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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. The Star Wars #1

Written by J.W. Rinzler; art by Mike Mayhew; color by Rain Beredo & Brad Anderson
Dark Horse

Are you already familiar with the story of The Star Wars? The tale of the epic struggle between the Rebels and the Galactic Empire. The evil Darth Vader and the lords of the Sith. General Luke Skywalker, the last of the Jedi-Bendu, and his young padawan, Anniken Starkiller. The green, lizard-like star pilot, Han Solo, who speaks a strange language known as Wookiee. 

Wait a minute, what the hell is going on here?

The Star Wars is a new 8 issue mini-series adapted from George Lucas' original rough draft of the screenplay that would eventually become the film we all know (minus the "The"). While it has some obvious similarities, it also has some huge differences that make this barely recognizable to most fans. 

J. W. Rinzler has written numerous books for Lucas' licensing division, including The Making of Star Wars, which first led to him getting his hands on the original draft. In reading it, he was struck not only by how different they were from the final shooting script, but by how this version of the story could actually work on its own. Rinzler, along with Dark Horse Comics, proposed the comic book idea to Lucas and got his approval on an 8-issue mini-series. Dark Horse is in the last years of a long run producing Star Wars comics before new owner Disney/Marvel takes over. It seems in this end run they are throwing out some interesting spins on the property such as the James Bond inspired Agent of Empire, Brian Wood's new post-Episode IV stories in the simply titled Star Wars series and now this odd and unexpected book.

It's probably a testament to the durability of the appeal of Star Wars that the production of what is obviously a rejected version of the original story would cause any sort of stir. There aren't a lot of other franchises out there with fans that would clamor for something like this to get made. Plus, let's face it, there's a good chance this is going to read like a weird "Elseworlds"-style alternate universe story or a lesser Star Wars knockoff. However, for hardcore fans like myself, the existence of this book strikes a chord and brings to mind all the articles in fan magazines I used to read in the late '70s and early '80s about the making of the saga. In particular, it reminds me of the amazing paintings by the film's concept artist Ralph McQuarrie that I used to study when I was a little kid. Those paintings set the tone and look for Star Wars but it was hard not to focus on the little differences—the ideas that changed a little when they hit the big screen or never made it there at all and seemed to hint at a potential other movie in some alternate universe that we would never see.

You can read the first few pages of The Star Wars here and also check out this video trailer for the book

2. Toormina Video


By Pat Grant
PatGrantArt.com

Pat Grant is an Australian cartoonist whose first graphic novel, Blue, was published by Top Shelf last year. In Blue, he mixed sci-fi with autobiography  to tell a story about aliens, immigration, and the search for a dead body that pulled from experiences from his childhood (not the aliens part). Last week he published a short webcomic called Toormina Video to his website that I presume leans almost squarely into the autobiography grid of storytelling techniques. While relaying a very personal memory of his father, Grant delivers a punch to the gut for anyone reading this who has ever dedicated a substantial part of their life to a particular obsession. Cartoonists, beware. The last two panels of this comic made me want to step away from working on my own comic for a while.

Toormina Video recalls the cartoonist's relationship with his deceased father who often left him on his own while drinking at the pub. At one point he sends young Pat on a bit of a fool's errand to compile a list of movies that Pat has always wanted to see so that one day they could rent them and watch them together. The anecdotes about his father are touching—albeit familiar—tales of parental alcoholism. The way Grant wraps his comic up though is really something special and I won't say anything more about it except to say go read it here.  

3. X-men: Battle of the Atom #1

Written by Brian Michael Bendis; art by Frank Cho 
Marvel Comics

If you've been following Brian Michael Bendis' two X-men books, All New X-men and Uncanny X-men, the story that he's been telling is about to come to a head in a new event that will cross over into all the X-men titles. It begins here with the two issue mini-series X-men: Battle of the Atom.

The X-men books have been the best they have been in years thanks to the star writers Marvel has put in charge of the books (Bendis along with Jason Aaron on Wolverine & The X-men and Brian Wood on X-men). In All New X-men, Bendis has disrupted the status quo by bringing the original X-men (including the deceased Jean Grey) forward in time to the present in order to scare off a young Cyclops from turning into the killer of Professor Xavier and leader of an adversarial school of mutants. It's a nice spin on the X-men's usual dystopian future stories in which it is our present that has become the dark future which must be prevented. However, in this storyline, a new wrinkle in the timeline appears in the form of visitors from our future who are not happy about the damage that the time-hopping young X-men have wreaked on their present.

Bendis is joined by artist Frank Cho on the interiors and classic X-men cover artist Art Adams for the series covers. You can read some preview pages here.

