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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: May, 2015
May 29, 2015

On this interview show, Derek and Andy W. have a fun time talking with Tom Neely and Keenan Marshall Keller. The first trade volume of their series, The Humans, recently came out from Image Comics, and next week the narrative arc will continue with issue #5, in which the simian bikers make their drug run in L.A. Although every issue of The Humans is filled with action and dynamic art, this upcoming installment is particularly energetic, complete with chase scenes, road fights, blown-off faces, pissing on police cars, plenty of explosions, and an abundance of profanity. In fact, as the Two Guys point out, this has to be the most "fucked"-filled episode of The Comics Alternative that the guys have ever recorded. (And of course, it bears the appropriate "explicit" rating in iTunes.) Keenan and Tom cut loose with the conversation, just as their biker gang rides roughshod over 1970s Bakersfield. They discuss the genesis of The Humans, the series' humble beginning as a self-published 0 issue, their relationship with Image Comics, the joys of living and working (literally) right down the street from each other, the kick-ass work of colorist Kristina Collantes, and the creation of a larger Humans "universe," complete with its own soundtrack. You will even hear in this interview original tunes created specifically for The Humans. Tom and Keenan also discuss their larger plans for the series, possible spin-off narratives that flesh out their storyworld, and Humans-branded biker magazines. Although most of the conversation is devoted to the current series, the Two Guys ask their guests about their past works, including Keenan's Force Majeure and Tom's The Blot. Derek is especially interested in talking with Tom about Henry and Glenn Forever and Ever, how he came up with the idea -- not surprisingly, there was a lot of drinking involved -- and the story behind the satanic Hall and Oates. Not only is there a lot of explicitness in this episode, but there's tons of laughing, as well. If you love comics about biker apes, drug use, exploding heads, and blow jobs, then The Humans -- and this interview with Tom and Keenan -- is definitely for you!

May 27, 2015

On this episode of The Comics Alternative podcast, Derek and Andy W. discuss four new titles. They begin with Ryan K. Lindsay, Eric Zawadzki, and Sebastian Piriz's Headspace (IDW Publishing). This was originally an eight-issue digital series published by MonkeyBrain between March 2014 and April 2015. A law enforcement officer, Shane, finds himself in a surreal land with no memory of how he got there nor any idea how to leave. He eventually discovers that he is inside the mind of a violent criminal whose brain is being manipulated by the authorities. As the guys point out, this is a psychological thriller as much as it is an astute exercise in world-building. Next, they take an extensive look at Nate Powell's You Don't Say (Top Shelf), a collection of seventeen short stories published between 2003 and 2013. For readers who appreciate Powell's previous works -- such as Swallow Me Whole, Any Empire, The Silence of Our Friends, and the first two volumes of March -- this is a wonderful opportunity to see the development as well as the full range of the creator. The earlier stories, several of which were part of his first Top Shelf book Release Me, demonstrate Powell's autobiographical attempts to capture an artist in transition. But the emerging impact of the writer becomes more apparent in the later works where you can more clearly see some of the characteristics that mark Powell's style, such as the theme of race relations (often set in the South) and the psychological quality of his storytelling. In fact, Derek points out that in many of Powell's work, there is a "dreamy" quality where transitions between scenes and even panels are represented in a fluid, and at times ambiguous, manner, reflecting the way in which memory and fantasy allows us to interpret the world. Both Andy and Derek highlight their favorites in this collection, including "Cakewalk" (written by Rachel Bormann), "Bets Are Off," and the gothic "The Villa at the End of the Road." These collected stories originally appeared in earlier Powell works, in various anthologies, as part of a CD release, and as self-published installments. Together they demonstrate the sheer force of Powell's artistry. Finally, the Two Guys look at two recent releases from Nobrow, Andy Poyiadgi's Lost Property and Jen Lee's Vacancy. These are both part of the publisher's unique 17x23 series, a graphic short-story project established to help young creators present their work in a concise and economic format. Lost Property is a brief tale about missing pieces, the various things we have lost throughout our lives -- both literal and figurative -- and how their rediscovery can help us define who we are. Lee's comic is an anthropomorphic narrative about the costs of freedom. Simon, a young dog, is neglected by his owners, yearns to venture beyond his backyard fence, and then ventures into the woods with a deer and a raccoon, with mixed results. Both of these short works are beautifully produced -- Andy specifically points out Nobrow's distinguishing coloring -- and highly affordable. For a little more than the cost of an ordinary American comic book, you can get a 17x23 publication that is more of a book than a periodical. The guys featured a Publisher Spotlight on Nobrow last year, and there's certainly a reason that they keep coming back to their publications.

