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Emil Ferris/Fantagraphics

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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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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iStock
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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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iStock

Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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