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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: October, 2015
Oct 30, 2015

Shea and Derek return for another month's serving of warm, creamy manga. This one includes a heaping helping of other worldly phantoms and pedagogical cephalopods. In keeping with the spirit (literally) of the Halloween season, the guys begin with Nukuharu's Anomal (Gen Manga), a collection of seven short stores originally serialized in the Gen manga anthology. They enjoy the narratives well enough, but they're not entirely sure they understand the premises that Nukuharu establishes. At times there are noticeable gaps in exposition, as if the reader is coming into the middle of a story world with little context. Nonetheless, there are some stories that really stand out for the guys, such as "Kaeshi" and "Kaguya." While Anomal might not have been the strongest collection Derek and Shea have read, they conclude that it is worth checking out. Next, the Two Guys discuss the first six books in Yusei Matsui's Assassination Classroom series (the latest volume having just been released from VIZ Media). Whereas several of Nukuharu's stories were thin on premise, one cannot say the same of Matsui's efforts. Assassination Classroom centers on a mysterious other worldly being resembling an octopus, and who threatens to annihilate the earth, after having demonstrated his powers by destroying seventy percent of the moon. For some unknown reason, he asks to be the teacher of the underachieving students at Kunugigaoka Academy, a junior high prep school in Tokyo. All the while, and with the help of the Japanese Ministry of Defense, the students are trained and encouraged to assassinate their alien teacher, an all but impossible task given his varied and unlikely powers. The round-faced and multi-tentacled word-be destroyer adopts the name Koro Sensei -- a combination of "koro senai" (meaning "can't be killed") and "sensei" (teacher) -- and throughout the series he instructs his students on self-betterment, self-respect, and a sense of life purpose. As both Shea and Derek highlight, the series' strong suit is its ensemble cast, including conflicted classmates, unprincipled principals,  and teachers with dubious backgrounds, ranging from government agents to sexy professional assassins. Although Shea is a little uneasy with the series' subtle emphasis on militarization, both agree that Assassination Classroom excels at wringing compelling stories out of outrageous premises. This is a title that the guys will continue to follow.

Oct 28, 2015

It's the scary season, and as they've done for the past couple of years, Gene and Derek talk about some of this year's Halloween specials and seasonal horror titles. In this episode you'll hear the Two Guys with PhDs discuss:

Derek and Gene spend much of their time discussing their favorite book of the week, the latest volume of Haunted Horror. There are a lot of spooky and just plain weird titles in this collection -- case in point: "Ghost from Mars" -- and the guys could have easily spent the entire episode talking about Craig Yoe's latest effort. But they have a lot of ground to cover, so they move on from there to the other offerings. Titles such as Upside DownMonsterjunkiesAdventure Time 2015 Spoooktacular, and Spongebob Comics are perfect for those younger readers getting ready to go trick or treating...or, in the case of Spongebob, even for those older readers staying in and giving out the candy. The guys also discuss the pros and cons of seasonal titles that are part of an ongoing storyline -- for example, this Halloween's Adventure Time and Grimm Fairy Tales -- and the attraction of certain issues, such as The Goon: Theatre Bizarre and All Hallows' Eve, that easily stand on their own outside of any series continuity. And then there are seasonal titles such as Zombies vs. Cheerleaders and Gold Digger, for which Gene and Derek feel at a total lost. Still, the guys have a good time talking about this year's Halloween comics, even if they don't understand them all.

