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The Comics Alternative - Smart Discussions on Comic Books and Graphic Novels

Two guys with PhDs talking about comics! The Comics Alternative is weekly podcast focusing on the world of alternative, independent, and primarily non-superhero comics. (There's nothing wrong with superhero comics. We just want to do something different.) New podcast episodes become available every Wednesday and include reviews of graphic novels and current ongoing series, discussions of upcoming comics, examinations of collected editions, in-depth analyses of a variety of comics texts, and spotlights on various creators and publishers. The Comics Alternative also produces "special feature" programs, such as shows specifically dedicated to creator interviews, webcomics, on-location events, and special non-weekly themes and topics.
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The Comics Alternative - Smart Discussions on Comic Books and Graphic Novels
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Now displaying: Page 1
Feb 22, 2017

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On this week's episode the Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics do deep dives into two recent, and very different, publications. They begin with Chynna Clugston Flores's Scooter Girl, just released from Image Comics. This is a brand new color edition of a six-issue black-and-white series originally published by Oni Press is 2003-2004, and then collected as a trade in 2004. Derek describes this it as an adult Archie, and throughout their discussion the guys make reference to the series that Chynna Clugston Flores is perhaps best known for, Blue Monday. As is evident in the recent publication, her writing is heavily infused with music and pop references -- specifically, mod culture and the mod revival during the 1970s and early 1980s -- and her art has a manga flair. As Andy and Derek point out, much of the appeal of Scooter Girl is the author's ability to take a milieu out of time and set it in a time and place where in never really existed.

Next, the Two Guys spend a lot of time discussing Emil Ferris's My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Vol. 1 (Fantagraphics). This is a phenomenal new work from an artist that neither Andy nor Derek knew about until the release of Resist!, to which Ferris contributed a story. The range and depth of this narrative is truly impressive, and as the guys make clear, it's a text that requires serious research and sustained analysis. The storytelling is ambitious and multilayered, its engagement with identity and marginalized cultures is sophisticated, its art style is unlike any other, and its treatment of late 1960s horror culture is thematically resonant. In short, this is one of the most astounding works that Derek and Andy have encountered so far this year. However, as much as the guys agree on this book's significance, they disagree on what constitutes the narrative's turning point. On one occasion in their discussion, Derek describes a particular illustration that Andy feels is a spoiler and could potentially diminish the emotional impact of the story. Derek disagrees, and the guys go back and forth over role of Ferris's art in establishing the text's climax (or climaxes). As their debate demonstrates, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is a richly textured work that should generate future analysis. And the guys eagerly await the second volume, which is due out in the fall.

Feb 20, 2017

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:27 - Introduction
  • 00:03:08 - Introducing Paul Lai as new YR cohost
  • 00:04:50 - A farewell message from Andy Wolverton
  • 00:07:12 - Bats: Learning to Fly
  • 00:31:39 - NewsPrints
  • 01:00:37 - Wrap up
  • 01:01:11 - Contact us

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The Comics Alternative extends a warm welcome to Paul Lai, who has taken over from Andy Wolverton as co-host with Gwen Tarbox on the Young Readers show. Everyone at The Comics Alternative family will miss Andy’s wise and engaging reviews and perspectives on children’s and young adult comics.

In their first show together, Gwen and Paul discuss the newest volume in First Second Books’ Science Comics series, Falynn Christine Koch’s Bats: Learning to Fly, as well as Ru Xu’s fiction (“diesel-punk,” as Paul terms it) graphic novel NewsPrints, published by the GRAPHIX imprint at Scholastic Books.

Since its launch in 2016, the Science Comics series has included volumes on coral reefs, volcanoes, and dinosaurs. Geared towards upper elementary and middle school aged readers, Science Comics take advantage of the elements of visual storytelling to put forward scientific information. As the editors point out: “With the increasing ubiquity of visual information,” young readers need to “learn to process and respond to visual content, and comics are an incredibly effective medium for exploring visual literacy.” Regular listeners to the podcast may remember that Gwen and Andy reviewed Dinosaurs by M.K. Reed and Joe Flood in their March 2016 YR show, and many of the elements that they praised, including the accessibility of scientific information, as well as the use of humor, appear in Koch’s volume, as well.

Bats: Learning to Fly encourages young readers to understand the important role that bats play in the ecosystem, to overcome their fear of bats, and to learn how they can become involved in protecting and caring for bats. In addition to providing a great deal of information on various species of Bats, Koch creates a narrative in which a teenage girl, Sarah, volunteers at a bat rehabilitation center after her parents overreact to a bat and injure it. Lil’ Brown, as the bat is known, is both a character in that narrative and a narrative presence in his own right, as he directly addresses the reader at various points regarding his own anatomy and role in the ecosystem. As part of their discussion, Paul and Gwen consider how young readers might respond to the way information is imparted in the comic, and they look forward to Koch’s upcoming volume for the Science Comics series, Plagues: The Microscopic Battlefield, due out in August, 2017. Koch recently graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), and Gwen and Paul discuss how her precision drawings and humor-filled text combine to create a text that will delight readers, while encouraging them to appreciate how they can play a role in scientific study by volunteering to rehabilitate bats or building bat houses for their backyards.

