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Dean Trippe
Dean Trippe

5 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Dean Trippe
Dean Trippe

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

1. Something Terrible

By Dean Trippe
Self-published

Superhero comics are often labelled "escapist fantasy" but sometimes the therapeutic power of reading (and making) comics can be underestimated. In this incredibly personal comic, Something Terrible, Dean Trippe reveals his own struggle growing up as a victim of sexual abuse and how the stigma and the often cited statistics of abuse victims growing up to be abusers themselves had caused him to live with an invisible gun pointed at his own head for most of his life.

Trippe is one of the biggest fans of Batman (and the inherent goodness of the character, which often gets lost today) that I've ever met. He draws in an immaculate, kid-friendly style that is very much inspired by the look of Bruce Timm's Batman animated series from the '90s. In Something Terrible he recounts just how important the character of Batman and other fictional, heroic characters have been to him over the years as he tried to deal with his own dark secret.

This is a really moving comic that, in the span of just 14 pages, is both agonizing and triumphant. I can only imagine how difficult it was for Trippe to confront these memories through the act of making this comic. I can also imagine how helpful it could be for people who have been through a similar situation to read his account, especially when Trippe dispels the myth of the abuse cycle and shows how he himself has overcome it. 

Trippe is selling Something Terrible for only 99¢ as downloadable PDF and CBZ files.

2. Fairy Tale Comics

Edited by Chris Duffy
First Second/Macmillan Books

For art fans, you can't beat the lineup on this new anthology: Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, Jillian Tamaki, Luke Pearson, Emily Carroll, Craig Thompson, David Mazzuchelli, Raina Telgemeier, Karl Kerschl, Emily Carroll, Vanessa Davis, and more. Also, that wonderfully fun cover by Eleanor Davis. A sequel of sorts to 2011's Nursery Rhyme Comics also published by First Second and edited by Chris Duffy, Fairy Tale Comics takes 17 classic fairy tales like "Hansel & Gretel" and "Little Red Riding Hood" as well as lesser known stories like "The Bremen Town Musicians" and "Give Me The Shudders" and lets the artists put their own spin on them.

Though it's hard to pick just one of these great cartoonists to highlight, it may be most noteworthy to call out the presence of David Mazzuchelli, who is contributing his first new comics work since his groundbreaking 2009 graphic novel Asterios Polyp. Mazzuchelli, who has proven in the past to be able to work in a variety of styles, channels early newspaper strips similar to Winsor McKay in his contribution, "Give Me The Shudders." 

In addition, The Abominable Charles Christopher's Karl Kershl gets to draw animals in a different style than we've seen on his award-winning webcomic. Craig Thompson, fresh off his 700 page graphic novel Habibi, tackles an 11th century Spanish tale originally called "The King and His Story-teller." And Emily Carroll applies her rich, watercolor approach to an array of medieval costumes and gowns in The Brothers Grimm's "12 Dancing Princesses".

Read more about the book here and read some in depth interviews and reviews focusing on individual contributors like Emily CarrollGilbert HernandezDavid Mazzuchelli and Craig Thompson.

3. Fantomex Max #1

Written by Andrew Hope; art by Shawn Crystal; covers by Francisco Francavilla
Marvel Comics

It's hard to believe that the character Fantomex has been around for over 10 years now. Originally created by Grant Morrison during his run on New X-men in the early 2000s, he's gained more popularity in recent years thanks to being a team member of the popular Uncanny X-Force. He's now getting his own four-issue mini-series in Marvel's mature readers MAX line, which is a big moment in the spotlight for this character. 

Fantomex is an anomaly in many ways. Not only are there not a whole lot of new characters getting their own books from DC or Marvel these days (or being created in the first place for that matter), but Fantomex's origin and character traits are just hard to explain. He was created by the Weapon Plus program (the same people who brought us Wolverine) as a result of impregnating a human woman with nano-machines, and was then raised in a synthetic micro-environment dubbed The World. He believes himself to be French and speaks with a "faux-French accent" (what that actually sounds like is up to the reader's imagination). He also believes himself to be a mutant although Weapon Plus created him to be a "super-sentinel" meant to kill mutants. His power is misdirection which means stories with Fantomex often involve events that may or may not be really happening to those who cross paths with him (including us readers). He's very Morrisonian in a lot of ways.

Derived from the Italian comic book and film character Diabolik and the early 20th century detective from French crime novels Fantômas, Fantomex is a fun, weird, stylish character with a growing cult following. This new series is a sexy, violent thriller with a '60s, secret agent vibe, as the cover by Francisco Francavilla suggests. Marvel's MAX line allows creators to go heavy on the violence, cursing and sexual situations, so expect plenty of that here.