Oct 26, 2015

On this special episode of the podcast, Derek moderates a roundtable discussion on comics and religion. Joining him on the panel are Elizabeth Coody (teaching at the Iliff School of Theology), Jeff Brackett (Ball State University), and A. David Lewis (Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences), all of whom are comics scholars focusing on representations of religious belief and faith. They begin their discussion by sharing their backgrounds in comics and how they have found the medium a useful means to approaching religious studies. In addition to describing the specifics of their scholarship, the panelists also discuss the various strategies they've employed when using comics in the classroom, along with the challenges that come when using comics to teach issues of faith. The subjects that come up during the discussion range from superheroes and myths, manifestations of the afterlife, adaptations of religious texts, biographies of religious leaders, expressions of heaven and hell, the crossroads of faith and ethnicity, and parodic (even heretical) representations of religious figures, doctrines, and practices. At times on the panel the discussants clash or come at books from different angles -- for example, Jeff and David disagree on the usefulness of Craig Thompson's Habibi and Derek pushes back on the "religiousness" of such comics as MausA Contract with God, and Persepolis -- but the talk is always lively and insightful. Among the many texts they reference are Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, Mike Carey's Lucifer, Justin Green's Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary, Robert Crumb's The Book of Genesis Illustrated, Sean Murphy's Punk Rock Jesus, Mark Waid's Kingdom Come, Mark Millar's American Jesus, and Craig Thompson's Blankets. They even discuss comics as religious propaganda, such as what you'll find in the Spire comics published by Archie during the 1970s and the ever-present Chick tracts. The panelists covered a lot of ground, but there was so much more that was left unspoken...enough to warrant a future follow-up roundtable on the same topic.

Oct 23, 2015

On this episode of their interview series, Derek and Andy W. talk with Jonathan Case about his new graphic novel that was just released, The New Deal (Dark Horse Books). It's the Depression-era story of Frank and Theresa, a bellhop and maid working at the Waldorf Astoria who get caught up in a series of mysterious thefts. It's a kind of heist narrative with an old screwball comedy flair -- think of Cary Grant and Kathryn Hepburn -- and one that involves references to both Orson Welles and Ernest Hemingway. The Two Guys talk with Jonathan about his skills at characterization, both in the construction of his personae and his use of clean-line art to bring out each one's best defining qualities. They also discuss Case's background in the performing arts and how his sense of dialogue and timing manifests itself on the paneled page. Although most of the conversation centers on The New Deal, Andy and Derek also ask Jonathan about his work with Jeff Jenson on Green River Killer, a new edition of which will be coming out soon from Dark Horse. This was a completely different kind of project from Jonathan's fictional work, and the guys ask their guest about the challenges of representing one of the most notorious serial killings of modern times. Of particular interest was Case's working relationship with the Jenson family and the distance the artist needed to maintain while crafting the story's documentary tone. Along the way, they discuss Jonathan's work on other titles such as Dear Creature and Batman '66, his association with Periscope Studio, and the ways in which his family life impacts his art. The result is a highly informative, personal, and measured conversation about the many facets of comics storytelling...something the Two Guys with PhDs are always able to get out of their guests.

Oct 21, 2015

For this episode, Gwen and Derek team up for another Publisher Spotlight episode, this one on First Second Books and their fall releases. The titles they discuss include Paul Pope, JT Petty, David Rubin's Battling Boy: The Fall of the House of West; Balak, Michael Sanlaville, and Bastien Vives's Last Man: The Chase; Jean-David Morvan and Dominique Bertail's Omaha Beach on D-Day; Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes's Secret Coders; Maris Wicks's Human Body Theater; Ian Lendler and Zack Giallongo's The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents Romeo and Juliet; and Chris Duffy's edited collection, Fable Comics.

Oct 19, 2015

This month on the webcomics series, Sean and Derek review three titles that all keep in the spirit of Halloween: Kris Straub's Broodhollow, Pascalle Lepas's Wilde Life, and Mike Walton's False Positive.

