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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: October, 2016
Oct 31, 2016

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Derek is back at his local comic shop, Valhalla Games and Comics in Plano, TX, for the October on-location episode. But it is also Halloween ComicFest 2016, adding even more flavor into mix. He is joined by customers of the shop, some of them in costume, to discuss horror comics, Halloween specials, as well as scary movies and games. They spend  much of their time discussing the many free comic-book offerings for this year's Halloween ComicFest. Derek is particularly interested in the special horror manga issues, such as VIZ Media's Tomie and Drawn and Quarterly's Shigeru Mizuki's Kitaro: Strange Fun for Everyone. But there are many other titles that the gang discusses, ranging from holiday-appropriate (e.g., Comix Tribe's Mummy's Always Right, American Mythology's The Three Stooges Halloween Hullabaloo, and the BoooOOOoooM! Box Halloween Haunt 2016) to Halloween-free, such as several offerings from DC and Marvel.

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Oct 28, 2016

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In celebration of the Halloween season, Shea and Derek devote October's episode to a discussion of horror manga. This month they look at six -- count them, six! -- books, all of which embody the eerie holiday spirit in some way. That makes this a extra-long episode, clocking in at over two and a half hours, the longest manga show the Two Guys have ever produced. They begin with a classic example of horror manga, Hideshi Hino's Hell Baby (Blast Books), and then move on to the medium's most notable practitioner of the genre, Junji Ito and his 2014 collection Fragments of Horror (VIZ Media). They then turn up the creep factor with Usamaru Furuya's Lychee Light Club (Vertical Comics) and Jun Abe's Portus (VIZ Media). Finally, the guys conclude with two brand new titles from Kodansha Comics, Kazuhiro Fujita's The Black Museum: The Ghost and the Lady, Book 1 and the shojo anthology Neo Parasyte F. The latter is a fifteen-story celebration of Hitoshi Iwaaki’s classic Parasyte series, which ran from 1988 to 1995. In their extensive discussions, Shea and Derek visit such topics as the juxtaposition of cute and gross, why the grotesque may become a writing crutch, the many uses of gender ambiguity, if video games are inherently spooky, and how Florence Nightingale can be quite sexy. That's right, folks, it's all here!

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Oct 26, 2016

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It's the Wednesday before Halloween, so it's time once again for the Two Guys with PhDs to look at this season's spooky, horror-filled offerings. This year, Andy and Derek discuss 10 individual titles, some of which were specifically published for Halloween 2016 and others with particular themes and release dates that nicely coincide with the holiday. They begin with four all-age anthology titles and then move on to works that, while not specifically intended as Halloween specials, capture the spirit of the season  in one form or another. In total, they discuss:

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Oct 24, 2016

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Time Codes:

  • 00:24 - Introduction
  • 02:28 - Setup of interview
  • 04:50 - Interview with Mike Howlett
  • 56:56 - Wrap up
  • 57:52 - Contact us

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Halloween is just around the corner, and what could be scarier than a nest of snakes? Although to hear Mike Howlett tell it, there's nothing at all frightening about the legless reptiles. This was part of the impetus behind Snake Tales, the latest volume in Yoe Books' Chilling Archives of Horror Comics series. In it, Mike curates some of the weirdest, the most ridiculous, and the most ophidiophobia-inducing snake-related tales found in pre-code comics. Derek talks with Mike about the genesis of this project, his love of snakes, his collaboration with noted herpetologist Frank T. Burbrink, and his ongoing work with Craig Yoe and Clizia Gussoni in their never-ending quest to bring pre-code horror sensibilities to the heartland of America.

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Oct 19, 2016

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On this week's review episode, Paul joins Derek to discuss three titles that are certainly out of the ordinary. They begin with Black Eye No. 3, an anthology edited by Ryan Standfest, the publisher of Rotland Press. This is a first for The Comics Alternative in a couple of different ways. It is the first time the Two Guys are reviewing a Rotland Press title, but more significantly, this is the first time they have discussed a crowd-funded book before the campaign's completion. And listeners are strongly encouraged to back this project on Indiegogo. Calling itself "the anthology of humor and despair," Black Eye is a series devoted to short, offbeat comic stories, illustrations, and prose pieces, although in the current (and final) volume there is a noticeable absence of the latter. Both Derek and Paul recognize several of the contributors in this anthology -- including Joan Cornellà, Martin Rowson, Eric Haven, David Lynch, Julia Gfrörer, Onsmith, and Alejandro Jodorowsky -- but much of the joy in this volume comes from discovering the work of newer creators. And there is a lot of talent here!

