R. Sikoryak/Drawn & Quarterly
R. Sikoryak/Drawn & Quarterly

The 12 Most Interesting Comics Released in March

R. Sikoryak/Drawn & Quarterly
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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Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC
5 Bizarre Comic-Con News Stories from Years Past
Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC
Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC

At its best, San Diego Comic-Con is a friendly place where like-minded people can celebrate their pop culture obsessions, and each other. And no one can make fun of you, no matter how lazy your cosplaying might be. You might think that at its worst, it’s just a series of long lines of costumed fans and small stores crammed into a convention center. But sometimes, throwing together 100,000-plus people from around the world in what feels like a carnival-type atmosphere where anything goes can have less than stellar results. Here are some highlights from past Comic-Con-tastrophes.

1. MAN IN HARRY POTTER T-SHIRT STABS ANOTHER MAN IN THE FACE—WITH A PEN

In 2010, two men waiting for a Comic-Con screening of the Seth Rogen alien comedy Paul got into a very adult argument about whether one of them was sitting too close to the other. Unable to come to a satisfactory conclusion with words, one man stabbed the other in the face with a pen. According to CNN, the attacker was led away wearing handcuffs and a Harry Potter T-shirt. In the aftermath, some Comic-Con attendees dealt with the attack in an oddly fitting way: They cosplayed as the victim, with pens protruding from bloody eye sockets.

2. MEMORABILIA THIEVES INVADE NEW YORK

Since its founding in 2006, New York Comic Con has attracted a few sticky-fingered attendees. In 2010, a man stole several rare comics from vendor Matt Nelson, co-founder of Texas’s Worldwide Comics. Just one of those, Whiz Comics No. 1, was worth $11,000, according to the New York Post. A few years later, in 2014, someone stole a $2000 “Dunny” action figure, which artist Jon-Paul Kaiser had painted during the event for Clutter magazine. And those are just the incidents that involved police; lower-scale cases of toys and comics disappearing from booths are an increasingly frustrating epidemic, according to some. “Comic Con theft is an issue we all sort of ignore,” collector Tracy Isenhour wrote on the blog of his company, Needless Essentials, in 2015. “I am here to tell you no more. It’s time for this garbage to stop."

3. CATWOMAN SAVES THE DAY


John Sciulli/Getty Images for Xbox

Adrianne Curry, winner of the first cycle of America’s Next Top Model, has made a career of chasing viral fame. Ironically, it was at Comic-Con in 2014 that Curry did something truly worthy of attention—though there wasn’t a camera in sight. Dressed as Catwoman, she was posing with fans alongside her friend Alicia Marie, who was dressed as Tigra. According to a Facebook post Marie wrote at the time, a fan tried to shove his hands into her bikini bottoms. She screamed, the man ran off, and Curry jumped to action. She “literally took off after dude WITH her Catwoman whip and chased him down, beat his a**,” Marie wrote. “Punched him across the face with the butt of her whip—he had zombie blood on his face—got on her costume.”

4. MAN POSES AS FUGITIVE-SEEKING INVESTIGATOR TO GET INTO VIP ROOM

The lines at Comic-Con are legendary, so one Utah man came up with a novel way to try and skip them altogether. In 2015, Jonathon M. Wall tried to get into Salt Lake Comic Con’s exclusive VIP enclave (normally a $10,000 ticket) by claiming he was an agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and needed to get into the VIP room “to catch a fugitive,” according to The San Diego Union Tribune. Not only does that story not even come close to making sense, it also adds up to impersonating a federal agent, a crime to which Wall pleaded guilty in April of 2016 and which carried a sentence of up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Just a few months later, prosecutors announced that they were planning to reduce his crime from a felony to a misdemeanor.

5. MAN WALKS 645 MILES TO COMIC-CON, DRESSED AS A STORMTROOPER, TO HONOR HIS LATE WIFE


Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Disney

In 2015, Kevin Doyle walked 645 miles along the California coast to honor his late wife, Eileen. Doyle had met Eileen relatively late in life, when he was in his 50s, and they bonded over their shared love of Star Wars (he even proposed to her while dressed as Darth Vader). However, she died of cancer barely a year after they were married. Adrift and lonely, Doyle decided to honor her memory and their love of Star Wars by walking to Comic-Con—from San Francisco. “I feel like I’m so much better in the healing process than if I’d stayed home,” he told The San Diego Union Tribune.

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Marvel Entertainment
10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

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