Read an interview with artist Shawn Crystal including some preview pages.

4. In The Dark


Edited by Rachel Deering
Kickstarter

By the time this article is posted, In The Dark will have easily reached its Kickstarter goal with many days still to go. It doesn't take long to scroll through the main project page and realize that this is going to be a high quality horror anthology with a great lineup for writers and artists involved.

Rachel Deering is no stranger to horror or to Kickstarter. She writes a comic called Anathema which has three issues available through Comixology's Submit program and was originally funded through as successful Kickstarter. She was also a writer and letterer for the Womanthology project which was a huge crowd funding success a few years back. As the editor for this new anthology she has recruited an array of writers and artists that are all either new stars in the comics world (like Cullen Bunn, Paul Tobin, Tradd Moore, Tim Seely) or just on the cusp of stardom (Christopher Sebela, Andy Belanger, Christian Wildgoose, Thomas Boatwright). 

At over 250 pages, this hardcover book will contain 20 short stories with each creative team telling the type of horror story they want to tell. Deering is a vocal cheerleader for horror in comics and with the rise in popularity of that genre in comics today, this Kickstarter is hitting a good time. In addition to the comics there will be a historical piece, about the rise and decline of horror comics from the EC days to today, written by historian Mike Howlett.

Although In The Dark will easily reach its funding goal and IDW Publishing is helping out with the printing and distribution, the creators are working on this with no money up front and any money that exceeds the goal will be divvied up among them.

Read more about the In The Dark anthology and pledge your support.

5. The Witching Hour


By various
DC Vertigo

It's anthology week it seems. But wait, it's even another horror anthology. The Witching Hour is an 80 page one-shot published by DC's Vertigo line featuring 9 stories of supernatural "Vertigo-ness." The lineup for this one includes some big names like Kelly Sue Deconnick, Fables' Mark Buckingham, the highly underrated Tula Lotay and Emily Carroll (who we just mentioned in one of this week's other anthologies, Fairy Tale Comics). Perhaps most notable is a story called "Mars To Stay" illustrated by Cliff Chiang and written by Brett Lewis who we haven't seen enough in comics since his highly acclaimed mini-series The Winter Men about former decommissioned super humans in post-Cold War Russia. 

There are some preview images here and Cliff Chiang recently posted a preview page from his story with Lewis here.

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Excerpt
The Plucky Teenage Stowaway Aboard the First American Expedition to Antarctica
The Ohio State University Archives
The Ohio State University Archives

Documentary filmmaker and journalist Laurie Gwen Shapiro came across the name "William Gawronski" in 2013 while researching a story about Manhattan's St. Stanislaus, the oldest Polish Catholic church in the U.S. In 1930, more than 500 kids from the church had held a parade in honor of Billy Gawronski, who had just returned from two years aboard the first American expedition to Antarctica, helmed by naval officer Richard E. Byrd.

The teenager had joined the expedition in a most unusual way: by stowing aboard Byrd's ships the City of New York and the Eleanor Bolling not once, not twice, but four times total. He swam across the Hudson River to sneak onto the City of New York and hitchhiked all the way to Virginia to hide on the Eleanor Bolling.

"I thought, 'Wait, what?" Shapiro tells Mental Floss.

Intrigued by Billy's persistence and pluck, Shapiro dove into the public records and newspaper archives to learn more about him. She created an Excel spreadsheet of Gawronskis all along the East Coast and began cold-calling them.

"Imagine saying, 'Did you have an ancestor that jumped in the Hudson and stowed away to the Antarctic in 1928?'" Shapiro says. She got "a lot of hang-ups."

On the 19th call, to a Gawronski in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, an elderly woman with a Polish accent answered the phone. "That boy was my husband," Gizela Gawronski told her. Billy had died in 1981, leaving behind a treasure trove of mementos, including scrapbooks, notebooks, yearbooks, and hundreds of photos.

"I have everything," Gizela told Shapiro. "I was hoping someone would find me one day."

Three days later, Shapiro was in Maine poring over Billy's papers with Gizela, tears in her eyes.

These materials became the basis of Shapiro's new book The Stowaway: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica. It's a rollicking good read full of fascinating history and bold characters that takes readers from New York to Tahiti, New Zealand to Antarctica, and back to New York again. It's brimming with the snappy energy and open-minded optimism of the Jazz Age.

Shapiro spent six weeks in Antarctica herself to get a feel for Billy's experiences. "I wanted to reach the Ross Ice barrier like Billy did," she says.

Read on for an excerpt from chapter four.

