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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: June, 2016
Jun 30, 2016

This month Shea and Derek look at two tonally different works of manga. They begin with Yoshitoki Oima's series, A Silent Voice, the final (seventh) volume of which was released from Kodansha Comics at the end of May. It's the story of an elementary school bully, Shoya Ishida, and his attempts to atone for his past behavior after he enters high school. The object of his ridicule was Shoko Nishimiya, a deaf transfer student who was pulled out of her elementary school because of Shoya's insensitive mocking. Now teenagers, Shoyo and Shoko establish a relationship that is spottily therapeutic for both, and with the help of their former elementary school classmates with whom they reestablish contact. While the guys both enjoy this title, there are times when the narrative is worn a little thin. Derek feels that there is excessive emotional wallowing in places, and Shea is not thrilled with the series' quick ending.

A completely different kind of manga is Rokudenashiko's What Is Obscenity?: The Story of a Good for Nothing Artist and Her Pussy (Koyama Press). And the book's subtitle says it all. Rokudenashiko -- a pen name for Megumi Igarashi, and which translates into "good-for-nothing woman" -- tells the story of her evolution as an artist, her work in manko (vagina) art (or "deco-man," as she calls it), and her two 2014 arrests for violating various obscenity laws in Japan. The core of the text is its manga, three separate stories that were originally serialized in the leftist political magazine, Weekly Friday. But about a third of the book is composed of photographs and text-only supplemental material, making this more of a hybrid chronicle of Rokudenashiko's art and legal ordeals. Both Shea and Derek love this book, filled with humor and keen observations on Japan's archaic, paternalistically mandated obscenity laws. In fact, they each want to get a little Manko-chan figurine for themselves!

Jun 29, 2016

This week The Comics Alternative's blog editor, Paul Lai, joins Derek to discuss three recent titles. They begin with Bryan Doerries's The Odyssey of Sergeant Jack Brennan (Pantheon). Illustrated by a variety of artists -- Jess Ruliffson, Joëlle Jones, Justine Mara Andersen, Dylan Macon's, and Nick Bertozzi -- the book brings Homer's classic into contemporary contexts. On the eve of their return home from Afghanistan, Marine Corps sergeant Jack Brennan shares with his men the epic tale by applying it to their own lives as soldiers. Within this frame narrative, Doerries recounts Odysseus's various attempt to return home, each one illustrated by one of the book's diverse artists.

Next, the Two Guys turn to a sobering narrative, Rebecca Roher's Bird in a Cage (Conundrum Press). This is an account of Roher's grandmother's dementia and resulting institutionalization, but even more so, it's the artist's memoir of her relationship with Grandma Wylie, as she is called, and the family that nurtured her. This is a moving narrative, intimately drawn, that underscores the power of community and memory when confronting adversity.

After that, Paul and Derek wrap up with a more lighthearted comic, Kaeleigh Forsyth and Alabaster Pizzo's Hellbound Lifestyle (Retrofit Comics/Big Planet Comics). This is a humorous look at our contemporary obsession with smartphones and our need for self-validation through social media. The story takes place over a year's worth of smartphone usage, and many of the book's scenarios are laugh-out-loud funny. Some of the guys' favorites include "A Day in the Life of Hemingway's Wife(s)," "Workshopping My Stand Up Routine," and the "Sunnie Luvies Test." In this episode of the podcast, you can expect a wide range of emotional responses.

