About Derek Royal

The Comics Alternative is a weekly podcast focused on the world of alternative, independent, and primarily non-superhero comics. (There’s nothing wrong with the superhero genre…we just want to do something different.) New shows become available every Wednesday…much like the comic books you get. Episodes feature 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, spotlights on various creators and their oeuvre, roundtable discussions with prominent critics and scholars in the field, and interviews with the artists and writers who make all of this possible. Along the way, Andy and Derek will talk about the various books that they are reading; the many pop cultural references that, for better or worse, inform their lives; and the unpredictable (and inexplicable) weirdness that seems to creep into each episode. In essence,The Comics Alternative podcast is brilliantly simple: Two guys with PhDs talking about comics.

Comics Alternative Interviews: Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock

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Time Codes:

  • 00:25 – Introduction
  • 02:31 – Setup of interview
  • 03:11 – Interview with Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock
  • 54:00 – Wrap up
  • 57:40- Contact us

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Sailing Takes Me Away…

On this interview episode, Gwen and Derek are pleased to have as their guest the creators behind the Four Points books, Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock. The second (and perhaps final) work in the series, Knife’s Edge, comes out this week from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and your two highly credentialed cohosts talk with the creators about the new book and follow up to last year’s Compass South. Over the course of their conversation Rebecca and Hope discuss the genesis of the project, their process for collaboration, the research that went into the two books, and the evolution of the various characters that populate their narrative. They even tease a little bit about their yet-unannounced new collaboration that’s completely separate from the Four Points series.

 

Comics Alternative for Young Readers: The Eisner Award Nominations for Early Readers, Kids, and Teens

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:27 – Introduction
  • 00:02:57 – Context of the 2017 Eisner Awards
  • 00:06:14 – Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 8)
  • 00:57:02 – Best Publication for Kids (ages 9-12)
  • 01:49:53 – Best Publication for Teens (ages 13-17)
  • 02:52:17 – Wrap up
  • 02:53:05 – Contact us

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Jam-Packed

This month, Gwen and Paul discuss the three Eisner Award categories that focus on comics for young readers. And this is a jam-packed, extra-long episode! As they work through each set of nominees, Paul and Gwen discuss the value of prizing in general and the challenges faced by the judges when they must cull such a small number of texts from a pool that is increasingly deep. Inevitably, they mention many other texts that felt were strong contenders for recognition, making this episode a great resource for any parent, child, teen, or teacher who is eager to learn about this year’s great comics.


Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 8)

Best Publication for Kids (ages 9-12)

Best Publication for Teens (ages 13-17)

Comics Alternative, Episode 245: Live at HeroesCon 2017

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On the Scene

HeroesCon-ComAlt

Last weekend was HeroesCon, and as they have for the past few years, Andy and Derek are on the scene in Artists Alley reporting the event from the floor. On this episode, you’ll hear the Two Guys sharing their varied experiences at the con. Among other topics they discuss the vendors they visited and the comics they were able to find, their attempts to interview creators at their tables, the two high-powered panels they moderated, the various artists they had signing their comics, the tone of this year’s crowd, Derek’s cool Space Babes shirt (design by Beto), the uncertainty of their table location, and their Saturday night dinner with Gilbert Hernandez’s family. And both Derek and Andy are most thankful for the various fans who stopped by their table to say “Hello!” and tell them that they’re avid listeners.

Much thanks to Daniel Yezbick for providing the pictures of the Two Guys in action!

 

 

Comics Alternative, On Location: Talking with Creators at HeroesCon 2017, Pt. 2

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Time Codes:

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More Heroes Talk

In the second of two on-location interview episodes recorded at this year’s HeroesCon in Charlotte, NC, Derek talks with Fabian Rangel, Jr. (author of Tarantula), Charles Forsman (Slasher), Chris Sheridan (Motorcycle Samurai), Shawn Pryor (Cash and Carrie), and Alison Sampson (Winnebago Graveyard), and Andy and Derek speak with Darren Neely (Chase Van Bolt). Fun stuff!