Next, the guys check out a more conventional work, Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward's Ancestor (Image Comics). Although "conventional" might be a stretch here. Originally serialized in the anthology Island, this is a futuristic, or perhaps an alternate-world, narrative exploring our relationship with networked technologies and the potential consequences of complete creative freedom. As the guys point out, the story takes an unexpected turn in the final chapter, ultimately walking a fine line between paradise and dystopia.

Paul and Derek wrap up this week's show with a look at the latest in Youth in Decline's quarterly monograph series, Frontier. This thirteenth issue showcases the work of Richie Pope and is titled "Fatherson." As the guys point out, it's a poignant and idiosyncratic meditation on fatherhood, specifically African American fatherhood. In fact, Derek and Paul discuss the racial specificity of the text, while at the same time observing that the story is not bound by ethnic contexts. Pope is primarily known as an illustrator -- his work has appeared in the The New York TimesThe AtlanticScientific American, and The New Yorker, among other titles -- but this issue of Frontier aptly demonstrates his abilities in sequential storytelling.

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Oct 18, 2016

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:25 - Introduction
  • 00:02:07 - Setup of interview
  • 00:03:03 - Interview with Chris Miskiewicz and Palle Schmidt
  • 01:22:34 - Wrap up
  • 01:23:32 - Contact us

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On this interview episode, Derek talks with Chris Miskiewicz and Palle Schmidt about their miniseries, Thomas Alsop, the second volume of which is being released from BOOM! Studios. In addition to discussing the genesis of and the process behind the title, Derek's guests speculate on the critical and popular response it's received, the long-term potential of the series, and creators' responsibilities in representing 9/11. Palle and Chris also discuss their use of race in America and the ways in which Thomas Alsop is undeniably an historically anchored text.

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Oct 17, 2016

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For the October webcomics episode, Sean and Derek check out three very different webcomics, the first of which highlights the Halloween season. Abby Howard's The Last Halloween is a combination of creepy illustrations and offbeat humor including a monster apocalypse, an ebullient vampire boy, a social media-addicted ghoul, and a grieving father who crossdresses in his dead wife's clothes. The guys enjoy the fun and meandering story, although Derek wonders if the storytelling could be a little more focused in places.

Next, they look at Theora Kvitka's first webcomic, Urbanity Planet. This is a relatively new story, beginning in February of this year, so readers can experience the artist's online voice as it develops. It's a series of vignettes centered on recent college grads who can't find work on earth and, as a result, move to the planet N!#ult0n to earn a living. Filled with quirky observations, the webcomic is an alternate reality glimpse into the dilemma of millennials.

Before they look at the month's final webcomic, the guys check in with Jim McClain and Paul Schultz to get an update on their in-the-works webcomic, Poe and the Mysteriads. Things are moving right along, although Jim expresses a mea culpa. Click HERE for new sample art!

Finally, Sean and Derek discuss the completed webcomic, Odysseus the Rebel. This is Steven Grant and Scott Bieser's adaptation of the Homeric classic, but one that doesn't feel the need to be comprehensive or "true" to the original. That's what the guys appreciate about this adaptation, Grant and Bieser's ability to take the essence of The Odyssey and translate it into a contemporary voice. And with its emphasis on storytelling, Odysseus the Rebel demonstrates a particular metafictional bent.

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Oct 14, 2016

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:24 - Introduction
  • 00:02:08 - Setup of interview
  • 00:03:43 - Interview with Luke Howard
  • 01:04:41 - Wrap up
  • 01:06:33 - Contact us

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On this interview episode, Derek has the pleasure of talking with Luke Howard. His new book, Our Mother, was recently released from Retrofit/Big Planet Comics, but he also had another work published earlier this year from AdHouse, Talk Dirty to Me. Derek talks with Luke about both of those titles as well as his comics collected in anthologies such as IreneDog City, and Maple Key Comics. Over the coarse of their conversation, Luke shares the personal history that went into Our Mother, his experiences in self-publishing, and the ways in which his training as a filmmaker informs his visual storytelling.

