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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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Now displaying: Category: euro comics
Feb 17, 2017

Time Codes:

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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.

Jan 16, 2017

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:27 - Introduction
  • 00:03:17 - Setting up Pedrosa and Vehlmann
  • 00:08:08 - Equinoxes and other Pedrosa titles
  • 00:51:14 - Clear Blue Tomorrows and other Vehlmann titles
  • 01:26:01 - Wrap up
  • 01:29:12 - Contact us

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It's the first Euro Comics episode of the new year, and Edward and Derek use the occasion to focus on the work of two contemporary French creators, using their latest books as springboards into their larger bodies of work. They begin with Cyril Pedrosa's Equinoxes (NBM Publishing), a novelistic examination of life purpose and the uses we make of art in creating meaning. The text comprises four alternating storylines that become more enmeshed as the narrative progresses, combining comics with prose passages in establishing its contemplative tone. But Edward and Derek also bring in discussions of Pedrosa's earlier works in translation, including Three Shadows (First Second), Hearts at Sea (Dupuis/Europe Comics) and Portugal (Dupuis/Europe Comics).

Next, the Two Guys examine Clear Blue Tomorrows, written by Fabien Vehlmann with art by Ralph Meyer and Bruno Gazzotti (Cinebook). This book is basically a series of science-fiction or fantastic stories brought together by a broader narrative frame: a time traveler from a dystopian future tasked with ghost writing stories for the would-be tyrant in hopes of changing the man's occupational trajectory. It's a curious spin on the "killing Hitler" sci-fi trope, though narratively reminiscent of One Thousand and One Nights. The guys also discuss several of Vehlmann's other works, including Last Days of an Immortal (Archaia), Beautiful Darkness (Drawn and Quarterly), and the all-age series Alone (Cinebook). There's a lot packed into this episode...and so many reading ideas!

Dec 23, 2016

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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.

Nov 21, 2016

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:27 - Introduction
  • 00:03:03 - Listener mail!
  • 00:07:29 - Soft City
  • 00:39:12 - The World of Edena
  • 01:18:12 - Wrap up
  • 01:19:09 - Contact us

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For the November episode in the Euro Comics series, Edward and Derek take a look at two new releases of older titles. They begin with Hariton Pushwagner's Soft City (New York Review Comics). Began in 1969 and completed in 1975, the book was lost for a number of years but then rediscovered in 2002. Since then, the original art from Soft City has been exhibited in the Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art and the Sydney Biennial, both in 2008. In fact, part of the guys' coverage of the book revolves around the topic of comic art as exhibition. But most of their discussion involves the text's symmetrical construction, its poetic imagery, and its mixed futuristic tone.

After that, Edward and Derek turn to a new collected edition work from one of comics' legends. The World of Edena is the first in Dark Horse Book's new Moebius Library, and it brings together Jean Giraud's (or Moebius's) five-volume series. The guys discuss the book's origins, beginning as promotional comic for the French car manufacturer Citroën in 1983 and then ending as a full-fledged, philosophical, and very trippy series in 2001. There is a lot to explore of the book's many narrative facets, and the Two Guys spend much of their time looking at the themes of exploration and sexuality, the dream-infused nature of the story, its comedic undertones, and the clean-line style and lush colors that define its art.

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Oct 10, 2016

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Time Codes:

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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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Sep 5, 2016

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:28 - Introduction
  • 00:02:45 - Setup of reviews
  • 00:04:37 - Spanish Fever
  • 00:46:27 - The Longest Day of the Future
  • 01:00:45 - Growing Up in Public
  • 01:28:04 - Wrap up
  • 01:29:12 - Contact us

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This month on the Euro Comics series, Edward and Derek discuss three works translated from Spanish, and all published by Fantagraphics. They begin with the anthology Spanish Fever: Stories by the New Spanish Cartoonists, edited by Santiago García. This is a collection of contemporary comics coming out of Spain, bringing together works by over thirty creators including Paco Roca, Max, Miguel Gallardo, David Rubín and Miguel Ángel Martín, as well as newcomers such as José Domingo, Anna Galvañ, Álvaro Ortiz and Sergi Puyol. As the guys point out, the styles, genres, and themes are diverse, making this not only a valuable introduction to new Spanish artists, but a well-rounded comics collection by any standard.

Next, the Two Guys turn to two creators from Argentina. The first is Lucas Varela and his The Longest Day of the Future. This is a mostly wordless narrative satirizing hegemonic corporate culture. There's an almost cinematic quality to Varela's storytelling, and Derek and Edward liken it to a Pixar film infused with a darker Cohen brothers' sensibility.

Finally, the two wrap up with Ezequiel Garcia's Growing Up in Public. His is a memoir, but one that wanders loosely without any discernible endpoint...and with a curious injection of Moby-Dick thrown in, to boot. Indeed, both Edward and Derek appreciate Garcia's different take on graphic autobiography, and they look forward to more from this Argentine artist.

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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.

Jul 4, 2016

How do the Two Guys with PhDs celebrate America's Independence Day? Why, by using the July 4th holiday to launch their brand new monthly series devoted to European comics. That's right, similar to what the podcast already does with its monthly manga, webcomics, and young readers programs, The Comics Alternative now has a new series devoted to the discussion and appreciation of European works in translation. Cohosting this monthly effort with Derek will be Edward Gauvin (a prolific translator of bandes dessinées).

The guys begin by describing their plans for the new Euro comics series and laying out a rough mission statement. At the same time, they acknowledge that the format of this endeavor can take shape as it grows, and they spend a good deal of time defining their terms. They decided to call the show "Euro Comics" since it best describes what they are attempting with the series. Other potential titles, such as "Global Comics," "Bandes Dessinées," and even "BD" are limiting in one way or another, and they're not as targeted nor as accommodating as the continental designation. What's more, Edward and Derek point out that their understanding "European" is a bit flexible, as it will allow for the inclusion of translated comics produced out of other regions, such as South America, that owe an immense debt to the various European traditions.

That being said, the guys jump into the core of their inaugural episode. They begin with a discussion of Barbara Yelin's Irmina (SelfMadeHero), originally published in German in 2014 and translated by Michael Waaler. As Edward describes it, Yelin's is a "Grandma, what did you do during the war?" kind of fictional narrative where she uses as a springboard her own grandmother's diaries. It's the story of a young German woman, Irmina, during the 1930s and 1940s who feels distant from, or ambivalent about, the rise of Nazism in the days leading up to the Second World War. Despite her initial resistance to the propaganda, she ends up growing accustomed to, and indirectly sanctioning, the atrocities propagated by the Third Reich. Howard, a young Barbados student studying at Oxford, functions as both a counterweight and a touchstone to Irmina's ordeal. As both Derek and Edward point out, this is a text with novelistic breadth.

Next, the Two Guys take a look at Frédéric Bézian's Adam Sarlech: A Trilogy (Humanoids), a collection of three stories translated by Mark Bence and originally published in France during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Derek begins by contextualizing the book as a graphic cycle, a series of interconnected stories, each of which could stand on its own, but taken together read with more "novelistic" depth and complexity than a mere collection of short fiction. In other words, it's the comics equivalent of literary short-story cycles (or, as some have called it, composite novels). The three pieces in Adam Sarlech function in this way, where certain characters (particularly Doctor Spritzer), scenarios, and geographic setting bind everything together. This is a macabre work heavily influenced by the gothic and weird fictional touches of Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft. In fact, the guys describe Adam Sarlech as one of the most sophisticated and exciting books they've read this year, European and otherwise.

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