Next, Gwen and Paul discuss another debut comic from a SCAD graduate. NewsPrints is written and drawn by Ru Xu, a comics creator who was born in Beijing, immigrated to Indianapolis as a young child, and has had a lifelong love of comics from a variety of traditions, including manga, European comics, and even superhero comics. NewsPrints takes place in a fictional diesel-punk world where the land of Nautilene is torn by war and a newspaper called The Bugle is the only media outlet left that is still reporting the truth. The protagonist, Blue, is a rare kind of newsboy in a society that counts on its newsboys to shout out the headlines and sell papers…and that’s because Blue is not a boy, but a girl, orphaned by the war and adopted by the family who owns the newspaper. Blue sets out to provide that one doesn’t have to be a boy to be vital in the news business, and along the way, readers are introduced to a cast of characters such as Jack, the eccentric and secretive inventor; Crow, a strange kid who remains wrapped in a scarf and in mysteries of his own; and Goldie, Blue’s loyal canary, who matches Blue’s welcoming of people and spirit of flight.

As part of their discussion, Paul and Gwen praise Xu’s mastery of many genres of comics, including her ability to meld various traditional forms into an entirely unique story world. Thus, while the text shares much in common with recent fantasy releases, including Faith Erin Hicks’ The Nameless City and Jorge Corona’s FeathersNewsPrints stands on its own, with a vast, inviting story space and a focus on issues of truth and representation that are ever more a part of our own political and social climate. Paul praised Xu’s deft handling of interactions among characters, and Gwen expressed her admiration for Xu’s use of color and shading to help set the mood and to ease transitions across the comic. Given the book’s indeterminate ending, Paul and Gwen look forward to the series continuing into additional volumes, and they dwell on Xu’s treatment of gender and ethnicity in thoughtful ways.

Feb 17, 2017

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This month on the Euro Comics series Edward and Derek look at four BD, all written by Jerome Charyn and all released by Dover Publications. First they discuss three collaborations with François Boucq: Little TulipBilly Budd, KGB, and The Magician's Wife. These were originally published in French between 1987 and 2014, but they've been available in English translations over the past seventeen months (the most recent, Little Tulip, coming out this past December). They also explore The Boys of Sheriff Street, Charyn's project with Jacques de Loustal that was translated and published by Dover in July 2016. Over the course of their conversation Derek and Edward investigate Charyn's methods of storytelling, finding similarities and thematic links among the four titles, and they discuss the different ways in which Boucq's and Loustal's styles bring different resonances to their respective narratives.

Feb 15, 2017

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This week the Two Guys with PhDs discuss three very different titles. They begin with Steven Tillotson's Untitled Ape's Epic Adventure (Avery Hill Publishing), a different kind of quest narrative that blends the anthropomorphic and the surreal. After that, they look at Phil Hester and Tony Harris's Blood Blister #1, the latest serial offering from AfterShock Comics. And finally, Andy and Derek wrap up with The Belfry (Image Comics), a one-shot horror title from Gabriel Hardman.

Feb 13, 2017

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:27 - Introduction
  • 00:03:03 - Setup of episode
  • 00:03:50 - The Specialists
  • 00:32:17 - Hominids
  • 01:01:33 - Checking in with Jim McClain and Paul Schultz
  • 01:16:16 - The Last Saturday
  • 01:38:20 - Wrap up
  • 01:39:52 - Contact us

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For the month of February, Sean and Derek look at three very different webcomics. They begin with Al Fukalek and Shawn Gustafson's The Specialists, an alternate history superhero narrative set in the mid-1940s, with an undefeated Germany flexing its might with its own team of superpowered individuals, Die Übermenschen. The United States fights back with The Specialists, a diverse collection of heroes that is, at times, more propaganda than powered.

Next, the guys look at what is arguably the highlight of this month's episode, Jordan Kotzebue's Hominids. This fantasy adventure is set in world populated by varied creatures, the central of which are a race of jungle dwellers. This is a tale with complex moral undertones, but whose message isn't overbearing or preachy. Plus, Kotzebue's art is outstanding.

After a brief check-in with Jim McClain and Paul Schultz -- their Poe and the Mysteriads was launched just last month -- Sean and Derek turn to the last webcomic of the month. Chris Ware's  The Last Saturday appeared in The Guardian during the last half of 2014 and into September 2015, and the guys discuss the ways in which Ware employs the webcomic format. In fact, they both feel that this story never really utilizes the unique qualities of the platform. We could get the same effect in print. Still, this is an engaging narrative whose topic and style should be familiar to any Chris Ware fan.

