The 10 Most Interesting Comics of June

Adam Kubert/Marvel Comics
Adam Kubert/Marvel Comics

Each month, we round up the most interesting comics, graphic novels, web and digital comics that we recommend you check out.

1. PETER PARKER SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #1


Adam Kubert/Marvel Comics

By Chip Zdarsky, Adam Kubert
Marvel Comics

This new series revives the title of the longtime second string Spider-man title which hasn’t been used with the “Peter Parker” prefix since 1998. While the flagship Amazing Spider-man comic has taken Peter Parker to some interesting new places in recent years, most recently as the CEO of his own technology company, some fans feel this globe-trotting Spidey lacks the “old Parker luck” (or lack thereof) that everyone likes to remember. This new companion series aims for a “back to the basics” appeal with stories set in NYC but still within the current continuity. Chip Zdarsky is a brilliant if slightly idiosyncratic choice of writer for one of Marvel’s most visible heroes. As one half of the team behind Image Comics’ raunchy hit series Sex Criminals, he tends toward absurd comedy and will assuredly tap into the sense of humor that Spidey needs, but he’s also shown a great knack for sincerity and sheer likability in comics like Jughead that make it seem like he’ll get Peter Parker pretty well. He’s joined by veteran artist Adam Kubert, who’s by no means a newcomer to drawing Spider-man.

2. THE ADVENTURES OF JOHN BLAKE: MYSTERY OF THE GHOST SHIP


Fred Fordham/Scholastic

By Phillip Pullman and Fred Fordham
Scholastic Graphix

Phillip Pullman, the famed author of the His Dark Materials trilogy of all ages fantasy novels, is making a big comeback this year with a highly anticipated new novel, The Book of Dust, out this October. For those that can’t wait that long, there is also his first graphic novel which is the opening of a proposed series called The Adventures of John Blake. The titular hero is an enigmatic teenage boy on a time-traveling 18th century galleon manned by a crew plucked from various points in history. They rescue a young girl in modern day Australia who has fallen overboard her parents’ yacht and they risk a run-in with the evil Dahlberg Corporation to get her home. Pullman owes much to the classic boys adventures of Treasure Island and classic Eurocomics like Tin Tin, but Fordham’s realistic, modern artwork calls to mind the sophisticated European adventure comics of today.

3. SUNBURNING


Keiler Roberts/Koyama Press

By Keiler Roberts
Koyama Press

The trick with creating good memoir comics is being willing to shed the natural inclination toward self-preservation that prevents true honesty about your own life. Keiler Roberts seems to have no problem with this. Sunburning is a collection of comic vignettes about her home life and her personal struggles with motherhood, being an artist, and dealing with mental and physical illness. Her depictions of her struggles with bipolar disorder as well as her brutally and hilariously honest exchanges with her daughter, her husband, and her parents are just about the most direct and real scenes you’ll read in comics this year. She is not afraid to show herself as being crass or even mean at times, but just as often she is refreshing, down-to-earth and funny.

4. DARK DAYS: THE FORGE #1


Andy Kubert/DC Comics

By Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Andy Kubert, Jim Lee, John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson, Danny Miki, Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair
DC Comics

Today’s DC is all about reconnecting its characters to the great multiversal tapestry of their pasts, which had been mostly rewritten in the 2011 “New 52” reboot. In some ways, this one-shot sets up the latest multi-comic summer event—leading toward August’s Dark Nights: Metal—but it is also a continuation of much of what has come before including clues planted in last year’s DC: Rebirth one-shot and Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s recent run on Batman. That means this is primarily designed for DC fans that have been paying acute attention over the years and not so much for the casual comic reader. If you’re any sort of DC fan, though, this is a gripping introduction to a big story involving Batman being ultra-secretive about some universe-shattering mystery, which is always fun. Some familiar faces who haven’t been around much in recent years like Hawkman and Mister Miracle make some enticing cameos here.

5. GARBAGE NIGHT


Jen Lee/Nobrow Press

By Jen Lee
Nobrow Press

Jen Lee is best known for her groundbreaking semi-animated webcomic Thunderpaw but has managed to translate that appeal into non-animated print. Her 2015 one-issue Vacancy, released through Nobrow’s 17x23 imprint, was set in the same post-apocalyptic world of Thunderpaw, populated by teenage, talking animals, and now Garbage Night, her first graphic novel, expands that story into a 72-page hardcover. It follows the same trio—Simon, a dog, Cliff, a raccoon, and Reynard, a deer—and this time they’re befriended by another dog named Barnaby as they scavenge for food in this world suddenly devoid of humans. Lee’s strong sense of design and color makes her a great choice for Nobrow who publish many of the industry’s best looking graphic novels.

