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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: November, 2015
Nov 30, 2015

Another month, another healthy dose of manga! For November, Shea and Derek make it a themed episode, one whose binding tie is an unlikely and infamous historical figure. To coincide with the 70th anniversary of the start of the Nuremberg Trials, the guys discuss two masters of manga and their takes on Adolf Hitler. They begin with Shigeru Mizuki's Hitler, released earlier this month from Drawn and Quarterly. Since 2011, the Canadian publisher has been introducing English-speakers to the incredible work of Mizuki, and this most recent translation is of a curious graphic biography originally published in 1971. Mizuki approaches Hitler's life as more of a character-study than as a historical determinant. Over the course of the book's first half, we see a very human, very pathetic -- and very troubled -- Adolf Hitler, a man whose failures far outweigh his triumphs. But both Shea and Derek note that as the text carries us into the 1940s, Mizuki's narrative is more rapid-fire and historically episodic, and the man that we're left with is the failed, unstable dictator most often depicted in popular media. Next, the Two Manga Guys turn to a more epic undertaking, Osamu Tezuka's A Message to Adolf (Vertical). Originally serialized in Shukan Bunshun magazine between 1983 and 1985, this is a work of fiction that heavily incorporates the historical figure. In fact, the entire narrative -- totaling over 1,200 pages in Vertical's most recent edition -- is driven by questions surrounding Hitler's possible Jewish heritage. The gist of the story, however, is devoted to the lives of two other Adolfs, both living in Kobe, Japan: one a German Jew growing up in the East, and the other a half-Japanese son of a Nazi Party official. The two become fast friends, only to have history, and fascist ideology, disrupt that relationship. Another character, a newspaper reporter named Sohei Toge, functions as the binding element of these various storylines, and both Derek and Shea highlight -- and marvel at -- the many moving parts that make up this narrative. This is a massive work that shows Tezuka at the peak of his artistry and storytelling abilities. There may be a lot of Hitler in this month's episode, but in the hands of both Mizuki and Tezuka, it's the kind of Hitler that the Two Guys can definitely stomach.

Nov 25, 2015

The guys are back with their third annual Thanksgiving show. This a special episode of The Comics Alternative where Andy, Derek, and other cohosts get together to discuss what they're thankful for in the world of comics and comics culture. This year both Andy W. and Gene are able to join in, so for this special holiday week you get a special episode with extra stuff: Four Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics! Among the various things Gene, Derek, Andy, and Andy are thankful for are

  • small-press publishers (like Kilgore, Uncivilized, Youth in Decline, AdHouse, Conundrum, Koyama, etc) who provide them with material for their podcasts,
  • Chris Marshall of Collected Comics Library, who provided us with 17 years of insightful comics analysis (and whose podcast the guys will miss),
  • Fantagraphics and their Complete Peanuts series,
  • the many great projects they're backing on Kickstarter,
  • the relatively new Librarians Assemble! podcast,
  • this year's comics-related museum exhibits,
  • special collections, such as the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum and the Comic Art Collection at Michigan State, as well as the librarians who manage them,
  • Dean MullaneyCraig YoeChris Staros, and the incredibly helpful folks at IDW Publishing -- Dirk, Rosalind, and Mike -- who go out of their way to keep the guys informed and supplied,
  • Chicago and the comics-related opportunities it provides,
  • creators like Joe OllmannTim Lane, and Seth, who have been very generous with their time this past year and participated in email interviews for the blog,
  • fun Marvel properties, such as Ryan North and Erica Henderson's The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and the new Jessica Jones series on Netflix,
  • Gwen, Shea, and Sean for helping on the various monthly podcast series,
  • and our Patreon supporters who have helped make 2015 a successful year!

Much like the yams with melted marshmallows served during Thanksgiving, this is an episode that you can pass around to friends and loved ones and taking a generous portion and then savoring the smooth, creamy goodness of every bite (byte?). There's plenty to go around. And if you're listening to this podcast in a non-US location, you can appreciate this episode knowing that Thanksgiving is more than just gratuitous Pilgrim references and obscene gluttony; it's also middle-aged guys with advanced degrees sitting around and talking about comic books.

