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, 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.

Comics Alternative, Episode 240: A Publisher Spotlight on Koyama Press

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Time Codes:

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Holy Balls!

For this week’s review episode the Two Guys with PhDs turn a critical spotlight on Koyama Press and its spring 2017 releases. They devoted an entire episode to Koyama a couple of years ago, but this season there are just so many great titles coming out from the press that the guys wanted to look at all of their releases and not just two or three scheduled across several weeks. First, though, they share a brief conversation with the press’ founder and publisher, Annie Koyama, who provides an overview and history of the Canadian publishing house.

Then the guys start discussing the new releases, beginning with Eleanor Davis’s You & a Bike & a Road, a diary comic of her time biking from Arizona to Georgia and the various experiences and encounters she had along the way. Reading this book has even gotten Derek back exercising on his bike, although Andy wasn’t inspired in quite the same way. After that they look at another autobiographical work in diary form, Keiler Roberts’s Sunburning. The Two Guys have discussed Roberts’s work on the podcast previously, but this is the first time the both of them have focused on one of her entire books, her first Koyama Press release.

Next, they turn to Crawl Space, the latest from Koyama creator Jesse Jacobs. This is a visually unique work, combining Jacobs’s geometric abstractions with a straightforward, yet self-reflexibly revealing, storyline. Another experimental work is Eric Kostiuk Williams’s Condo Heartbreak Disco. At the center of this narrative are Komio and The Willendorf Braid, two figures whose stories are part of Williams’s Hungry Bottom Comics series, of which neither of the guys are familiar (unfortunately).

Then it’s on to Volcano Trash, the follow up to Ben Sears’s Night Air which was leased last year. This all-age adventure featuring Plus Man and Hank is one of the highlights of the week, and the guys hope Sears continues developing this series. And finally, Andy and Derek wrap up with Jane Mai and An Nguyen’s hybrid text, So Pretty/Very Rotten: Comics and Essays on Lolita Fashion and Cute Culture. This is a fascinating exploration of a cultural trend that neither of the guys really knew much about — at least in detail — and one that caters to their scholarly sensibilities.

Comics Alternative Interviews: Sharon Shinn and Molly Knox Ostertag

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Time Codes:

  • 00:26 – Introduction
  • 02:14 – Setup of interview
  • 04:04 – Interview with Sharon Shinn and Molly Knox Ostertag
  • 57:52 – Wrap up
  • 59:37 – Contact us

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The Stars Are Indispensable

On this interview episode Gwen and Derek talk with Sharon Shinn and Molly Knox Ostertag. Their new book Shattered Warrior comes out this week from First Second, and they discuss their experiences in developing the project and their process of collaboration. This is Sharon’s first graphic novel — she’s the author of over 25 prose novels — so she shares her journey of discover while working in a different medium. And while Molly is primarily known for her successful webcomic Strong Female Protagonist (co-created with Brennan Lee Mulligan), this is her first time in working on a longer, sustained narrative for print. Gwen and Derek talk with their guests about the genesis of this story, the excitement of world creation, and their thoughts on intended reading audiences.

Comics Alternative, Euro Comics: Reviews of Flight of the Raven and The Reprieve

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:26 – Introduction
  • 00:03:08 – Comments on the Eisner Award nominations
  • 00:08:31 – Flight of the Raven
  • 00:42:47 – The Reprieve
  • 01:06:13 – Wrap up
  • 01:07:15 – Contact us

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Hollywood?

Edward and Derek are back with the latest Euro Comics episode. This month, they focus on recent translations of the work of Jean-Pierre Gibrat, Flight of the Raven (IDW/EuroComics) and both volumes of The Reprieve (Europe Comics). Edward is very familiar with Gibrat’s work, as he was the translator of The Reprieve, and so he provides his insights within that context. Throughout their discussion of these narratives, the guys highlight what they see as the thematic links between the two, all of which springs from the books’ settings: WW II France during German occupation. Indeed, the two stories are companion pieces with the character Cécile appearing in both. The Reprieve takes place before the Normandy invasion with Julien Sarlat, escaping from mandatory German labor, hiding out in his small hometown with the help of Cécile and one of her acquaintances in the French Resistance. The action in Flight of the Raven begins around the time of the Allied landing, with Cécile’s sister, Jeanne, being jailed for unlawful weapons possession. She is a communist and active member of the Resistance, and her story is interlinked with that of François, a roguish thief who appears apolitical. As both Edward and Derek point out, Gibrat uses both tales to explore ideas concerning commitment, responsibility, and collaboration, and each of the characters his stories illustrates facets of engagé. The art in both works is lush and beautiful, and Gibrat’s pacing is aptly handled given the contextual action, and sometimes the lack thereof, embedded in each narrative.

