As legions of disappointed Batman fans have discovered, the Victor Hugo novel is just not very good. It's one of Hugo's later works, written from exile in the Channel Islands, and it's a meandering political treatise grafted onto a novel. But there is a novel in there, buried amongst the self-indulgence and sloppiness, and it's this that author David Hine and illustrator Mark Stafford have teased out to make an absolutely stunning and grotesque new work.
The titular Man of Laughs is Gwynplaine, a horribly deformed boy who rescues a blind baby from her frozen mother's breast and then rescued by a traveling doctor who takes them both in and turns them into performers. They tour the countryside, and Gwynplaine and his blind adopted sister Dea fall in love, even as their mountebank father, Ursus, teaches them about the injustices of the English monarchy and shows them the relationship between the dire poverty around them and the fatted lords and ladies in London.
Gwynplaine's destiny becomes further entangled with the English aristocracy when he is discovered to be a long-lost nobleman himself, and is inducted into the House of Lords, where he makes impassioned, revolutionary speeches that fall on deaf ears -- and is forced to confront that all the riches he's gained have cost him his family and his love.
This adaptation is remarkably streamlined and razor-sharp, flensed of Hugo's excess by Hine's pen; the accompanying grotesque illustrations by Stafford hit the perfect mix of horror and sorrow. The Man Who Laughs is out in the UK now, from the great press Self Made Hero, and will be out in the USA on Oct 1.
Zack sez, "Jack 'King of Comics' Kirby's grandson is looking to raise funds for a coffee-table-sized book that will look at Kirby's life and times...along with a never-before-seen play by the master of comics. The book will include a wide variety of unpublished personal photographs and artwork from Kirby dating through the 1980s."
You have to pledge at least $50 to get a copy of the book, which is a lot, though the book sounds rather spectacular. Kirby's grandson doesn't list any publishing experience in his bio and doesn't list any helpers experienced in printing, layout, QA, or fulfillment, so caveat emptor.
Kaja and Phil Foglio have launched a Kickstarter to fund the printing of volume 12 of the wonderful Girl Genius webcomic, and to reprint the older books. These are multi-award-winning, independent steampunk delights, and $30 gets you "an actual, dead-tree, SOFTCOVER copy of Girl Genius Volume 12: Agatha Heterodyne and the Siege of Mechanicsburg. 192 pages in full color. Shipped to you by means of one of the largest government agencies on Earth!"
Printing the actual books is our biggest single expense. The first print run of a typical volume costs in excess of US$25,000. If that seems high, you must remember that we print eight thousand of them, and they usually run to around 120 pages. Our latest volume, number 12, will be even more expensive, as it comes in at 192 pages, and we’ll be printing nine thousand of them, because eight thousand wasn’t enough last time. Exciting? Yes, but one can’t pay the printer with excitement.
We also have to ship the books. Actually, we have to ship them twice. Once from the printer to the fulfillment center, and once again from the fulfillment center to the customer. And whether a book is shrink–wrapped with thousands of its friends onto a pallet and loaded into a truck, or carefully packaged for individual shipping, several thousand pounds of books cost serious money to transport.
It's got a short fuse on it because they want to get the books in hand in time for San Diego Comic-Con. Act now!
The good people at London's Nobrow Press have done an 8" vinyl toy for the outstanding kids' comic Hilda, created by Luke Pearson (reviews: Book 0, Book 1; Book 2). The Hilda toy is grownup-collector-expensive, but it's also a very nice piece -- I saw one in person last night when I brought my daughter and her friend to the Nobrow store on the way to our weekly daddy-daughter pizza dinner.
It's got a premise that reminds me of something Nicholson Baker would come up with: Fink invents a time machine and travels into the past to visit younger versions of herself to warn herself not to do things that she ended up regretting as an adult. She visits her college-age self and tries to stop her from taking a drug that gives her a bad trip. She tells her high-school-age self not to make out with an unsavory boy. She tries to save her elementary-school-age self from a scary encounter with her mentally ill, violent father when he goes on a rampage with a crowbar. She intervenes dozens of times, but does it do any good? I'll let you read it and decide for yourself.
Unlike Chester 5000-XYV, there's no nudity involved in We Can Fix it!, but it does contain a fair number of scenes in which Fink has sex with versions of herself, and many of the incidents are about Fink's sexual encounters as a teen and young adult. Despite some of the heavy subject matter, Fink tells the story with charm and a light heart and renders it with appealing art.