Nov 24, 2015

Over the past three and a half years, the Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics have interviewed a variety of artists, writers, editors, publishers, educators, and scholars, but in all this time they have not yet interviewed someone from the retail side of comics culture. Until now. In this episode, Derek talks with Christina Merkler, the co-owner of Discount Comic Book Service, one of the largest online retailers of comics (and, in the spirit of full disclosure, an official sponsor of The Comics Alternative). They begin their conversation with a little background history, Christina describing what it was like when her husband, Cameron, came up with the idea for the business and decided to start with an all-online shop. What began as a small Internet-driven service out of their home in 1999 eventually turned into a brick-and-mortar store, multiple online storefronts, and the growing multi-state operation that it has become today. Christina describes how now, with the DCBS remaining in Fort Wayne, IN, and the InStock Trades warehouse being in Memphis, TN, the Merklers feel like they're all over the place and constantly on the go. But they've no plans to rest on their achievements, and instead, are at work on future growth plans. Derek also asks Christina about the competition they've had over the years, the ins and outs of pricing, their relationship with Diamond Comic Distributors, their attempts at getting into the digital comics business, the decisions that go into their monthly specials, and their strategies for good customer relations. In all, his conversation with Christina is a revealing look at the store-front business side of the medium and the many details of how, literally, the books by the creators the guys discuss every week get into the hands of the readers. 

After listening to this interview, be sure to head on over to Discount Comic Book Service and InStock Trades. And when you do, please send them an email and tell them that the Two Guys with PhDs sent you!

Nov 23, 2015

On this interview episode, Andy and Derek talk with Joe Keatinge and Nick Barber, the creators behind the new Image series, Ringside. The first issue will be released this week, and so the guys wanted to get the lowdown on what promises to be a fascinating and different title. Joe gets things rolling by laying down the premise of the first narrative arc, introducing us to Danny Knossos, the once-famous wrestler called Minotaur. In classic noir fashion, the protagonist in this first issue returns to the old haunts from his past to help out a friend in trouble, and in doing so inadvertently becomes embroiled in a darker world that he had thought he had put behind him. This is more than a mere wrestling story, Nick and Joe explain. It's a brooding, crime-infused drama that bumps up against the world of professional wrestling. What's more, the series will have an ensemble cast, giving us shifting focal characters and rotating perspectives so as to flesh out a larger and more haunting landscape. The creators also describe how they met one another and how the idea for Ringside came about. They discuss their working relationship, the division of creative labor, and the history behind pitching the story to Image. In fact, Derek and Andy really don't have to do much during this interview. They ask a few questions to get things started, and then Joe and Nick take it from there with their own stories, turning parts of the interview into a personal back-and-forth of a couple of guys catching up. And that's part of The Comics Alternative is all about, isn't it: bringing people together through comics?

Nov 20, 2015

Jennifer Hayden comes to The Comics Alternative to talk about her new book, The Story of My Tits, released last month by Top Shelf Productions...just in time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She discusses with Derek the context surrounding the memoir and, along with that, the story of becoming an artist and comics creator. As Andy and Derek pointed out a couple of weeks ago in their spotlight on Top ShelfThe Story of My Tits much more than a breast cancer survivor narrative. It's a chronicle of Hayden's relationship with her breasts, from childhood and into maturity, and what they meant to her sense of self. At the same time, it's a story of binding relationships and how cancer in many forms had effected her family. These various narrative threads come together to create a deeply personal account of life under the influences of disease, adversity, and self-image. Jennifer also discusses the eight-year journey of writing this memoir, and how along the way she discovered graphic novels, met fellow artists (such as Dean Haspiel), became a contributor to Act-I-Vate, and created a series of other comics such as Underwire and Rushes. In addition, she talks with Derek about her philosophy of storytelling, her style of creating comics (pen-to-paper, only), and the reaction The Story of My Tits has been receiving.

Be sure to check out Jennifer's website as well as her blog, Goddess Comix, where you can find the latest updates on what she's up to.

