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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: February, 2017
Feb 22, 2017

Time Codes:

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Mods and Monsters

On this week's episode the Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics do deep dives into two recent, and very different, publications. They begin with Chynna Clugston Flores's Scooter Girl, just released from Image Comics. This is a brand new color edition of a six-issue black-and-white series originally published by Oni Press is 2003-2004, and then collected as a trade in 2004. Derek describes this it as an adult Archie, and throughout their discussion the guys make reference to the series that Chynna Clugston Flores is perhaps best known for, Blue Monday. As is evident in the recent publication, her writing is heavily infused with music and pop references -- specifically, mod culture and the mod revival during the 1970s and early 1980s -- and her art has a manga flair. As Andy and Derek point out, much of the appeal of Scooter Girl is the author's ability to take a milieu out of time and set it in a time and place where in never really existed.

Next, the Two Guys spend a lot of time discussing Emil Ferris's My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Vol. 1 (Fantagraphics). This is a phenomenal new work from an artist that neither Andy nor Derek knew about until the release of Resist!, to which Ferris contributed a story. The range and depth of this narrative is truly impressive, and as the guys make clear, it's a text that requires serious research and sustained analysis. The storytelling is ambitious and multilayered, its engagement with identity and marginalized cultures is sophisticated, its art style is unlike any other, and its treatment of late 1960s horror culture is thematically resonant. In short, this is one of the most astounding works that Derek and Andy have encountered so far this year. However, as much as the guys agree on this book's significance, they disagree on what constitutes the narrative's turning point. On one occasion in their discussion, Derek describes a particular illustration that Andy feels is a spoiler and could potentially diminish the emotional impact of the story. Derek disagrees, and the guys go back and forth over role of Ferris's art in establishing the text's climax (or climaxes). As their debate demonstrates, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is a richly textured work that should generate future analysis. And the guys eagerly await the second volume, which is due out in the fall.

Check out the titles discussed in this episode:

   

Feb 20, 2017

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:27 - Introduction
  • 00:03:08 - Introducing Paul Lai as new YR cohost
  • 00:04:50 - A farewell message from Andy Wolverton
  • 00:07:12 - Bats: Learning to Fly
  • 00:31:39 - NewsPrints
  • 01:00:37 - Wrap up
  • 01:01:11 - Contact us

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Changes

 

The Comics Alternative extends a warm welcome to Paul Lai, who has taken over from Andy Wolverton as co-host with Gwen Tarbox on the Young Readers show. Everyone at The Comics Alternative family will miss Andy’s wise and engaging reviews and perspectives on children’s and young adult comics.

In their first show together, Gwen and Paul discuss the newest volume in First Second Books’ Science Comics series, Falynn Christine Koch’s Bats: Learning to Fly, as well as Ru Xu’s fiction (“diesel-punk,” as Paul terms it) graphic novel NewsPrints, published by the GRAPHIX imprint at Scholastic Books.

Since its launch in 2016, the Science Comics series has included volumes on coral reefs, volcanoes, and dinosaurs. Geared towards upper elementary and middle school aged readers, Science Comics take advantage of the elements of visual storytelling to put forward scientific information. As the editors point out: “With the increasing ubiquity of visual information,” young readers need to “learn to process and respond to visual content, and comics are an incredibly effective medium for exploring visual literacy.” Regular listeners to the podcast may remember that Gwen and Andy reviewed Dinosaurs by M.K. Reed and Joe Flood in their March 2016 YR show, and many of the elements that they praised, including the accessibility of scientific information, as well as the use of humor, appear in Koch’s volume, as well.

Bats: Learning to Fly encourages young readers to understand the important role that bats play in the ecosystem, to overcome their fear of bats, and to learn how they can become involved in protecting and caring for bats. In addition to providing a great deal of information on various species of Bats, Koch creates a narrative in which a teenage girl, Sarah, volunteers at a bat rehabilitation center after her parents overreact to a bat and injure it. Lil’ Brown, as the bat is known, is both a character in that narrative and a narrative presence in his own right, as he directly addresses the reader at various points regarding his own anatomy and role in the ecosystem. As part of their discussion, Paul and Gwen consider how young readers might respond to the way information is imparted in the comic, and they look forward to Koch’s upcoming volume for the Science Comics series, Plagues: The Microscopic Battlefield, due out in August, 2017. Koch recently graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), and Gwen and Paul discuss how her precision drawings and humor-filled text combine to create a text that will delight readers, while encouraging them to appreciate how they can play a role in scientific study by volunteering to rehabilitate bats or building bat houses for their backyards.

