It's time for another round of insightful reviews, and this week Gwen and Derek have just what the doctored ordered. In fact, the first two books they discuss are part of Penn State University Press' Graphic Medicine series. Peter Dunlap-Shohl's My Degeneration: A Journey through Parkinson’s is the author's account of living with Parkinson's disease. It's not exactly a memoir, although it does explore the impact that the disease has had on Dunlap-Shohl's life over the past decade. My Degeneration is more of an instructional text, or perhaps a survival guide, on how to navigate the debilitating straits of his condition. As Gwen and Derek reveal, the book is an informative, no-nonsense look at Parkinson's, and while it posses a hopeful and even upbeat tone, it is anything but a Pollyanna narrative. The second book from the Graphic Medicine series is Aliceheimer’s: Alzheimer’s through the Looking Glass, Dana Walrath's account of confronting her mother's Alzheimer's disease (and which will be released in April). The author uses Lewis Carroll's classic children's tale as a metaphor for her mother's condition, as well as her own grappling with the dilemma. Although technically not a comic, Aliceheimer's could be considered a "graphic narrative" in that Walrath juxtaposes collage-style illustrations with textual accounts of her mother's experiences. Both Graphic Medicine books are deeply personal and moving texts that can speak directly to patients, caregivers, and medical professionals. Next, Derek and Gwen take a look at the first issue of Ted McKeever's new miniseries, Pencil Head (Image Comics). What makes this title so striking and so different from his previous works (such as Miniature Jesus and Superannuated Man) is that it's about the comics industry and, according to the publisher, a semi-autobiographical account of the strange things that occur in the life of a creator. Indeed, McKeever's shark, and at times surreal, black-and-white art is the perfect vehicle to reveal the weirdness underlying the profession. Finally, Gwen and Derek wrap up the show by looking at the latest adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's classic gothic tale, Enrica Jang and Jason Strutz's The Cask of Amontillado (Action Lab Studios). Derek is an aficionado of Poe adaptations, and the two begin their discussion by highlighting both the adherences to and the deviations from the original narrative. Jang doesn't really retain the short story's complicating narrative frame -- Montresor's confessional (and ambiguous) account provided years after the event -- but this one-shot does set up her and Strutz's upcoming limited series, The House of Montresor. This will be their sequel to the classic, a look into the consequences of Montresor's calculated murder and what it means to both his and Fortunato's families.
On this episode in the interview series, Gwen and Derek are pleased to have as their guest Theo Ellsworth. Back in the fall he completed his trilogy, The Understanding Monster (Secret Acres), and he talks with the cohosts about that series as well as his process of creation. Similar to the work in Theo's earlier mini-comic, Capacity, this narrative is a journey into the artist's subconscious, where the dreamlike and (at times) non-linear nature of his storytelling becomes an exercise in discovery and imaginative excavation. Gwen and Derek also talk with Theo about his highly detailed art style and marvel at its intricacies. It's difficult to think of a contemporary creator whose work is as elaborate, as meticulously textured, and as richly colored as Ellsworth's. As Derek points out, engaging with The Understanding Monster is an immersive experience, where the reader is swept into Theo's visual terrain and must navigate the storyworld according to its own rules. They also discuss his solo show (in February) at Giant Robot in Los Angeles, as well as his work on other upcoming projects, such as a children's book, a possibility that really excites Gwen. All in all, this is a fun and revealing conversation with an artist whose work, if you don't already known it, should definitely be on your radar.
Gwen and Andy are back in 2016 with three new graphic novels for young readers. The two people with PhDs first discuss Feathers, by Jorge Corona with Jen Hickman (Archaia/BOOM! Studios), a title about a strange boy with feathers named Poe who watches over the Maze, a large city consisting of the poor and disenfranchised, and whose children are actually called Mice. In the center of the city, enclosed within a great wall, live the wealthy and cultured, including a young girl named Bianca, who longs for adventure and discovery within the Maze. But there’s a mysterious evil presence at work in the Maze, something that neither Poe nor Bianca knows about. Corona himself has said, “If you think about it, Feathers is like Spider-Man in a Dickensian world.” Gwen and Andy both commented that Feathers is an engaging story with a European feel.
