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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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The Little Known Airport Bookstore Program That Can Get You Half of What You Spend on Books Back
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Inflight entertainment is a necessary evil, but the price can quickly add up without the proper planning. Between Wi-Fi access and TV/movie packages, you can run into all kinds of annoying additional charges that will only increase the longer your flight is. Thankfully, there is one way to minimize the cost of your inflight entertainment that’s a dream for any reader.

Paradies Lagardère, which runs more than 850 stores in 98 airports across the U.S. and Canada, has an attractive Read and Return program for all the books they sell. All you have to do is purchase a title, read it, and return it to a Paradies Lagardère-owned shop within six months and you'll get half your money back. This turns a $28 hardcover into a $14 one. Books in good condition are re-sold for half the price by the company, while books with more wear and tear are donated to charity.

If you haven’t heard of Paradies Lagardère, don’t worry—you’ve probably been in one of their stores. They’re the company behind a range of retail spots in airports, including licensed ventures like The New York Times Bookstore and CNBC News, and more local shops exclusive to the city you're flying out of. They also run restaurants, travel essentials stores, and specialty shops. 

Not every Paradies Lagardère store sells books, though, and the company doesn’t operate out of every airport, so you’ll need to do a little research before just buying a book the next time you fly. Luckily, the company does have an online map that shows every airport it operates out of and which stores are there.

There is one real catch to remember: You must keep the original receipt of the book if you want to return it and get your money back. If you're the forgetful type, just follow PureWow’s advice and use the receipt as a bookmark and you’ll be golden.

For frequent flyers who plan ahead, this program can ensure that your inflight entertainment will never break the bank.

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Musée du Louvre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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Excerpt
How a Notorious Art Heist Led to the Discovery of 6 Fake Mona Lisas
Musée du Louvre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Musée du Louvre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Human civilization has changed a lot over the past five millennia—but our instinct toward fakery, fraud, and flimflam seems to have remained relatively stable. In their new book Hoax: A History of Deception (Black Dog & Leventhal), Ian Tattersall and Peter Névraumont sift through 5000 years of our efforts to con others with scams and shakedowns of every description, from selling nonexistent real estate to transatlantic time travel. This excerpt reveals a convoluted art heist that netted not one, but six, of Leonardo da Vinci's most famous portrait(s).

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is, by a wide margin, the world’s best-known Renaissance painting. The pride of Paris’s Louvre museum, it is hard nowadays for a visitor to get a good look at. Not only do heavy stanchions and a substantial velvet rope keep art lovers at bay, but a jostling horde of phone-pointing tourists typically accomplishes the same thing even more effectively. While you can expect to scrutinize Leonardo’s nearby Virgin and Child with Saint Anne up close and in reasonable tranquility, you are lucky to catch more than a glimpse of the Mona Lisa over the heads of the heaving crowd. And that’s just getting to admire the painting: With elaborate electronic protection and constantly circulating guards, stealing the iconic piece is pretty much unthinkable.

At a time when the standards of security were considerably more lax, around noon on Tuesday, August 22, 1911, horrified museum staff reported that the Mona Lisa was missing from her place on the gallery wall. The Louvre was immediately closed down and minutely searched (the picture’s empty frame was found on a staircase), and the ports and eastern land borders of France were closed until all departing traffic could be examined. To no avail. After a frantic investigation that temporarily implicated both the poet Guillaume Apollinaire and the then-aspiring young artist Pablo Picasso, all that was left was wild rumor: The smiling lady was in Russia, in the Bronx, even in the home of the banker J.P. Morgan.

Two years later the painting was recovered after a Florentine art dealer contacted the Louvre saying that it had been offered to him by the thief. The latter turned out to have been Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian artist who had worked at the Louvre on a program to protect many of the museum’s masterworks under glass.

