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The 12 Most Interesting Comics Released in March

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R. Sikoryak/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. Terms and Conditions

By R. Sikoryak
Drawn & Quarterly


It’s a safe bet that nearly every iTunes user has chosen not to read Apple’s epic Terms and Conditions before clicking the “Agree” button. In one of the oddest ideas ever put into comic form, R. Sikoryak has taken the actual text from that novel-length agreement and basically used it as “Lorem ipsum” to fill in the word balloons in an exploration of the visual language of comic books. Like an impressionist comedian, he mimics the style of many of the greats of comic book history like Frank Miller, Will Eisner, Kate Beaton, Osamu Tezuka, Mike Mignola, Raina Telgemeier, Rob Liefeld, Charles Schulz, and more. In each style, he draws Steve Jobs monologuing the text as he walks through scenes that pay homage that artist’s most famous comics.

Originally published online in black and white, Sikoryak has updated the comic every time Apple rolls out a new version of their terms, adding pages to accommodate the extra length. This is its first appearance collected in print and in color.

2. California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas

By Penelope Bagieu
First Second


Penelope Bagieu is one of France’s most popular cartoonists but is still a relative unknown to U.S. audiences, this being just her second book to be published in the States. Its subject is a very American story about one of the most renowned pop singers of the 1960s and her unlikely rise to fame, defying expectations of body image and even the desires of her own bandmates.

The book tells the story of The Mamas & the Papas’ Cass Elliot, from her childhood in Baltimore to the formation of the quartet that would write the hit song “California Dreamin’.” Bagieu draws the entire book in pencil with no ink or color, which reveals the lyrical energy of her line work. Her depiction of the larger-than-life Elliot is all loose, expressive curves and wonderfully reactive facial expressions showing her to be a magnetic and exciting heroine worthy of her own story.

3. Nightlights

By Lorena Alvarez
Nobrow Press


The most drop-dead gorgeous graphic novel of the year thus far, Lorena Alvarez's Nightlights looks like a children’s book on the surface, but parents should be aware that it takes some dark turns and doesn’t exactly spell out everything that happens in the story in order for younger readers to follow.

A young girl named Sandy, who attends Catholic school and loves to draw, meets a mysterious new girl on the playground named Morfie who no one else seems to be able to see. Morfie likes Sandy’s drawings and seems to want to harness her talent to use for her own purposes. Each page is a visual feast, inspired by classic Golden Books, Disney films, and the colorful aesthetic of Alvarez’s native Colombian culture. Nobrow Press is known not just for their refined taste in choosing new cartooning talent but also for the high quality of their publication design and this is a simply gorgeous book that you’ll want to have on your shelf.

4. The Short Con

By Pete Toms and Aleks Sennwald
Study Group Comics

Originally serialized on the Study Group Comics website, The Short Con made my Most Interesting Comics of the year list in 2014. Now, Study Group has produced a print version that can be purchased online. The comic is a hilarious sendup of detective and buddy cop films starring two orphan girls: Popowski (Pops), the hot-headed, rule-breaking, lollipop-sucking maverick, and Branwell, the new girl who comes from a good upbringing and writes depressing poetry. They are partnered together by the hard-nosed nun who runs the orphanage in order to solve crimes involving vampires, mummies and, in this story, the murder of Branwell’s parents. The creators, Toms and Sennwald, make just as great a pair as Pops and Branwell with their perfect comedic timing and cutely drawn takes on all the great cop fiction tropes.

5. The Damned Vol. 1: Three Days Dead

By Cullen Bunn, Brian Hurtt and Bill Crabtree
Oni Press


When Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt first released their gangster and demon mashup The Damned back in 2006, comics were just beginning to branch out into non-superhero genres again and mashing up those genres was still kind of a new trend. The pair really hit gold with this formula on their next series—the supernatural western The Sixth Gun—but are now returning to their original collaboration with a new ongoing series that begins in May. To kick it off, they’re re-releasing a new colorized version of the original graphic novel and will serialize it in smaller digital installments on Comixology. Set during Prohibition, The Damned follows a tough guy named Eddie who comes back from the dead and ends up caught between warring demon mafia families. The book crackles with the flair of those classic gangster films of Old Hollywood starring the likes of Jimmy Cagney but with a little bit of Hellboy brand of creature horror thrown in.

