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The apocalypse is all the rage these days. Of course, it’s a topic that never completely goes out of fashion. There’s always some person raving on a street corner about how all is lost and a few folks huddled around him or her, eager to listen. But these days, what with climate change, bees dying, ebola, and, of course, the recent election, it’s a topic on a lot of folks’ minds (at least judging from my social media feeds).

It’s a topic that’s on the mind of cartoonist Julia Gfrörer (pronounced “gruff-fair”) as well, or at least it’s the central setting of her latest graphic novel, Laid Waste. Gfrörer isn’t interested in depicting wanton death and destruction a la Michael Bay, however, as much as she is in depicting her characters’ attempts to find some sense of hope or solace in a world that is swiftly falling down around them. More… “Wonderful Waste”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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How many artists out there can say they completely transformed an entire genre so much that there is a clear demarcation point between what came before and what came after?

Manga artist Moto Hagio can. She had help, though. As one of the members of Magnificent 49ers, also known as the Year 24 Group, Hagio is a member of a loose affiliation of female cartoonists all allegedly born in or around the 24th year of the Showa era (1949, hence the name), that transformed girls’ comics in Japan, a.k.a. Shoujo manga. More… “The Magnificent Moto”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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Was there any announcement in recent comics history that was met with more fanfare and excitement than the news last year that acclaimed author Ta-Nehisi Coates would be writing the adventures of Marvel superhero Black Panther?

It’s hard for me to think of anything comparable. Coates, of course, is perhaps the preeminent writer on race and American society today. His columns for The Atlantic have deservedly won him widespread praise and a MacArthur Genius grant. His second book, Between the World and Me, garnered him a National Book Award. He is one of the most prominent literary figures in the country. The news that someone of his stature would be writing the adventures of one of the most recognizable black superheroes (though perhaps Storm, Luke Cage, or Cyborg could argue for more cultural cachet) is worth a bit of hullabaloo. More… “Ta-Nehisi’s Take”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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“Hey Dad, what do you think of this thing about Captain America being a Nazi?”

Long pause. This was not a question to be taken lightly. Depending on how my daughter felt about the issue, a wrong response could plummet the conversation quickly into an unintended, but nevertheless heated, argument. Such is the power of the modern superhero.

If you haven’t been paying attention (and good for you if you haven’t, you’re making the right life choices), the Internet had a — oh, let’s call it angry — reaction to the first issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers, when it arrived in stores last month. Why? Because that comic — written by Nick Spencer and drawn by Jesus Saiz — ended with the cliffhanger revelation that the one and only Captain America has all this time been a secret agent for the super-evil terrorist organization known as Hydra. More… “Sentinels Strike Back”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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Religion and spirituality are not subjects that have figured heavily into the world of American comics. When they have, traditionally, it’s been either in the form of evangelism (i.e. Jack Chick’s hardcore proselytizing pamphlets), straightforward adaptation (Picture Stories from the Bible and Robert Crumb’s by-the-numbers version of Genesis) or nose-thumbing iconoclasm (Winshluss’s In God We Trust being a recent example). Rare is the comic or cartoonist that attempts to grapple with issues of theology — or at least Western theology — in the modern world.

Not Chester Brown, though. While far from being the central focus of his bibliography, Brown has long been fascinated with exploring and questioning Christian doctrine, especially when it dovetails with sexuality. It’s a fascination that comes to a head in his latest work, Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus: Prostitution and Religious Obedience in the Bible.

More… “Chester’s Christian Comics”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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At the risk of being reductive (and I most assuredly am), there tend to be two types of male characters in Daniel Clowes’s comics: Socially maladjusted, marginalized misfits that are incapable of attaining anything resembling love, success or happiness (e.g. Dan Pussey, Mister Wilder in Ice Haven, the titular Wilson) and self-assured, bitter tough guys (or, more often, would-be tough guys) whose inner lives house just as much desperation and anxiety as the former (e.g. the lead character in Black Nylon, Joe Ames in Ice Haven, Andy in The Death Ray).