Comics Alternative Interviews: Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:26 – Introduction
  • 00:02:30 – Setup of interview
  • 00:04:47 – Interview with Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt
  • 01:10:00 – Wrap up
  • 01:11:29 – Contact us

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Yeggs

For this interview episode, the Two Guys with PhDs talk with Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt, the creators behind The Damned, from Oni Press. This is a series with some history, beginning back in 2006 with the five-issues run, “Three Days Dead,” and then the three-issue miniseries from 2008, “Prodigal Sons.” Soon after that, Cullen and Brian began The Sixth Gun, but now that that long-running series is behind them, they decided to revisit and revitalize their first creative project together. Over the course of their conversation, Cullen and Brian talk about their efforts to reprint the original comics in color — and with the help of the new series’ colorist, Bill Crabtree — the impetus behind the new on-going series, their work together on The Sixth Gun, and their process of collaboration on The Damned. Andy and Derek also ask them about some of their other projects, including Cullen’s Harrow County (with Tyler Crook) and Brian’s Poppy! and the Lost Lagoon (with Matt Kindt).

Comics Alternative for Young Readers: A Review of The Stone Heart and a Discussion of the Essay, “Required Reading: 50 of the Best Kids Comics”

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Time Codes:

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Required Reading…and Required Reading?

In this episode of The Comics Alternative‘s Young Readers series, Gwen and Paul discuss the second volume in Faith Erin Hicks’s Nameless City trilogy, The Stone Heart (First Second), as well as Paste Magazine’s “Required Reading: 50 of the Best Kids Comics” list. Paul also conducts a “mini-interview” with Gwen about the release of Graphic Novels for Children and Young Adults, a volume she co-edited with Michelle Ann Abate for the University Press of Mississippi.

The show begins with a review of the second volume in Faith Erin Hicks’s Nameless City trilogy, The Stone Heart. They praise the sequel’s strong plot and attention to perils of colonization and cultural erasure, and they consider the way that a number of contemporary comics creators have handled these concepts. Central to their discussion the fact that “Asian-inspired” texts are also a current trend in comics, and they explore the cultural implications of this trend. Finally, the pair react to the news that the trilogy has been optioned for a three-season, thirty-six episode TV series.

Next, Gwen and Paul discuss “best of” lists in general, and in particular, Paste Magazine’s April 7, 2017 article, “Required Reading: 50 of the Best Kids Comics.” There were some obvious picks on the list, some that were exciting…and others that leave Gwen and Paul shaking their heads.

To finish the episode, Paul interviews Gwen about the genesis and contents of Graphic Novels for Children and Young Adults: A Collect of Critical Essays, a volume that she co-edited with Dr. Michelle Ann Abate, a professor of children’s and YA literature and English at The Ohio State University. This “mini-interview” serves as a teaser for an upcoming Comics Alternative roundtable discussion that will feature Gwen, Michelle, and two of the contributors to the volume.

Comics Alternative, Episode 239: Reviews of Herman by Trade, Rise of the Dungeon Master, and Eternal Empire #1

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Time Codes:

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Huzzah!

This week Andy and Derek look at three new titles, each one visiting the fantastic in one form or another. Before they jump into the reviews, however, they discuss some of the big comics news from the past week: the announcement of the 2017 Eisner Award nominations and Free Comic Book Day. The guys don’t go into too much detail about the Eisner nominees because they plan on devoting an upcoming episode to that topic. However, they do briefly mention the curious situation surrounding the nomination of the Love Is Love collection in the Best Anthology category. They have much more to say about last Saturday’s Free Comic Book Day. Both guys share some of their experiences at their local shops and the free comics they got there. Listen to the podcast’s FCBD episode for more details.

But then the Two Guys get into the heart of this week’s show. They begin with Chris W. Kim’s Herman by Trade, coming out this week from SelfMadeHero. Although on the surface this appears to be a more realistic narrative, its fantastic elements become apparent in the transformation of the title character who has the ability to change his appearance and mimic others’ abilities at will. As both Derek and Andy point out, this is an unusual story that sticks with you long after reading.