***

As night dropped on September 15, Billy jumped out of his second-floor window and onto the garden, a fall softened by potatoes and cabbage plants and proudly photographed sunflowers. You would think that the boy had learned from his previous stowaway attempt to bring more food or a change of dry clothes. Not the case.

An overnight subway crossing into Brooklyn took him to the Tebo Yacht Basin in Gowanus. He made for the location he'd written down in his notes: Third Avenue and Twenty-Third Street.

In 1928 William Todd's Tebo Yacht Basin was a resting spot— the spot—for the yachts of the Atlantic seaboard's most aristocratic and prosperous residents. The swanky yard berthed more than fifty staggering prizes of the filthy rich. Railroad executive Cornelius Vanderbilt kept his yacht O-We-Ra here; John Vanneck, his Amphitrite. Here was also where to find Warrior, the largest private yacht afloat, owned by the wealthiest man in America, public utilities baron Harrison Williams; yeast king (and former mayor of Cincinnati) Julian Fleischman's $625,000 twin-screw diesel yacht, the Carmago; General Motors president Alfred P. Sloan's Rene; shoe scion H. W. Hanan's Dauntless; and J. P. Morgan's Corsair III. The Tebo Yacht Basin's clubroom served fish chowder luncheons to millionaires in leather-backed mission chairs.

Todd, a great friend of Byrd's, lavished attention on his super-connected pal with more contacts than dollars. He had provided major funding for Byrd's 1926 flight over the North Pole, and helped the commander locate and refit two of the four Antarctic expedition ships for $285,900, done at cost. Todd loved puffy articles about him as much as the next man, and press would help extract cash from the millionaires he actively pursued as new clients; helping out a famous friend might prove cheaper than the advertisements he placed in upmarket magazines. Throughout that summer, Byrd mentioned Todd's generous support frequently.

Two weeks after the City of New York set sail, the Chelsea, the supply ship of the expedition, was still docked at the Tebo workyard and not scheduled to depart until the middle of September. Smith's Dock Company in England had built the refurbished 170-foot, 800-ton iron freighter for the British Royal Navy at the tail end of the Great War. First christened patrol gunboat HMS Kilmarnock, her name was changed to the Chelsea during her post–Royal Navy rumrunning days.

Not long before she was scheduled to depart, Byrd announced via a press release that he was renaming this auxiliary ship, too, after his mother, Eleanor Bolling. But the name painted on the transom was Eleanor Boling, with one l—the painter's mistake. As distressing as this was (the name was his mother's, after all), Byrd felt a redo would be too expensive and a silly use of precious funds. Reporters and PR staff were simply instructed to always spell the name with two ls.

As Billy eyed the ship in dock days after his humiliation on board the New York, he realized here was another way to get to Antarctica. The old, rusty-sided cargo ship would likely be less guarded than the flagship had been.

As September dragged on, Billy, back in Bayside, stiffened his resolve. No one would think he'd try again! On September 15, once more he swam out during the night to board a vessel bound for Antarctica.

Since his visit two weeks prior, Billy had studied his news clippings and knew that the Bolling was captained by thirty-six-year-old Gustav L. Brown, who'd been promoted weeks earlier from first mate of the New York when Byrd added the fourth ship to his fleet. Billy liked what he read. According to those who sailed under Brown's command, this tall and slender veteran of the Great War was above all genteel, and far less crotchety than the New York's Captain Melville. Captain Brown's education went only as far as high school, and while he wasn't against college, he admired honest, down-to-earth workers. Like his colleague Captain Melville, Brown had begun a seafaring life at fourteen. He seemed just the sort of man to take a liking to a teenage stowaway with big dreams.

Alas, the crew of the second ship headed to Antarctica now knew to look for stowaways. In a less dramatic repeat of what had happened in Hoboken, an Eleanor Bolling seaman ousted Billy in the earliest hours of the morning. The kid had (unimaginatively) hidden for a second time in a locker under the lower forecastle filled with mops and bolts and plumbing supplies. The sailor brought him to Captain Brown, who was well named, as he was a man with a mass of brown hair and warm brown eyes. The kind captain smiled at Billy and praised the cheeky boy's gumption—his Swedish accent still heavy even though he'd made Philadelphia his home since 1920—yet Billy was escorted off to the dock and told to scram.

A few hours later, still under the cover of night, Billy stole back on board and was routed out a third time, again from the “paint locker.”