Feb 8, 2017

It's that time of the month, and on this week's regular episode of the podcast, Andy and Derek take a look at the February Previews catalog. Before they do that, though, they update everyone on current comics news and podcast updates, as well as share listener mail. Then they get into the current Previews catalog, highlighting a variety of upcoming titles from both large and small publishers alike. Among the upcoming comics they discuss are offerings from:

Feb 6, 2017

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:24 - Introduction
  • 00:02:26 - Setup of interview
  • 00:04:01 - Interview with Karl Stevens
  • 01:26:32 - Wrap up
  • 01:28:02 - Contact us

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On this interview episode, Derek talks with Karl Steven about Penny, his current weekly/semiweekly strip appearing in The Village Voice. The two discuss this ongoing comic and its genesis, but they also talk about a variety of Karl's other works. Of particular focus are the series of strips he created for the Boston Phoenix between June 2005 and November 2012. The earliest ones are collected in Whatever (Alternative Comics), and the later comics in two follow-up compilations, The Lodger (KSA Publishing) and Failure (Alternative Comics). In this way, Derek is able to talk with Karl about his distinctive realistic style and  how he has evolved from a heavily reliance on crosshatching to a more simple, even softer approach. Along with this, Karl shares is aesthetic philosophy of naturalistic detail and  how it differs strongly from that of creators such as Scott McCloud, Jessica Abel, and Matt Madden.

The guys also talk about Karl's first book, the Xeric Award-winning Guilty. This effort is what put Karl Stevens on the map in 2005, and even today it serves as a wonderful introduction to his style. They also cover the artist's efforts in the fine arts, including his highly informative Anatomy for Artists: A New Approach to Discovering, Learning and Remembering the Body (North Light Books), coauthored with Anthony Apesos. Karl also shares some information about The Winner, his new book that will be coming out this fall from Retrofit Comics/Big Planet Comics, and future plans to collect his and Gustavo Turner's Succe$$ comics into book form.

Feb 1, 2017

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:27 - Introduction
  • 00:02:44 - We live in a political world
  • 00:12:13 - Love Is Love
  • 00:51:55 - Resist!
  • 01:29:14 - Wrap up
  • 01:30:20 - Contact us

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This week Andy and Derek get political, and they do so by discussing two recent socially conscious anthologies. They begin with Love Is Love, a collection of short strips and illustrations. This anthology, originated and with an afterword by Marc Andreyko, was released in December by IDW Publishing, and the proceeds from sales go to supporting the survivors of and families of those killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on June 12, 2016. As the guys point out, this collection is diverse in contribution and tone, with most comics calling for peace, some taking a more aggressive edge, and many adopting a quiet stance of commemoration. Both DC Comics and the Equality Florida organization had a large hand in bringing this book about, and you can still contribute to the latter's victim's funds via their GoFundMe page.

Next, the Two Guys discuss the very timely Resist!, a free tabloid-format anthology published by Desert Island and made available during the June 21 protest marches around the country (and around the world). This incredible effort, edited by the mother-and-daughter team of Françoise Mouly and Nadja Spiegelman, began as a special issue of Gabe Fowler's Smoke Signal, but then it evolved into something more far-reaching. The newspaper's front-page banner, "a woman's place is in the revolution!" is what this collection is all about. The individual contributions vary widely, but what is most impressive about this anthology is its truly democratic nature. Comics from notable names within the industry -- such as Carol Tyler, Bill Griffith, Alison Bechtel, Miss Lasko-Gross, and Lance Tooks -- stand alongside lesser-known, amateur, and possibly first-time cartoonists. Resist! may not be the easiest thing to find after the women's marches, but you can still support these efforts by checking out the project's website.

Jan 30, 2017

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:28 - Introduction
  • 00:02:36 - Catching up for the new year
  • 00:04:19 - Sunny
  • 01:09:40 - Other works by Matsumoto
  • 01:20:29 - Wrap up
  • 01:22:06 - Contact us

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This month on the manga show, Shea and Derek discuss the recently completed, Sunny, as well as other works by Taiyo Matsumoto. Late last year VIZ Media published the six and final volume of Sunny, a series that began in December 2010 in the original Japanese (published in Monthly Ikki), and has been coming out in English translation since the first volume in May 2013. This is a title that the guys have been wanting to discuss for some time, but they decided to hold out until the everything was wrapped up so that they could look at the series in its entirety.