Next, Gwen and Andy discuss The Only Child (Penguin Random House), the first graphic novel by Guojing, an illustrator who studied fine art at the Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts in China. Gwen set up the story by reading from Guojing’s author’s note that explains the inspiration for her text: “The story in this book is fantasy, but reflects the very real feelings of isolation and loneliness I experienced growing up in the 1980s under the one-child policy in China.” Guojing goes on to say that though she often stayed with her grandmother when her parents had to work late, she was also often alone, as were almost all of the children she knew. Guojing recounts an experience she had that inspired some of the action of The Only Child. She writes,
Once, when I was six years old, my father put me on a bus to grandmother’s house before he left for work. I fell asleep, and when I woke, the bus was almost empty. I panicked and ran off. There was no one to help me, so I started walking. I cried as I walked, following the electric lines of the bus. Luckily, I found my way back to a road that looked familiar and eventually reached my grandmother’s house three hours later. As I’ve grown, I’ve realized that it is easy to become lost, but if I look hard enough, there is always a path -- like the electric bus lines -- guiding the way back home.
The Only Child is a silent, or wordless, comic, drawn in hues of gray, black, and white, with panels that are foregrounded against a light brown background. Both Gwen and Andy note that the text is reminiscent of Shaun Tan’s extremely popular and influential comic, The Arrival. However, whereas Tan’s text was primarily focalized through an immigrant adult and the other adult immigrants whom he meets, The Only Child focuses on a young child, a girl who appears to be five or six years old. The opening pages demonstrate that while the girl has many toys and an active imagination, she quickly tires of doing things on her own.
Gwen explains how The Only Child includes a classic plot structure in children’s literature: the home-away-home pattern, in which a young child feels discontented, leaves home in order to pursue adventure, but quickly realizes that she is homesick and attempts to get back. The film version of The Wizard of Oz is one such text that our listeners may know well, but many others will undoubtedly come to mind. This plot structure is meant to instruct children that they need to create a balance between independence and dependence, something that Guojing emphasizes in her text.
Andy and Gwen cannot say enough about the beauty, artistry, and depth of Guojing’s debut graphic novel The Only Child. This text is geared towards young readers, but would be a fine addition to anyone’s comics collection.
The final book discussed is a fun, carefree ride called Teen Dog by Australian creator Jake Lawrence (BOOM! Box). Teen Dog -- a book about a super-cool dog who loves life and pizza -- remind Gwen of several John Hughes films from the 1980s and for Andy brought to mind a kinder, gentler Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Both feel that Teen Dog is a great read for reluctant readers with its early short chapters and engaging, colorful illustrations.
To end the show, Gwen and Andy discuss the exciting news that comics creator Gene Luen Yang has been awarded one of the highest honors in the literary world when he was named National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for 2016. This honor is given out annually by the Children’s Book Council, the Every Child a Reader (ECAR) initiative, and the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. Yang has chosen “Reading Without Walls” as the theme for this year, and in his acceptance speech, he asked young readers to read outside their comfort zones, noting
Books can be ambassadors for you, too. Books can help you understand people from other cultures, religions, and ways of living. Books can help you understand topics that you find intimating. Find a book with someone on the cover who doesn’t look like you or live like you. Find a book about a topic that you don’t know much about. Find a book that’s in a format you’ve never tried before: a graphic novel, a words-only novel, or a novel in verse. Read without walls and see what happens.
Andy, Gwen, and everyone at The Comics Alternative extends their congratulations to Gene Luen Yang. To learn more about his comics, including American Born Chinese, The Shadow Hero, Boxers & Saints, Secret Coders (with Mike Holmes), and to read his acceptance speech in its entirety, visit his website.
