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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: July, 2015
Jul 31, 2015

For July's manga episode, Shea and Derek discuss two distinctly different titles. They begin by looking at Naoki Urasawa's Monster series published through Viz Media. The fifth volume of the new Perfect Editions was just released last week, so the guys thought this would be a great opportunity to introduce listeners to this dramatic saga. Monster is the story of a brilliant young surgeon, Dr. Kenzō Tenma, who's accused of murder and then goes on the lam to find the real killer: a boy that he had perviously saved from a traumatic head wound. Tenma's search for the enigmatic and elusive figure, now growing into young adulthood, becomes the driving force of the narrative, with Urasawa introducing a variety of characters and unlikely scenarios along the way. The itinerant nature of this series reminded Derek of the old The Fugitive TV series starring David Janssen. And Shea, in fact, thought that the episodic feel of the title began to wear thin as the story progressed, with Urasawa introducing diverse characters in an almost formulaic manner so as to keep teasing out the drama. But this is a highly engaging series with clean, detailed line drawing and rarely flagging momentum. Next, the guys turn from seinen to josei with Moyoco Anno's In Clothes Called Fat (Vertical). This is a one-volume story about eating disorders, body image, and the dark side of fashion consciousness on young women. Anno herself comes from a fashion background, and her insights on cultural psychology are the underlying bedrock of this narrative. In fact, both Shea and Derek are highly impressed by the ways in which Anno gets into her characters, adeptly revealing how they think and the complexities driving their actions. Body image isn't the only focus of this story. Anno shows how social pressures, groupthink, and low self-esteem undergird many of our dysfunctional relationships. While Shea likes the book but isn't completely satisfied with its ending -- he feels the pacing shifts too dramatically in the conclusion -- Derek is impressed with Anno's style of narration, allowing characters multiple modes of expression that represent the psychological mechanisms at work. In all, this is an important and socially conscious work for male and female readers alike.

Jul 29, 2015

Action * Mystery * Adventure</itunes:subtitle>
<itunes:summary>On this week's episode, Andy and Derek take a look at two very different titles. They begin with a long, extensive look at Will Eisner's The Spirit: A Celebration of 75 Years (DC Comics). In fact, their discussion of the new Spirit collection takes up the vast majority of the show, lasting for almost and hour and forty-five minutes! So there's a lot of ground that the guys cover with this book, although in many ways they only just scratch the surface. Both Derek and Andy are huge fans of Will Eisner, and The Spirit in particular, so the conversation never flags. They highlight a variety of the stories that are collected in this volume, pointing out why they are important in The Spirit's history. But they also mention some of the notable Spirit strips that aren't included in the book, wondering why a few were excluded. They also speculate on why, and lament the fact that, there wasn't a new introduction (or even a new afterword) written for this anniversary volume. The Neil Gaiman piece that is included in the book was originally written for 2005's much shorter The Best of The Spirit. Derek, in particular, feels that this important collection would have benefited from a new introductory essay that would have provided more context, especially for those unfamiliar with Eisner's legendary figure. Still, the 75th anniversary volume is one of the guys' highlights of the year so far and deserves a place on every comics reader's shelf. Next, they shift gears for a completely different kind of book, William Keops Ibañez's minicomic Blazing Quantum. This is a collection of short stories created between 2005 and 2011, at times (apparently) autobiographical and at times historical, that lead to an unlikely and potentially fantastical ending. Most of the pieces revolve around a young high-school student named Billy and his everyday interactions, and frustrations, with family and friends. This is a promising self-published title that has both Andy and Derek anticipating the next installment. And they are sure to keep visiting Ibañez's's website for the latest updates on his art and when they can expect a new issue of Blazing Quantum.

