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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: February, 2015
Feb 25, 2015

On this week’s podcast, the Two Guys with PhDs take on a gargantuan task: they review ten different #1 issues from a variety of publishers. First they look at several debuts from Image Comics, including Bryan Hill, Matt Hawkins, and Isaac Goodhart’s Postal; Jimmie Robinson’s The Empty; Brian Joines, Jay Faerber, and Ilias Kyriazis’s Secret Identities; and Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, and J. Bone’s Sparks Nevada: Marshall on Mars. After those they discuss three new titles from Dark Horse Comics, such as Richard Corben’s Rat God, Rafael Albuquerque and Mike Johnson’s Ei8ht, and Dean Motter’s Mister X: Razed. And then they wrap up with two #1 issues from BOOM! Studios/Archaia — Swifty Lang and Skuds McKinley’s Plunder, and Ed Brisson and Damian Couceiro’s Cluster — and finally Ryan Ferrier and Valentin Ramon’s D4ve from IDW Publishing. Almost all of these new titles are worth checking out, with enthusiastic recommendations going to Cluster, Secret Identities, and especially the clever and comedic D4ve (perhaps the best of the bunch). And while Derek and Andy W. try to focus on the positive, they aren’t overly enamored of Sparks Nevada, a miniseries based off of a Thrilling Adventure Hour performance. In fact, some of the comedy in this first issue seems to rely — and, at times, confusingly so — on sounds, a strategy that doesn’t translate as effectively in comics. But outside of this little bump, this episode presents a smooth and enjoyable trip down the road of recent comicsdom. There’s a lot to digest in the extra-long podcast, so just sit back, relax, listen up, and let the Two Guys do the driving.

Feb 20, 2015

Derek is back at Collected Comics and Games in Plano, TX, and this month he and the customers are discussing ethnoracial issues as they relate to comics. Since this is Black History Month, the guys thought that they'd take the opportunity to look at a few African American comics (however you choose to define that term) and how race  and diversity has become part of the comics' historical tapestry. They mention a variety of specific titles -- Craig came prepared with his copies of The Harlem Hellfighters, March: Book One, and the collection Strange Fruit -- several key creators, such as Kyle Baker and Ho Che Anderson, and the attempts (at times pathetic) of mainstream publishers to diversify their titles' rosters. Derek and the guys also spend a good deal of time talking about broader ethnic issues in comics, including stereotyping, the responsibilities of representation, and author subject position. The result is an all-too-brief, tip-of-the-iceberg effort to address one of the medium's most complicated (and complicating) features, but it's a conversation well worth having.

Feb 18, 2015

This week on the podcast, Derek and Andy discuss three new titles. They begin by looking at the second book in John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell's March trilogy. Although the first volume from fall 2013 was a powerful debut, March: Book Two (Top Shelf Productions) is a decidedly more gripping work. There is more action and drama in this book -- and not only conflict between the protesters and the Southern white community, but perhaps more pointedly, conflict within the nonviolent movement's ranks -- than there was in the initial one. What's more, this is a much more emotionally charged work, in that readers are taken to the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement and Lewis's encounters with senseless beatings, attack dogs, firehoses, and bombings. The guys note that for younger readers, or those unfamiliar with mid-century American history, this book may be a bit of a shock -- or a wake-up call -- in that it paints a very different, starker picture of race relations in this country than experienced today...even given the realities of Ferguson, Missouri, and the shooting of Trayvon Martin. At the same time, March is a complement to these contemporary tragedies and a much-needed reminder that racial equality in this country is a yet unfinished project. Next, Andy and Derek turn to Michel Fiffe's Copra: Round One (Bergen Street Press). They begin by discussing the subtle popularity of the self-published Copra series, a title that has gained attention primarily though word of mouth. Andy had been telling Derek about this series for several months, and now the guys finally get to talk about its impact. Andy is particularly interested in Fiffe's take on John Ostrander's Suicide Squad. And while Derek voices his uncertainly of the collection's initial pacing, he acknowledges the artist's unique style that requires more reader engagement with completing the narrative. Finally, the Two Guys with PhDs look at the new title from Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham, Nameless #1 (Image Comics). As they point out, any new Grant Morrison title is a cause for notice -- and most times, for celebration. There are times when his books don't resonate as well as the guys would like, but there are others when his unique brand of storytelling recalls the groundbreaking Doom Patrol and The Invisibles. This first issue of Nameless appears to hold a lot of promise, but the guys are keen to see how Morrison's narrative plays out. While they think it will resonate more than his last series with Image, Happy!, Derek and Andy wonder how it might compare to what Morrison has currently been doing in the DC University with Multiversity or his creator-owned miniseries over at Legendary, Annihilator. Regardless, both guys on on for the ride, and as with any Morrison tale, who knows where that ride may lead?

