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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: August, 2016
Aug 31, 2016

Episode203-banner

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:35 - Introduction
  • 00:02:39 - Setup of reviews
  • 00:03:07 - Listener mail
  • 00:06:13 - The Black Monday Murders #1
  • 00:27:30 - Kingsway West #1
  • 00:39:49 - Jeff Steinberg: Champion of Earth #1
  • 00:54:04 - Superf*ckers Forever #1
  • 01:06:47 - Wrap up
  • 01:07:56 - Contact us
  • 01:09:47 - "Superf*ckers Theme Song"

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This week the Two Guys decide to mix up their routine a bit and review nothing but recent #1 issues. They begin with Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker's The Black Monday Murders (Image Comics), a unique take on the crime genre. In this extra-long first issue, Hickman unpacks his premise via design, prose, and visuals, creating a dense narrative world filled with conspiratorial intrigue and anchored in history.

Next, Andy and Derek discuss an even more genre-bending comic, Kingsway West (Dark Horse Comics). Written by Greg Pak and with art by Mirko Colak, the story combines fantasy with the mid-nineteenth-century American West, while at the same time hovering in the territory of alternate history.

Things get more comedic when the guys turn to Joshua Hale Fialkov and Tony Fleecs's Jeff Steinberg: Champion of Earth (Oni Press). The eponymous hero is a textbook loser who, through an infamous bout of constipation, is chosen by alien forces to determine the future of Earth. Also, President Obama high fives his Joint Chiefs!

The guys end on a much more explicit note with their last #1 issue, James Kochalka's Superf*ckers Forever, published by IDW. (And to make their discussion easier, Andy and Derek don't shy away from using language that may offend more delicate ears.) This is Kochalka's return to his whacked-out superhero series, complete with Superdan, Ultra Richard, Grotessa, and Wonder Kyle. And yes, Jack Krak is still the motherf*cker.

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Aug 29, 2016

For the August manga episode, Shea and Derek go topless...at least that's a common condition that they sense in the two titles that they discuss this month. They begin with Hiroya Oku's Inuyashiki, the fourth English-language volume of which was released in June by Kodansha Comics. It's the story of an older Sad Sack of a salaryman, Ichiro Inuyashiki, whose slowly crumbling life is turned around after contact with an alien life form. As a result of this encounter, his body is replaced with a weapon-grade robotic shell, and over the course the first four volumes, Inuyashiki learns to use his new condition to positively change the lives of others. However, complications arise when another man similarly changed by the same alien encounter decides to use his powers for more nihilist purposes. Shea and Derek spend much time discussing Oku's art -- a clean yet static style -- the borderline melodrama of the storytelling, and the fact that Inuyashiki goes around without a shirt much of the time.

After that, the guys turn to their second title of the month, Kenji Tsuruta's Wandering Island (Dark Horse Manga). This is a quest narrative centered on the discovery of a mythical island in the Pacific that is free floating. The protagonist of this series, Mikura Amelia, owns a small delivery service and pilots a bi-floatplane along the Izu Islands. When she discovers the writings of her dead grandfather about the elusive Electric Island, Mikura sets off with her cat Endeavor to prove its existence. The guys appreciate the protagonist as a fully formed, complex adventuring character, but they disagree slightly about the ways in which Tsuruta represents her. Shea feels that the frequently bikinied Mikura is too often posed specifically for the male gaze, and while Derek agrees with his cohost, to a point, he's not entirely convinced that Mikura is sexualized for that purpose. Regardless, Wandering Island rests upon a fascinating premise that will have both of the guys coming back to the title for volume two...whenever that publication might be.

Aug 26, 2016

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:25 - Introduction
  • 00:02:42 - Setup of interview
  • 00:03:56 - Interview with Nate Powell
  • 01:10:11 - Interview with Andrew Aydin
  • 02:12:26 - Wrap up
  • 02:13:57 - Contact us

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On this interview show, Andy and Derek do something different. They talk with both Nate Powell and Andrew Aydin, the artist and coauthor of the recently completed March trilogy (Top Shelf Productions), but instead of interviewing both creators together, the guys talk with them separately and then combine the two recordings into one long episode. So in this show, over two hours and fifteen minutes long, you'll hear about the genesis and the creative turns that went into the March books from both the artist's and the writer's perspectives. Nate and Andrew also discuss their time working with Congressman John Lewis, his wealth of experiences from the Civil Rights Movement, and the creative choices that each of them had to make when representing those events. For example, Nate explains the challenges that faced him when illustrating the unspeakable violence, and Andrew describes his strategies for scripting the chronology of the congressman's young life. Both guests also share a few words about current projects they have underway and what we can expect from them post-March.

