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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: December, 2014
Dec 31, 2014

It’s the end of the year, and you know what that means? No, it’s doesn’t involve a fat guy with toys, any spinning wooden things, or even annoying events involving Anderson Cooper and Kathy Gifford. It’s time for Andy and Derek’s end-of-the-year top ten favorites episode! The Two Guys with PhDs (who talk about comics) like to end every year by highlighting their favorite titles of the past twelve months. These could be ongoing series, limited runs or miniseries, one-shots, trades, original graphic novels, webcomics, or archival collections. So for this week’s episode, Derek and Andy each choose their favorite ten comics from 2014 and then share that list with one another. They don’t necessarily rank them in any order — although both guys do hint at their top picks — and neither knows of the other’s ten favorites before they record the podcast. As such, the Guys not only have a great time discussing the year’s best comics, but also in discovering what each other feels is truly his favorite. There are a few overlaps between Andy and Derek’s choices, but even more significantly, there are some big surprises in each one’s list!

Dec 24, 2014

On this episode of the podcast, the Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics review The Best American Comics 2014, the latest installment in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s ambitious anthology series. This follows a previous review show published earlier in the week where the guys spoke with Bill Kartalopoulos, the new editor of the series. But whereas during the interview Derek and Andy learned about the process and backstory to the Best American Comics series, in this episode they plunge into the specifics of this year’s volume and give their own takes on the comics included. They begin with a larger discussion on the concept of “best American comics,” the kind of audiences the annual collections appeal to, and the efforts of the editors in pulling together a select or representative anthology. Here, the guys return to issues they had previously highlighted in their review of The Best American Comics 2013: the predilections and experiences of guest editors, the challenges of being inclusive, as well as the viability of a “best of” anthology. This time around Andy and Derek bandy about definitions of “mainstream” and speculate on the book’s intended audience. Although both feel that this is an intelligent and eclectic collection of comics (first appearing between September 1, 2012, and August 30, 2013), Derek feels that the book might appeal more to academics and the New Yorker crowd than it does to general comic shop-visiting readers. (Returning, once again, to a topic that the guys have discussed many times previously, the unintended bifurcation of comics readership.) Furthermore, he wonders what a volume guest edited by someone enmeshed in mainstream comics – and not just superhero comics – might look like…if that is indeed a direction that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt would sanction. Andy reminds Derek how inclusive this year’s volume is, and that depending on your definition of “mainstream,” McCloud’s includes several comics you could certainly define as “popular.” But despite these dialectics, both guys agree that this is one of the strongest collections in the series’ run and that the way that McCloud has organized his presentation is compelling. In this year’s volume you have selections from the grand figures of contemporary comics (e.g., R. Crumb, the Hernandez brothers, Charles Burns, Ben Katchor, and Adrian Tomine), all-age and young-adult comics, excerpts from memoir and autobiographical comics, historical works, experimenters of narrative form, abstract and avant-garde comics, and almost as a centerpiece, a selection from what McCloud christens “the book of the year,” Chris Ware’s Building Stories. Webcomics are given their fair share of attention in this volume, and the guys understand McCloud’s decision to highlight and list URLs instead of attempting to reproduce comics from another platform (although they’re not as excited by the one webcomic that does find its way into the collection, an excerpt from Allie Brosh’s “Depression Part Two”). All in all, the guys have a great time discussing the many selections in The Best American Comics 2014, and in doing so, they get all revved up for their own “best of” exercise which they will present in next week’s podcast episode.

Dec 22, 2014

On this episode of The Comics Alternative Interviews, and in anticipation of their review show later this week, Andy and Derek are pleased to talk with the new editor of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Best American Comics series, Bill Kartalopoulos. They congratulate him on the publication of the first volume under his stewardship, guest edited by Scott McCloud, and then ask him a variety of behind-the-scenes questions. For example, Bill discusses the laborious process that goes into screening and choosing which comics to pass onto the guest editor, the challenges he and McCloud faced in compiling their selections, the unexpected finds and discoveries he makes when interacting with the comics community, the logistics of incorporating comics that appear in unconventional -- including non-print -- formats, and his attempts at balancing a "best of" volume that represents the contemporary comics scene. The guys also ask him about the process behind choosing each year's guest editor, how this volume is different from those under his immediate predecessors (Jessica Abel and Matt Madden), and if he thinks this year's selections adequately do justice to the comics-publishing mainstream. The conversation is engaging, and Bill gives Derek and Andy much to think about, and a variety of talking points, as they prepare for their own discussion of The Best American Comics 2014 later in the week. And who knows...perhaps talking with the BAC series editor will be a yearly event for the Two Guys.