Jun 27, 2016

Andy and Derek are pleased to have as a guest on their show Bill Schelly. A new edition of his book, Otto Binder: The Life and Work of a Comic Book and Science Fiction Visionary, was released earlier this month from North Atlantic Books. The guys talk with Bill about the legendary writer's work on the Captain Marvel and the Marvel family, his impressive run on Superman titles, and his role in the early science fiction pulps (mostly under the name he used when collaborating with his brother, Earl, Eando Binder). As they point out in the conversation, there are facets to Binder's life that are overshadowed by his work on the Big Red Cheese, and Bill's book thoroughly chronicles the sides of Otto Binder that you may not have known. Examples of this would include Binder's work at EC Comics, his writing for Jim Warren's Creepy, his close ties to comics fandom, his attempts at becoming science magazine publisher, and his later-life research on UFOs. They also discuss the darker aspects of Binder's life and the challenges he faced in his last decade. In addition to their discussion of the new Otto Binder book, the Two Guys also talk with Bill about his other works, including last year's biography of Harvey Kurtzman, his research on Joe Kubert, his upcoming book on John Stanley, and his histories of comics fandom. The guys come away from their conversation arguing that Bill Schelly's research is indispensable to comics scholars and that he continues to provide detailed and highly readable, almost novel-like, chronicles of the medium.

Jun 24, 2016

The discussants covered a lot of ground on the panel, so much so that the session lasted longer than its scheduled hour. Andy Mansell kept the conversation flowing, posing a series of questions regarding the formation, the benefits, and the liabilities of a comics canon, and there was healthy response from the audience. 

A note about the sound quality of this recording: About 10 1/2 minutes into the panel recording, there is a slight break that cuts out around 30 seconds of the session. This is because the convention's sound technicians momentarily stopped the recording device so as to hook it up to the room's sound system, which would provide cleaner recording. Also, questions and comments from both Andy Mansell and the audience might not be as clear, at times, and this is because they didn't have microphones to target their voices.

Be sure to check out the guys' other recordings from this year's HeroesCon:

Jun 23, 2016

While Andy and Derek were at HeroesCon last weekend, they talked briefly with a variety of creators in Artists Alley -- see last Tuesday's show for those conversations -- but they also had the chance to sit down for longer, more substantive interviews. And they made it a point to do so with Miss Lasko-Gross and Kevin Colden, the creators behind the new series from Z2 Comics, The Sweetness. The first issue has just been released, so the guys had the opportunity, thanks to Miss and Kevin, to read it and ask their guests about this unique title. Miss and Kevin describe The Sweetness as a mix between Star Wars and Breaking Bad, where a group of ex-cons and low-level criminals work for a UPS-like delivery service in space...but with a focus on badass women smugglers. Derek and Andy ask specifically about the two unlikely paired female protagonists, Nelly and Scout, but they also discuss their inept male companion Bachmaan, a curious character who Miss admits to not being able to kill off, especially given the way that Kevin has drawn him. The two guests also discuss their working relationship, the benefits and challenges of being married and working on the same title. In fact, Miss and Kevin work so productively together that many times during the interview, the Two Guys just sit back and let their guests carry the back-and-forth. The result is an engaging conversation about this promising new series, one that the guys hope will be shuttling illegal cargo for a long time.

Jun 22, 2016

This past weekend, Andy and Derek attended HeroesCon in Charlotte, NC, where they had a table in Artists Alley. On each of the three days of the event they recorded brief segments about their experiences at the con, the people they met, the panels they attended, and the comics they were able to find. So for this week's episode, you'll hear those recordings and get to experience the 2016 HeroesCon vicariously through the unique perspectives of the Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics. Among the many things discussed are the guys' encounters with creators in Artists Alley, Andy's attempts to sell his Harley Quinn- and Suicide Squad-related comics, the unexpected physical dangers of tabling at the con, Derek's spirited find of Will Eisner reprints, the travails of trying to sell branded merchandise when you're not an artist, old racist comic books, and cosplayers who really don't give a damn what people think. But, as with last year's event, the highlight of HeroesCon 2016 was meeting dedicated fans of The Comics Alternative podcast and meeting new people who are sure to become new listeners. And during the guys' daily recordings, they talk with some of these individuals on mic. 

Much thanks to the Two Guys' dedicated and lovely assistant, Zoe Royal, for helping out at the table and for taking pictures of the guys in action on the floor of Artists Alley!

Jun 21, 2016

Stay tuned over the next week for other episodes generated at the 2016 HeroesCon!