This is a realistic, evenly paced drama about a group of orphans and outsiders residing at Star Kids Home, a foster home that serves as a refuse for children without family or whose parents do not have the means, or even the interest, in caring for them. Although this narrative functions with an ensemble cast, Shea and Derek feel that the de facto protagonist here is Haruo, an angry, troubled kid whose parents remain aloof. The series unfolds as Haruo interacts with the other children at the home, each of whom gets ample attention in the text, and the adults who try to make things manageable for them. The one central refuge in their lives, a space of safety and imagination, is a derelict Nissan Sunny 1200 that sits abandoned in the front yard of the Star Kids Home.

The guys spend most of the episode mapping out the various characters and their struggles in Sunny, but they also take the time to discuss other manga by Matsumoto, including Blue Spring (the original collected in 1993, and translated into English in 2004), Gogo Monster (2000/2009), the untranslated Takemitsuzamurai (2006-2010), and especially the Eisner Award-winning Tekkon Kinkreet, which originally ran from 1993-1994 and was collected as a one-volume English translation in 2007. As Shea points out, this is one of their favorite manga creators -- for both guys -- and they wanted to use this episode to dig deep into his art.

Jan 27, 2017

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:25 - Introduction
  • 00:02:19 - Setup of interview
  • 00:03:17 - Interview with Miriam Libicki
  • 01:01:17 - Wrap up
  • 01:03:11 - Contact us

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Andy and Derek have the pleasure of talking with Miriam Libicki whose latest book, Toward a Hot Jew, was released late last year from Fantagraphics. This is a collection of various graphic essays that Miriam has written over the years, a style of writing she describes as a comics form of gonzo journalism. The guys talk with her about these various pieces and their mix of reportage, autobiography, and expository analysis. They also discuss Miriam's autobiographical series Jobnik!, which concerns her experiences serving in the Israeli army. Most of the talk revolves around Miriam's writing, but at times the conversation becomes more academic and speculative, in many ways reflecting the tone found throughout Toward a Hot Jew.

Jan 25, 2017

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For this week's episode, Andy and Derek put on their English professor hats, and with a vengeance, when taking on the latest comics version of Beowulf (Image Comics), adapted by Santiago García and David Rubín. While this is not, by far, the only comics adaptation of this classic Old English poem, the guys feel that it's one of the best they've seen. Indeed, Rubín's artwork is particularly suited to the violent action and Beowulf's heroic exploits. And the ending of this text, which takes a significant self-reflective turn, goes on to underscore the guys' appreciation of this adaptation.

Next, the Two Guys look at one of the latest releases from Retrofit Comics/Big Planet Comics, Karine Bernadou's Canopy. Neither Derek nor Andy were familiar with Bernadou's work before this book, but they find this a fascinating introduction to the French illustrator. Canopy is an almost completely wordless tale surrounding a young woman trying to make it on her own. But she does so in a surreal wilderness infused with male-centered threats.

For their final title of the week, the guys discuss an author who's not gotten enough attention on the podcast...at least from Derek's perspective. The first two issues of Richard Corben's Shadows on the Grave (Dark Horse Comics) are now out, and the guys take on this anthology-like miniseries. These brief stories have a Night Gallery feel, but with an amped up creepy factor. This is all due to the wonderfully disturbing art of Corben, who opts for a black, white, and gray tone rendering, a change from his other recent Dark Horse work.

Jan 23, 2017

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:24 - Introduction
  • 00:04:00 - Setup of interview
  • 00:03:20 - Interview with Joe Ollmann
  • 01:21:27 - Wrap up
  • 01:22:58 - Contact us

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On this interview episode, Andy and Derek talk with Doug Wright Award-winner Joe Ollmann, whose new book, The Abominable Mr. Seabrook, comes out this week from Drawn and Quarterly. Joe starts off by introducing William Seabrook and his writings, since this is a historical literary figure that most listeners have probably never heard of before. In fact, the guys spend a good bit of time discussing the ups and downs of Seabrook's career and speculating on why he's not more notable than he is. With a background in yellow journalism, Seabrook became a famed adventurer and travel writer who befriended a who's who of early twentieth-century literati, including Thomas Mann, Aldous Huxley, Gertrude Stein, Sinclair Lewis, Man Ray, Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dali, and Aleister Crowley. As Joe points out, he was famously known at the time, not only as a writer, but as a cultural progressive, a cannibal, a bondage enthusiast, and the man who popularized zombies. What fascinates Ollmann most about this colorful figure is Seabrook's upfront attitudes about himself, refusing to hide the more salacious sides of his personality. At the same time, this cavalier manner may have contributed to his notorious alcoholism, tragically revealed in his memoir, Asylum, and a condition that stifled his career and helped lead to his eventual death. The guys have a great time talking with Joe about his 10+ years in researching and writing this biography, the differences between writing this book and his previous ones (all fictions), and the dynamics of visually narrating the life of such a controversial and conflicted character.

Joe is also writing about his experiences with The Abominable Mr. Seabrook on The Paris Review!

