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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: Category: reviews
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 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.

Feb 22, 2017

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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 15, 2017

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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 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:

Jan 25, 2017

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Hwæt!

For this week's episode, Andy and Derek put on their English professor hats, and with a vengeance, when taking on the latest comics version of Beowulf (Image Comics), adapted by Santiago García and David Rubín. While this is not, by far, the only comics adaptation of this classic Old English poem, the guys feel that it's one of the best they've seen. Indeed, Rubín's artwork is particularly suited to the violent action and Beowulf's heroic exploits. And the ending of this text, which takes a significant self-reflective turn, goes on to underscore the guys' appreciation of this adaptation.

Next, the Two Guys look at one of the latest releases from Retrofit Comics/Big Planet Comics, Karine Bernadou's Canopy. Neither Derek nor Andy were familiar with Bernadou's work before this book, but they find this a fascinating introduction to the French illustrator. Canopy is an almost completely wordless tale surrounding a young woman trying to make it on her own. But she does so in a surreal wilderness infused with male-centered threats.

For their final title of the week, the guys discuss an author who's not gotten enough attention on the podcast...at least from Derek's perspective. The first two issues of Richard Corben's Shadows on the Grave (Dark Horse Comics) are now out, and the guys take on this anthology-like miniseries. These brief stories have a Night Gallery feel, but with an amped up creepy factor. This is all due to the wonderfully disturbing art of Corben, who opts for a black, white, and gray tone rendering, a change from his other recent Dark Horse work.

Get your copies of the titles discussed in this episode:

 

Jan 18, 2017

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This week the Two Guys with PhDs start off by getting political. While some listeners might not like it when Andy and Derek become polemical on the podcast, the guys just had to speak out about the brouhaha surrounding Congressman John Lewis's recent comments on Trump's illegitimacy. The Two Guys stand with Representative Lewis, a man of courage, honor, and action. And it's heartening that copies of March are selling out all over the place!

But enough of the bad Trump. The guys find more serious another entity of that name, this one orchestrated by the legendary Harvey Kurtzman. Trump: The Complete Collection is the second volume in Dark Horse's Essential Kurtzman series. This beautiful hardbound edition collects the only two issues of Trump ever published, as well as the many never-before reproduced illustrations from what would have been the third issue of the magazine, had Hugh Hefner not pulled the plug. Both Andy and Derek appreciate the collection -- especially Denis Kitchen's outstanding essay and annotations! -- and while some of the humor appears dated (or even falls flat at times), this text stands out as an indispensable historical contribution.

After that Derek and Andy check out two recent #1 issues, Sean Lewis and Hayden Sherman's The Few (Image Comics) and Erin Nations's Gumballs (Top Shelf/IDW Publishing). The former is a leisurely paced and extra-long issue centered around a future where the United States is now a fractured territory due to water scarcities (at least the guys think this is the series' premise). Sherman's art stands out here. And Gumballs is a single-creator anthology that's a mix of autobiographical sketches, character portraits, and poignant cultural observations. The guys look forward to seeing what transpires in both of these series.

Jan 11, 2017

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This week the Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics discuss DC's Young Animal titles. They begin with Gerard Way and Nick Derington's Doom Patrol, the maiden voyage of the new imprint. There have been three issues released so far, and the guys really like what they've seen. Way definitely takes a cue from Grant Morrison's legendary run on the title, referencing many of Morrison's original additions to the Silver Age series -- most notably Danny the Street and Flex Mentallo -- yet at the same time making Doom Patrol uniquely his own.

After that, Andy and Derek discuss the first four issues of Shade the Changing Girl. This is Cecil Castellucci and Marley Zarcone's revamping of the old Steve Ditko creation (and best popularized in the early 1990s by Peter Milligan and Chris Bachelor), Shade the Changing Man. Their emphasis on the lives of young high school women promises to be a curious spin on the property.

Next, the guys turn to what Andy calls his favorite of the Young Animal line, Jonathan Rivera, Gerard Way, and Michael Avon Oeming's Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye. As they point out, Cave Carson is a character from the early 1960s appearing in both Brave and the Bold and Showcase, but unlike his contemporary Rip Hunter, he never received a title of his own. Way, Rivera, and Oeming are now giving him that opportunity.

The Two Guys conclude their episode with a very different kind of Young Animal title, Jody Houser and Tommy Lee Edwards's Mother Panic. This is the only one of the four series not to be based on Silver Age properties, and it's the only one to be deeply enmeshed into the DC Universe. For that reason, Derek is less enamored with Mother Panic -- at least in terms of the first two issues so far -- feeling that it takes itself too seriously and wonders why this wasn't a regular DC title. Andy has no problem with this Gotham-drenched series.

