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First Second

5 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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First Second

Every Wednesday, I preview the 5 most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, Comixology, Kickstarter and the web. If there's a release you're excited about, let's talk about it in the comments.

1. Battling Boy

By Paul Pope
First Second

One of the most anticipated books of the year (years even, since this is arriving later than many had expected) is the first volume of Paul Pope's sci-fi epic Battling Boy. Set on an alternate earth, monsters are overrunning the sprawling city of Arcopolis, stealing children and eating automobiles. The only hope Arcopolis has is their Batman-like vigilante science hero, Haggard West. Except that Haggard West is now dead and that hope now rests in a 12-year old boy.

Paul Pope is one of the comic industry's rare rock stars. He is adored by indie and mainstream fans alike—at least since his award-winning 2006 graphic novel Batman Year: 100 put him on many people's radar. One of the reasons' Battling Boy has been so delayed is that Pope has gotten himself involved in the movie business, including writing a potential film adaptation for Brad Pitt's production company of this very book even though he hadn't yet finished writing the book itself.

Most people will find it was worth the wait, though, as it pulls together many of the elements we love about Pope's work while being a little more all-ages-friendly than most of his previous books. Pope is one of the great sci-fi cartoonists working today. He has a loose, sexy and inimitable way of drawing comics that looks like what would happen if Hugo Pratt or, heck, Egon Schiele had created DC's Fourth World. He mixes a European sense of sci-fi scale and landscape with early 20th century gadgetry and clothing styles and a Japanese feel for action and storytelling to create a very American story of superheroes and overcoming insurmountable odds. 

The titular Battling Boy is going through a rite of passage and is sent by his demigod father to complete the Herculean challenge of saving this world. He comes with a suitcase of goodies to help him along, including a set of printed T-shirts that embody him with the power of whatever animal is depicted on its front (i.e., a Tyrannosaurus Rex). Despite this, Battling Boy is in over his head when it comes to fighting these monsters, and that's a secret he wants to keep from the people of Arcopolis who want him to be their new Haggard West. Battling Boy looks like a typical Pope protagonist with his tousled hair and skinny jeans, but he's also a straight-out-of manga, monster-fighting boy hero. However, the more compelling character of the book may be Haggard West's teenage daughter, Aurora, left behind by her father's death to make sense of his secret lair and all its weapons. I imagine she'll become even more central to the story in the book's sequel. 

Battling Boy is out today and you can read a preview here.

2. The Nib

Edited by Matt Bors
Medium

Medium is the newest social media/blogging project from Evan Williams, the man who brought us Blogger and Twitter. It is basically a blogging platform with many of Twitter's successful aspects built into it: a central feed of incoming content, easy sharing of that content, and a growing user base of smart, thoughtful people creating the content. If you haven't heard of it or read anything on it yet, you probably will soon. It has begun to get a lot of attention across social media due to both the high quality of some of the articles and some controversy surrounding a few of the lower quality ones. It is considered to be revitalizing the nature of blogging, but it also is considered a potential avenue to follow for the online publishing industry. While Medium has been invite-only during its roll out, it has also been paying for a certain percentage of its content, in some cases without making that completely clear to the readers.

That brings us to The Nib, a new section of Medium that launched a few weeks back that falls into the paid content category and is openly promoted as such. Cartoonist Matt Bors (who I've previously written about here) was hired by Medium as a full-time cartoonist to create editorial cartoons but to also hire other cartoonists to contribute their own work to the section. Bors so far has curated a collection of primarily Progressive editorial pieces that include: political cartoons about subjects such as Syria and drone warfare; a tongue-in-cheek info graphic about MillennialsBill Roundy's cartoon about being gay and dating transgender men, and Molly Crabapple's illustrated account of visiting the prison in Gitmo. Many of the contributors are familiar names in political and editorial cartooning like Ted Rall, Susie Cagle and Brian McFadden. 

As many alt-weeklies are folding across the country and editorial cartoonists are finding it harder and harder to make a living in this field, Bors and Medium have suddenly come along with a new and promising outlet for this type of political-minded comics.

Browse through the list of offerings on The Nib and, while you're at it, admire that nice logo graphic designed by comic artist Jim Rugg.