6. All Time Comics: Crime Destroyer #1

By Josh Bayer, Herb Trimpe and Benjamin Marra
Fantagraphics

Fantagraphics, the prestige publisher of artistic and subversive independent comics, has been avoiding and even spurning the superhero genre for decades in favor of expanding the medium to tell other kinds of stories. Now, for the first time, they're dabbling in tights and capes comics, even going so far as to create their own line called All Time Comics. Led by writer Josh Bayer, the books exhibit their own “House Style” derived from the lo-fi, nostalgic aesthetic made popular by one of the line’s main contributors, Benjamin Marra, but utilizing veteran comic book artists whose work we don’t often see in today’s publications. First up is Crime Destroyer, featuring an ex-military hero who dons a ridiculous looking costume to rid the city of crime. It has a violent, grindhouse aesthetic that draws its inspiration from ‘30s “pre-code” crime comics, early ‘70s Marvel Comics, and ‘90s Rob Liefeld comics. This first issue was drawn by legendary Incredible Hulk artist Herb Trimpe, who passed away shortly after its completion, making this his final published work. Trimpe’s pencils are inked by the aforementioned Benjamin Marra who will take over the art for issue #2. Next month’s new All Time Comics series, Bullwhip, will feature Marra collaborating with another Marvel veteran, Al Milgrom.

7. Man-Thing #1

By R.L. Stine, German Peralta and Daniel Warren Johnson
Marvel Comics

R.L. Stine, writer of the horror series Goosebumps and Fear Street, is the latest writer from outside of comics to enter the world of Marvel. And they’ve found the perfect character for him to play with. Man-Thing has been kind of a one-joke rip-off of DC’s Swamp Thing that has managed a small cult following over the years while rarely managing to carry his own title. Stine, with artist German Peralta, will take a new look at the creature’s origin story while also serving up a new take on the character who can now talk and has an urge to go to Hollywood to become famous. This five-issue series will also feature a backup story drawn by hot new artist Daniel Warren Johnson.

8. Royal City #1

By Jeff Lemire
Image Comics

Jeff Lemire entered the comics industry about 10 years ago with his highly lauded Essex County trilogy of graphic novels about rural, small town folk. Since then, Lemire has gone on to become one of the most prolific writers in comics, producing work often simultaneously for Marvel, DC, Valiant, and Image. Now, with Royal City, he is moving away from his recent genre work and back to the realism of Essex. Inspired by the deliberate unfolding of overarching plots in modern television dramas, Lemire has chosen to tell this story as a monthly, ongoing comic rather than a graphic novel to allow for a bigger, more wide ranging story than he could tell with a self-contained graphic novel. This sober drama tells the story of an economically depressed town whose own story seems wrapped up in the plight of the Pikes, a family that is still reeling after all these years from the death of its youngest member. Lemire excels at this type of character drama and it will be interesting to see how he utilizes the longform, monthly format to paint in the details of a large, novelistic story.

9. Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero

By Michael DeForge
Drawn & Quarterly

Michael DeForge is one of the most idiosyncratic visual artists working in comics right now. His work is deeply strange and effortlessly funny and unlike anyone else’s out there. While some of his comics can go pretty far into body horror and weird sex (or a mix of both), his latest is one of his most mainstream and approachable works since 2014’s Ant Colony. Originally published as a weekly webcomic, Stick Angelica is about an egotistical overachiever—a former Olympian, scholar, poet, Governor, and more—who flees society after some unspecified scandal to live in the woods as a true outdoorswoman. There she becomes an outsized presence, befriending the forest’s talking animals who steal the comic with their various comedic foibles. DeForge has a fascination with nature that shows up in his work quite a bit.

10. Young Shadow

By Ben Sears
Self-published

Ben Sears follows up last year’s Night Air with a new one-issue self-published comic about a similar masked young hero in a quirky all-ages adventure. The protagonist of Young Shadow is compelled to protect his neighborhood from all manner of crime, even saving a dog who he feels is being mistreated by a gang of thugs. Sears takes a wry, low-key approach to pulpy heroics, drawing comics about kid heroes that read with the flair and enthusiasm that would come if kids themselves made them up.

11. Hilo Book 3: The Great Big Room

By Judd Winick
Random House

Following many years of writing somewhat edgy superhero comics for DC, Judd Winick re-focused his creative energy on a new children’s graphic novel series about an infectiously optimistic alien robot boy named Hilo. Having crashed to Earth with little to no memory of who he really is, Hilo is befriended by two human kids, DJ and Gina, who show him the ropes of life on Earth (like how to tell knock-knock jokes) and end up on an intergalactic adventure with him. In the final book of the initial three-volume series, Gina has been sucked into an interdimensional portal and Hilo and DJ have to evade armies from Earth and other worlds to try to get her back. Winick, who began his comics career with a comic he drew himself called The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius, proves that this type of kids-oriented material is where he’s at his best, and also reminds us that he’s a pretty good cartoonist in his own right.

