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: More with Rich Tommaso

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:25 – Introduction
  • 00:03:07 – Setup of interview
  • 00:04:43 – Interview with Rich Tommaso
  • 01:01:40 – Wrap up
  • 01:03:42 – Contact us

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Anthropomorphic Espionage

Derek is pleased to have Rich Tommaso back on The Comics Alternative. He appeared on the show last year to discuss his new series at the time, She Wolf, but this time he talks about Spy Seal, his intriguing new anthropomorphic espionage series from Image Comics. They begin by chronicling the genesis of the story, a comic that Rich began as a thirteen-year-old, and then discuss the development of the premise and the various choices Rich made in situating his narrative. One way that Rich describes his new series is by paying homage to Hergé’s Tintin, the globetrotting young investigator who always found himself immersed in adventure and intrigue. He also discloses many of the lessons he learned with his previous Image series, both She Wolf and Dark Corridors, his love of genre, and his need to move on — at least momentarily — from psychological horror and crime stories. Derek also asks Rich about his plans for future Spy Seal narrative arcs, the temporal settings of these plots, and the ways in which the uncertainty of creator-0wned series impacts a writer’s storytelling choices.

Comics Alternative, Episode 253: Reviews of Lighter Than My Shadow, Now #1, and The Family Trade #1

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Hungry for Art

This week Paul and Derek take on three exciting new titles. They begin with a moving memoir from UK creator Katie Green, Lighter Than My Shadow (Roar-Lion Forge). In this work, Green reveals the eating disorders she struggled with as a young girl and into adulthood. Growing up obsessive-compulsive, Green chronicles how this condition contributed to her anorexic behavior, later evolving into problems with binging. Green also narrates her many attempts to address these problems with various doctors and therapists, the most notorious of whom ends up sexually abusing her…providing even more obstacles to her recovery. The guys are impressed by Green’s honesty and storytelling abilities — particularly taken by her art and the visual metaphors she employs throughout — although toward the end of their conversation about this title, they wonder if perhaps the memoir could have been streamlined just a little. This is a 500+ page text, after all.

Next, the Two Guys look at a brand new anthology from Fantagraphics, Now #1. Edited by Eric Reynolds, this collection of diverse and experimental comic art brings to mind Fantagraphics previous anthology, Mome (which both Derek and Paul dearly miss). In fact, the guys begin their discussion of Now by referencing the earlier anthology, with Paul feeling that the latest efforts are more experimental than Mome, while Derek see it as more similar to the previous series. The only difference is number of new and/or unfamiliar creators in Now (and, Derek argues, such was also the case several years ago with Mome). Some of the standouts in this first issue of Now are Dash Shaw’s “Scorpio,” Gabrielle Bell’s “Dear Naked Guy…,” Sammy Harkham’s “I, Marlon,” Malachi Ward and Matt Sheean’s “Widening Horizon,” and especially Noah Van Sciver’s “Wall of Shame” (for Derek, the best of the collection). But the guys are also impressed, and at times curiously confused, by the contributions from creators that are new to them, such as Sara Corbett, J.C. Menu, Antoine Cossé, and Kaela Graham. But as Paul and Derek argue, the entire issue of Now is compelling and works successfully as an anthology. They can’t wait until the second issue, due for release in January.

Finally, the Two Guys wrap up with a discussion of Justin Jordan, Nikki Ryan, and Morgan Beem’s The Family Trade #1 (Image Comics). This is another example of the kind of world-building often found at Image, and it’s the story of a neutral territory in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the Float, ruled by the descendants of the ship captains that originally founded the realm — called the Clans — and the Family, descendants of the hands who had worked for the captains. This first issue opens with the protagonist, Jessa Wynn, attempting to assassinate Stagger Berghardt, a Trump-like charismatic demagogue who appeals to the base instincts of the citizens of the Float. She bungles the assassination, but her efforts put into motion a series of encounters that will propel the narrative into the next issues. Both Derek and Paul are impressed by this first issue, especially Beem’s art, and both plan on remaining on board for the rest of the series.