Next, they turn to a new graphic biography that is all about fantasy, Rise of the Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax and the Creation of D&D (Nation Books). The art is by Koren Shadmi, but the book is written by David Kushner, based on a profile he wrote for Wired magazine in 2008. What’s most notable about this brief biography is the narrative point of view, almost entirely presented in the second person. This is fully in keeping with the spirit of role-playing games, where in this case the the narrating presence is, in essence, your “dungeon master” guiding your awareness as you enter the creators’ biographical realm.

Finally, Andy and Derek conclude with the latest collaboration from Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn. Eternal Empire #1 (Image Comics) is a fantasy set in a distant world that, as Andy points out, is reminiscent of Game of Thrones. In fact, the guys spend a good bit of time speculating on the originality of this series, wondering if the unique elements will become more apparent in the issues to come. And while Andy isn’t sure if he’ll stick around to find out, Derek is going to give Eternal Empire a chance, especially given his appreciation of the Luna brothers’ previous comics, and especially Luna and Vaughn’s previous series Alex + Ada.

Comics Alternative, Webcomics: Reviews of Isle of Elsi, Late Bloomer, and Carriers

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:28 – Introduction
  • 00:03:03 – Eisner Award nominees announced
  • 00:10:04 – Isle of Elsi
  • 00:47:30 – Late Bloomer
  • 01:09:44 – Carriers
  • 01:31:32 – Wrap up
  • 01:32:31 – Contact us

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Very Punny

Sean and Derek are back with your monthly dose of webcomics analysis. Before they jump into their reviews, however, they spending a little time discussing the recent announcement of this year’s nominees for the Eisner Awards. The guys will devote next month’s episode to the actual webcomics nominated, so they don’t go into much detail this time, but they do mention the big news that the judges have tried to distinguish “webcomics” from “digital comics”…albeit rather ineptly. Tune in next month for more in-depth discussion on this matter!

But for May, Sean and Derek already have plenty to consider. They begin with Alec Longstreth’s Isle of Elsi, an all-age fantasy with a penchant for word play. Both of the guys are bowled away by this webcomic, one of the most impressive that they’ve discussed on the show. Not only are the art and storytelling top-notch, but the design of the website is a big draw, as well. (And while you’re at it, check out the Two Guys’ 2014 interview with Longstreth.)

Next, they turn to another webcomic from Webtoons, Late Bloomer. Written and drawn by Zealforart (AKA Tiffany Woodall), this is a shōjo-inspired romance about a young woman with a flower bud growing out of her belly, a family condition that can only be overcome with her being “deflowered.” Yes, it is quite an unusual premise.

Finally, Derek and Sean wrap up with Lauren R. Weinstein’s Carriers. This completed webcomic was originally published in five parts on the Nautilus website, and it received an Ignatz Award nomination in 2015 for the “Outstanding Online Comic” category. It’s a sobering look at being a carrier of cystic fibrosis and what means for young couples wanting to start a family.

On Location: FCBD 2017 at Valhalla Games and Comic

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Free! Comic! Book! Day!

For Free Comic Book Day 2017, Derek visits his local shop, Valhalla Games and Comics in Plano, TX to talk with customers and shop employees about the various FCBD offerings this year. Joining him on this episode are Sabrina, the shop manager, as well as one of her associates, Stephanie. But also joining in on the conversation is a first-timer to the podcast, Naheem, who just happens to be from Derek’s hometown, Charlotte, NC.

Derek talks with Naheem about his favorite FCBD selections.

 

 

Comics Alternative Interviews: Jeff Lemire

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:24 – Introduction
  • 00:02:40 – Setup of interview
  • 00:06:49 – Interview with Jeff Lemire
  • 01:33:07 – Wrap up
  • 01:34:37 – Contact us

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Rotting Husks

On this interview episode Derek and Andy are excited to have Jeff Lemire as their guest. His new graphic novel, Roughneck, has just been released by Simon & Schuster’s Gallery 13 imprint, and he has a new ongoing series through Image Comics, Royal City. The guys talk with Jeff about those works, particularly their place within Lemire’s growing body of writing, but they also ask him about his other current ongoing series, such as Descender (with Dustin Nguyen on art), Black Hammer (along with Dean Ormston), and the miniseries A.D.: After Death (written by Scott Snyder). A lot of ground is covered in this interview, including revelations on the early origins of Roughneck, the long-range plans for Royal City, the themes and characters that seem to be woven throughout Jeff’s oeuvre, the curious links between Descender and Adam Strange, and Jeff’s thoughts on “slice of life” stories and their reception within the comics-reading community.