Dec 19, 2014

It's almost the end of the year, and Derek is back for one last 2014 visit to his local comic shop, Collected, in Plano, TX. As he usually does every month, he talks with the shop's employees and customers about the kind of comics that they're reading, what is catching their interests, and what comics news most excites them, but this month the focus is on their favorite titles of 2014. Derek asks everyone sitting around the podcast table -- Shea, Krystle, Shaun, Craig, Nick, and Matthew -- about what they consider to be the most outstanding comics of the past twelve months. And the candidates vary widely, ranging from single-issue comic books to original graphic novels, from superhero to manga, from pop-culture adaptations to literary graphic fiction, and from webcomics to those coming from Kickstarter campaigns. Some of the titles that folks highlight during the show include Tooth and Claw, Seconds, The Wrenchies, Nijigahara Holograph, Multiversity: Pax Americana, Rat Queens, Edge of Spider-Verse, Bleeding Heart, Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland, The Shadow Hero, Eye of Newt, Michael Moorcock's Elric, Vol. 1: The Ruby Throne, Through the Woods, and Squidder. They also discuss some of their biggest comics disappointments of the year, speculate on the titles they're looking forward to in 2015, and even learn that Krystle prefers drugs, candy, and weiners in her comics. As usual, you don't know what to expect from the guys at Collected, but you are guaranteed fun talk about a variety of great books. And much thanks to Freddy Ruiz, the store's manager, for pulling everyone together!

Dec 17, 2014

On this episode of The Comics Alternative, Derek and Andy review three new and exciting titles. First, they look at Richard McGuire's Here (Pantheon) a project that actually goes back to 1989. A different, black-and-white 6-page version of the comic appeared in the first issue of Raw Vol. 2,  Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly's groundbreaking comics anthology that ran from 1980 until 1991. The new book doesn't include or build directly off of that original comic, but it does use the design and concept as a springboard into the larger, more ambitious project. Everything that takes place in this story -- and the guys use the word of "story" loosely, here -- is anchored in one physical space, the corner of a room. What McGuire does is to give us a history of that particular space, revealing events that took place in that area over a span of centuries. The "movement" within the narrative is strictly temporal, reaching back into the prehistoric past (the earliest year being 3,000, 500, 000 BCE) and pushing into a speculative future (the year 22,175). McGuire accomplishes this through an arrangement of two-page spreads, inlaid or nested panels, and precise placements of images that, taken together, provide visual and even thematic coherence. Indeed, it seems as if events across time resonate and interact. This is the kind of book that is difficult to appreciate fully outside of the actual reading process, and it's one that requires diligent and repeated efforts, each of which will be richly rewarded. After their involved discussion of Here -- and the Two Guys spend the better part of this episode on McGuire's work -- Andy and Derek look at two new #1 issues. The first is Wolf Moon, written by Cullen Bunn and with art by Jeremy Haun (Vertigo). This is the first of a 6-issue miniseries based on the werewolf myth. However, Bunn gives his supernatural retelling a unique spin, creating a lycanthrope narrative where physical transformation isn't the only effects of a full moon. Haun's art is appropriately dark, ill-defined in places, and violent. There's a lot of blood in this first issue, and Wolf Moon promises to be a title that isn't for the squeamish. After that, the guys turn to the new comic from Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine de Landro, Bitch Planet (Image). Both Derek and Andy like this first issue and plan on continuing to read the series, but they nonetheless disagree as to the impact or accomplishments of this inaugural installment. Andy feels that this is a successful #1 that does everything it's supposed to do. In fact, this may be one of his favorite single issues of the year. However, Derek feels that this is a story that will read better in trade, in that the first issue seemed incomplete and required more story space for effective immersion. There needs to be more there there. What's more, he felt that Danielle Henderson's mini-essay at the end of the issue was unnecessary and potentially undermined the impact of the story itself. While Andy felt that this was a useful supplement that helped to set a critical or thematic framework -- and it does -- Derek sees the essay as an expository exercise that tells (not shows) the reader what the series is all about. Instead, he feels that DeConnick and de Landro's story should speak for itself, especially in this first issue. (Although Henderson's essay would make a nice supplement to a future collected edition.) Still, both guys agree that this is an intriguing title that both will continue reading...if  not monthly, then in trade.