4. Basewood

By Alec Longstreth
Kickstarter

It took Alec Longstreth seven years to complete his graphic novel, Basewood, and he has the beard to prove it (he was clean shaven near the beginning and vowed not to shave again until it was finished). It is a fantasy about a young man with amnesia, searching for his past, who encounters magical creatures and new companions as he journeys through a mysterious forest. He has been publishing it in mini-comic installments over the years in his black and white anthology comic Phase 7 as well as on his website in webcomic form. He has garnered a lot of praise and support for it within the indie comics community and won an Ignatz Award for Outstanding Minicomic for Phase 7 back in 2005. 

Like just about every self-publishing cartoonist these days, Longstreth has taken to Kickstarter to fund the printing of his book. The Kickstarter for Basewood easily made its goal within a few days but it's not too late to support him. Many of the comics we see on Kickstarter are projects that couldn't find a publisher or maybe wisely decided they didn't need one. In the case of Basewood, Longstreth apparently had options (in fact, AdHouse Books has agreed to distribute it through Diamond Retailers as long as the book reached its goal) but chose to go it alone to get the book printed exactly the way he wanted it without having to make compromises for cost reasons. As his Kickstarter video shows, Longstreth drew each page very large and put a lot of detail into his crosshatching, details that could be lost if printed too small or at a lesser quality than is needed. Considering this has been a long undertaking for him, it's understandable he'd want to be as proud as possible with the end result.

Tagging onto the issues raised by Pat Grant's comic in #2 on this list, many people don't realize the time investment required to write, draw and produce a 200 page graphic novel. Longstreth admits that this book is the product of his entire twenties. Back when he started working on Basewood there were probably more opportunities to get signed by a publisher and of course something like Kickstarter didn't exist. Much like the character in his book—waking up in a forest, not sure where he is—Longstreth has emerged from the creation of this comic into a new publishing world that didn't exist when he started and it looks like he's going to figure it all out.

Go ahead and check out the Kickstarter page and be sure to watch the video documenting Longstreth's beard growth over time. 

5. Forever Evil #1

Written by Geoff Johns, art by David Finch and Richard Friend
DC Comics

It's hard to believe that DC Comics have not done a line-wide crossover event since the "New 52" relaunch of all their titles back in 2011. Crossovers are like crack to DC and Marvel. Their resistance was admirable but it ends today with this new seven issue miniseries that will tie into most of the main DC Universe titles. Following up from the events of the "Trinity War" storyline that ran through all three Justice League titles and wrapped up last month (we'll call that a mini-crossover event), the world believes that the Justice League is dead and the Crime Syndicate, their evil counterparts from Earth-3, have stepped in to take their place. That leaves the Justice League's greatest villains, led by Lex Luthor, to defend Earth from these invaders.

DC has gone all in with this crossover by changing the titles of this month's books to the names of the corresponding enemy of that book's hero. They're also temporarily renumbering the issues with #1s all around. Since there are so many villains to choose from, each book is getting multiple weekly villain issues in place of its usual one monthly issue. To balance it out, about two-thirds of the DC line which is not part of this villain switch is simply skipping publication this month. So, for instance, in place of Batman #23 we'll get Joker #1, Riddler #1, Penguin #1 and Bane #1 this month. Oh, and each issue will have a 3D, lenticular "Motion" cover option as well as a plain old 2D option. If you think this is all confusing, imagine what retailers had to go through to when ordering the books. It's been complicated to the say the least.

The Forever Evil series is written by DC Chief Creative Officer and regular writer of both Justice League and Justice League of America Geoff Johns and it is illustrated by Justice League of America artist David Finch. You can read a preview of it here.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

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

Batman: Black and White #1
DC's artist friendly anthology of black and white Batman short stories returns with a new volume featuring Chip Kidd, Sean Gordon Murphy, Michael Cho, Neal Adams, Chris Samnee and more. Preview it here.

DC Universe Vs. The Master of the Universe #1
Superman and the Justice League vs. He-man and the Masters of the Universe? Believe it or not, this isn't the first time these two franchises have crossed over but it has been more than 30 years since it has happened. Place your bets now on who will win each individual matchup.

God is Dead #1
The prolific writer Jonathan Hickman (currently writing two Avengers books and the Infinity mini-series for Marvel in addition to some creator-owned books for Image) launches yet another comic. This time a 6 issue mini-series for Avatar in which the old gods like Zeus and Horus return to stake their claim on Earth.

2000 AD: Prog 1848
Fan favorite Simon Bisley joins co-creator Pat Mills in returning to one of their early creations, Sláine, in this one-shot 8 page story in the latest 2000 AD magazine.