Vincent Peruggia, Mona Lisa thief
Vincent Peruggia
Courtesy of Chronicle Books/Alamy

Peruggia reportedly told police that, early on the Monday morning before the theft was discovered—a day on which the museum was closed to the public—he had entered the Louvre dressed as a workman. Once inside, he had headed for the Mona Lisa, taken her off the wall and out of her frame, wrapped her up in his workman’s smock, and carried her out under his arm. Another version has Peruggia hiding in a museum closet overnight, but in any event the heist itself was clearly a pretty simple and straightforward affair.

Peruggia’s motivations appear to have been a little more confused. The story he told the police was that he had wanted to return the Mona Lisa to Italy, his and its country of origin, in the belief that the painting had been plundered by Napoleon—whose armies had indeed committed many similar trespasses in the many countries they invaded.

But even if he believed his story, Peruggia had his history entirely wrong. For it had been Leonardo himself who had brought the unfinished painting to France, when he became court painter to King François I in 1503. After Leonardo died in a Loire Valley château in 1519, the Mona Lisa was legitimately purchased for the royal collections.

So it didn’t seem so far-fetched when, in a 1932 Saturday Evening Post article, the journalist Karl Decker gave a significantly different account of the affair. According to Decker, an Argentinian con man calling himself Eduardo, Marqués de Valfierno, had told him that it was he who had masterminded Peruggia’s theft of the Mona Lisa. And that he had sold the painting six times!

Valfierno’s plan had been a pretty elaborate one, and it had involved employing the services of a skilled forger who could exactly replicate any stolen painting—in the Mona Lisa’s case, right down to the many layers of surface glaze its creator had used. By Decker’s account, Valfierno not only sold such fakes on multiple occasions, but used them to increase the confidence of potential buyers, ahead of the heist, that they would be getting the real thing after the theft.

The fraudster would take a victim to a public art gallery and invite him to make a surreptitious mark on the back of a painting that he had scheduled to be stolen. Later Valfierno would present him with the marked canvas, which had allegedly been stolen and replaced with a copy.

This trick was actually accomplished by secretly placing the copy behind the real painting, and removing it after the buyer had applied his mark. According to Valfierno, this was an amazingly effective sales ploy: So effective, indeed, that by his account he managed to pre-sell the scheduled-to-be-stolen Mona Lisa to six different United States buyers, all of whom actually received copies.

Mona Lisa returned to the Uffizi Gallery in 1913
Museum officials present the (real) Mona Lisa after its return to Florence, Italy's Uffizi Gallery in 1913.
The Telegraph, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Those copies had been smuggled into America prior to the heist at the Louvre, when nobody was on the lookout for them, and the well-publicized theft itself served to validate their apparent authenticity when they were delivered to the marks in return for hefty sums in cash.

According to Valfierno, the major problem in all this turned out to be Peruggia, who stole the stolen Mona Lisa from him and took it back to Italy. Still, when he was caught trying to dispose of the painting there, Peruggia could not implicate Valfierno without compromising his own story of being a patriotic thief, so the true scheme remained secret. Similarly, when the original Mona Lisa was returned to the Louvre, Valfierno’s buyers could assume that it was a copy—and in any case, they would hardly have been in a position to complain.

Decker’s story of Valfierno’s extraordinary machinations caused a sensation, and it rapidly became accepted as the truth behind the Mona Lisa’s disappearance. Perhaps this is hardly surprising because, after all, Peruggia’s rather prosaic account somehow seems a little too mundane for such an icon of Renaissance artistic achievement. The more flamboyant Valfierno version was widely believed, and is still repeated over and over again, including in two recent books.

Yet there are numerous problems with Decker’s Saturday Evening Post account, including the fact that nobody has ever been able to show for certain that Valfierno actually existed (though you can Google a picture of him). Only Peruggia’s role in the disappearance of the Mona Lisa seems to be reasonably clear-cut. Still, although it remains up in the air whether Valfierno faked his account, or whether Decker fabricated both him and his report, the Mona Lisa that hangs in the Louvre today is probably the original.

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