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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: 2015
Dec 31, 2015

For their December manga episode, Shea and Derek discuss two very different works. They start off with Makoto Yukimura's Planetes Ominbus, Vol. 1, just released from Dark Horse Books. This is the first of two large editions of the Japanese series that originally ran from 1999 to 2004. It's the story of a space debris removal crew -- orbital garbage collectors -- whose job is to clear out all of the man-made trash floating around the earth so as to make space travel safer. Taking place in the 2070s, this is a futuristic narrative that feels closely connected to our own world. The guys describe it as a kind of hard science fiction (with its emphasis on technical detail and scientific accuracy), but one that is heavily character-driven. Derek highlights both the drama and the comedy that take place among the crew members -- especially with Hachimaki, who is arguably the central figure in this first volume -- and Shea points out that while anchored in the science, Planetes is more of an "everyday" series that is focused on the mundane facets of space exploration. Next, the guys turn to a completely different kind of manga, one that challenges our ways of reading comics. Ding Dong Circus and Other Stories, 1967 to 1974 (Breakdown Press) collects fifteen of Sasaki Maki's short works, all but one originally published in the legendary manga magazine, Garo, between 1967 and 1971. The majority of these pieces are not what you would call "stories" in the strictest sense, in that there is no temporal or causal connection between panels suggesting sequence. Even the comics that do betray narrative elements, such as "The Town Horse" or "The Ballad of Henri and Anne," are constructed in fragmented ways that suggest an unsteady dreamscape more than anything. The best way to read Maki's work, as Shea and Derek point out, is by understanding it as visual poetry -- with an emphasis on image and association -- or as "musical" compositions reliant on graphical leitmotifs. If you approach Ding Dong Circus in this way, then you can better enjoy Sasaki Maki's pop art-like, collage form of manga that embodies much of the tone and significations of the 1960s. For more on this book, check out Shea's recent review on the A.V. Club.

Dec 30, 2015

It's the last regular review episode of the year, so that means that the Two Guys with PhDs are here to share what they consider to be the best comics of 2015! In this extra-long episode, Andy and Derek discuss their 10 favorite titles of the year. Neither knows what the other has chosen before the recording, giving the episode a sense of freshness, spontaneousness, and surprise. And there are indeed several surprises in this year's picks, including the fact that there is only one title that appears on both guys' lists. Also, noticeably absent from their selections are the titles that have been populating many of the mainstream press' "Best of" lists (e.g., Killing and DyingThe SculptorLumberjanes, and The Sandman: Overture: Deluxe Edition). And each of the guys notes some trends that appear in his list this year. For Andy, it's the prominence of autobiographical comics, and for Derek, it's a an emphasis on realistic novel-like narratives. Before they get to their favorites, though, they go over some year-end statistics regarding the podcast. For example, over the past year the guys have published 139 episodes (as of last week), which is roughly 42% of all of the episodes they've put out since the podcast began in 2012. They have also conducted 39 interviews in 2015, published 8 publisher spotlight episodes, and began two new monthly series (one for manga and another for young adult/children's comics). Needless to say, it's been a productive year for the guys.

But the heart of this week's episode is the Two Guys' discussion of their ten favorite titles of 2015:

Andy's Top 10 of 2015

Derek's Top 10 of 2015

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

For Andy

For Derek

Dec 21, 2015

As has become an annual event, Andy and Derek use their penultimate show of the year to discuss the current volume of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's The Best American Comics. The series is overseen by Bill Kartalopoulos -- whom the guys interviewed on the show last year -- and this year's collection is edited by novelist Jonathan Lethem. The entries collected in The Best American Comics 2015 represent what both Lethem and Kartalopoulos consider to be the most outstanding comics published between September 1, 2013, and August 31, 2014. The guys begin by highlighting the organization of this year's volume, pointing out that Lethem has retained the topic- or theme-based approach used by Scott McCloud in last year's collection. The editor breaks down his entries into ten different chapter topics, ranging from the self-evident "Storytellers" and "Biopics and Historical Fictions" to more obscurely intriguing groupings such as "Brainworms" and "Raging Her-Moans." The guys are familiar with most of the contributions included this year -- to paraphrase Andy, The Best American Comics volumes just seem to reinforce their tastes in comics-- and many of them have been the subject of previous Comics Alternative reviews and interviews. They comment on the sheer number of entries that are excerpts from longer works, including Roz Chast's Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?, Jules Feiffer's Kill My Mother, Farel Dalrymple's The Wrenchies, Gabrielle Bell's The Colombia Diaries, Sept 14-16, Cole Closser's Little Tommy Lost, Matthew Thurber Infomaniacs, Anya Ulinich's Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel, Jim Woodring's Fran, Anya Davidson's School Spirits, and Josh Bayer's Theth. Most of these selections easily stand on their own, but some could have benefited from more content or additional editorial context (examples being the excerpts from Anders Nilsen’s Rage of Poseidon and Joe Sacco’s The Great War.) Some of the highlights in this year's volume include works by creators that either Derek or Andy have never read before, such as Mat Brinkman and his darkly surreal Cretin Keep on Creep’n Creek, or Gina Wynbrandt and her hilariously self-deprecating Someone Please Have Sex with Me. This is another must-read book for the Two Guys, but their discussion isn’t without its disagreements. In good Siskel and Ebert fashion, the guys spar over the nature of the Best American Comics volumes and, specifically, over the curious “Notable Comics” list in the very back of the book. (This is a list of other significant comics published between September 1, 2013, and August 31, 2014, but not making it into the volume proper.) Derek mentions the almost complete absence in this list of any titles reflecting mainstream (in a broad sense) sensibilities -- the one exception to this is Geoff Darrow’s Shaolin Cowboy from Dark Horse Comics -- and scratches his head over these choices that come with no permission or copyright obstacles. And he argues that discussing a text by what it is not can actually give a firmer grasp of what it actually is. Andy, on the other hand, is completely OK with the totally subjective approach to anthologies such as this, and he questions Derek's assumptions of the book's readership. The guys also discuss the notion that, in many ways, these selections are also political choices, especially when published by a major trade house such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. But these are the kinds of debates that should sound familiar to Comics Alternative listeners, especially when it comes to matters of awards, essential readings, and “Best of” collections. The bottom line, though, is that both Andy and Derek agree that The Best American Comics 2015 is yet another important contribution to our ever-expanding understanding of the medium. “Best” or not, these comics are definitely well worth reading.