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Kevork Djansezian, Stringer, Getty Images
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Pop Culture
LeVar Burton Is Legally Allowed to Say His Reading Rainbow Catchphrase
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Kevork Djansezian, Stringer, Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine the original Reading Rainbow without LeVar Burton, but in August, the New York public broadcasting network WNED made it very clear who owned the rights to the program. By saying his old catchphrase from his hosting days, “but you don’t have to take my word for it” on his current podcast, WNED claimed Burton was infringing on their intellectual property. Now, Vulture reports that the case has been settled and Burton is now allowed to drop the phrase when and wherever he pleases.

The news came out in an recent interview with the actor and TV personality. “All settled, but you don’t have to take my word for it,” he told Vulture. “It’s all good. It’s all good. I can say it.”

The conflict dates back to 2014, when Burton launched a Kickstarter campaign to revive the show without WNED’s consent. Prior to that, the network and Burton’s digital reading company RRKidz had made a licensing deal where they agreed to split the profits down the middle if a new show was ever produced. Burton’s unauthorized crowdfunding undid those negotiations, and tensions between the two parties have been high ever since. The situation came to a head when Burton started using his famous catchphrase on his LeVar Burton Reads podcast, which centers around him reading short fiction in the same vein as his Reading Rainbow role. By doing this, WNED alleged he was aiming to “control and reap the benefits of Reading Rainbow's substantial goodwill.”

Though he’s no longer a collaborator with WNED, Burton can at least continue to say “but you don’t have to take my word for it” without fearing legal retribution. WNED is meanwhile "working on the next chapter of Reading Rainbow" without their original star, and Burton tells Vulture he looks “forward to seeing what they do with the brand next."

[h/t Vulture]

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literature
The Charming English Fishing Village That Inspired Dracula
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Whitby as seen from the top of the 199 Steps
chris2766/iStock

The train departed King's Cross at 10:25 a.m. on July 29, 1890. Bram Stoker settled wearily into the carriage for the six-hour journey to Whitby, the fashionable and remote seaside village in North Yorkshire. The sooty sprawl of London gave way to green grids of farmland and pasture, and then windswept moors blanketed in heather and wild roses.

Stoker needed this holiday. The 42-year-old manager of London's Lyceum Theatre had just finished an exhausting national tour with his employer, the celebrated but demanding actor Henry Irving. The unrelenting task of running the business side of Irving's many theatrical enterprises for the past decade had left Stoker with little time for himself. When the curtains fell at the end of each night's performance, he may have felt that the energy had been sucked out of him.

Now he looked forward to a three-week getaway where he would have time to think about his next novel, a supernatural tale that harnessed the sources of Victorian anxiety: immigration and technology, gender roles and religion. In ways he didn't foresee, the small fishing port of Whitby would plant the seeds for a vampire novel that would terrify the world. Stoker started out on an innocent and much-deserved vacation, but ended up creating Dracula.

A photo of Bram Stoker
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Stoker emerged from the train station in Whitby, the sounds and smell of the sea would have restored him after the long trip. He loaded his trunk into a horse-drawn cab for the journey up the West Cliff, where new vacation apartments and hotels served the crowds of holidaymakers. He checked into a flat at 6 Royal Crescent, a half-circle of elegant Georgian-style townhomes that faced the ocean.

He often felt invigorated by the seashore: "He's finally on a holiday, away from the hustle and bustle of London, the Lyceum Theatre, and Henry Irving's dominance over him," Dacre Stoker, a novelist and the author's great-grandnephew, tells Mental Floss. "The ocean and the seaside play into Bram's life, and, I believe, in stimulating his imagination."

Stoker's wife Florence and their 10-year-old son Noel would join him the following week. Now was his chance to explore Whitby on his own.

The East Cliff with Tate Hill Pier in the foreground
iStock

"A curious blend of old and new it is," wrote a travel correspondent for the Leeds Mercury. The River Esk divided the town into two steep halves known as the West and East Cliffs. Down a tangle of paths from the brow of the West Cliff, Stoker found himself on the town's famed beach, where people gathered to watch the many vessels at sea or walked along the gentle surf. At the end of the beach was the Saloon, the nucleus of Whitby's social whirl.

"The enterprising manager engages the best musical and dramatic talent procurable, whilst on the promenade a selected band of professional musicians gives performances daily," wrote Horne's Guide to Whitby. Holidaymakers could purchase a day pass to the Saloon and enjoy afternoon tea, tennis, and endless people-watching.