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Oct 12, 2016

Hurricane Matthew hit the U.S. Southeast coast last week, and as a result, many communities were flooded and without power. Andy was one of those affected by the storm, being without electricity and water for several days. As a result, he was unable to take part in this week's episode, what was planned as the first of a two-part series on recent crime comics. (Those shows have now been rescheduled for November.) In his place is Shea Hennum, the cohost of the monthly manga series. He joins Derek for a back-and-forth on a variety of comics-related topics. Because this was a last-minute change in the guys' schedule, they didn't have time to prepare for a regular review show, so the conversation is free-flowing and casual. Along the way, Derek and Shea discuss some of the self-published comics creators have sent them, Shea's work for the AV Club, their experiences with various publishers, some of the memorable interviews they've conducted, selecting books for review purposes, and some of the comics they've recently been reading.

Oct 11, 2016

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Time Codes:

  • 00:24 - Introduction
  • 02:14 - Setup of interview
  • 02:57 - Interview with Box Brown
  • 53:28 - Wrap up
  • 54:53 - Contact us

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On this episode of the interview series Derek talks with Box Brown, whose new book Tetris: The Games People Play has just been released from First Second. As the two discuss, this is a detailed history of the famous video game and the cultural, business, and political contexts swirling around the program's creation. Box shares his experiences and fascination with the game, explaining the genesis of the project and the research that went into it. Whereas his previous First Second book, Andrea the Giant, focused on one figure, the new work synthesizes the lives of everyone involved in the creation of Tetris including its designer Alexy Pajitnov as well as the many key players at Nintendo, Mirrorsoft, Andromeda Software, Atari, Bulletproof Software, and Elorg, the government bureau tasked with overseeing the profits and negotiations surrounding any computer products coming out of the Soviet Union. But Box also focuses on the psychology of gaming and role it plays in our lives, using Tetris as his illustrative example.

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Oct 10, 2016

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For the October Euro Comics episode, Edward and Derek look at two works written by Fabien Nury. They begin with I Am Legion, recently out from Humanoids and featuring the art of John Cassaday. The story takes place in 1942, and the Nazis are experimenting with a force that could spell the quick end of the war. But this isn't just any military operation. It's one infused with vampiric lore. The guys explore this supernatural, gothic take on the Second World War, discussing along the way the faint presence of the Holocaust as well as the continued fertile ground of Nazi Germany as a narrative bedrock for European albums.

Next, they look at another work by Nury, this one illustrated by Brüno. Tyler Cross: Black Rock was originally published by Dargaud in 2013 but offered last year digitally in an English translation from Europe Comics. In terms of of both genre and art, this book is strikingly different from the first one Edward and Derek discuss. Tyler Cross is a gritty crime noir narrative set in the American Southwest, with Brüno's stylized illustrations bringing out its bleak and violent tone. Set alongside Cassaday's realistic art, the book demonstrates the versatility of Nury's collaborative storytelling abilities. The guys also allude to the second book in this series, Tyler Cross: Angola, and speculate on future installments.

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Oct 7, 2016

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:24 - Introduction
  • 00:02:49 - Setup of interview
  • 00:03:54 - Interview with Ethan Young
  • 01:15:31 - Wrap up
  • 01:16:54 - Contact us

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Derek and Andy W. have the pleasure of talking with Ethan Young, whose latest work has just been released from from Dark Horse Books. The Battles of Bridget Lee: Invasion of Farfall is tale set in a future world where humans fight an alien race called Marauders, creatures bent on extermination so as to colonize and populate for their own survival. The guys ask Ethan about the genesis of his Mulan-inspired hero, Bridget Lee, and his plans for taking her into further adventures. (Invasion of Farfall reads like the beginning of an action-packed adventure series.) They also take the opportunity to discuss Ethan's notable work from last year, Nanjing: The Burning City, and his long-running webcomic Tails that wrapped up last year.

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Oct 6, 2016

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Time Codes:

  • 00:24 - Introduction
  • 02:12 - Setup of interview
  • 03:50 - Interview with Jason Shiga
  • 58:26 - Wrap up
  • 59:54 - Contact us

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For this interview episode, Paul and Derek have the pleasure of talking with Jason Shiga. The first volume in his Demon series comes out this week from First Second, and the cartoonist goes into a lot of detail about the efforts that eventually led to this publication. As listeners of the podcast well know -- since Demon was first discussed on the show back in December 2014 -- the title began as a webcomic, with Jason self-publishing individual issues in pamphlet form as the story progressed. This endeavor eventually caught the attention of First Second, and now we have the first in a four-volume paperback series.

The guys spend most of their time discussing the unique premise of Demon, a fast-paced adventure that questions our foundations of morality, and artist's continued use of his protagonist Jimmy Yee. This is a character that readers might recognize from earlier works such as BookhunterEmpire State, and Meanwhile, and Jason describes his narrating strategies as similar to Tezuka's star system. Paul and Derek also ask Jason about his penchant for experimenting with form, his use of the webcomics platform, and his ambitious new project, "The Box."

