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.

The time is 1987. The movie is Spaceballs. As Dark Helmet ponders his next move, his lieutenant has a brainwave: "Get me a cassette of Spaceballs the movie." The videotape is produced, and soon Dark Helmet and the lieutenant are peering at a screen on which they can be seen watching themselves. "What the hell am I looking at? When does this happen in the movie?" Dark Helmet demands. "Now," answers the lieutenant. "You're looking at now, sir.

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.

Sometimes a book deserves attention not for what it is, but for what it isn't. Molly Mendoza's graphic novel Skip isn't a lot of things. It isn't typical of any of the genres that dominate comics today, for one thing: It's not an action-packed serial adventure, a revealing memoir or an arty exploration of formal principles. It also isn't a book that will immediately attract grown-up readers, and yet it probably won't win a wide following in the under-18 set.

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.

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