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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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Now displaying: January, 2015
Jan 30, 2015

On this latest episode of The Comics Alternative Interviews, Derek talks with Steve Bryant, the creator of Athena Voltaire. His latest collection, Athena Voltaire Compendium, was just released from Dark Horse Books and Sequential Pulp Comics. They begin their conversation by discussing the evolution of Athena Voltaire, how it began as a collaborative webcomic, eventually finding its way into a brief print run (via Speakeasy Comics and Ape Entertainment), turning into a successful Kickstarter campaign, ultimately resulting in a nice hardbound collection of five stories. Derek asks Steve about the ideas behind the character of Athena Voltaire, and he learns that not only did Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark serve as part of the titles’s inspiration, but so did Dave Steven’s Rocketeer as well as a broader, deep love for 1930s/1940s era pulp fiction. Steve shares the process behind the creation of the new Compendium, his passion for world building, work on the promised followup Athena Voltaire and the Volcano Goddess, and his desires to turn Athena Voltaire into more extensive ongoing series. If you love adventure and if you love pulp, this is a collection — and an interview — you don’t want to miss!

Jan 28, 2015

This week on the podcast, Derek and Andy W. review three new titles guaranteed to make you hyperventilate with excitement...so breathe deep and take in the good, comicy vapors. And speaking of which, they begin by discussing the new book by Spanish creator Max, Vapor (Fantagraphics). They start with a brief context on Max, whose past books include The Extended Dream of Mr. D. and Bardin the Superrealist. His latest work is just as surreal and dreamlike as the earlier ones, and the guys have a good time exploring the possible meanings embedded in the narrative. Next they turn to the new miniseries written and drawn by Jorge Corona, Feathers (Archaia/BOOM! Studios). In this inaugural issue we have a perfect mix of setup, teaser, and substantive storytelling. Andy and Derek focus on the detailed groundwork that Corona lays out in his story, one that is clearly intended for an all-age readership. Finally, the guys turn their attention to the latest creator-owned property from the ever-prolific Jonathan Hickman, The Dying and the Dead #1 (Image). On this title he reunites with Ryan Bodenheim -- whose early collaborations include A Red Mass for Mars and Secret -- and works with colorist Michael Garland. In fact, the guys spend a lot of time discussing Garland's use of color, which adds significantly to the art and especially to Hickman's storytelling. As with Corona's Feathers, this is definitely a series Derek and Andy plan to continue with, and when you throw in Vapor, you have this week's trifecta of Comics Alternative goodness.

Jan 26, 2015

For this episode of The Comics Alternative Interviews, Derek and Andy W. talk with Ian Edginton, the creator (along with D'Israeli) behind the recently re-released Kingdom of the Wicked (Titan Comics). The guys talk with Ian about the contexts surrounding this new edition of the book, his working relationship with D'Israeli (AKA Matt Brooker), and the various changes that the Titan edition brings. They go on to ask Ian about his penchant for world building, clearly evident in Kingdom of the Wicked, but even more prominent in two of his most recent projects, the Vertigo series Hinterkind (along with Francesco Trifogli) and his 2000 AD saga with I.N.J. Culbard, Brass Sun. Ian also discusses the story behind his adaptation of H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds, and his original "sequels" to that classic, Scarlet Traces and The Great Game; his Sherlock Holmes adaptations with I.N.J. Culbard; and his work on a variety of other titles including Doctor Who, Judge Dredd, and Terminator. There's a lot packed into this interview, and the guys find Ian an extremely kind and forthcoming guest.

Jan 23, 2015

On this episode of their interview show, Derek and Andy are happy to have as they guest Miss Lasko-Gross, whose new book, Henni (Z2 Comics), has been getting a lot of press. They begin by asking her about all of the attention her graphic novel is receiving, especially in light of the recent Charlie Hebdo tragedy. She tells the guys that while the message of her book is rather timely, she wrote it as a broader, more allegorical narrative, one that addresses intolerance and oppression in a variety of forms. As Miss points out, our culture and those of others are unfortunately never in short supply of narrow-mindedness, a condition for which Henni can be an going reminder. The guys also ask her about her creative process, the narrative catalyst of drawing, and the role of scripting in her longer-form comics. Her art-driven style gives Henni a more deliberate, measured pacing, allowing the narrative more time to breathe. Andy and Derek also ask her about her earlier semi-autobiographical books, Escape from "Special" and A Mess of Everything, and how those narratives may relate to what she's doing in her latest graphic novel. The guys ask Miss about her strategies in writing the auto-bio books and what kind of reactions she has received from her fan base. Yet while Escape and Mess may share some links to her new book -- both Melissa in the auto-bio books and Henni are curious, questioning young women on a journey -- they are nonetheless two distinct projects. While the earlier books were attempts to represent her own life story, Henni is the first of a trilogy of books centered around a fantastic, pre-industrial land populated by anthropomorphic feline characters. Miss may eventually return to her autobiographical writing -- although that's not certain -- but she's definitely deep into and committed to Henni's story. So we can expect more well-crafted comics from Miss in the coming years.