It's been six months since he last did so, but Derek is back at his local shop, Collected Comics and Games, for another on-location episode. As usual, he talks with several of the shop customers and employees about the kinds of comics that they've been reading. And since it's the first month of the year, everyone used the opportunity to discuss the titles that stood out for them in 2015 as well as the comics that they're looking forward to in the coming months. For this recording Derek is joined by on-location episode regulars, Craig, Matt, and Chris, as well as store associate Stephanie and the shop's new manager, Sabrina. (Sabrina has been at Collected in Plano for a long time, but she's just recently become its manager.) So after getting reacquainted with the preliminaries, everyone jumps into a recap of the most notable comics from last year. It's no surprise that, for many, Marvel's Secret Wars and its many ancillary tales received the lion's share of commentary (along with the publisher's seemingly endless, and irritating, instances of renumbering and revoluming). But there were other outstanding 2015 titles for the crew, including Toil and Trouble, Invader Zim, Plutona, the new Archie, BKV's We Stand on Guard and Paper Girls, and the webcomic Ava's Demon. Derek then turns the discussion into a more forward-looking one, asking everyone what comics and events they are anticipating in the coming year. Many said that the new iteration of Marvel's Civil War is something that they're eagerly awaiting, but folks also mentioned Brian Wood's upcoming Black Road, Daniel Clowes's Patience, more Jem and the Holograms, Chapter House's Spirit Leaves, Beauties (whose first issue came out at the tail end of last year), and the continuation of Vertigo's new line of titles. TV and movie properties, especially the second season of Netflix's Daredevil and the new Lucifer series, also get a lot of love during the discussion. Overall, the guys at the shop covered a lot of ground, and everyone is looking forward to more of these monthly on-location episodes throughout the year!
This week on The Comics Alternative podcast, Derek and Andy W. get back into the regular swing of things by discussing three recent titles, one book and two single issues. They begin with something that was published late last year, Héctor Germán Oesterheld and Francisco Solano López’s The Eternaut (Fantagraphics). This is a legendary text, and not just within the realm of comics history. The Eternaut is a post-apocalyptic tale of alien invasion, originally serialized in the Argentinian weekly, Hora Cero Semanal, between 1957 and 1959. It was revised and expanded in 1969 and 1975, respectively, and it’s notable for its politically informed subtext. Many have read Oesterheld’s text allegorically in light of Argentina’s history of dictatorship, its Dirty War, and United States imperialism. Indeed, the writer was “disappeared” in 1977, making The Eternaut even more of a poignant read. Although the collected series, originally titled El Eternauta, has been translated in a variety of different languages, it wasn’t until the recent Fantagraphics publication that the book has been available in English. For both Andy and Derek, this is one of the best comics of 2015, and they wanted to start this year by discussing it in depth. Next, the guys turn to a title that had once been thought “disappeared,” Nowhere Men (Image Comics). It’s been over two years since we saw the last issue in the series — completing the first narrative arc — so the publication of issue #7, written by Eric Stephenson with art by Dave Taylor, is of particular interest. The two approach Nowhere Men #7 from different perspectives: Derek went back to reread the first six issues, so as to refresh his memory over the storyline, while Andy came to the issue “cold,” having forgotten much of what went on in the first trade. These different reading experiences drew them to the same assessment: readers would do well to go back and revisit the first arc, as this latest issue doesn’t provide any context or backstory to reorient its audience. Nonetheless, the guys conclude that it’s great to have Nowhere Men back and that it’s a series well worth the effort. They then wrap up with Erick Freitas and Ulises Farinas’s Amazing Forest #1 (IDW Publishing). This is a new anthology where each of the short stories, all written by Freitas and Farinas, features the work of a different illustrator. Julien Dufour (“Tank”), Matt Rota (“Wolf Mother”), Melody Often (“Ronnie the Robot”), and Yumi Sakugawa (“Bird Watcher”) are the artists in this inaugural issue, and with the exception of Sakugawa, who last year published Ikebana through Retrofit/Big Planet, these are creators with whom the guys are unfamiliar. But all of the stories in Amazing Forest are strong, art as well as narrative, and both Derek and Andy are expecting great things from the title. There need to be more collections like this!