Jun 20, 2016

This month, Gwen and Andy take listeners on a worldwide tour featuring adventures of various cultures in three books: Musnet: The Mouse of Monet by Kickliy (Uncivilized Books/Odod), Anne Szabla’s Bird Boy Volume 1: The Sword of Mali Mahi (Dark Horse Books), and Poppy! and the Lost Lagoon by Matt Kindt and Brian Hurtt (Dark Horse Books).

Before they get to the books, Andy and Gwen both regret not being able to attend HeroesCon, but Gwen gives a brief (and very interesting) report from her recent experience at the Children’s Literature Association Conference in Columbus, Ohio. Who knows? Maybe the Two People with PhDs Talking about Comics for Young Readers will both be there next year?

Gwen and Andy are always excited to see more comics translated into English, and Kickliy’s Musnet: The Mouse of Monet is now available in French and English editions. Both enjoyed the leisurely storytelling and the wonderful use of color in this story of a mouse named Mus who longs to paint like a master artist. This first volume of a projected four-volume series introduces us to Mus’s world in Giverny, France, his teacher, his new friend Mya, and the world of painting. This book will appeal especially to young readers (ages 8 and up) who show an interest not just in painting, but in any of the arts. The look and pace of the book may take some getting used to for young readers, especially if this is their first venture into European comics, but the venture is certainly worth taking.

Next, Gwen and Andy discuss Bird Boy Volume 1: The Sword of Mali Mahi, which began (and continues) as a webcomic by Anne Szabla. This book (suggested for ages 8-12) contains familiar elements of quest/adventure stories, yet it has the feel of something both fresh and ancient. Szabla combines elements of myth and legend from a great many sources -- Mayan, Norse, Northwest Native American, etc. -- to tell the story of Bali, a 10-year-old boy desperate to prove his worth to his tribe despite being small in stature. Although considered too little to participate in an important coming-of-age ceremony, Bali takes matters into his own hands and discovers a dangerous secret that’s been kept hidden for ages.

Gwen and Andy love the story and can’t say enough about the fabulous art and use of color, yet they wish that the creator and publisher had given readers some information about the cultural influences reflected in the book. (Perhaps they will in the second volume, which comes out later this summer.) Still, Bird Boy is an exciting, unique new series that the two look forward to exploring further.

Finally, Gwen and Andy could not stop singing the praises of Poppy! and the Lost Lagoon by Matt Kindt and Brian Hurtt. Although suggested for ages 8-12, this is a book that can be enjoyed and appreciated by much older readers...even those with PhDs! Ten-year-old Poppy Pepperton and her legal guardian Colt Winchester are explorers working for a 4,000-year-old Egyptian pharaoh with the body of an eight-year-old boy. The pharaoh sends Poppy and Colt on an adventure that would make Indiana Jones think twice, a story filled with danger, mystery, riddles, puzzles, a flying carpet, a mummy head that talks, a creature called a gigantipus, and more!

Poppy! is truly a book of wonder, reflected not only in characters we quickly come to love and care about, but also in its fantastic art and glorious use of watercolor. And although Poppy! is an enormously entertaining book filled with humor, it also speaks to issues of the environment and the preservation of natural habitats without getting preachy or didactic. It’s pretty safe to say this is one of Gwen and Andy’s favorite books so far in 2016.

Jun 17, 2016

On this month’s webcomics episode, Sean and Derek have some fun things in store. They begin with two currently ongoing titles, The Abominable Charles Christopher and The Creepy Casefiles of Margo Maloo. The former, written and drawn by Karl Kirschel, is a long-running series that has been around since June 2007. The guys discuss the webcomic’s irregular schedule — Kirschel posts updates whenever his work for DC and Marvel, especially Gotham Academy, allows — and, more importantly, the artist’s obvious love of his subject matter. Margo Maloo, a more recent webcomic, is Drew Weing’s fun all-age story about a monster-filled underworld outside of adult awareness.