Feb 13, 2015

On this interview episode, Andy and Derek are pleased to have as their guest Arlen Schumer. His book, The Silver Age of Comic Book Art, has recently been released in a beautiful, new revised edition from Archway Publishing. It originally came out in 2003 as a softcover, with a hardbound companion that included an extra section, but in this revised edition Schumer includes all the material from the longer hardbound release, but with brighter images and cleaner type. The result is a unique visual experience, a text on comics art history in the form of a coffee table book. As the guys point out in their discussion, this is the kind of book that every comics aficionado will want to get, and the perfect gift for anyone unfamiliar with the medium but interested in the many forms of American art. The Two Guys kick off the conversation by asking Arlen how he defines the Silver Age, and he argues that while everyone can agree that it began in 1956 with the publication of Showcase #4, the era ended in 1970, a watershed year that inaugurated the way we read comics today. Then they get into the particulars of the book, Arlen's chapter-by-chapter visual study of legends Carmine Infantino, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Gene Colan, Jim Steranko, and Neal Adams. They spend quite a bit of time discussing the work of Infantino, Colan, and Adams (one of Arlen's favorites), but the artist they spend the most time exploring is Gil Kane. In fact, on the topic of Kane's art -- specifically, the way he rendered punches -- Andy is able to flex his superhero acumen in ways he normally doesn't on the podcast. The guys also talk with Arlen about the creators he didn't have the room to explore in the book, many of whom receive some attention in the final "More Masters" chapter of the book: Murphy Anderson, Wally Wood, John Buscema, Nick Cardy, and Curt Swan. In many ways, this is a departure for The Comics Alternative, a podcast devoted to non-mainstream, non-superhero comics, but given the significance of this book as both a work of art and a necessary critical/historical text, the guys just had to have Schumer on their show.

Feb 11, 2015

This week on the podcast, Derek and Andy discuss beginnings, endings, and renewals. They start with the latter, looking at the first in a projected twelve-volume Hugo Pratt collection from IDW/EuroComics, Corto Maltese: Under the Sign of Capricorn. This is a brand new English edition — translated by Dean Mullaney and Simone Castaldi — and presented in the original black-and-white. (The previous translated version of a Corto Maltese edition, 2012’s The Ballad of the Salt Sea, from Universe Publishing, was colorized.) It’s also published in a European album-sized format, roughly 11 1/2 x 9 1/2″, so that the reader can experience the clean, full radiance of Pratt’s art. Although they’ve read a little of Pratt’s work in the past, this is the guys’ first real introduction to Corto Maltese, at least in terms of full storylines. They spend a lot of time focusing on the narratives in this new volume, noting that the first three chapters form a cohesive and ongoing story, with the final three chapters — especially the final “The Seagull’s Fault” — participating in the continuity, but nonetheless functioning as standalone pieces. Another topic the Two Guys discuss is Pratt’s style of drawing Corto Maltese’s legs…particularly the ways that legs are presented in fight scenes. Check it out to see what they’re referring to. Next, Derek and Derek look at two recent Vertigo titles, a first issue and a final issue. With Tim Seeley and Marley Zarcone’s Effigy, they focus on the three-part structure of the story and how the creators deftly present the premise, include reasonable exposition, and then strategically set up the central mystery that will drive the narrative forward. The guys then spend the rest of the episode discussing The Unwritten: Apocalypse #12, the final installment in Mike Carey and Peter Gross’s epic. Both Andy and Derek have been with The Unwritten from the very beginning, and for the most part they have kept up with the series religiously. (Well, Derek has let things slide a bit these past few months.) They discuss the impact of this final issue, what it means to the overall series, and how much it helps readers to wrap their brains around the high concept of the title. This leads the guys into a broader discussion of DC’s Vertigo imprint, it’s possible future, and the challenge of finding another long, ongoing series from the publisher similar to The Unwritten, Scalped, DMZ, and Fables (which will also end later this year). But don’t get all teary-eyed over the loss of Tom Taylor and the gang. Celebrate the conclusion of this engaging series, and bask in the yummy goodness of the fun comics talk! Also: this show marks the debut of The Comics Alternative‘s brand new theme song, written and performed specifically for the podcast by DJ Copely. Be sure to check him out on Twitter @Webpuppy45