Stay tuned over the next week for more HeroesCon episodes!

 

 

Comics Alternative, On Location: Talking with Creators at HeroesCon 2017, Pt. 1

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Time Codes:

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Heroes Talk

In the first of two on-location interview episodes recorded at this year’s HeroesCon in Charlotte, NC, Derek talks with a variety of artists, writers, and editors. Some of these are creators with whom Derek was already familiar, some have even talked on the podcast before, and some are are new discoveries. In this show you’ll hear brief discussions with Ben Sears (author of Volcano Trash), Abby Howard (The Last Halloween), Jody Leheup and Sebastian Girner (Shirtless Bear Fighter), Andy Hirsch (Science Comics: Dogs), Matthew David Smith and Jeremy Massie (Amazing Age), Tyler Chin-Tanner (Broken Frontier), Sam Costello (Split Lip Comics), and Thom Zahler (Time and Vine).

Stay tuned over the next week for other episodes generated at this year’s HeroesCon!

Comics Alternative, Webcomics: Reviews of the 2017 Eisner Award Nominees

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:27 – Introduction
  • 00:02:55 – Webcomics news: The Library of Congress’ Web Comics Web Archive
  • 00:11:24 – Trying to make sense of the Eisner Awards’ “Best Web Comic” and “Best Digital Comic” categories
  • 00:30:37 – The Middle Age
  • 00:44:30 – On Beauty
  • 00:56:54 – Helm
  • 01:08:27 – On a Sunbeam
  • 01:32:41 – Wrap up
  • 01:34:14 – Contact us

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Definitionally Challenged

For the June webcomics episode, Sean and Derek take a close look at the webcomics nominees for the 2017 Eisner Awards. Before they do that, though, they have to determine exactly which titles are actually webcomics and which are not. If this sounds strange, that’s because this year the people behind the Eisner Awards have separated “Best Digital Comics” and “Best Webcomic” into two completely different categories — which is a good thing — but in doing so they have ill-defined the criteria to where there are digital comics mixed in the “Best Webcomic” category and webcomics in the “Best Digital Comic” category. In other words, there doesn’t seem to be any clear distinctions between the two…which was the problem in previous years when webcomics and digital comics were unfortunately clumped into the same category. Sean and Derek discuss in detail the problems underlying this year’s categorization, and they offer advice for next year’s judges and hope that in the future there will be a much more precise understanding of what a webcomic actually is.

After that, they begin discussing the real webcomics that are scattered between the “Best Webcomic” and “Best Digital Comic” categories. There are five in all, and in this episode they discuss Steve Conley’s The Middle Age and Christina Tran’s On Beauty (both nominated for “Best Webcomic”), as well as Jahanzeb Hasan and Mauricio Caballero’s Helm and Tillie Walden’s On a Sunbeam (inexplicably nominated under “Best Digital Comic”). Anne Szabla’s Bird Boy was also nominated as a webcomic, but since the guys discussed that title on a previous webcomics episode, they spend their time talking about the other nominees. And as the guys reveal, there is a reason why these four titles are nominated for an Eisner Award this year. They’re all well-written, keenly drawn, and ambitious in what each endeavors to accomplish. Both Sean and Derek wish this year’s webcomics creators, despite the appropriateness of the categories for which they’re nominated, the best of luck when the announcements are made at next month’s SDCC!

