Utilitarianism's darkly comical pitfalls

A characteristically great Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal installment explores the hidden pitfalls of extreme utilitarianism. I just re-read Starship Troopers and was once again struck by Heinlein's strange idea of a scientifically provable "moral philosophy" that puts every human situation to the test of being expressed in symbolic logic to weigh its validity.

We created a utilitarian ethics computer to replace government (Thanks, Jamie!) Read the rest

Gone to Amerikay: masterful, heart-tugging Irish immigrant graphic novel

Gone to Amerikay is a masterfully told tear-jerker of a graphic novel that tells the stories of multiple generations of Irish immigrants to New York, skilfully braided together. There's a storyline from 1870, the tale of Ciara O'Dwyer and her baby daughter who arrive in the Five Points slum ahead of Ciara's husband, who is meant to catch the next boat, but does not arrive. There's a storyline from 1960, in which a merchant seaman named Johnny McCormack jumps ship to become an actor, but instead ends up in folk-music-saturated Greenwich Village, discovering turbulent truths about his calling and his sexuality. Finally, there's a 2010 timeline in which a stratospherically wealthy Celtic Tiger CEO named Lewis Healy touches down in New York in his private jet so that his lover can give him a gift for the man who has everything: the secret history of a song that changed his life when he heard it as a child.

Writer Derek McColloch and illustrators Colleen Doran and Jose Villarrubia make this three-way narrative sing (literally, at times) by exploiting the unique visual storytelling capabilities of comics in ways rarely seen. Their masterful treatment boosts an already fine -- if sleight and sentimental -- tale into a higher orbit, giving it a velocity and a mass that makes the book both unstoppable and heart-tugging.

This is a sensitive treatment of race and class, sexuality and art, betrayal and gender, and above all, the immigrant experience in America. Like a great folk song, it is at once simple and complex, a paradoxical confection that could only have been rendered in graphic form. Read the rest

Mathematical approximations and how wrong they are

A great XKCD today: "Approximations: A Slightly Wrong Table of Equations and Identities Useful for Approximations and/or Trolling Teachers."

Approximations Read the rest

Vintage photo-portraits remade as superheroes

Foto Marvellini, a Milanese art workshop, posted a set of vintage portraits remade as contemporary superheroes called "Le Biciclette."

Le Biciclette - Milano (via The Mary Sue) Read the rest

Leo Geo, a lengthwise comic about a journey through the Earth

Jon Chad's Leo Geo and His Miraculous Journey Through the Center of the Earth is a kids' comic story that blends science and fancy to tell the story of a scientist who goes all the way through the Earth's center from Argentina, headed for Taiwan. The long, skinny book is meant to be read "vertically," and instead of panels, the action proceeds directly across a series of two-page spreads that are dense with clever and fun details, from the realistic to the fantastic. This device is extremely charming, especially when Leo Geo reaches the Earth's center and begins his journey "up", and the pages suddenly change direction, requiring the reader to turn the book upside-down and read from bottom to top.

Leo Geo's journey is peppered with encounters with fantasy underground monsters and heroes, including some beasts that plot the downfall of the surface dwellers (that is, us). But Leo beats them all with science, and his travelogue is peppered with scientific observations that are interesting and informative, and provide a crunchy counterpoint to the gooey made-up stuff, like four-eyed quadclops monsters (Leo Geo is eaten by one of these, but beats it "with science" by travelling through its digestive tract and escaping through its "ileum and colon").

Chads art is fab, with a good, confident line and a lot of zest and silliness. The line-drawings cry out to be colored in by the reader, and the whole book makes a fabulous entertainment and distraction for the kids in your life, with its mix of science, storytelling, art, and humor. Read the rest

Brian Wood's DMZ: a critical look back

As the final volume of Brian Wood's brilliant anti-war graphic novel DMZ nears publication, Dominic Umile looks back on the series' 72 issue run of political allegory and all the ways that it used the device of fiction to make trenchant comic on the real world. DMZ is a story about the "State of Exception" that the American establishment declared after 9/11, a period when human rights, civil liberty, economic sanity, and the constitution all play second-fiddle to the all-consuming war on terror. Like the best allegories, it works first and best as a story in its own right, but it is also an important comment on the world we live in.