Comics Alternative Interviews: Back with Sophie Goldstein

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:24 – Introduction
  • 00:02:39 – Setup of interview
  • 00:04:28 – Interview with Sophie Goldstein
  • 01:16:41 – Wrap up
  • 01:18:21 – Contact us

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Sci-Fi and the Art of Psycho-Sexual Drama

On this episode of The Comics Alternative‘s interview series, Paul and Derek are pleased to talk with Sophie Goldstein. Her new book, House of Women, was recently published by Fantagraphics, and she talks with the Two Guys about her four-year process of creating her narrative. As Sophie describes it, this is a psycho-sexual sci-fi drama about a group of female missionaries who travel to a distant planet to help educate — and colonize — the local population. Complications ensue when an earlier missionary, Jael Dean, goes native and becomes the focus of rival affections. During their insightful conversation, Goldstein discusses the genesis of the project, how it springs from her love of the film Black Narcissus and how it began as a thesis while she was at the Center for Cartoon Studies. She also reveals her strategies for composing her protagonists, the evolution of the storyline, and the history of originally self-publishing her work in three parts.

Be sure to check out Sophie Goldstein’s Patreon page, as well as her previous times on the podcast:

Comics Alternative, Manga: Reviews of Uncomfortably Happily and Appleseed Alpha

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:26 – Introduction
  • 00:02:26 – Getting back in the manga saddle
  • 00:05:37 – Uncomfortably Happily
  • 00:44:42 – Appleseed Alpha
  • 01:22:55 – Wrap up
  • 01:24:37 – Contact us

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Questions of Memoir and Representation

The monthly manga series is back, and on this episode — the first of two manga shows in October — Shea and Derek discuss a couple of very different works. They begin with Yeon-Sik Hong’s Uncomfortably Happily (Drawn and Quarterly). This is the story of Hong and his wife becoming frustrated with living in crowded and polluted Seoul, ultimately deciding to move to a house in a remote mountain community. As the guys reveal, the majority of the narrative is devoted to the everyday challenges the couple undergo, the quotidian tasks involved in living in such a raw, isolated area. Over the course of their conversation Derek and Shea address the question of autobiography: Is this indeed a memoir of what Hong and his wife actually underwent? Neither of the guys doubts that the story is anchored in Hong’s real-life experiences, although Derek makes the argument that the construction of the narrative bears more of a fictional stamp than one of life writing.

Next the guys turn to a very different kind of manga. Iou Kuroda’s Appleseed Alpha (Kodansha Comics) is a manga based on Shirow Masamune’s original Appleseed, as well as an adaptation of Shinji Aramaki’s anime feature. Both Shea and Derek are impressed with Kuroda’s art, dynamic and drenched in heavy inks, but they’re not as excited about the coherency of the story. There are gaps in the narrative, the various events aren’t necessarily linked cohesively, and the overall story can be a bit confusing at times. Nonetheless, the guys, especially Shea, are taken by Kuroda’s efforts. Shea appreciates this follow-up to the Shirow’s Appleseed, which he has read, and Derek feels impelled now to seek out the original manga series.

At the end of month, Shea and Derek will be back with their second October manga show, a special Halloween show devoted to horror manga. Keep your ears open!

 

Comics Alternative, Episode 252: Reviews of Spinning, Love and Rockets, Vol. 4 #3, and Slots #1

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Time Codes:

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On the Ice, in the Casino

On this week’s episode of The Comics Alternative, Paul joins Derek in discussing three exciting new titles. They begin with Spinning, Tillie Walden’s new book and her initial release for First Second. What makes this work stand out from her previous comics, such as The End of Summer and I Love This Part, is that it is an outright memoir. This is a coming-of-age narrative, and Walden uses her history of competitive ice skating as a scaffolding for her life story. There’s a lot in this memoir about her chosen sport, but Spinning is much more than a book about skating. In it, we see Walden’s key relationships, her search for a mother figure, and her coming out to family and friends.

Next, the guys check out the latest issue of Love and Rockets (Fantagraphics). In this issue, the third in the magazine-sized fourth volume, both Jaime and Gilbert continue the storylines they had begun in the earlier New Stories annuals. Gilbert gives us the further adventures of Fritz, her daughters, and the Fritz wannabes, while Jaime returns to his Princess Anima story and the Hoppers punk reunion. What most strikes both Derek and Paul, however, are the two short pieces early in the issue where Jaime visits the young Maggie and Hopey in 1979. The guys hope there is more on the teenage locas in future issues.

