Image Comics
Image Comics

Wednesday is New Comics Day

Image Comics
Image Comics

Every Wednesday, I preview the 5 most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, Comixology, Kickstarter and the web that week. These aren't reviews, just brief highlights. If there's a release you're excited about, let's talk about it in the comments.

This week's comics include: 
- A complex story about family
- A spy comic that will feature a different artist each month
- A comic described as Beavis and Butthead meet James Joyce
- China Miéville's coda to Dial H
- And a superhero who gets his powers from alcohol

1. Household

By Sam Alden
samaldencomics.tumblr.com

It's understandable if you're not familiar with Sam Alden's work—he's only in his early 20s and has been publishing his comics in a random assortment of Tumblr posts, unrelated websites, and ontributions to StudyGroup Comics. Each is like a discarded clue scattered across the web to help you piece together what this exciting new artist is all about. Almost every comic looks wildly different from the next and they range in genre from autobiography to fantasy. His body of work to date is really worth seeking out and just this past weekend he won a prestigious Ignatz Award for Promising New Talent.

Just before winning that award this past week, Alden released his newest comic both on his Tumblr and as a mini comic at last weekend's Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD. Household is a short comic about a brother and sister who are reunited in New Orleans after some time apart. Their relationship is shadowed by a troubled childhood that they're each trying in their own way to escape from. Seeing each other again seems to complicate that in a big way.

This is a complex and emotionally harrowing comic that some will find a little too disturbing for them [edit: As noted in the comments below, I should mention that this comic gets very graphic about halfway through and is definitely for mature readers only]. Alden has many strengths as a cartoonist and one of them is knowing how to pull off the emotional gut punch. This story stuck with me for days after reading it. Alden drew it in a quickly pencilled style very similar to his Hawaii 1997 comic. It is unassuming in its rough quality and seems spontaneously drawn, belying the subtle layers of thematic storytelling beneath. You can often see where he he has erased lines of dialogue and his panel borders are wonky and uneven, but, there are so many elements of his cartooning that are more accomplished than you might at first realize. His sense of light and shadow as seen in that title page is beautiful. His realistic gestures (paired with spot-on dialogue) give his characters naturality that is so hard for many people to pull off in comics. And the way he structures his story, with interlocking scenes, sometimes switching back and forth in time from panel to panel, is just masterful.

Sam Alden, as his recent Ignatz Award indicates, is the next big thing. Check him out.

Read "Household" here.

2. Zero


Written by Ales Kot; Art by Michael Walsh, colors by Jordie Bellaire, lettering by Clayton Cowles
Image Comics

A new ongoing series called Zero takes an interesting approach to comics storytelling that may be drawing inspiration from some recent trends in comics publishing. Writer Ales Kot is structuring his first ongoing comic so that each issue tells a standalone story feeding into a larger overall narrative. Each issue will also be drawn by a different artist. 

Set in the near future, Zero is about a spy named Edward Zero who begins to uncover the uncomfortable truth behind the motives of the agency that employs him. Each issue focuses on a different mission and will tell a complete story but will build on the overarching story of Zero and his search for the truth. The first issue is drawn by Michael Walsh, the artist on the new X-Files comic for IDW. He has a gritty, realistic yet simple and clean style that is very reminiscent of Michael Lark (of Image Comics' Lazarus). Future artists will include Mateus Santolouco, Morgan Jeske, Tradd Moore, Will Tempest, and Tonci Zonjic. The consistent glue that will hold them all together is regular colorist Jordie Bellaire and letterer Clayton Cowles.

With the ever increasing popularity of digital comics, which rely more on single issue sales than collected editions, a comic that sells itself as consisting of "done-in-ones" where you can jump in at any point is a smart approach. Meanwhile, a recent comic that has successfully utilized multiple artists to tell different stories within one ongoing story is Brandon Graham's Prophet. The use of fresh talent and their varying art styles is a selling point for that book and fits in with the nature of the story in which the protagonist has multiple clones, each with their own stories to be told. Kot is capitalizing on a similar approach with some new names and rising stars on his roster and a story with changes in settings and time periods that allows for a flexibility in the book's aesthetic. 

You can read an interview with Kot and see some preview pages from Zero here.

3. School Spirits


By Anya Davidson
Picturebox

For those readers that look for comics that push the envelope and experiment a little with form, the best places to look these days are probably out in the wild world of webcomics or within the Picturebox catalog. Started by Dan Nadel, co-editor of The Comics Journal, Picturebox publishes an eclectic mix of art comics and historical comic publications. Their books tend to value things like publication design, artistic experimentation and avant-garde aesthetics that you don't see in even the most independent of indie comics these days. 

