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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: April, 2016
Apr 30, 2016

On this interview episode, Gwen and Derek are pleased to have as their guest Tony Cliff, the creative mind behind the Delilah Dirk series. His latest book, Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling, was released last month from First Second. In the interview, our adventurous podcast explorers ask Tony about the genesis behind the series, the influence of Jane Austen novels and films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Delilah Dirk's original appearance in Kazu Kibuish's Flight series, the challenges of writing historical fiction, and how Tony's background in animation has translated itself into his comics. They not only discuss his most recent book, but also his earlier works, Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant (which Andy Wolverton reviewed for the blog back in 2013) and the short ebook, Delilah Dirk and the Seeds of Good Fortune. But the conversation goes into other directions, as well, such as when Tony brings up the topic of serialization and reading preferences. What doesn't make the recording, unfortunately, is an interesting discussion on a label that is most apt for the Delilah Dirk titles, "all-age comics." That was a conversation that Tony had with Gwen and Derek after they concluded the interview and turned off the recorder. Still, there's more than enough packed into what was actually captured, enough Delilah Dirk talk to last you until the publication of Tony's next exciting installment.

Apr 29, 2016

This month, Shea and Derek have a fun time discussing two recent manga releases. They begin with the first volume of Akiko Higashimura's Princess Jellyfish (Kodansha), a series that is new to both of the guys. In fact, Derek comments that he might not have given this title a try if they hadn't decided to discuss it for the podcast. Given the "princess" part of the book, he had wondered if this might not be too cute for him, a fluffy shojo title that may not appeal to him (while at the same time, admitting that he might be shortsighted). But as the guys discuss, Princess Jellyfish is anything but insubstantial. It's a multi-layered story exploring friendships, gender identity, and fandom. Yet, "fandom" isn't the right word when discussing this manga, and Shea and Derek spend a good deal of time understanding the character and behavioral nuances that Higashimura weaves into her narrative, supplemented by a useful glossary that she include in the back of the book. This is definitely a title that both of the guys will continue reading in the months to come. Next, they look at a completely different kind of manga, the first omnibus volume of Kengo Hanazawa's I Am a Hero (Dark Horse Manga). This book has been getting a good deal of press, especially given its apparent similarity to The Walking Dead. In fact, Derek and Shea discuss the expectations surrounding I Am a Hero and how calling it "zombie manga" may be a lazy way of categorizing this series. At least in this first volume, there is much more to Hanazawa's story that the undead rising. I Am a Hero is also a self-aware meditation on the place of manga in our culture, with the book's protagonist, Hideo Suzuki, serving as its focalizing agent. Plus, there are many unanswered questions surrounding Hideo, non-zombie-based, that makes us question his reliability. And as Shea and Derek point out, it's not entirely certain where Hanazawa's sympathies actually lie regarding his hero...and that's a good thing, at least for Derek, who appreciates ambiguity and authorial distance. Shea suspects that next volumes of the series will more firmly embed themselves in the zombie side of the story, although Derek is hoping that won't entirely be the case. Time will tell.

This is also the one-year anniversary of The Comics Alternative's manga series. So celebrate with them and let them know what you think of their episodes!

Apr 27, 2016

This week the Two Guys with PhDs focus a critical spotlight on the spring releases coming out from Alternative Comics and the other small presses that are part of its distribution co-operative, Floating World Comics, Hic + Hoc Productions, Study Group Comics, and Press Gang. This is a jam-packed episode and longer than usual, a discussion that covers eighteen different titles among the five indie presses. Before they jump directly into the comics, though, Derek has a brief conversation with Marc Arsenault, the publisher of Alternative Comics and one of the ringleaders of the co-operative. He asks Marc about the origins of the press, its relaunch in 2012, its distribution agreement with the other indie publishers, and what readers could anticipate coming out of Alternative Comics in the months to come. After that introductory interview, Andy W. and Derek begin discussing the individual titles some out this spring, and organizing their conversation by publisher. These books include:

Alternative Comics

Floating World Comics

Hic + Hoc Productions

Study Group Comics

  • Titan #1, #2, #3, by François Vigneault
  • Vile #1, Tyler Landry

Press Gang

As Andy and Derek mention in the show, this has been a spotlight episode they've been wanting to do for some time. The guys are truly excited to talk about the new releases coming out from Alternative Comics (and its co-op partners)...and not just this publisher's name is an inversion of the podcast title.