Sean and Derek start off the new year of the webcomics series with three exciting titles. They begin with Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling, Tony Cliff's follow up to Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant. The latter began life as a webcomic, but then was published by First Second in 2013. Cliff is doing something similar with his second Delilah Dirk book, although this time he is serializing the narrative in webcomic form only until early March, the release date of the hardcopy (again, by First Second). And although King's Shilling may not ultimately be a complete webcomic, what is there is well worth reading and has you anticipating the release of the new book. After that, the guys turn to Reckstar, Joey Cruz and Michelle Nguyen's mashup of sci-fi and comedy with all of the trappings of a classic buddy story. In fact, Sean likens the tale to a space-based Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis team-up, with the immature Finn Wyoming playing the Lewis role in this volatile relationship. The webcomic is just into its third chapter, but there's much to appreciate in its upcoming developments. Finally, Sean and Derek take a long look at Jason Yungbluth's Weapon Brown, possibly one of the most engaging and sophisticated webcomics they've ever discussed on the podcast. This is a parodic sendup not only of Schulz's Peanuts, but of the entire history of American comic strips. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, where a nefarious organization known as the Syndicate (read United Feature Syndicate) is attempting to subdue a rebel force and their grasp on a unique food supply known as shmoo. Weapon Brown, occasionally called "Chuck," enters the fray as a cybernetic right-armed mercenary who ends up helping the rebel leaders Annie (see Little Orphan Annie), Hughie X (The Boondocks), Pops (Popeye), and Hildy (Broom-Hilda), among others. The action builds to a final showdown between Weapon Brown and an unstoppable, merciless, stuffed tiger-toting creation known as a Cyber Augmented Legionnaire version 1.N (or C.A.L. V1N for short). In fact, the entire history of newspaper strips seems to be represented in Weapon Brown, and part of the joy of reading this webcomic is discovering the many references, often subtle, embedded throughout. Derek and Sean also point out the risqué nature of the story, with its (at times) explicit sex, violence, and language. But if you're OK with a little spice in your webcomics, then Weapon Brown should become one of your reading highlights of the year.
On this interview episode, Derek talks with Isaac Cates and Michael Wenthe about their creator-owned series, Cartozia Tales. In what will be a ten-issue run, the series is centered on the fantastical realm of Cartozia, complete with diverse terrain, detailed histories, and a multifaceted population. As Isaac and Mike reveal in the interview, what began as an exercise in map-drawing turned into an extensive storyworld. Each issue of Cartozia Tales features multiple narrative segments by a variety of creators -- Mike and Isaac being just two -- and as the series evolves, each writer/artist contributing to a particular storyline builds upon the elements laid down by its previous creators. The result is a collection of tales told by a community of artists, giving the title a true participatory feel. And with each successive issue, the various storylines rub up against and even combine with one another, with different strands weaving into a larger and thicker thread. During their conversation Isaac and Mike share their process of creation, their experiences with Kickstarter, and how their earlier collaboration on Satisfactory Comics set the stage for what was to become a much more involved project. It's a fun conversation and a great introduction into a world that readers of all ages can enjoy.
To find out more about Cartozia Tales, visit the series' official website.
For their first publisher spotlight of 2016, Andy and Derek focus on the new wave of titles from Vertigo, those being launched between October and December of last year. As you might expect, this is an extra long episode of the podcast because the guys discuss twelve new series, and some of them already with three and four issues released. These include:
Both Derek and Andy enjoy almost all of these titles, but there are a few that really stand out for them -- and they spend a disproportionate time discussing -- including The Twilight Children, Unfollow, Jacked, and Sheriff of Babylon. They also use their analysis of Lucifer to segue into a brief coverage of The Sandman: Overture, Deluxe Edition. The first of that six-issues miniseries was part of the guys' earlier Vertigo spotlight back in November 2013, and a central component of that publisher's previous wave of new titles, but the collected edition was just released late last year. Although it had an unusually long incubation period, The Sandman: Overture does help Andy and Derek juxtapose Vertigo's two big release efforts, leading them into a discussion of possible new directions the publisher may be going.
Gene and Derek start off the week presenting a powerful interview with Tom Hart. His new book, Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir, is being released this week from St. Martin's Press, and it's an honest and heartrending work. It chronicles the days following the unexpected death of Tom's daughter, Rosalie, as he and his wife anguished over the loss and tried to make sense of what had happened. In addition to their grief and feelings of emptiness, they also had to continue struggling with the frustrations of the mundane, such as trying to sell their apartment in New York. It's a story about putting the pieces of your life back together, reflected in large part through the structure of Tom's narrative. Gene notes the images that bind the scenes together, such as the visual prominence of circles, and Derek believes the Rosalie Lightning reads much like poetry with its associative, non-linear linking of emotions and memories. The guys also use the opportunity to talk with Tom about his other work, such as his Hutch Owen comics and his educational efforts. In fact, they talk a good deal about the Sequential Artists Workshop that Tom founded in 2012 in Gainesville, Florida, as well as the online course he offers on graphic memoir writing...an endeavor that largely grew out of his own experiences documenting his loss. As the guys point out in this episode, Rosalie Lightning an important new book from Tom, one that is sure to resonate beyond the comics and graphic novels community of readers.