This week, Picturebox is releasing a couple of books and the one that most fits (or maybe breaks) the mold of artistic experimentation is Anya Davidson's debut graphic novel School Spirits. Davidson, a Chicago artist and former singer with the underground noise rock band Coughs, has been working on zines and mini comics for a number of years. Her work is very much in that punk frame of reference with loud, clashing color palettes and anything-goes storytelling. At times, her work is very reminiscent of classic, punk-comic provocateurs like Gary Panter but there are shades of many other influences in there including Mayan and Indian artwork, French cartoonist David B. and event a hint of Jack Kirby.

Davidson describes School Spirits as "Beavis and Butthead meets James Joyce's Ulysses," which is about as compelling a "___ meets ___" as I've heard in a while. It consists of four chapters that use different narrative techniques to tell a story involving a high school student named Oola with "an unusual connection to the supernatural."

You can preview some pages of School Spirits here.

4. Justice League 23.3/Dial E #1


Written by China Miéville; art by various
DC Comics

A nice little gem hidden within DC Comics's "Villain Month" (in which all their major superhero books are taken over by villains and temporarily renamed in their honor) is a comic that takes the place of Justice League #23.3 (there are 4 issues per title this month, hence the decimals) and is alternately titled Dial E #1. It is actually a coda to science fiction novelist China Miéville's highly acclaimed but recently cancelled DC comic Dial H.

A reworking of a goofy old DC comic—Dial H for Hero—Miéville's comic took the same concept (a guy finds a phone-like dial and whenever he dials H-E-R-O he turns into a new and different superhero) and added a dark and surreal flavor that calls to mind some of Grant Morrison's early work on Doom Patrol. Here, Mieville gets one last hurrah, but this time out there is an E dial that turns the criminals that find it into super villains.

Similar to the approach we mentioned in #2 with Ales Kot's Zero, Dial E uses an array of different artists within this one issue to differentiate the 20 different, brand new super villains it creates with the E Dial. The list of contributors is an exciting mix of artists that you'd regularly find in a DC Vertigo comic like Jeff Lemire, Brendan McCarthy, Jock and David Lapham as well as lesser known artists that you wouldn't typically see in what is ostensibly a Justice League comic like Tula O'Tay, Emma Rios, Sloane Leong, Annie Wu and many more.

You can see some preview pages here.

5. Buzzkill #1


Written by Donny Cates and Mark Reznicek; Art by Geoff Shaw, colors by Lauren Affe
Dark Horse Comics

We're all familiar with stories that show the devastating effects that alcoholism can have on someone's life. We also have seen how the power and confidence a story's character gets from alcohol is what eventually leads to the devastation. We may even have experienced these things ourselves in real life. However, in Buzzkill, a new 4 issue mini-series from Dark Horse, we meet a superhero whose power is derived from how much alcohol he imbibes. With that power comes blackouts, loss of control and massive amounts of destruction. After many years of this, the hero decides it is time to give it all up, which is exactly what his enemies want.

The creative team behind Buzzkill are all relative newcomers. Donny Cates got his break with Dark Horse with a story called Hunter Quaid that was published in their anthology Dark Horse Presents. Mark Reznicek is new to comics and a member of the band The Toadies who co-wrote the story with his friend Cates. Even artist Geoff Shaw has a short comics resume that's highlight is a 10 page story in a Batman anthology comic. Together they seem to have hit on a unique concept that looks to tell a serious story about addiction but within the larger-than-life trappings of a modern superhero comic. Despite its seemingly solemn take on alcoholism though, a sign that the comic will not take itself too seriously is in the names of some of the other heroes and villains that appear in the book, all with names derived from bands that Reznicek enjoys, i.e. "Panteradactyl."

Read a preview of the first few pages here.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

The Brothers James #1
Zero's Michael Walsh has another comic out this week. This one is available through Comixology's Submit program for self-publishers. It's about two brothers driving across the country on a revenge mission to take out the people that killed their parents when they were kids. Preview and buy it through Comixology here

Kinski #3
I haven't yet had the opportunity to mention the digital comic Kinski published by MonkeyBrain Comics and written and illustrated by the amazing Gabriel Hardman (Hulk, Secret Avengers). It's a weird, Hitchcockian story about a traveling businessman who ends up stealing a dog. The third issue goes on sale today for the very affordable price of 99 cents.