Dec 15, 2014

On this episode of The Comics Alternative Interviews, Derek talks with Dakota McFadzean about the release of the latest issue of Irene -- co-edited with Andy Warner and DW -- as well as his own comics output. They begin by focusing on the eclectic comics and art anthology, now in its fifth issue, the genesis of the publication, and how co-editing Irene has helped define his career after having graduated from The Center for Cartoon Studies. Derek asks Dakota about the challenges of overseeing a graphic compilation and how his own work has seen similar inclusion in such anthologies as The Hic Hoc Illustrated Journal of Humor, Lies Grown-Ups Told Me, and the prestigious Best American Comics 2012. But the heart of the conversation is devoted to Dakota's own prolific output, especially his daily online strip, The Dailies, and last year's impressive collection, Other Stories and the Horse You Rode in On (Conundrum Press). Derek asks Dakota about the fantastical and even surreal quality of his stories, his penchant for childhood narratives, and the iconic prevalence of faces and masks in many of his comics (of which Dakota isn't immediately aware). Stories such as "Standing Water," "Ghost Rabbit," and "Unkindness" -- all collected in Other Stories -- are excellent introductions to Dakota's unique style, as is the more realistic narrative Hollow in the Hollows (One Percent Press) that came out earlier this year. Indeed, the latter is one of Dakota's most developed stories, and the two discuss the demands of writing more sustained and longer-form narratives as well as the artist's plans for this kind of storytelling. Dakota also talks about his upcoming book from Conundrum, Don't Get Eaten by Anything, a collection of the strips that make up The Dailies. This s definitely an artist to keep track of, and if you're not familiar with Dakota McFadzean's work, you should definitely check out The Dailies as well as has book through Conundrum Press.

Dec 10, 2014

This week the Two Guys with PhDs (talking about comics) are back for another review episode, and this one is jam-packed with nougaty comics goodness. They begin with Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy’s  deluxe edition of The Wake (DC/Vertigo). They had discussed the first couple installments of the ten-issue series on last year’s publisher spotlight on recent Vertigo titles, but now they are able to plunge into the the complete story…and they do so with relish. Both Andy and Derek love the way the narrative unfolds — it’s the kind of work they have come to expect from both Snyder and Murphy — although they do have their quibbles, e.g., unexpected/unlikely surprises in character development and occasional ambiguous transitions. But overall, the guys feel this is an outstanding story, an example of what Vertigo does best. Next, they turn to Derf Backderf’s True Stories, Vol. 1 (Alternative Comics), the first of four — or is it five? — collections of the “True Stories” pieces culled from Backderf’s comic strip, The City, between 1990 and 2014. While there are a few vignettes in this title that verge on belittlement, the collection as a whole is a discerning, satirical, and hilarious look at the state of our contemporary culture. Finally, Derek and Andy look at one of the new #1s coming out of Image Comics this month, Matt Fraction and Christian Ward’s ODY-C. This is an inverted retelling of Homer’s Odyssey, where genders are switched and the high seas become the far reaches of space. This is a dense, immersive narrative that requires multiple readings. Knowledge of The Odyssey isn’t necessary, but it wouldn’t hurt for readers to have their copies of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology (or perhaps have Wikipedia) readily at hand when turning through Fraction’s narrative. And Ward’s art is what makes this first issue truly stand out, visually stunning and almost surreal, a nice pairing with one of the guys’ favorite comics storytellers. All in all, this was a fun week of reading!

Dec 5, 2014

On this episode of The Comics Alternative Interviews, the guys are happy to have on the show Max Douglas, AKA Salgood Sam, to talk about his latest book, Dream Life: A Late Coming of Age (Spilt Ink), as well as other works from his career.  They begin by asking about the origin of his pseudonym, learning that it has everything to do with the uneven expectations of the comics community. Here, Salgood Sam shares some of his experiences in the industry, his work for the Big Two, and his decision to work primarily as an independent creator and outside of the mainstream. This includes the founding of Spilt Ink, a small press dedicated to publishing comics, websites, and other forms of media. But the meat of the conversation centers on Dream Life, a project that has been several years in the making and continues to occupy the artist. This is the first book in what is projected to be a two-volume series, a diverse and cinematic narrative of intertwining stories exploring identity and relationships in an uncertain world. Derek and Andy ask Salgood Sam about the book’s origins as a webcomic, its evolution into a Kickstarter campaign, and then its ultimate release as a book earlier this year. Much of the discussion is devoted to the artist’s style, his philosophy of storytelling, and his adept handing of an ensemble cast. Along the way they discuss other projects from Salgood Sam, past and present, including Dracula: Son of the Dragon, Therefore Repent!, Sea of Red, and his independent anthology Revolver. It’s an engaging conversation, and one that has the Two Guys eagerly awaiting the final volume of Dream Life.

