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Dark Horse Comics

Wednesday is New Comics Day

Dark Horse Comics
Dark Horse Comics

Every Wednesday, I highlight the five most exciting comic releases of the week. The list may include comic books, graphic novels, digital comics and webcomics. I'll even highlight some Kickstarter comics projects on occasion. There's more variety and availability in comics than there has ever been, and I hope to point out just some of the cool stuff that's out there. If there's a release you're excited about, let's talk about it in the comments.

1. "A Light That Never Goes Out"

By Lucy Knisley

Possibly the most personal and heartwarming comic you'll read this year is a one-page webcomic posted by cartoonist Lucy Knisley this past week. Knisley publishes journal strips twice a month on her webcomic "Stop Paying Attention" and has published two autobiographical books (French Milk and Relish) based on her love of food and her relationship with her parents. This latest journal comic entry, with a title taken from a classic Smiths song, is not about cooking but about her relationship with her ex-boyfriend. I won't get too much into the details here because you should just go and read the comic and let Knisley tell you her story. It's really great.

Beyond the emotional aspect of this comic, what is interesting is Knisley's honesty and reflection within it about the whole idea of writing autobiographical material that I think any of the best memoir writers need to have. She writes about the idea of sharing personal moments in your life with readers and ponders the question of when to edit parts of your life out that are just too painful or even too personal to share. It is often said that all autobiographies are fiction because there is no way to not be selective in what you show. Once you exclude a detail, you are manipulating the "truth." Those reasons for being selective are an interesting part of the storytellng and editing process but they also are rooted in a deeper part of human nature and the needs to share or withhold parts of yourself.

Go read "A Light That Never Goes Out."

2. Fall Guy for Murder And Other Stories by Johnny Craig/Child of Tomorrow and other Stories by Al Feldstein

Collected works from Johnny Craig and Al Feldstein
Fantagraphics

Fantagraphics is dumping a number of reprint collections at once this week and two of the most enticing packages are these volumes, Fall Guy for Murder and Child of Tomorrow, dedicated to the work of two individual cartoonists who were an integral part of the pre-Comics Code days of EC Comics: Johnny Craig and Al Feldstein. 

EC published horror and crime comics that became the focus of congressional committees and concerned parents in the 1950s and led to a self-censorship in the comics industry that persisted through most of the rest of the 20th century. Reprinting those classic comics has become a cottage industry in itself recently with various collections coming out all the time, reintroducing them to audiences that enjoy pulp noir, '50s sci-fi, Twilight Zone-style plot twists, and moral ambiguity. 

Al Feldstein and Johnny Craig were two of the greatest cartoonists working for EC in those years (Feldstein was actually an editor for most of the EC titles as well). Both their inking styles look crisp and clear in these new printings. Craig was on par with the great newspaper strip artists like Al Williamson and Milton Caniff. His brush work is finely detailed and his people are perfect, clean-cut specimens of mid-century America (with of course hints of dark secrets hidden underneath). Feldstein's style is slightly more stylized and weird which was fitting for his stories about aliens and strange creatures, whereas Craig's were more grounded tales of murder and betrayal. These collections show their artwork in black and white as opposed to the originals which were in color allowing you to focus on the beauty of their linework.

Both volumes contain extra material like interviews and historical text.

Read a preview of Child of Tomorrow here.

Read a preview of Fall Guy For Murder here.

3. Sacrifice

Written by Sam Humphries; art by Dalton Rose
Dark Horse

The theme for some of this week's comics appears to be post-punk. With Lucy Knisley taking the title of her comic from a Smiths song, the new graphic novel Sacrifice has a great quote from writer Kieron Gillen describing the story: "What happens when two of history's greatest death cults meet up? Aztecs vs. Joy Division fans." 

Hector is a bit goth, he listens to New Order, wears what looks like probably a Joy Division t-shirt. He also is epileptic, and during one of his seizures he finds himself transported 700 years back to the age of the Aztec empire, just before the fall of their civilization. Sacrifice, written by Sam Humphries and illustrated by Dalton Rose, was a 6 issue series self-published by Humphries and now collected in a hardcover volume by Dark Horse Comics. Since initially writing this, Humphries has risen to major league comics status, now writing Avengers: AI for Marvel. This comic, however, is a very personal one for him. As an epileptic himself who grew up with an obsession with the Aztec civilization, his own life is mirrored a bit here by that of Hector.

