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Dark Horse Comics

Wednesday is New Comics Day

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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. Itty Bitty Hellboy #1

By Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani
Dark Horse Comics

Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani get "all ages" comics. They've previously won awards for their popular and long-running Tiny Titans series, and a couple of years ago, they opened their own comic book shop in Skokie, Illinois called Aw Yeah Comics where they put on comic book-making parties for kids, serving juice boxes and handing out crayons and paper. Their distinctive "animation" style and kid-friendly sense of humor appeals just as much to adults as it does to kids as evidenced by their recent Kickstarter for a new line of "all-reader friendly" comics also called Aw Yeah Comics! that blew past it's $15,000 goal in just a matter of hours.

Their latest project is their much anticipated Aw Yeah Comics! treatment of Mike Mignola's Hellboy universe. Like with Tiny Titans, their approach is part Muppet Babies, part Cartoon Network, part Sunday comics, delivering child versions of popular characters in a light, gag strip format. Baltazar's cartooning takes the essence of characters like Hellboy, Liz Sherman, and Roger the Homunculus and turns them into cute, angular, candy-colored graphical adaptations of Mignola's dark, brooding, shadow-drenched creations.

Itty Bitty Hellboy is a 5 issue mini-series that, should its popularity spawn more Aw Yeah series, would add an unexpected layer to the ever-growing Mignola-verse of stories Dark Horse publishes about Hellboy and his supporting cast of characters.

Here's a great preview from issue #1 and an interesting interview with the Aw Yeah Comics! duo.

2. TEOTFW (The End of the F**king World)

By Charles Forsman
Fantagraphics

Charles Forsman is quite well known these days within indie comics circles as being a major proponent of the mini-comic (generally low print run, self-made, hand stapled DIY comics). He started his own mini-publishing house, Oily Comics, a few years back and has turned it into a successful subscription-based service where readers can get a new mini-comic in the mail from a variety of creators every month. While Oily Comics publishes works from other artists such as Michael DeForge, Warren Craghead and Melissa Mendes, it was also the vehicle for Forsman to put out a 16-part miniseries called The End of the F**king World. It quickly became the talk of the small press comics world and is now being collected in one volume by Fantagraphics.

TEOTFW (the Safe For Bookstores title) is a meditative drama about teen alienation and violence. James and Alyssa are in love and run off together on a road trip to escape their lives and their parents. James, however, is extremely troubled. He's a bit of a sociopath with violent tendencies and an inability to feel emotion or empathy for others. Soon, Alyssa can no longer deny that something isn't quite right with him. This tale of young love is reminiscent of Terrence Malick's classic film Badlands in both its content and its sparse storytelling style. In fact, Forsman's whole low budget approach to making the comic gives it a mood similar to a low budget film despite the deliberate comic strip feel of his cartooning.

I think I first became aware of Forsman's work a couple of years back when he did this EC Segar style adaptation of Raiders of the Lost Ark as well as a Charles Schultz version of Jaws. Even TEOTFW shows the influence of the great newspaper strip cartoonists on his work, but with Forsman's modern storytelling sensibilities adding a different context to the style. He began this story aiming to work on it in a simple style that would allow him to easily knock out pages, releasing it in 8 page installments that he sold for $1 each. The immediate attention it received from both readers and interested publishers like Fantagraphics helped turn what started as a simple mini comics project into a 176 page graphic novel and the biggest release of Forsman's career thus far.

Fantagraphics has a good sized preview of the opening pages of the book here. If you want to know more about Forsman there are two recent interviews with him you can read—One by Matt Seneca and another by Tom Spurgeon.

3. She Died in Terrebonne #1

Written by Kevin Church; art by T.J. Kirsch
Agreeable Comics via Comixology Submit

One really nice advantage of Comixology's Submit program for independent publishers is that it becomes a new platform for webcomics creators to repackage their content for new audiences that maybe weren't aware of it previously or just don't enjoy following longform stories through their web browser. A good example of this is Kevin Church and T.J. Kirsch's popular webcomic She Died In Terrebonne. They first began publishing the webcomic back in 2009 and received a good amount of praise as it ran through to its completion. People like myself, who are not as good as they should be at following serialized webcomics, jumped at the chance to pick up the first issue of this when it hit the Comixology storefront recently, to read it in the more comfortable environment of my iPad. That said, Church and Kirsch originally formatted this story to be delivered in strip-sized chunks, perfect for webcomics, but that formatting becomes mostly invisible when read together this way. 

