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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: August, 2015
Aug 31, 2015

On this month's manga episode, Shea and Derek discuss two distinctly different titles. They begin with Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga (DC Comics). The second in this planned three-volume series, collecting all of Kuwata's Batman work, just came out last month, and the Two Guys look at both volumes one and two. These Batmanga stories were originally serialized in Japan between 1966 and 1967, at the height of the Adam West Batman craze, and both Derek and Shea comment on how much Kuwata's stories were informed by that TV series, as well as by the "New Look" of earlier in the decade. At the same time, this manga never comes across as intentionally campy or self-conscious of itself as a pop-cultural product. In fact, one of the guys' first topics of conversation is how much Kuwata's Batman takes from its American version and how much is unique and original to the manga. Surprisingly, there are relatively few American imports into the Batmanga stories -- Jim Gordon is prominent throughout, and both Alfred Pennyworth and Vicki Vale make brief appearances -- and the villains in Kuwata's stories are either street-level thugs or unique to the manga. Indeed, Derek comments on the weirdness of many of Batman's nemeses in these stories -- at least, more weirdly off-beat than those in the American version --  including Lord Death Man, the Human Ball, Professor Gorilla, the Hangman, and, one of his favorites, Go-Go the Magician. (Clayface is the focus of a chapter in the second volume, but it's a different Clayface from the American version.) These are definitely stories of their time, and the guys point out that Kuwata's Batmanga is perhaps best read as a rich cultural artifact. To fully appreciate Batman, you should understand the property's many historical contexts and manifestations. Next, the guys look at the the first volume in Dark Horse Comics' new Oh My Goddess! Omnibus series. Neither Shea nor Derek knew exactly what to expect with Kosuke Fujishima legendary title, except for the fact that it was a widely popular manga series. Derek expected something along the line of josei, and Shea thought that the title might be defined by several of the stereotypes many readers may have regarding manga. But both were pleasantly surprised, especially Derek, who appreciated the episodic, TV-sitcom-like nature of this seinen manga. In fact, as the guys point out, you can gain about everything you need to now about the series' premise in the book's first chapter, "The Number You Have Dailed Is Incorrect." From there, the remaining 22 chapters of this first omnibus follow suit, occasionally introducing new characters and situations that build upon the foundation laid down in the first. Shea is less impressed by Fujishima's meandering storylines, but Derek enjoys the casual, even charming, manner in which we get to know Keiichi, Belldandy, and the rest of the Oh My Goddess! cast. The reader's comfort and enjoyment levels develop as the series unfolds, and, as Shea points out, taking in a chapter of Oh My Goddess! is like eating a favorite food or returning to a reliable friend. However, for some (such as Shea) this is a title that might be best experienced on a regular serialized basis, and not consumed all at once in omnibus form. Regardless, both of the guys are glad that they've discovered Fujishima's recently completed series -- the final chapter was published in April 2014 -- and they'll probably return for the next omnibus volume that comes out late this year.

Aug 26, 2015

This week the Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics look at three recent titles, each one an example of genre mash-up. They begin with a new book that isn't really so new. Philippe Druillet's The 6 Voyages of Lone Sloane (Titan Comics) is actually a reprint of a series of stories originally published in the Franco-Belgian comics magazine Pilote between 1970 and 1971, and then later made available to English speakers through both Dark Horse Comics and NBM. Each short narrative centers on the titular character, a space wanderer/adventurer who encounters a variety of pirates, robotic threats, despotic rulers, and space gods along his multi-dimensional journeys. Druillet's style is colorful, lush, and baroque, demonstrating much of the cultural psychedelia of the time, and the artwork is nicely showcased through the bandes dessinées format in which Titan Comics chose to publish this edition. Derek and Gene discuss in some detail Druillet's non-traditional panel layout and how he utilizes the mise-en-page to both generate meaning in unique ways and demonstrate a playfulness engaging reader expectations. This is the first in a series of Lone Sl0ane narratives that Titan will reproduce, the next two featuring his adventures originally published in 1972's Delirius. After these fantasy-inspired space quests, the guys turn their attention to something more earth-bound, although not necessarily of this world. Ales Kot and Matt Taylor's Wolf (Image Comics) is a curious blend of supernatural and noir conventions featuring werewolves, vampires, ghosts, demons, Cthulu, and possibly the Antichrist. The second issue was just released, so Gene and Derek are able to discuss this new series with quite a number of pages under their belts. Ironically, though, the guys aren't entirely sure what's going on in this title, despite the almost-60-pages first issue and the regularly sized second. Kot and Taylor have laid out their narrative groundwork, for the most part, but there just isn't much that happens in these first two issues. Despite the intriguing premise and the promise of socio-cultural pertinence, this may be a title that reads better in trade...or so Gene and Derek wonder. An inaugural issue with much more action can be found in Bradford Winters, Larry Cohen, and Daniel Irizarri's Americatown #1 (BOOM! Studios/Archaia). What drew the guys to this new series is its premise, a futuristic or alternative world where U.S. citizens become illegal immigrant workers in other countries, sending back their earnings to provide for their families while they evade the surveillance and deportation. Given recent political news -- thanks largely to that paragon of civil discourse, Donald Trump -- Americatown is a timely speculation on national boundaries and economic survival. Gene especially appreciates Irizarri's art, and it is for this reason, as well, that both he and Derek are likely to return regularly to this eight-issue limited series and not wait for it to be collected.

