The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Hermes Press
Hermes Press / Hermes Press

Every Wednesday, I preview the most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, Comixology, Kickstarter and the web.

1. Brenda Starr: The Complete Pre-Code Comics Volume One

Written by Dale Messick; art by Matt Baker, Jack Kamen and others
Hermes Press

What is it?
Collecting, for the first time, the first 8 issues of a rare Brenda Starr comic book series that was first published in 1947, this volume features art from some of the great comic artists of the Golden Age like Matt Baker and Jack Kamen. As in the popular, long-running newspaper strip, Brenda Starr is a glamorous reporter who goes off on adventures in exotic locations. The big difference between the comic book versus the newspaper strip is that she would get tied up a lot more in the comic book.

What makes it interesting?
Although written and officially sanctioned by Brenda Starr creator Dale Messick, this is not exactly the Brenda Starr you used to read in the newspaper. These comics were published in the so-called "Pre-Code" era, before the Comics Code Authority—a self-regulating measure created in the 1950s to keep comics from getting themselves into trouble with just this kind of material. In fact, the cover shown here was actually used as a damning example in Dr. Frederic Wertham's 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent to prove the luridness of comics and how psychologically dangerous they could be to children.

Unlike in the newspaper strip, these comics showed Brenda in dangerous situations that often involved bondage, torture, and some ripped dresses. They will probably now seem tame to modern eyes, and never ventured into nudity or sexual situations, but they were definitely designed to be more titillating than the more mainstream comic strips. In fact, they are drawn by two of the greats from the Golden Age of comics and both were known for the kind of edgy work that would eventually attract the attention of Wertham and Congress. Jack Kamen was a staple artist of the infamous EC Comics, working on various horror, crime and sci-fi comics for them, and Matt Baker is considered one of the great "Good Girl" artists from that time. His immaculate renderings of beautiful women in comics like Phantom Lady and various crime and romance comics have made him one of the most respected artists of that time. His cover to It Rhymes With Lust is an iconic image from the pulp era. 

Like many Pre-Code books, these had been mostly lost to time, but Hermes Press, which has been reprinting the complete Brenda Starr comic strips for a number of years now, have managed to cull together these lost comics, including the back-up stories they originally contained. This is the first time in over 50 years they have been available to read.

You can read more about this Brenda Starr book on the Hermes Press website.

2. Broken Telephone

Written by Ryan Estrada with various artists

What is it?
This 18 part comic series begins in a call center in Mumbai, when customer service representative Manisha hears a murder over the phone. Can she catch the killer and solve the mystery from half a world away?

Cut to part 2 and the murderer from part 1 thinks he's the hero of the story, trying to catch an assassin who is the hero of Part 3 and so on… 

Ryan Estrada has been writing this elaborate story he calls Broken Telephone for seven years and has brought in 18 different artists to help him bring each piece to life. He's established a Kickstarter with multiple rewards but based on the notion that you can pay whatever you'd like for each installment and all proceeds go towards paying the artists.

What makes it interesting?
This might be the best concept I've heard for a comic book in a long time. As the title suggests, it works similarly to that old childhood game of "Telephone" where the point of the message gets transformed when passed from person to person. The hero of each story is the villain in someone else's story, and even though everyone is trying to do the right thing, they inevitably cause big problems for someone else. Each is drawn by a different artist, some of whom are active webcomic creators such as KC Green ("Gunshow"), Brittney Sabo ("All Night") and Estrada himself. Many are newcomers (at least to me) who look like future stars like Carolyn NowakRachel DukesKelly Bastow and more.

Let Ryan Estrada tell you all about it himself on his Kickstarter page. Especially take note of the lengths he's gone through to research some of the crimes and schemes he writes about in this series. 

3. Brooklyn Quesadillas

By Antony Huchette
Cunundrum Press

What is it?
Joseph is a 30-year-old animator, husband and dad. He lives in Brooklyn after moving some time ago from his native France (so far this all sounds very much like the author's life). In his spare time, Joseph directs a children's talk show out of his house hosted by a talking coffee pot. One day he is faced with the temptation of running off to Governor's Island with Denise Huxtable from The Cosby Show to direct movies starring Jessie Spano from Saved By The Bell (now it's no longer autobiographical).

What makes it interesting?
This is a quirky book to say the least. Huchette draws in a very loose, sometimes crude style, but he is full of crazy ideas that he can seem to barely help himself from putting on the page. It also reads like it is a very personal book for him even though I don't truly know how much if any of it he's drawn from his own viewpoint. At the start of the story, the main character deals with some issues with being a family man and having a wandering eye that make him a little hard to like as a protagonist, but there's a certain honesty with how he addresses all of this that makes this whole crazy story seem like it's coming from a real place. 

Huchette originally produced this book in French but Canadian publisher Cunundrum Press has had it translated for English speaking audiences. You can find out more about the book at their website.