On this episode of The Comics Alternative Interviews, Derek has the pleasure of talking with Dara Naraghi and Brent Bowman, the creators behind Persia Blues (NBM/ComicsLit). The second volume of the projected trilogy, subtitled Love and War, was just released last month, and Derek talks with the two about their efforts in getting it to print. They discuss the genesis of the story and its complex narrative structure. Persia Blues is composed of two different storylines, one a realistic thread taking place in contemporary Iran and the U.S., and the other a fantastical, mythologically infused tale set in ancient Persia. What links the two stories is the protagonist, Minoo Shirazi, a young Iranian architectural student and an adventurer (depending on the storyline) coming to terms with her family and her culture. Dara and Brent discuss the challenges in balancing the two narrative threads and the process they use when creating the comic. The two originally met through the comics collective, PANEL, based out of Columbus, OH -- in fact, much of the story in the second volume of Persia Blues takes place at OSU -- and, as they discuss with Derek, their close proximity contributes to the book's development. Along the way, Brent and Dara share their thoughts on writing from woman's perspective, contemporary representations of Middle-Eastern figures, and the kind of reception Persia Blues has received within the Iranian American community. This is an informative and fun conversation that should whet your appetite for the final book in the series.
Welcome to January! As the guys do at the beginning of every month, they use this time to discuss the solicits in the latest Previews catalog. And there's a lot packed into the January issue, starting with a rundown of the 50 titles that will be featured this coming Free Comic Book Day. Gene and Derek are particularly looking forward to the FCBD comics coming out from Fantagraphics, Archie Comics, First Second Books, Image Comics, Drawn & Quarterly, Top Shelf, VIZ Media, and Nobrow. After that brief detour, they get into the catalog proper, highlight upcoming releases from publishers such as
All in all, Gene and Derek have a fun time thumbing through the January Previews catalog, making their checklists for comics they want to read, titles they'd like to discuss on the podcast, and creators they want to interview in the coming year.
It's a brand new year, and for their very first podcast episode of 2016, the guys have as their guest the great Craig Yoe! This may become a tradition on The Comics Alternative, having Craig start off the new year, much as they did in 2015. In fact, this is the fifth interview appearance that Craig has made on the podcast (not counting the brief segment recorded at HeroesCon last year). Usually when the Yoemesiter comes on the show, he has one or two new books to discuss. But this time around there are a whopping six titles recently released from Yoe Books and IDW Publishing! It's all that Gene and Derek can do to keep up with everything that Craig and his production editor/wife, Clizia Gussoni, are putting out.
They begin with a discussion of the five year anniversary of Yoe Books, which Craig actually celebrated last year. When he appeared on the show back in January of 2015, Craig discussed the coming year and what he had in store for the anniversary celebration. So Derek and Gene talk with him about the success of the first five years and about plans for the next five. Then they jump into a discussion of the many Yoe Book releases we've experienced over the past couple of months, beginning with Walt Kelly's Fairy Tales. This is a beautiful book, going above and beyond the usual standards we've come to expect from Yoe and IDW, and the guys begin by asking their guest about the production work that went into this volume. Craig also shares his love of Walt Kelly and his experiences collecting the material which originally appeared in Dell's Fairy Tale Parade between 1942 and 1946. Next, the guys ask Craig about his latest additions in his Chilling Archives of Horror Comics series, Ghosts and Girls of Fiction House (curated and introduced by Michael H. Price) and The Complete Voodoo, Vol. 1 (which includes an introduction by Mike Howlett, who has previously appeared on the podcast). They discuss the sheer weirdness that was Voodoo, a pre-code horror title from Farrell Publications, and the fetishism apparent in the Fiction House volume. Craig points out that Jumbo Comics, part of the Fiction House line, was known for its buxom women in compromised positions, and that the selections from its "Ghost Gallery" sections (collected in the Fiction House book) provide plentiful examples of "headlight comics." Gene and Derek also talk with Craig about the latest collected editions of his ongoing series, Haunted Horror, Vol. 3: Pre-code Comics So Good, They're Scary and Weird Love, Vol. 2: That's the Way I Like It!, as well as his upcoming three-issue miniseries, Haunted Love. It just gets weirder and weirder with Craig Yoe...and that's why the guys keep inviting him back on the podcast!