Nov 18, 2015

For the past several weeks the Two Guys with PhDs have been looking mostly at book-length works, trades, original graphic novels, and archival collections. This week, Andy W. and Derek thought that they'd catch up with their single-comic-book-issue reading by focusing on six recent #1 titles:

  • Paper Girls - Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang (Image Comics)
  • Monstress - Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda (Image Comics)
  • The Goddamned - Jason Aaron and R. M. Guéra (Image Comics)
  • Klaus - Grant  Morrison and Dan Mora (BOOM! Studios)
  • Snow Blind - Ollie Masters and Tyler Jenkins (BOOM! Studios)
  • James Bond - Warren Ellis and Jason Masters (Dynamite Entertainment)

The guys note that there's an embarrassment of riches to choose from, as there have been many recent first issues from some powerhouse creators, including Brian K. Vaughan, Jason Aaron, Grant Morrison, and Warren Ellis. For the most part, each of the titles from these writers is a home run, although Andy is not quite impressed with Klaus, feeling that it's a little too formulaic. The guys also note that The Goddamned isn't for those with Puritanical sensibilities, James Bond breaks free of the property's Hollywood shackles, and Paper Girls visits the 1980s in a fun and non-stereotypical way. (Plus, Derek is glad that there are no Goonies references anywhere to be found.) Snow Blind is a great first issue, as well, setting up what promises to be an intelligent four-issue crime/noir miniseries...although given the potential in this inaugural issue, this story seems that it could go on for more than four installments. And both Andy and Derek are bowled away by Liu and Takeda's Monstress. Not only is the storytelling sophisticated, intricate, and intelligently populated, but there is over sixty pages of story in this first issue. The guys are used to oversized #1 issues from Image -- in fact, they're getting spoiled by them -- but the amount of material in this comic goes above and beyond! Finally, the guys wrap up my commenting briefly on some of the other recent #1 issues that they could have included in this episode, such as Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott's Black Magick (Image Comics); Garth Ennis and Keith Burns's Johnny Red (Titan Comics); Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, and Patric Reynolds's Joe Golem: Occult Detective (Dark Horse Comics); and Sam Humphries and Tommy Patterson's Citizen Jack (Image Comics). Again, an embarrassment of riches.

Nov 16, 2015

While at the Small Press Expo in September, Derek had the pleasure of meeting Meags Fitzgerald, whose new book, Long Red Hair: A Graphic Memoir, had just been released from Conundrum Press. At the time he spoke with her briefly for the podcast, but now Meags returns for a more in-depth discussion. They begin with an overview of her new book and the significance of its title. Long Red Hair is an artist's story of growing up, finding your place, and defining yourself by the differences that you come to embrace. Highlighting important moments between 1992 and 2015, Meags traces the trajectory of a life in process. It is time when sleepovers, witchcraft, Dungeons and Dragons, gender questions, vegetarianism, and movies like Beetlejuice and Buffy the Vampire Slayer have deep meaning for  her. Behind it all is a supportive family that allows Meags the freedom to discover who she might want to be. And part of her identity is linked to photobooths, the subject of her previous book that came out last year. Meags also talks with Derek about her work on Photobooth: A Biography (Conundrum Press) and what this almost archaic process -- even art form -- has come to mean to her. In particular, they discuss the significance of this phenomenon, a source of selfies and "social networking" before the advent of the Internet, social networking sites, and the proliferation of smart phones. Along the way, Derek and Meags also discuss her work in graphic design and her passion for improv comedy and live storytelling.

