WCSU

Etelka Lehoczky

Like any good story about a scientific discovery, Walter A. Brown's account of the history of lithium features plenty of improvisation, conjecture and straight-up kismet.

Unlike many such stories, though, it also features a fair share of personal bias, senseless puttering and random speculation — on part of these scientific researchers.

As NPR spends the summer reflecting on literary laughter, a funny thing is happening in popular culture. An era infamous for its uniquely counterintuitive approach to humor is coming back in style. If Seventeen magazine says so, it must be true: The '90s are with us again.

If you're reading this on your phone, drop it! (Or at least, drop it once you've finished this article.) That little screen of yours won't give you access to some of the wildest, weirdest, most innovative images and words bubbling up into the culture right now. Said miraculous content can only be found — brace yourself — on paper. To be precise, it can only be found in a flood of new periodicals by brave (or perhaps deluded) publishers who've declared war on digital monotony. Where in the world could such a quixotic movement emerge, you ask? Only in alternative comics.

"Shame is a cruel thing," writes George Takei in They Called Us Enemy, his new graphic novel about his childhood years in an American concentration camp during World War II. "It should rest on the perpetrators, but they don't carry it the way the victims do."

Let's get one thing straight: Monstress, Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda's wildly successful graphical epic, is great. Yep, "great" is definitely the word to use. No, brilliant. Brilliant, that's what Monstress is ... or is it?

There are some people who can look at complex equations — this one, for example:

If you want a nice little boost to your aesthete's ego, here's a fun exercise: Pick out a seemingly forgettable artwork and give it your attention.

When young urbanites move into poor neighborhoods in search of cheap rents and local color, they often get more than they bargained for. What they don't usually get are body parts spilling over toilet bowl rims and face-eating tentacles crawling out of ventilation systems. That's the kind of visceral revenge meted out in BTTM FDRS, Ezra Claytan Daniels and Ben Passmore's comedic horror comic. Daniels, who wrote BTTM FDRS, and Passmore, who illustrated it, wanted to distill the complex politics of gentrification into digestible (well, really fairly indigestible) form.

Sometimes the greatest stories are forever out of reach. Such is the case with innumerable tales of the mocambos, communities of runaway slaves that took root in the jungles of Brazil in the 1600s. And such is the case with the stories that make up Marcelo D'Salete's Angola Janga. In this massive graphic novel, D'Salete relates the history of the villages that provided havens for freedom-seeking runaways — and presented a perennial threat to the whole institution of slavery in Brazil.

If you were to make a list of professions in which women have failed to achieve a fair share of renown, one of the topmost entries would surely be architecture.

For about a year in the late '70s, Mark Alan Stamaty showed Village Voice readers how to see their city as a child would. His weekly strip "MacDoodle St." presented life in New York City as an intricate, kaleidoscopic melee of odd people and outlandish happenings. Nothing was dingy or ordinary in Stamaty's city. Every passerby was remarkable, every block animated by collisions between disparate lives. Each new street corner offered the questing mind an opportunity to tell a story.

Journalist, novelist and polemicist Rose Wilder Lane may be the most controversial woman nobody's ever heard of. Today she's known primarily for her turbulent collaboration with her famous mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, on the Little House on the Prairie books. But Lane's story doesn't end there — far from it. A fire-breathing libertarian, she denounced Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme" and grew her own food to protest World War II rationing.

Whether he's investigating such contentious celebs as André the Giant and Andy Kaufman or delving into the mythology of Tetris, Box Brown has a knack for using comics to illuminate tricky subjects.

"Would you rather be able to fly or turn invisible?" It's the archetypal party question. It was already popular way back in 2001, when This American Life addressed it, and the years haven't lessened its appeal. As recently as 2015, Forbes posed the question to 7,065 "business and professional leaders ... across the globe" and Vulture brought it up with the stars of Ant-Man.