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 14, 2016

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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.

Nov 16, 2016

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In the second of their two-episode look into recent crime comics, Andy and Derek turn up some truly incriminating evidence. They begin their investigations with Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me, adapted by Devin Faraci and Vic Malhotra (IDW Publications). The guys spend much of their time comparing this adaptation to the original classic noir novel, yet at the same time they try to focus on the comic on its own terms. Next, they briefly discuss Christopher Sebela and Niko Walter's Demonic (Image Comics), a mashup of both crime and horror, and the first issue of Wolfcop (Dynamite Entertainment). The latter is Max Marks's spinoff of the 2014 movie, and despite (or because of) its over-the-topness, it doesn't capture much of the guys' attention. But Derek and Andy are  much more interested in the next two #1 issues, Frank J. Barbiere and Victor Santos's Violent Love (Image Comics) and James Robinson and Tom Feister's Grand Passion (Dynamite Entertainment). These are both crime narratives with a twist of romance, stories that look to play off of the young-couple-on-a-crime-spree formula. Finally, the guys wrap up with the first volume of Goldie Vance (BOOM! Box), Hope Larson and Brittney Williams's all-age detective series, reminiscent of Nancy Drew and Sally Lockhart stories.

And if you  haven't already, be sure to catch last week's episode, the first in the Two Guys' look at recent crime comics.

The incidental music in this episode is from classic crime TV shows, and you can find these theme songs in Television's Greatest Hits, Vol. 1Television's Greatest Hits Vol. 4Television's Greatest Hits Vol. 5and Television's Greatest Hits, Vol. 6. Check out the fun!

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Nov 9, 2016

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There has been an abundance of crime comics published over the past several months -- see, for example, the Two Guys' earlier discussions of Weird DetectiveControlKill or Be Killed, Cousin JosephBlack  Monday Murders, and Sombra -- but recently this number has been almost dizzying. In the first of a two-episode series devoted to current crime comics, Andy and Derek discuss six titles that take the genre into curious directions. They range from the historical (Rick Geary's Black Dahlia), to the formula-bending (Chris Hunt's Carver: A Paris Story and Janet Harvey and Megan Levens's Angel City), to the genre-blending (Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso's Moonshine), to the comedic (Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber's The Fix), to the truly hardboiled (Walter Hill, Matz, and Jef's Triggerman as well as Christa Faust, Gary Philips, and Andrea Cameron's Peepland). There is a lot of crime/detective/noir/procedural goodness packed into this show, and the same is in store for the next week's episode, the second in the series.

The incidental music in this episode is from classic crime TV shows, and you can find these theme songs in Television's Greatest Hits, Vol. 1Television's Greatest Hits, Vol. 3Television's Greatest Hits Vol. 4, and Television's Greatest Hits, Vol. 6. Check out the fun!

 

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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 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 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.

Sep 28, 2016

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This week on The Comics Alternative, Andy and Derek discuss three new titles that are quite different in tone. They begin with The Lost Work of Will Eisner, a collection of Eisner's earliest known professional comics. This began as a Kickstarter campaign last year from Locust Moon Press, and just last week the book went on sale to the general public. The collection is made up of two serial strips, the pantomime gag comic Uncle Otto and the espionage adventure Harry Karry. While they do talk about the former, it's Harry Karry that interests the guys more. They spend a lot of time discussing some of the problems of that action-packed strip -- e.g., its racist caricatures and its abrupt shift in narrative direction and art style -- and how it can be read as a testing ground for what Eisner would later do in The Spirit.

Next, the Two Guys turn their attention to Eleanor Davis's Libby's Dad. This is one of the latest books from Retrofit Comics/Big Planet Comics, a publisher that has become a favorite of the show. This is a straightforward and deceptively simple short story about a young girls' pool party and sleepover. The power behind this tale is Davis's ability to focalize the action through her teenage female narrator and to do so in a detached and non-judgmental manner.

Finally, Derek and Andy discuss a much less innocent text. Gilbert Hernandez's Blubber #3 (Fantagraphics) is, in many ways, more explicit and more potentially offensive than the previous issue, which the guys discussed back in April. And back then they thought that issue #2 was "worse" than the first. So what is it about Hernandez's obscene free-for-all that keeps drawing the guys' attention? Perhaps they are just on board for everything Hernandez does. Perhaps they see Beto as a happy First Amendment rebel. Perhaps they are mesmerized by Hernandez's attempts to out-Crumb Robert Crumb. Or perhaps Andy and Derek are just two warped sickos who get their jollies talking about offensive comics for the podcast. You decide.