Dalton Rose is an artist whose star is also on the rise. His style combines elements of Charles Burns, Marcos Martin, Guy Davis and a dash of Mike Allred. He was right out of college at the Savannah College of Art and Design when Humphries found him to draw Sacrifice. Since then he's been working on his own creator-owned book for Monkeybrain Comics called Phabula. 

You can read a preview of Sacrifice here.

4. Witchling

By Renee Nault
www.reneenault.com

Renee Nault is a Canadian illustrator who paints beautifully rich watercolors. Her paintings are often fantasy-inspired and usually focused on a pretty woman or a young girl as the central figure. There is a solemn, languid, introspective feel to the scenes she creates and she pulls a lot, stylistically, from children's fantasy books and 17th century Japanese Ukiyo-e prints.

Nault has been working on her first graphic novel, Witchling, about a young girl named Jane who has strange dreams about mythical animals and a mysterious man with white hair and black blood dripping from his eyes. When she isn't dreaming, Jane's real life seems just as strange. She can talk to cats and lives in a palace with her adopted royal parents in a world that is not quite our own.

Despite the sound of it, Witchling is a little too grown up to be a children's story, but it seems like it would perfectly appeal to a female teen audience. Jane is an outcast with a mysterious past brought up in a life that is part princess tale, part grown up Eloise (complete with nanny). There are also plenty of horror elements inspired by Japanese film, manga and anime. With Nault's watercolors pulling it all together it's an appealing story so far.

The first chapter of the book is complete and available to read online. New updates will be coming in September. You can also buy a print edition of the first volume for $10 on Nault's website.

Go read Witchling here.

5. Green Lantern Sector 2814 Vol. 2

By Len Wein, Dave Gibbons and others
DC Comics

A new trade collection from DC reprints some classic stories from the early '80s that showcased John Stewart as the new Green Lantern of Earth (known as Sector 2814 to the Guardians of the Universe). Stewart had been previously introduced in the late '70s as a temporary replacement for Earth's usual Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, and continued to pop up here and there as a supporting character in the Green Lantern series. In issue #182 he officially replaces Jordan for a regular stint, mostly collected here, that lasts somewhere around 10 issues, which doesn't sound like much, does it?

It took a little longer than these issues for Stewart to get his due as a strong, African American superhero character. Over the years, he has become more and more of a major character in the DC Universe. In fact, the popular Justice League cartoon that ran on TV from 2001 until 2004 (and then thru 2006 after it changed names to Justice League Unlimited) featured him as the team's GL rather than Jordan. To many people who grew up with that show as their introduction to DC Superheroes, John Stewart is the one and only Green Lantern.

The comics collected here are mostly written by DC and Marvel veteran writer Len Wein and feature artwork from Dave (Watchmen) Gibbons. The last set of stories mark the beginning of Steve Englehart and Joe Staton's run on the series. Shortly after this, the comic would relaunch as Green Lantern Corps with John Stewart working alongside Hal Jordan and a cast of other GLs from other sectors. Being a comics kid from the '80s, Joe Staton's fun, cartoony renderings are actually my definitive version of these characters.

A little more info here.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Why limit myself to just listing 5 comics each week? There's so much else out there.

The Children of Palomar
This collects stories that originally appeared in Gilbert Hernandez' New Tales of Old Palomar which was published in Fantagraphics' oversized "Ignatz" format. It features characters that have appeared or are related to characters that have appeared in various Hernandez stories from Love & Rockets over the last 30 years.
Preview here

Outliers
This comic about a mute 11 year old and his woodland giant friend has been receiving some strong praise for its artwork and print design. It's the first book by illustrator Erik T. Johnson and it looks pretty impressive.
Preview it here.

