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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: December, 2016
Dec 30, 2016

Time Codes:

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It's the final manga episode of the year, and to close out 2016 Shea and Derek discuss a couple of fascinating new editions of older manga. But first they talk about their holiday activities with one another and then go on to share the listener mail they received about their November manga episode. After that, it's manga time! They begin with Junji Ito's Tomie: Complete Deluxe Edition (VIZ Media). This volume brings together all of the previous Tomie stories, initially released in three separate books. As listeners of the podcast may know, Shea and Derek are big fans of Junji Ito, but this is the first time either of the guys have read this series. They point out both the similarities and the differences between this text (especially the early stories) and later Ito works such as Uzumaki and Gyo. Shea is particularly taken by Ito's early, looser illustration style, while Derek focuses on the, at times, goofy scenarios surrounding Tomie. They're weirder than even the most unusual premises you'll find in Junji Ito.

After that, the guys turn to Tsutomu Nihei's Blame! This series has also been previously published, but now Vertical Comics is releasing it in new master editions. The second volume was just published this month, and volume 3 is due out in March. So Shea and Derek limit their discussion to the story contained within these first two book. This is an action-heavy manga, and while this kind of graphic storytelling isn't one of Derek's favorites, it's something that Shea absolutely loves. But both guys appreciate the incremental world building and especially Nihei's astounding ability in representing The City, the vast post-apocalyptic landscape in which the story takes place. The bottom line is that both guys love the storyworld and plan to continue reading this series.

Dec 28, 2016

Time Codes:

  • 00:01:50 - Introduction
  • 00:03:37 - Setting up our favorites
  • 00:07:16 - Year-end statistics
  • 00:15:54 - Our favorites of 2016
  • 01:43:22 - Wrapping up our favorites, and honorable mentions
  • 01:48:55 - Contact us

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This is the last regular review episode of 2016, and as the Two Guys with PhDs do annually, they use their final show of the year to share their favorite comics from the past twelve months. Both Andy and Derek have each chosen what he considers the 10 best of 2016 -- and in no particular order -- but neither has shared his list with the other until the recording of this episode. So there are some surprises along the way. There is not much overlap between the guys' lists, and only two titles are mentioned by both. Taken together, this is a wide-ranging selection that includes everything from mainstream superhero comics to small-press selections, from webcomics to manga, from comics in translation to works that are sure to become part of many readers' canon.

However, before they plunge into their lists the guys share some year-end statistics. By the end of 2016 The Comics Alternative will have produced 162 episodes (including this episode and the December manga review). Among those shows, 278 print titles will have been discussed along with 36 webcomics. Derek also crunched the numbers in terms of the most reviewed publishers. The one whose titles were discussed most frequently was Image Comics, with the guys focusing on 25 of their titles. Next is Fantagraphics and Dark Horse Comics with 21 reviewed titles each. After that it's IDW with 19, DC/Vertigo with 17, First Second with 13, and BOOM! Studios with 11. Other publishers whose titles have been reviewed at least 5 times over the past year include Kilgore Books (9), Kodansha Comics (8), Alternative Comics (7), Aftershock (7), Floating World (6), Drawn and Quarterly (5), Retrofit/Big Planet (5), and Avery Hill Publishing (5).

After that numerical rundown, the Two Guys get into their 10 favorite titles of 2016:

Andy's Top 10 of 2016

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Derek's Top 10 of 2016

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The Honorable Mentions…These Titles Almost, but Just Didn’t Quite, Make It onto Each Guy's List

For Andy

For Derek

Dec 23, 2016

Time Codes:

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This month's Euro Comics episode is later than usual, due to scheduling conflicts and accessibility issues. But Edward and Derek are back just in time to wish their listeners a happy holiday season and to present their first theme-based show of the monthly series. For December the Two Guys (almost) with PhDs discuss three works in the Western genre. They begin with Alejandro Jodorowsky and Francois Boucq's Bouncer (Humanoids). This new edition collects the first seven volumes of the Jodorowsky's series, comprising three intricate and involved storylines. The guys focus a lot on Jodorowsky's spaghetti western style of storytelling and the unconventional twists therein, including physical grotesques and dominatrix executioners. They also spend time discussing some of the cultural and racial stereotypes found in the narratives, a topic to which they will return later in the episode.