Aug 24, 2015

On this episode of the interview show, Derek talks with Jeremy Baum about his latest book, Dörfler (Fantagraphics), a dream-like narrative that combines elements of fantasy, science fiction, psychedelia, pin-up art, and video-game tropes. Structured around multiple (primarily) female characters who appear to inhabit different dimensional realms, Baum’s story is both futuristic as well as surreal. His highly detailed art, composed primarily of grays and blue tones, reveals a dystopic landscape that juxtaposes urban modernity with pastoral themes, resulting in a discursive narrative where both time and space are fluid. Jeremy talks with Derek about the psychological nature of his art and how the philosophies of such writers and artists as Carl Jung, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Robert Crumb inform his aesthetics. This is born out most notably in the visual leitmotifs that not only crop up throughout Dörfler, but also largely define Jeremy other works. In fact, the two go on to discuss much of Jeremy’s previous comics, including Heathen (a collection of his earlier graphic art and shorter sequential pieces) and his first long-form narrative, Postland. Derek also asks about Jeremy’s role as an editor and self-publisher, overseeing his own releases as well as the ambitious anthology, Memory, an internationally flavored collection with over 50 contributors. If you’re not already familiar with the unique art of Jeremy Baum, then this interview should serve as an informative introduction.

Aug 21, 2015

The Two Guys are back with another special episode of The Comics Alternative, and, just in time for the new school year, this time they hold a roundtable discussion on teaching comics. Joining them in the discussion are Randy Duncan and Matthew J. Smith. They, along with Paul Levitz, are the coauthors of The Power of Comics: History, Form, and Culture (Bloomsbury Academic), the first real textbook devoted to comics that was just recently released in its second edition. In fact, Derek begins the conversation by asking Matt and Randy about their experiences pulling together the project, some of the challenges they faced creating a comics-centered textbook, and what kind of feedback they have received from instructors using it. But the conversation soon transitions into a larger discussion of comics in the classrooms, e.g., strategies for teaching, the hard choices when creating syllabi, negotiating student expectations, reading lists and text availability, assignment choices that reflect the medium, and course focus on specific comics topics. All four of the discussants have taught comics many times over the year, and each brings to the conversation their unique experiences and recommendations. Whether you are an educator with years of teaching graphic novels under your belt, an instructor contemplating teaching comics for the first time, a student who's always wanted to read this kind of material in the classroom, a pedagogical theorist curious about the potential of the medium, or just a reader who's interested in serious comics talk, this is an episode has something for you.

Aug 19, 2015

This is a bittersweet episode of The Comics Alternative, because Andy and Derek are both highlighting and saying goodbye to a title that has been one of their favorites these past thirteen years, Bill Willingham's Fables (Vertigo). The series finale was just recently released -- issue #150, which also doubles at volume 22 of the trade paperbacks -- and the guys go into detail about the wrap-up of the main storyline, the final confrontation between Snow White and Rose Red that has been building over the past several narrative arcs. They also discuss the collection of "Last" stories that round out this volume, short pieces illustrated by a variety of artists that give us a final (?) glimpse at some of Fables most important characters. In fact, this episode of the podcast is very spoiler-heavy, in that Derek and Andy couldn't figure out how to do justice to the series without giving away a few important concluding plot elements. (So if you haven't yet read this last installment of Fables, then perhaps you should do so before listening to this week's show. Go ahead. The guys don't  mind. They'll still be here waiting for you.) But this episode is also a retrospective on the entire run of Fables, its many twists and turns, as well as the many spin-offs it engendered. As such, the Two Guys also touch upon Jack of Fables, the Cinderella miniseries, The Literals, Fairest, the current series Fables: The Wolf among Us, and the standalone volumes 1001 Nights of Snowfall and Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland. (Unfortunately, they don't get around to discussing the prose novel, Peter and Max. There's only just so much time in a podcast episode.) It's obvious that both Andy and Derek appreciate Fables and see it as one of the most important titles of the past decade, but being the discerning scholars that they are, the guys don't shy away from critiquing the long-running series and pointing out some of the narrative elements they found "thin" or potentially problematic. But to paraphrase a common adage, we criticize those we love the most, and the guys make it clear what kind of respect,  admiration, and outright affection they have for Fables. This episode is fond, heartfelt farewell to the team of Willingham (writer), Mark Buckingham (penciller), Steve Leialoha (inker), Todd Klein (letterer), James Jean and João Ruas (cover artists), Shelly Bond (editor), and an unparalleled community of collaborators.