6. UNCOMFORTABLY HAPPILY


Yeon-sik Hong/Drawn & Quarterly

By Yeon-sik Hong
Drawn & Quarterly

Anyone who has worked from home for an extensive length of time will see themselves in Hong’s depiction of his own struggle to create a better working environment so that he can meet his deadlines. This hefty, nearly 600-page memoir of the time he and his wife moved out of the noisy hubbub of Seoul to the quiet isolation of the South Korean countryside is unassuming, funny, heartwarming—and, at times, stressful. Hong and his wife, also an artist, escaped the city to find a quiet place to live and work but also find that rural life invites many distractions of its own. This is the first time this Korean “manhwa” will be released in the States and is translated by American cartoonist Hellen Jo.

7. VALERIAN: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION VOL. 1


Jean-Claude Méziéres/Cinebook

By Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Méziéres
Cinebook

Next month will see the release of Luc Besson’s new film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, a sci-fi adventure that looks stylistically similar to his classic 1997 film The Fifth Element. That’s because Valerian is based on a French comic series (typically called Valerian & Laureline) that many American readers may not be aware of but that is a noted influence on many science fiction films like The Fifth Element and even Star Wars. It’s a space opera drawn in a humorous, cartoony style about two Earth teens serving in the Spatio-Temporal Service in the 28th century. Valerian is the square-jawed but occasionally clueless hero while Laureline starts out as simply the sidekick but over time grows to be the smarter, more capable member of the duo. These adventures began being serialized in 1967 in the French comics magazine Pilote and ran until 2010 with stories collected into various graphic albums over time. Cinebook will be publishing multiple volumes that will include some material that has never been translated before as well as a long joint interview with the creators and Besson.

8. SOUND OF SNOW FALLING


Maggie Umber/2D Cloud

By Maggie Umber
2D Cloud

Umber’s wordless, painted comic is part nature documentary, part hand-painted poetry, showing a family of great horned owls living in their natural habitat. We see the entire birth cycle of a nest of babies and a mother fiercely and lovingly protecting and nurturing them. Their nocturnal activity is depicted in scenes of murky and minimal color that force you to squint at times to make out the action. Umber, a co-founder of the boutique art-comic publisher 2D Cloud, blends her love of educational science and artistic expression with this quiet, beautiful and captivating little comic.

9. KNIFE'S EDGE (FOUR POINTS BOOK 2)


Rebecca Mock/First Second

By Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux/First Second

Book 2 of Larson and Mock’s high seas adventure picks up where the first volume left off, after twins Alex and Cleo were reunited with their long lost father. Now, after learning some startling truths about their parents, they’re off again to find a family treasure before their nemesis, the infamous pirate Felix Worley, beats them to it. Knife’s Edge is just as much of a rollicking page-turner as its predecessor, Compass South. Mock’s artwork is colorful and fluid and even reminiscent of the work of her co-creator Larson, an award-winning artist in her own right.

10. SHORTBOX #5


Rosemary Valero-O'Connell

By various
Comics & Cola

If you want to read comics from fresh, diverse, up and coming comic creators, you could do worse than follow writer Zainab Akhtar, who is not only one of the most thoughtful writers about comics but she also has great taste in comic art and an eye for new talent. Every three months, Akhtar curates a “box” of comics that she commissions from interesting new creators and sells a limited edition set of them on her website for only a 10-day period. You can pre-order her fifth set until June 30; it contains comics from a diverse array of cartoonists such as Freddy Carrasco, Nicole Miles, Rosemary, Valero-O’Connell, Jeremy Sorese, Areeba Siddique, and Afu Chan.

How Did Casper the Friendly Ghost Die?

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

The star of dozens of animated shorts and specials, hundreds of comics, and one big-screen feature (which spawned a couple of straight-to-video follow-ups), Casper the Friendly Ghost has enjoyed a great deal of spooky success since he debuted in 1945. An affable spirit, the seemingly pre-adolescent blob of ectoplasm only wants to make friends. Unfortunately, people are consistently wary of his ethereal qualities. In the earliest shorts, he preferred to hang out by himself near a tombstone.

Does the tombstone belong to him? By virtue of being a ghost, doesn’t that mean Casper was once a real, live boy who suffered a tragic fate at a young age?

