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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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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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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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7 Engaging Facts About Goofus and Gallant
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Courtesy of Highlights for Children

For well over 60 years, the preadolescent readers of Highlights for Children magazine have gotten regular lessons in morality from Goofus and Gallant, a pair of kids of indeterminate age and relation who offer sharp contrasts in behavior. Gallant is prone to exhibiting perfect manners; Goofus is selfish, thoughtless, and has even been seen torturing small animals. (Honest: He has stoned birds and once subjected a frog to some disturbing cruelty.)

The two-panel strip has become so ubiquitous that warring ideologies are often described as “Goofus and Gallant” types. If you’ve ever wondered whether there’s more to Gallant than being a goody two-shoes or whether Goofus is flirting with juvenile delinquency, check out our round-up of the pair’s storied history.

1. THEY USED TO BE ELVES.

Goofus and Gallant

Goofus and Gallant were the creation of Garry Cleveland Myers, a child psychologist and popular syndicated parental advice columnist. Myers debuted the strip, then known as the The G-Twins, in Children’s Activities magazine in 1938. While the twosome were already displaying their radically different approaches to life, Myers depicted them as fanciful creatures with pointed ears and curly-toed shoes. No one is quite sure why Myers opted for the fairy tale aesthetic, although one theory is that he wanted to depict bad behavior rather than bad children.

After Myers and wife Caroline started Highlights for six- to 12-year-old readers in 1946, they were eventually able to acquire the rights to the strip. Goofus and Gallant debuted in their magazine in 1948; by 1952, they had morphed into two regular kids. Their parents lost the elf ears, too.

2. THEY MAY HAVE BEEN BASED ON REAL KIDS.

Highlights turned into a family enterprise, with the Myers’s children and grandchildren having a hand in its publication. In 1995, Kent Brown Jr., the Myers’s grandson, told the Los Angeles Times that he was the inspiration for Goofus and that his cousin, Garry Myers III, was the model for Gallant. Myers III denied the accusation. “Kent gets great glee out of claiming to be Goofus," he said. Brown later stated that all of Myers's 13 grandchildren helped inform the characters.

3. ONE ARTIST DREW THE STRIP FOR 32 YEARS.

Goofus and Gallant

Once Myers secured the rights to the two characters for Highlights, he enlisted illustrator Marion Hull Hammel to draw their adventures (and misadventures), taking them from the elfin creatures of the early days to the human boys of the 1950s and beyond. Hammel wound up drawing it for 32 years; Sidney Quinn took over when she retired and worked on it through 1995. Current artist Leslie Harrington has been on the strip since 2006. 

4. GALLANT GETS HATE MAIL.

While the recurring theme of Goofus and Gallant is to exercise the Golden Rule, not all juvenile readers are on board with Gallant’s impeccable manners. "I got a letter from an attorney who'd grown up with the feature," Rich Wallace, the magazine's then-coordinating editor, told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “He had something he wanted to get off his chest: 'Gallant was a wussy.'" Other readers have expressed similar disdain for Gallant, observing that they identify more with Goofus.

5. GOOFUS IS NOT A SOCIOPATH.

Goofus and Gallant

In the absence of any in-panel clinical diagnosis of Goofus’s reckless behavior—including but not limited to playing with fire, being unkind to peers, and vandalizing school books—we’re left with the editorial directives of Highlights. In a 1993 interview with the Chicago Tribune, magazine publicist Tom White admitted that Goofus is a “surly, uncooperative, ill-mannered child” but that "he is not a sociopath.” Good to know!

6. THEY’VE BEEN FEATURED IN ROUGHLY A BILLION ISSUES.

Discounting the two years they were absent from Highlights from 1946 to 1948, the antics of Goofus and Gallant have appeared without fail in every subsequent issue. In 2006, the magazine celebrated its 60th anniversary by shipping its one billionth copy. The magazine went from selling 20,000 copies of its first issue to averaging 2.6 million readers a month in the 1990s.

7. ONE EDITOR’S THEORY WILL BLOW YOUR MIND.

Goofus and Gallant

When Goofus and Gallant began their broadly-drawn moral plays in the 1950s, they were depicted as identical twins. Later on, editors for Highlights indicated the two were brothers, but not twins. By 1995, they were simply two unrelated boys. But according to former coordinating editor Rich Wallace, the two might actually be part of a Fight Club-style twist. “I’ve theorized they’re two sides of the same kid,” he said.

We were so awed by this possibility that we asked Highlights editor Judy Burke if it held any water. "We show the boys with different parents in the panels and they look slightly different from each other," she says. More recently, the two have seemed to become aware of the other's existence. "In April 2016, we had them breaking through their respective art panels and pranking each other for April Fools’ Day, which they couldn’t have done if they were the same child."

That doesn't mean that readers can't have an existential crisis of their own. "Each time we run Goofus and Gallant, we include the line, 'There’s some of Goofus and Gallant in us all,'" Burke says. "When the Gallant shines through, we show our best self.  We also include a few 'Goofus and Gallant Moments' from kids, where they tell us about times when they felt like either Goofus or Gallant. These two aspects of the feature support the theory that both characters reside within the same individual, and it’s up to that person to choose how to behave."

All images courtesy of Highlights for Children and used with permission.

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