Next, Edward and Derek look at two releases from a publisher that's not yet been discussed on The Comics Alternative...an unfortunate oversight, up until now. The UK publisher of Franco-Beligan albums, Cinebook, provides the guys with Jean Van Hamme  and Grzegorz Rosinski's Western and the latest release in René Goscinny and Morris's Lucky Luke series, The Ballad of the Daltons and Other Stories. In the former, Rosinski's beautiful sepia-toned water colors creates a gritty postbellum world that is not unlike Boucq's efforts in Bouncer -- and both revolve around antiheroes with a missing arm. Both guys enjoyed Western, although Derek plays Monday morning quarterback in his thoughts on the book's abrupt shift in narration during the last two pages. With Lucky Luke, Edward begins by focusing on the popularity of the series, but then he mentions the need for more socio-historical context in way of an introduction. The ethnoracial representations in these stories may leave some readers uncomfortable, but they speak to both the time in which they were written and the cultural positioning of the creators.

Dec 21, 2016

Time Codes:

  • 00:01:30 - Introduction
  • 00:03:21 - News and updates
  • 00:12:05 - Best American Comics 2016
  • 01:07:29 - Wrap up
  • 01:08:37 - Contact us

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Every year the Two Guys with PhDs use the final two episodes of the year as a respective, a look back at some of the best comics out there. Next week they'll release their own favorites of the past twelve months, but for this, their penultimate show of the year, Andy and Derek discuss what others consider outstanding. The 2016 volume Best American Comics, edited by cartoonist Roz Chast (and with series editor Bill Kartalopoulos), includes thirty contributions from a variety of creators and displaying a wide range of styles and storytelling strategies. These comics were originally published between September 1, 2015 and August 31, 2015, and in many cases they include titles that the guys have discussed on past episodes. (For insights into the selection process for this volume, check out the previously published interview with Bill Kartalopoulos.) As the guys point out, there are entries in this collection that should come as no surprise to comics readers -- e.g., Adrian Tomine's "Killing and Dying," Drew Friedman's "R. Crumb and Me," various Kate Beaton strips, and excerpts from Richard McGuire's Here and Chris Ware's The Last Saturday -- but some of the most notable contributions are from artists with whom the guys weren't yet familiar, or are selections that might not be on most readers' "Best of" lists. As you'll hear on this episode, Derek and Andy are excited to discover the work of Taylor-Ruth Baldwin, Sophia Zdon, Lance Ward, and Char Esmé, while at the same time they are glad to see recognition of works by Joe Ollmann, John Porcellino, Keiler Roberts, and Nina Bunjevac. But every piece in this anthology is worthy of attention, as are the various titles listed in its "Notable Comics" section at the very end. With a new year on the horizon, it's always useful to look back at those comics that have helped define where we are today. And as the guys point out, the annual Best American Comics volumes are some of the gauges out there.

Dec 20, 2016

Time Codes:

  • 00:01:20 - Introduction
  • 00:03:07 - Setup of interview
  • 00:04:13 - Interview with Bill Kartalopoulos
  • 01:17:31 - Wrap up
  • 01:18:53 - Contact us

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Andy and Derek are pleased to have back on their podcast Bill Kartalopoulos, the general editor of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Best American Comics series. He was on the show two years ago to discuss the 2014 volume of Best American Comics, that one guest-edited by Scott McCloud and Bill's first after assuming editorship. This time around the Two Guys talk with him about the latest volume guest edited by Roz Chast. They specifically ask Bill about his experiences in working with Chast, a cartoonist who brings a very different sensibility to anthology. Most of the conversation is devoted to the process of pulling together each year's volume, and Bill goes into great detail in explaining both his and his guest editors' roles. But they also discuss the specific contributions to the 2016 edition, the decision-making behind those selections, and the many discoveries Bill and Roz made along the way.

Dec 16, 2016

For the December on-location episode at Valhalla Games and Comics, Derek talks with customers and shop employees about their favorite comics from the past twelve months. This is a look back at the various series, events, collections, and original graphic novels that made the biggest impressions in 2016. Joining in on the conversation are some of the usuals -- Stephanie, Matt, and Craig -- but Josh, a new fan of the shop and of the podcast, shows up to share his thoughts, as well. As might be expected, most of the titles discussed are from the Big Two universes, but there are a number of other titles that also resonated. One of the big takeaways from this conversation is the possible fatigue that is setting in when it comes to superhero events, especially as it relates to Marvel Comics. However, for some readers, a bright counterbalance can be found in IDW's "Revolution"crossover event.

Did 2016 really, really suck? Yes, especially when it comes to politics and the possibility of social progress. But regarding comics culture, the guys at Valhalla Games and Comics have a different opinion.

Josh, Craig, and Stephanie discuss their favorites of 2016.
Dec 15, 2016

Gwen and Andy both are astounded that the end of the year is almost upon them, and with that in mind, they’ve picked their favorite books of 2016 for young readers. The Two People with PhDs each picked five books in the children’s category and five books in the intermediate/young adult (YA) category, but something odd happened: their lists were almost identical!