Apr 23, 2016

Hi everyone. Just a quick message to say that we’d like for you to nominate The Comics Alternative for the 2016 Podcast Awards. Please go to http://podcastawards.com and nominate us for the "People’s Choice" award and one other category…”Arts” seems to be one of the better fits for our podcast. The nominations close on April 30th, so be sure to make your voice heard now. We know that there are a lot of you dedicated listeners out there, and we appreciate your support. Again, go to http://podcastawards.com and nominate The Comics Alternative under the “People’s Choice” and “Arts” categories. Thanks!

Apr 22, 2016

Another month, and another visit to Collected Comics and Games in Plano, TX. For the April on-location episode, the topic is open, so Derek talks with customers and employees about whatever comics-related matters come to mind. Sabrina, the shop's manager, begins by discussing the preparations she's making for Free Comic Book Day, and then she gives a rundown of the DC Retailer Roadshow event she attended last week. There, Dan Didio, Jim Lee, and various marketing folk at DC shared their plans for the new Rebirth, explaining the upcoming titles, the creators behind them, and the fact that this is definitely not a reboot. From there the folks sitting around the chat table go on to share their lack of attention to DC titles, although they do have more of an interest in the DC properties that have made their ways to television and animation. They also spend a good bit of time talking about Archie Comics and how that world has been undergoing transformations, from the more au courant trends in the new Archie and Jughead titles, to the Predator and Sharknado crossovers, to the more macabre Afterlife with Archie and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. (Also, Derek is surprised that no one knows about the old Groovie Goolies cartoon.) The recent Eisner Award nominations comes up as a discussion topic, but no one in the shop seems much interested in discussing them. But, of course, since it's Wednesday, everyone talks about the new comics that have just come out and what they've come into the shop specifically to pick up. And that's a lot of comics. As becomes a running theme throughout this episode, there is just isn't enough time to read and watch everything worth reading and watching

Apr 20, 2016

This week Gwen and Derek take a look at three new titles, each of which is as visually stunning as it is a great story. They start off with Manuele Fiore's 5,000 km Per Second (Fantagraphics), translated from the Italian by Jamie Richards and winner of both the Grand Prize at the 2010 Lucca Comics Festival and the Best Album at the 2011 Angoulême Comics Festival. Fiore's is a pensive, somber tale of two individuals who become romantically involved but ultimately go in separate directions. The narrative follows each on his or her life trajectory in an episodic manner, where readers become privy to the changes in their inner lives and discover the ultimately elusive nature of closure. Next, Derek and Gwen discuss the first two issues of Circuit Breaker, written by Kevin McCarthy and with art by Kyle Baker. The premise of this new Image Comics series is a futuristic Tokyo where relationships between humans and robots are reaching a tipping point and the story's protagonist, Chiren, is stuck in the middle. The cohosts enjoy the story, but they focus more on Baker's art, his choice of palette, and his unique way of representing sound throughout the comic. Finally, they wrap up this week's episode by diving into the new series by Matt Kindt, Dept. H (Dark Horse Comics). Written and drawn by Matt, and colored beautifully by his wife Sharlene, Dept. H is a mystery thriller that reminds Gwen of the old Ellery Queen TV series from the 1970s. And Derek reads this first issue within the context of Kindt's other detecting narratives, specifically Mind MGMTSuper Spy, and Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes. This appears to be another must-read series from Matt Kindt, and one where getting the individual monthly issues will provide a more complete and immersive experience. Much like Mind MGMT!