Finally, the Two Guys wrap up by discussing the first issue of a new series from Image Comics, Dan Panosian’s Slots. This is the story of Stanley Dance, a former boxer and antihero who does what he can to get by. It takes place in Las Vegas, and both Paul and Derek are struck by how Panosian’s art, as well as his storytelling style, captures the loose and freewheeling feel of the gambling capital. They’re impressed by this first issue and plan to continue with this series.

Comics Alternative, Webcomics: Reviews of Righteous, Zen and the Ephemeral, and American Barbarian

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Kirby Lives!

The Comics Alternative‘s monthly webcomics series is back, and for October Sean and Derek discuss three intriguing titles. They begin with Righteous, written by Kevin Sheller and with art by Joseba Morales and colors by Gab Contreras. This is a narrative with a curious premise: What would happen if suddenly, everyone decided to do the right thing? The story focuses on Daniel, a risk analyst who is “touched” by a mysterious entity and then realizes that his work demeans human life and decides to commit himself to helping others. And his attitude becomes infectious.

Next, the Two Guys discuss a very recent webcomic (beginning in May), Laurence Dea Dionne’s Zen and the Ephemeral. It’s the story of Moé, a young woman suffering from depression who decides to spend ten days at a meditation retreat. The narrative is in its early stages — as of this recording, we’re still in the first chapter — but it reveals the various experiences and feelings that Moé goes through as she becomes acclimated to the retreat and its other participants.

Finally, Sean and Derek wrap up with an already completed webcomic, Tom Scioli’s American Barbarian. One of the first things that grabs the guys’ attention is the heavy influence of Jack Kirby on Scioli’s art. Both the character illustration and the kinetic action in the comic bear the stamp of the legend, and not in a derivative way. Scioli utilizes this influence in a way that propels the action forward, providing a story that is reminiscent of Kamandi and Conan the Barbarian. The guys spend a lot of time discussing Scioli’s art, but they also mention other webcomics on his website, such PrincessFinal Frontier, and his brand new biography of Jack Kirby.

 

 

Comics Alternative, Episode 251: The October Previews Catalog

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Shemptacular

The Two Guys with PhDs have been on hiatus for a couple of months — as they explain in this episode, life matters prevented new episodes — but now the weekly review show is back…and with a vengeance. On this episode, Gene and Derek look through the October Previews catalog. There’s a lot packed into this month’s solicits, and the guys have their hands full. But Gene and Derek rise to the occasion and highlight a variety of upcoming titles from publishers such as:

 

Comics Alternative for Young Readers: Reviews of A Different Pond, Swing It, Sunny, and Pashmina

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Perspectives

On this episode of the Comics Alternative Young Readers podcast, Gwen and Paul discuss three comics that run the gamut from early readers up to teens.

First on deck, they discuss Bao Phi and Thi Bui’s A Different Pond (Capstone Young Readers), a children’s hybrid picture book/comic that focuses on a bonding moment between a young boy and his father.

Then, Gwen and Paul talk about Jennifer Holm and Matt Holm’s sequel to last year’s acclaimed Sunny Side-Up, Swing It, Sunny (Graphix), which sees preteen Sunny trying to figure out why her older brother has changed so much.

Finally, the Two Academics Talking about Comics look at a middle/grade…or maybe YA text, Nidhi Chanani’s Pashmina (First Second), about a young immigrant who tries to gain a deeper understanding of her mother’s past in India.

Also, Gwen and Paul have a special segment for this month’s episode, as Paul’s daughter tells us about her thoughts after reading two of our books, Swing It, Sunny and Pashmina.

 

Comics Alternative for Young Readers: A Roundtable Discussion on Contemporary Issues in Children’s and Young Adult Comics

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:27 – Introduction
  • 00:03:06 – Roundtable discussion with Charles Hatfield and Krystal Howard
  • 01:25:00 – Wrap up
  • 01:27:49 – Contact us

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Talking It Out

For this Young Readers show, Paul and Gwen change things up a bit by hosting a roundtable on the state of children’s and YA comics with two amazing scholars: Dr. Charles Hatfield, professor in the department of English at California State University, Northridge, and his new college, Dr. Krystal Howard, an assistant professor who is dual appointed in English and Liberal Studies.