In the children’s category, Gwen and Andy both chose the following four books, many of which they have already discussed on previous episodes.

Andy diverged by picking Bert’s Way Home, by John Martz (Koyama Press), the story of an orphan named Bert who’s no regular orphan, but an orphan of time and space, stranded on Earth after a cosmic accident.

Gwen’s final pick in this category was Blip! a TOON Level 1 book by Barnaby Richards about a robot whose vocabulary consists of only one word (“Blip”) as he tries to find his way through an unfamiliar planet.

In the Intermediate/YA category, Gwen and Andy also agree on their first four titles:

  • March: Book Three, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (Top Shelf), the third and final book in the March trilogy. March: Book Three is also a noteworthy book in that it recently won the prestigious National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, becoming the first graphic novel to win the award.
  • Camp Midnight, by Steven T. Seagle and Jason Adam Katzenstein (Image)
  • Paper Girls, Vol. 1, by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang (Image)
  • Snow White, by Matt Phelan (Candlewick Press)

The two people with PhDs also had the great pleasure of interviewing Matt Phelan on the show last month. You can listen to that interview here.

Andy’s final choice was Mighty Jack, by Ben Hatke, a title previously discussed on the show back in August.

For Gwen’s final choice, she picked Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling, by Tony Cliff (First Second), a book previously discussed by Derek and Sean in its original webcomics format. This volume picks up where the first volume, 2013's Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant, left off.

At the end of the show, Gwen mentioned a new all ages wordless comic that she learned about on Dr. Debbie Reese’s excellent American Indians in Children’s Literature blog, Jonathan Nelson’s The Wool of Jonesy: Part I, published by Native Realities Press. Here is the blurb from the publisher’s website:

Written and illustrated by Diné artist Jonathan Nelson, The Wool of Jonesy #1 tells the first story of Jonesy the Sheep and his adventures out on the rez. As Jonesy heads out to explore life after high school he finds himself discovering and dreaming. The wonderfully illustrated story gives young and old alike a simple and enchanting view of reservation life through the eyes of an amazing character!

Readers can check out Debbie Reese’s review.

Gwen and Andy hope that these titles might be considered for gift for the holiday season. You really can’t go wrong with any of these titles. We can’t wait to see what great comics are in store for us in 2017. You can be sure we’ll pass all the information along to you. Happy reading!

Dec 14, 2016

Time Codes:

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This week the Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics check out three recent titles, including the latest contributions from the Hernandez brothers. They begin with Love and Rockets #1 (Fantagraphics), the launch of the brothers' new (fourth) series that will appear quarterly and in magazine-sized format. This kind of presentation harkens back to the original run of Love and Rockets beginning in the early 1980s. Andy and Derek are quick to point out that, while the format may have changed, the storytelling picks up where the Love and Rockets: New Stories annual left off. Jaime continues his previous storylines surrounding Princess Animus, Vivian's half-sister Tonta, and, perhaps most notable, Maggie and Hopey's punk reunion. With Gilbert, it's the always evolving and convoluted Fritz saga, with even more Fritz imitators to keep track of.

And on the topic of Beto...The next book under discussion is his Garden of the Flesh (Fantagraphics). This is Gilbert's treatment of the Book of Genesis, although with less fidelity than Robert Crumb has demonstrated. As you might expect, there's a lot of explicit content, something that you might find in his Blubber series. In fact, the guys note that what we have with Garden of the Flesh is the story of Adam and Eve and the story of Noah and the flood...but with a lot of money shots.

Finally, Andy and Derek turn to Isabel Greenberg's The One Hundred Nights of Hero (Little Brown). This is her follow up to 2014's The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, and everything is set in the same storyworld. Here we find the return of god/creator BirdMan and his children Kid and Kiddo. And as with Greenberg's first book, the overriding theme in The One Hundred Nights of Hero is storytelling. This time around, however, that theme is linked directly to female empowerment and sisterhood. With more than a tip of the pen to One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, Greenberg's tale demonstrates not only how worlds are created through language, but the dynamics underlying the control of those worlds.

Dec 12, 2016

Time Codes:

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For their last webcomics episode of 2016, Sean and Derek discuss three titles that were completely new to both of them. They begin with Theatrics, Neil Gibson's period drama set in 1920s New York. With art by Leonardo Gonzales and Jan Wijngaaard on colors, Theatrics is the story of popular Broadway actor who must find another line of work after he's physically disfigured due to a brutal mugging. Next, they turn to Brandon Shane's The Monster Under the Bed, a Romeo and Juliet-inspired romance between human and monster. As the guys point out, the art style has an all-age or "innocent" feel to it, but Shane's penchant for occasional nudity and cheesecake illustration may not be to all readers' liking. And then Derek and Sean wrap up with Faith Erin Hicks's Demonology 101. This is a very early work from a creator who has been making quite a name for herself in print -- e.g., Friends with Boys, Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, and The Nameless City -- and the guys focus not only on the story, but on the webcomic as a touchstone of Hick's artistic growth.