12. The Flintstones Vol. 1

By Mark Russell and Steve Pugh
DC Comics

One of the biggest surprises of 2016 was that a comic based on The Flintstones made a lot of people’s best of the year list (mine included). Mark Russell, who equally surprised everyone last year with a funny and prescient 21st century update on 1970s DC property Prez: The First Teen President, has proven himself to be a creator to watch with this take on the old Hanna-Barbera TV classic. While the original cartoon lampooned 1950s popular culture, Russell and veteran artist Steve Pugh have created a modern social satire with a little more bite. They tackle some surprisingly hefty subjects like religion, elections, PTSD, suicide, and gay marriage with unflinching bravery while reintroducing memorable supporting characters like Dino, Mr. Slate, and the Great Gazoo.

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Space Goat Publishing
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Comics
These Evil Dead 2 Comics Will Look Groovy on Your Bookshelf
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Space Goat Publishing

Bruce Campbell has been quoted as saying the gallons of fake blood poured into his face during filming of the 1987 cult classic horror film Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn led to a week of red-tinged mucus leaking out of his nostrils. Fortunately, no Campbells were harmed in the making of two new comic collections from Space Goat Productions that are now being funded on Kickstarter. The Evil Dead 2 Omnibus features over 300 pages of stories set in the Necronomicon-plagued universe featured in numerous comic book miniseries; The Art of Evil Dead 2 reveals never-before-seen production art from both the comics and ancillary projects.

The campaign is the latest from Space Goat, the Bellingham, Washington-based company that’s made a cottage (or cabin) industry from products spinning out of the Sam Raimi-directed film, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In addition to the new collections, the publisher has also issued an Evil Dead 2 coloring book; a comic where Campbell’s demon-fighting hero, Ash Williams, encounters Adolf Hitler; and a forthcoming board game where players can navigate Deadite threats while shaking their head at Ash’s questionable competency. (No matter the iteration, he seems ill-equipped to deal with the threat of his own possessed and lopped-off hand.)

According to Space Goat publisher Shon Bury, licensing the Evil Dead 2 property from rights holders StudioCanal in 2015 has been a buoy in navigating the difficult waters of comic book publishing. (Even Marvel, which rakes in billions through its film franchises, struggles to sell more than 60,000 to 70,000 copies of its most popular monthly titles.) One day into its Kickstarter launch, the Evil Dead titles had reached 50 percent of their $20,000 funding goal.

“It’s definitely our flagship on the publishing side,” Bury tells Mental Floss. “The board game is our top seller in the Evil Dead category, and the coloring book sells really well. They’re our evergreen products.”

The cover to 'The Art of Evil Dead 2' from Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Exploring Ash’s adventures in other media comes with a few caveats. While Space Goat is free to explore the characters and situations portrayed in Evil Dead 2, incorporating ideas from the rest of the series (including 1993’s Army of Darkness or the Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead) is generally off-limits. And while the StudioCanal rights include a likeness of Campbell, the actor has veto power over how he’s depicted on the page. “For some reason, he doesn’t like the dimple on his chin to be drawn,” Bury says. “But he’s very insistent that the scar on his face from the movie is always there.”

Other actors featured in the film—like Richard Domeier, the future home-shopping host who portrayed “Evil Ed”—may not have granted their likeness rights, but his Deadite character design is part of the deal. “You want to inoculate the owner or licensor of the rights,” Bury says. “So we submit drawings and they might say, ‘No, too close to the actor.’”

That development process is part of what makes up The Art of Evil Dead 2, one-half of Space Goat’s current Kickstarter project that follows a successful Evil Dead 2 board game launch in 2016. The campaigns, Bury says, help target Ash fans with material that might not get enough attention if it were released directly to retailers. “Kickstarter is basically social media. It’s direct engagement, our way of saying to fans, ‘Hey, you’re really going to like this.’”

Bury expects fans to be just as enthused about Evil Dead 2: The Doppelganger Wars, a limited series due for release in 2018 that sees Ash and sidekick Annie Knowby enter the mirror dimension glimpsed at in Evil Dead 2 to discover the true origins of both the demon-summoning Necronomicon and the cult surrounding it. A meeting with H.P. Lovecraft may also be on deck, along with other narratives that would carry the license through the end of the publisher’s current agreement with StudioCanal in late 2019.

Still to be decided: whether Ash will ever encounter the werewolves of The Howling, Space Goat’s latest horror license. “Those conversations have occurred,” Bury says. “It would be a natural. But it’s also challenging because the royalties [for the licenses] double.” 

Digital versions of The Art of Evil Dead 2 and the Evil Dead Omnibus will be available to backers pledging $20 beginning in December. Softcover, hardcover, and Necronomicon slipcase editions ($30 and up) ship in May 2018. The Kickstarter runs through November 25.

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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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History
How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images

The Klansmen were furious.

Dozens of them had congregated in a nondescript room in Atlanta, shaking cloaked heads at the worrisome news that their sect leader had just shared: An act of gross subterfuge had transpired over the airwaves. Millions of Americans had now become privy to their policies, their rankings, their closely guarded methods of organized hatred.