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Sep 21, 2016

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Last weekend was the Small Press Expo held in Bethesda, MD, and a big part of that event was the recognition of the 2016 Ignatz Award nominees. So for this week's episode, Gwen and Derek discuss the many and diverse titles populating that list, looking for trends and making observations about this year's selections. The nominees in all nine categories, announced last month, were chosen by a five-member jury, and then attendees voted on their favorites during the first day of the event. Gwen starts things going by asking Derek about his experiences at SPX, and then the two plunge into the heart of the discussion. They do not run down the entire list of nominees in an organized manner, beginning with one category and then moving on to the next, but their exchange is more free-flowing and associational, taking up titles as they come up in the conversation. In this way, Gwen and Derek are able to cover about all of the nominees and draw insightful connections among many of the texts. They notice, for example, that many of the winners seem to skew younger, and that, at times, complex and longer-form storytelling doesn't get the same kind of attention as episodic or one-off narratives. They also comment on the fact that established names within the medium, such as Daniel Clowes, Adrian Tomine, Trina Robbins, and Kim Deitch, were completely shut out in the final selection. However, Gwen and Derek do not so much emphasize the actual winners of the nine categories -- although they do discuss these -- as they do the broader sweep of each category's population and what that might say about the current state of small press and indie comics.

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Sep 14, 2016

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:30 - Introduction
  • 00:02:32 - Comics Alternative news
  • 00:05:57 - Angel Catbird, Vol. 1
  • 00:39:10 - Everafter #1
  • 00:52:07 - Glitterbomb #1
  • 01:05:39 - Wrap up
  • 01:06:41 - Contact us

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On this week's episode, the Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics look at three recent texts, each fantastical in its own way. They begin with Margaret Atwood and Johnnie Christmas's Angel Catbird, Vol. 1 (Dark Horse Books), a unique amalgamation of Golden Age superhero comics, environmental awareness, and ailurophilia. This is the first mainstream comics foray for Atwood, a Canadian novelist, poet, and winner of the Man Booker Prize. Andy and Derek spend a good deal of time talking about the tone of this book as well as its intended, or perhaps inferred, readers. They also sense a faint whiff of "Omaha" the Cat Dancer.

Next, the guys turn their attention to the new addition to the Fables world, Everafter #1 (Vertigo Comics). Written by David Justus and Matthew Sturges, and with art by Travis Moore, this new title picks up where Bill Willingham's long-running series left off. Several of the old Fables make their ways into this first issue, but what appears to distinguish Everafter from the original run is its emphasis on adventure, similar to Chris Roberson's Cinderella stories.

Finally, Andy and Derek discuss the first issue in the new Image Comics series, Glitterbomb. This is Jim Zub's look at the exploitative nature of Hollywood culture, but with a healthy dose of horror thrown in. The guys wonder if this series will adopt a polemical tone similar to Bitch Planet. And they are especially taken by the art of newcomer Djibril Morissette-Phan.

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Aug 31, 2016

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:35 - Introduction
  • 00:02:39 - Setup of reviews
  • 00:03:07 - Listener mail
  • 00:06:13 - The Black Monday Murders #1
  • 00:27:30 - Kingsway West #1
  • 00:39:49 - Jeff Steinberg: Champion of Earth #1
  • 00:54:04 - Superf*ckers Forever #1
  • 01:06:47 - Wrap up
  • 01:07:56 - Contact us
  • 01:09:47 - "Superf*ckers Theme Song"

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This week the Two Guys decide to mix up their routine a bit and review nothing but recent #1 issues. They begin with Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker's The Black Monday Murders (Image Comics), a unique take on the crime genre. In this extra-long first issue, Hickman unpacks his premise via design, prose, and visuals, creating a dense narrative world filled with conspiratorial intrigue and anchored in history.

Next, Andy and Derek discuss an even more genre-bending comic, Kingsway West (Dark Horse Comics). Written by Greg Pak and with art by Mirko Colak, the story combines fantasy with the mid-nineteenth-century American West, while at the same time hovering in the territory of alternate history.