In DMZ #8, Matty Roth reviews a series of New York Times newspapers to reconstruct a timeline of the book’s war. Burchielli’s panels are nearly blacked-out. It’s as if Roth is squatting on a darkened stage: Nothing behind him is discernible outside of more yellowed newspapers, each slugged with copy that’s painfully close to our own real-life headlines. Brian Wood’s chief character is despondent and sounds like many of us do today in the era of Occupy Wall Street, hostilities in Afghanistan, the Obama administration’s drone campaign, and rampant corruption plaguing state and federal government, all amid an ever-theatric run-up to another presidential election.

Even as DMZ had another 64 issues and more than five years to go, Roth’s thoughts are rendered with an undeniable degree of both prescience and finality: “I never paid attention to politics. Never seemed to be a point.

Read the rest

Reading With Pictures Kickstarter project to produce high-quality textbooks in graphic novel form

Reading With Pictures is a great textbook in graphic novel form, which contains several short stories in comic form, each of which teaches elements of the US grades 3-6 core curriculum. I got a preview of the book at last year's New York Comic-Con and it is a fantastic effort. The 501(c)3 charity that produced the book has launched a Kickstarter campaign seeking to raise $65,000 to print the book and an accompanying teacher's guide. $10 donors get the DRM-free ebook; $25 donors get a hardcover print book. There's also a set of trading cards, as well as opportunities to get some of the outstanding original art.

Aimed at grades 3-6, The Graphic Textbook features a dozen short stories (both fiction and non-fiction) that address topics in a variety of disciplines (Social Studies, Math, Language Arts, Science) drawn from the list of Common Core Standards used in classrooms countrywide. The accompanying Teacher’s Guide will include Standards-correlated lesson plans customized to each story, research-based justifications for using comics in the classroom, a guide to establishing best classroom practices and a comprehensive listing of additional educational resources.

The Graphic Textbook will prove once and for all that comics belong in the classroom by creating a comic that every teacher will actually want to use and a textbook that every student will actually want to read!

Support Our Kickstarter | Reading With Pictures (Thanks, Matt!) Read the rest

Explorer: The Mystery Boxes: kids' comic-book stories about cubic mcguffins

My four-year-old daughter and I love to read comics together. Having thoroughly enjoyed the Hilda comics and gone absolutely bananas over Giants Beware, I stopped in at London's wonderful GOSH! Comics (recently relocated to a fantastic location in the heart of Soho) and asked the clerk for a recommendation. The gentleman behind the till recommended Explorer: The Mystery Boxes, an anthology of short stories aimed at middle readers, edited by Kazu Kibuishi (the creator of Amulet, who also contributed the final story in the book).

Each of the stories in Explorer relates to a "mystery box" -- a cubic mcguffin that each creator is free to interpret in his or her own way. The contributors display enormous ingenuity and range in their responses to this challenge. Emily Carroll's "Under the Floorboards" is a spooky, Twilight Zonesque take; Rad Sechrist's "The Butter Thief" is a great cross between Japanese legends and Grimm fairytales; Johann Mate's "Whatzit," is a madcap science fiction comedy; and Kibuishi's "The Escape Option" is a beautifully illustrated environmental parable. There are seven stories in all, and we read them together over three bedtimes. Though the book is aimed at middle graders, Poesy really enjoyed it, with a little bit of translating, explaining and narrating from me. As soon as we were done, she wanted to hear the stories over again, which is always a good sign.