The conversation in this month’s episode includes a number of timely topics, including the way scholars define children’s and YA comics, the challenges and benefits of teaching children’s comics, and the exciting formal aspects of comics, as well as other categories, such as verse novels.

Charles had just returned from the San Diego Comic Con, and he shared a list of sessions that were held in conjunction with SDCC at the San Diego Public Library, as well as commentary on this year’s nominees in the three award areas devoted to young readers: Best Publication for Early Readers, Best Publication for Kids, and Best Publication for Teens.

Another rich topic for discussion among the panelists was the portrayal of children in comics written for adults. Recent releases mentioned in this regard included Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Nick Drnaso’s Beverly, and Brecht Evens’ Panther. Recommended children’s texts that seem to be breaking conventions include Eric Orchard’s Bera, the One-Headed Troll, Drew Weing’s The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo, and favorite texts to teach included Luke Pearson’s Hilda series, Barry Deutsch’s Hereville series, and Lewis/Aydin/Powell’s March series, among others.

If listeners have been looking for a good list of must-read children’s and YA comics, this roundtable delivers on that count.

Comics Alternative, Episode 250: Reviews of The Death of Stalin, Moonstruck #1, and Kros: Hallowed Ground

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Monsters…or Others

This week on The Comics Alternative‘s regular review show, the Two Guys discuss three recent titles, all of which involve monsters….or outsiders, depending on your perspective. They begin with The Death of Stalin, written by Fabien Nury and with art by Thierry Robin (Titan Comics). This is a translation of a French text that is soon to be released as a major motion picture in the UK, and then eventually coming to the US. It’s the semi-historical account of the death of Joseph Stalin and the unusual circumstances surrounding that event. As Andy and Derek point out, Nury’s dark sense of humor is apparent throughout, while Robin’s art captures the grittiness of the context.

Next, the guys move on to Grace Ellis, Shae Beagle, and Kate Leth’s Moonstruck #1 (Image Comics). The story takes place in an urban setting, with young people going about their daily, and sometimes wacky, lives…sort of like something out of Seinfeld or Friends. However, what marks this series is its fantastical nature: everyone is a mythical figure of some sort. While Leth provides a bit of the art, the lion’s share goes to newcomer Shae Beagle, which is a stand out. And although both guys had wondered when they read the original solicit if this series may be a bit too “cute,” they find Ellis’s story mature in a way they hadn’t expected.

Finally, Andy and Derek do something they haven’t really done before: review a title that is only available through a Kickerstarter campaign. Tom Mandrake and John Ostrander’s Kros: Hallowed Ground takes place during the horrific yet decisive Battle of Gettysburg, but it’s more than just a war story. This is a landscape populated by vampires. And what better feeding ground for bloodsuckers than this battlefield? On it’s own, this narrative leaves open a few questions, but the guys sense that this is the first in a series of Kros tales that will flesh out a larger storyworld. They hope that this, as well as other future installments, might find its way to print in the future.

On Location: Our Last (?) Visit to Valhalla Games and Comic

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Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

This just may be the last on-location episode of The Comics Alternative conducted from Valhalla Games and Comics in Plano, TX. Derek is moving to North Carolina and will no longer be in the DFW area to do these shows. But customers of Valhalla and friends of the podcast, both long-timers and new listeners, come by the shop to say a fond farewell…and talk about comics. Joining Derek for this special episode are Craig, Matt, Jay, Tristan, and Kelly. Their interests are diverse, so the conversation reflects that. And they cover a lot of ground, so listen up!

Partings are tough. But as David Gates once sang, “Goodbye doesn’t mean forever.”

 

 

Comics Alternative, Euro Comics: Review of Valerian and Laureline

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:25 – Introduction
  • 00:03:23 – Setup, and a big thanks to Jerome Saincantin!
  • 00:05:01 – Valerian and Laureline
  • 01:13:46 – Wrap up
  • 01:15:10 – Contact us

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Sci Fi, French Style

This month on The Comics Alternative‘s Euro Comics series, Edward and Derek devote the entire episode to Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières’s Valerian and Laureline series. They do this within the context of Luc Besson’s new film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. As the guys point out, the series’ English publisher, Cinebook, has begun to release new hardbound two-volume editions of title, but Derek and Edward are reviewing from the paperback single-story editions that have been available previously. In all, they discuss volumes 1-4, 6, 9-13, and 15, published through Cinebook between October 2010 and December 2016.

