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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: March, 2017
Mar 24, 2017

On this month’s episode of the Comics Alternative’s Young Readers series, Gwen and Paul discuss two new releases: Lorena Alvarez’s Nightlights from Nobrow Press, geared toward younger readers, and Thi Bui’s graphic novel The Best We Could Do, from Abrams ComicArts, an all-ages comic that will be of interest to our teen and adult listeners. They also had a chance to interview Thi Bui and include that segment at the end of the review portion of the show.

Lorena Alvarez’s Nightlights, a beautiful hardback, picture book-sized comic, focuses on the early years in the life of a young girl, Sandy, who clearly has artistic ambitions and an abundance of creativity. However, Sandy also experiences doubts regarding the source of her imagination and fears about what might happen if inspiration were suddenly to desert her. Gwen and Paul love how Alvarez respects the creative process of a young artist, and they appreciate how Alvarez brings her own experiences growing up in Bogotá, Columbia, into the themes and artwork for Nightlights. For more about Alvarez’s biography and work, head over to her website. Those listeners who have enjoyed Vera Brosgol’s YA graphic novel Anya’s Ghost or Neil Gaiman’s novel and graphic novel Coraline, that features the “ghost children,” Nightlights will be a treat. In all three stories, the presence of the supernatural encourages the protagonists to think critically about their various gifts and emotional burdens.

Next, Paul and Gwen discuss Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Doa graphic memoir published by Abrams Comicarts. Bui, whose family came to the US as refugees in the wake of the Vietnam War, tells her own and her family’s stories, in a narrative weaving history and reflection. Given that the book addresses issues of war and loss, Paul and Gwen emphasize that this text is probably geared more towards the upper range of the YA category. Paul praises the text for its evocative depiction of parent/children relationships, and Gwen agrees, noting that she also appreciated Bui’s focus on the refugee experience.

After their discussion, Paul and Gwen play an interview that they conducted with Thi Bui about her inspiration, her process, and her work with young people at the International School in Oakland, California. Listeners can learn even more about Bui at her website. Ms. Bui also mentions an event at Oakland International High School featuring her students' comics work. She clarified afterwards that the event will be held April 14th, and listeners are welcomed to attend!

Mar 23, 2017

On this episode of the interview series, the Three Guys with PhDs -- Andy, Gene, and Derek -- talk with Brian Cremins about his new book from the University Press of Mississippi Captain Marvel and the Art of Nostalgia. During their conversation Brian discusses why he chose to focus specifically on the Big Red Cheese, what the comics meant to him growing up, and the superhero's links to nostalgia. As he points out, Captain Marvel isn't the most popular figure for critical or scholarly discussion, but the contexts surrounding the Fawcett property make it the perfect vehicle for the kind of analysis Brian wanted to bring. Gene, Andy, and Derek also ask their guest about the research that went into his book, the kind of archival investigations he conducted, the correspondences he struck up along the way, his efforts in securing a unique cover image, and his strategies for making this, in many ways, a very personal work.

Shazam!

Mar 22, 2017

For this week's show, Andy and Derek look at two examples of life writing and one Dracula-infused alternate history. They begin with Paula Knight's The Facts of Life, one of the latest in the Pennsylvania State University Press' Graphic Medicine series. This is the story of Knight and her partner's attempts to get pregnant, but more significantly, it's a personal account of the contexts and societal expectations surrounding motherhood. After that they look at Sara Lautman's Black and White Diary Comics, December 2016 - February 2017 (Birdcage Bottom Books), a collection of black-and-white strips that episodically chronicles the artist's life over the past few months. Finally, the Two Guys wrap up with with Anno Dracula #1 (Titan Comics), the next installment in Kim Newman's series of novels...this one in comics form. With art by Paul McCaffrey, this first miniseries, subtitled "1895: Seven Days in Mayhem," could stand as a solid introduction to Newman's vampiric storyworld.

Mar 20, 2017

The Two Guys are pleased to have Peter Bagge back on The Comics Alternative. His new book Fire!! The Zora Neale Hurston Story comes out this week from Drawn and Quarterly. It is another in Bagge's recent series of historical and biographical comics, following his brief biography of Isabel Paterson (appearing in Reason in 2010), Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story (2013), and Founding Father Funnies (2016). In this interview, Derek talks with Peter about the genesis of this project, what brought him to the writings and personality of Huston, the socio-political contexts surrounding Hurston's work, and his research efforts in compiling the graphic biography. Fire!! is, in many ways, a companion piece to Woman Rebel, in that both focus on iconoclastic female figures, and their stories are told through an episodic, almost snap-shot, manner of narration. Although Peter and Derek spend the majority their time discussing Zora Neale Hurston, they also cover some of Peter's other works, such as his Founding Father Funnies collection, last year's Neat Stuff boxed set, and the possibilities of a similar treatment with Hate and other Bradly family stories.