The June episode wraps up with a trip down memory lane. Breakfast of the Gods is a completed webcomic tapping into the history of breakfast cereals. Its creator, Brendan Douglas Jones, uses the mascots of General Mills, Kellogg’s, Post, Quaker Oats, Ralston, Nabisco, and other breakfast cereal producers for an epic tale pitting the vitamin-packed forces of good against the shadowy legions of morning nutrition.

Jun 15, 2016

The Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics are back to give you another ear-full of good quality comics talk, and this week the focus is on noir weirdness. They begin with the collected trade edition of Limbo (Image Comics). Dan Watters and Caspar Wijngaard's six-issue limited series ran from November 2015 to April of this year, but last week the TPB was released. It's the story of Clay, a cynical and world-worn detective who finds himself stuck in a strange world whose origins are a mystery. Andy W. and Derek liken this book to a voodoo-infused version of Videodrome, and the guys are particularly struck by by Wijngaard's neon palette and his occasional metafictional page layouts.

And while Limbo injects more than enough weirdness into its noir, it's easily rivaled by the Lovecraftian flair of Fred Van Lent and Guiu Vilanova's Weird Detective #1 (Dark Horse Comics). The first issue in this miniseries introduces us to Detective Sebastian Greene, a heretofore mundane investigator whose recent display of uncanny abilities at detecting confound his partner, Sana Fayez, and their superiors. The strangeness is compounded by a string of unusual crimes that are sure to appeal to fans of the Great Old Ones.

Finally, Derek and Andy wrap up with a more conventional noir narrative, Andy Diggle, Angela Cruickshank, and Andrea Mutti's Control #1 (Dynamite Entertainment). While this one doesn't have the genre-bending, otherworldly twists of this week's other titles, it nonetheless concerns an unfathomable dark region. Not electric voodoo or Cthulhu, but Washington, D.C. politics. At least that's what the guys gather from this first installment in this six-issue series. As Andy and Derek point out, Diggle is an old hat at this kind of storytelling, and this helps explain why Control is perhaps the most tightly woven narrative they look at this week. And from the information found on the copyright page, this looks like a series with a promise of multiple volumes, something akin to Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips's Criminal. At least the Two Guys hope.

Jun 8, 2016

Buckle up, because Andy and Derek are back behind the wheel. On this week's trip, they're taking you down a road that includes three very different titles. They begin with Paul Dini and Eduardo Risso's Dark Night: A True Batman Story (Vertigo Comics)...and yes, you did read correctly, the guys are discussing a book with "Batman" in its title. But while the Caped Crusader is a prominent part of the story, this isn't a standard superhero narrative, but an autobiographical account of a traumatic event in Dini's life. The guys discuss the manner of Dini's narration, especially as it's represented by Risso's art. In fact, it's the latter that consumes much of the conversation, as they highlight Risso's diversity of style to reflect shifts in the storytelling.

Next they look at the first in a five-issue limited series from Howard Chaykin, Midnight of the Soul (Image Comics). This is a story that Chaykin has been wanting to tell for some time, and the guys are happy to see it finally coming to fruition. It's the tale of Joel, a wannabe writer who is emotionally scarred from the fighting in Germany during the closing days of World War II. In this first issue, Joel discovers that his wife is living a double life, and both Derek and Andy comment on the signature Chaykin elements in the story, including someone getting shot in the head in the middle of a blowjob. But there's more than just sex and violence in this comic. As the guys reveal, they're impressed by the tightly woven elements within the premise, the visual patterns and rhythms that Chaykin establishes at the outset, and in anticipation (they hope) of big narrative payoff.

Finally, the Two Guys wrap up with a recent publication from Retrofit/Big Planet Comics, Sophie Franz's The Experts. This is a short one-shot that blends horror with the fantastic. In the story, a group of individuals, the experts, are studying a mysterious group of aquatic humanoids while their experiences doing so are slowly pulling them apart. This is the first time either Derek or Andy have encountered Franz's art, but they like what they see and call it one of the most notable titles they've read this year. But then again, this is the kind of comic they have come to expect from Retrofit/Big Planet.