Comics Alternative, Euro Comics: Reviews of Moby Dick and The Interview

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:26 – Introduction
  • 00:02:36 – Catching up
  • 00:05:04 – Moby Dick
  • 00:48:50 – The Interview
  • 01:18:18 – Wrap up
  • 01:18:58 – Contact us

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Pasteboard Masks

This month on the Euro Comics series, Edward and Derek discuss two black-and-white narratives, one an adaptation of a classic text and another an offbeat tale of aliens and relationships. They begin with Christophe Chabouté’s rendering of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (note the lack of hyphen in the title), released earlier this year from Dark Horse Books. After mentioning many of the earlier comics adaptations of the great American novel — and there are a lot — they plunge into Chabouté’s handling, highlighting some of the differences from the earlier versions. Both cohosts come from two very different perspectives in their analyses, since Derek is very familiar with the original novel and Edward has not yet read it. As such, their approaches are varied and multifaceted.

Next, they turn to the latest translation of Manuele Fior, The Interview (Fantagraphics). This is a markedly different kind of story from 5,000 km Per Second, a book that Gwen and Derek reviewed last year. As Edward points out, the draw of The Interview isn’t so much the story, but its tone or the affect generated by the text. This is a tale about relationships, and Fior’s art deftly expresses the subtitles and complications that underlie all of our interactions. You may come away from this book with a feeling of uncertainly and irresolution, but that seems to be a part of Fior’s project.

 

 

Comics Alternative, Episode 244: Reviews of Nothing Lasts Forever, What Is a Glacier?,and Revenger and the Fog

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Time Codes:

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Killer Butts

This week the Two Guys with PhDs review three recent releases, two of which are autobiographical in nature. They begin with Sina Grace’s Nothing Lasts Forever (Image Comics). This follows a couple of other autobiographical works from Grace including Not My Bag (2012) and Self-Obsessed (2015), but this latest work has a looser feel to it. Written in diary form when the author was suffering from a rare esophageal condition, the book reveals Grace’s struggles with his health, his romantic/sexual relationships, and his art. Indeed, as both Andy and Derek point out, it’s his emphasis on the latter, along with the pencil art, that makes this such an intimate text.

Next, the guys turn to What Is a Glacier?, a short autobiographical piece from Sophie Yanow (Retrofit Comics/Big Planet Comics). In this work, the author uses a trip to Iceland, and a visitation to a glacier, to explore the nature of life changes, feelings of uncertainty, and grief over loss. In terms of the latter, Yanow deftly associates the end of a relationship with our treatment of the environment, contextualizing climate change in dire, yet not completely hopeless, terms.

After that Derek and Andy look at a completely different kind of comic. Charles Forsman’s Revenger and the Fog (Bergen Street Press) is the follow-up (and prequel) to his first Revenger volume, Children of the Damned. Originally appearing as four-issue miniseries, and including a one-shot, Revenger and the Fog is a 1970s-/1980s-inspired action narrative of a vigilante, Reggie (AKA, Revenger), enacting retribution against the victimized. In this case, the victims are other members of her team, The Fog, specifically her lover Jenny (AKA, Dynarat). There’s a lot of extreme violence in this story, along with a premise that is sure to gross you out. But as the guys point out, Forsman’s over-the-top handling of his subject matter adds a touch of humor that helps to mitigate the discomfort.

Comics Alternative, Episode 243: The June Previews Catalog

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Ben Affleck and Jason Lee

The Two Guys with PhDs, AKA “Ben” and “Jason,” are back with another Previews episode. And for the month of June, there’s a lot that Andy and Derek want to highlight. Among the many upcoming titles they discuss are:

 

Comics Alternative, Episode 242: A Discussion of the 2017 Eisner Award Nominations

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The Meryl Streep of Comics

EisnerNominee-banner

Earlier this month the nominees for the 2017 Eisner Awards were announced at the Comic-Con International website, and as Andy and Derek like to do every year, they’re devoting a full episode of The Comics Alternative to a discussion of the nominations. On this week’s show, the Two Guys give their impressions of the various nominees, both as a whole and on a category-by-category basis, making observations and trying to understand any trends underlying this year’s selections. However, Derek and Andy resist the urge to play armchair quarterbacks, so they don’t second-guess the six-member panel of judges or focus on what they would have chosen if they had been on the selection committee. As diligent comics scholars, they judicial and discerning in their commentary. At the same time, they don’t shy away from pointing out a few inconsistencies and a few head-scratchers when trying to make sense of this year’s nominations.