Things get more comedic when the guys turn to Joshua Hale Fialkov and Tony Fleecs's Jeff Steinberg: Champion of Earth (Oni Press). The eponymous hero is a textbook loser who, through an infamous bout of constipation, is chosen by alien forces to determine the future of Earth. Also, President Obama high fives his Joint Chiefs!

The guys end on a much more explicit note with their last #1 issue, James Kochalka's Superf*ckers Forever, published by IDW. (And to make their discussion easier, Andy and Derek don't shy away from using language that may offend more delicate ears.) This is Kochalka's return to his whacked-out superhero series, complete with Superdan, Ultra Richard, Grotessa, and Wonder Kyle. And yes, Jack Krak is still the motherf*cker.

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Aug 24, 2016

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:30 - Introduction
  • 00:02:33 - Listener mail
  • 00:11:07 - Smoke Signal #25
  • 00:33:54 - Fool's Gold
  • 00:44:49 - Briggs Land #1
  • 01:00:28 - Wrap up
  • 01:01:26 - Contact us

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On this week's review episode, the Two Guys with PhDs discuss three recent titles, a couple of which are probably not on most listeners' radar. They begin with one of these, the latest issue of Smoke Signal, a quarterly tabloid comics anthology published by Desert Island Comics (a shop in Brooklyn, NY) and edited by Gabe Fowler. Andy and Derek focus mainly on the summer 2016 issue, #25, although they also mention several comics in the previous spring issue. Some of the standouts in the latest include Tim Lane's contributions -- the Steve McQueen-inspired "Barnstormer" and the tabloid's center spread, "The Assassination of Billy Lyons by that Bad Man Stagger Lee" -- a new "Cosplayers" story from Dash Shaw, another in Al Columbia's "Pim and Francie" series, Siobhan Gallagher's experimental "Apartment to Be," the portfolio of Jay Rummel art, and a cover by the great Will Elder, a painting that was intended for the third issue of Harvey Kurtzman's Trump (the magazine was canceled after the second issue).

Next, the guys turn to Andy Warner's self-published Fool's Gold: The True Story of the Greates Lost Treasure in American History and the Man Who Had the Bad Luck to Find It. This a twenty-four-page story of the SS Central America's sinking off the Carolina coast in 1857 and Tommy Thompson's efforts at salvaging its lost gold in the 1980s. As the long subtitle suggests, things do not go well for Thompson after his success, leading some to believe that the treasure is cursed. Derek tells how he was already familiar with Andy Warner's comics, and that this is the kind of reality-based and journalistic story you'll find in many of his other self-published comics and in the work he does in for such outlets as The Nib and KQED. Learn more about Andy Warner's work at  his website.

Andy and Derek then wrap up with a look at the first issue of Briggs Land (Dark Horse Comics), the much-anticipated series from Brian Wood and Mack Chater and under development for AMC. In fact, the guys start off by discussing the written-with-television-in-mind phenomenon in comics and what it might mean for storytelling practices in the medium. Neither of the guys fault Wood and Chater -- or Dark Horse -- for the transmedia nature of Briggs Land, although they had different reactions to the title's potential. Derek was more taken by the story, seeing it as a return to the kind of narrative Wood created in DMZ, while Andy thought the premise less original and too close to the family crime-related television series Sons of Anarchy and Justified. Still, it's a title with great promise, whether you follow it eagerly in the monthly comics or more casually wait for the trade.

Aug 17, 2016

This week the Two Guys with PhDs visit grounds they rarely tread: superhero comics. Don't worry, they don't completely forsake their mission statement, but they definitely approach the line. While each of the titles they discuss reflect the mainstream and/or the superhero genre, in one way or another, they all nonetheless stand outside of the usual machinations of the Big Two.

The guys begin with Tarzan: The Complete Joe Kubert Years (Dark Horse Books), a 600+ page omnibus collecting almost all of Kubert's DC Tarzan run. Or at least those stories on which he served as artist, in some way. In fact, Andy admits at the outset that this idea for a superhero-tinged episode springs from him wanting to discuss Kubert's Tarzan. And as both he and Derek make clear, this is an impressive volume that is well worth reading. It contains adaptations of three of Edgar Rice Burroughs's novels -- Tarzan of the ApesThe Return of Tarzan, and Tarzan and the Iron Man -- and a wealth of short stories Kubert wrote for the 1970s series. Some are more traditional jungle adventures, while others (such as "The Magic Herb" and the one Korak story in the collection) delve into the fantastic.