Inkshot
Also from Monkeybrain is this new 260+ page anthology consisting of 3 to 5 page stories all done by Brazilian comic creators, some whom have appeared in American anthologies such as Popgun and Dark Horse Presents and others that are most likely brand new to us American readers. Also on sale at Comixology.

Pompeii
Picturebox's other big release of the week (in addition to the previously mentioned School Spirits) is a graphic novel about an artist's assistant living in Pompeii, Italy before the deadly volcanic eruption that destroys the city. Writer and artist Frank Santoro is someone who loves to deconstruct and teach the art of making comics. He has drawn this book in a style that is reminiscent of Roman frescoes and drawings. Preview it here.

Reggie-12
Brian Ralph's sitcom-like take on Tezuka-like robot manga gets collected in this new hardcover volume from Drawn & Quarterly.
Peruse the comics here.

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How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library
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Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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12 Facts About James Joyce
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

June 16, 1904 is the day that James Joyce, the Irish author of Modernist masterpieces like Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and who was described as “a curious mixture of sinister genius and uncertain talent,” set his seminal work, Ulysses. It also thought to be the day that he had his first date with his future wife, Nora Barnacle.

He was as mythical as the myths he used as the foundations for his own work. So in honor of that June day in 1904—known to fans worldwide as “Bloomsday,” after one of the book’s protagonists, Leopold Bloom—here are 12 facts about James Joyce.

1. HE WAS ONLY 9 WHEN HIS FIRST PIECE OF WRITING WAS PUBLISHED.

In 1891, shortly after he had to leave Clongowes Wood College when his father lost his job, 9-year-old Joyce wrote a poem called “Et Tu Healy?” It was published by his father John and distributed to friends; the elder Joyce thought so highly of it, he allegedly sent copies to the Pope.

No known complete copies of the poem exist, but the precocious student’s verse allegedly denounced a politician named Tim Healy for abandoning 19th century Irish nationalist politician Charles Stewart Parnell after a sex scandal. Fragments of the ending of the poem, later remembered by James’s brother Stanislaus, showed Parnell looking down on Irish politicians:

His quaint-perched aerie on the crags of Time
Where the rude din of this century
Can trouble him no more

While the poem was seemingly quaint, young Joyce equating Healy as Brutus and Parnell as Caesar marked the first time he’d use old archetypes in a modern context, much in the same way Ulysses is a unique retelling of The Odyssey.

As an adult, Joyce would publish his first book, a collection of poems called Chamber Music, in 1907. It was followed by Dubliners, a collection of short stories, in 1914, and the semi-autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (in which Clongowes Wood College is prominently featured) in 1916.

2. HE CAUSED A CONTROVERSY AT HIS COLLEGE’S PAPER.

While attending University College Dublin, Joyce attempted to publish a negative review—titled “The Day of the Rabblement”—of a new local playhouse called the Irish Literary Theatre in the school’s paper, St. Stephen’s. Joyce’s condemnation of the theater’s “parochialism” was allegedly so scathing that the paper’s editors, after seeking consultation from one of the school’s priests, refused to print it.

Incensed about possible censorship, Joyce appealed to the school’s president, who sided with the editors—which prompted Joyce to put up his own money to publish 85 copies to be distributed across campus.

The pamphlet, published alongside a friend’s essay to beef up the page-count, came with the preface: “These two essays were commissioned by the editor of St. Stephen’s for that paper, but were subsequently refused insertion by the censor.” It wouldn’t be the last time Joyce would fight censorship.

3. NORA BARNACLE GHOSTED HIM FOR THEIR PLANNED FIRST DATE.

By the time Nora Barnacle and Joyce finally married in 1931, they had lived together for 27 years, traveled the continent and had two children. The couple first met in Dublin in 1904 when Joyce struck up a conversation with her near the hotel where Nora worked as a chambermaid. She initially mistook him for a Swedish sailor because of his blue eyes and the yachting cap he wore that day, and he charmed her so much that they set a date for June 14—but she didn’t show.

He then wrote her a letter, saying, “I looked for a long time at a head of reddish-brown hair and decided it was not yours. I went home quite dejected. I would like to make an appointment but it might not suit you. I hope you will be kind enough to make one with me—if you have not forgotten me!” This led to their first date, which supposedly took place on June 16, 1904.

She would continue to be his muse throughout their life together in both his published work (the character Molly Bloom in Ulysses is based on her) and their fruitful personal correspondence. Their notably dirty love letters to each other—featuring him saying their love-making reminded him of “a hog riding a sow” and signing off one by saying “Goodnight, my little farting Nora, my dirty littlef**kbird!"—have highlighted the NSFW nature of their relationship. In fact, one of Joyce’s signed erotic letters to Nora fetched a record £240,800 ($446,422) at a London auction in 2004.