3. Superman/Wonder Woman #1

Written by Charles Soule; art by Tony Daniel
DC Comics

It's easy for me to lose sight of whether or not civilians (people, unlike me, who don't keep up with the ins and outs of comics) are aware of the fact that since DC Comics rebooted their publishing universe as "The New 52" a couple of years ago, Superman and Wonder Woman have been a couple. It got a lot of mainstream press at the time and has been controversial among fans (particularly Wonder Woman fans who are understandably wary of a feminist icon being relegated to girlfriend status). Having not kept up recently on either character's books, I briefly forgot about this romantic hook up, myself, even though it may be the biggest change they've introduced to these characters in a long time

In the new ongoing Superman/Wonder Woman, Charles Soule, a new addition to the DC stable of writers, along with veteran artist Tony Daniel, explores the romance between these two iconic heroes. In this new rebooted universe, only a few years have passed since the Justice League came into being, so not only is this romance a new thing but these versions of Superman and Wonder Woman actually don't have much of a shared history together. This book will take the opportunity to show them getting to know each other as well as each's supporting cast and family. Somewhat disappointingly, to me at least, the romance and relationship will often be treated as a subplot to the superhero business that has to go on in this type of book. In the first issue, we see the first introduction of the "New 52" Doomsday, the villain that once killed Superman back in the classic 1990's event "Death of Superman." So think of it as a team-up book with the fighting occasionally broken up by a discussion of feelings.

DC seems to be trademarking the "/" as a way of denoting team up books, particularly in regards to Superman. This book comes on the heels of Batman/Superman which looks to explore the often adversarial relationship between those two characters. The use of the "/", especially in the previous book, makes some people chuckle at the probably unintentional reference to "slash fiction." With this book at least, any romantic overtones are indeed intentional.

4. Pulp

Written by Jeremy Holt; art by Chris Peterson
Self-published

Jeremy Holt and Chris Peterson recently released a 24 page comic, called Pulp, that they're selling in PDF form through the Gumroad shopping cart service that many self-publishers have taken to in order to easily and painlessly sell DRM-free digital comics. They're even going with the "pay what you want" model popularized by everyone from Louis CK to Brian K. Vaughan. For digital comics, selling through a service like Gumroad is becoming a nice alternative to Comixology that definitely has a number of pros and cons compared to that service.

However, the reason I mention Pulp is because it is a very good comic that will be well worth whatever you choose to pay for it. As the name indicates, it has a noir slant to it and a deliciously bleak twist ending that harkens back to the pre-Comics Code short stories from EC Comics. It is also a commentary on writing and the pains of trying to get published that makes Holt and Peterson's route for self-publishing all the more important to the theme of the story.

Since I don't want to give too much away about the plot and its twist, I'll just say that it is about a writer, holed up in a house in the snowy woods, working on his latest novel. The scenes of him writing are interspersed with scenes of him meeting at the offices of his publisher. The writer is visited multiple times by a mysterious woman who appears to be his publisher's secretary from the scenes in the office. By the time we get to the end and see what's really going on, you'll probably want to go back and re-read it.

Holt and Peterson have both been self-publishing comics and working for smaller publishers. Peterson, especially, stands out here with some expressive brush work and great use of two colors—blue and yellow—to differentiate time and place as scenes intercut back and forth.

Go here, read a quick preview and then pay what you want for Pulp.

5. Rocket Girl #1

Written by Brandon Montclaire; art by Amy Reeder
Image Comics

Rocket Girl began its life as a successful Kickstarter earlier this year with funds going towards printing and production costs for the initial 5-issue story arc for a planned ongoing series. Image Comics, the popular publisher for creator-owned genre works, stepped in to distribute the series and now the first issue is hitting stores this week.

The hero of the story, Rocket Girl, is a teenage police officer from an alternate 2013 that is sent back to 1986 to investigate "crimes against time" committed by a megacorporation called Quintum Mechanics. Her investigation soon leads her to realize that her 2013 should not even exist.

Amy Reeder draws the book and co-created it with writer Brandon Montclaire, with whom she previously collaborated on another creation called Halloween Eve. She has done a variety of work for DC Comics, most notably on Madame Xanadu for which she was nominated for an Eisner, and an ill-fated run on Batwoman that ended abruptly due to stated "creative differences". With surprisingly few female artists working in the superhero and sci-fi genre for the bigger publishers, Reeder is developing a successful career with her own projects like this one. Her work is dynamic and stylish and with this book she gets to show off not only her ability to draw future tech but her ability to capture the essence of the '80s.