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Aug 24, 2016

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:30 - Introduction
  • 00:02:33 - Listener mail
  • 00:11:07 - Smoke Signal #25
  • 00:33:54 - Fool's Gold
  • 00:44:49 - Briggs Land #1
  • 01:00:28 - Wrap up
  • 01:01:26 - Contact us

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On this week's review episode, the Two Guys with PhDs discuss three recent titles, a couple of which are probably not on most listeners' radar. They begin with one of these, the latest issue of Smoke Signal, a quarterly tabloid comics anthology published by Desert Island Comics (a shop in Brooklyn, NY) and edited by Gabe Fowler. Andy and Derek focus mainly on the summer 2016 issue, #25, although they also mention several comics in the previous spring issue. Some of the standouts in the latest include Tim Lane's contributions -- the Steve McQueen-inspired "Barnstormer" and the tabloid's center spread, "The Assassination of Billy Lyons by that Bad Man Stagger Lee" -- a new "Cosplayers" story from Dash Shaw, another in Al Columbia's "Pim and Francie" series, Siobhan Gallagher's experimental "Apartment to Be," the portfolio of Jay Rummel art, and a cover by the great Will Elder, a painting that was intended for the third issue of Harvey Kurtzman's Trump (the magazine was canceled after the second issue).

Next, the guys turn to Andy Warner's self-published Fool's Gold: The True Story of the Greates Lost Treasure in American History and the Man Who Had the Bad Luck to Find It. This a twenty-four-page story of the SS Central America's sinking off the Carolina coast in 1857 and Tommy Thompson's efforts at salvaging its lost gold in the 1980s. As the long subtitle suggests, things do not go well for Thompson after his success, leading some to believe that the treasure is cursed. Derek tells how he was already familiar with Andy Warner's comics, and that this is the kind of reality-based and journalistic story you'll find in many of his other self-published comics and in the work he does in for such outlets as The Nib and KQED. Learn more about Andy Warner's work at  his website.

Andy and Derek then wrap up with a look at the first issue of Briggs Land (Dark Horse Comics), the much-anticipated series from Brian Wood and Mack Chater and under development for AMC. In fact, the guys start off by discussing the written-with-television-in-mind phenomenon in comics and what it might mean for storytelling practices in the medium. Neither of the guys fault Wood and Chater -- or Dark Horse -- for the transmedia nature of Briggs Land, although they had different reactions to the title's potential. Derek was more taken by the story, seeing it as a return to the kind of narrative Wood created in DMZ, while Andy thought the premise less original and too close to the family crime-related television series Sons of Anarchy and Justified. Still, it's a title with great promise, whether you follow it eagerly in the monthly comics or more casually wait for the trade.

Aug 23, 2016

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:25 - Introduction
  • 00:02:07 - Setup of interview
  • 00:03:01 - Interview with Leela Corman
  • 01:06:25 - Wrap up
  • 01:07:25 - Contact us

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On this interview show, Andy and Derek have the pleasure of talking with Leela Corman. Her latest book, We All Wish for Deadly Force, was just recently released by Retrofit/Big Planet Comics, and it's a collection of shorter comics spanning a wide range of topic and tone. These pieces have previously appeared in such publications as The NibTabletWomen's Review of Books, and Nautilus, and the guys begin by asking Leela about her work with these magazines. As both Derek and Andy point out, the comics in this collection fall into one of three main (and, at times, interconnected) categories: stories addressing the loss of her first daughter, Rosalie; those focusing on Leela's family and her Jewish roots; and tales involving bellydancing, one of Leela's passions. Indeed, the loss of Rosalie arguably pervades this entire collection in some form or another -- see the guys' earlier interview with Leela's husband Tom Hart for more on this topic -- and the guys talk with Leela about the role that art can play in dealing with trauma. But there are also lighter moments in this collection, such as the occasional comedy found in Leela's Jewishness as well as her exercise in live drawing the Eurovision song contest. The guys also take the opportunity to talk with their guest about her earlier works, such as Unterzakhn and Queen's Day, and her upcoming fictional narrative set in the 1940s.