Dec 3, 2014

It's the beginning of the month, so the Two Guys with PhDs are back for look through the latest Previews catalog. This December, there's a lot to choose from and discuss. After a brief digression into Thanksgiving activities and the 1968 Otto Preminger film, Skidoo (thanks Andy), the guys jump into this month's solicits. They highlight an insane number of upcoming titles, including Rat God #1, Girlfiend, Mister X: Razed #1, and The Complete Pistolwhip (Dark Horse Comics); Suiciders #1 and The Filth Deluxe Edition (DC/Vertigo); Locke and Key: Master Edition Vol. 1, The Untold History of Black Comic Books, and Star Slammers (IDW Publishing); Nameless #1, Sparks Nevada #1,  Postal #1, and Trees, Vol. 1 (Image Comics); Black Hood #1 (Dark Circle/Archie Comics); The Cluster #1 and Curb Stomp #1 (BOOM! Studios); Intelligent Sentient? (Drawn and Quarterly); 566 Frames (Fanfare/Borderline); Love and Rockets: New Stories No. 7, Sweatshop, Saint Cole, and Displacement (Fantagraphics); Sculptor and Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula (First Second); Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream (Locust Moon Press); Girl in Dior (NBM); and Meanwhile #1 (Soaring Press). This is a packed issue of Previews, and while they still continue to digest their holiday meals, Derek and Andy have a great time discussing the many new titles coming out over the next months.

Dec 1, 2014

The Two Guys with PhDs are excited to begin a new monthly feature for The Comics Alternative, a show devoted specifically to webcomics. For this inaugural episode, and as they plan on doing for every episode of this new feature, Derek and Andy W. take a look at two current ongoing titles and one older and completed title. The ones they discuss today are Jason Shiga’s Demon; Christina Blanch, Chris Carr, and Chee’s The Damnation of Charlie Wormwood; and Emily Carroll’s Margot’s Room. First, however, the guys begin by defining “webcomics” and distinguishing them from other types of comics or works produced through other means. In doing so, they not only establish their mission statement for this new feature, but they also delineate the parameters of their discussions. They begin by differentiating between webcomics and digital comics, arguing that while the former is based on and consumed through a digital delivery system, not all digital comics are specific to the Web. Along with this they point out the differences between the Internet and the World Wide Web, a distinction that many may have forgotten, describing the Web as just one component of the larger ‘Net. There are many digital comics that are accessed through the Internet — such as those that are downloaded directly to apps intended specifically for portable devices — that may have nothing or little to do with the Web. Webcomics, the guys bluntly state, are those that can be read through Web browsers, imbedded in and largely composing webpages, and may or may not be accessible through other digital means. Another criteria of a webcomic, at least for Andy and Derek, is that the primary or original intention behind the comic’s creation is Web-based, not print. This would rule out many of the digital-first comics put out by the Big Two and other publishers, and it would exclude the digital versions of comic books that are already or are soon to be in print. (And, of course, it excludes the scanning and exchanging of material via torrent sites.) They also consider the potential complications of animation and economics. How many non-static images should a webcomic have before it’s not considered a “comic,” and what kind of payment system may (or may not) affect the defining of a webcomic? At the same time, the guys are aware that their definitions of a webcomic may be fluid — for example, how would you place the works available through Monkey Brain Comics, a digital-only publisher many of whose titles usually end up in (and perhaps ultimately are intended as) print? — and that their understanding of the form may change over time. But Derek and Andy are comfortable with that potential fluidity and feel that the discussion of what defines a webcomic is half of the fun. Then the plunge into a full-fledged discussion of three webcomics. Each is a different manifestation of a webcomic and delivers its narrative in specific ways. While some of the comics, such as Demon and The Damnation of Charlie Wormwood, have begun to find their way into print, they are nonetheless first and foremost a comic intended for the Web. There are some, such as Charlie Wormwood and others found on the Thrillbent website, that utilize additive images or visual layovers that appear as individual “pages” as you click through the comic, and others that rely solely on static, unchanging, and individual formatting. And while some webcomics, such as Jason Shiga’s work, are formatted to look like physical comics pages, others, such as the work by Emily Carroll, are great examples of what Scott McCloud has described as the “infinite canvas.” All in all, this is a productive maiden voyage for the guys’ new feature, and they look forward to discussing other examples of webcomics in the months to come.

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