Read a preview of Rocket Girl here.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

The Shaolin Cowboy Vol. 2 #1
Geof Darrow's ultra-violent, insanely detailed art fest, which began way back in the mid-2000s when the Wachowskis briefly had their own comic book company, returns this time from Dark Horse. Read a preview and marvel at the line work.

Three #1
Another new book from Image plays off the story of 300, as Kireon Gillen and Ryan Kelly tell the story of three slaves trying to escape the Spartan army. Preview here.

God Hates Astronauts Vol. 1
Another Kickstarter success story brought to Image Comics. Ryan Browne's absurdist satire of superheroes, NASA and other things is a cult favorite. Info here.

Mind Mgmt Vol. 2
Matt Kindt's excellent series about a shadowy agency and the mind-manipulating people that once worked for them is collected in a second volume here.  Here's a preview.

SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION

The second volume of my own graphic novel, Nathan Sorry, comes out on Comixology today. You can read all about it and buy volumes 1 and 2 here.

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Ernest Hemingway’s Guide to Life, In 20 Quotes
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Though he made his living as a writer, Ernest Hemingway was just as famous for his lust for adventure. Whether he was running with the bulls in Pamplona, fishing for marlin in Bimini, throwing back rum cocktails in Havana, or hanging out with his six-toed cats in Key West, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author never did anything halfway. And he used his adventures as fodder for the unparalleled collection of novels, short stories, and nonfiction books he left behind, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea among them.

On what would be his 118th birthday—he was born in Oak Park, Illinois on July 21, 1899—here are 20 memorable quotes that offer a keen perspective into Hemingway’s way of life.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."

ON TRUST

"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."

ON DECIDING WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT

"I never had to choose a subject—my subject rather chose me."

ON TRAVEL

"Never go on trips with anyone you do not love."

Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. [1], Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTELLIGENCE AND HAPPINESS

"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."

ON TRUTH

"There's no one thing that is true. They're all true."

ON THE DOWNSIDE OF PEOPLE

"The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness, except for the very few that were as good as spring itself."

ON SUFFERING FOR YOUR ART

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

ON TAKING ACTION

"Never mistake motion for action."

ON GETTING WORDS OUT

"I wake up in the morning and my mind starts making sentences, and I have to get rid of them fast—talk them or write them down."

Photograph by Mary Hemingway, in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE BENEFITS OF SLEEP

"I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?"

ON FINDING STRENGTH 

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."

ON THE TRUE NATURE OF WICKEDNESS

"All things truly wicked start from innocence."

ON WRITING WHAT YOU KNOW

"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water."

ON THE DEFINITION OF COURAGE

"Courage is grace under pressure."

ON THE PAINFULNESS OF BEING FUNNY

"A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book."

By Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. - JFK Library, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON KEEPING PROMISES

"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."

ON GOOD VS. EVIL

"About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."

ON REACHING FOR THE UNATTAINABLE

"For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed."

ON HAPPY ENDINGS

"There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it."

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12 Fantastic Facts About A Wrinkle in Time
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istock (blank book) / Taeeun Yoo (cover art)

Madeleine L’Engle’s acclaimed science fantasy novel A Wrinkle in Time has been delighting readers since its 1962 release. Whether you’ve never had the chance to read this timeless tale or haven’t picked it up in a while, here are some facts that are sure to get you in the mood for a literary journey through the universe—not to mention its upcoming big-screen adaptation.

1. THE AUTHOR’S PERSISTENCE PAID OFF.

She’s a revered writer today, but Madeleine L’Engle’s early literary career was rocky. She nearly gave up on writing on her 40th birthday. L’Engle stuck with it, though, and on a 10-week cross-country camping trip she found herself inspired to begin writing A Wrinkle in Time.

2. EINSTEIN SPARKED L'ENGLE'S INTEREST IN QUANTUM PHYSICS AND TESSERACTS.

L’Engle was never a strong math student, but as an adult she found herself drawn to concepts of cosmology and non-linear time after picking up a book about Albert Einstein. L’Engle adamantly believed that any theory of writing is also a theory of cosmology because “one cannot discuss structure in writing without discussing structure in all life." The idea that religion, science, and magic are different aspects of a single reality and should not be thought of as conflicting is a recurring theme in her work.