4. HE HAD REALLY BAD EYES.

While Joyce’s persistent money problems caused him to lead a life of what could be categorized as creative discomfort, he had to deal with a near lifetime of medical discomfort as well. Joyce suffered from anterior uveitis, which led to a series of around 12 eye surgeries over his lifetime. (Due to the relatively unsophisticated state of ophthalmology at the time, and his decision not to listen to contemporary medical advice, scholars speculate that his iritis, glaucoma, and cataracts could have been caused by sarcoidosis, syphilis, tuberculosis, or any number of congenital problems.) His vision issues caused Joyce to wear an eye patch for years and forced him to do his writing on large white sheets of paper using only red crayon. The persistent eye struggles even inspired him to name his daughter Lucia, after St. Lucia, patron saint of the blind.

5. HE TAUGHT ENGLISH AT A BERLITZ LANGUAGE SCHOOL.

In 1904, Joyce—eager to get out of Ireland—responded to an ad for a teaching position in Europe. Evelyn Gilford, a job agent based in the British town of Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, notified Joyce that a job was reserved for him and, for two guineas, he would be told exactly where the position was. Joyce sent the money, and by the end of 1904, he and his future wife, Nora, had left Dublin for the job at a Berlitz language school in Zurich, Switzerland—but when they got there, the pair learned there was no open position. But they did hear a position was open at a Berlitz school in Trieste, Italy. The pair packed up and moved on to Italy only to find out they’d been swindled again.

Joyce eventually found a Berlitz teaching job in Pola in Austria-Hungary (now Pula, Croatia). English was one of 17 languages Joyce could speak; others included Arabic, Sanskrit, Greek, and Italian (which eventually became his preferred language, and one that he exclusively spoke at home with his family). He also loved playwright Henrik Ibsen so much that he learned Norwegian so that he could read Ibsen's works in their original form—and send the writer a fan letter in his native tongue.

6. HE INVESTED IN A MOVIE THEATER.

There are about 400 movie theaters in Ireland today, but they trace their history back to 1909, when Joyce helped open the Volta Cinematograph, which is considered “the first full-time, continuous, dedicated cinema” in Ireland.

More a money-making scheme than a product of a love of cinema, Joyce first got the idea when he was having trouble getting Dubliners published and noticed the abundance of cinemas while living in Trieste. When his sister, Eva, told him Ireland didn’t have any movie theaters, Joyce joined up with four Italian investors (he’d get 10 percent of the profits) to open up the Volta on Dublin’s Mary Street.

The venture fizzled as quickly as Joyce’s involvement. After not attracting audiences due to mostly showing only Italian and European movies unpopular with everyday Dubliners, Joyce cut his losses and pulled out of the venture after only seven months.

The cinema itself didn’t close until 1919, during the time Joyce was hard at work on Ulysses. (It reopened with a different name in 1921 and didn’t fully close until 1948.)

7. HE TURNED TO A COMPLETELY INEXPERIENCED PUBLISHER TO RELEASE HIS MOST WELL-KNOWN BOOK.

The publishing history of Ulysses is itself its own odyssey. Joyce began writing the work in 1914, and by 1918 he had begun serializing the novel in the American magazine Little Review with the help of poet Ezra Pound.

But by 1921, Little Review was in financial trouble. The published version of Episode 13 of Ulysses, “Nausicaa,” resulted in a costly obscenity lawsuit against its publishers, Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, and the book was banned in the United States. Joyce appealed to different publishers for help—including Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press—but none agreed to take on a project with such legal implications (and in Virginia Woolf’s case, length), no matter how supposedly groundbreaking it was.

Joyce, then based in Paris, made friends with Sylvia Beach, whose bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, was a gathering hub for the post-war expatriate creative community. In her autobiography, Beach wrote:

All hope of publication in the English-speaking countries, at least for a long time to come, was gone. And here in my little bookshop sat James Joyce, sighing deeply.

It occurred to me that something might be done, and I asked : “Would you let Shakespeare and Company have the honour of bringing out your Ulysses?”

He accepted my offer immediately and joyfully. I thought it rash of him to entrust his great Ulysses to such a funny little publisher. But he seemed delighted, and so was I. ... Undeterred by lack of capital, experience, and all the other requisites of a publisher, I went right ahead with Ulysses.

Beach planned a first edition of 1000 copies (with 100 signed by the author), while the book would continue to be banned in a number of countries throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Eventually it was allowed to be published in the United States in 1933 after the case United States v. One Book Called Ulysses deemed the book not obscene and allowed it in the United States.