Nov 13, 2015

Sean and Derek are back with their monthly pickings of webcomics goodness, and for November they have some great recommendations lined up. They begin by focusing on Peter Wartman's Stonebreaker, a fantasy adventure narrative with a strong potential for world-building. This is the sequel to the artist's earlier work, Over the Wall, which was also published in hardcopy by Uncivilized Books in 2013. The guys marvel at Wartman's handling of his narrative premise -- this webcomic is only in its second chapter -- and his abilities to subtly allude without confusing or distancing his readers. They're also blown away by his art, which is some of the best they've seen in recent webcomics. Next, the Two Guys move on to The Hues, Alex Heberling's post-apocalyptic tale of teenage adventure. Her protagonists are a diverse band of girls who discover that they each have a special power or magical ability. The complication, however, is that they make their discoveries right around the time that an alien force invades Earth. Sean likens this to a mashup of superpower stories and manga, while Derek can't help but think of the X-Men. Both The Hues and Stonebreaker are currently ongoing, each of which seems what it will be around for the long haul. An already-completed webcomic is the third in the guys' lineup. Silver Saaremaeel and Kaija Rudkiewicz's Run Freak Run is, as its website describes, a "gothic alternative history comic with dark subject matters and romantic undertones. It includes swearing, slight nudity, violence, and lots of sarcasm." That basically sums it up. When the guys aren't fumbling over the creators' names -- and a special apology goes out to Kaija Rudkiewicz, whose name takes the worse beating -- they are highlighting the evolution of this webcomic. What begins in its first chapters as an episode narrative turns into a more interconnected long-form work. And both Derek and Sean are particularly drawn to Rudkiewicz's art, which is perfect for its dark tone and reminds them somewhat of Mike Mignola's work. If you're not already doing so, be sure to check out this month's webcomics recommendations, and then report back here next month for another dose.

Nov 12, 2015

On this episode, Derek is happy to have as his guest Sophie Goldstein. Her latest book, House of Women, Part II, came out in September, and her other book from this year, The Oven, was just listed by Publisher Weekly as one of the five best comics of the year. Indeed, 2015 has been fruitful time for the young red-headed creator. Regular listeners of the podcast will know that this isn't the first time that Sophie has been on the show. She spoke with Derek twice before at two different events, while at HeroesCon back in June and more recently at the Small Press Expo. This time, however, there isn't the hubbub and distractions of the crowd, and the two have a more focused and leisurely conversation. Derek asks Sophie about all of the attention that her work has been getting -- in addition to the Publishers Weekly selection, she's won three Ignatz Awards over the past two years, and her story "The Good Wife" was included in Best American Comics 2013 -- and if this recognition has brought any new challenges. She shares how her work has evolved since graduating from the Center for Cartoon Studies in 2013 and the opportunities available for independent, free-lancing artists. But most of the conversation is devoted to Sophie's actual work, including The Oven (published by AdHouse), her recent contribution to Chris Duffy's Fable Comics (First Second), the webcomic Darwin Carmichael Is Going to Hell (coauthored with Jenn Jordan), and the first two volumes of her self-published longer narrative, House of Women. Indeed, Derek asks Sophie not only about the composition of the latter, but also about her hand-crafted books as art objects. They also discuss her contributions to a variety of anthologies and collections, including The Pitchfork ReviewMaple Key ComicsIreneSymboliaThe NibDog City, and Sleep of Reason.

Find out more about Sophie's work by visiting her website, Red Ink Radio!

Nov 11, 2015

Can it be true? Are the Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics actually doing yet another publisher spotlight? Are they gluttons for punishment? Are their eyeballs going to fall out from all of the reading? Maybe so, but if their orbs do drop out of their heads, they'll do so while gazing at some of the great books coming out of Top Shelf Productions. In this episode, you'll hear Andy and Derek talking about the publisher's summer and fall releases, including:

Before they get into the titles themselves, Derek shares a brief interview he conducted with Chris Staros, the publisher of Top Shelf. They talk about the origins of Top Shelf, the authors who have helped define their line, and their recent acquisition by IDW Publishing. Then, it's on to the books! The guys begin with a discussion of Eddie Campbell's Bacchus Omnibus, Vol. 1. This is the first of two behemoth books collecting all of Campbell's Bacchus stories, complete with the titular god of wine and revelry, Joe Theseus, Hermes, the Stygian Leech, and the guys' favorite, the Eyeball Kid. After that, Derek and Andy revisit a comic that they first discussed almost two years ago, Chris Sheridan's Motorcycle Samurai. Back in January of 2014, they looked at the first two issues of the digital series, but this time they focus on the first completed narrative arc. The guys point out some of the differences between the two versions, digital and hardcopy, while at the same time highlighting many of he strengths in Sheridan's storytelling. The next book they cover, Julian Hanshaw's Tim Ginger, turns out to be one of their favorite books of the year. Both Andy and Derek point out the ambitiousness of this narrative, both thematically and visually, especially given the book's compressed format. Indeed, Andy wonders if perhaps there was too much that Hanshaw was attempting to take on. Jennifer Hayden's The Story of My Tits is where they go after that. This is an autobiographic tale of the author's bout with breast cancer. But the book is much more than a personal cancer narrative. It is also Hayden's account of her important life relationships, both with her loved ones and with her breasts as they relate to self-image. Next, the Two Guys turn to a completely different kind of book, Troy Little's adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Like the original, this is a wild ride, and Little's composition brings out the surreal and even frightening quality of Thompson's narrative. The guys note that Little does what Ralph Steadman does in his illustrations for the 1972 book, without being derivative in any way, and that this is a more approachable version that Terry Gilliam's 1998 film. Finally, the guys wrap up with a book that is not yet out but will soon be, Ray Fawkes and Vince Locke's Junction True. This is a disturbing science fiction tale that doesn't seem that unrealistic at all. In fact, its thematic focus on body enhancement and media exhibitionism is not too far from the culture in which we currently reside. One could even read Junction True metaphorically as a cautionary tale...or one of contemporary gothic horror.

Nov 9, 2015

Gwen and Andy are back this month to discuss two new graphic novels for young readers. First up, they discuss Monster  (Amistad/Harper Collins), a book for teens by Walter Dean Myers, adapted by Guy A. Sims and with art by Dawud Anyabwile. Based on the multi-award-winning young adult novel by Myers, the graphic novel version of Monster chronicles the tension-filled trial of Steve Harmon, a African American teen being tried as an accessory to the murder of a convenience store clerk. Gwen and Andy both agree that Anyabwile’s stunning black-and-white art delivers a powerfully effective treatment of this famous novel and in some ways enhances an already stunning look at how society looks at race and identity. Next, the two people with PhDs look at a book for younger readers, Barry Deutsch's Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish (Amulet/Abrams). If the title sounds familiar, that's because How Mirka Caught a Fish is actually the third book in the Hereville series, following How Mirka Got Her Sword and How Mirka Met a Meteorite. But no worries! Gwen and Andy give you just enough info about the first two books to bring you up to speed without giving away any major spoilers. Mirka is an 11-year-old orthodox Jewish girl who has adventures fighting trolls, encountering meteors, and even time-traveling, and as much as Gwen and Andy like the first two volumes, they think this third may be the best of the bunch. And while Monster and the Hereville books may appear to be vastly different, Gwen and Andy find that they share some interesting similarities.

As an added bonus, Gwen and Andy also discuss four additional current titles that listeners will want to check out. (But you’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out what those books are!)

Nov 4, 2015

It's the first week of November, and that means it must be time for Andy and Derek to go through the month's Previews catalog. As you may expect, there's a lot packed into the issue, and after a few words on Halloween and listener mail, they get right to the solicitations. Among the many upcoming releases they discuss on this month's Previews show are titles from

Also in this episode: the Two Guys discover that they're international sensations, Andy hobnobs with Roy Thomas, Derek is confused by Classics Illustrated, both reveal that they are Gunshow ignorant, dedicated listener Rainer Koschnick reminds the guys of PS Artbooks, and 1970s references abound. What's not to love?

Nov 2, 2015

Over Halloween weekend, Derek was at the Wizard World Comic Con event in Austin, TX. There, he had the good fortune to talk with several creators, publishers, and a couple of fellow podcasters in attendance. In this episode you'll hear brief interviews with:

Despite the heavy rains and flooding, the Wizard World con was well attended. It being Halloween weekend, one couldn't really tell whether the cosplaying left off and All Hallows' Eve began. Major creators as well as local artists attended the event, and Derek took the opportunity to talk with those whose work reflected the independent and small-press nature of the podcast.

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