May 26, 2015

On this episode of the monthly manga show, Derek and Shea discuss the recently published Henshin, by Ken Niimura (Image Comics), and Katsuhiro Otomo’s classic Akira (Kodansha Comics). They begin with Henshin, a thirteen-story collection from the artist behind I Kill Giants (and written by Joe Kelly). Shea points out that it’s difficult to find much information on Niimura, as most of his work has been published in either Japan or in Spain. But Henshin — which means “transformation” in Japanese —- may be a good introduction to his work. As the guys point out, the stories cover a variety of genres, from crime to cooking to sports to salaryman narratives  There are also four autobiographical shorts interspersed throughout. Neither Shea nor Derek feel that these tales are as successful as the non-autobiographical stories, but they do show a lighter and more personal side of Niimura’s work. The tone in the other nine pieces are more dramatic, and at times tender and even melancholic. All in all, the collection is a multifaceted example of a non-traditional kind of manga. Next, the Two Guys look at a classic manga title, Otomo’s Akira. This series is a challenge to discuss, because it’s a sprawling saga that develops over six collected and thick volumes. But Derek and Shea highlight the premise and significance of the story, contextualizing it within the 1980s and as an example of post-apocalyptic cyberpunk storytelling. They briefly compare the manga to the anime version, pointing out many of the stark differences between the two. Shea emphasizes what he sees as the Western or European storytelling influence on Akira —- indeed, he sees the same in Henshin —- yet at the same time highlights this as a seminal work of manga. This is an ambitious attempt for the guys to cover such a title, and they could easily devote an entire episode to the series. But listeners will come away with a sense of the story, if they’re not already familiar with it, and hear some of the major critical points that define Akira. If you’re interested in manga, this is definitely a series you have to experience.

May 22, 2015

Andy and Derek are pleased to have as their guest on The Comics Alternative the artist who has done more than anyone to help us understand comics, Scott McCloud. He has just concluded an exhausting world tour -- traveling all over the United States and Europe, and then wrapping up at this year's TCAF -- and the Two Guys were able to catch him during a breather and talk with him about his latest book, The Sculptor (First Second). They begin by asking him about the reception of his new graphic novel and the kind of reader reaction he had experienced on the road. Scott shares some of the commentary he received, such as finding the book a quick read as well as questions regarding the story's ending. In fact, the guys spend a bit of time discussing the concluding section of the book -- without really spoiling anything -- and ask Scott about his thoughts on structuring his narrative. He reveals that The Sculptor was a long time in coming and that he's been thinking of the ending almost from the beginning, over five years ago. This leads Derek and Andy to observe that this is a meticulously crafted book, one that demands multiple readings in order to see the various clues and allusions that are buried throughout the text, linking the end to the beginning and revealing a solid narrative cohesion.  The guys also ask Scott to speculate on his current statue as one of comics' preeminent spokespersons. They wonder if his celebrity as "the guy who wrote Understanding Comics" has been eclipsing his reception as a fiction writer. That then becomes a springboard into a fruitful conversation about Scott's career as struggling young fan-turned-artist, the creation of Zot!, the critical reaction to his expository trilogy -- Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics, and Making Comics -- his prescient advocacy for webcomics, his brief stint on Superman, the writing of The Sculptor, and his current project concerning visual communication. They even discuss Scott's recent work as editor on last year's Best American Comics, and how in many ways it brought him back into an awareness of current comics. Toward the end of the conversation, Scott shares his experiences as a teacher, and he even gives Andy and Derek useful strategies for using comics in the classroom. (Hint: The guys are going to fish out their copies of Shaun Tan's The Arrival.) All in all, this was an incredible interview. Derek and Andy had really wanted to have Scott on the show around the pub date of The Sculptor, but this later post-publication conversation turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Not only are they are able to talk with Scott McCloud about his latest project, but they also get all of the detail surrounding his world tour, his thoughts on the critical response to his book, and how his recent post-publication activities have impacted an already impressive career. This is an interview you cannot miss!