All of it fodder for some comic book radio show. Their mission had been compromised, sacrificed at the altar of popular culture. Kids, one Klansman sighed. His kids were in the streets playing Superman vs. the Klan. Some of them tied red towels around their necks; others pranced around in white sheets. Their struggle for racial purity had been reduced to a recess role play.

Stetson Kennedy listened, doing his best to give off irate body language. He scowled. He nodded. He railed.

The covert activist waited patiently for the Klan to settle down. When they did, he would call radio journalists Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, offering the results of his infiltration into the group for public consumption.

He’d also contact Robert Maxwell, producer of the Superman radio serial. Maxwell, eager to aid the humanitarian mission of the Anti-Defamation League, would promptly insert the leaked information into his show’s scripts. In between fisticuffs, his cast would mock the KKK’s infrastructure, and the group’s loathsome attitudes would be rendered impotent by the juvenilia.

The Klan roared, demanding revenge on their traitor. “Show me the rat,” their leader said, “and I’ll show you some action.”

Kennedy cheered, just as they all did.

And when he returned home, his Klan robe would be traded for a cape.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kennedy, born in 1916, was an unlikely undercover operative. After a back injury kept him out of World War II, the Jacksonville, Florida native decided he wanted to combat anti-American forces on the home front. With Klan members alleged to have assaulted his family’s black maid when he was a child, the Klan—once again gathering steam in an era of segregation and racial divisiveness—was a favored target.

Having convinced a “Klavern” in Atlanta, Georgia that he shared their bigoted views, Kennedy donned the ominous attire of a Klansman, attended cross burnings, and covertly collected information about the group that he would then share with law enforcement and media. Radio journalist Drew Pearson would read the names and minutes of their meetings on air, exposing their guarded dialogues.

Revealing their closed-door sessions was a blow—one that Kennedy didn’t necessarily have to confine to nonfiction. In 1946, Maxwell, who produced the Superman radio serial broadcast around the country, embraced Kennedy’s idea to contribute to a narrative that had Superman scolding the racial divisiveness of the Klan and airing their dirty laundry to an enraptured audience.

“The law offices, state, county, FBI, House Un-American Activities Committee, they were all sympathetic with the Klan,” Kennedy said later. “The lawmen were, ideologically at least, close with the Klansmen. The court of public opinion was all that was left.”

Ostensibly aimed at children, Superman’s daily radio dramas were often broadcast to assembled nuclear families; one phone poll showed that 35 percent of its audience was composed of adults.

But regardless of whether parents listened, the activist believed the younger demographic was worth attending to. “Even back in the ’40s, they had kids in the Klan, little girls dressed up in Klan robes at the cross burnings," Kennedy said. "I have photos of an infant in a cradle with a complete Klan robe on. It seemed like a good place to do some educating.” 

In “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” a 16-part serial airing in June and July of 1946, Superman opposes an organized group of hatemongers who target one of Jimmy Olsen’s friends. Exploring their network, Clark Kent uncovers their secret meetings and policies before his alter ego socks the “Grand Scorpion” in the jaw. The idea, Kennedy wrote in his account of his work, The Klan Unmasked, was to made a mockery of their overblown vernacular.

When traveling, for example, Klansmen might identify one another by asking if they “knew Mr. Ayak,” an acronym for “Are You a Klansman?” Although Kennedy may not have actually shared their code words on air—a longstanding myth that was debunked in Rick Bowers’s 2012 book, Superman vs. the KKK—their histrionics were perfect for dramatization in the breathless structure of a radio drama. Given shape by actors and sound effects, all the clubhouse tropes of the Klan seemed exceedingly silly.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Kennedy continued to serve up Klan secrets to Superman, he watched as Klan morale dipped and membership enrollment ebbed. Desperate, the Klan tried calling for a boycott of Kellogg’s, a new sponsor of the show, but racial intolerance was no match for the appetites of post-World War II homes. Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes remained breakfast table staples, and Superman’s battles with the close-minded continued. Emboldened by his success against the Klan, Superman took aim at Communism, a favorite target of the show’s anti-Red star, Bud Collyer.

Kennedy would go on to burden the Klan using proof of uncollected tax liens, and eventually convinced the state of Georgia to revoke their national corporate charter.

Kennedy died in 2011 at the age of 94. While some of his accounts of subterfuge in the Klan later came under fire for being embellished, his bravery in swimming with the sharks of the organization is undeniable. So, too, was his wisdom in utilizing American iconography to suffocate prejudice. Fictional or not, Superman may have done more to stifle the Klan’s postwar momentum than many real people who merely stood by and watched.

Portions of this article were excerpted from Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon by Jake Rossen with permission from Chicago Review Press. Copyright (c) 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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