Aug 12, 2015

On this episode of The Comics Alternative, Gene and Derek turn a critical spotlight on the upcoming releases from the small press, Hang Dai Editions. The guys begin with a brief conversation with Dean Haspiel and Gregory Benton, two of the founders of the Hang Dai Studio, a collective that they founded along with Josh Neufeld and the late Seth Kushner. In this interview, they describe the origins of their publishing line and share many of their experiences in getting it off the ground. Hang Dai Editions began as their studio imprint back in 2013, and up until recently the creators had limited their publications to smaller, personal projects available mainly through conventions and local events. But as announced earlier this year, Hang Dai became part of Marc Arsenault's Alternative Comics publishing co-op, and with wider distribution, the Hang Dai folks wanted to up their game with longer and more ambitious projects. The first three releases since becoming part of the co-op, all being releases on September 15, are what Derek and Gene discuss for the remainder of the show. They begin with Haspiel's Beef with Tomato, a collection of autobiographic shorts that reads as a sequel or follow-up to his 2001 comic, Opposable Thumbs. As with the earlier work, the stories in this new Hang Dai book are woven together by particular themes or gain cohesion through a shared tone. In the case of Beef with Tomato, that commonality is largely the risks and the unexpected occurrences of close urban living. The book also includes a variety of short prose pieces and previously published comics that, while similar in subject matter and tone to the first (and newer) twelve stories, stand apart in style yet provide a nice coda to the collection as a whole. Next, the Two Guys turn their attention to Gregory Benton's Smoke. Much like last year's B+F, this is a large-format wordless comic featuring Xolo, a large skull-faced dog based on Xolotl, the Aztec god associated with fire, sickness, and death. The story follows two brothers as they work on an industrial tobacco farm, and the hazardous conditions they work under spawn a surreal journey into another dimension, something dreamlike while at the same time darkly foreboding. Benton's vibrant, beautiful art is front and center in this work, and Gene and Derek point out his strategic handling of art styles when straddling the book's different narrative worlds. Finally, the guys look at Seth Kushner's Schmuck, a collection of twenty-two autobiographic stories, all written by Kushner but each illustrated by a different artist. Derek and Gene recognize many of those whose art is featured in the book -- e.g., Haspiel and Benton, but also Noah Van Sciver, Nick Bertozzi, and Josh Neufeld -- but there are several illustrators who are new to the guys. All of this gives Schmuck a feeling of both fragmentation and cohesiveness. Each artist provides a unique visual lens through which to interpret the book's protagonist, Adam Kessler, the fictional persona of Kushner. Yet at the same time, all of the stories unfold along one trajectory: Adam's attempts to find a meaningful relationship with a woman. Seth Kushner passed away earlier this year, but Schmuck was a life labor, ambitious in scope, that becomes fully realized next month. It, along with Smoke and Beef with Tomato, marks a new beginning for Hang Dai Editions, and one that Gene and Derek are excited to discuss.