May 20, 2015

This week on The Comics Alternative, the Two Guys with PhDs are back with another Publisher Spotlight episode, this time focusing on the spring 2015 releases from Conundrum Press. They begin the show by doing something they've never done before: interviewing the publisher of the press they're about to spotlight. Derek talks with Andy Brown briefly about his founding of Conundrum, its evolution into a comics-only publisher, the many roles he plays at the press, the kind of creators he works with, and a summary of the spring releases and beyond. After that, the guys plunge into a discussion of the five new releases, beginning with Zach Worton's The Disappearance of Charley Butters. This is the first of a trilogy, centering on the discovery of an abandoned shack and the mystery surrounding its former occupant, a solitary artist. As some of the characters learn more about this missing figure, they begin to see themselves and their relationships more clearly. Next, Derek and Andy W. turn to Max de Radiguès's Moose. Despite the guys' (embarrasing) inability to correctly pronounce the Belgium artist's name, they are nonetheless able to grasp the poignancy of his narrative. This is a story about bullying, yet one with dark ethical implications and with no easy answers. After that, the guys turn to Kat Verhoeven's Towerkind. This minicomic-sized book is one of Andy's favorites of the week, and its simple art masks a profound and unsettling tone. Set in Toronto's St. James Town, a densely populated neighborhood of high-rise apartments, the book follows the uncanny interactions of a group of kids with ominous forebodings. The next book, The Adventures of Drippy the Newsboy, Vol. 1: Drippy's Mama, is arguably the most curious of Conundrum's seasonal releases. In it, Vancouver artist and animator Julian Lawrence brings to full story his popular figure from the Drippy Gazette, a free local monthly that Lawrence co-created and edits, but does so within the context of Stephen Crane's 1896 novel, George's Mother. This is the first of three such Drippy books, each based on a Crane narrative (as Andy Brown reveals, the second will reference The Red Badge of Courage). Finally, the Two Guys wrap up with Dakota McFadzean's Don’t Get Eaten by Anything: A Collection of "The Dailies" 2011-2013. This is an impressive hardbound collection of McFadzean's The Dailies webcomic that he began back in January 2010 and continues to this day. The strips vary in tone from the autobiographical -- especially the early ones -- to the surreal. Derek is especially excited to discuss this book, since he interviewed Dakota for the podcast last year, who at the time mentioned the upcoming release. For fans of McFadzean's art and his offbeat sense of humor, this is wonderful companion tome to read along with 2013's Other Stories and the Horse You Rode in On. And it's just one of the the many great books that Conundrum Press continues to put out. This is definitely a publisher worth following!