Aug 22, 2016

Time Codes:

  • 00:26 - Introduction
  • 03:33 - Announcement: the Young Readers series' one-year anniversary!
  • 06:51 - Might Jack
  • 22:26 - Ghosts
  • 45:17 - Wrap up
  • 45:37 - Contact us

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Although some kids may not be so excited to be heading back to school, Gwen and Andy (the Two People with PhDs) give young readers cause to rejoice this month with the upcoming release of two new graphic novels: Mighty Jack (First Second) by Ben Hatke and Ghosts (Graphix/Scholastic) by Raina Telgemeier.

Andy starts things off with Mighty Jack, the story of a kid named Jack who’s not having a very fun summer. To make ends meet, Jack’s single mom finds a second job, but that means Jack will have sole responsibility of keeping an eye on his autistic sister Maddy. Maddy never speaks, until one day at a flea market she shocks Jack by telling him that he must buy a box of seeds from a sketchy-looking man. Later, as Jack and Maddy plant a garden with their new seeds, weird, magical, and dangerous things begin to happen.

Next, Gwen introduces the highly-anticipated new book by Raina Telgemeier, Ghosts. It's the story of Catrina and her family as they move from Los Angeles to the Northern California coast, hoping the climate will agree with Cat’s sister Maya, who suffers from cystic fibrosis. Cat is shocked to discover that everyone in their new town seems obsessed with ghosts, even Maya. Cat just wishes they could just go back to L.A., but her parents -- and perhaps the ghosts -- have other plans.

Gwen and Andy point out elements common in both books: parental issues, sibling rivalries and bonding, freedom, danger, and fear of the unknown. Both books are multilayered, superbly told, and they should appeal equally to readers young and old (something of a rarity these days). Although their art styles are quite different, these two books demonstrate that Hatke and Telgemeier are both masterful storytellers. These creators are producing what are perhaps their best works. It’s an exciting time for comics readers of all ages, and these are two books to pick up with confidence.

Aug 19, 2016

This month for the on-location recording at Collected Comics and Games in Plano, TX, the discussion table is rather crowded. Derek is joined by many of the regular Collected customers -- Craig, Matt, and Nick -- but joining the conversation for the first time are Tristan, Chris, and Carrie, as well as Brian, the shop's newest associate. The talk begins with Craig's recounting of his own experiences at this year's San Diego Comic-Com, but then it segues into a discussion of recent comics that folks have been reading. Some of those titles include Grant Morrison's KlausDivinity IIBlack HammerBackstagersGiant DaysVoltron Legendary DefenderFight Club 2Black PantherWonder Woman, and various Brian K. Vaughan titles.  They also discuss several comics-related Netflix shows, DC's upcoming Young Animal series, and writers in other media who have tried their hands in comics. Needless to say, this is a packed episode with a full table of participants and plenty of topics to go around.

Aug 17, 2016

This week the Two Guys with PhDs visit grounds they rarely tread: superhero comics. Don't worry, they don't completely forsake their mission statement, but they definitely approach the line. While each of the titles they discuss reflect the mainstream and/or the superhero genre, in one way or another, they all nonetheless stand outside of the usual machinations of the Big Two.

The guys begin with Tarzan: The Complete Joe Kubert Years (Dark Horse Books), a 600+ page omnibus collecting almost all of Kubert's DC Tarzan run. Or at least those stories on which he served as artist, in some way. In fact, Andy admits at the outset that this idea for a superhero-tinged episode springs from him wanting to discuss Kubert's Tarzan. And as both he and Derek make clear, this is an impressive volume that is well worth reading. It contains adaptations of three of Edgar Rice Burroughs's novels -- Tarzan of the ApesThe Return of Tarzan, and Tarzan and the Iron Man -- and a wealth of short stories Kubert wrote for the 1970s series. Some are more traditional jungle adventures, while others (such as "The Magic Herb" and the one Korak story in the collection) delve into the fantastic.