Dec 18, 2015

On this episode in The Comics Alternative Interviews series, Derek is pleased to have as his guest Alex Robinson. His latest book, Our Expanding Universe, was released earlier this month from Top Shelf. It's the story of three middle-aged friends going through life changes -- kids, careers, and relationships -- and how their friendships, and their marriages, weather those experiences. Readers already familiar with the author's earlier works, specifically Box Office Poison and Tricked, will recognize the tone and subject matter. Robinson is a master of character-driven narratives, especially when his protagonists bump up against the social realities that reflect his readers' own lives. He objective assessments aren't distancing, but instead bear an empathic stamp. You may not particularly like the characters you encounter, but you certainly understand their motivations and their unique perspectives. Much of the conversation revolves around the new book, but Derek also talks with Alex about his early years as a comics artist and how his approach, along with his career, has evolved over time. And much of that evolution has involved podcasting. In fact, Alex Robinson may just be the most dedicated fellow podcaster that has ever appeared on The Comics Alternative. He's currently involved in three different shows: Ink Panthers (a cartoonist's "lifestyle" podcast that he cohosts with Mike Dawson),  AlphaBeatical (an alphabetical look at the entire Beatles catalog, from 12 to Y), and the popular Star Wars Minute.  The latter -- a hot commodity right now, given all of the Force Awakens hoopla -- is a daily podcast where each episode is devoted to one individual minute of the Star Wars movies, in order, beginning to end. Andy Kunka has often called his buddy-cohost, Derek, the hardest working man in comics podcasting, but it's clear that Robinson has him beat. Between the comics and the podcasting, it's a wonder that Alex even had time to be on The Comics Alternative.

Dec 16, 2015

For this week's review show, Gene and Derek are back with an extra long episode jam-packed with nougaty comics goodness. They begin with Adrian Tomine's Killing and Dying (Drawn and Quarterly), his new book collecting issues twelve through fourteen of Optic Nerve. (Be sure to check out the guys' previous reviews of Optic Nerve #13 and Optic Nerve #14.) The text contains six separate short stories, and the guys start by trying to find any connective tissue binding the pieces together. Derek observes that every other story in the collection -- "Amber Sweet," "Translated, from the Japanese," and "Intruders" -- are first-person narratives functioning as confessionals of some sort. Also, the three longer stories that precede each of these "confessions" become progressively darker in tone. The overt humor embedded in "A Brief History of the Art Form Known as 'Hortisculpture'" gives way to the ambivalence of "Go Owls," which leads to the more ambiguously somber "Killing and Dying." Yet this is not a story cycle, by any means, with each narrative standing distinctively on its own, both in subject matter and art style. Next, the guys focus on a recent discovery, the semiannual Canadian magazine, Taddle Creek. It's latest issue, #36, is a special comics edition featuring many artists the guys admire, such as Noah Van Sciver, Dakota McFadzean, Meags Fitzgerald, Michael DeForge, David Collier, Nina Bunjevac, Joe Ollmann, and Maurice Vellekoop. And part of the joy of this collection is being introduced to creators Gene and Derek weren't familiar with, such as David Lapp, Philip Street, Eleri Mai Harris, Jason Kieffer, and Nick Maandag. It's difficult to pinpoint their favorites in this anthology, since everything in it is good...although Gene is quite taken by Fitzgerald's "The Village under the Clouds," and Derek spends a lot of time talking about the comedic sophistication of Ollmann's "A Road Trip with the Notorious M.I.L." After that, they discuss the newest digital comic out Panel Syndicate, Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin's Barrier #1. This is the first of a five-part tale of violence, division, and illegal immigration. (And just in time for the angry chaos currently known as the Republican primary!) Although Gene isn't yet familiar with the duo's previous collaborative efforts, Derek wonders if Barrier will have a similar impact as did The Private Eye. Finally, the guys wrap up with what has to be one of the oddest comics ever discussed on The Comics Alternative. R. Sikoryak's The Unabridged Graphic Adaptation of iTunes Terms and Conditions -- published in two mini-comic volumes (and also on Sikoryak's Tumblr site) -- is just as the title describes: an unabridged adaptation of the oft-encountered, but never read, iTunes Terms and Conditions. What makes this comic so notable, and what makes it distinctively Sikoryakian, is the manner in which the artist adapts the text. Each page of the comic is not only a rendering of the iTunes legal mumbo jumbo, but also an exercise in representing comics' most distinctive creator styles. From Jim Steranko to Will Eisner, from Julie Doucet to Akira Toriyama, from Mort Walker to R. Crumb, from Bil Keane to Moebius...Sikoryak's art spans the history of comics, and with everything converging on the stubbled, bespectacled, and black turtlenecked figure of Steve Jobs. This is a fun read, perfect for those long nights of software installation.

