prowl” for good times. Although the magazine had just run a cover story about a teenage gang dubbed “the wolf pack” and feared repetition, they agreed.

As far as Estevez and the others were concerned, Blum was busy executing a piece on Estevez’s ambitions as a writer and director. When Estevez, Nelson, and Lowe appeared on the cover—taken from a publicity still for St. Elmo’s Fire—with his newly-coined phrase, they were horrified.

Blum began getting calls from angry publicists from each of the actors mentioned in the article—and there had been a lot of them. In addition to Estevez, the de facto leader, and lieutenants Lowe and Nelson, Blum had dubbed go-to John Hughes geek Anthony Michael Hall the “mascot”; Timothy Hutton was said to be on the verge of excommunication for his film “bombs”; Tom Cruise, Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage, and Matt Dillon were also mentioned.

To the actors, the effect was devastating. Independent of how they spent their free time, all of them were pursuing serious careers as performers, with producers, directors, and casting agents mindful of their portrayal in the media. Being a Brat Packer was synonymous with being listless, or not taking their craft seriously.

Nelson recalled the blowback was immediate: Managers told him to stop socializing with his friends for fear he’d be stigmatized as unreliable. “These were people I worked with, who I really liked as people, funny, smart, committed to the work,” he said in 2013. “I mean, no one was professionally irresponsible. And after that article, not only [were] we strongly encouraged not to work with each other again, and for the most part we haven’t, but it was insinuated we might not want to be hanging out with these people.”

Universal Pictures

Some of the actors went on The Phil Donahue Show to criticize the profile, asserting that their remarks to Blum had been off-the-record. (Blum denied this.) Lowe told the media that Blum had “burned bridges” and that he was “no Hunter S. Thompson.” Andrew McCarthy called Blum a “lazy … journalist” and found the idea of an actor “tribe” absurd—he had never even met Anthony Michael Hall.

Unfortunately, the name stuck. “Brat Pack” was infectious—a catch-all for the kind of young performer emerging in the ‘80s who could be seen in multiple ensemble movies. While Blum would later express regret over the label, it’s never quite left the public consciousness. In 2005, Universal released a DVD boxed set—The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Sixteen Candles—as The Brat Pack Collection.

Nelson, Estevez, and Lowe never again appeared in a movie together. “Personally, the biggest disappointment about it is that ‘Brat Pack’ will somehow figure in my obituary at [the] hands of every lazy and unoriginal journalist,” Estevez told a reporter in 2011. “Warning: My ghost will come back and haunt them.”

Nelson was slightly less forgiving. In a 2013 podcast, he chastised Blum for his mischaracterization of the group of young actors. “I would have been better served following my gut feeling and knocking him unconscious.”

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