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Oct 5, 2016

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It's the first week of October, the beginning of the month, so that must mean that it's time once again for Andy and Derek to look through the latest Previews catalog. However, before they delve into the current solicits they take a few moments to thank two new Patreon supporters and welcome them to the noble ranks of Comics Alternative patrons. Then, after a few comments about the upcoming Comics Crossroads Columbus, the Two Guys get  into the meat of the episode. Among the many upcoming titles they highlight from the October Previews catalog are from publishers such as

Oct 4, 2016

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Time Codes:

  • 0:00:24 - Introduction
  • 0:02:23 - Setup of interview
  • 0:03:30 - Interview with Sarah Glidden
  • 1:06:53 - Wrap up
  • 1:08:11 - Contact us

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On this interview episode, Andy and Derek are pleased to have Sarah Glidden as their guest. Her new book, Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, comes out this week from Drawn and Quarterly, and the guys talk with Sarah about this work as well as her previous book, How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, a new edition of which has also been recently released. They begin by asking Sarah about the differences between, as well as the confluence of, memoir and journalism in her comics, and that speculative tone discussion sets the stage for the rest of the interview. The author goes into detail when sharing her philosophy of writing, and she provides a thorough history surrounding the context of the Rolling Blackouts and its differences from her earlier work.

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Oct 3, 2016

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Time Codes:

  • 00:27 - Introduction
  • 03:22 - Context for listeners
  • 06:02 - The controversy surrounding Ghosts
  • 30:26 - The Backstagers #1
  • 40:12 - Show White
  • 59:04 - Wrap up
  • 59:28 - Contact us

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This episode of the Young Readers show begins with a special feature: Andy and Gwen return to a comic that they reviewed for the August YR show, Raina Telgemeier’s GhostsThey present a revised review of that comic, based upon a number of issues that have been raised in the last month by scholars and librarians regarding cultural appropriation and Telgemeier’s status as an outsider writing about the California missions and about the Dia de los Muertos celebrations that are a common feature of Mexican and Mexican American cultural life. Although the two PhDs typically try to avoid spoilers in their reviews, in this case, they mention specific events in the comic, so if you would like to wait until you have read Ghosts to listen to this segment, know that it occurs between the time codes 6:02 and 30:26.

As part of revisiting their discussion of Ghosts, Gwen and Andy bring up a number of resources that readers may wish to consult regarding issues of cultural appropriation, including Dr. Debbie Reese’s blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature; Dr. Laura Jiménez’s blog, Booktoss; and the Reading While White blog that is the creation of a number of librarians who are “allies for racial diversity and inclusion in books for children and teens.”

During the regular review portion of the podcast, Andy and Gwen discuss The Backstagers #1, written by James Tynion IV, drawn by Rian Sygh, with color by Walter Baiamonte, and lettering by Jim Campbell. This exciting, fast-paced comic, published by BOOM! Studios, has a lot in common with another BOOM! Studio’s hit series, Lumberjanes, so whether one is a veteran of theater productions or just likes ensemble comics that feature an eclectic cast of characters, then The Backstagers will fill the bill. For his part, Andy applauds Tynion and Sygh’s depiction of the people who do all of the hard work behind the scenes of a theater production, often without acclaim, and Gwen gives the series praise for its inclusion of a number of gay characters who are part of the stage crew. The Backstagers also includes supernatural elements that would appeal to young readers who have an interest in science fiction characters and settings.

Next, the two PhDs discuss Matt Phelan’s graphic novel, Snow White (Candlewick Press), an adaptation that is steeped in elements of film noir, and even silent film, while managing to comment on contemporary debates about the ethics of the pursuit of wealth. Set during the Great Depression, the evil queen becomes the Queen of Ziegfield Follies, and all of the energy and emotion of the era is expressed in Phelan’s exceptional watercolor panels that are intricately shaded and carefully colored. Andy discusses Phelan’s impressive career as an award-winning creator of such texts as The Storm in the Barn, which won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, and he praises Phelan’s decision to allow the often sinister and gritty aspects that characterized eighteenth- and nineteenth-century folktale and fairytale variants to emerge in this version of Snow White. Although readers would not need to be familiar with the origin text, both Andy and Gwen agree that much of the power of the narrative comes from the way that Phelan translates familiar tropes such as the talking mirror into a Depression-era setting.

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