Dec 15, 2015

For the month of December, Sean and Derek are back to discuss three very different, very distinct, webcomics. They begin with Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Otertag's Strong Female Protagonist, a title that has been going strong since 2012. As described by its creators, the story concerns "the adventures of a young middle-class American with super-strength, invincibility, and a crippling sense of social injustice." Although that may roughly encapsulate the premise, the webcomic is much more sophisticated than that. In fact, the guys spend a great deal of time discussing the creators' ambitions with the story, both in terms of the art and regarding its subject matter. Derek wonders if Mulligan, especially in the fifth chapter, may be trying to juggle too much at one time, making his narrative almost top-heavy with its intended messages. Sean disagrees, but he does see the philosophical ambitions embedded in the text. And it is on the topic of philosophy that the guys segue into their next title, Corey Mohler's Existential Comics. This webcomic is notable for two reasons: it's the first gag-based, done-in-one kind of comic that the guys have ever discussed on the webcomics series, and it's as funny as hell! It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that this is one of the funniest titles ever discussed on The Comics Alternative, webcomics or otherwise. Mohler uses actual philosophers themselves, and the entire history of philosophical thought, as the grist for his absurd mill. In Existential Comics you'll find the ancient Greeks playing Texas hold'em, Franz Kafka at the DMV, Diogenes encountering a commie-killing Abraham Lincoln, Albert Camus thwarting Rudolf Carnap's barfly pick-up efforts, Søren Kierkegaard at a rave, a zombie God (animated by Arthur Schopenhauer) attacking Friedrich Nietzsche, Simone de Beauvoir hosting her own cooking show, and a wide variety of philosophers trying to play Dungeons and Dragons. Finally, Derek and Sean wrap up with a look at Bucko, a short webcomic by Jeff Parker and Erika Moen that ran from 2011 to 2012. As the guys discuss, part of the fun of reading this title is seeing how Parker and Moen kept trying to outdo themselves with unlikely plot twists and characterization that built do an almost chaotic crescendo. Sean, however, isn't a fan of the story's ending, which he sees as too convenient and too predictably Scooby-Doo-like. Still, you could read Bucko -- along with Existential Comics -- as a freewheeling antidote to those holiday blues.

Dec 9, 2015

One of the things that has defined 2015 for The Comics Alternative has been the number of Publisher Spotlights it's presented -- seven, up until today. This week, the Two Guys are back with their eighth and final spotlight of the year, one on the fall releases out of Locust Moon Press. They begin their critical focus with a brief interview Derek conducted with Josh O'Neill, the publisher of Locust Moon Press. In that conversation, Josh shares the background and history of Locust Moon, first as a bookstore (which will be closing its doors early next year) and then as a publisher with an impressive catalog. They also discuss the press' success with Kickstarter, including last year's campaign with Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream and the current efforts with The Lost Work of Will Eisner. After that, Andy and Derek get into the nitty gritty of the show, a discussion of Locust Moon's fall releases. They begin with Prometheus Eternal, a short collection of stories inspired by Rubens's famous painting, Prometheus Bound. This work was created in collaboration with the Philadelphia Museum of Art and including work by such creators as Grant Morrison, Paul Pope, Dave McKean, Bill Sienkiewicz, Farel Dalrymple, Yuko Shimizu, and David Mack. Next, the guys turn to another collection, this one the sixth issue of Quarter Moon. The theme to this issue is "Impractical Cats," and with cat-related contributions from a variety of creators including Farel Dalrymple, Tia McClelland, Mike Sgier, Lisk Feng, Jim Comey, Gregory Benton, J.G. Jones, Dean Haspiel, Jeremy Baum, and a host of others. After that, they look at Ben Kahn and Bruno Hidalgo's Shaman, a satiric and inventive mashup of superheroes, the supernatural, and humor. Neither Andy nor Derek were aware of Shaman before this spotlight episode -- they completely missed Kahn's Kickstarter from earlier this year -- but now they're totally on board and look forward to more of this series, because it's funny as hell. Finally, the guys wrap up with a long discussion of Little Nemo's Big New Dreams, a joint effort with Françoise Mouly's TOON Graphics. This is a smaller, more affordable, and more holdable, version of the broadsheet-sized Dream Another Dream, including more than thirty strips from the Eisner Award-winning collection. And like the aforementioned Prometheus Eternal and Quarter Moon collections, this TOON book is chock-full of impressive contributors, including Art Spiegelman, Craig Thompson, Carla Speed McNeil, Mark Buckingham, Roger Langridge, Box Brown, R. Sikoryak, Jim Rugg, Yuko Shimizu, Gerhard...and the list goes on. In fact, you could even see today's show as the most creator-packed episode that the Two Guys have ever recorded.