Be sure to check out Peter Bagge's other appearances on The Comics Alternative:

Mar 17, 2017

After a month's hiatus (due to unforeseen circumstances), the on-location episode is back! And for the March visit to Valhalla Games and Comics, the topic is completely open. On this recording Derek is joined my several of the shop regulars including Craig, Matt, and Tristan. Among the many topics they cover are the recent Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad miniseries; the latest (and one of the best) X-Men films, Logan; the news surrounding the production of Star Trek: Discovery; and lots of manga talk. In fact, from the amount of time everyone discussed Japanese comics, it looked like this might turn into the month's manga episode. Along the way the guys discuss Stephen Hillenburg (the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants) and his recently announced fight with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, legally permissible uses of the word "mutant," Derek's shame at being so behind on Marvel's Netflix and Fox series, and Tristan's utter dislike of children.

Mar 16, 2017

For the month of March, Edward and Derek look at two very different European titles. They begin with Dominique Goblet's Pretending Is Lying, released last month from New York Review Comics. This is a creator whom Edward has read in the original French, and so some of their conversation centers on matters of translation. But more significant is the guys' discussion of Goblet's handling of time and memory, as well as the book's expressive and experimental style. And, as Derek is keen to point out, there are key passages that allude to the work of Brian Wilson!

Next, the Euro Comics Guys discuss the latest English-language release from Paco Roca, The Lighthouse (NBM Publishing). They've twice discussed Roca's comics before -- Wrinkles during their interview with Erica Menaand his contribution to the Spanish Fever anthology on last year's September episode -- and this one is markedly different. Edward comments on the story's simplicity, even it's pat qualities, while Derek is charmed by the novella-like qualities of this early work from Roca. And ever the sound effects aficionado, Edward nitpicks (but in a good way) over some of the translator's choices.

Mar 15, 2017

This week's episode is an exploration of surrealism and fantasy, and one guaranteed to both fascinate and disturb you. It begins with a discussion of Max Andersson's The Excavation (Fantagraphics). As the Two Guys with PhDs point out, this is a book that has been years in the making, and parts of it had originally appeared in other outlets, including Andersson's short-lived Death and Candy series. Derek enjoyed this book, as he does other works by Andersson, although Andy was less charitable in his assessment. He feels that the dream-like meandering of The Excavation ends up leading to nowhere, that there isn't much in the way of overt themes, and that it's too much like other indie comics discussed on the podcast.

Next, they delve into the first issue of American Gods, a series from Dark Horse Comics that's adapted from Neil Gaiman's popular novel. Scripted by P. Craig Russell, and with art by Scott Hampton, this inaugural issue does a good job at establishing the premise and making the story assessable to those who have never read Gaiman's original novel (and both Derek and Andy have not). However, the guys do have a little problem with the heavy-handed and spoiler-filled synopsis inserted on the first page of the comic book.

And finally, the Two Guys wrap up with Kurtis J Wiehe and Owen Gieni's Rat Queens #1 (Image Comics). This is the first issue in the series' second volume, and while both of the guys see the economic logic of a new #1 issue, Derek wonders about the narrative necessity of this publishing move. Nonetheless, both Andy and Derek are fans of the first iteration of Rat Queens, and they both feel that the first issue in its second volume is an effective jumping on point that could satisfy new readers.

Mar 13, 2017

For March, Sean and Derek check out three very different webcomics. They begin with Roger Langridge's The Great McGonagall, a biographical treatment of William "Topaz" McGonagall, known historically as the worst poet in the world. This is a very new webcomic, having begun in January 2017, and in it Langridge takes an already cartoonish figure and plays it up for even more humor. As the guys point out, the artist's style is perfect for this kind of send up.

Next, Sean and Derek turn their attention to Sufficiently Remarkable, Maki Naro's ongoing look at the struggles of a young artist trying to get by in New York City. Naro is one of the former contestants of Strip Search -- much like Abby Howard, whom the guys discussed back in October -- and, in fact, is how he first gained Sean's attention. As Derek reveals, this is a reality-based drama of interpersonal relationships, but one that struggles at times with the occasional pull into gag-strip formulas.