Comics Alternative, Manga: Reviews of Scumbag Loser and Sweetness and Lightning

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:27 – Introduction
  • 00:02:21 – Listener mail!
  • 00:04:28 – Comments on the 2017 Eisner Award nominations
  • 00:09:26 – Scumbag Loser
  • 00:52:10 – Sweetness and Lightning
  • 01:21:25 – Wrap up
  • 01:22:14 – Contact us

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Sweet and Sour

For the month of May, Shea and Derek discuss two works of manga that, while not necessarily diametrically opposed, are tonally opposite from one another. The first title is Mikoto Yamaguti’s Scumbag Loser (Yen Press). What begins as a story about a teenage outsider with a unique smelling ability quickly turns into a horror story involving mysterious non-human forces. As the guys discuss, there are few characters in this book worthy of sympathy, but it is this lack of empathic closeness that makes this an affecting narrative. However, the guys aren’t without their reservations, as Shea points out in his take on Yamaguti’s patriarchal approach to his subject matter. Derek agrees, but he also sees the text’s larger themes — e.g., the unrealistic demands on youth conformity — saving it from a kind of morbid frivolity.

Next, the guys turn to a series from Kodansha Comics, Gido Amagakure’s Sweetness and Lightning. The English translations became available beginning July of last year, and as of the time of this podcast recording, Kodansha has released five volumes. (Volume 6 is due out in early June.) This is a first for The Comics Alternative, a discussion of cooking manga. It’s the story of Kouhei Inuzuka, a recently widowed father, and his daughter Tsumugi. He is unable to cook adequately for his family, and eventually he becomes close with one of his students, Kotori, who helps him become proficient in the kitchen. The series is a collection of episodes, each involving a dilemma where food preparation, complete with useful menus, helps to alleviate the problem. At the same time, cooking brings everyone closer together…even hinting at complicating affections. This is a nice read and, as Shea suggests, one to take out with you on a pleasant spring day.

Comics Alternative for Young Readers: Reviews of Volcano Trash and Real Friends

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Time Codes:

  • 01:22 – Introduction
  • 03:19 – Setup of the episode
  • 04:00 – Volcano Trash
  • 23:10 – Real Friends
  • 48:57 – Wrap up
  • 50:00 – Contact us

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Friendships

For the May Young Readers show, Paul and Gwen discuss two highly anticipated graphic novels: Ben Sears’s Volcano Trash (Koyama Press) and Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Real Friends (First Second). While one text is an action adventure science fiction fantasy and the other is a memoir, both books touch upon the importance that relationships play in young people’s lives.

To being the show, Paul introduces Volcano Trash, the sequel to Ben Sears’s acclaimed 2016 graphic novel Night Air, the first in a series that takes place in what Sears terms “the Double+” universe. Both texts feature the exploits of a young man called Plus Man, his faithful sidekick, the robot Hank, as they engage in capers and navigate a world in which adults very often have nefarious agendas. Paul explains that even though the majority of secondary characters in Volcano Trash are male, the series would be enjoyable for all readers. Gwen agrees and chimes in with her appreciation for Sears’s use of color and his ability to add suspense and “motion” to the comic through the use of a variety of stylistic techniques. Gwen and Paul conclude by discussing the way that Sears’s sense of humor adds a welcome levity to the hijinks. (You can also check out additional discussion of Volcano Trash on the recent Publisher Spotlight episode devoted to Koyama Press.)