Dec 8, 2015

In yet another of the Two Guys' interview series, Derek is back to talk with one of the hardest working people in comics today, Ed Brisson. The first issue of his and Adam Gorham's new series, The Violent, will be released tomorrow, and Ed shares with Derek the story behind this new ongoing title from Image Comics. In fact, Ed reveals that the genesis of the narrative actually springs from his earlier webcomic (and later Dark Horse title), Murder Book. The protagonists, Mason and Becky, are a young working class couple with a checkered past trying to escape the drugs and crime that helped to get them where they are today. As Ed describes, their dilemma has very much a "Murder Book feel," making The Violent an ongoing extension of that story collection. The two also talk about his and Lisandro Estherren's upcoming four-issue miniseries from BOOM! Studios, The Last Contract, the story of a retired hitman who reluctantly finds himself forced back into the business. Along the way, they also bring in discussions of Ed's previous series such as ComebackThe FieldThe MantleCluster, and Sheltered. In fact, it's all that Derek can do to contain a conversation that includes such prodigious output. Ed's definitely a hard-working writer, but as he makes clear in the interview, he knows how to let loose, have a good time, and then let those experiences inform his art.

Dec 8, 2015

Tomorrow the Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics will release a Publisher Spotlight episode devoted to the fall releases from Locust Moon Press. As part of that show, Derek talks briefly with the Locust Moon publisher, Josh O'Neill, about the history of the press, it's recent output, and its success with Kickstarter campaigns. In fact, Josh shares in detail Locust Moon's latest Kickstarter, The Lost Work of Will Eisner, which will wrap up on December 10th. As a way of teasing tomorrow's episode, and in order to give listeners more time to learn about and back this Kickstarter campaign, we are making Derek's conversation with Josh available today.

Dec 7, 2015

On this interview episode, Derek is pleased to have as his guest Jon Morris, the author behind The League of Regrettable Superheroes (Quirk Books). This is a book devoted to the heroes throughout comic-book history who just never made it to the big time...and for good reason. As Jon discusses on the show, his work chronicles some of comics' weirdest and wackiest superheroes, complete with backstories, publication history, and colorful vintage art. In the pages of The League of Regrettable Superheroes you'll find strange figures from the Golden and Silver Ages, as well as plenty of head-scratching curiosities from more contemporary times. Throughout much of their conversation, Derek and Jon discuss some of their favorite regrettables, including The Red Bee (a district attorney donning striped leggings and carrying bees hidden inside his belt, his favorite being named "Michael"), The Clown (a police commissioner turned crimefighting circus clown), The Eye (a giant, disembodied eye...that's it, just a floating eye), Nightmare and Sleepy (pro wrestlers dressed in white and with an apparent skeleton fetish), Captain Marvel (not who you think, but someone whose disturbing superpowers includes disengaging his body parts), Fatman the Human Flying Saucer (a green-wearing version of the Fawcett Captain Marvel, but one with a weight problem who turns into a flying saucer), Gunmaster (a pacifist who relies on an inventive arsenal of guns to fight crime), Adam-X The X-Treme (a hero embodying the X-treme worst of '90s culture), the New Guardians (DC Comics' attempt at multiculturalism gone horribly wrong), and Killjoy (Steve Ditko's silent Ayn Randian "mouthpiece"). Jon even discusses some of the earlier manifestations of very current heroes, such the Outsiders, Prez, and Squirrel Girl. What comes through in the guys' conversation -- and what is central to the success of the book -- is Jon Morris's sense of humor. Then again, you have to have one to write about this unlikely collection of crimefighters. A candy-inspired strongman named Captain Tootsie? A robot with an iron propeller beanie named Bozo?

CLICK HERE FOR REGRETTABLE SAMPLES!

Be sure to check out Jon's web presence:

Dec 4, 2015

As the end of 2015 draws near and the holiday shopping season is in full swing, Andy and Gwen have drawn up their lists of their favorite comics for young readers released during the last year. Although their choices run the gamut from texts for early readers up through to texts for teens, every text mentioned creates a fine balance between serious subject matter and engaging artwork and writing. Many of these comics would be great choices for parents and kids to read together. 

Andy’s List:

Gwen’s List:

Books that both Gwen and Andy Selected:

Andy and Gwen alternate leading discussion for each book and finish up by discussing two books that made both of their lists.