Finally, and after a brief check in with Jim McClain about the progress of his and Paul Schultz's Poe and the Mysteriads, the guys round out the episode with a discussion of The Boston Metaphorical Society. Written by Madeleine Holly-Rosing and with art by Emily Hu, this is a steampunk-inspired narrative surrounding the paranormal investigations of a former Pinkerton agent, his uniquely talented colleagues, and the scientific exploits of Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and Harry Houdini. This is the second webcomic of the month that mines history for its content, although unlike Roger Langridge's cartoon biography, this one uses the past as a springboard for its fantastical flourishes.

Mar 8, 2017

It's the first part of March, which means it must be time for the Two Guys with PhDs to look through the latest Previews catalog. Before they do that, though, they alert readers to this month's #trypod social media campaign and encourage listeners to share their love of The Comics Alternative by using that hashtag along with #try2guys. Next, they give a big THANK YOU to Kristin and Thomas at the Secret Stacks podcast for their recent shout-out. Then they get into the March Previews catalog, highlighting a variety of upcoming titles from both large and small publishers alike. Among the upcoming comics they discuss are offerings from:

Mar 3, 2017

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On this episode of the manga series -- a few days later than expected -- Shea and Derek discuss two new deluxe editions of older titles. They begin with Revolutionary Girl Utena Complete Deluxe Box Set, soon to be released by VIZ Media. This is a different kind of shōjo, one that the guys don't often encounter, and an aspect that makes this title stand out is its conceptual genesis. Revolutionary Girl Utena was conceived by the creative team known as Be-Papas but written and drawn by Chiho Saito (also a  member of Be_Papas). Shea and Derek discuss the "collaborative feel" of its genesis and the unusual mix of characters, costumes, and scenarios that define the series.

Next, the guys turn to a new deluxe edition of Masamune Shirow's classic Ghost in the Shell, just released by Kodansha Comics. The paperback versions of this title, and of the two follow-up volumes, are still in print, but Kodansha now has these wonderful new hardbound editions. The new Ghost in the Shell volumes stand out because for the first time in English, the story is presented in the original right-to-left reading order, they retain the author's original hand-drawn sound effects, the translation has been updated, and everything has been done under the author's supervision. Both Shea and Derek have a great time revisiting Ghost in the Shell, and they hope that Kodansha will be bringing back more of Shirow's manga -- e.g., Appleseed and Dominion -- in these nice deluxe editions.

Mar 1, 2017
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Capturing the Spirit of The Spirit

Every year for Will Eisner Week, always the first seven days in March, the Two Guys with PhDs like to do something special and Eisner-related for the podcast. This year is no different, and for the current episode Andy and Derek have decided to discuss the many uses of The Spirit since Will Eisner's passing on January 3, 2005. And there are a lot more manifestations of The Spirit than you might think. The guys compare and contrast the various uses of this seminal crimefighter, highlighting those examples that attempt to capture the original tone of The Spirit, that deviate from the original in curious ways, and that cross over into other narrative worlds. The many titles and creators they discuss include:

  • the one-shot Batman/The Spirit, by Joef Loeb and Darwyn Cooke in 2007 (DC Comics)
  • the 32-issue run of The Spirit between 2007 and 2009, by Darwyn Cooke, Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, and many others (DC Comics)
  • Brian Azzarello and Rags Morales's 6-issue miniseries First Wave, published between 2010 and 2011 (DC Comics)
  • the concurrent-running The Spirit: First Wave series by Mark Schultz, David Hine, and others, going for 17 issues from 2010-2011 (DC Comics)
  • Mark Waid's 4-issue miniseries Rocketeer/Spirit: Pulp Friction, illustrated by various artists and released in 2013 (IDW Publishing)
  • Will Eisner's The Spirit by Matt Wagner and Dan Schkade, running for 12 issues between 2015 and 2016 (Dynamite Entertainment)
  • the recent first issue of Francesco Francavilla's Will Eisner's The Spirit: The Corpse-Makers (Dynamite Entertainment)
  • and Joe Staton and Mike Curtis's current Dick Tracy strip and its team-up with The Spirit (Tribune Company).
There is a lot packed into this episode -- you'll hear plenty about Ebony White, Commissioner and Ellen Dolan, Silk Satin, Mister Carrion, Sand Serif, The Octopus, and, of course, P'Gell -- but, thankfully, almost no mention of the disastrous 2008 film. It's all about the comics.

Check out the various The Spirit titles discussed in this special episode:

 
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