Next, Derek and Andy look at the first issue in the new ongoing Faith series from Valiant Comics, written by Jody Houser with art by Pere Perez and Marguerite Sauvage. Last year the publisher began a four-issue miniseries based on Zephyr, the crimefighting identity of Faith Hebert. That was apparently successful enough to warrant an ongoing series. What makes this title so appealing is its lighter tone, contrasting sharply with the dark and gritty atmosphere found in most superhero comics, and especially its handling of the female protagonist. Through the figure of Faith, Houser explores popular (mis)conceptions of female body image and heroic ideals. In this way, Faith can be read as a meta-commentary on the superhero genre and pop culture fandom, as a whole.

The Two Guys wrap up their sorta-superhero show with a discussion of Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston's Black Hammer (Dark Horse Comics). Issue #2 comes out this week, and guys point out the possible similarities between this title and Lemire's Plutona for Image Comics. The premise is intriguing, although it participates in the kind of alternative superhero storytelling often found in non-Big Two publishers. Both Andy and Derek are on board for this title, especially given Ormston's art, although they're not sure if they're going to read this on an issue-by-issue basis or if this is a title that might better be read in trade collections. It's something they recommend that listeners should definitely pick up and then decide for themselves.

Aug 15, 2016

On this interview episode Derek has the pleasure of talking with Koren Shadmi. His latest book, Love Addict: Confessions of a Serial Dater was released last month from Top Shelf Productions. They begin the conversation by discussing the genesis of this semi-autobiographical project and Koren's own experiences on singles dating websites. He describes the challenge of making his protagonist, K., both identifiable and problematic, all the while walking a fine line between authenticity and potential charges of misogyny. But they also discuss Koren's other works, including his experimental story collection, In the Flesh, and his webcomic-turned-book, The Abaddon. Koren also discusses his latest webcomic on the Vice channel, Motherboard, and his plans for future projects. Derek also asks his guest about last year's Mike's Place: A True Story of Love, Blues, and Terror in Tel Aviv, his own Israeli roots, and his thoughts on being identified (and perhaps pigeonholed) as a Jewish or Israeli cartoonist.

Aug 12, 2016

On this, the second episode of the new Euro Comics series, Edward and Derek discuss two recent publications that involve journeys, but in vastly different ways. They begin with the latest translation from IDW's EuroComics imprint, The Adventures of Dieter Lumpen. Written by Jorge Zentner and with art by Rubén Pellejero (and translated by Carlos Guzman and Dean Mullaney), this volume collects all of the Dieter Lumpen stories the two originally published between 1985 and 1994. The eleven tales contained within are standalone adventures of the titular protagonist. And his travels take him all over the globe. In fact, the guys spend a good deal of time discussing the adventure genre and how The Adventures of Dieter Lumpen taps into the rich tradition of this kind of comic by Franco-Belgian creators. But what distinguishes these stories from those of Hergé's Tintin -- and even from the kind of American adventures found in the Indiana Jones movies -- is the inadvertent, reluctant, and even unheroic nature of Dieter Lumpen's encounters. The Two Guys first talk about the eight narratives that open the book, all short stories and tightly interconnected, and then turn to the three longer pieces that close out the volume. Edward particularly appreciates the more complicating or less-than-heroic tales of Lumpen found in "Games of Chance" and "The Bad Guy," and Derek is drawn to the fantastical and even surreal quality of "Caribbean" and especially the final story, "The Reaper's Price." Indeed, both believe that the latter is Zentner and Pellejero most ambitious collaboration.

After that, the guys turn to Come Prima, recently translated into English by the Delcourt (and offered through ComiXology). Written and drawn by Alfred (the pen name of Lionel Papagalli), the book won the Angoulême International Comics Festival Prize for Best Album in 2013. It's the story of two brothers, Fabio and Giovanni, as they journey from France to their childhood home in Italy. The older Fabio is estranged from his family and has a bad track record with relationships, and Giovanni arrives unexpectedly to help suture the emotional wounds his brother may have caused. The travel they undergo in their Fiat 500 is just an outward manifestation of the much deeper inner journeys both brothers make both separately and together. This is a powerful narrative showcased, first and foremost, by Alfred's art, although Edward finds the translation of this album, by Studio Charon, to be uneven in places. Nonetheless, this is an award-winning book that should be on the reading list of anyone interested in contemporary European comics.

Aug 10, 2016

On this episode of The Comics Alternative, Derek and Andy celebrate their 200th regular review episode! They begin by sharing some of the messages and well wishes they've received from listeners in the past couple of weeks.