Jul 24, 2015

On the July webcomics show, Andy W. and Derek do something different. Not only do they look at two current and ongoing series, along with one already completed title -- as is their usual format -- but they do so by focusing on just one specific webcomics outlet: Study Group Comics. The guys begin, appropriately enough, by looking at current work from Zack Soto, the publisher of Study Group. His comic, The Secret Voice, is a mashup of various genres, part adventure, part science fiction, part superhero, and (at least in the beginning) part Jules Verne-inspired fantasy. So far there are five completed chapters of The Secret Voice, and as the narrative unfolds, Soto is creating an ever-expanding and complex world centered around the enigmatic Dr. Galapagos. Next, the guys discuss François Vigneault's Titan, a futuristic sci-fi drama set in an hydrocarbon processing refinery on Saturn's satellite, Titan. Vigneault's story is perhaps the most socially charged of this month's bunch, touching upon class and ethnic conflicts, and even venturing at times into scientific ethics. Titan is in its fourth chapter, with Vigneault currently posting updates. Finally, Derek and Andy look at a Study Group webcomic that was completed back in 2012, Julia Gfrörer's Black Is the Color. Her story is relatively simple and straightforward -- a sailor is cast adrift from his ship and encounters a fabled mermaid -- but Gfrörer's art and pacing add a sophistication that give depth to this relatively short narrative. Black Is the Color is driven by subtleties and innuendo, ultimately embracing an ambiguity that opens up text in unexpected ways. This story was published in hardcopy by Fantagraphics in 2013, and in fact, the other webcomics discussed this month have seen printed form, and through Study Group Comics. There are two comic-book issues of The Secret Voice published so far, and one of Titan. Listeners of the monthly webcomics series will be saddened to learn that this will be the last episode in which Andy Wolverton will serve as regular cohost. Andy will still be a big part of The Comics Alternative family of podcasts -- he's not going anywhere soon -- but he's decided to hand over his webcomic-analyzing duties to another so that he can pursue another project for The Comics Alternative. So keep your eyes open for more exciting stuff from Andy W.! Beginning in August, Derek's cohost for the webcomics series will be Sean Kleefeld, an incisive critic and webcomics maven who is sure to inject some gravitas into the show.

Jul 22, 2015

This week on the podcast, the Two Guys with PhDs take a close look at a few #1 issues and one minicomic series. However, before they get into the nitty gritty of their reviews, they share some of the listener mail and attention they've been receiving -- including a very cool call-out from the Kyle and Drew at Comics for Fun and Profit -- and then go into some news out of SDCC. In particular, they discuss this year's Eisner Award winners, most of which the guys are familiar with and/or had expected (or hoped) to win. However, there were some surprises as well as some disappointments in this year's Eisners, but such is the game of awards systems such as this. After highlighting a little more news out of San Diego -- e.g., the announcement of new Vertigo titles, the return of Lady Killer, Fantagraphics to publish the next Kramers Ergot -- Andy and Derek plunge into the titles that they're discussing this week. First, they look at Brian K. Vaughan and Steve Skroce's We Stand on Guard #1 (Image Comics). This is one of the most anticipated new series of the year, and the guys waste no time in underscoring not only BKV's storytelling abilities, but Skroce's meticulous art. Next, they look at the latest attempt to bring The Spirit back to reading audiences. With Will Eisner's The Spirit #1 (Dynamite Entertainment), Matt Wagner and Dan Schkade capture not only the spirit -- bad pun intended -- of the original, but also introduce Eisner's crime-fighting world in such a way that brand new readers can easily get on board, even without much knowledge of the original. The same can be said of Mark Waid and Fiona Staples's Archie #1 (Archie Comics). The creators' take on the comics icon appears both fresh and reverential, making this new series accessible, yet in a familiar way. Still, the guys wonder who exactly the audience might be -- or might end up being -- for these new spins on Archie Andrews and Denny Colt. Finally, Derek and Andy turn to a minicomic series from Tim Comrie, Leisure. This is an autobiographical, very personal, series with three issues so far. Comrie lays bare both his pleasures and his turmoils, and in a genuine manner that never comes across as calculated or discomforting. The guys also bring in a discussion of Comrie's other series (along with Mike Heneghan), Five Hour Comics, and compare its style and tone to Leisure. If you're not familiar with Tim Comrie's work, then now is the time to check it out!