Jan 21, 2015

This week the Two Guys discuss three very different new titles. First, they look at Harvey Kurtzman's Jungle Book, another collaboration between Dark Horse Books and Kitchen Sink Books (an earlier such publication, The Best of Comix Book, was discussed last may). What's more, this is the first volume in the publishers' new Essential Kurtzman library. Andy and Derek begin by mentioning that neither of them had read Jungle Book before, although it has been on both of their radars, so they come to this volume as new contemporary readers. And that's one of the first things the guys discuss: the datedness of the stories. Originally published in 1959, Jungle Book comprises four shorter pieces, and in about all of them Kurtzman has embedded cultural references specific to the times. This is not necessarily an obstacle to enjoying the text, but both Derek and Andy appreciated this volume more as a cultural and historical artifact than they did a cohesive work of comics art. Kurtzman's original stories are accompanied by short supplemental material by the likes of Gilbert Shelton, Art Spiegelman, Peter Poplaski, Robert Crumb, and Denis Kitchen. Indeed, it is latter's essay that provides the necessary context, and the guys note that Kitchen's contribution is one of the highlights of this volume. Next they return to a creator that they discussed last summer, Conor Stechschulte, and his new book, Generous Bosom, Part One (Breakdown Press). This is a fascinating title that, while the first installment of a multipart narrative, easily stands on its own. Derek and Andy comment on the apparent raciness of comic, but they quickly point out that this is a much more sophisticated story than the title would suggest. The book has its share of sexual references (explicit at times), but it is a complex narrative that takes unexpected turns. Most impressive is Stechschulte's method of storytelling and the ways he uses his art to establish the interlocking narrative levels. Finally, the guys discuss Joëlle Jones and Jamie S. Rich's Lady Killer #1, the first in a five-part miniseries. What drew them to this title is Jones's art, which they really enjoyed when they discussed Helheim back in 2013. Now Jones has turned to scripting, on which she collaborates with Rich, and this first issue does a good job of establishing the miniseries' premise: a 1950s/60s hitwoman masquerading as an innocuous housewife. But while the story is interesting, it is Jones's art that really captures the guys' interest. Although they may wait for the trade in reading the rest of the story -- they have some issues with the first issue's pacing -- this is nonetheless a title worth checking out.

Jan 19, 2015

The guys are pleased to have on their podcast the great Brian K. Vaughan. And for this conversation, Derek and Andy K. are joined by Andy Wolverton, who actually secured this interview for the show through his library connections. The guys begin by asking Brian about his thematic ambitions in Saga, and the discussion evolves from there. Over the course of their conversation, they ask their guest about the origins of the award-winning series, his melding of the sci-fi and fantasy genres, the challenges of juggling more than one ongoing title at a time, the stories behind the artists he chooses to work with, the pay-what-you-will philosophy behind The Private Eye, the future of Panel Syndicate, his loyal (and enthusiastic) fan base, the ever-evolving nature of comic conventions, and (as much as Brian can reveal) his new series that were recently announced at the Image Expo. Along the way they discuss not only his current titles, but also Brian's ever-popular Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, Swamp Thing, The Runaways, and The Pride of Baghdad. This is an exciting interview for the guys, and it's a sign of the many great guests they will have on The Comics Alternative in the coming year.