Next to the Saloon, the West Pier featured a long promenade parallel to the river and a three-story building containing public baths, a museum with a collection of local fossils, and a subscription library. Shops selling fish and chips, ice cream, and Whitby rock lined the winding streets. Visitors could watch all kinds of fishing vessels discharging their daily catch, and even hop aboard a boat for a night's "herringing" with local fishermen.

Whitby's East Cliff had a more mysterious atmosphere. Across the town's single bridge, tightly packed medieval cottages and jet factories leaned over the narrow cobbled streets, "rising one above another from the water side in the most irregular, drunken sort of arrangement conceivable," the Leeds Mercury reported.

Above the ancient Tate Hill Pier, a stone stairway of 199 steps (which pallbearers used when they carried coffins) led up the cliff to St. Mary's parish church and its graveyard full of weathered headstones. Towering over the whole scene—and visible from nearly any spot in town—were the ruins of Whitby Abbey, a 13th-century pile of Gothic arches that had been built upon the remains of a 7th-century monastery.

"I think [Stoker] was struck by the setting. He's thinking, 'This is perfect. I have the ships coming in, I've got the abbey, a churchyard, a graveyard'," Dacre Stoker says. "Maybe it was by chance, but I think it just became that perfect scene."

Whitby Abbey
Whitby Abbey
Daverhead/iStock

In Dracula, chapters six through eight kick the narrative into frightening action. By then, real estate agent Jonathan Harker has traveled to Transylvania to negotiate Dracula's purchase of a London property and become the vampire's prisoner. His fiancée Mina Murray, her friend Lucy Westenra, and Lucy's mother have traveled to Whitby for a relaxing holiday, but Mina remains troubled by the lack of letters from Jonathan. She confides her worries and records the strange scenes she witnesses in her journal.

On the afternoon of his arrival, according to a modern account compiled by historians at the Whitby Museum, Stoker climbed the 199 Steps to St. Mary's churchyard and found a bench in the southwest corner. The view made a deep impression on Stoker, and he took note of the river and harbor, the abbey's "noble ruin," the houses "piled up one over the other anyhow." In his novel, Mina arrives in late July on the same train as Stoker, mounts the 199 Steps, and echoes his thoughts:

"This is to my mind the nicest spot in Whitby, for it lies right over the town, and has a full view of the harbor ... It descends so steeply over the harbor that part of the bank has fallen away, and some of the graves have been destroyed. In one place part of the stonework of the graves stretches out over the sandy pathway far below. There are walks, with seats beside them, through the churchyard; and people go and sit there all day long looking at the beautiful view and enjoying the breeze. I shall come and sit here very often myself and work."

The churchyard gave Stoker a number of literary ideas. The following day, Stoker chatted there with three leathery old Greenland fisherman who likely spoke in a distinct Yorkshire dialect. They told Stoker a bit of mariner's lore: If a ship's crew heard bells at sea, an apparition of a lady would appear in one of the abbey's windows. "Then things is all wore out," one of the sailors warned.

Stoker ambled between the headstones that sprouted from the thick carpet of grass. Though most of the markers' names and dates had been erased by the wind, he copied almost 100 into his notes. Stoker used one of them, Swales, as the name of the fisherman with a face that is "all gnarled and twisted like the bark of an old tree," who begins talking with Mina in the churchyard. Mina asks him about the legend of the lady appearing in the abbey window, but Swales says it's all foolishness—stories of "boh-ghosts an' barguests an' bogles" that are only fit to scare children.

St. Mary's churchyard
St. Mary's churchyard, which Mina calls "the nicest spot in Whitby."
iStock

For the first few days in August, Stoker was occupied by the summer's social calendar. He likely enjoyed dinner with friends arriving from London, and went to church on Sunday morning. On the 5th, Stoker's wife and son joined him at 6 Royal Crescent. The next several days may have been spent at the Saloon, promenading on the pier, and making social calls, as it was the custom for newly arrived visitors to visit with acquaintances in town.

But Whitby's infamous weather had the ability to turn a sunny day somber in an instant. August 11 was a "grey day," Stoker noted, "horizon lost in grey mist, all vastness, clouds piled up and a 'brool' over the sea." With Florence and Noel perhaps staying indoors, Stoker set off for the East Cliff again and chatted with a Coast Guard boatman named William Petherick. "Told me of various wrecks," Stoker jotted. During one furious gale, a "ship got into harbor, never knew how, all hands were below praying."

The ship was the Dmitry, a 120-ton schooner that had left the Russian port of Narva with a ballast of silver sand. The ship encountered a fierce storm as it neared Whitby on October 24, 1885, and aimed for the harbor.