Jul 17, 2015

Derek is back at his local shop, Collected Comics and Games in Plano, TX, for the monthly Comics Alternative on-location recording. This time he talks with folks about summer reading and the recent San Diego Comic-Con. Two of the customers there, Krystle and Craig, just got back from San Diego and share their experiences and the fun they had. They do a great job of describing the excitement, and the chaos, to be had at SDCC, complete with cosplaying, fireworks, brushes with greatness, and near-jail-cell adventures. Another participant on this episode, Mike, wasn't able to get to the con, so both he and Derek had to experience the events vicariously. But everyone at the table was able to share their reading lists for the summer. Both Craig and Mike -- and even an absent guest, Matthew, who shared his list before the recording -- will be reading new Secret Wars, Spider-man, and Inhumans titles in the coming weeks, but there are also a number of long and novel-like narratives that are on the table, as well, including Saga, Fables, Chew, and Invincible. As always, the conversation can be unpredictable during on-location recordings at the shop, going into strange and unexpected areas, G-rated, explicit, and otherwise.

Jul 15, 2015

On this episode of The Comics Alternative, Gene is back in the cohosting chair after a long absence. (He was last on the show for the interview with Joshua Hale Fialkov and Kody Chamberlain, but he hasn't been on a review show since October of last year.) This week, the Two Guys look at three new, yet very different, comics. They begin with Josh Simmons's Black River (Fantagraphics), a beautiful yet disturbing post-apocalyptic narrative. It follows a group of women trying to survive after some sort of catastrophic event -- we're never sure what -- the deadly travails that await them, and how the experience changes the group. Although the subject matter is violent and unsettling, Simmons's artwork is visually compelling. Next, the guys check out the first issue of 8House: Arclight, Brandon Graham and Marian Churchland's new series from Image Comics. Issue #1 reveals a detailed and fantastical world, complete with its own physics, as well as its own alphabet. Graham provides just enough story to satisfy, while at the same time teasing the narrative to come. But it's Churchland's art that captures Gene and Derek's attention, working seamlessly into the complex world-building apparent in this nascent series. Finally, Gene and Derek spend a lot of time discussing a small-press anthology series, Kilgore Quarterly (Kilgore Books and Comics). This is the 6th issue in the title, and as with the previous issues, this one contains a nice balance of known names, first-time-published cartoonists, and creators whose work you may not know, but you definitely should. Both Noah Van Sciver and Eleanor Davis have contributions in this issue, as do lesser-known artists such as Rich Sparks, Susan Choi, Matias San Juan, Sarah Leitten, and Amara Leipzig. But a full appreciation of Kilgore Quarterly #6 wouldn't be possible without delving into the work of all of its contributors -- and Derek and Gene do just that -- including Meg Golding, Alex Graham, Joe Leonard, Alex Nall, and Ryan the Truck. Of the three titles discussed on this week's show, Kilgore Quarterly is the one the guys spend the most time discussing...and for a reason.

Jul 13, 2015

The Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics are back with another fun conversation, this time with artist I. N. J. Culbard. They talk with him about his latest book, The King in Yellow (SelfMadeHero), a graphic adaptation of Robert W. Chambers’s macabre collection of stories originally published in 1895. To be more specific, Culbard actually takes the first four stories from Chambers’s original work, the ones that reference the notorious fictional play referenced in the title — “The Repairer of Reputations,” “The Mask,” “In the Court of the Dragon,” and “The Yellow Sign” — and adapts those. As Ian reveals, he attempts to stay true to the spirit of the original, while at the same time making creative changes that will more fully bring out the stories’ tone and present them in more of a thematic whole. In fact, Derek suggests that Ian has actually made The King in Yellow better by giving it more structural cohesion, using the four stories in such a way that the book becomes short-story cycle, or more appropriate to the medium, a graphic cycle. The guys spend a lot of time discussing the new book, the artist’s storytelling choices, and especially Culbard’s larger philosophy on adaptation and comics. However, they also explore a variety of Ian’s earlier works, including his ongoing adaptations of H. P. Lovecraft narratives (of which we can expect more in the near future), his many collaborations with both Ian Edgington and Dan Abnett, and his solo work from last year, Celeste. If you aren’t previously familiar with the work of I. N. J. Culbard, then this is your chance to get introduced to one of the best adapters, and best artists, working in comics today.