May 15, 2015

Derek is back at his local shop, Collected Comics and Games in Plano, TX, and this month the topic is open and general comics talk. Anything goes, and over the coarse of the conversation, Derek discovers that anything does go in talking with the shop's customers. Joining him for this free-flowing exchange are regulars Shea, Craig, Matt, and Chris, and the discussion topics are wide-ranging. They begin with a conversation on the relative disappearance of westerns and war comics as a popular genre. Sgt. Rock comes up a lot, of course, as well as Garth Ennis's recent revival of his War Stories series coming out from Avatar Press. And Craig reminds everyone about a title he brought up in the February episode, Max Brooks and Caanan White's The Harlem Hellfighters. Via a reference to one of Derek's favorites, Weird War Tales, the talk shifts to horror and mystery comics and then takes an abrupt shift into Kickstarter territory. This leads to a discussion of the recent shenanigans of Archie Comics in their Kickstarter campaign, and then a brief digression into the concept of variant covers. Webcomics is another topic that comes up, with everyone chiming in on whether or not they read them, as well as the pros and cons of digital delivery. There is a brief conversational tributary into mainstream superhero comics, specifically what's going on with Convergence and Secret Wars, and then they wrap up with a discussion of some of comics everyone has recently read for the very first time (not necessarily brand new titles). These titles include Chuck Palahniuk and Cameron Stewart's Fight Club 2, Cullen Bunn and Taylor Crook's Harrow County, Kelly Thompson and Ross Campbell's Jem and the Holograms, P. Craig Russell and Neil Gaiman's Elric: Stormbringer, Chip Zdarsky and Kagan McLeodand's Kaptara, and various books from Hans Rickheit (the latter are Derek's picks). The chat ends abruptly when the recorder is accidentally shut off (unbeknownst to the guys), but that doesn't happen until the tail end of the conversation. But while the mic is still on, there's a lot of great comics talk, as there usually is at these on-location episodes.

May 13, 2015

This week on the their weekly review show, Derek and Andy W. discuss three new books that are definitely worth checking out. They begin with Pénélope Bagieu's Exquisite Corpse from First Second. This may be the first English-language publication for Bagieu (the guys aren't certain about this), and it's a great introduction from one of France's current popular creators. It's a romantic comedy with a sophisticated premise and an unexpected twist at the end. In fact, it's the narrative's quick wrap-up that puzzles the Two Guys. While they both enjoyed the story, they nonetheless read the ending as an undermining -- perhaps a betrayal? -- of character cohesiveness that was established in the first 4/5 of the book. It's almost as if Begieu changed her mind in the final pages of her narrative and wanted to rewrite the way  we should interpret a major character. Still, her art is infectious and works hand-in-hand with the humorous, yet incisive, events that unfold. Next, the guys look at Operation Nemesis: A Story of Genocide and Revenge (Devil's Due), written by Josh Blaylock and with art by Hoyt Silva. This is a historical narrative focusing on the trial of Soghomon Tehlirian, the Armenian expatriate who assassinated Taalat Pasha, the former Minister of the Interior of the Ottoman Empire, in Berlin during the early days of the Weimar Republic. But the trial is merely a scaffolding on which Blaylock constructs his story of the horrific Armenian Genocide of 1915, a slaughter that the Turkish government to this day will not acknowledge. As Andy and Derek point out, the art is a little confusing in places, but the message comes through loud and clear. This true story is an uncomfortable read, and purposefully so, and it brings much-needed attention to a twentieth-century holocaust that is woefully overlooked. Finally, the Two Guys with PhDs turn to the latest volume of Seth's Palookaville (Drawn and Quarterly). Derek has been looking forward to #22 since the last installment in October 2013, but as it always is with Seth's comics, it's well worth the wait. This is Andy's first exposure to Palookaville, and the guys play off of this difference of reading experience: Andy as a Seth novice and Derek as a diehard fan. As with the two previous book versions of Palookaville -- issues #1-#19 of the title was published in comic-book form -- this one is divided into three sections. The first is a continuation of Seth's ongoing narrative, Clyde Fans, which began in Palookaville #10 from 1997. We're well into the fourth part of this story, set in 1975 and focusing on retired salesman Abraham Matchcard, his reclusive brother Simon, and his encounter with his former lover, Alice. But Abe's real relationship is with his past, and Seth is expert at teasing out character through memory, scenic transitions, and inner dialogue. The middle section of the book is a composite of photoessay and comics, focusing on the Crown Barber Shop in Guelph, Ontario, and owned by Seth's wife Tania Van Spyk. Derek is particularly taken with this contribution since his father was a barber, and he grew up working as a shoeshine boy in a similar kind of shop. The third section of Palookaville is the second part of "Nothing Lasts," one of Seth's sketchbook stories that began in the previous volume. This is an autobiographic narrative that carries us through the author's teenage years. As with the previous installment, the comic is profoundly moving with a rich mixture of understanding, melancholy, and wistfulness. As with all of Seth's works, this volume of Palookaville will make you long for the kind of Canadian landscape and atmosphere that only he can deliver.