Dec 2, 2015

As Andy and Derek do at the beginning of every month, they use this first week of December to flip through the latest Previews catalog, highlighting upcoming series and notable new releases that capture their attention. Among the many soon-to-be-released titles they discuss on this week's show are comics from

Also in this episode: the guys enthusiastically welcome new Patreon supporters; complain about reading from PDF files; discuss the increasing weirdness of Neal Adams; speculate on the pronunciation of "Amontillado"; anticipate next year's new SyFy series, Wynonna Earp; pat themselves on the back for getting an endorsement blurb for a major upcoming book; and, of course, give a lot of love to Fantagraphics.

Nov 30, 2015

Another month, another healthy dose of manga! For November, Shea and Derek make it a themed episode, one whose binding tie is an unlikely and infamous historical figure. To coincide with the 70th anniversary of the start of the Nuremberg Trials, the guys discuss two masters of manga and their takes on Adolf Hitler. They begin with Shigeru Mizuki's Hitler, released earlier this month from Drawn and Quarterly. Since 2011, the Canadian publisher has been introducing English-speakers to the incredible work of Mizuki, and this most recent translation is of a curious graphic biography originally published in 1971. Mizuki approaches Hitler's life as more of a character-study than as a historical determinant. Over the course of the book's first half, we see a very human, very pathetic -- and very troubled -- Adolf Hitler, a man whose failures far outweigh his triumphs. But both Shea and Derek note that as the text carries us into the 1940s, Mizuki's narrative is more rapid-fire and historically episodic, and the man that we're left with is the failed, unstable dictator most often depicted in popular media. Next, the Two Manga Guys turn to a more epic undertaking, Osamu Tezuka's A Message to Adolf (Vertical). Originally serialized in Shukan Bunshun magazine between 1983 and 1985, this is a work of fiction that heavily incorporates the historical figure. In fact, the entire narrative -- totaling over 1,200 pages in Vertical's most recent edition -- is driven by questions surrounding Hitler's possible Jewish heritage. The gist of the story, however, is devoted to the lives of two other Adolfs, both living in Kobe, Japan: one a German Jew growing up in the East, and the other a half-Japanese son of a Nazi Party official. The two become fast friends, only to have history, and fascist ideology, disrupt that relationship. Another character, a newspaper reporter named Sohei Toge, functions as the binding element of these various storylines, and both Derek and Shea highlight -- and marvel at -- the many moving parts that make up this narrative. This is a massive work that shows Tezuka at the peak of his artistry and storytelling abilities. There may be a lot of Hitler in this month's episode, but in the hands of both Mizuki and Tezuka, it's the kind of Hitler that the Two Guys can definitely stomach.

Nov 25, 2015

The guys are back with their third annual Thanksgiving show. This a special episode of The Comics Alternative where Andy, Derek, and other cohosts get together to discuss what they're thankful for in the world of comics and comics culture. This year both Andy W. and Gene are able to join in, so for this special holiday week you get a special episode with extra stuff: Four Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics! Among the various things Gene, Derek, Andy, and Andy are thankful for are

  • small-press publishers (like Kilgore, Uncivilized, Youth in Decline, AdHouse, Conundrum, Koyama, etc) who provide them with material for their podcasts,
  • Chris Marshall of Collected Comics Library, who provided us with 17 years of insightful comics analysis (and whose podcast the guys will miss),
  • Fantagraphics and their Complete Peanuts series,
  • the many great projects they're backing on Kickstarter,
  • the relatively new Librarians Assemble! podcast,
  • this year's comics-related museum exhibits,
  • special collections, such as the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum and the Comic Art Collection at Michigan State, as well as the librarians who manage them,
  • Dean MullaneyCraig YoeChris Staros, and the incredibly helpful folks at IDW Publishing -- Dirk, Rosalind, and Mike -- who go out of their way to keep the guys informed and supplied,
  • Chicago and the comics-related opportunities it provides,
  • creators like Joe OllmannTim Lane, and Seth, who have been very generous with their time this past year and participated in email interviews for the blog,
  • fun Marvel properties, such as Ryan North and Erica Henderson's The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and the new Jessica Jones series on Netflix,
  • Gwen, Shea, and Sean for helping on the various monthly podcast series,
  • and our Patreon supporters who have helped make 2015 a successful year!

Much like the yams with melted marshmallows served during Thanksgiving, this is an episode that you can pass around to friends and loved ones and taking a generous portion and then savoring the smooth, creamy goodness of every bite (byte?). There's plenty to go around. And if you're listening to this podcast in a non-US location, you can appreciate this episode knowing that Thanksgiving is more than just gratuitous Pilgrim references and obscene gluttony; it's also middle-aged guys with advanced degrees sitting around and talking about comic books.

Nov 24, 2015

Over the past three and a half years, the Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics have interviewed a variety of artists, writers, editors, publishers, educators, and scholars, but in all this time they have not yet interviewed someone from the retail side of comics culture. Until now. In this episode, Derek talks with Christina Merkler, the co-owner of Discount Comic Book Service, one of the largest online retailers of comics (and, in the spirit of full disclosure, an official sponsor of The Comics Alternative). They begin their conversation with a little background history, Christina describing what it was like when her husband, Cameron, came up with the idea for the business and decided to start with an all-online shop. What began as a small Internet-driven service out of their home in 1999 eventually turned into a brick-and-mortar store, multiple online storefronts, and the growing multi-state operation that it has become today. Christina describes how now, with the DCBS remaining in Fort Wayne, IN, and the InStock Trades warehouse being in Memphis, TN, the Merklers feel like they're all over the place and constantly on the go. But they've no plans to rest on their achievements, and instead, are at work on future growth plans. Derek also asks Christina about the competition they've had over the years, the ins and outs of pricing, their relationship with Diamond Comic Distributors, their attempts at getting into the digital comics business, the decisions that go into their monthly specials, and their strategies for good customer relations. In all, his conversation with Christina is a revealing look at the store-front business side of the medium and the many details of how, literally, the books by the creators the guys discuss every week get into the hands of the readers. 

