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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: September, 2014
Sep 24, 2014

This week, Derek and Andy W. discuss three just-released (or soon-to-be-released) titles. First, they look at Dash Shaw's new book, Doctors (Fantagraphics). They begin by comparing it to some of Shaw's other recent work, specifically last year's New School and the miniseries Cosplayers, especially in his unique use of colors. At times the color patterns are clearly a part of the story, contributing to the meaning-making that is going on, but at other times they are used more subtly and with less apparent intentions. But what fascinates the Two Guys the most is the very premise of Doctors. It's a narrative that raises some profound questions, and it's one that might even work well in other media, such as adapted for television. Next, the guys discuss the new series from Grant Morrison and Frazier Irving, Annihilator (Legendary). In this first issue, the creators set up an intriguing premise that is pure Morrison: a story concerning a writer, where his reality and his creation ultimately collide. In Annihilator you'll find black holes, drug-addled reality, orgies, and bad haircuts, and all cinematically illustrated by Irving. Finally, Andy and Derek look at the latest installment in Greg Rucka's Stumptown series, subtitled The Case of the Jack of Clubs (Oni Press). This follows the previous two volumes -- Stumptown and Stumptown: The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case -- which were illustrated by Matthew Southworth. This time around, Rucka is working with Justin Greenwood, and the effect is quite different. Greenwood's is a brighter, less gritty style of art, and it lends itself well to the many soccer scenes that make up this first issue. In fact, the guys are uncertain about the large amount of page space devoted to the story's setup, largely revolving around soccer, and wonder if perhaps the exposition is a bit too much. Nonetheless, they trust Greg Rucka as a writer and look forward to big payoff in this third volume of his Stumptown series.

Sep 22, 2014

On this special episode of The Comics Alternative, and just in time for Rosh Hashanah, Derek pulls together a variety of comics scholars for a lively roundtable discussion of Jewish comics. Joining him on the panel are Danny Fingeroth (author of Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics, and the Creation of the Superhero and Superman on the Couch: What Superheroes Really Tell Us about Ourselves and Society), Steven E. Tabachnick (author of The Quest for Jewish Belief and Identity in the Graphic Novel and editor of Teaching the Graphic Novel), Harry Brod (author of Superman Is Jewish?: How Comic Book Superheroes Came to Serve Truth, Justice, and The Jewish-American Way), and Steven M. Bergson (editor of The Jewish Comix Anthology). The conversation begins with a series of questions to help define "Jewish comics" -- What makes a comic "Jewish"? What exactly is Jewish content? Does the ethnic background of the creator matter? Can a non-Jew write a Jewish comic? -- the answers to which are mostly left open-ended. They also spend a lot of time discussing the history of comics, in the United States and elsewhere, and how Jews contributed greatly to the medium. Among the many topics they cover are superheroes and Jews, immigrant narratives, trauma and the Holocaust, comics and religion, adapting the Hebrew Bible, and tales of assimilation. They even come up with a sample syllabus or "wish list" of comic-book series and graphic novels that could be used in a class specifically devoted to Jewish comics.

Sep 19, 2014

On this episode of The Comics Alternative Interviews, Derek and Andy are honored to have as their guest one of their all-time comics heroes, Gilbert Hernandez. They begin the conversation by asking Gilbert about his two new books, Bumperhead (Drawn and Quarterly) and Loverboys (Dark Horse), and then discuss with him his work on Love and Rockets, his Fritz b-movie books, and the sheer volume of his recent output. Much of the conversation, at least in terms of Bumperhead, centers on the more autobiographical side of Gilbert's recent comics, presented most notably in last year's Marble Season. And given their focus on the artist's own life, of course they discuss 1970s rock -- "the Eagles suck" -- the role of punk, and impulsive teenage hormones. The Two Guys are also curious about the place of Loverboy in Gilbert's body of work, asking him if it is a de facto Fritz story -- the character, Mrs. Paz, bears the most distinguishing Luba family trait -- and even a return, of sorts, to the world he created with his Palomar comics. Along the way, they discuss Gilbert's more experimental side (for which he won a 2014 Eisner Award), his penchant for being graphically explicit in terms of sex and violence -- "I don't think of myself as a do-gooder cartoonist. I'm not trying to carry the flag of do-gooderness" -- and, of course, his work with his brothers, Jaime and Mario, on the legendary Love and Rockets series. In fact, during their conversation, Gilbert reveals big news about the future Love and Rockets, something that he hasn't even yet discussed with Fantagraphics, giving The Comics Alternative a scoop that both excites them and catches them completely by surprise. You have to listen to the interview to find out what it is!