"The 'Russian' got in but became a wreck during the night," according to a copy of the Coast Guard's log, which Petherick delivered to Stoker. The crew survived. In a picture taken by local photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe just a few days after the storm, the Dmitry is shown beached near Tate Hill Pier with its masts lying in the sand.

'The Wreck of the Dmitry' (1885), by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe
The Wreck of the Dmitry (1885), by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe
Courtesy of the Sutcliffe Gallery

Petherick's account gave Stoker the means for his vampire's arrival in England, the moment when the mysterious East disrupts the order of the West. Mina pastes a local newspaper article describing a sudden and ferocious storm that hurled Dracula's ship, the Demeter from Varna, against Tate Hill Pier. The Coast Guard discovered the crew had vanished and the captain was dead. Just then, "an immense dog sprang up on deck and … making straight for the steep cliff … it disappeared in the darkness, which seemed intensified just beyond the focus of the searchlight," the article in Mina's journal reads. The dog was never seen again, but townsfolk did find a dead mastiff that had been attacked by another large beast.

Mina describes the funeral for the Demeter's captain, which Stoker based on scenes from an annual celebration he watched on August 15 called the Water Fete. In reality, thousands of cheerful spectators lined the quays as a local band and choir performed popular songs and a parade of gaily decorated boats sailed up the river, with banners fluttering merrily in the breeze, according to the Whitby Gazette's report. But through Mina, Stoker transformed the scene into a memorial:

"Every boat in the harbor seemed to be there, and the coffin was carried by captains all the way from Tate Hill Pier up to the churchyard. Lucy came with me, and we went early to our old seat, whilst the cortege of boats went up the river to the Viaduct and came down again. We had a lovely view, and saw the procession nearly all the way."

The final week of Stoker's holiday elicited some of the most important details in Dracula. On August 19, he bought day passes to Whitby's museum library and the subscription library. In the museum's reading room, Stoker wrote down 168 words in the Yorkshire dialect and their English meanings from F.K. Robinson's A Glossary of Words Used in the Neighborhood of Whitby, which later formed the bulk of Mr. Swales's vocabulary in his chats with Mina.

One of the words was "barguest," a term for a "terrifying apparition," which also refers specifically to a "large black dog with flaming eyes as big as saucers" in Yorkshire folklore, whose "vocation appears to have been that of a presage of death," according to an account from 1879.

"I do think Stoker meant for that connection," John Edgar Browning, visiting lecturer at the Georgia Institute of Technology and expert in horror and the gothic, tells Mental Floss. "Moreover, he probably would have meant for the people of Whitby in the novel to make the connection, since it was they who perceived Dracula's form as a large black dog."

Downstairs, Stoker checked out books on Eastern European culture and folklore, clearly with the aim of fleshing out the origins of his vampire: Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, a travelogue titled On the Track of the Crescent, and most importantly, William Wilkinson's An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldovia: with Various Observations Relating to Them.

The library building where Stoker discovered Dracula
The library building where Stoker discovered Dracula
Courtesy of Dacre Stoker

From the latter book, Stoker wrote in his notes, "P. 19. DRACULA in Wallachian language means DEVIL. Wallachians were accustomed to give it as a surname to any person who rendered himself conspicuous by courage, cruel actions, or cunning."

The Wilkinson book gave Stoker not just the geographical origin and nationality for his character, but also his all-important name, redolent of mystery and malice. "The moment Stoker happened upon the name of 'Dracula' in Whitby—a name Stoker scribbled over and over on the same page on which he crossed through [the vampire's original name] 'Count Wampyr,' as if he were savoring the word's three evil syllables—the notes picked up tremendously," Browning says.

By the time Stoker and his family returned to London around August 23, he had developed his idea from a mere outline to a fully fledged villain with a sinister name and unforgettable fictional debut.

"The modernization of the vampire myth that we see in Dracula—and that many contemporary reviewers commented upon—may not have happened, at least to the same degree, without Stoker's visit to Whitby," Browning says. "Whitby was a major catalyst, the contemporary Gothic 'glue', as it were, for what would eventually become the most famous vampire novel ever written."

Bram Stoker visited Whitby only once in his life, but the seaside village made an indelible mark on his imagination. When he finally wrote the scenes as they appear in Dracula, "He placed all of these events in real time, in real places, with real names of people he pulled off gravestones. That's what set the story apart," Dacre Stoker says. "That's why readers were scared to death—because there is that potential, just for a moment, that maybe this story is real."

Additional source: Bram Stoker's Notes for Dracula: A Facsimile Edition, annotated and transcribed by Robert Eighteen-Bisang and Elizabeth Miller

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