Apr 18, 2016

For April, Sean and Derek look at three very different webcomics, each a standout in its own way. They begin with Der-shing Helmer's The Meek, the fantastical story of Angora, a young innocent -- even feral -- girl sent on a quest that could save her world. But Angora's isn't the only narrative thread making up this webcomic. We're also introduce to Luca deSadar and his family, rulers of the Northern Territories, and to Soli Areni, a mercenary with a secret to hide and whose jobs aren't always on the lawful side. In the first five chapters of this webcomic, Helmer subtly weaves these storylines together in a way that should become more pronounced as the narrative develops. Next, the guys check out O Human Star, a science fiction tale that's more about relationships and the way we choose to identify ourselves. Blue Delliquanti, its creator, deftly teases out her cast so that they're fully developed individuals whose lives, and dilemmas, become the scaffolding upon which everything rests. The world of O Human Star is a futuristic one, where robotics and artificial intelligence integrate almost seamlessly into human exchanges. And the boundaries between identities is not only limited to that between human and robot. Finally, Derek and Sean consider Stuart Campbell's These Memories Won't Last, a webcomic unlike anything else they've ever discussed. With the help of Lhasa Mencur (on sound design) and programmer Vitaliy Shirokiy, Campbell tells the story of his grandfather as he develops dementia. Whereas both The Meek and O Human Star contained layers of meaning, The Memories Won't Last is primarily defined by its visual layering. As the guys point out, Campbell and company layer the narration of the experience on top of the grandfather's actual story, and then these are overlaid with a ill-defined cloud that can obscure the visuals, much as the grandfather's growing dementia eats away at his memories. This is a short and poignant webcomic, and one that is nominated for a 2016 Webby Award in the NetArt category. And it's something you have to experience yourself to get the full effect.

Apr 15, 2016

On this special on-location episode, Derek poses a series of questions to Sonny Liew during his recent visit to the University of Texas at Dallas. Sonny was a guest speaker for the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication, and he talked with the audience about his new book, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, as well as his experiences within the comics industry. During the exchange, Sonny presented selections from his portfolio and fielded a variety of questions from students and other members of the audience about his art training, his work with DC and Marvel, the Singapore comics scene, and any suggestions he might have for aspiring artists and storytellers. He also discussed his work on other books, including Malinky RobotWonderlandThe Shadow Hero, and his current run as the artist on Doctor Fate.

Apr 13, 2016

This week's episode is a Hernandez-centric show. On it, the Two Guys with PhDs play a little catch-up with some of Gilbert and Jaime's comics that have come out over the past few months. They begin with the latest installment of Love & Rockets: New Stories (Fantagraphics), and most of the tales in this volume continue what began in last year's annual. In fact, both Andy and Derek feel that New Stories 8 can be best appreciated, and better understood, when read alongside its predecessor. Jaime's contributions -- the Princess Animus, Maggie and Hopey, and Tonta storylines -- are fairly straightforward, although the guys aren't entirely sure how Princess Animus will ultimately fit into the Love & Rockets world. (Is it similar to the Ti-Girls with Jaime playing around with the superhero genre again? Might Penny Century be involved in some way?) But things aren't as clear-cut when it comes to Gilbert's selections, all centered on Fritz in some way. Over the last two New Stories annuals, Gilbert has been mapping out a complex narrative concerning the B-movie star and her imitators, chock-full of unusual characters, many of whom look alike...and purposefully so. The guys comment on the ways in which Gilbert is manipulating his sequential chronology and the general weirdness surrounding Fritz's world. And given the labyrinthine nature of this current volume of Love & Rockets, Derek advocates for a much-needed Hernandez brothers wiki and challenges listeners to begin creating one. Next, they turn to the new edition of Girl Crazy (Dark Horse Books). This originally began as a three-issue miniseries published by Dark Horse in 1996 and then collected as a single volume the following year. But that book has been out of print for some time, and now the publisher is rereleasing this new hardbound edition to stand alongside other Dark Horse books by Gilbert, including Speak of the DevilCitizen Rex (with his brother, Mario), Fatima: The Blood SpinnersLoverboys, and last year's Grip: The Strange World of Men. Both Andy and Derek note that, with Girl Crazy, the story still holds up, and it's yet another example of Gilbert's no-holds-barred storytelling. At the same time, they point out that the art in Girl Crazy is noticeably different from his most recent style, with its detailed texturing and heavier inks. Finally, the guys wrap up with the second issue of Gilbert's Blubber (Fantagraphics), a comic-book series that is a strange amalgamation of experimental storytelling and pornography. This is definitely not a title for those with tender sensibilities and who are easily offended. In fact, Derek and Andy point out that, for the most part, all the stories in this issue include a lot of sucking and f**king...and not only between humans. There are zombies, robots, and fantastical creatures involved, as well. It's all weird, wacky, and fun, but after discussing Blubber #2 the Two Guys really feel like they need to take a shower.