Jan 20, 2017

It's the beginning of a new year, and on this episode of the on-location series, Derek is back at Valhalla Games and Comics to talk with customers and employees about the comics they're looking forward to in the coming months. He's joined by a couple of the regulars, Craig and Nick, as well as employees Stephanie and Freddy. Among the titles folks are anticipating in 2017 are The Unstoppable WaspHighlander: The American DreamJustice League of AmericaPlanet of the Apes/Green Lantern, Hatchet, more Head Lopper, Black History in Its Own WordsPsychodrama Illustrated, and the new Rat Queens. But the guys at the shop don't stop there. They also discuss other comics-related media, films and television series, that are planned for this year.

Jan 18, 2017

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This week the Two Guys with PhDs start off by getting political. While some listeners might not like it when Andy and Derek become polemical on the podcast, the guys just had to speak out about the brouhaha surrounding Congressman John Lewis's recent comments on Trump's illegitimacy. The Two Guys stand with Representative Lewis, a man of courage, honor, and action. And it's heartening that copies of March are selling out all over the place!

But enough of the bad Trump. The guys find more serious another entity of that name, this one orchestrated by the legendary Harvey Kurtzman. Trump: The Complete Collection is the second volume in Dark Horse's Essential Kurtzman series. This beautiful hardbound edition collects the only two issues of Trump ever published, as well as the many never-before reproduced illustrations from what would have been the third issue of the magazine, had Hugh Hefner not pulled the plug. Both Andy and Derek appreciate the collection -- especially Denis Kitchen's outstanding essay and annotations! -- and while some of the humor appears dated (or even falls flat at times), this text stands out as an indispensable historical contribution.

After that Derek and Andy check out two recent #1 issues, Sean Lewis and Hayden Sherman's The Few (Image Comics) and Erin Nations's Gumballs (Top Shelf/IDW Publishing). The former is a leisurely paced and extra-long issue centered around a future where the United States is now a fractured territory due to water scarcities (at least the guys think this is the series' premise). Sherman's art stands out here. And Gumballs is a single-creator anthology that's a mix of autobiographical sketches, character portraits, and poignant cultural observations. The guys look forward to seeing what transpires in both of these series.

Jan 16, 2017

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:27 - Introduction
  • 00:03:17 - Setting up Pedrosa and Vehlmann
  • 00:08:08 - Equinoxes and other Pedrosa titles
  • 00:51:14 - Clear Blue Tomorrows and other Vehlmann titles
  • 01:26:01 - Wrap up
  • 01:29:12 - Contact us

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It's the first Euro Comics episode of the new year, and Edward and Derek use the occasion to focus on the work of two contemporary French creators, using their latest books as springboards into their larger bodies of work. They begin with Cyril Pedrosa's Equinoxes (NBM Publishing), a novelistic examination of life purpose and the uses we make of art in creating meaning. The text comprises four alternating storylines that become more enmeshed as the narrative progresses, combining comics with prose passages in establishing its contemplative tone. But Edward and Derek also bring in discussions of Pedrosa's earlier works in translation, including Three Shadows (First Second), Hearts at Sea (Dupuis/Europe Comics) and Portugal (Dupuis/Europe Comics).

Next, the Two Guys examine Clear Blue Tomorrows, written by Fabien Vehlmann with art by Ralph Meyer and Bruno Gazzotti (Cinebook). This book is basically a series of science-fiction or fantastic stories brought together by a broader narrative frame: a time traveler from a dystopian future tasked with ghost writing stories for the would-be tyrant in hopes of changing the man's occupational trajectory. It's a curious spin on the "killing Hitler" sci-fi trope, though narratively reminiscent of One Thousand and One Nights. The guys also discuss several of Vehlmann's other works, including Last Days of an Immortal (Archaia), Beautiful Darkness (Drawn and Quarterly), and the all-age series Alone (Cinebook). There's a lot packed into this episode...and so many reading ideas!

Jan 11, 2017

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This week the Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics discuss DC's Young Animal titles. They begin with Gerard Way and Nick Derington's Doom Patrol, the maiden voyage of the new imprint. There have been three issues released so far, and the guys really like what they've seen. Way definitely takes a cue from Grant Morrison's legendary run on the title, referencing many of Morrison's original additions to the Silver Age series -- most notably Danny the Street and Flex Mentallo -- yet at the same time making Doom Patrol uniquely his own.

After that, Andy and Derek discuss the first four issues of Shade the Changing Girl. This is Cecil Castellucci and Marley Zarcone's revamping of the old Steve Ditko creation (and best popularized in the early 1990s by Peter Milligan and Chris Bachelor), Shade the Changing Man. Their emphasis on the lives of young high school women promises to be a curious spin on the property.