8. ERNEST HEMINGWAY WAS HIS DRINKING BUDDY—AND SOMETIMES HIS BODYGUARD.

Ernest Hemingway—who was major champion of Ulysses—met Joyce at Shakespeare and Company, and was later a frequent companion among the bars of Paris with writers like Wyndham Lewis and Valery Larbaud.

Hemingway recalled the Irish writer would start to get into drunken fights and leave Hemingway to deal with the consequences. "Once, in one of those casual conversations you have when you're drinking," Hemingway said, "Joyce said to me he was afraid his writing was too suburban and that maybe he should get around a bit and see the world. He was afraid of some things, lightning and things, but a wonderful man. He was under great discipline—his wife, his work and his bad eyes. His wife was there and she said, yes, his work was too suburban--'Jim could do with a spot of that lion hunting.' We would go out to drink and Joyce would fall into a fight. He couldn't even see the man so he'd say, 'Deal with him, Hemingway! Deal with him!'"

9. HE MET ANOTHER MODERNIST TITAN—AND HAD A TERRIBLE TIME.

Marcel Proust’s gargantuan, seven-volume masterpiece, À la recherche du temps perdu, is perhaps the other most important Modernist work of the early 20th century besides Ulysses. In May 1922, the authors met at a party for composer Igor Stravinsky and ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev in Paris. The Dubliners author arrived late, was drunk, and wasn’t wearing formal clothes because he was too poor to afford them. Proust arrived even later than Joyce, and though there are varying accounts of what was actually said between the two, every known version points to a very anticlimactic meeting of the minds.

According to author William Carlos Williams, Joyce said, “I’ve headaches every day. My eyes are terrible,” to which the ailing Proust replied, “My poor stomach. What am I going to do? It’s killing me. In fact, I must leave at once.”

Publisher Margaret Anderson claimed that Proust admitted, “I regret that I don’t know Mr. Joyce’s work,” while Joyce replied, “I have never read Mr. Proust.”

Art reviewer Arthur Power said both writers simply talked about liking truffles. Joyce later told painter Frank Budgen, “Our talk consisted solely of the word ‘No.’”

10. HE CREATED A 100-LETTER WORD TO DESCRIBE HIS FEAR OF THUNDER AND LIGHTNING.

Joyce had a childhood fear of thunder and lightning, which sprang from his Catholic governess’s pious warnings that such meteorological occurrences were actually God manifesting his anger at him. The fear haunted the writer all his life, though Joyce recognized the beginnings of his phobia. When asked by a friend why he was so afraid of rough weather, Joyce responded, “You were not brought up in Catholic Ireland.”

The fear also manifested itself in Joyce’s writing. In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the autobiographical protagonist Stephen Dedalus says he fears “dogs, horses, firearms, the sea, thunderstorms, [and] machinery.”

But the most fascinating manifestation of his astraphobia is in his stream of consciousness swan song, Finnegans Wake, where he created the 100-letter word Bababadalgharaghtaka-mminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk to represent a symbolic biblical thunderclap. The mouthful is actually made up of different words for “thunder” in French (tonnerre), Italian (tuono), Greek (bronte), and Japanese (kaminari).

11. HE’S THOUGHT OF AS A LITERARY GENIUS, BUT NOT EVERYONE WAS A FAN.

Fellow Modernist Virginia Woolf didn't much care for Joyce or his work. She compared his writing to "a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples," and said that "one hopes he’ll grow out of it; but as Joyce is 40 this scarcely seems likely."

She wasn't the only one. In a letter, D.H. Lawrence—who wrote such classics as Women in Love and Lady Chatterley’s Loversaid of Joyce: “My God, what a clumsy olla putrida James Joyce is! Nothing but old fags and cabbage stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness.”

“Do I get much pleasure from this work? No," author H.G. Wells wrote in his review of Finnegans Wake. “ ... Who the hell is this Joyce who demands so many waking hours of the few thousand I have still to live for a proper appreciation of his quirks and fancies and flashes of rendering?”

Even his partner Nora had a difficult time with his work, saying after the publication of Ulysses, “Why don’t you write sensible books that people can understand?”

12. HIS SUPPOSED FINAL WORDS WERE AS ABSTRACT AS HIS WRITING.

Joyce was admitted to a Zurich hospital in January 1941 for a perforated duodenal ulcer, but slipped into a coma after surgery and died on January 13. His last words were befitting his notoriously difficult works—they're said to have been, "Does nobody understand?"

Additional Source: James Joyce

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