3. L’ENGLE BASED THE PROTAGONIST ON HERSELF.

L’Engle often compared her young heroine, Meg Murry, to her childhood self—gangly, awkward, and a poor student. Like many young girls, both Meg and L’Engle were dissatisfied with their looks and felt their appearances were homely, unkempt, and in a constant state of disarray.

4. IT WAS REJECTED BY MORE THAN TWO DOZEN PUBLISHERS.

L’Engle weathered 26 rejections before Farrar, Straus & Giroux finally took a chance on A Wrinkle in Time. Many publishers were nervous about acquiring the novel because it was too difficult to categorize. Was it written for children or adults? Was the genre science fiction or fantasy?

5. L’ENGLE DIDN'T KNOW HOW TO CATEGORIZE THE BOOK, EITHER.

To compound publishers’ worries, L’Engle famously rejected these arbitrary categories and insisted that her writing was for anyone, regardless of age. She believed that children could often understand concepts that would baffle adults, due to their childlike ability to use their imaginations with the unknown.

6. MEG MURRY WAS ONE OF SCIENCE FICTION'S FIRST GREAT FEMALE PROTAGONISTS ...

… and that scared publishers even more. L’Engle believed that the relatively uncommon choice of a young heroine contributed to her struggles getting the book in stores since men and boys dominated science fiction.

Nevertheless, the author stood by her heroine and consistently promoted acceptance of one’s unique traits and personality. When A Wrinkle in Time won the 1963 Newbury Award, L’Engle used her acceptance speech to decry forces working for the standardization of mankind, or, as she so eloquently put it, “making muffins of us, muffins like every other muffin in the muffin tin.” L’Engle’s commitment to individualism contributed to the very future of science fiction. Without her we may never have met The Hunger Games’s Katniss Everdeen or Divergent’s Tris Prior.

7. THE MURKY GENRE HELPED MAKE THE BOOK A SUCCESS.

Once A Wrinkle in Time hit bookstores, its slippery categorization stopped being a drawback. The book was smart enough for adults without losing sight of the storytelling elements kids love. A glowing 1963 review in The Milwaukee Sentinel captured this sentiment: “A sort of space age Alice in Wonderland, Miss L’Engle’s book combines a warm story of family life with science fiction and a most convincing case for nonconformity. Adults who still enjoy Alice will find it delightful reading along with their youngsters.”

8. THE BOOK IS ACTUALLY THE FIRST OF A SERIES.

Although the other four novels are not as well known as A Wrinkle in Time, the “Time Quintet” is a favorite of science fiction fans. The series, written over a period of nearly 30 years, follows the Murry family’s continuing battle over evil forces.

9. IT IS ONE OF THE MOST FREQUENTLY BANNED BOOKS OF ALL TIME.

Oddly enough, A Wrinkle in Time has been accused of being both too religious and anti-Christian. L’Engle’s particular brand of liberal Christianity was deeply rooted in universal salvation, a view that some critics have claimed “denigrates organized Christianity and promotes an occultic world view.” There have also been objections to the use of Jesus Christ’s name alongside figures like Buddha, Shakespeare, and Gandhi. Detractors feel that grouping these names together trivializes Christ’s divine nature.

10. L’ENGLE LEARNED TO SEE THE UPSIDE OF THIS CONTROVERSY.

The author revealed how she felt about all this sniping in a 2001 interview with The New York Times. She brushed it aside, saying, “It seems people are willing to damn the book without reading it. Nonsense about witchcraft and fantasy. First I felt horror, then anger, and finally I said, 'Ah, the hell with it.' It's great publicity, really.''

11. THE SCIENCE FICTION HAS INSPIRED SCIENCE FACTS.

American astronaut Janice Voss once told L’Engle that A Wrinkle in Time inspired her career path. When Voss asked if she could bring a copy of the novel into space, L’Engle jokingly asked why she couldn’t go, too.

Inspiring astronauts wasn’t L’Engle’s only out-of-this-world achievement. In 2013 the International Astronomical Union (IAU) honored the writer’s memory by naming a crater on Mercury’s south pole “L’Engle.”

12. A STAR-STUDDED MOVIE ADAPTATION WILL HIT THEATERS IN 2018.

Although L’Engle was famously skeptical of film adaptations of the novel, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ava DuVernay (13th; Selma) is bringing a star-filled version of the book to the big screen next year. Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Mindy Kaling, and Zach Galifianakis are among the film's stars. It's due in theaters on March 9, 2018.

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