Next, the guys turn to what Andy calls his favorite of the Young Animal line, Jonathan Rivera, Gerard Way, and Michael Avon Oeming's Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye. As they point out, Cave Carson is a character from the early 1960s appearing in both Brave and the Bold and Showcase, but unlike his contemporary Rip Hunter, he never received a title of his own. Way, Rivera, and Oeming are now giving him that opportunity.

The Two Guys conclude their episode with a very different kind of Young Animal title, Jody Houser and Tommy Lee Edwards's Mother Panic. This is the only one of the four series not to be based on Silver Age properties, and it's the only one to be deeply enmeshed into the DC Universe. For that reason, Derek is less enamored with Mother Panic -- at least in terms of the first two issues so far -- feeling that it takes itself too seriously and wonders why this wasn't a regular DC title. Andy has no problem with this Gotham-drenched series.

Jan 9, 2017

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:28 - Introduction
  • 00:03:03 - Catching up after the holidays
  • 00:04:07 - Listener mail!
  • 00:08:18 - King of the Unknown
  • 00:33:42 - Cosmic Dash
  • 01:12:16 - Checking in with Jim McClain and Paul Schultz
  • 01:27:36 - Freedman
  • 01:52:51 - Wrap up
  • 01:53:45 - Contact us

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It's a new year, and the webcomics guys are back to discuss three intriguing webcomic titles. They begin with Marcus Muller's King of the Unknown, an unusual take on the King of Rock and Roll. You thought he was dead? Well, he's actually alive and kicking (and eating), but now he's working in the shadows as a paranormal investigator. This is a weird and offbeat title that both Sean and Derek can't recommend enough, but it's an ongoing webcomic that hasn't been updated since 2013. There are indications that Muller will return to the story this year, but in the meantime, introduce yourself to the 30 pages that are already available.

After that, Sean and Derek take a look at Cosmic Dash by David Davis. The premise is not dissimilar to that of another webcomics the guys discussed, Sean Wang's Runners, but this one is more lighthearted and includes a larger ensemble cast. In fact, the guys spend a lot of time talking about the ensemble nature of the webcomic and how Davis does an outstanding job of providing supplementary material in the way of detailed character descriptions, maps, timelines, design guides, and lore pages.

Then, after the guys check in with Jim McClain and Paul Schultz -- their new webcomic Poe and the Mysteriads launches this month! -- they wrap up the episode with a discussion of an already completed webcomic, Peter Quach's Freedman. This is a short story, only 23 pages, but it's an outstanding example of a tightly written and impactful narrative. As the title suggests, the tale concerns ex-slaves in the aftermath of the Civil War, with one in particular who has difficulty freeing himself from the past. The guys also discuss some of Quach's other short pieces on his website, including the hilarious I Am a Racist (and So Can You). It's a story that certainly resonates as we approach the dark days of the Trump administration.

Jan 4, 2017

Happy New Year from the Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics! On this, their first regular episode of 2017, Andy and Derek take their monthly gander at the current Previews catalog. Before they do that, though, they welcome and thank a couple of new Patreon supporters to the Comics Alternative family, including Alla Rull, who becomes the latest of the guys' official Podcast Patrons. Then they jump headlong into the January Previews, highlighting a variety of upcoming titles from both large and small publishers alike. Among the interesting fare found in this month's catalog are offerings from:

Jan 2, 2017

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:25 - Introduction
  • 00:02:13 - Setup of interview
  • 00:03:20 - Interview with Craig Yoe
  • 01:25:46 - Wrap up
  • 01:28:58 - Contact us

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It's a new year, and what better way to bring it in than with another Craig Yoe interview! In what has become a Comics Alternative tradition, the Two Guys with PhDs use their very first episode of the year -- not just their first interview, but their very first podcast release -- to talk with Craig and find out what he's been up to. It's what has become known as the guys' Happy New Yoe show!

The fun begins with Andy and Derek asking Craig about his 50th anniversary celebration. As he tells the guys, this year is the golden anniversary of Craig's first contribution to comics culture, a fanzine he published as a kid. And from there, he never looked back. A big part of this celebration is a string of new releases that began late last year. In fact, most of the interview is devoted to a discussion of one of those books, Super Weird Heroes: Outrageous but Real! This is the first of a two-volume -- and maybe a third? -- collection of really strange heroes from comics' Golden Age, written and drawn by some of the medium's most obscure as well as some of its best-known creators. The guys ask Craig about the compilation of this enterprise and its place within the Yoe Books pantheon. They also do deep dives into some of the weirdest of the weird, including the superhero of the cloth The Deacon and his sidekick Mickey; the disembodied hand, The Hand; the crossdressing Madam Fatal; phallic-prone heroes such as Black Cobra, Nature Boy, and The Dart; Kangaroo Man and his Nazi-bashing marsupial pal Bingo; the inexplicable Jeep and Peep; and the nearly naked Phantasmo. Actually, there is a lot of bared flesh to go round in this book.