I asked Poesy if she thought that other kids would like having this read to them, and she was very enthusiastic in her recommendation! Read the rest

Helped by friends, cartoonist battles Parkinson's

Courtesy of Richard Thompson

Cartoonist Richard Thompson's voice was quiet and reedy when we spoke, although the traces of his Maryland upbringing are clear. His voice sometimes gives out on him, he said, because of Parkinson's disease, a degenerative neuromuscular condition, with which he was diagnosed in 2009. I could understand him just fine when we spoke recently, but, as with so many aspects of his body's expression of Parkinson's, Thompson has just had to learn to work around it. Read the rest

ACBF, an open/free digital comics format

Robo Pastierovic has created Advanced Comic Book Format (ACBF), a free/open format for online comic books. ACBF has a lot of cool features: support for creator metadata; per-panel/page definitions; multiple text-layers for multiple languages; text formatting and style data; auto-indexing and more. The format is CC-BY-SA, and can be found on Launchpad, along with GPL'ed viewers for GNU/Linux and Windows. There's screenshots, too. Robo was kind enough to convert the comic adaptation of my story Craphound, which appeared in my CC-licensed graphic novel Cory Doctorow's Futuristic Tales of Here and Now -- he also translated the comic into Slovak and included the translation in a separate layer. Read the rest

Giants Beware: kids' graphic novel that will delight adults too

Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre's Giants Beware is an absolutely delightful kids' graphic novel about a brave young girl who dragoons her friends into going off in search of giants to hunt. Claudette and her friends live in the fortress town of Mont Petit Pierre, whose most famous story is of how the old marquis vanquished a horrible giant who terrorized the town by feasting on babies' toes, chasing it back to its mountain lair and then building the walls around the town to keep it out (and the people in) forever. Claudette can't fathom how the old marquis could have been so irresponsible as to leave the giant alive and still a threat to Mont Petit Pierre, and she is determined to hunt the giant down and kill it. She enlists the aid of her little brother, a timid boy called Gaston (who yearns to be a pastry chef) and her pal Marie, the current marquis's daughter, who plans to become a princess some day, and trains for it by lying on piles of mattresses with peas beneath them and suchlike.

Claudette and Gaston's father is the town blacksmith and a former hero himself, until a misadventure with a dragon cost him his legs and one arm. Now he works with a stoic (but kindly) assistant, and is gruff and fierce, and somewhat disapproving of his son's lack of machismo. The kids conspire to distract him so they can get into his secret stash and raid his hero supplies and equip themselves to stalk and kill the giant of the mountain. Read the rest

2012 Hugo Award nominees announced

Last night saw the announcement of the 2012 nominees for science fiction's prestigious Hugo Award. It's a particularly fine ballot, reflecting a record number of nominating ballots (wisdom of the crowds and all that). Included on the ballot are our own moderator Avram (as part of the team that publishes The New York Review of Science Fiction) and one of my all-time favorite books, Among Others. Also noteworthy: the much-deserved John W Campbell Award nomination (for best new writer) for the fabulous Mur Lafferty, a nomination for the indispensable Science Fiction Encyclopedia, Third Edition, a nomination for IO9's Charlie Jane Anders's story Six Months, Three Days, and a fourth nomination for much-favored Fables graphic novels.

Best Novel (932 ballots) Among Others by Jo Walton (Tor) A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin (Bantam Spectra) Deadline by Mira Grant (Orbit) Embassytown by China Miéville (Macmillan / Del Rey) Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (Orbit)

Best Novella (473 ballots) Countdown by Mira Grant (Orbit) “The Ice Owl” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction November/December 2011) “Kiss Me Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov's June 2011) “The Man Who Bridged the Mist” by Kij Johnson (Asimov's September/October 2011) “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” by Ken Liu (Panverse 3) Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente (WSFA)

Best Novelette (499 ballots) “The Copenhagen Interpretation” by Paul Cornell (Asimov's July 2011) “Fields of Gold” by Rachel Swirsky (Eclipse Four) “Ray of Light” by Brad R.

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Infringe-a-licious Tokyo tee: best Star Wars shirt ever?