Sep 17, 2014

On this week's regular episode, Andy and Derek discuss three new titles. They begin with Shoplifter (Pantheon), the first graphic novel from artist Michael Cho. Among the book's many strengths, the guys highlight Cho's art, the book's monochromatic palette, Cho's narrative pacing, and his characterization. Andy is especially struck by Cho's representation of the advertising world -- having once worked briefly in that field, he can empathize -- and Derek finds the book's greatest strength lying in its handing of social media and interpersonal communications. While there is a danger that the story may veer into the territory of cliched romanticization -- its protagonist, Corinna, wants to get away from it all to become a novelist -- Cho never ultimately takes that direction, making this an impressive debut. Next, the Two Guys look at another new book from Pantheon, Charles Burns's Sugar Skull. This is the third and final work in his recent trilogy, following X'ed Out (2010) and The Hive (2012). On top of Burns's usual brand of surreal storytelling, Sugar Skull can be a challenge for readers who aren't familiar with both of the two previous books, or who have forgotten what's going on in the earlier installments. Andy, for instance, never read The Hive, and the Two Guys compare their reading experiences based on their previous knowledge of Burns's dreamlike narratives. They compare Sugar Skull, and the trilogy as a whole, to Black Hole, the work that Burns is perhaps best known for. Finally, the guys look at the first of a new eight-issue series from Peter Milligan and Leandro Fernandez, The Names (Vertigo). Both are big fans of Milligan's work, and they aren't disappointed in what they read. This is an engaging mystery set in the cut-throat culture of Wall Street, and the creators do a great job of setting up their premise without giving too much away, naturally drawing readers to the next installments. One of the things Derek and Andy love about this first issue is how Milligan establishes so many strategically placed narrative gaps. For example, who is the Dark Loop, who never make an appearance? And what's the deal with the series' title? What does "The Names" refer to? These are the kinds of questions generated by a good first issue, and the guys are anxious to see how this new Vertigo miniseries pans out.

Sep 15, 2014

Andy W. heads to this year's Small Press Expo, and there he talks with fifteen different creators about their work, their upcoming projects, and their experiences at the expo. In this special episode, you'll hear brief interviews with James Kochalka, Box Brown, Ellen Linder, Michael DeForge, Renee French, Ed Piskor, Jason Shiga, Nate Powell, Gregory Robison, Evan Dahm, Rachel Dukes, Luke Howard, B. M. Prager, Lucy Bellwood, Noah Van Sciver. There are a lot of fun nuggets packed into this show, so enjoy SPX vicariously through the interview prowess of Andy.

Sep 12, 2014

Derek is back at his local shop, Collected Comics and Games in Plano, TX, for a fun talk with customers and employees. For September, regulars on the on-location shows said that they wanted to discuss fantasy comics. And although some of those fantasy fans weren't in attendance this month, everyone there -- Shea, Nick, and Craig -- nonetheless tried to highlight that theme. At least Derek did, bringing up titles such as Rat Queens, Cerebus, Saga, and Zenescope's Grim Fairy Tales. The problem was that many of those present weren't familiar with or even liked many of these titles, so the talk on those comics was rather truncated. Still, there was a lot to discuss this month, and the conversation ranged from recent new releases to erotic comics to the television series The Strain. At one point, Derek and Shea go off on a tangent about plot, almost turning the discussion into a mini-course on narrative theory. But the discussion always comes back to comics, and there was plenty of that to take them through the episode.