Next, Derek and Andy look at the first issue in the new ongoing Faith series from Valiant Comics, written by Jody Houser with art by Pere Perez and Marguerite Sauvage. Last year the publisher began a four-issue miniseries based on Zephyr, the crimefighting identity of Faith Hebert. That was apparently successful enough to warrant an ongoing series. What makes this title so appealing is its lighter tone, contrasting sharply with the dark and gritty atmosphere found in most superhero comics, and especially its handling of the female protagonist. Through the figure of Faith, Houser explores popular (mis)conceptions of female body image and heroic ideals. In this way, Faith can be read as a meta-commentary on the superhero genre and pop culture fandom, as a whole.

The Two Guys wrap up their sorta-superhero show with a discussion of Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston's Black Hammer (Dark Horse Comics). Issue #2 comes out this week, and guys point out the possible similarities between this title and Lemire's Plutona for Image Comics. The premise is intriguing, although it participates in the kind of alternative superhero storytelling often found in non-Big Two publishers. Both Andy and Derek are on board for this title, especially given Ormston's art, although they're not sure if they're going to read this on an issue-by-issue basis or if this is a title that might better be read in trade collections. It's something they recommend that listeners should definitely pick up and then decide for themselves.

Aug 10, 2016

On this episode of The Comics Alternative, Derek and Andy celebrate their 200th regular review episode! They begin by sharing some of the messages and well wishes they've received from listeners in the past couple of weeks.

After that, they get into a discussion of this week's review titles. They begin with Eric Powell's new series, Hillbilly (Albatross Funnybooks), the second issue of which was just released last week. The guys focus on Powell's use of folktale tropes and storytelling techniques, pointing out that this title reads more somberly than does The Goon and Billy the Kid's Old Timey Oddities (at least so far), although it does have its humorous moments. Albeit subtle.

Much more in-your-face is Satan's Sodomy Baby #2 -- branded as SSBII for "safer" consumption -- Powell's other Albatross Funnybooks publication. This is a follow up to the 2007 one-shot Satan's Sodomy Baby, and like the earlier issue this comic book will not be reprinted nor will it be released digitally. And, appropriately enough, it comes in a sealed bag and parental advisory warning, so as to avoid any immature hands. While this issue of Satan's Sodomy Baby isn't as scatological as the first, it's over-the-top in an entirely different way. Current politics is what drives this story, and Donald J. Trump is the butt (pun intended) of Powell's scathing satire, small hands and all.

The Two Guys wrap up this week's episode with a look at Leslie Stein's Time Clock: An Eye of the Majestic Creature Book (Fantagraphics). Very different from last year's Bright-Eyed at Midnight, this book is a follow up to Stein's other Eye of the Majestic Creature releases from 2011 and 2013. Andy and Derek discuss the the phantasmagorical stories that make up the text, wondering if the protagonist's life events -- e.g., her sand counting and the relationship with her anthropomorphic guitar friend, Marshmallow -- may have any allegorical connections to Stein's own life. But what drives the narrative is Stein's seemingly mundane observations, clothed in the fantastic, and especially her art style, a curious mixture of cartoon and creepy.

Jul 27, 2016

This week the Two Guys with PhDs turn their attention to three recent noir titles. But before they jump into their reviews, they talk about comics news and recent awards.

First, they congratulate Sonny Liew on receiving this year's Singapore Literature Prize for English fiction for his best-selling work The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye. This comes on the heels of him getting the Book of the Year accolade at the Singapore Book Awards, held in May.

Next, Andy and Derek say a few words about the results of this year's Eisner Awards, announced at SDCC last Friday. The guys note that there are really no surprises in the winners, and that with perhaps one or two exceptions, those coming out on top in their categories make perfect sense. They are particularly pleased that so many of the titles and creators that they've discussed on the podcast received this recognition, and they are especially excited that so many friends of the show -- such as Craig Yoe and Tom Heintjes -- received the coveted Eisner.

After all of the awards talk, the guys get into the nitty gritty of this week's episode. They start off with an adaptation of James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia (BOOM! Studios/Archaia), the first in the novelist's L.A. Quartet. Adapted by Matz and David Fincher, and with art by Miles Hyman, the story springs from the real-life murder of Elizabeth Short in 1947. As with the original book, this graphic novel reveals the dark underside of Los Angeles and the post-war days of its entertainment industry. And it contains all of the icons and tropes that define noir narrative.