It’s mostly the latter that’s on display in Patience, Clowes’s latest graphic novel. What’s perhaps most surprising about the book, though, is how sincerely straightforward it is. Whereas Clowes has previously tended to view his protagonists with a critical (albeit occasionally sympathetic) eye, here we see him working with, to quote critic Ken Parille, “a full-on action hero” and indulging in what at first glance appears to be a conventional genre tale.

More… “Losing Patience

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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Characters sweat a lot in Michael DeForge’s comics. Not the kind of flop sweat that traditional cartoon characters exhibit, with water droplets literally flying off the body in a halo formation, but beads of perspiration that cascade down the character’s face in such a plentiful supply that you sometimes wonder why there isn’t a puddle around the character’s feet.

What makes them sweat so much? Oh, you know, the usual. Your organs and flesh are slowly turning into leather and spikes. You had to join a secret mafia club in order to get your niece’s beloved clarinet. You’re an ant that’s overwhelmed by the meaningless of it all. You got infested with baby spiders because your weird kid brother insisted on wearing that dead horse head all the time. You’ve been consigned to a hell populated by beloved cartoon characters. You’re a hapless, divorced flying-squirrel dog trying to deal with your own inadequacies and two unruly kids. You’re desperately trying to fit in. You just killed someone. More… “Between Tree and Twig”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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If you had any lingering suspicion that Dark Knight III: The Master Race — the second sequel to Frank Miller’s hugely popular and widely influential comic Batman: The Dark Knight Returns — was little more than a cynical cash grab on the part of publisher DC Comics, just direct your eyes to the credits on the inside front cover (they’re difficult to miss).

In addition to informing you that the story is by Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello and that Andy Kubert did the penciling, etc., there’s a sizable list of people that provided the art for what are known as “variant covers” — basically alternate exterior art slapped on the same comic that retailers can get only by ordering a ludicrous number of copies. It’s a cheap ploy designed to artificially goose sales by appealing to collectors’ mania and desperation. In this particular instance, I counted about 47 names on the list (more if you include collaborations). Even by industry standards it’s excessive. More… “Miller Lite”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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Cock-a-doodle-news!
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First thing’s first: If you heard yesterday that bacon is just as likely to give you cancer as smoking cigarettes, you heard wrong. Take a deep breath and get the whole story. (Wired)

The tables were turned on one of the most interviewed people of the past seven years. This time, Barack Obama was asking the questions and Marilynne Robinson, novelist and essayist, was answering. (The New York Review of Books)

Charles Shultz’s“adorable” little characters were called “Peanuts” by just about everyone but him. Charlie Brown’s love, the Little Red-Haired Girl, was never meant to be drawn. The long-running comic strip appealed to adults and children and sometimes had a dark side. Now, all that is being flipped on its head in the shiny new Peanuts Movieand Shultz may be rolling in his grave. Take a look back on 65 years of Linus, Lucy, Charlie, and, most importantly, Snoopy. (The Atlantic) •

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.
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Presenting your news!
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There are few positions more prestigious than being named Oxford Professor of Poetry. A new one will be elected next month and if you would like to be considered, apply here. The current holder of the position is the very eminent and very English poet Geoffrey Hill. Previously Matthew Arnold, Francis Turner Palgrave, A.C. Bradley and W. H. Auden have all been elected to the post. There has never been a woman who has served as Oxford Professor of Poetry. But a new Facebook group hopes to change that. “A. E. Stallings for Oxford Professor of Poetry” was created last month to support the poet who is known in this country for her brilliant translation of Lucretius into rhyming fourteeners. So far the page has received over 100 “likes.”

More… “The Poetry Election, Bradbury, Sendak,
and Sun Ra”

Richard Abowitz is the editor of The Smart Set. Get in touch at rabowitz@drexel.edu.
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