Feb 9, 2015

In this on-location episode, Derek is at the Dallas Comic Con for this year’s “Fan Days” event, which was held at the Irving Convention Center. There he was able to talk with several creators, including Joe Eisma (of Morning Glories fame), Michael Lark (Lazarus, The Scene of the Crime), Elizabeth Breitweiser (Fatale, The Fade Out, Outcast) and Mitch Breitweiser (Captain America, Immortal Iron Fist), Nick Pitarra (Manhattan Projects), and Cal Slayton (Shades of Blue, Digital Webbing Presents). This was a smaller event than other Dallas Comic Cons, and there was a smaller Artists’ Alley than they’ve had in the past. But what the con lacked in artist numbers, the creators definitely made up for in fun and substantive conversation.

Feb 6, 2015

Andy and Derek are happy to have on the podcast the multifaceted Jim Rugg, whose new printing of Street Angel (created with Brian Maruca) was just released by AdHouse. The guys talk with Jim about the significance of the new printing -- a colorful discussion -- as well as the book's protagonist Jesse Sanchez, an "orphan of the streets and skateboarding daughter of justice" who "fights a never ending battle against the forces of evil, nepotism, ninjas, and hunger." The artist discusses the title's early days at Slave Labor Graphics as a serial and its final issue as the launching pad for another Rugg/Maruca creation, Alan "Afrodisiac" Driesler, the mysterious, irresistible, smooth dark chocolate brother of the streets who fights to protect his turf and his ladies. And of course, it's inevitable that the guys get into a discussion of 1970s culture and comics, including kung fu, TV cop shows, blaxploitation films, and Big Jim action figures. Derek and Andy also talk with Jim about his work on other titles, including Supermag (AdHouse), The Plain Janes (DC/Minx), and his art for titles as diverse as The Guild, Adventure Time, and Henry and Glenn Forever and Ever. It's a fun conversation, one with as much savvy and street smarts as the characters who populate Jim's stories.

