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Dark Horse Comics
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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George C. Beresford/Getty Images
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literature
12 Facts About Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness
George C. Beresford/Getty Images
George C. Beresford/Getty Images

Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella about venturing into the moral depths of colonial Africa is among the most frequently analyzed literary works in college curricula.

1. ENGLISH WAS THE AUTHOR’S THIRD LANGUAGE.

It’s impressive enough that Conrad wrote a book that has stayed relevant for more than a century. This achievement seems all the more impressive when considering that he wrote it in English, his third language. Born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in 1857, Conrad was a native Polish speaker. French was his second language. He didn’t even know any English—the language of his literary composition—until age 21.

2. HEART OF DARKNESS BEGINS AND ENDS IN THE UK.

Though it recounts Marlow's voyage through Belgian Congo in search of Kurtz and is forever linked to the African continent, Conrad’s novella begins and ends in England. At the story’s conclusion, the “tranquil waterway” that “seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness” is none other than the River Thames.

3. THE PROTAGONIST MARLOW IS CONRAD.

The well-traveled Marlow—who appears in other Conrad works, such as Lord Jim—is based on his equally well-traveled creator. In 1890, 32-year-old Conrad sailed the Congo River while serving as second-in-command on a Belgian trading company steamboat. As a career seaman, Conrad explored not only the African continent but also ventured to places ranging from Australia to India to South America.

4. LIKE KURTZ AND MARLOW, CONRAD GOT SICK ON HIS VOYAGE.

Illness claimed Kurtz, an ivory trader who has gone mysteriously insane. It nearly claimed Marlow. And these two characters almost never existed, owing to their creator’s health troubles. Conrad came down with dysentery and malaria in Belgian Congo, and afterwards had to recuperate in the German Hospital, London, before heading to Geneva, Switzerland, to undergo hydrotherapy. Though he survived, Conrad suffered from poor health for many years afterward.

5. THERE HAVE BEEN MANY ALLEGED KURTZES IN REAL LIFE.

The identity of the person on whom Conrad based the story’s antagonist has aroused many a conjecture. Among those suggested as the real Kurtz include a French agent who died on board Conrad’s steamship, a Belgian colonial officer, and Welsh explorer Henry Morton Stanley.

6. COLONIZING WAS ALL THE RAGE WHEN HEART OF DARKNESS APPEARED.

Imperialism—now viewed as misguided, oppressive, and ruthless—was much in vogue when Conrad’s novella hit shelves. The "Scramble for Africa" had seen European powers stake their claims on the majority of the continent. Britain’s Queen Victoria was even portrayed as the colonies' "great white mother." And writing in The New Review in 1897, adventurer Charles de Thierry (who tried and failed to establish his own colony in New Zealand) echoed the imperialistic exuberance of many with his declaration: “Since the wise men saw the star in the East, Christianity has found no nobler expression.”

7. CHINUA ACHEBE WAS NOT A FAN OF THE BOOK.

Even though Conrad was no champion of colonialism, Chinua Achebe—the Nigerian author of Things Fall Apart and other novels—delivered a 1975 lecture called “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” that described Conrad as a “thoroughgoing racist” and his ubiquitous short classic as “an offensive and deplorable book.” However, even Achebe credited Conrad for having “condemned the evil of imperial exploitation.” And others have recognized Heart of Darkness as an indictment of the unfairness and barbarity of the colonial system.

8. THE BOOK WASN’T SUCH A BIG DEAL—AT FIRST.

In 1902, three years after its initial serialization in a magazine, Heart of Darkness appeared in a volume with two other Conrad stories. It received the least notice of the three. In fact, not even Conrad himself considered it a major work. And during his lifetime, the story “received no special attention either from readers or from Conrad himself,” writes Gene M. Moore in the introduction to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness: A Casebook. But Heart of Darkness managed to ascend to immense prominence in the 1950s, after the planet had witnessed “the horror”—Kurtz's last words in the book—of WWII and the ramifications of influential men who so thoroughly indulged their basest instincts.

9. T.S. ELIOT BORROWED AN IMPORTANT LINE.

Though Heart of Darkness wasn’t an immediate sensation, it evidently was on the radar of some in the literary community. The famous line announcing the antagonist’s demise, “Mistah Kurtz—he dead,” serves as the epigraph to the 1925 T.S. Eliot poem “The Hollow Men.”

10. THE STORY INSPIRED APOCALYPSE NOW.

Eighty years after Conrad’s novella debuted, the Francis Ford Coppola film Apocalypse Now hit the big screen. Though heavily influenced by Heart of Darkness, the movie’s setting is not Belgian Congo, but the Vietnam War. And though the antagonist (played by Marlon Brando) is named Kurtz, this particular Kurtz is no ivory trader, but a U.S. military officer who has become mentally unhinged.

11. HEART OF DARKNESS HAS BEEN MADE INTO AN OPERA.

Tarik O'Regan’s Heart of Darkness, an opera in one act, opened in 2011. Premiering at London’s Royal Opera House, it was reportedly the first operatic adaptation of Conrad’s story and heavily inspired by Apocalypse Now.

12. THE BOOK ALSO SPARKED A VIDEO GAME.

In a development not even Conrad’s imagination could have produced, his classic inspired a video game, Spec Ops: The Line, which was released in 2012.

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Dan Bell
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Design
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Kottke.org reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.

[h/t Kottke.org]

All images by Dan Bell

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