Jun 6, 2016

The second volume of Josh Simmons's Jessica Farm was released recently from Fantagraphics, and now the artist takes the time to talk with Derek for another Comics Alternative interview. In the conversation, Josh shares his ideas behind Jessica Farm and the long, involved process of its creation. Beginning in January 2000, he began drawing one page a month with plans for publishing a collection of his efforts every eight years, and then doing all of this over a fifty-year span. What's more, he plans to reissue the previous volumes of Jessica Farm each time he publishes a current volume. For example, the first installment of Jessica Farm was published in 2008, but Fantagraphic re-released that book, and in a new edition, along with this year's Jessica Farm, Vol. 2 so that the design of the two books matched. Josh explains that he wants to do this about every eight years so as to offer new editions that will reflect current design and publication practices. As a result, this long and evolving narrative is not just a curious and episodic fantasy tale, but also an exercise in creative process that underscores the materiality of his project.

But the conversation isn't just limited to Josh's current work. The guys spend a lot of time talking about last year's Black River, his 2007 graphic novel House, his early Top Shelf series Happy, and especially his provocative collection The Furry Trap. In fact, Derek spends much of the interview asking Josh about the stories in the latter, most of which have an edge and intensity not found in the longer-form comics. This leads to a conversation on Josh's different styles of storytelling, short-story versus long-form, and the kind of reactions he's received on some of his more explicit work. Along the way, Derek educates Josh on Doctor Who, and Josh introduces Derek to a variety of foreign films. A smart and educational conversation all the way 'round!

Jun 3, 2016

In this episode of The Comics Alternative's interview series, Derek talks with Zach Worton about his new book, The Search for Charley Butters, just out from Conundrum Press. This is the second in a planned trilogy, and one beginning with last year's The Disappearance of Charley Butters. As Zach describes it, this is a black comedy about depression and the way this condition manifests itself in isolation, addiction, and failed friendships. The narrative runs along two parallel tracks, one about the titular character, a painter from the 1950s who becomes an eccentric recluse, and the other about the present-day Travis who becomes obsessed with Butters's story as revealed in his diaries. This obsession begins to break down the relationships in Travis's life, and as the story unfolds he finds himself going to a personal dark place that is not entirely dissimilar from that the artist's. Zach talks with Derek about origins of this project, his reasons for serializing it over three volumes, and his rough plans for wrapping it up with next year's The Death of Charley Butters. The guys also discuss Zach's first book, The Klondike, a completely different kind of narrative that episodically chronicles the gold rush that shook the Yukon during the last part of the nineteenth century. Zach shares his experiences researching the book and how it helped define him, for awhile at least, as a cartoonist of Canadian history and personages (similar to the way people read David Collier or how some may have defined Chester Brown after Louis Reil). They also discuss Zach's other current project, The Weird World of Lagoola Gardner (a horror-inspired tale that will be released around Halloween), his love of old drive-in movie theaters, and his band, Zorton and the Cannibals. And, interestingly enough, it's with a group of musicians that the Charley Butters trilogy begins!

Jun 1, 2016

It's the first of the month, and that must mean that it's time, once again, for the Two Guys with PhDs to take a conversational stroll through the latest Previews catalog. For the month of June, there is an inordinately large number of notable titles for Derek and Andy W. to discuss, making this a longer-than-average episode (a little over two hours). So strap in and get ready to boogie! Among the many solicits they highlight are from publishers such as

Andy and Derek also discuss the new Goodreads reading group The Comics Alternative is setting up, and they ask listeners for their input in how they'd like to use that social media platform. They also share some audience feedback and encourage everyone to go to the podcast's iTunes page to leave a rating and review, if they haven't already.  In other words, do your part for The Comics Alternative!

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