After listening to this interview, be sure to head on over to Discount Comic Book Service and InStock Trades. And when you do, please send them an email and tell them that the Two Guys with PhDs sent you!

Nov 23, 2015

On this interview episode, Andy and Derek talk with Joe Keatinge and Nick Barber, the creators behind the new Image series, Ringside. The first issue will be released this week, and so the guys wanted to get the lowdown on what promises to be a fascinating and different title. Joe gets things rolling by laying down the premise of the first narrative arc, introducing us to Danny Knossos, the once-famous wrestler called Minotaur. In classic noir fashion, the protagonist in this first issue returns to the old haunts from his past to help out a friend in trouble, and in doing so inadvertently becomes embroiled in a darker world that he had thought he had put behind him. This is more than a mere wrestling story, Nick and Joe explain. It's a brooding, crime-infused drama that bumps up against the world of professional wrestling. What's more, the series will have an ensemble cast, giving us shifting focal characters and rotating perspectives so as to flesh out a larger and more haunting landscape. The creators also describe how they met one another and how the idea for Ringside came about. They discuss their working relationship, the division of creative labor, and the history behind pitching the story to Image. In fact, Derek and Andy really don't have to do much during this interview. They ask a few questions to get things started, and then Joe and Nick take it from there with their own stories, turning parts of the interview into a personal back-and-forth of a couple of guys catching up. And that's part of The Comics Alternative is all about, isn't it: bringing people together through comics?

Nov 20, 2015

Jennifer Hayden comes to The Comics Alternative to talk about her new book, The Story of My Tits, released last month by Top Shelf Productions...just in time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She discusses with Derek the context surrounding the memoir and, along with that, the story of becoming an artist and comics creator. As Andy and Derek pointed out a couple of weeks ago in their spotlight on Top ShelfThe Story of My Tits much more than a breast cancer survivor narrative. It's a chronicle of Hayden's relationship with her breasts, from childhood and into maturity, and what they meant to her sense of self. At the same time, it's a story of binding relationships and how cancer in many forms had effected her family. These various narrative threads come together to create a deeply personal account of life under the influences of disease, adversity, and self-image. Jennifer also discusses the eight-year journey of writing this memoir, and how along the way she discovered graphic novels, met fellow artists (such as Dean Haspiel), became a contributor to Act-I-Vate, and created a series of other comics such as Underwire and Rushes. In addition, she talks with Derek about her philosophy of storytelling, her style of creating comics (pen-to-paper, only), and the reaction The Story of My Tits has been receiving.

Be sure to check out Jennifer's website as well as her blog, Goddess Comix, where you can find the latest updates on what she's up to.

Nov 18, 2015

For the past several weeks the Two Guys with PhDs have been looking mostly at book-length works, trades, original graphic novels, and archival collections. This week, Andy W. and Derek thought that they'd catch up with their single-comic-book-issue reading by focusing on six recent #1 titles:

  • Paper Girls - Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang (Image Comics)
  • Monstress - Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda (Image Comics)
  • The Goddamned - Jason Aaron and R. M. Guéra (Image Comics)
  • Klaus - Grant  Morrison and Dan Mora (BOOM! Studios)
  • Snow Blind - Ollie Masters and Tyler Jenkins (BOOM! Studios)
  • James Bond - Warren Ellis and Jason Masters (Dynamite Entertainment)

The guys note that there's an embarrassment of riches to choose from, as there have been many recent first issues from some powerhouse creators, including Brian K. Vaughan, Jason Aaron, Grant Morrison, and Warren Ellis. For the most part, each of the titles from these writers is a home run, although Andy is not quite impressed with Klaus, feeling that it's a little too formulaic. The guys also note that The Goddamned isn't for those with Puritanical sensibilities, James Bond breaks free of the property's Hollywood shackles, and Paper Girls visits the 1980s in a fun and non-stereotypical way. (Plus, Derek is glad that there are no Goonies references anywhere to be found.) Snow Blind is a great first issue, as well, setting up what promises to be an intelligent four-issue crime/noir miniseries...although given the potential in this inaugural issue, this story seems that it could go on for more than four installments. And both Andy and Derek are bowled away by Liu and Takeda's Monstress. Not only is the storytelling sophisticated, intricate, and intelligently populated, but there is over sixty pages of story in this first issue. The guys are used to oversized #1 issues from Image -- in fact, they're getting spoiled by them -- but the amount of material in this comic goes above and beyond! Finally, the guys wrap up my commenting briefly on some of the other recent #1 issues that they could have included in this episode, such as Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott's Black Magick (Image Comics); Garth Ennis and Keith Burns's Johnny Red (Titan Comics); Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, and Patric Reynolds's Joe Golem: Occult Detective (Dark Horse Comics); and Sam Humphries and Tommy Patterson's Citizen Jack (Image Comics). Again, an embarrassment of riches.