The Ghost With No Name

When Casper was created back in 1940 by Seymour Reit and Joe Oriolo, the question apparently didn’t come up. Reit and Oriolo planned to have Casper—who did not yet have a name—be the star of an illustrated children’s book, with Reit writing and Oriolo illustrating it. They never got the chance. The two, who worked at Fleischer Studios on animated shorts, were both drafted to serve in World War II. When they returned, Fleischer Studios had been purchased by Paramount, renamed Famous Studios, and wanted complete control over the intellectual property of work created by employees. The two sold Casper and other characters for a total of $200 to Paramount.

When Casper made his animated debut in the 1945 Famous Studios short “The Friendly Ghost,” he finally got a name, but no mention was made of his origins. The short references his “brothers and sisters” who enjoy scaring people but offers no other details of his private life.

A second short, 1948’s “There’s Good Boos To-Night,” shows Casper leaning on a tombstone while reading a book, with a “Love Thy Neighbor” sign hanging nearby. The ghosts in the cemetery are referred to as his “neighbors” and appear to rise from their respective resting places when it’s time to go haunting. This would imply Casper is relaxing at his own gravesite, though his name doesn’t appear on the tombstone. If so, it would support the idea he once occupied the land of the living.

As Casper moved into another medium, however, a case began to be made for his existence as something other than human. In 1949, St. John Publishing produced five Casper comics. In 1952, Harvey Comics took over the license. In an effort to expand Casper’s world, Harvey gave him a ghost family, including a mom and three uncles. None of them were named until 1955, when the uncles were dubbed Fatso, Fusso, and Lazo. What wasn’t clear, however, was whether Casper’s relatives were all deceased as well or whether the Casper mythology implies ghosts are simply "born" ghosts.

The Pneumonia Theory

When the Casper feature film starring Christina Ricci was released in 1995, producers apparently thought moviegoers would be confused by a lack of explanation, and so the Casper of that film was portrayed as a boy named Casper McFadden. He was said to have died of pneumonia at the age of 12 after staying out in cold weather for too long playing with a sled he had just received as a gift.

There is one alternative, and slightly darker, theory that was purportedly first floated by The Simpsons. In the 1991 episode “Three Men and a Comic Book,” Bart and Lisa speculate that Casper is the ghost of Richie Rich, another Harvey Comics icon. (The two bear a resemblance.) Lisa believes that his realization of “how hollow the pursuit of money really is” caused Richie to take his own life. Other observers have speculated that perhaps Richie’s parents killed their son for the insurance money.

This is, of course, virtually impossible, as Richie Rich wasn’t created until 1953, 13 years after Reit and Oriolo conceived of Casper.

So what is Casper—former boy or forever ghost? Given his comfort hanging around a tombstone and his pleasant nature preventing him from besmirching the grave of another, it seems likely he was once human. To date, only the 1995 feature has attempted to detail what led him to the afterlife. Considering Casper's appeal as a children's property, that's probably for the best.

The Far Side Is Officially Online—And New Art Is Coming

Courtesy of FarWorks
Courtesy of FarWorks

In September, a cryptic update to cartoonist Gary Larson’s The Far Side website hinted that something new might be in store for fans of the popular single-panel comic strip. This week, Larson and his syndicate, Andrews McMeel Universal, made it official. The irreverent cartoon, which originally ran from 1980 to 1995 and explored the perils of anthropomorphic cows and science run amok, will now be available online for the first time. But it won’t be strictly archival material: Larson plans to periodically revisit his bizarre world with new art.

In an open letter posted to the site, Larson explained that he was initially taken aback by fans using scanners and posting his work on the web without permission. According to Larson, part of his reluctance to share his catalog of work was due to the questionable resolution of older computer screens, which might miss some nuances of his artwork. With new displays making that concern obsolete, the artist decided to enable readers to enjoy the strip without having to go looking for illicit files.

In a interview with The New York Times, Larson also addressed his plans to supplement his collection with new panels, though readers shouldn’t expect anything resembling a schedule. “I’m not ‘back,’ at least in the sense I think you’re asking,” he said via email. “Returning to the world of deadlines isn’t exactly on my to-do list.”

Fresh artwork will likely be seen in 2020. But for the moment, The Far Side site will be home to a revolving library of content, from random daily posts to curated and themed collections. Larson will also post sketches and other ancillary material.

Larson is not the only iconic cartoonist to make a return. In 2014, Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes fame ended a near-20 year sabbatical from the comics pages to ghost-pencil cartoonist Stephan Pastis’s Pearls Before Swine. And in 2015, Berkeley Breathed resurrected his Bloom County for Facebook.

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