But the Two Guys also ask Craig about some of his other recent books, including The Return of the ZombiesJay Disbrow's Monster InvasionBehaving MadlyReefer Madness, and the next volume in his Weird Love series. It's an understatement to say that there's a lot to look forward to from Yoe Books in the coming year. Craig Yoe is still the most interviewed guest in Comics Alternative history, and you can rest assured that he'll be back a couple of more times to talk about even more releases in the coming year.

And a special Happy New Year goes out to Clizia Gussoni, Craig's partner and the engine that keeps Yoe Books running. Thank you for all of your help, Clizia!

Dec 30, 2016

Time Codes:

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It's the final manga episode of the year, and to close out 2016 Shea and Derek discuss a couple of fascinating new editions of older manga. But first they talk about their holiday activities with one another and then go on to share the listener mail they received about their November manga episode. After that, it's manga time! They begin with Junji Ito's Tomie: Complete Deluxe Edition (VIZ Media). This volume brings together all of the previous Tomie stories, initially released in three separate books. As listeners of the podcast may know, Shea and Derek are big fans of Junji Ito, but this is the first time either of the guys have read this series. They point out both the similarities and the differences between this text (especially the early stories) and later Ito works such as Uzumaki and Gyo. Shea is particularly taken by Ito's early, looser illustration style, while Derek focuses on the, at times, goofy scenarios surrounding Tomie. They're weirder than even the most unusual premises you'll find in Junji Ito.

After that, the guys turn to Tsutomu Nihei's Blame! This series has also been previously published, but now Vertical Comics is releasing it in new master editions. The second volume was just published this month, and volume 3 is due out in March. So Shea and Derek limit their discussion to the story contained within these first two book. This is an action-heavy manga, and while this kind of graphic storytelling isn't one of Derek's favorites, it's something that Shea absolutely loves. But both guys appreciate the incremental world building and especially Nihei's astounding ability in representing The City, the vast post-apocalyptic landscape in which the story takes place. The bottom line is that both guys love the storyworld and plan to continue reading this series.

Dec 28, 2016

Time Codes:

  • 00:01:50 - Introduction
  • 00:03:37 - Setting up our favorites
  • 00:07:16 - Year-end statistics
  • 00:15:54 - Our favorites of 2016
  • 01:43:22 - Wrapping up our favorites, and honorable mentions
  • 01:48:55 - Contact us

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This is the last regular review episode of 2016, and as the Two Guys with PhDs do annually, they use their final show of the year to share their favorite comics from the past twelve months. Both Andy and Derek have each chosen what he considers the 10 best of 2016 -- and in no particular order -- but neither has shared his list with the other until the recording of this episode. So there are some surprises along the way. There is not much overlap between the guys' lists, and only two titles are mentioned by both. Taken together, this is a wide-ranging selection that includes everything from mainstream superhero comics to small-press selections, from webcomics to manga, from comics in translation to works that are sure to become part of many readers' canon.

However, before they plunge into their lists the guys share some year-end statistics. By the end of 2016 The Comics Alternative will have produced 162 episodes (including this episode and the December manga review). Among those shows, 278 print titles will have been discussed along with 36 webcomics. Derek also crunched the numbers in terms of the most reviewed publishers. The one whose titles were discussed most frequently was Image Comics, with the guys focusing on 25 of their titles. Next is Fantagraphics and Dark Horse Comics with 21 reviewed titles each. After that it's IDW with 19, DC/Vertigo with 17, First Second with 13, and BOOM! Studios with 11. Other publishers whose titles have been reviewed at least 5 times over the past year include Kilgore Books (9), Kodansha Comics (8), Alternative Comics (7), Aftershock (7), Floating World (6), Drawn and Quarterly (5), Retrofit/Big Planet (5), and Avery Hill Publishing (5).

After that numerical rundown, the Two Guys get into their 10 favorite titles of 2016:

Andy's Top 10 of 2016

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Derek's Top 10 of 2016

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The Honorable Mentions…These Titles Almost, but Just Didn’t Quite, Make It onto Each Guy's List

For Andy

For Derek

Dec 23, 2016

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This month's Euro Comics episode is later than usual, due to scheduling conflicts and accessibility issues. But Edward and Derek are back just in time to wish their listeners a happy holiday season and to present their first theme-based show of the monthly series. For December the Two Guys (almost) with PhDs discuss three works in the Western genre. They begin with Alejandro Jodorowsky and Francois Boucq's Bouncer (Humanoids). This new edition collects the first seven volumes of the Jodorowsky's series, comprising three intricate and involved storylines. The guys focus a lot on Jodorowsky's spaghetti western style of storytelling and the unconventional twists therein, including physical grotesques and dominatrix executioners. They also spend time discussing some of the cultural and racial stereotypes found in the narratives, a topic to which they will return later in the episode.

