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The Comics Alternative - The World's Smartest Comics and Graphic Novels Podcast


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.

 

May 17, 2016

This month’s show includes a review of two recently released graphic novels, John Patrick Green’s Hippopotamister (First Second) and Steven T. Seagle and Jason Adam Katzenstein’s Camp Midnight (Image Comics), as well as interviews Andy conducted at the first-ever Anne Arundel County (Maryland) Public Library Comic Con, held on May 14. At this event, Andy had the chance to speak to a number of young readers, as well as their parents, about their favorite comics and about their own work as budding comics creators.

At the beginning of the podcast, Andy reads an email that comics writer Samuel Teer wrote to him and Gwen regarding their October 2015 review of Veda: Assembly Required (Dark Horse), an all-ages comic that he wrote in collaboration with artist Hyeondo Park and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick. Samuel was kind enough to thank the two for their positive review of the book and mentioned that the two people with PhDs gave him some helpful suggestions for future works. (Glad to oblige, Samuel! Keep those great comics coming!)

First up in the review segment is Hippopotamister, a title that both Gwen and Andy can say three times fast and recommend three times over. This graphic novel for younger readers provides a humorous, carefully-crafted story about the way that two friends, Red Panda and Hippo, enter into the “human world” in order to find jobs, after their city zoo falls into disrepair. Red Panda, who leaves the enclosure first and returns with tales of his exciting forays into the world of work, encourages his friend to join him, but he cautions, “amongst the humans you can no longer be just a hippopotamus. You must become…HIPPOPOTAMISTER!” What follows is a tour through occupations that help Hippopotamister and Red Panda figure out their natural talents. Of course, complications arise on these friends’ paths to self-understanding and a regular paycheck, but both end up finding work that suits them well.

In addition to praising the color work of Cat Caro, Andy highlights one of the funniest splash pages in the comic that depicts Hippopotamister’s invention of a new hairstyle entitled “The Hippopompadour.” Gwen loves the whimsy of that scene and notes that, in addition to creating vibrant splash pages, Green excels at planting small details across the entire graphic novel that are clearly put there for the amusement of adult or middle grade readers. For instance, the restaurant where Red Panda and Hippopotamister try their hand at being sous chefs is called “Trattoria Della Bestia,” a name that draws a fine line between those animals that prepare the food versus those who serve as the meal. Andy and Gwen also point out the effectiveness of Green’s images in moving the narration along. As Andy puts it, a beginning reader could figure out the action of the story, even if s/he couldn’t read all of the words, yet the wordplay throughout the comic underscores the fine balance that Green achieves in his comics artistry.

Next, Gwen and Andy discuss Camp Midnight, a collaboration between longtime friends Steven T. Seagle, a TV writer/producer and comic-book author, and Jason Adam Katzenstein, a cartoonist whose work regularly appears in The New Yorker. Their colorful and sophisticated all-ages comic follows Skye Sullivan, a disgruntled tween, who boards the wrong bus and ends up at a summer camp where everyone but her new friend, Mia, sheds their daytime human exteriors in order to reveal their true monster identities. At first, Skye wants nothing more than to head back home, but she finds herself drawn to Griffin, a boy worthy of “cute guy alerts,” and she wants to figure out why Mia is also something of an outcast at Camp Midnight.

Both Gwen and Andy comment on the powerful, saturated colors employed throughout the comic, as well as the realistic depiction of all of the joys and pitfalls of living away from home with a group of kids who are all too eager to form cliques and exclude outsiders. Like Hippopotamister, Skye learns a great deal about herself and then uses that knowledge to help a good friend. Gwen and Andy highly recommend Camp Midnight to tweens and teens, alike, though adults may also enjoy the coy humor and fantastic line style that carries across the text.