May 8, 2015

It's time for another episode in The Comics Alternative's monthly webcomics series, and for May the Two Guys with PhDs discuss three must-read titles. They begin as they usually do by looking at two current and ongoing webcomics, and this time they're Christina Strain and Jayd Aït-Kaci's The Fox Sister and Ben Fleuter's Derelict. Both of these began in 2011, and even though the intentions were to update them weekly, the creators of these titles have had to pause occasionally or slow down the frequencies of their narrative installments. So with each, we are still in the middle of the story four years into things. But that's OK, because both are engaging narratives that are worth the wait. The Fox Sister revolves around Yun Hee, a young South Korean woman who's family has been the victim of a kumiho, the legendary nine-tailed fox who assumes the shape of a beautiful woman -- in this case, Yun Hee's older sister -- to seduce and murder young men. While hunting down the kumiho,  the protagonist befriends a young American missionary, and in this way Strain injects both romance and culture-clash twists into her tale of horror. Yet while The Fox Sister is set in 1960s Korea, Fleuter's Derelict is a post-apocalytic -- or at least some kind of post-tragedy -- narrative where the world we may recognize is infused by gargoyle creatures and fantastic technology. As the guys point out, it's not that easy to describe Derelict, in that the story can be confusing at times, and there are several segments where it's difficult to tease out the action. Derek highlights one of those points in "Book One: Deluge" where it's unclear if there's a flashback, a series of flashbacks, a psychological alter-state, or what. Andy agrees, but he firmly believes that the story's momentum, along with Fleuter's compelling art, more than compensates for the momentary confusion. It's the kind of webcomic that, while ambiguous at times, drives you forward because you want to be immersed deeper into its storyworld. Finally, the Two Guys turn to their already completed webcomic for the month, Jeff VanderMeer and Eric Orchard's The Situation. Released on the website of Tor Books, it's a fantastical story about interpersonal relations in the workplace. Yet it's more like something you'd find from Terry Gilliam than you would from watching The Office. Andy is a big fan of VanderMeer's prose fiction, and he points out that this is great demonstration of the author's skills at world-building. This is a short narrative, yet one that packs a big punch in its ability to literalize the metaphoric. And with Orchard's art, it's certainly the most visually striking webcomic of this month's selections.

May 6, 2015

It’s the beginning of May, so that means it’s time for another Previews show. As they do every month, the Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics carefully go through the latest Previews catalog highlighting many of the upcoming titles that catch their interests and are worth checking out. As Derek and Andy W. point out, this particular issue of the catalog is chock-full of intriguing solicitations, so much so that this turns out to be one of the longest Previews episodes the guys have ever discussed. As a result, this episode of the podcast goes chunky style! The fun begins with a brief recount of FCBD 2015, where the guys share some of their experiences last weekend. Derek grabbed a lot of great FCBD titles. Andy couldn’t get inside his crowded local shop, so instead he stocked up on great deals in the bins outside his shop. Then they get into the meat of the show, talking about the many solicit that grabbed their attention this month. And of course there are the usual tangents, unique observations, and all-around camaraderie. There is a lot packed into this episode of the podcast, so stick around and enjoy every fun-filled nougaty bite!