Jan 16, 2015

It's a new month -- and a new year! -- so Derek is back at his local shop, Collected in Plano, for another on-location episode of the podcast. This time he's joined by Collected regulars Shea, Nick, Matt, and Craig, and the discussion topic is "Comics in the New Year." Everyone brings up the various titles, events, and pop cultural phenomenon they are looking forward to in 2015. For some, it is the wrap up of currently ongoing series and storylines, particularly Fables and Spider-Verse; the occasion of a crossover event, such as Marvel's new Secret Wars or DC's Convergence (although there doesn't seem to be a lot of love for DC at this gathering); the publication of eagerly awaited graphic novels and trade collections (e.g., Harlan Ellison's City on the Edge of Forever and Scott McCloud's The Sculptor); announcements of brand new series; comics that were held over from 2014, such as Pascin and the latest volume of Love and Rockets: New Stories; and the new movies and television shows surrounding comics culture. As always, it's a fun discussion with these guys. And once again, the Two Guys thank the great folks at Collected for letting them come by every month!

Jan 14, 2015

On this regular review episode of The Comics Alternative, the first of 2015, Andy and Derek discuss three very different titles. First, they look at the new graphic memoir from Nina Bunjevac, Fatherland: A Family History (Liveright). This is the story of the author’s life growing up with — or growing apart from — a father who becomes a staunch Serbian nationalist. Bunjevac provides a bit of history surrounding the Balkans, and does so through sophisticated storytelling, but one of the most outstanding aspects of Fatherland is her highly detailed, almost photographic art.  The guys got a little taste of Bunjevac’s work, particularly on the subject of her father, in their earlier discussion of Best American Comics of 2014. That collection included an excerpt from her previous book, Heartless, that had a similar feel. In her latest work, Bunjevac provides a more complete, and more complex, story that addresses the various facets of her father and his relationship with the family. Next the Two Guys look at two independent creators with unique offerings. They begin with Andrez Bergen’s Bullet Gal (If? Commix), which has is now up to issue #8. This is a different kind of crime or noir story, a fumetti-infused narrative that mixes tried-and-true conventions of the genre with off-beat salutes to classic cinema. As Derek and Andy point out, beginning with issue #7 the story takes a leap down the narrative rabbit hole, turning a mirror onto itself and becoming very Grant Morrisonesque. There are twelve issues planned for this series, and all will be collected in a 348-page trade that will be released this spring, Bullet Gal: It’s Not You, It’s Me (Under Belly Comics…and a Kickstarter campaign). This is definitely something you have to check out! And the same goes with the next work the guys discuss, Daniel White’s self-published 1976. This is perhaps one of the most difficult comics the guys have ever discussed on the show, primarily because most of the narrative is visually driven. Describing it on an audio-only podcast doesn’t do the book justice, and you have to see the actual copy to get the complete experience. The first installment, “New Rose,” is a surreal, even psychodelic comic whose framing and action appear to owe a lot to Jack Kirby. Along with the second part — although not yet published, the artist was kind enough to provide a preliminary print-off — it’s a punk rock-infused “journey” of self-discovery (maybe?) that strategically utilizes a simple color scheme. In fact, the guys recommend that you listen to White’s musical allusions in this comic, The Damned and The Sex Pistols, as you experience the work.

Jan 9, 2015

The Two Guys are back for another installment in their new monthly show devoted to webcomics. For January, Derek and Andy W. have three engaging titles to discuss. First, they look at Evan Dahm’s Vattu, a fantasy adventure reminiscent of Bone, and with tones of sword-and-sorcery. This webcomic has been going on since July 2010, updated every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Currently it’s in its third book — the first, comprising 270 pages, has been collected in printed form and can be purchased through Dahm’s website — and the initial storyline has evolved into a much vaster narrative. The guys comment on Dahm’s knack for complex world-building, as well as the vibrant, eye-catching art. Vattu is the winner of the 2014 Ignatz Award for Best Online Comic, and there is a reason why Andy and Derek wanted to feature this as one of their current and ongoing webcomics for the month. Next, they turn their attention to another current title, Minna Sundberg’s Stand Still. Stay Silent, a post-apocalyptic adventure set in a ravaged Scandinavian setting. Its premise is that a virus suddenly wipes out much of the human, and mammal, population, leaving only a limited number of survivors. This event, referred to as “the great cataclysm,” has ended the world as we know it, and an unlikely group of survivors — including mages — sets out to make safe a world of violence, desolation, and fantastical beasts. Both Andy and Derek are enjoying this ongoing tale, but they note an abrupt (and perhaps unexpected?) shift in tone from a more realistic style into one that is more fantastical. What’s more, they feel mixed about Sundberg’s commentary that accompanies each story installment. Sometimes, these reflections or annotations turn out to be unintended spoilers, and readers can leave their own spoilery thoughts. But fans of SSSS (as it is commonly know) apparently love this kind of reader engagement, making Sundberg’s one of the most popular webcomics around. Finally, and for their older and already completed webcomic, they discuss one of the first high-visible advocates for webcomics, Scott McCloud. His two-part graphic novella, The Right Number, was written between 2003 and 2004, and it utilizes an experimental zooming format. There is a projected third installment, as McCloud points out on his website, but due to unexpected delays and competing projects, the conclusion has yet to be written. But although we’ve been waiting ten years for the story to wrap up, and although this isn’t technically a “completed” webcomic, Derek and Andy nonetheless wanted to give some love to one of the earliest experimenters of the webcomic format.