A third time? The Bolling's third in command, Lieutenant Harry Adams, took notes on the gutsy kid who had to be good material for the lucrative book he secretly hoped to pen. Most of the major players would score book deals after the expedition; the public was eager for adventure, or at least so publishers thought. The catch was that any deal had to be approved by Byrd: to expose any discord was to risk powerful support. Adams's book, Beyond the Barrier with Byrd: An Authentic Story of the Byrd Antarctic Exploring Expedition, was among the best: more character study than thriller, his grand sense of humor evident in his selection of anecdotes that the others deemed too lightweight to include.

Billy was not the only stowaway that September day. Also aboard was a girl Adams called Sunshine, the "darling of the expedition," a flirt who offered to anyone who asked that she wanted to be the first lady in Antarctica. (In the restless era between world wars, when movies gave everyone big dreams, even girl stowaways were not uncommon.) Brown told a reporter that Sunshine had less noble aspirations, and soon she, too, was removed from the Bolling, but not before she gave each crew member a theatrical kiss.

As the early sun rose, Captain Brown called Billy over to him from the yacht yard's holding area where he had been asked to wait with the giggling Sunshine until his father arrived. The captain admired Billy's gumption, but it was time for the seventeen-year-old to go now and not waste any more of anyone's time.

As Lieutenant Adams recorded later, "Perhaps this matter of getting rid of Bill was entered up in the Eleanor Bolling log as the first scientific achievement of the Byrd Antarctic expedition."

*** 

From THE STOWAWAY: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica by Laurie Gwen Shapiro. Copyright © 2018 by Laurie Gwen Shapiro. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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The Truth Is In Here: Unlocking Mysteries of the Unknown
chartaediania, eBay
chartaediania, eBay

In the pre-internet Stone Age of the 20th century, knowledge-seekers had only a few options when they had a burning question that needed to be answered. They could head to their local library, ask a smarter relative, or embrace the sales pitch of Time-Life Books, the book publishing arm of Time Inc. that marketed massive, multi-volume subscription series on a variety of topics. There were books on home repair, World War II, the Old West, and others—an analog Wikipedia that charged a monthly fee to keep the information flowing.

Most of these were successful, though none seemed to capture the public’s attention quite like the 1987 debut of Mysteries of the Unknown, a series of slim volumes that promised to explore and expose sensational topics like alien encounters, crop circles, psychics, and near-death experiences.

While the books themselves were well-researched and often stopped short of confirming the existence of probing extraterrestrials, what really cemented their moment in popular culture was a series of television commercials that looked and felt like Mulder and Scully could drop in at any moment.

Airing in the late 1980s, the spots drew on cryptic teases and moody visuals to sell consumers on the idea that they, too, could come to understand some of life's great mysteries, thanks to rigorous investigation into paranormal phenomena by Time-Life’s crack team of researchers. Often, one actor would express skepticism (“Aliens? Come on!”) while another would implore them to “Read the book!” Inside the volumes were scrupulously-detailed entries about everything from the Bermuda Triangle to Egyptian gods.

Inside a volume of 'Mysteries of the Unknown'
Chartaediania, eBay

Mysteries of the Unknown grew out of an earlier Time-Life series titled The Enchanted World that detailed some of the fanciful creatures of folklore: elves, fairies, and witches. Memorably pitched on TV by Vincent Price, The Enchanted World was a departure from the publisher’s more conventional volumes on faucet repair, and successful enough that the product team decided to pursue a follow-up.

At first, Mysteries of the Unknown seemed to be a non-starter. Then, according to a 2015 Atlas Obscura interview with former Time-Life product manager Tom Corry, a global meditation event dubbed the "Harmonic Convergence" took place in August 1987 in conjunction with an alleged Mayan prophecy of planetary alignment. The Convergence ignited huge interest in New Age concepts that couldn’t be easily explained by science. Calls flooded Time-Life’s phone operators, and Mysteries of the Unknown became one of the company’s biggest hits.

"The orders are at least double and the profits are twice that of the next most successful series,'' Corry told The New York Times in 1988.

Time-Life shipped 700,000 copies of the first volume in a planned 20-book series that eventually grew to 33 volumes. The ads segued from onscreen skeptics to directly challenging the viewer ("How would you explain this?") to confront alien abductions and premonitions.

Mysteries of the Unknown held on through 1991, at which point both sales and topics had been exhausted. Time-Life remained in the book business through 2003, when it was sold to Ripplewood Holdings and ZelnickMedia and began to focus exclusively on DVD and CD sales.

Thanks to cable and streaming programming, anyone interested in cryptic phenomena can now fire up Ancient Aliens. But for a generation of people who were intrigued by the late-night ads and methodically added the volumes to their bookshelves, Mysteries of the Unknown was the best way to try and explain the unexplainable.

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