Writer and comics creator Brian Michael Bendis (Twitter) is in Tokyo, and tweeted a series of infringment-spotting snapshots today. The Stormtrooper/Star Wars shirt he found and photographed, above, makes me weep with desire. Read the rest

Brian Wood's DMZ, vol 11: a long tale nears its worthy conclusion

Free States Rising is the 11th (and penultimate) collection of Brian Wood's masterful (anti-)war comic, DMZ. Wood has spent the past half-decade spinning this tightly plotted, gripping, and sardonic adventure story about a second American civil war fought in Manhattan, told from the point-of-view of Matty Roth, a reporter who becomes part of the story. DMZ is a textbook example of how science fiction can provide just enough distance between the real world and the reader to allow for a critique that is trenchant, but never strident. So here in volume 11, we have drone-wars, austerity, conspiracy and crass media manipulation, and it's all allegorical as hell, but since none of it constitutes an actual accusation about the actual world with its actual wars, it's possible to consider it all at arm's length and realize a) how profoundly screwed up Wood's world is, and b) how like our own it is.

If you've been following DMZ for all these years, volume 11 will not disappoint, as Wood crashes towards what promises to be a tremendous finish. This volume also contains a two-part short prequel to the series, explaining something of the origin of the "Free States Army," one of the factions in the DMZ story. Here's my reviews of the previous volumes.

DMZ Vol. 11: Free States Rising Read the rest

Joker cereal

Sean Hartter has designed this notional Joker-brand cereal box. He notes that his FB friends quipped, "Why So Cereal", "You wanna see a Trix?" and "Whatever doesn't kill you simply makes you eat more delicious cereal"! Spend some times poking around on Hartter's site. He's very good at this sort of thing.

JOKER BRAND CEREAL (via Super Punch) Read the rest

Sincerest Form of Parody: the lost ecosystem of MAD-inspired gross-out comics

Today marks the publication of Fantagraphics' magnificent archaeological comicsology, The Sincerest Form of Parody: The Best 1950s MAD Inspired Satirical Comics. This volume collects the rare, nearly unheard-of parody comics that sprang up in the early 1950s to jump on the bandwagon that MAD magazine set in motion. Many of the same artists who made MAD such a success (Jack Davis, Will Elder, Norman Maurer, Carl Hubbell, William Overgard, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, Bill Everett, Al Hartley, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Hy Fleischman, Jay Disbrow, Howard Nostrand, and Bob Powell) were represented in long-lost tiles like FLIP, WHACK, NUTS, CRAZY, WILD, RIOT, EH, UNSANE, BUGHOUSE, and GET LOST. Many of these are racier, grosser, and meaner than even MAD dared. There's also an engrossing appendix of annotations from editor John Benson, a MAD expert who wrote the additional text for the first run of MAD reprints.

I grew up on Cracked and Crazy, but these were late, late, latecomers to the MAD knockoff party, and never went as far as these lost titles.

The Sincerest Form of Parody: The Best 1950s MAD Inspired Satirical Comics

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All the window-cameos from the old Batman TV series

In this compilation video, Loomyaire compiles all fourteen of the "window cameos" from the Adam West Batman TV series, in which real-life personages and characters from other TV shows popped out of windows while Batman and the Boy Wonder were scaling a building-face and traded Laugh-In style quips with the heroes. Included in the video are appearances by (in order) Jerry Lewis, Dick Clark, Green Hornet (Van Williams) and Kato (Bruce Lee), Sammy Davis Jr., Jose Jimenez (Bill Dana), Howard Duff as Detective Sam Stone on "Felony Squad," Colonel Klink (Werner Klemperer), Lurch (Ted Cassidy), Don Ho, Andy Devine as Santa Claus, Art Linkletter, Edward G. Robinson, Suzy Knickerbocker and Carpet King (real name unknown).

The Complete 14 Batman Window Cameos (Thanks, Bloo!) Read the rest

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