Aug 10, 2015

This August episode of the webcomics series begins with an introduction to Sean Kleefeld, the new cohost of the show. With Andy W. deciding to step down from his duties -- he'll be doing other exciting things with The Comics Alternative in the weeks to come! -- Derek has asked Sean to step in and join him for the guys'  monthly look at webcomics. So listeners of the series can now benefit from Sean's discerning critical eye and deep expertise in the medium. In fact, all of the titles that they are discussing this month stem from Sean's recommendations. They begin with Steve Hamaker's Plox, a currently ongoing series centered on the relationships among three online gamers. While the premise may appear at first glance to be hackneyed, a satiric look at gaming geeks and fanboys/girls, this narrative is anything but. In fact, Hamaker's focus is more on the dynamics of identity formation and interpersonal relations than it is on pop culture stereotypes. One of the themes woven throughout the series (so far) is the discrepancy between our public persona and the ways we define ourselves from within, and how that tension reveals a search for authenticity. Next Sean and Derek look at Bird Boy, a fantasy/adventure series from Anne Szabla. This is the coming-of-age story of Bali, a young and diminutive would-be hunter whose inadvertent heroism -- and the accidental discovery of a legendary sword -- plunges him headlong into his tribe's creation myth. The guys comment not only on Szabla's beautifully detailed art, but also on her keen sense of pacing, how she sequences her panels to give depth to the action. Beginning in October 2010, this webcomic that is currently into its second volume. Finally, the guys look at an already completed work, Brendan Albetsky's The Mouth. This is a short work that can be found on Hell to Breakfast, the home to the Albetsky's online art as well as his podcast, The Hell to Breakfast Show. On the surface The Mouth is the story of three siblings who venture into the forest for an unlikely, and gothic-inspired, revelation. However, densely packed within this brief webcomic is a meditative, philosophical exploration -- Sean calls it zen-like -- exploring the very process and purpose of life. All three of this month's webcomics are worth checking out, and the guys' detailed discussion of them is just the right springboard for what promises to be a new and fruitful cohosting relationship.

Aug 7, 2015

Occasionally The Comics Alternative will feature a special episode devoted to a specific comics-related topic, and on this show, the Two Guys focus on issues surrounding libraries and comics. This subject matter is particularly appropriate, given the fact that Andy Wolverton is a public librarian working extensively with comics and graphic novels in Anne Arundel County, MD. So the guys decided to invite other librarian-educators on the podcast for a lively roundtable discussion on the topic. Joining them are Carol Tilley, an associate professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Robert Weiner, a humanities librarian at Texas Tech University. On this special episode they discuss a variety of issues surrounding comics and libraries, including labeling and categorization -- e.g., Is the term "graphic novel" more advantageous for cataloging? -- the challenge of hybridized texts, community outreach and comics, the interaction between the classrooms and libraries, explicit content and censorship, the issue of canon formation, librarians as comics curators, mainstream versus "alternative" comics acquisitions, and the role of librarians as comics educators. And this is just the tip of the discussion iceberg. As the discussants demonstrate, this is indeed a rich topic, and there are so many other facets that they didn't have the time to touch upon. But what they do cover is truly thought-provoking, presenting ideas and posing questions that could easily lead to another such roundtable.

Aug 6, 2015

The Two Guys are pleased to have as their guests on the show the creators behind the new series coming out from Image Comics, The Beauty, Jeremy Haun and Jason Hurley. The first issue will be released next Tuesday, August 12th, and in anticipation for this event, Andy and Derek wanted to have the two on the show to talk about their unique narrative. The story is premised on a sexually transmitted disease that, once contracted, makes people appear more physically attractive. They turn more svelte, their skin becomes clearer, their features appear more angular, they assume an alluring glow, and, overall, they take on a look that more closely represents our society’s notions of beauty. In fact, Jason and Jeremy share some of the sociological, psychological, and philosophical underpinnings of their narrative and tease how those themes might play out as the series unfolds. Yet, while there are some heavy issues undergirding their story, The Beauty is also a fun mystery. Detectives Foster and Vaughn, two officers assigned to “anti-beauty” terrorist activity, must learn if there is any connection between a mysterious disease-related death and any politically motivated agendas. In addition to discussing the series’ storyline, the guys also ask Jeremy and Jason about The Beauty‘s curious publicity campaigns. Indeed, Andy begins the interview by asking the creators about the condom and STD pamphlet Jeremy was giving out at HeroesCon back in June. There is also the #BeautyFree meme drive they’re helping to generate…and that The Comics Alternative is gladly participating in. All in all, the Two Guys have a wonderful time talking with Jeremy and Jason, learning many of the behind-the-scenes angles of this beautifully drawn and beautifully written new series. Be sure to check out The Beauty #1 on its release next Wednesday!

Aug 5, 2015

This week Andy and Derek look through the August Previews catalog. As they do at the beginning of every month, they go through the most recent solicits for upcoming titles and share their "wish lists," highlighting comics that they plan to read, that are potentially significant, and that are notable enough to earn a few moments of the guys' attention. This is also the three-year anniversary of The Comics Alternative, and the Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics celebrate by putting on party hats and reading some of the appreciative listener mail they've been receiving. And then after sharing the love, they get into the nitty-gritty of this week's show: combing through the Previews catalog. As listeners will discover, this is yet another long Previews episode, with the guys covering a lot of territory in over two hours of discussion. (This is what happens when the offerings for in the catalog are plentiful and engaging.) But they think that the time is well spent, and in this episode you're sure to be introduced to a variety of exciting upcoming titles.

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