After that, they get into a discussion of this week's review titles. They begin with Eric Powell's new series, Hillbilly (Albatross Funnybooks), the second issue of which was just released last week. The guys focus on Powell's use of folktale tropes and storytelling techniques, pointing out that this title reads more somberly than does The Goon and Billy the Kid's Old Timey Oddities (at least so far), although it does have its humorous moments. Albeit subtle.

Much more in-your-face is Satan's Sodomy Baby #2 -- branded as SSBII for "safer" consumption -- Powell's other Albatross Funnybooks publication. This is a follow up to the 2007 one-shot Satan's Sodomy Baby, and like the earlier issue this comic book will not be reprinted nor will it be released digitally. And, appropriately enough, it comes in a sealed bag and parental advisory warning, so as to avoid any immature hands. While this issue of Satan's Sodomy Baby isn't as scatological as the first, it's over-the-top in an entirely different way. Current politics is what drives this story, and Donald J. Trump is the butt (pun intended) of Powell's scathing satire, small hands and all.

The Two Guys wrap up this week's episode with a look at Leslie Stein's Time Clock: An Eye of the Majestic Creature Book (Fantagraphics). Very different from last year's Bright-Eyed at Midnight, this book is a follow up to Stein's other Eye of the Majestic Creature releases from 2011 and 2013. Andy and Derek discuss the the phantasmagorical stories that make up the text, wondering if the protagonist's life events -- e.g., her sand counting and the relationship with her anthropomorphic guitar friend, Marshmallow -- may have any allegorical connections to Stein's own life. But what drives the narrative is Stein's seemingly mundane observations, clothed in the fantastic, and especially her art style, a curious mixture of cartoon and creepy.

Aug 8, 2016

This month on the webcomics series, Sean and Derek delve into three tonally different titles. They begin with Sam Logan's long-running Sam and Fuzzy. This is a series that has been around since 2001, starting off as a gag strip in Logan's college's student newspaper and then becoming a webcomic in 2002. The creator diligently keeps his Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule of publication, and with almost fifteen years behind it, that's a substantive webcomic. In fact, the Two Guys discuss the intricacies of its storylines, the expansion of its cast, and the evolution of Logan's art. One would be hard pressed to find a webcomic with a more dynamic history, and the guys try their best to cover as many points as possible.

Next, Derek and Sean's discussion takes a decidedly literary turn with Ulysses Seen, a webcomic adaptation of James Joyce's masterpiece. Illustrated and adapted by Robert Berry, this is a project that attempts to capture the novel it the fullest sense. This is no mere graphic Cliff Notes version of Ulysses, but one that tries to represent Joyce's voice and style. Accompanying the webcomic proper are analytical blog postings by Mike Barsanti, contextualizing the story and explicating its many facets. This is certainly an ambitious endeavor -- it even has its own app in the iTunes store -- although the guys do note the webcomic's biggest weakness: its design. It's not easy to navigate the website and find your way around, and there are too many duplicate pages or links to nowhere. What's more, the webcomic doesn't seem to have been updated since 2011 or 2013 (it's not easy to determine each page's publication date), and the adaptation is only up to Episode Five: The Lotus Eaters. But if you're a fan of the classic and have patience, then Ulysses Seen can be worth the wait.

Finally, the guys wrap up with an already completed webcomic, Adam Szym's Biome. This is a short piece that can be found at Szym's website Good Show Sir, along with a number of his other comics. This webcomic stands out for intricacy of art and especially its design for reading. Sean points out that it employs some of Scott McCloud's ideas behind the "infinite canvas," and Derek feels that the reading experience is similar to what you will find with Study Group Comics. But however you approach it, this highly stylized work, with its fantastical tone and sci-fi leanings, is standout example of what webcomics are capable of.

Aug 3, 2016

This week on the podcast, Andy and Derek discuss the August Previews catalog. Even more importantly, the Two Guys celebrate the four-year anniversary of the podcast! That's right, The Comics Alternative is now four years old, having its first episode published on August 1, 2012. So this episode begins with a brief assessment of the many episodes they've done over the years. But the core of this week's show is a discussing of the solicitations in the latest Previews...and there are a lot of them worth mentioning. So many, in fact, that this is another extra long episode. Among the many upcoming title Derek and Andy highlight are from publishers such as

1