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Reading Aloud to Your Kids Can Promote Good Behavior and Sharpen Their Attention
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Some benefits of reading aloud to children are easy to see. It allows parents to introduce kids to books that they're not quite ready to read on their own, thus improving their literacy skills. But a new study published in the journal Pediatrics shows that the simple act of reading to your kids can also influence their behavior in surprising ways.

As The New York Times reports, researchers looked at young children from 675 low-income families. Of that group, 225 families were enrolled in a parent-education program called the Video Interaction Project, or VIP, with the remaining families serving as the control.

Participants in VIP visited a pediatric clinic where they were videotaped playing and reading with their children, ranging in age from infants to toddlers, for about five minutes. Following the sessions, videos were played back for parents so they could see how their kids responded to the positive interactions.

They found that 3-year-olds taking part in the study had a much lower chance of being aggressive or hyperactive than children in the control group of the same age. The researchers wondered if these same effects would still be visible after the program ended, so they revisited the children 18 months later when the kids were approaching grade-school age. Sure enough, the study subjects showed fewer behavioral problems and better focus than their peers who didn't receive the same intervention.

Reading to kids isn't just a way to get them excited about books at a young age—it's also a positive form of social interaction, which is crucial at the early stages of social and emotional development. The study authors write, "Such programs [as VIP] can result in clinically important differences on long-term educational outcomes, given the central role of behavior for child learning."

Being read to is something that can benefit all kids, but for low-income parents working long hours and unable to afford childcare, finding the time for it is often a struggle. According to the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health, only 34 percent of children under 5 in families below the poverty line were read to every day, compared with 60 percent of children from wealthier families. One way to narrow this divide is by teaching new parents about the benefits of reading to their children, possibly when they visit the pediatrician during the crucial first months of their child's life.

[h/t The New York Times]

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10 Facts About Charlotte Brontë
Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Bronte: Hulton Archive, Getty Images. Background: iStock
Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Bronte: Hulton Archive, Getty Images. Background: iStock

Charlotte Brontë was born in England to an Irish father and Cornish mother on April 21, 1816. And though much of her life was marked by tragedy, she wrote novels and poems that found great success in her lifetime and are still popular nearly 200 years later. But there’s a lot more to Brontë than Jane Eyre.

1. BRONTË WAS JUST 5 YEARS OLD WHEN SHE LOST HER MOTHER.

Maria Branwell Brontë was 38 when she died in 1821 of ovarian cancer (or, it's been suggested, of a post-natal infection), leaving her husband, Patrick Brontë, and their six young children behind. In the years after Maria died, Patrick sent four of his daughters, including Charlotte, to a boarding school for the daughters of clergy members. Brontë later used her bad experiences at this school—it was a harsh, abusive environment—as inspiration for Lowood Institution in Jane Eyre. As an adult, Bronte mentioned her mother (who was also fond of writing) in a letter, saying: "I wish she had lived and that I had known her."

2. BRONTË HAD BEEN WRITING POETRY AND STORIES SINCE HER YOUTH.

Though one of her boarding school report cards described her abilities as "altogether clever for her age, but knows nothing systematically," Brontë was a voracious reader during her childhood and teen years, and she wrote stories and staged plays at home with her siblings. With her brother Branwell, especially, she wrote manuscripts, plays, and stories, drawing on literature, magazines, and the Bible for inspiration. For fun, they created magazines that contained everything a real magazine would have—from the essays, letters, and poems to the ads and notes from the editor.

3. SHE WORKED AS A TEACHER AND GOVERNESS BUT DISLIKED IT.

portrait of Charlotte Bronte
Charlotte Bronte circa 1840.
Portrait by Thompson. Photo by Rischgitz, Getty Images.

In her late teens and early twenties, Brontë worked on and off as a teacher and governess. In between writing, she taught at a schoolhouse but didn't like the long hours. She also didn't love working as a governess in a family home. Once, in a letter to a friend, she wrote, "I will only ask you to imagine the miseries of a reserved wretch like me, thrown at once into the midst of a large family … having the charge given me of a set of pampered, spoilt, and turbulent children, whom I was expected constantly to amuse as well as instruct." She quickly realized she wasn't a good fit for these caretaking jobs, but she later used her early work experiences as inspiration for passages in Jane Eyre.