She Died in Terrebonne is a private eye noir starring Sam Kimimura, a Japanese American detective, searching for a missing girl who turns up dead in a small Pacific Northwest town called Terrebonne. Though that is the end of the case he was hired for, he decides to stick around Terrebonne to see how this all turns out. The story draws on a number of influences, primarily 1970s crime dramas that Kirsch invokes in subtle ways (shaggy hairstyles for sure, but also simple, naturalistic lighting and settings that feel like film and TV of that era). Kirsch has a really appealing style, reminiscent in some ways of Cameron Stewart, and his work in this first issue makes this a very appealing read. 

The first issue of She Died in Terrebonne is on sale on the Comixology app for $1.99 with four more issues presumably soon to come.

4. Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever #1

Written by Tom Neely, art by Igloo Tornado
Microcosm Publishing /IWDY Comics

Tom Neely's cult hit Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever has been floating around for a few years in various forms and is actually up to its third issue in this latest iteration. However, the first issue is getting a much wider release through the comic book direct market this week. It even sports a hilarious alternate cover (shown above) by the great Jim Rugg. 

Henry & Glenn consists of one-page comics, single drawings and even diary entries depicting the fictional domestic partnership of real-life tough guy metal heads Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig. They watch TV together, paint the bathroom black, argue with each other and worry about each other. They also fret a lot about their missing dog who may or may not have been kidnapped by their overly nice but Satan-worshipping neighbors Hall & Oates. It's no wonder this book is a hit with most people who've read it (Danzig has not officially acknowledged its existence and Rollins claims to have not read it but is cool enough to sign a book from a fan when one is presented to him). It also seems to be growing in popularity over time. In fact, the book has sold extremely well over the years through distribution channels outside of the normal comic-related ones like record stores. Comic book retailers and Diamond Comic Distributors (which controls all distribution to comic book shops) are only catching on to the phenomenon now.

The book is drawn by an artist collective known as Igloo Tornado which consists of the book's writer Tom Neely. His Popeye-like drawing style actually recently landed him a job drawing the new Popeye series for IDW but even that book may not exceed the popularity Henry & Glenn is hitting.

You can find out more about the book and order a copy here.

5. American Vampire Anthology #1


By Various Writers and artists
DC Vertigo

American Vampire was writer Scott Snyder's breakout hit series about vampires living behind the scenes throughout history in the United States. It's the book that put Snyder's name on the comic book map and led to him to becoming the writer for both DC's Batman and Superman Unchained titles. Hence, being a suddenly-in-demand writer, he's had to put American Vampire on hiatus but plans a return later this year.

In the meantime, Snyder has recruited some pretty big names to contribute to this one-shot anthology comic that builds on the world of American Vampire, featuring stories set throughout different eras in American history. Jason Aaron, Becky Cloonan, Gail Simone, Greg Rucka, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon, Jeff Lemire and Francesco Francavilla are just some of the people involved. Regular series artist and co-creator Rafael Albuquerque draws one of the stories but also writes a story, working with artist Ivo Milazzo. 

The eight stories contained here range in settings from a "lost" Roanoke colony in the 16th century to 1967, the time period the main series is currently set in. It features some new characters as well as some familiar ones.

You can preview some of the art here and read an interview with Snyder and Albuquerque here.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

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

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1
If you're following all the moves the Hollywood division of Marvel is making right now then you're well aware of the risk they're taking putting out a movie based on the little-known property Guardians of the Galaxy. As part of the recent Marvel NOW relaunch of all their titles, Brian Michael Bendis and Steve McNiven bring a level of cinematic polish to the series about an oddball pairing of cosmic heroes (plus Iron Man!) that gets its first collection this week. More here.

Rocket Raccoon: Tales from Half World
In related news, the probable breakout star of the Guardians movie, Rocket Raccoon, gets his early adventures collected here. Featuring art by a pre-Hellboy Mike Mignola. More info here.

Helter Skelter: Fashion Unfriendly
A new English language release of a 2004 manga by Kyoko Okazaki about horrors inherent in the women's fashion industry. Okazki is considered one of the pioneers of josei (women's comics) and often told stories about controversial women's issues. Details here.

Federal Bureau of Physics #2
The new Vertigo comic Collider which I've previously highlighted here had a sudden name change and is now called Federal Bureau of Physics which is a title more directly related to the story and potentially avoids some sort of lawsuit issue for DC Comics. Details here.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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iStock

When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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