And here’s a fun fact! Jeff Lemire was actually the focus of the Two Guys’ very first creator spotlight way back in Episode 6 of The Comics Alternative, and at the time Andy and Derek thought there was almost too much to talk about in terms of Jeff’s output. But now almost five years later, and with so many more titles under Jeff’s belt, those assumptions seem amusing in hindsight.

It’s important to note that Andy and Derek recorded their interview with Jeff the day before this year’s Eisner Award nominations were announced, where he has landed in the Best New Series and Best Writer categories (both for Black Hammer). This is why no one brings up the Eisners at any time in the conversation. But a big CONGRATULATIONS to Jeff for this well-deserved attention!

Comics Alternative, Episode 238: The May Previews Catalog

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Super Teams, Literature, and Headlights

It’s time for another look at the current Previews catalog, so this week Andy and Derek check out all of the interesting solicitations for May. First, though, they briefly discuss their plans (or lack thereof) for Free Comic Book Day this coming weekend, and then they share some listener mail. After that, they begin their deep dive into the May Previews..and it’s a good long dive this month. Among the many upcoming titles they highlight are:

 

Comics Alternative Interviews: Matt Kindt

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:24 – Introduction
  • 00:02:35 – Setup of interview
  • 00:04:57 – Interview with Matt Kindt
  • 01:33:07 – Wrap up
  • 01:34:37 – Contact us

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“What if you set a book on fire?”

Andy and Derek welcome Matt Kindt to the podcast to discuss Grass Kings, published through BOOM! Studios, his two current ongoing series from Dark Horse Comics, Dept. H and Ether, and his voluminous work for Valiant Comics. The guys have been wanting to get Matt on the show for years, so this interview is a long time in coming. And the conversation is quite substantive. Among other topics, they discuss the geneses of these recent series; Matt’s strategies for juggling multiple storylines at once; his collaborations with Tyler Jenkins (on Grass Kings), David Rubín (Ether), and Brian Hurtt (Poppy! and the Lost Lagoon); the many titles he has written for Valiant Comics; his love of genre storytelling; the unique way he “signs” certain books at cons; and his creative direction after the groundbreaking Mind MGMT. This has to be one of the most prolific creators the guys have ever had on The Comics Alternative, and they come nowhere near covering all of the topics they wanted to discuss with Matt. But this is all the more reason to have him back on the show in the not-too-distant future.

Comics Alternative, Manga: Reviews of Happiness and My Brother’s Husband

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:26 – Introduction
  • 00:03:19 – Listener mail!
  • 00:09:41 – Happiness
  • 00:48:25 – My Brother’s Husband
  • 01:15:40 – Wrap up
  • 01:16:43 – Contact us

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Marginalized Figures

On the April manga episode, Shea and Derek discuss two very different series. They begin with Shuzo Oshimi’s Happiness, the fourth volume of which has just been released by Kodansha Comics. This is a vampiric narrative that takes place in the suburbs and centers on the relationships among high school students. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is Twilight-tinged fantasy. Oshimi’s characterization is sophisticated and, in places, unpredictable, and his art style captures the interiority of his key marginalized figures. Of particular interest is Yuuki, a bully who befriends the narrative’s protagonist, Okazaki, and how both characters handle their newfound vampirism once each has turned. The guys appreciate where this story is going, and Shea, in particular, is impatient in having to wait for the next few volumes.

Next, Derek and Shea check out the first volume of Gengoroh Tagame’s My Brother’s Husband. This book is notable for a couple of reasons. For one, it is the first work of manga that Pantheon Books, a leader in major trade graphic-novel publishing, has ever released. And second, this is an all-age title by a mangaka known primarily for his gay BDSM erotic manga. It’s the story of Yaichi and Kana, a single father and daughter, and their relationship with Mike, a gay Canadian who had married Yaichi’s estranged brother. After Mike’s husband dies, he honors his memory by getting to know his Japanese family. As the guys reveal, My Brother’s Husband is a tale about relationships, coming to term with personal prejudices, and the strictures various cultures place on interpersonal behaviors.