Jan 7, 2015

It’s a new year, and it’s a new month on The Comics Alternative. So that means it’s time for another look at the Previews catalog! On this episode, Andy and Derek look through the January solicits, highlighting the various comics that will be appearing in another two-four months. Among the titles catching their interests are Pastaways #1, Neverboy#1, and Apocalyptigirl (Dark Horse Comics); the final chapters of Grant Morrison’s Multiversity, Strange Sports Stories #1, and new editions of Astro City trades (DC/Vertigo); Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse: The First Few Pints and Weird Love #6 (IDW Publishing); Chrononauts #1, Descender #1, Southern Cross #1, and Sexcastle (Image Comics); Men of Wrath (Marvel Comics); The Age of Selfishness and Just So Happens (Abrams ComicArt); Hit: 1957 #1 and The Con Job #1 (BOOM! Studios); Project Superpowers: Backcross #1 (Dynamite Entertainment); The Complete Eightball, Inner City Romance, Angry Youth Comix, and Dripping with Fear: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 5 (Fantagraphics); The Glorkian Warrior Eats Adventure Pie (First Second); The Other Side of the Wall (Lerner Publishing Group); Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor #1 and The Light and Darkness War (Titan Comics); and Nemo: River of Ghosts (Top Shelf Productions). The guys also spend a bit of time discussing some of the upcoming releases for this year’s Free Comic Book Day, which are also announced in this month’s Previews. All in all, there are a lot of great releases to look forward to, all of which portend an exciting 2015.

Jan 5, 2015

It’s a brand spanking new year, and it’s sure to be another great twelve months for interviews on The Comics Alternative. In fact, Andy and Derek start things off with a bang! this month with another visit from the always-friendly, always-funky, and always-fun Craig Yoe. This is the third time he has been on the show, and this time around the guys not only talk with Craig about his latest releases, but they also discuss the past, present, and future of Yoe Books. It’s the 5th anniversary of the imprint, and starting off a year-long celebration marking the occasion, Craig reveals his new Yippie Yi Yoe Society. Derek and Andy were fortunate to get their complimentary membership package in the mail last month, complete with a snazzy welcome letter, an official membership card, a society sticker, a cool “I Belong to the Yippie Yi Yoe Society” button, and a DVD with videos and music…including the club’s song, “The Merry Yippie Yi Yoe Society Marching Song.” Is that cool, or what? Then the guys get into the nitty gritty of Creepy Craig’s latest efforts, the two new books Ditko’s Shorts and Howard Nostrand’s Nightmares (Yoe Books/IDW Publishing). They spend a lot of time talking about the new Ditko effort, talking with Craig about the genesis of the project, the research he and Fester Faceplate (AKA Mark Knox) conducted for the volume, and behind-the-scenes shenanigans that should excite any true Ditko fan. Next, they delve into the new Nostrand collection, the latest in Craig’s “Chilling Archives of Horror Comics” series, discussing an artist who is sorely overlooked yet so vital to the horror genre. As the great forelocked one points out in the book’s introduction, had Jack Davis and Wally Wood had a love child, it would have been Howard Nostrand. Derek and Andy try to get Craig to discuss any future and yet-to-be-announced Yoe Book projects — he never spill the beans — but he does talk a little about books that will be released early this year, including Tom Sutton’s Creepy Things, The Untold History of Black Comic Books, and Milt Gross’ New York. In fact, the guys want to have Craig back on the podcast to talk about the new Milt Gross book, so listeners probably won’t have to wait too long to get a another shot of Yoe.

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