From there the guys turn to the latest collaboration from the superb crime-writing team of Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Elizabeth Breitweiser, Kill or Be Killed #1 (Image Comics). This first issue has all of the trappings of the kind of stories we've come to expect from Brubaker and Phillips (e.g., The Fade OutCriminalSleeper), but there's a particular twist to the plot that recalls the supernatural tinges of Fatale. In fact, Derek and Andy aren't sure if what happens in the story is because of other-worldly forces or just the result of psychological imbalance.

Finally, the guys wrap up with yet another crime comic, Justin Jordan and Raul Trevino's Sombra #1 (BOOM! Studios). This story revolves around a young DEA agent, Danielle, and the mystery surrounding the disappearance of her father, also an agent. This first issue takes the narrative into some dark places, and the guys focus on this comic as a retelling of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. In fact, the missing DEA agent is name Conrad Marlowe. How appropriate!

Jul 13, 2016

On this week's episode, the Two Guys with PhDs discuss three very different recent titles. They begin with the comics adaptation of Albert Camus's The Stranger, written and illustrated by Jacques Ferrandez (Pegasus Books). Originally published in French 2013 -- and translated by Sandra Smith -- this is a graphic retelling of the absurdist classic. What is most notable about their discussion is that the guys are coming at this book from different perspectives of awareness. Derek knows the work of Camus very well, while Gene had never read the original novella. This leads them to slightly different interpretations of the story events as revealed through Meursault's narration. And the guys' experiential differences also come through in their readings of the text's absurdist theme.

Next, Gene and Derek look at Bryan Lee O'Malley and Leslie Hung's Snotgirl #1 (Image Comics). This is O'Malley's first monthly series, and the guys were expecting a lot from this title. While both appreciate Hung's art, they're not entirely sure what to make of the story...at least, yet. At times it seems as if O'Malley is trying too hard to capture a particularly younger voice. And this is strange, coming from the creator of the Scott Pilgrim series. For example, both Derek and Gene are unsure of the story's emphasis on the "hipness" of blogging. On the one hand this premise seems passé, but on the other hand the guys wonder if O'Malley is just establishing a tone that he will critique in subsequent issues. Ultimately, while the guys are intrigued by this inaugural issue, they're nonetheless going to adopt a "wait and see" attitude and discover how the story unfolds.

The final segment of the episode is devoted to the latest issue of Frontier, the quarterly monograph series of new talent from Youth in Decline. Kelly Kwang is the artist of the most recent release, #12, a non-linear narrative surrounding a game called Space Youth Cadets. This isn't so much of a story as it is an exploration of the contexts surrounding such a game: what powers certain characters have, their storyworld, their clothing and accoutrements, and the designs that would distinguish the game in the public eye. Kwang's black-and-white art is both intricate and intimate, revealing a closeness with technology and social networking. Derek and Gene also say a few words about Frontier #6, Emily Carroll's issue that has just recently come back into print, and about the Frontier series as a whole.

Jun 29, 2016

This week The Comics Alternative's blog editor, Paul Lai, joins Derek to discuss three recent titles. They begin with Bryan Doerries's The Odyssey of Sergeant Jack Brennan (Pantheon). Illustrated by a variety of artists -- Jess Ruliffson, Joëlle Jones, Justine Mara Andersen, Dylan Macon's, and Nick Bertozzi -- the book brings Homer's classic into contemporary contexts. On the eve of their return home from Afghanistan, Marine Corps sergeant Jack Brennan shares with his men the epic tale by applying it to their own lives as soldiers. Within this frame narrative, Doerries recounts Odysseus's various attempt to return home, each one illustrated by one of the book's diverse artists.

Next, the Two Guys turn to a sobering narrative, Rebecca Roher's Bird in a Cage (Conundrum Press). This is an account of Roher's grandmother's dementia and resulting institutionalization, but even more so, it's the artist's memoir of her relationship with Grandma Wylie, as she is called, and the family that nurtured her. This is a moving narrative, intimately drawn, that underscores the power of community and memory when confronting adversity.

After that, Paul and Derek wrap up with a more lighthearted comic, Kaeleigh Forsyth and Alabaster Pizzo's Hellbound Lifestyle (Retrofit Comics/Big Planet Comics). This is a humorous look at our contemporary obsession with smartphones and our need for self-validation through social media. The story takes place over a year's worth of smartphone usage, and many of the book's scenarios are laugh-out-loud funny. Some of the guys' favorites include "A Day in the Life of Hemingway's Wife(s)," "Workshopping My Stand Up Routine," and the "Sunnie Luvies Test." In this episode of the podcast, you can expect a wide range of emotional responses.

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