Next, Edward and Derek look at two releases from a publisher that's not yet been discussed on The Comics Alternative...an unfortunate oversight, up until now. The UK publisher of Franco-Beligan albums, Cinebook, provides the guys with Jean Van Hamme  and Grzegorz Rosinski's Western and the latest release in René Goscinny and Morris's Lucky Luke series, The Ballad of the Daltons and Other Stories. In the former, Rosinski's beautiful sepia-toned water colors creates a gritty postbellum world that is not unlike Boucq's efforts in Bouncer -- and both revolve around antiheroes with a missing arm. Both guys enjoyed Western, although Derek plays Monday morning quarterback in his thoughts on the book's abrupt shift in narration during the last two pages. With Lucky Luke, Edward begins by focusing on the popularity of the series, but then he mentions the need for more socio-historical context in way of an introduction. The ethnoracial representations in these stories may leave some readers uncomfortable, but they speak to both the time in which they were written and the cultural positioning of the creators.

Dec 21, 2016

Time Codes:

  • 00:01:30 - Introduction
  • 00:03:21 - News and updates
  • 00:12:05 - Best American Comics 2016
  • 01:07:29 - Wrap up
  • 01:08:37 - Contact us

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Every year the Two Guys with PhDs use the final two episodes of the year as a respective, a look back at some of the best comics out there. Next week they'll release their own favorites of the past twelve months, but for this, their penultimate show of the year, Andy and Derek discuss what others consider outstanding. The 2016 volume Best American Comics, edited by cartoonist Roz Chast (and with series editor Bill Kartalopoulos), includes thirty contributions from a variety of creators and displaying a wide range of styles and storytelling strategies. These comics were originally published between September 1, 2015 and August 31, 2015, and in many cases they include titles that the guys have discussed on past episodes. (For insights into the selection process for this volume, check out the previously published interview with Bill Kartalopoulos.) As the guys point out, there are entries in this collection that should come as no surprise to comics readers -- e.g., Adrian Tomine's "Killing and Dying," Drew Friedman's "R. Crumb and Me," various Kate Beaton strips, and excerpts from Richard McGuire's Here and Chris Ware's The Last Saturday -- but some of the most notable contributions are from artists with whom the guys weren't yet familiar, or are selections that might not be on most readers' "Best of" lists. As you'll hear on this episode, Derek and Andy are excited to discover the work of Taylor-Ruth Baldwin, Sophia Zdon, Lance Ward, and Char Esmé, while at the same time they are glad to see recognition of works by Joe Ollmann, John Porcellino, Keiler Roberts, and Nina Bunjevac. But every piece in this anthology is worthy of attention, as are the various titles listed in its "Notable Comics" section at the very end. With a new year on the horizon, it's always useful to look back at those comics that have helped define where we are today. And as the guys point out, the annual Best American Comics volumes are some of the gauges out there.

Dec 20, 2016

Time Codes:

  • 00:01:20 - Introduction
  • 00:03:07 - Setup of interview
  • 00:04:13 - Interview with Bill Kartalopoulos
  • 01:17:31 - Wrap up
  • 01:18:53 - Contact us

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Andy and Derek are pleased to have back on their podcast Bill Kartalopoulos, the general editor of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Best American Comics series. He was on the show two years ago to discuss the 2014 volume of Best American Comics, that one guest-edited by Scott McCloud and Bill's first after assuming editorship. This time around the Two Guys talk with him about the latest volume guest edited by Roz Chast. They specifically ask Bill about his experiences in working with Chast, a cartoonist who brings a very different sensibility to anthology. Most of the conversation is devoted to the process of pulling together each year's volume, and Bill goes into great detail in explaining both his and his guest editors' roles. But they also discuss the specific contributions to the 2016 edition, the decision-making behind those selections, and the many discoveries Bill and Roz made along the way.

Dec 16, 2016

For the December on-location episode at Valhalla Games and Comics, Derek talks with customers and shop employees about their favorite comics from the past twelve months. This is a look back at the various series, events, collections, and original graphic novels that made the biggest impressions in 2016. Joining in on the conversation are some of the usuals -- Stephanie, Matt, and Craig -- but Josh, a new fan of the shop and of the podcast, shows up to share his thoughts, as well. As might be expected, most of the titles discussed are from the Big Two universes, but there are a number of other titles that also resonated. One of the big takeaways from this conversation is the possible fatigue that is setting in when it comes to superhero events, especially as it relates to Marvel Comics. However, for some readers, a bright counterbalance can be found in IDW's "Revolution"crossover event.

Did 2016 really, really suck? Yes, especially when it comes to politics and the possibility of social progress. But regarding comics culture, the guys at Valhalla Games and Comics have a different opinion.

Josh, Craig, and Stephanie discuss their favorites of 2016.
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