May 4, 2015

or Free Comic Book Day, Derek visits his local comic book shop, Collected Comics and Games in Plano, TX. There he talks with a variety of customers -- many of whom have been on the shop before, some who have not -- as well as creators featuring their works at the shop. Once such creator is Hunter S. Zombie, the writer of Stillborn: The First Zombie. He talks with Derek about his first book, his current work on the second, his relationship with and support of George Romero, and the travails of working the local con circuit. He also joins in the conversation with the shop customers, and the topics there turn to the new Avengers movie (hot on everyone's mind), the new Daredevil series from Netflix, and the links between movie/TV fans and comics readers. More to the point, everyone discusses what FCBD titles they especially wanted to pick up, and why. Several mentioned Marvel's Secret Wars offering as well as the all-Spanish The Uncanny Inhumans. Others focused on Dark Horse's Fight Club/Goon issue, Dynamite's Bob's Burgers, Th3rd World Studio's The Stuff of Legend/Thanatos Diver, Kodansha's Attack on Titans, and VIZ Media's JoJo's Bizarre Adventures. There wasn't much love for DC's Divergence, unfortunately. And Derek shares some of his favorites from this year, including the CBLDF Defend Comics issue (with a new Shadow Hero story from Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Lew), Beguiling Books's Comics Festival! 2015, Archie's Dark Circle Comics, and Fantagraphics' Hip Hop Family Tree/Cosplayers double-shot. As always, there's a lot to discuss with the guys at the shop, and FCBD infuses the conversation with even more juice. Listen to the show and experience this annual event through the wonders of podcasting!

May 1, 2015

It's a semi-tradition that when the Eisner Award nominations are announced, Derek and Andy are there to discuss them. So on this special episode of The Comics Alternative, the guys get together to deliberate over this year's nominees, what kind of patterns they discern, and what surprise choices there may be. Joining them on the show is noted comics journalist and former Eisner Award-winner, Tom Spurgeon. Together they look over the list of nominees that was released just last week and try to figure out what is going on with the choices. They begin by looking at the bigger picture, giving their takes on any possible direction or pattern coming from this year's judges. Both Andy and Derek comment on the fact that both DC and Marvel -- and mainstream superhero comics, in particular -- seem to be getting slightly more love than they have in recent years, with properties such as Ms. Marvel, Rocket Raccoon, Grant Morrison's Multiversity, and various Batman and Spider-Man titles getting the nod. Tom is pleased with some heavy hitters, such as Sergio Aragonés and Charles Burns, who are up for awards, yet at the same time he's glad that there are brand-new faces that could shake up some of the stolid categories. The guys also note that many of the nominees have been covered on The Comics Alternative podcast and blog, wondering if the creators appreciate the fact that they're benefiting from what Andy has called the "Comics Alternative bump." In fact, every single entry in the Best Graphic Album - New category was reviewed on either the podcast or blog over the past year! Even though he has been a past recipient of the prize, Tom wonders if there's any logic to having a Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism, since, it seems to him, it's an award for creators giving a prize to someone who merely watches the medium. It would be like the Oscars giving an award to Entertainment Weekly, Vanity Fair, or IMDB for their reporting. Derek tacks in a completely different direction, uncomfortable with the Eisners lumping all forms of media together and wondering if perhaps they should break up the periodical/journalism award into at least a couple of different categories. The guys also observe some notable absences from this year's selection. For example, and unlike previous years, Dark Horse Presents is nowhere to be found on the list. And why is something like Superior Foes of Spider-Man nominated in the Best Humor Publication category while unique and intelligently funny titles such as God Hates Astronauts, Punks: The Comic, and Eel Mansions are not? And then there are the kinds of discussions that have been coming up on the podcast in years past, such as issues in defining the Best Publications for Teens category, the growing presence of webcomics on the list, possible trends in the Best Scholarly/Academic Work category, and the juggernaut presence of Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples. There is a lot to pick through in this year's nominations, the good as well as the not-so-good, and the Two Guys with PhDs are happy that Tom Spurgeon could join them to share in the conversation.

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