Among the many elements of Valerian and Laureline that they discuss are the evolution of Christin’s style over the course of the series, the ways in which the stories both adhere to and deviate from common science-fiction tropes, the strong (and non-objectifying) representations of Laureline, the title’s colorful cast of secondary or supporting figures, the series’ all-age quality, and the subtle ways in which the creators embed current (at the time of creation) socio-political contexts within the narrative. Even the guys only focus on one title this month, there’s more than enough to cover on this episode.

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Comics Alternative Interviews: Ger Apeldoorn

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:25 – Introduction
  • 00:02:24 – Setup of interview
  • 00:03:34 – Interview with Ger Apeldoorn
  • 01:06:35 – Wrap up
  • 01:08:17 – Contact us

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Wannabes

Just in time for the San Diego Comic-Con — where he and Craig Yoe will be meeting with fans and signing books — Ger Apeldoorn is on the show to talk with Derek about his new book, Behaving Madly: Zany, Loco, Cockeyed, Rip-off, Satire Magazines (IDW/Yoe Books). It’s a beautifully produced work that highlights the many knockoffs of Bill Gaines’s Mad that appeared between 1954 to 1959, attempting to capitalize on the kind of success the Usual Gang of Idiots enjoyed once the title changed to magazine format. These Mad wannabes appeared with such titles as From Here to InsanityCockeyedBunk!, SNAFULunatickleWho Goofed?ThimkShook UpFrenzyFrantic!LocoZany, and Nuts! You might think — or thimk — that these rip-offs would all be cheesy and subpar, but as Ger makes clear, these short-lived satire magazines included work from such comics legends as Jack Davis, Al Jaffee, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert, Howard Nostrand, Bob Powell, Ross Andru, Basil Wolverton, and Russ Heath. Derivative and second-rate? Perhaps. But the selections in Behaving Madly are no laughing matter. Well…actually, they are.

Check out this great promo from Yoe Books!

 

 

Comics Alternative, Episode 249: Reviews of Reich, The American Way: Those Above and Those Below #1, and Time and Vine #1

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Time Codes:

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Sexual Healing

This week the Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics look at three very different titles. They begin with Elijah Brubaker’s Reich, a twelve-issue biography published by Sparkplug Comics and distributed through Alternative Comics. The series reveals the life of Wilhelm Reich, the Austrian-American psychoanalyst known for his influential work in character analysis, his advocacy of orgastic potency, and, more controversially, his theories surrounding orgonomy. After that they discuss The American Way: Those Above and Those Below #1 (Vertigo Comics). Written by John Ridley with art by George Jeanty, this is a sequel to their eight-issue Wildstorm series that came out in 2008. Then Andy and Derek wrap things up with Time and Vine #1 (IDW Publishing), Thom Zahler’s followup to his 2015 miniseries Long Distance. The guys note that this latest title bears all the markings of Zahler’s previous work, including Love and Capes: engaging art, impressive dialogue, and nuanced character interaction that is both romantic and witty.

 

Comics Alternative Interviews: Gabrielle Bell

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:24 – Introduction
  • 00:02:26 – Setup of interview
  • 00:04:21 – Interview with Gabrielle Bell
  • 01:00:03 – Wrap up
  • 01:01:21 – Contact us

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“The anxiety and the happiness are just so close together”

On this interview episode Andy and Derek are pleased to have as their guest Gabrielle Bell. Her latest book, Everything Is Flammable, came out recently from Uncivilized Books. The guys talk with Gabrielle extensively about the idea for this book — described as her first long-form graphic memoir — and how it evolved from her work on short diary pieces. What binds most of the entries in Everything Is Flammable are her experiences with her mother after her northern California house was destroyed in a fire. The guys also ask her about her annual event, the July diary, a project in which she was in the middle of at the time of this recording. Gabrielle discusses both the pleasures and the struggles of completing her self-imposed month-long project and how this year’s daily stories surround her time house- and pet-sitting for her friend and publisher, Tom Kaczynski. Along the way, Gabrielle reveals her various thoughts on being a semi-autobiographical cartoonist, the uncertainties of including friends and family members in her comics, the responsibilities she feels in those representations, and the very problem of trying to pigeonhole her work within a particular genre or form.