Nov 16, 2015

While at the Small Press Expo in September, Derek had the pleasure of meeting Meags Fitzgerald, whose new book, Long Red Hair: A Graphic Memoir, had just been released from Conundrum Press. At the time he spoke with her briefly for the podcast, but now Meags returns for a more in-depth discussion. They begin with an overview of her new book and the significance of its title. Long Red Hair is an artist's story of growing up, finding your place, and defining yourself by the differences that you come to embrace. Highlighting important moments between 1992 and 2015, Meags traces the trajectory of a life in process. It is time when sleepovers, witchcraft, Dungeons and Dragons, gender questions, vegetarianism, and movies like Beetlejuice and Buffy the Vampire Slayer have deep meaning for  her. Behind it all is a supportive family that allows Meags the freedom to discover who she might want to be. And part of her identity is linked to photobooths, the subject of her previous book that came out last year. Meags also talks with Derek about her work on Photobooth: A Biography (Conundrum Press) and what this almost archaic process -- even art form -- has come to mean to her. In particular, they discuss the significance of this phenomenon, a source of selfies and "social networking" before the advent of the Internet, social networking sites, and the proliferation of smart phones. Along the way, Derek and Meags also discuss her work in graphic design and her passion for improv comedy and live storytelling.

Nov 13, 2015

Sean and Derek are back with their monthly pickings of webcomics goodness, and for November they have some great recommendations lined up. They begin by focusing on Peter Wartman's Stonebreaker, a fantasy adventure narrative with a strong potential for world-building. This is the sequel to the artist's earlier work, Over the Wall, which was also published in hardcopy by Uncivilized Books in 2013. The guys marvel at Wartman's handling of his narrative premise -- this webcomic is only in its second chapter -- and his abilities to subtly allude without confusing or distancing his readers. They're also blown away by his art, which is some of the best they've seen in recent webcomics. Next, the Two Guys move on to The Hues, Alex Heberling's post-apocalyptic tale of teenage adventure. Her protagonists are a diverse band of girls who discover that they each have a special power or magical ability. The complication, however, is that they make their discoveries right around the time that an alien force invades Earth. Sean likens this to a mashup of superpower stories and manga, while Derek can't help but think of the X-Men. Both The Hues and Stonebreaker are currently ongoing, each of which seems what it will be around for the long haul. An already-completed webcomic is the third in the guys' lineup. Silver Saaremaeel and Kaija Rudkiewicz's Run Freak Run is, as its website describes, a "gothic alternative history comic with dark subject matters and romantic undertones. It includes swearing, slight nudity, violence, and lots of sarcasm." That basically sums it up. When the guys aren't fumbling over the creators' names -- and a special apology goes out to Kaija Rudkiewicz, whose name takes the worse beating -- they are highlighting the evolution of this webcomic. What begins in its first chapters as an episode narrative turns into a more interconnected long-form work. And both Derek and Sean are particularly drawn to Rudkiewicz's art, which is perfect for its dark tone and reminds them somewhat of Mike Mignola's work. If you're not already doing so, be sure to check out this month's webcomics recommendations, and then report back here next month for another dose.

Nov 12, 2015

On this episode, Derek is happy to have as his guest Sophie Goldstein. Her latest book, House of Women, Part II, came out in September, and her other book from this year, The Oven, was just listed by Publisher Weekly as one of the five best comics of the year. Indeed, 2015 has been fruitful time for the young red-headed creator. Regular listeners of the podcast will know that this isn't the first time that Sophie has been on the show. She spoke with Derek twice before at two different events, while at HeroesCon back in June and more recently at the Small Press Expo. This time, however, there isn't the hubbub and distractions of the crowd, and the two have a more focused and leisurely conversation. Derek asks Sophie about all of the attention that her work has been getting -- in addition to the Publishers Weekly selection, she's won three Ignatz Awards over the past two years, and her story "The Good Wife" was included in Best American Comics 2013 -- and if this recognition has brought any new challenges. She shares how her work has evolved since graduating from the Center for Cartoon Studies in 2013 and the opportunities available for independent, free-lancing artists. But most of the conversation is devoted to Sophie's actual work, including The Oven (published by AdHouse), her recent contribution to Chris Duffy's Fable Comics (First Second), the webcomic Darwin Carmichael Is Going to Hell (coauthored with Jenn Jordan), and the first two volumes of her self-published longer narrative, House of Women. Indeed, Derek asks Sophie not only about the composition of the latter, but also about her hand-crafted books as art objects. They also discuss her contributions to a variety of anthologies and collections, including The Pitchfork ReviewMaple Key ComicsIreneSymboliaThe NibDog City, and Sleep of Reason.

Find out more about Sophie's work by visiting her website, Red Ink Radio!