Sep 10, 2014

This week the Two Guys with PhDs are rappin’ to the beat with two new books that will funk you up. That’s right, DJ D and Kunka Kool spend this episode getting down with Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen III: Century (Top Shelf/Knockabout) and Ed Piskor’s Hip Hop Family Tree 2 (Fantagraphics). First, they look at the latest hardbound collection from Moore and O’Neill, bringing together all three of their previously published Century installments: 1910, 1969, and 2009. The guys spend a good deal of time discussing the kind of readers that come to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, what their expectations might be, and how some may not be ideal for Moore’s kind of writing. Can those unfamiliar with the previous League stories truly comprehend what’s going on in Century? Can readers unfamiliar with — or uninterested in — literary and pop-cultural marginalia come away from the book with an understanding of what Moore is attempting to do? These are some of the questions Andy and Derek discuss, and they recommend that it wouldn’t be a bad idea for readers to come to Century with annotations readily at hand. (Two great online sources for these are Jess Nevin’s annotations website as well as postings by the Mindless Ones.) Next, the guys discuss Ed Piskor’s latest volume of Hip Hop Family Tree. This second book covers the scene from 1981-1983, and it picks up right where last year’s first volume left off. Among other highlights, the guys talk about Piskor’s take on Sylvia Robinson and Sugar Hill Records, the evolution of Run-DMC, the resistance of many rappers to put their efforts on vinyl, the significance of Charlie Ahearn’s film Wild Style, and the role Fab Five Freddy played in bringing together uptown and downtown cultures. They specifically focus on Piskor’s art and the way he tells his story. Hip Hop Family Tree is a series of anecdotes and ongoing storylines, first published on Boing Boing, that may appear fragmented at first, but a careful reading reveals an interconnectedness that makes for an engaging history. And the way that Piskor represents key players in early hip hop culture  (e.g., Afrika Bambbataa, Melle Mel, Russell Simmons, Mr. Magic, Lonzo Williams, and Rick Rubin) is both revealing and humorous. Whether or not you’re a fan of hip hop — Andy is, Derek really isn’t — Hip Hop Family Tree is a series you definitely have to check out.

Sep 8, 2014

For this special episode of The Comics Alternative, Andy Wolverton heads to the Baltimore Comic Con where he interviews a variety of creators. There, he has the pleasure of talking with Michel Fiffe, Jamal Igle, Christina Blanch, David Petersen, and Ben Hatke. They all take the time to discuss with Andy their various comics, the processes behind their works, and their upcoming projects. They also bring up the Harvey Awards, whose winners were announced at the Baltimore con.

Sep 5, 2014

Derek and Andy are pleased to have as their latest guest Farel Dalrymple, the author of the new book from First Second, The Wrenchies. The guys talk with Farel about his ideas behind the project, its narrative density, Ferel's highly detailed art, the prevalence of insects and ooze, his cool way of drawing villains, and the book's large cast of characters. (And, thank god, no one  mentions The Goonies anytime in the conversation.) Andy is particularly impressed by Sherwood (the protagonist) and his medallion, and Derek is more than a little creeped out by the abundance of tentacles in The Wrenchies and how they bore into people's eyes and latch onto their heads. He even notes this tendency in Farel's Omega the Unknown from several years ago. The Two Guys have Farel discuss his latest book in great detail, talk with him about ending up at First Second, ask him talk about some of his other projects, and then take conversational detours into movies and other pop culture stuff. It's a fun conversation, almost as cool as the wonderful hide-outs that Farel creates for his young characters in The Wrenchies. You definitely have to check out this book!

Sep 3, 2014

It's a new month, so that means it's time for Derek and Andy to take a look at the new Previews catalog. September's holds a lot of solicits that the guys want to discuss, comics that they're looking forward to in the coming months. Some of the upcoming titles they highlight include Resurrectionists #1 and Vault of Horror Vol. 4 from Dark Horse; The Kitchen #1 and Howard Chaykin's Twilight from DC/Vertigo; Shadow Show #1 and Ditko's Shorts from IDW; and ODYC #1, Tooth and Claw #1, and Intersect #1 from Image. There's also a whole slew of comics from the back half of the catalogue that the Two Guys discuss, including Derk Backderf's True Stories #1 (Alternative Comics), Hung Hung and Chioi's The Train (Conundrum), Lynda Barry's Syllabus (Drawn and Quarterly), Grady Hendrix and Ryan Dunlavey's Li'l Classix: Little Women (Evil Twin Comics), Dylan Horrock's Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen (Fantagraphics), Jamie Coe's Art Schooled (Nobrow Press), and Derek Van Gieson's Eel Mansions (Uncivilized Books)...among many others. All in all, it's another jam-packed Previews, and it's all the guys can do to squeeze everything into this one show.

Sep 2, 2014

On this episode of The Comics Alternative Interviews, Andy and Derek have Tim Seeley back on the podcast to talk about his new series from Dark Horse, Sundowners. He discusses the genesis of the title, the series' premise, and possible directions that the story may go. The guys also ask him about his work on Grayson (DC Comics) and the criticism -- and later the praise -- he underwent in taking on this iconic figure under a new guise. The conversation moves along from his new titles, to the current trajectory of Revival (Image), to the Revival/Chew crossover, to the new manifestation of Hack/Slash (Image), to Batman Eternal (DC Comics), to his work on Chaos (Dynamite Entertainment), and even to an appreciation of Grant Morrison's work, Multiversity and all. And the Two Guys are amazed that Tim is currently working for so many publishers! All in all, it's a fun time, and Andy and Derek are pleased, once again, that Tim could make it to the show.

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