Next, Gwen and Paul discuss another debut comic from a SCAD graduate. NewsPrints is written and drawn by Ru Xu, a comics creator who was born in Beijing, immigrated to Indianapolis as a young child, and has had a lifelong love of comics from a variety of traditions, including manga, European comics, and even superhero comics. NewsPrints takes place in a fictional diesel-punk world where the land of Nautilene is torn by war and a newspaper called The Bugle is the only media outlet left that is still reporting the truth. The protagonist, Blue, is a rare kind of newsboy in a society that counts on its newsboys to shout out the headlines and sell papers…and that’s because Blue is not a boy, but a girl, orphaned by the war and adopted by the family who owns the newspaper. Blue sets out to provide that one doesn’t have to be a boy to be vital in the news business, and along the way, readers are introduced to a cast of characters such as Jack, the eccentric and secretive inventor; Crow, a strange kid who remains wrapped in a scarf and in mysteries of his own; and Goldie, Blue’s loyal canary, who matches Blue’s welcoming of people and spirit of flight.

As part of their discussion, Paul and Gwen praise Xu’s mastery of many genres of comics, including her ability to meld various traditional forms into an entirely unique story world. Thus, while the text shares much in common with recent fantasy releases, including Faith Erin Hicks’ The Nameless City and Jorge Corona’s Feathers, NewsPrints stands on its own, with a vast, inviting story space and a focus on issues of truth and representation that are ever more a part of our own political and social climate. Paul praised Xu’s deft handling of interactions among characters, and Gwen expressed her admiration for Xu’s use of color and shading to help set the mood and to ease transitions across the comic. Given the book’s indeterminate ending, Paul and Gwen look forward to the series continuing into additional volumes, and they dwell on Xu’s treatment of gender and ethnicity in thoughtful ways.

Get your copies of the titles discussed on this episode:  
Feb 17, 2017

Time Codes:

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A Deep Charyn Dive

This month on the Euro Comics series Edward and Derek look at four BD, all written by Jerome Charyn and all released by Dover Publications. First they discuss three collaborations with François Boucq: Little TulipBilly Budd, KGB, and The Magician's Wife. These were originally published in French between 1987 and 2014, but they've been available in English translations over the past seventeen months (the most recent, Little Tulip, coming out this past December). They also explore The Boys of Sheriff Street, Charyn's project with Jacques de Loustal that was translated and published by Dover in July 2016. Over the course of their conversation Derek and Edward investigate Charyn's methods of storytelling, finding similarities and thematic links among the four titles, and they discuss the different ways in which Boucq's and Loustal's styles bring different resonances to their respective narratives.

Check out Jerome Charyn's bandes dessinées:

Feb 15, 2017

Time Codes:

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Bark-Free

 

This week the Two Guys with PhDs discuss three very different titles. They begin with Steven Tillotson's Untitled Ape's Epic Adventure (Avery Hill Publishing), a different kind of quest narrative that blends the anthropomorphic and the surreal. After that, they look at Phil Hester and Tony Harris's Blood Blister #1, the latest serial offering from AfterShock Comics. And finally, Andy and Derek wrap up with The Belfry (Image Comics), a one-shot horror title from Gabriel Hardman.

Check out the titles and creators discussed in this episode:

 

Feb 13, 2017

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:27 - Introduction
  • 00:03:03 - Setup of episode
  • 00:03:50 - The Specialists
  • 00:32:17 - Hominids
  • 01:01:33 - Checking in with Jim McClain and Paul Schultz
  • 01:16:16 - The Last Saturday
  • 01:38:20 - Wrap up
  • 01:39:52 - Contact us

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February Fun

For the month of February, Sean and Derek look at three very different webcomics. They begin with Al Fukalek and Shawn Gustafson's The Specialists, an alternate history superhero narrative set in the mid-1940s, with an undefeated Germany flexing its might with its own team of superpowered individuals, Die Übermenschen. The United States fights back with The Specialists, a diverse collection of heroes that is, at times, more propaganda than powered.

Next, the guys look at what is arguably the highlight of this month's episode, Jordan Kotzebue's Hominids. This fantasy adventure is set in world populated by varied creatures, the central of which are a race of jungle dwellers. This is a tale with complex moral undertones, but whose message isn't overbearing or preachy. Plus, Kotzebue's art is outstanding.