Next, the pair discuss Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Real Friends, a memoir of Hale’s grade school years that focuses on friendships won and lost. In addition to considering the features of Hale and Pham’s collaborative work, Gwen underscores the importance of the “Author’s Note,” which allows Hale to look back over her childhood, explain her rationale for writing a memoir, and provide young readers with advice about navigating the complicated hierarchies that develop in grade school. Paul agrees and points to the inclusion of Hale’s grade school photographs as a way to highlight the fact that the story is both real and focused on Hale’s actual experiences. Both Gwen and Paul highly recommend this text as an excellent read for any young person, regardless of whether they identify more with Shannon and are struggling to find true friendships or whether they are popular and confident but might benefit from thinking about friendships from the perspective of other kids.

Comics Alternative, Episode 241: Reviews of Boundless and User

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Time Codes:

  • 00:01:23 – Introduction
  • 00:05:11 – Welcome new Patreon supporters!
  • 00:08:34 – Boundless
  • 00:44:55 – User
  • 01:16:41 – Wrap up
  • 01:17:43 – Contact us

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Reality Askew

This week on the review show Paul joins Derek in discussing two new recent releases. They begin with Jillian Tamaki’s Boundless, published by Drawn and Quarterly. This is a collection of nine short stories, most of which have been previously published in FrontierNobrow, and Hazlitt.net. The guys begin by discussing how Tamaki structures the contents, along with including new pieces, in order to give the collection visual and thematic coherency. Unlike her longer narratives Skim and This One Summer, both with her cousin Mariko, Tamaki tends to use the shorter storytelling forms to create pieces that are slightly askew and bend the reality that we know.

Next, Paul and Derek turn to Devin Grayson, John Bolton, and Sean Phillips’s User (Image Comics). This was originally published as a three-issue prestige-format miniseries through Vertigo Comics in 2001, but until now has never been collected in a single volume. User is the tale of a young woman finding refuge in a MUD, escaping the chaos that surrounds her real-life work and family. What makes the narrative notable is its handling of online interaction and gender identification, quite provocative at the time of its original publication. And while the guys appreciate what Grayson and company are doing, they note the slightly dated nature of this comic. As they point out, understanding the temporal context puts everything into perspective.

Comics Alternative Interviews: Dave Chisholm

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:24 – Introduction
  • 00:02:31 – Setup of interview
  • 00:03:48 – Interview with Dave Chisholm
  • 01:03:55 – Wrap up
  • 01:05:04- Contact us

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With Great Talent Comes…

On this interview episode, Derek talks with Dave Chisholm, whose new book Instrumental comes out soon from Z2 Comics. This is the story of a musician who comes upon a trumpet with unique powers, allowing him to transform the lives around him, including those of his fellow bandmates. Dave’s background — a professional trumpet player, songwriter, composer, bandleader, and educator — becomes the wellspring from which he pulls his narrative, so much of his conversation with Derek is devoted to the power of music and its translation into visual form. The graphic novel also comes with a soundtrack, seven songs composed and performed by Dave. Over the course of the interview the two discuss the genesis of this project, the fantastical nature of the story, the unique links between audio and visual representations, and Dave’s work as an artist on this and other projects, including the Study Group webcomic, The Tyranny of the Muse.

Comics Alternative Special: A Roundtable Discussion on Children’s and Young Adult Comics

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Forever Young

On this special episode of The Comics Alternative, Gwen and Derek moderate a roundtable discussion on comics for children and young adults. Joining them in the conversation are Karly Marie Grice and Joe Sutliff Sanders, both contributors to the brand new book coedited by Gwen, Graphic Novels for Children and Young Adults: A Collection of Essays (University Press of Mississippi). Over the course of the roundtable, both Joe and Karly present the research they conducted for the collection — the aesthetics of children’s digital comics and contesting narratives in Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints, respectively — but the core of the discussion centers on the current state of children’s and adolescent comics, the scholarship surrounding it, questions of demographics, and the pedagogical challenges facing educators when framing the medium.

Gwen’s coeditor, Michelle Ann Abate, had planned on joining the roundtable discussion, but due to technical difficulties she was unable to do so.