4. BRONTË DEALT WITH A LOT OF LITERARY REJECTION.

When she was 20 years old, Brontë sent the English Poet Laureate Robert Southey some of her best poems. He wrote back in 1837, telling her that she obviously had a good deal of talent and a gift with words but that she should give up writing. "Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life, and it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure will she have for it, even as an accomplishment and a recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called, and when you are you will be less eager for celebrity. You will not seek in imagination for excitement," Southey responded to her. The Professor, Brontë’s first novel, was rejected nine times before it was finally published after her death.

5. SHE USED THE MALE PSEUDONYM CURRER BELL.

English writers Anne, Emily and Charlotte Bronte.
English writers Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Bronte circa 1834, as painted by their brother.
Painting by Patrick Branwell Bronte. Photo by Rischgitz, Getty Images.

In 1846, Brontë paid to publish a book of poetry containing poems she and her sisters Emily and Anne had written. The three sisters used male pseudonyms—Charlotte was Currer Bell, Emily was Ellis Bell, and Anne was Acton Bell. (The book sold two copies.) Brontë also used the Currer Bell pseudonym when she published Jane Eyre—her publishers didn't know Bell was really a woman until 1848, a year after the book was published!

6. JANE EYRE WAS AN INSTANT SUCCESS.

The first page of the manuscript 'Jane Eyre.'
The first page of the manuscript 'Jane Eyre.'
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In 1847, British publishing firm Smith, Elder & Co published Jane Eyre: An Autobiography. From the start, the book was a success—one critic called it "the best novel of the season"—and people began to speculate about who Currer Bell was. But some reviewers were less impressed, criticizing it for being coarse in content, including one who called it "anti-Christian." Brontë was writing in the Victorian period, after all.

7. BRONTË WAS LUCKY TO AVOID TUBERCULOSIS …

Tuberculosis prematurely killed at least four of Brontë's five siblings, starting with her two oldest sisters, Maria and Elizabeth (who weren't even teenagers yet), in 1825. In 1848, Brontë’s only brother, Branwell, died of chronic bronchitis, officially, though tuberculosis has also been a rumored cause, probably aggravated by alcohol and opium. Her sister Emily came down with a severe illness during Branwell's funeral and died of tuberculosis three months later. Then, five months later in May 1849, Charlotte’s final surviving sibling, Anne, also died of tuberculosis after a lengthy battle.

8. … BUT SHE DIED AT 38 YEARS OLD—WHILE PREGNANT.

In June 1854, Brontë married a clergyman named Arthur Bell Nicholls and got pregnant almost immediately. Her pregnancy was far from smooth sailing though—she had acute bouts of nausea and vomiting, leading to her becoming severely dehydrated and malnourished. She and her unborn child died on March 31, 1855. Although we don’t know for sure what killed her, theories include hyperemesis gravidarum, based on her symptoms, or possibly typhus. Her father, Patrick Brontë, survived his wife and all six children.

9. ZEALOUS BRONTË FANS TRAVEL TO HER HOME IN ENGLAND.

Charlotte Brontë's writing desk in Haworth.
Charlotte Brontë's writing desk in Haworth.
Christopher Furlong, Getty Images

Emily and Anne Brontë wrote famous books, too—Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey, respectively. The Brontë sisters's writing has inspired devoted fans from around the world to visit their home in Haworth, West Yorkshire, England. The Brontë Society’s Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth has a collection of early manuscripts and letters, and the museum invites bookworms to see where the Brontë family lived and wrote, and walk the Yorkshire moors that inspired many of the scenes each sister depicted.

10. SHE HELPED MAKE THE NAME 'SHIRLEY' MORE POPULAR FOR GIRLS.

Thanks to Brontë, the name Shirley is now considered more of a girl's name than a boy's one. In 1849, Brontë's second novel, Shirley, about an independent heiress named Shirley Keeldar, was released. Before then, the name Shirley was unusual, but was most commonly used for boys. (In the novel, the title character was named as such because her parents had wanted a boy.) But after 1849, the name Shirley reportedly started to become popular for women. Decades later in the 1930s, child star Shirley Temple's fame catapulted the name into more popular use.

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