Oct 16, 2015

For this interview show, Andy and Derek are very pleased to have as their guest Peter Kuper, whose latest work, Ruins, has just been released through SelfMadeHero. As the author points out, this is a very different kind of book from his usual material, one that has taken over three years to complete. Ruins is the story of a young married couple who travel to Oaxaca, Mexico, for the wife’s sabbatical. There the two of them, George and Samantha, bear witness to, and become involved in, some of the political unrest unfolding during their visit. More importantly, each one undergoes a unique journey that defines the trajectory of the life that follows. Paralleling Sam and George’s experiences is the flight of a monarch butterfly as she makes her way from Canada to Oaxaca, hovering over much of the social, political, and environmental turmoil that has come to define our times. As the guys point out, this is a very politically conscious narrative, as many of Peter’s comics are — see, for example, The System, his work on World War 3 Illustrated, and Diario de Oaxaca: A Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico, a text that visits many of the real-life contexts underlying Ruins — but his handling of the message(s) is woven seamlessly within the fiction, never heavy-handed, preachy, or didactic. Derek and Andy also use the opportunity to talk with Peter about teaching comics art, which he does at both the School of Visual Arts and Harvard University. They also get around to asking him about some of his other works, including the wordless comic, The System, his Kafka adaptationsStop Forgetting to Remember: The Autobiography of Walter Kurtzand, of course, Spy vs. Spy. The guys have been big fans of Peter’s work for a long time, and the publication of Ruins, perhaps one of their favorites books of the year, is the perfect opportunity to finally get him on the show.

Oct 15, 2015

On this episode of The Comics Alternative‘s “Young Readers” series, Gwen and Andy are back to take a look at two books about robots. (They didn’t plan it that way, really.) Both titles actually have more in common than just robots in that they each address issues of friendship, belonging, and how technology has changed our lives and the lives of our youth. Both books also contain strong young female protagonists whose friends aren’t always human. Gwen starts things off with a look at Veda: Assembly Required (Dark Horse), by Samuel Teer, Hyeondo Park, and Kelly Fitzpatrick. Gwen and Andy both thought the premise of a young girl raised by robots in a factory was interesting and perhaps not as dystopian as you might think. The use of icons as a communication device takes a bit of getting used to, but most readers will quickly adapt to them and will no doubt find they are an essential component of the story. For younger readers, Andy describes Ben Hatke’s new book, Little Robot (First Second), a project writer and illustrator Ben Hatke discussed briefly with the Two Guys in an interview from last year. In this new, largely wordless graphic novel, Hatke takes readers on a journey from the trailer park to a junkyard where a young girl discovers a set of tools and a new friend in the form of a little lost robot. But someone else is looking for this robot, someone whose intentions are not as friendly as our young protagonist. Gwen and Andy discuss not only Hatke’s wonderful artistic and storytelling abilities, but also the fact that he has chosen a young African American girl as his protagonist, something no one else in the comics world seems to be talking about. Hmmm…. In all, Gwen and Andy find it fascinating that both books — by different creators working in different styles — speak to some universal truths of friendship, social constructs, and finding your place in the world. And since we are just a few weeks away from Halloween, Gwen and Andy decided to hand out a few early treats (no tricks, we promise!) in the form of some spooky graphic novel suggestions for teens and younger readers.

Oct 14, 2015

On this special episode of the podcast, Andy and Derek take a look at a variety of Steve Ditko's self-published comics. Since 2008, Ditko, along with Robin Snyder, has been putting out original work on a fairly regular basis. These comics are created and distributed independently -- and for the past few years have been crowdfunded by Kickstarter campaigns -- and as such, they have fallen below the radar of most comics readers. Beginning with The Avenging Mind, Ditko has sporadically produced superhero stories, crime/noir narratives, psychological allegories, and comics that reflect his socio-political ideas and philosophies. Among the ongoing serials in these self-published comics, Derek and Andy discuss "Miss Eerie," "The Cape," "The ?!," "The Grey Negotiator," "The Madman," "Outline," and "E (e) and I (i)." There are several themes that rise to the surface of these stories, such as traditional heroics, the use of masks, and the tenants of Objectivism. And of course, there are the Mr. A strips that have come to define much of Ditko's later work. Of particular interest to the Two Guys are those comics that reflect Ditko's complicated attitudes toward, and perhaps relationship with, his fans. At first glance, the stories that revolve around Eye Inquire and The Anti-s (AKA, Fan Man and Fan Boy) may seem dismissive and even condescending, but Andy and Derek point out that there is a deep history underlying the tone of these comics and part of their allure are the industry-based questions they open up. Of special note: this is the 300th episode of The Comics Alternative that the guys have produced. Although, and as the title suggests, this may be the 157th weekly show -- those regular review episodes that come out every Wednesday -- it is part of the larger body of podcasting work that has included over three-year's-worth of interviews, on-location shows, specials, and monthly series devoted to webcomics, manga, and young adult/children's comics. Celebrate the occasion by telling others about the podcast!