After a brief check-in with Jim McClain and Paul Schultz -- their Poe and the Mysteriads was launched just last month -- Sean and Derek turn to the last webcomic of the month. Chris Ware's  The Last Saturday appeared in The Guardian during the last half of 2014 and into September 2015, and the guys discuss the ways in which Ware employs the webcomic format. In fact, they both feel that this story never really utilizes the unique qualities of the platform. We could get the same effect in print. Still, this is an engaging narrative whose topic and style should be familiar to any Chris Ware fan.

Check out the books by creators discussed on this episode:

 

Feb 8, 2017

Hobos!

It's that time of the month, and on this week's regular episode of the podcast, Andy and Derek take a look at the February Previews catalog. Before they do that, though, they update everyone on current comics news and podcast updates, as well as share listener mail. Then they get into the current Previews catalog, highlighting a variety of upcoming titles from both large and small publishers alike. Among the upcoming comics they discuss are offerings from:

Preorder your copies of some of the titles mentioned in this episode:

 

Feb 6, 2017

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:24 - Introduction
  • 00:02:26 - Setup of interview
  • 00:04:01 - Interview with Karl Stevens
  • 01:26:32 - Wrap up
  • 01:28:02 - Contact us

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Diluted Horse Piss

On this interview episode, Derek talks with Karl Steven about Penny, his current weekly/semiweekly strip appearing in The Village Voice. The two discuss this ongoing comic and its genesis, but they also talk about a variety of Karl's other works. Of particular focus are the series of strips he created for the Boston Phoenix between June 2005 and November 2012. The earliest ones are collected in Whatever (Alternative Comics), and the later comics in two follow-up compilations, The Lodger (KSA Publishing) and Failure (Alternative Comics). In this way, Derek is able to talk with Karl about his distinctive realistic style and  how he has evolved from a heavily reliance on crosshatching to a more simple, even softer approach. Along with this, Karl shares is aesthetic philosophy of naturalistic detail and  how it differs strongly from that of creators such as Scott McCloud, Jessica Abel, and Matt Madden.

The guys also talk about Karl's first book, the Xeric Award-winning Guilty. This effort is what put Karl Stevens on the map in 2005, and even today it serves as a wonderful introduction to his style. They also cover the artist's efforts in the fine arts, including his highly informative Anatomy for Artists: A New Approach to Discovering, Learning and Remembering the Body (North Light Books), coauthored with Anthony Apesos. Karl also shares some information about The Winner, his new book that will be coming out this fall from Retrofit Comics/Big Planet Comics, and future plans to collect his and Gustavo Turner's Succe$$ comics into book form.

Discover the art of Karl Stevens:

Feb 1, 2017

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:27 - Introduction
  • 00:02:44 - We live in a political world
  • 00:12:13 - Love Is Love
  • 00:51:55 - Resist!
  • 01:29:14 - Wrap up
  • 01:30:20 - Contact us

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Mending Wall

This week Andy and Derek get political, and they do so by discussing two recent socially conscious anthologies. They begin with Love Is Love, a collection of short strips and illustrations. This anthology, originated and with an afterword by Marc Andreyko, was released in December by IDW Publishing, and the proceeds from sales go to supporting the survivors of and families of those killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on June 12, 2016. As the guys point out, this collection is diverse in contribution and tone, with most comics calling for peace, some taking a more aggressive edge, and many adopting a quiet stance of commemoration. Both DC Comics and the Equality Florida organization had a large hand in bringing this book about, and you can still contribute to the latter's victim's funds via their GoFundMe page.

Next, the Two Guys discuss the very timely Resist!, a free tabloid-format anthology published by Desert Island and made available during the June 21 protest marches around the country (and around the world). This incredible effort, edited by the mother-and-daughter team of Françoise Mouly and Nadja Spiegelman, began as a special issue of Gabe Fowler's Smoke Signal, but then it evolved into something more far-reaching. The newspaper's front-page banner, "a woman's place is in the revolution!" is what this collection is all about. The individual contributions vary widely, but what is most impressive about this anthology is its truly democratic nature. Comics from notable names within the industry -- such as Carol Tyler, Bill Griffith, Alison Bechtel, Miss Lasko-Gross, and Lance Tooks -- stand alongside lesser-known, amateur, and possibly first-time cartoonists. Resist! may not be the easiest thing to find after the women's marches, but you can still support these efforts by checking out the project's website.

Get your copies of the titles and creators discussed in this episode:

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