Odd Duck is the story of Theodora, "a perfectly normal duck" who likes her routine -- swimming, stretching, taking books out of the library, buying duck kibble, doing craft projects (with duck burlap, naturally) and star-gazing. When Chad moves in next door, Theodora can tell she's not going to get along with him. He makes weird abstract sculptures, dyes his feathers funny colors, and talks a mile a minute.
When both of them are stuck together overwinter (Theodora never manages to migrate, and Chad breaks his wing making abstract sculpture) they discover a shared love of the stars, and become best friends. But when they overhear a mean duck in town say, "Look at that odd duck!" they both assume she's talking about the other one, and that kicks off a rotten fight, and a lot of soul-searching.
This is a beautiful parable about eccentricity, friendship, self-awareness, the majesty of the night sky, and the benefits of balancing a cup of tea on your head (for posture!). The artwork is gorgeous (thanks to FirstSecond for supplying the first chapter excerpt below), and the writing is absolutely charming. When I got my advance copy, my five-year old demanded nightly readings of this one for a solid week.
Stefan Jones sez, "Web comic master Patrick "Electric Sheep" Farley switches styles with frightening ease. The First Word, an enigmatic story about australopithecine, was done in lovely photorealistic CGI.
His new work, Steve and Steve, is sharp line art with sepia-tones. It's about . . . Steve and Steve. Jobs and Wozniak, BSing about evolution, witchcraft, and the cold war under the skeleton of a ruined geodesic dome.
I hope he can keep this one going."
Back in September 2012, I posted about Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, a fantastic YA graphic novel about robotics, cheerleaders, and school council elections adapted by Faith Erin Hicks (a favorite of mine, thanks to great comics like Zombies Calling, Friends With Boys) from a YA novel by Prudence Shen. Hicks and her publisher, the ever-excellent FirstSecond, serialized the comic on the Web through much of 2012/13, and now they've published the book between covers.
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong is a beautifully told story about a pair of unlikely friends: Charlie, a jock who is nevertheless rather uncompetitive, and Nate, a high-strung roboticist and head of the school robots team. The story kicks off with a conflict: the cheerleaders and the robots kids are squaring off to convince the student council to allocate crucial budget to each of them, and there's only enough for one. Nate decides he's going to solve the problem directly by getting himself elected council president. The cheerleaders retaliate by running Charlie against him, bulldozing him into the job with their military discipline and formidable organization. After the elections shenanigans get out of hand, they make an uneasy peace, predicated on the idea that if the robotics kids use some of the cheerleaders' money to militarize their prized robot, they can win enough at the robot games to pay for both teams' necessaries.
What follows is the most epic robot battle in comics history. Seriously. Screw the Transformers. Hicks's illustrated robot war makes use of every one of the comics creator's tricks to accomplish something genuinely pulse-pounding. It's like a killer mecha ate a copy of Understanding Comics.
Woven into all this is a series of relationship stories that are well-told, and provide richness and texture and depth to the story, reaffirming Hicks's position as an awesomesauce dispenser of great skill and reliability.
Not content with a "crappy plastic Thor's hammer," Caleb from Hackaday made himself a Tesla-coil-equipped Mjolnir with a tiny, 80,000 volt Tesla coil in its head. It shoots lightning! Lots of built photos on the Hackaday site, too.
I had seen some videos of [Staci Elaan] showing off her battery-powered coils and I really liked her results. I figured, with her experience, she could probably do a better job than I could on getting the most bang out of a small package. She was happy to be involved and delivered a small 12v powered coil for me to work with. I should also point out that the coils [Staci] makes are usually donated to educational groups. This woman is awesome.
She had built this big flat head on it, with the initial plan being that it would be the front “face” of the hammer. It didn’t really work out that way though. I ended up having to increase the size of the head a bit and change the orientation of the coil. I experimented with different types of foam and you can see in the “making of” video what I finally ended up using. The blue insulation board you see in the pictures melted way too easily.
My glib description of Tom Gauld's cartoons would be "a science fiction Edward Gorey." It's unfair though, because there's is only a superficial stylistic resemblance between the two writer/illustrators.
To read a Tom Gauld cartoon or illustrated book (see my reviews of The Gigantic Robot and Goliath) is to be entertained, but also to be affected on a deeper level, where timeless truths about the human condition wait for talents such as Gauld to tap a line into them and provide lesser mortals like me with a chance to taste them.
Gauld's new book, You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack came out yesterday, and it consists of single panels that explore the passage of time, absurdism, and most of the 7 Deadly Sins, all presented with a sense of graceful whimsy that makes his work such a delight to read. Below, a sampling of You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack.
Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick's Feynman, a stupendous biography of Richard Feynman in graphic novel form that went to #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, is out in paperback as of today! Here's my original review from 2011:
Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick's Feynman is an affectionate and inspiring comic biography of the legendary iconoclastic physicist Richard Feynman. I've reviewed Ottaviani before (I really liked T-Minus, a history of the Apollo program, as well as his Dignifying Science: Stories About Women Scientists) and I expected great things from Feynman. I wasn't disappointed.
Feynman is primarily concerned with its subject's life -- his personal relationships, his career triumphs, his mistakes and misgivings. From his work on the Trinity project to the Feynman lectures to his Nobel for his theory of Quantum Electrodynamics, Feynman paints a picture of a caring, driven, intelligent, wildly creative scientist who didn't always think through his actions and sometimes made himself pretty miserable as a result. But the Feynman in this book is resilient and upbeat, and figures out how to bounce back from the worst of life.
Feynman's technical achievements are mighty, but very few people understand them (Feynman claimed that he didn't understand them). But the way he conducted his life was often an inspiration. The authors even manage to wring sweetness from his tragic romance with his first wife, Arline, who contracted terminal tuberculosis before they married, meaning that their marriage was conducted without any intimate physical contact lest he catch her sickness -- but for all that, they clearly loved each other enormously and made one another's lives better.
Feynman is notorious for his irreverent outlook and his willingness to look foolish while he learned new things, an extremely admirable ability I often wish I possessed in greater measure. The bongo-playing, doodling, pranking Feynman who tried to get out of accepting his Nobel prize and drove Freeman Dyson across the country, staying in flophouses and looking for excitement leaps off the page here.
The authors pass lightly over some of Feynman's more problematic shortcomings, such as his inconsistent sexist attitude towards women. They show us Feynman gallantly mentoring his sister in physics while all the authority figures in their lives insisted that this wasn't a fit subject for girls; they show us Feynman working on physics problems five nights a week at a local strip-bar; but they don't dip into his embarrassing writings on convincing women to have sex with him, in which he comes across as a sexist pig. He was surely a product of his times, and he was surely imperfect, and that explains his attitude, but it doesn't excuse it.
But this isn't a whitewash. Imperfect and warty, Feynman is still an inspiration.
The authors don't shy away from technical subjects entirely, either. They make a really good run at depicting Feynman's supposedly lay-oriented lectures on Quantum Electrodynamics. To be honest, I've never really been able to wrap my head around QED, and, having read Feynman, I'm still pretty fuzzy on the subject -- but I feel like I'm a little closer to getting it.
Like all great biography, Feynman is an enticement to read more of his works. I haven't read The Feynman Lectures (an introductory physics course that Feynman wrote and delivered late in his career -- an unheard-of undertaking for a physicist of his stature) in years, but I'm going to start listening to the audio of his lectures. And I'll be shoving Feynman at everyone I can get to read it.
Akissi is a French-language comic about the adventures of a little West African girl, now available in English translation thanks to the astoundingly excellent Flying Eye, a new kids' imprint of London's NoBrow. It was created by Marguerite Abouet, whom you may know from Aya, a series of comics for adults set in Cote d'Ivoire, widely available and appreciated in English translation.
Akissi's adventures are both universal and absolutely particular to her milieu. My young daughter -- born and raised in London -- has never kept a pet monkey, had a tapeworm come out of her nose, or had to contend with an older brother who wouldn't take her pigeon hunting; but Akissi's struggles with authority, her close friendships, and her misunderstandings are immediately recognisable to my daughter and her friends when they come over, and I've read the book aloud to them a good half-dozen times since I brought it home last week. It's the perfect combination of gross-out humour, authority clashes, and general mischief to capture a kid's interest.
Akissi comprises seven short stories, each of which stands alone, and, as with all of the NoBrow titles, it is a beautiful package -- great binding, endpapers, paper stock, and spine -- suitable for both your own library and as a handsome gift. It's on sale in the UK now, and will be out in the USA in June.
Alex Law's "little girls R better at designing heroes than you" is a great, occasionally updated Tumblr that features illustrations of superheroes based on the hero costumes little girls have made for themselves.
Kids are more impressionable than you, but kids can also be less restricted by cultural gender norms than you. Kids are more creative than you, and they're better at making superheroes than you.
This is a mini art project where I draw superheroes based on the costumes worn by little girls.