The Two Guys also check in with Jim McClain and Paul Schultz about their soon-to-be-launched webcomics, Poe and the Mysteriads...although Paul is unable to join in due to a winter cold. Nonetheless, Jim catches the guys up on what has been happening with the webcomic's development, including new art and the creators' various plans for their January 1st debut. Be sure to check in at the first of the new year at http://mysteriads.com. And visit their Facebook page for more details!

 

Dec 9, 2016

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:25 - Introduction
  • 00:02:40 - Setup of interview
  • 00:03:56 - Interview with Charles Soule and Ryan Browne
  • 01:07:49 - Wrap up
  • 01:09:44 - Contact us

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On this episode the Two Guys get a kick out of talking with Charles Soule and Ryan Browne. The first issue of their new series Curse Words will be released on January 18, but the guys wanted to have them on The Comics Alternative this early December so that they can encourage listeners to preorder that issue before the December 19 cutoff date. In this interview, Andy and Derek talk with the creators about their offbeat Image series and what went into creation of such an unusual narrative world. Both Ryan and Charles have been on the podcast separately before -- Ryan talking about God Hates Astronauts and Charles for his Letter 44 series -- but getting the two of them together for one interview is like combining unstable chemicals. And the conversation reveals this kind of wild volatility as the creators discuss the genesis of Curse Words, the history behind their collaborative efforts, and the wackiness planned for the series...including a van tour to promote the comic this summer. Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters will have nothing on these guys.

Be sure to keep up with all of the hullabaloo at the official Curse Words website!

Dec 7, 2016

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The Two Guys with PhDs are back for their final Previews show of 2016. In this episode, Andy and Derek do what they usually do, going through the current catalog from not quite beginning to end, highlighting the offerings from the premiere publishers as well as from small presses. Among the solicitations they note are offerings from:

Dec 5, 2016
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Photo by Greg Preston

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:25 - Introduction
  • 00:02:29 - Setup of interview
  • 00:03:53 - Interview with Drew Friedman
  • 01:10:22 - Wrap up
  • 01:11:32 - Contact us

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Derek and Andy are excited to have as their guest the great Drew Friedman. His new book More Heroes of the Comics comes out this week from Fantagraphics, and the guys use this opportunity to finally have him on the podcast. Both have been big fans of Drew's work since they discovered it back in the heydays of Spy magazine, and after listening to how much fun the artist was on an early episode of Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast, Andy and Derek knew they had to get Drew on their show. And now with the release of the new book, they have the opportunity!

The guys talk with Drew about this second installment in the Heroes of the Comics series and how it's both a continuation of, yet quite different from, the previous volume. Drew shares the decision-making process of inclusion, the art of portraiture, and the actual genesis of this series as a whole. This, in some ways, is similar to Friedman's earlier Old Jewish Comedian series, although there the artist set out to capture the entertainers in their later years, and with little text accompanying the portraits. In the Heroes of the Comics books, Drew pays tribute to both personage and context, as well as including brief biographical material on each artist. And in this second volume, Drew is specifically focused on very marginal figures in early comics history. Plus, their are anecdotes and laughs galore.

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After listening to this interview, be sure and check out and support "Vermeer of the Borscht Belt," a Kickstarter campaign currently going on for a full-length documentary about Drew Friedman. Why should you do this? Because Chico needs the money!

Dec 2, 2016

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:26 - Introduction
  • 00:02:16 - Setup of interview
  • 00:04:11 - Interview with W. Maxwell Prince and John Amor
  • 00:59:17 - Wrap up
  • 01:00:47 - Contact us

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On this interview episode, Gwen and Derek have the pleasure of talking with W. Maxwell Prince and John Amor. Their latest book, One Week in the Library, comes out next week from Image Comics. Most of the discussion topics surround this new work -- how the two creators met, their process of collaboration, the ideas behind the book's structure and intertextual allusions -- but Gwen and Derek also talk with their guests about their previous collaboration, Judas: The Last Days, as well as their separate efforts, including Will's current IDW series, The Electric Sublime. And, of course, a lot of talk about books and a lot of talk about libraries. What's more, you don't have to be a bibliophile to enjoy the conversation!

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