Apr 11, 2016

This month on The Comics Alternative's Young Readers series, the Two Hep Cats with PhDs Talking about Comics review three new releases that are different in terms of setting and genre, but take on a common theme: the conflict that can occur when the inhabitants of a city or a region are confronted by outsiders who wish to stake their claim on the land itself or to alter the daily lives of the indigenous people who have lived there for a very long time.

Andy kicks off the show by introducing readers to another volume in Nathan Hale's popular historical fiction series for middle school readers, Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales. The newest installment, Alamo All-Stars, presents a gripping tale of the battles that ensue among a number of groups who vie to take possession of the landmass that would eventually become the US state of Texas. As with other volumes in the series, the text begins as Nathan Hale, the captured Revolutionary War spy, extends his life by entertaining those British soldiers who are ordered to hang him for treason against the king. As Andy points out, even though the Alamo All-Stars focuses most specifically on the events leading up to and just after the battle at the Alamo in 1836, readers are encouraged to compare 19th-century immigration debates that set off conflicts between the Mexican government and the US immigrants, known as Texians, to the debates that continue today in relation to Mexican immigration to the US. In addition to highlighting Hale's ability to put forward a complicated geopolitical conflict in ways that are engaging and even, at times, gently humorous, Andy and Gwen point to the useful resources for young readers, including a bibliography of history texts on Texas and Mexican history, and helpful resources for teachers and parents, including study guides that are available from Amulet Books' website.

Next, Gwen introduces Faith Erin Hicks's highly anticipated first volume in a fantasy graphic trilogy, The Nameless City, published by First Second and geared towards a middle-grade and high-school audience. The prologue introduces the reader to Daidu, a bustling city that sits in a strategic stretch of land that links a major river to the ocean. The narrator, a young explorer, notes that while "the City is named over and over" by conquering forces from the neighboring Dao, Laio, and Yisun Empires, no one has been able "to name it for long," so the indigenous people have chosen to call it the Nameless City and to call themselves "the nameless." As the story unfolds, Kai, the son of a prominent general from the Dao Empire, the city's current ruling power, travels to the Nameless City in order to train to become a warrior. However, Kai is more fascinated with books and learning and soon becomes acquainted with Rat, a homeless orphan whose parents were killed during the Dao conquest. Andy notes that while the friendship that grows between the characters might first appear to be right out of a clichéd "different side of the tracks" plot, Hicks's storytelling is far more sophisticated. As the narrative progresses, Rat and Kai learn from each other and join forces to encourage the city's rulers to see beyond their dismissive view of the indigenous culture. Both Andy and Gwen admire Jordie Bellaire's accomplished and effective work as colorist, and they point out Hicks's ability to depict characters in motion in ways that are both visually stunning and effective in moving the narrative along.

The show concludes with a review of the first volume of Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang's teen sci-fi series, Paper Girls, a collection of the first five issues of the Image Comics series. Set in 1988 on the day after Halloween, the story follows four twelve-year-old paper carriers who find themselves caught in the midst of what appears to be an alien invasion. Gwen praises the realism of the setting and the convincing portrayal of female adolescence as strengths of the series, and Andy emphasizes how the darker side of the 1980s emerges as the text unfolds. While some of the violence and language marks this as a series for older teens, the two PhDs suggest that these elements add verisimilitude to the text. They also advise parents that while there are other Vaughan texts, such as the Runaways series, that would be a good follow up for teen readers, there are other titles that Vaughan has written that are definitely more appropriate for an adult audience. Both Gwen and Andy highly recommend Paper Girls, Vol. 1 and are eager to see what happens next in the series.

Apr 6, 2016

It's the first week of April, so that must mean that it's time for the Two Guys with PhDs to look through the latest Previews catalog. This month, Andy Kunka is back for his first Previews show of 2016 -- where has the time gone? -- so Derek helps him to shake off the cobwebs and get down to deep solicitation-reading business. Among the many upcoming releases they highlight are titles from publishers such as

The guys also discuss the pros and cons of DC and Image doing their own mini-catalogs, the mixed bag of publisher crossovers, and the weirdness surrounding recent book that have been repurposed as limited series. Derek also shares news about how a recent on-location episode of the podcast became a Steve Lieber boon for the manager of Collected Comics in Plano. It's apparently true: there is such a thing as The Comics Alternative bump and the success it can bring you!

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