Feb 4, 2015

Welcome to February, faithful listeners! And just as day follows night, every new month brings another opportunity for the Two Guys with PhDs (Talking about Comics) to discuss the latest solicits in the Previews catalog. As you might expect, Andy and Derek find a lot to discuss in the new Previews, highlighting upcoming titles from premiere publishers, smaller presses, and a few outlets you may not have even heard of. For example, they discuss future releases from Dark Horse Comics (Brian Wood and Andrea Mutti's Rebels, Gilbert Hernandez's Grip: The Strange World of Men, and the latest volume of Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamasaki's The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service), DC/Vertigo (their latest anthology, Vertigo Quarterly: SFX #1), IDW Publishing (the second volume in their new Corto Maltese reprint series, as well as IDW's new Disney comics initiative), Image Comics (new series such as Chip Zdarsky and Kagan McLeod's Kaptara, Alexi De Campi and Carla Speed McNeil's No Mercy, and Kurtis J. Wieebe and Johnnie Christmas's Pisces), AdHouse (Sophie Goldstein's The Oven), Alternative Comics (Sam Alden's Haunted, Steve Aylett's Johnny Viable and his Friends, and a new edition of Rich Tommaso's Clover Honey), Amulet Books (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales, Vol. 5: The Underground Abductor), Bergen Street Press (Michel Fiffe's Copra: Round Two), BOOM! Studios/Archaia (James Tynion IV, Noahh J. Yuenkel, and Matt Fox's Ufology #1 as well as the first collected volume of Lumberjanes), Drawn and Quarterly (the latest volume in Seth's Palookaville, Tadao Tsuge's Trash Market, and Jillian Tamaki's Supermutant Magic Academy), Fantagraphics Books (Vaughn Bodē's Cheech Wizard's Big Book of Me, Robert Goodin's The Kurdles, and Bill Schelly's new biography, Harvey Kurtzman: The Man Who Created Mad and Revolutionized Humor in America), Goff Books (Johnny Lau's World Water Wars), Microcosm Publishing (Lisa Wilde's Snake Pit Gets Old: Daily Diary Comics 2010-2012), Oni Press (Zander Cannon's Kaijumax #1), SelfMadeHero (Julie Birmant's Pablo and Ilya's Room for Love), Top Shelf Productions (Keith Knight's Knight Takes Queen and a reprint of Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story), and Viz Media's new deluxe edition of Junji Ito's Gyo. As is the case with every Previews episode, there's a lot packed into this week's show -- so get listening, get excited, and get reading!

Feb 2, 2015

It's new month, so that means it's time for another episode of The Comics Alternative Webcomics. For February Derek and Andy W. discuss two current ongoing webcomics and one completed title. First, they look at K. C. Green and Anthony Clark's Back, a western/fantasy story about the end of the world, or as the website describes it, "Not post apocalyptic, just the end of it all." This is a relatively new webcomic -- with only a short prologue and what appears to be the completed first chapter -- so the guys are really getting in on the ground floor with this one. They discuss the cartoony or iconic art style, which adds to the all-age flavor of the story, while at the same time commenting on the weighty philosophical themes the authors seem to be juggling: fate, destiny, and free will. There is also a lot of action and humor that will resonate with readers young and old. The only downside to this title -- if you want to call it a "downside" -- is that it's only updated once a week, every Wednesday, and this is such an fun read that the guys are bummed that they have to wait once a week for the next installment. Next, they look at The Only Living Boy, a adventurous dystopian fantasy from creators David Gallaher and Steve Ellis (and through their studio, Bottled Lightning). This is described as a young adult title, although Andy observes that this is the kind of story he would associate more with younger readers, and that it doesn't really fit in the "Young Adult" section that he's used to in his library. Nonetheless, The Only Boy is a title that can be appreciated by readers of all age, and having started a little over two years ago, there is enough material for anyone to get into Gallaher and Ellis's evolving narrative world. There are three chapters, or three issues, of the comic so far, and the webcomic is updated three times a week. Both Derek and Andy enjoy this title, but at the same time they comment on the haphazardness of the plotting -- at least at times it appears that way -- and the awkward navigability of the comic's archival pages. Finally, they look at Demian 5's When I Am King, an early webcomic that was created between October 1999 and July 2001. Even though this is an older title, the Two Guys comment on how current or up-to-date it appears, easily standing alongside -- and even possibly outshining -- many of the webcomics written today. The story is relatively simple, but it's the way that Damian 5 tells the tale that makes it so compelling. The creator definitely utilizes the "infinite canvas" of the web page, and there are many places where the reader has to scroll up, down, and to the sides in order to get all of the narrative. This kind of interactiveness makes this "simple" story even more engaging, and this, along with the variation of art styles and occasional animation, make When I Am King a classic in the webcomics medium.

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