Oct 12, 2015

On this episode of the interview series, Andy W. and Derek have as their guest Jessica Abel, whose latest book, Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio, was recently released by Broadway Books. In her conversation with the guys, Jessica discusses her history with narrative-based radio and how her earlier work, Radio: An Illustrated Guide (cowritten with Ira Glass), helped to open the door for her exploration of the medium. Out on the Wire is based on over three years of research and hours of interviews she conducted with the creators behind programs such as This American Life, Planet Money, Radiolab, The Moth, and Snap Judgment. The text culls the various storytelling strategies of these producers and dissects their effectiveness. This kind of expositional writing -- or "documentary comics," as Jessica calls it -- is something that the Two Guys rarely discuss, so they use this opportunity as a way into the genre. Along the way they also talk with Jessica about her podcast based on the new book, her work on Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars, her series editorship (along with her husband, Matt Madden) of the annual Best American Comics for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and her earlier books, including La Perdida, the instructional text Drawing Words and Writing Pictures (again, along with Madden), and the series Artbabe. For those interested in storytelling and the spoken word --  and not only for radio, but also as it applies to podcasting -- this interview with Jessica Abel is essential listening.

Oct 9, 2015

Andy and Derek are excited to have as their guest on The Comics Alternative the man behind making Nikola Tesla even cooler than he already is: Brian Clevinger. He and his collaborator, Scott Wegener, have recently joined forces with IDW Publishing to bring us more Atomic Robo. And that's definitely something to celebrate! The newest story arc, Atomic Robo and the Ring of Fire, began last month, and on top of that, IDW has published the first of what promises to be multiple omnibus editions. Atomic Robo: The Everything Explodes Collection includes the first three story arcs -- The Fighting' Scientist of Tesladyne, The Dogs of War, and The Shadow from Beyond Time -- packaged in a hefty, attractive volume. Brian talks with the guys about his and Scott's decision earlier this year to self-publish Atomic Robo on their website, and then the unlikely and out-of-the-blue opportunity to partner with IDW to bring the title back into the direct market. Along the way, they discuss Brian's penchant for science and history, the evolution and discovery of Atomic Robo's reader demographics, the abundant humor found in the title (especially with Doctor Dinosaur), the creators' process of collaboration, and the use of historic personages within the Tesladyne universe. (Derek lobbies hard to get Mark Twain into this narrative world, complete with time-traveling goodness.) This was an interview long in coming, because the guys devoted most of an episode to Atomic Robo way back in the early days of the podcast, and catching Brian's attention by doing so. Andy talked with him briefly at HeroesCon 2014, but this was the first time the Two Guys have talked with Brian in a sustained and thorough manner. And they had a lot of fun doing so. Check out the interview and see why Atomic Robo is one of the most consistently well-written comics being published today. Action Science!

Oct 7, 2015

Welcome to October! And to celebrate the occasion, Andy and Derek do what they do at the beginning of every month: look through the current Previews catalog! And for October, the selections are plentiful and exciting. The guys find a number of upcoming titles from the premier publishers, but there are also many coming out from smaller presses, some of which the guys discuss for the very first time. Among the many upcoming releases they discuss on this month’s Previews show are titles from Dark Horse, Vertigo, Image, IDW, Fantagraphics, Alternative Comics, Creature, Dover Publications, Comicmix, Locust Moon Press, Humanoids, BOOM! Studios, and Viz Media. Also on this episode: Derek encourages everyone to support Salgood Sam’s Patreon campaign, Andy discusses his current situation moisture, the guys express and enthusiastic “Thank you!” to Box and Jared at Big Planet/Retrofit Comics, and Andy shares his deep and abiding love for steampunk comics.

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