Jul 8, 2015

The Two Guys are back for yet another publisher spotlight, and this time they are looking at the 2015 releases from Retrofit Comics / Big Planet Comics. The episode begins with a brief interview with Box  Brown, the founder and editor of Retrofit Comics. He discusses the origins of Retrofit as a Kickstarter campaign, his education as a publisher, the ensuing partnership with Big Planet Comics, and the philosophy behind and publishing trajectory of their efforts. After that, the guys discuss the 2015 releases (so far) from Retrofit / Big Planet, beginning with Kate Leth's Ink for Beginners: A Comic Guide to Getting Tattooed. Andy points out that Leth's work is one of a growing number of informational or expository comics to be found out there, and that tattoo parlors around the country would do well to stock this small book. Next, the guys turn to Box Brown's An Entity Observes All Things, a collection of nine short stories, all with a sci-fi or futuristic themes of some sort. Some of their favorites include "Mundo Jelly," "Voyage of the Golden Retriever," "Memorexia," and the title story. Then they look at perhaps the most experimental, and the smallest, book of the lot, Niv Bavarsky's Piggy, a disparate series of stories and drawings in mini-comic form. The unconventional nature of Piggy is then contrasted to the more genre-based comics of the week, Laura Knetzger's Sea Urchin and Jack Teagle's The Unmentionables. The former is an autobiographical account of the author's inabilities concentrate and relate to others -- represented effectively by a sea urchin inside her brain -- as well as a speculation on her place in the world. The Unmentionables is a fun, action-packed story of a group of pro wrestlers who become crimefighters, and its origin-story feel promises more installments to come. Finally, the Two Guys turn to what may be the two most ambitious narratives of the week...or so Derek feels. Olivier Schrauwen's Mowgli's Mirror is a wordless, almost treasury-sized comic about a young man in a jungle -- no overt links to Kipling's stories -- searching for companionship and finding unexpected encounters. As the title suggests, there are parts of the narrative that are symmetrical in nature, but in this aspect the book doesn't hold a candle to the final book discussed in this publisher spotlight, Matt Madden's Drawn Onward. As we have come to expect from Madden -- see, for example, 99 Ways to Tell a Story and A Fine Mess -- this book is an experiment in form, where the second half of the narrative mirrors the first half...or vice versa. Depending on how you read it, it's a story of either connectedness or alienation. Either way, it's a self-reflexive tale where the narrator uses her art to make sense, and perhaps even transform the meaning, of experiences that unsettle her. In wrapping up the episode, Andy and Derek also talk briefly about some of the other books that Retrofit / Big Planet have been putting out over the last couple of years. (Box Brown and Jared Smith, the head honchos of the two respective presses, sent the guys a large package containing their back catalog.) Among the earlier titles they mention are James Kochalka's Fungus: The Unbearable Rot of Being, Sam Alden's Wicket Chicken Queen, Anne Emond's Debbie's Inferno, Josh Bayer's Theth, and issues #1 and #2 of Box Brown's Numbers. If you didn't know anything about Retrofit Comics / Big Planet Comics before, then there is no excuse not to be turned on to their stuff after this episode. Go get it!

Jul 1, 2015

It's the first of the month, so that must mean it's time for another look through the Previews catalog. In this episode, Andy and Derek flip through the July solicits, highlighting the various titles they're looking forward to and feel that are worth mentioning. But before they plunge into their recommendations, they give a few shout-outs. First, they share with listeners the various emails and messages they've received this past week, all kind and complimentary, with some even being from new fans the guys met at HeroesCon the other week. After that they give a big, proud Comics Alternative salute to one of their own: Gene Kannenberg, Jr. Over the past several months Gene has been creating, as he describes it, "one abstract-ish comic a day," and now that work has been released in Comics Machine #1. Derek and Andy briefly discuss this first issue of Comics Machine, congratulate Gene, recommend that everyone check out his work, and then thank him for sending them each a copy! Then, it's onto the nitty gritty of this week's show, a discussion of the July Previews catalog. In the course of this episode, the guys celebrate the recent Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges -- "Scalia and Alito: bite me!" -- Derek explains how he's fed up with the endless marketing shenanigans of the Big Two (especially Marvel), and Andy eats his own words about the length of the Previews podcast episodes while he was away. Yes, this is another long episode of The Comics Alternative, so sit back, listen up, and enjoy the ride as the Two Guys guide you through the wondrous world of comics solicitations!

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