Nov 11, 2015

Can it be true? Are the Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics actually doing yet another publisher spotlight? Are they gluttons for punishment? Are their eyeballs going to fall out from all of the reading? Maybe so, but if their orbs do drop out of their heads, they'll do so while gazing at some of the great books coming out of Top Shelf Productions. In this episode, you'll hear Andy and Derek talking about the publisher's summer and fall releases, including:

Before they get into the titles themselves, Derek shares a brief interview he conducted with Chris Staros, the publisher of Top Shelf. They talk about the origins of Top Shelf, the authors who have helped define their line, and their recent acquisition by IDW Publishing. Then, it's on to the books! The guys begin with a discussion of Eddie Campbell's Bacchus Omnibus, Vol. 1. This is the first of two behemoth books collecting all of Campbell's Bacchus stories, complete with the titular god of wine and revelry, Joe Theseus, Hermes, the Stygian Leech, and the guys' favorite, the Eyeball Kid. After that, Derek and Andy revisit a comic that they first discussed almost two years ago, Chris Sheridan's Motorcycle Samurai. Back in January of 2014, they looked at the first two issues of the digital series, but this time they focus on the first completed narrative arc. The guys point out some of the differences between the two versions, digital and hardcopy, while at the same time highlighting many of he strengths in Sheridan's storytelling. The next book they cover, Julian Hanshaw's Tim Ginger, turns out to be one of their favorite books of the year. Both Andy and Derek point out the ambitiousness of this narrative, both thematically and visually, especially given the book's compressed format. Indeed, Andy wonders if perhaps there was too much that Hanshaw was attempting to take on. Jennifer Hayden's The Story of My Tits is where they go after that. This is an autobiographic tale of the author's bout with breast cancer. But the book is much more than a personal cancer narrative. It is also Hayden's account of her important life relationships, both with her loved ones and with her breasts as they relate to self-image. Next, the Two Guys turn to a completely different kind of book, Troy Little's adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Like the original, this is a wild ride, and Little's composition brings out the surreal and even frightening quality of Thompson's narrative. The guys note that Little does what Ralph Steadman does in his illustrations for the 1972 book, without being derivative in any way, and that this is a more approachable version that Terry Gilliam's 1998 film. Finally, the guys wrap up with a book that is not yet out but will soon be, Ray Fawkes and Vince Locke's Junction True. This is a disturbing science fiction tale that doesn't seem that unrealistic at all. In fact, its thematic focus on body enhancement and media exhibitionism is not too far from the culture in which we currently reside. One could even read Junction True metaphorically as a cautionary tale...or one of contemporary gothic horror.

Nov 9, 2015

Gwen and Andy are back this month to discuss two new graphic novels for young readers. First up, they discuss Monster  (Amistad/Harper Collins), a book for teens by Walter Dean Myers, adapted by Guy A. Sims and with art by Dawud Anyabwile. Based on the multi-award-winning young adult novel by Myers, the graphic novel version of Monster chronicles the tension-filled trial of Steve Harmon, a African American teen being tried as an accessory to the murder of a convenience store clerk. Gwen and Andy both agree that Anyabwile’s stunning black-and-white art delivers a powerfully effective treatment of this famous novel and in some ways enhances an already stunning look at how society looks at race and identity. Next, the two people with PhDs look at a book for younger readers, Barry Deutsch's Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish (Amulet/Abrams). If the title sounds familiar, that's because How Mirka Caught a Fish is actually the third book in the Hereville series, following How Mirka Got Her Sword and How Mirka Met a Meteorite. But no worries! Gwen and Andy give you just enough info about the first two books to bring you up to speed without giving away any major spoilers. Mirka is an 11-year-old orthodox Jewish girl who has adventures fighting trolls, encountering meteors, and even time-traveling, and as much as Gwen and Andy like the first two volumes, they think this third may be the best of the bunch. And while Monster and the Hereville books may appear to be vastly different, Gwen and Andy find that they share some interesting similarities.

As an added bonus, Gwen and Andy also discuss four additional current titles that listeners will want to check out. (But you’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out what those books are!)

Nov 4, 2015

It's the first week of November, and that means it must be time for Andy and Derek to go through the month's Previews catalog. As you may expect, there's a lot packed into the issue, and after a few words on Halloween and listener mail, they get right to the solicitations. Among the many upcoming releases they discuss on this month's Previews show are titles from

Also in this episode: the Two Guys discover that they're international sensations, Andy hobnobs with Roy Thomas, Derek is confused by Classics Illustrated, both reveal that they are Gunshow ignorant, dedicated listener Rainer Koschnick reminds the guys of PS Artbooks, and 1970s references abound. What's not to love?

Nov 2, 2015

Over Halloween weekend, Derek was at the Wizard World Comic Con event in Austin, TX. There, he had the good fortune to talk with several creators, publishers, and a couple of fellow podcasters in attendance. In this episode you'll hear brief interviews with:

Despite the heavy rains and flooding, the Wizard World con was well attended. It being Halloween weekend, one couldn't really tell whether the cosplaying left off and All Hallows' Eve began. Major creators as well as local artists attended the event, and Derek took the opportunity to talk with those whose work reflected the independent and small-press nature of the podcast.

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