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.

Episode 265: Reviews of The Three Rooms in Valerie’s Head, Days of Hate #1, and Vinegar Teeth # 1

Time Codes:

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Darkness, Cthulhu, and the Alt-Right

On this week’s review episode, Gene and Derek discuss recent titles that are quite varied in tone and narrative approach. They begin with  David Gaffney and Dan Berry’s The Three Rooms in Valerie’s Head (Top Shelf/IDW Publishing). This is a somewhat surreal, and dark, look at a young woman and her various relationships with men. The memories of these encounters are something she apparently cannot let go of, and this is represented deftly through the metaphor of rooms and psychological compartmentalization. The guys like the fact that the story ends ambiguously — and with happy elves, no less! — but they’re not too sure what to make of the sudden shift in point of view about two thirds of the way through.

The Two Guys follow this with a very timely new title. Days of Hate #1, written by Aleš Kot and with art by Danijel Žeželj (Image Comics), is set in the year 2022, a time after some sort of civil war takes place in the US — we’re not sure yet of the details surrounding this conflict — and it apparently has resulted, or perhaps even caused by, the rise of extremist or alt-right groups in America. In this inaugural installment, we’re introduced to several characters on various ends of the political spectrum, some of which have intermingled and contentious pasts. There are many questions set up and left unanswered in this first issue, but that doesn’t detract from the intrigue and motivation to continue on with the series.

And what better way to follow up a story on the alt-right than a discussion of monstrous Lovecraftian mayhem? This is exactly what you’ll find in Damon Gentry and Troy Nixey’s Vinegar Teeth #1 (Dark Horse Comics).It’s a strange and wacky tale revolving around a schmucky, but effective, cop named Artie Buckle. An undercover assignment he’s on is almost ruined when a Cthulhu-like creature pierces his world’s dimension, with the unlikely result that the city’s mayor makes this creature a police officer and assigns him as Artie’s partner. What transpires is the beginning of a weird buddy cop story with interdimensional, and narratively warped, potential.

Episode 264: Our Favorite Comics of 2017

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:27 – Introduction
  • 00:03:14 – Contexts and caveats
  • 00:11:32 – Our favorite comics of 2017
  • 02:09:06 – Wrapping up our favorites, and honorable mentions
  • 02:13:52 – Contact us

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And the Winner Is…

Paul and Derek are back with The Comics Alternative‘s annual “Favorites” episode. This is where the Two Guys share what they consider to be the best comics of the past year. Usually this year-end show is released as the very last regular review episode of each year, but this time around the guys had to postpone the recording due to family issues. But we’re not far from the end of 2017, and Paul and Derek wanted to get the show out in as timely a manner as possible. So here you have it, the Two Guys’ 10 favorite titles of 2017:

Paul’s Top 10 of 2017

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Derek’s Top 10 of 2017

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The Honorable Mentions…These Titles Almost, but Just Didn’t Quite, Make It onto Each Guy’s List

For Paul

For Derek

Comics Alternative Kickstarter: Life in Space: A Comic Book Anthology

Spaced Out

This week on the Kickstarter series, Derek talks with Mike Emeritz and Marshall Couture about their current campaign, Life in Space: A Comic Book Anthology. Over the course of their conversation, Mike and Marshall reveal the genesis of this project, how they gathered a variety of creators together, and the process of decided on a particular anthology theme.

This project is coordinated by Mike Emeritz, Marshall Lee, and Chris McQuinlan, with Emeritz designing and editing the book. Kevin Cross provides the cover art, and contributors include:

  • Jerry Gonzalez
  • Carrie Schurman
  • Holly Brown
  • Mike Emeritz
  • Casey Roberson
  • Marshall Lee
  • Chris McQuinlan
  • Noah “Ox” Baas
  • Dalibor Zujovic
  • J. Allen Ratz
  • Yannemal
  • Patrick Brown
  • Adam Lore
  • Gazbot
  • Scott Serkland
  • Karyn Lewis Bonfiglio
  • Lenwood Brown III
  • Sasha Fitzgerald
  • Johannes Vick

Don’t miss out on this Kickstarter. Check it out to learn more about Life in Space!

Sample Art

 

 

On Location: Starting off the New Year at Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find

New Shop, New Conversations

For years The Comics Alternative has held a monthly on-location episode where one or two cohosts go into — physically or virtually — one of their local comics shops and talk with customers and employees about the comics that their reading, what they’re excited about and looking forward to, and what grumblings they may have in terms of comics culture. The last such episode was published last August, right before Derek moved to Charlotte, NC…and as things would turn out, in the final days of Valhalla Games and Comics.

But now that Derek has settled in his new environs, he heads over to Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find, his new local shop in Charlotte (at 417 Pecan Avenue), to begin once again the monthly series. So January’s show kicks things off, with Derek introducing customers and shop employees to the podcast and beginning what, we hope, will be a fun and informative monthly visit. Snowy weather hit Charlotte this week, so the ice and cold cut down on traffic in the shop over the past couple of days. But several did come in and take the time to talk on show, sharing what titles they’re currently reading and what they’re finding exciting, and frustrating, in comics and comics-related media. For example, Isaiah, coming in for his weekly comics, shares his thoughts on recent DC Rebirth storylines and the shenanigans he sees going on at Marvel. Shop employees, Karla and Eli, talk about the some of the comics that are currently or soon-to-be adapted for television — and Eli is particularly interested in the upcoming series based on Rick Remender’s Deadly Class. And shop owner Shelton Drum comes on to discuss their recent move to a new location, next week’s Charlotte Mini-Con (taking place on Saturday, Jan. 27, at the Gary Cole Center), and when we can expect to hear announcements about this summer’s HeroesCon.

A big THANK YOU to Karla and Shelton for helping to make this on-location show happen. And if you’re in the Charlotte area, be sure to come by the shop on Wednesday, February 21, for next month’s on-location recording!

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:24 – Introduction
  • 00:03:27 – Setup of interview
  • 00:06:00 – Interview with Seth
  • 01:51:43 – Wrap up
  • 01:52:32 – Contact us

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The Man from Guelph

On this interview episode, Derek is pleased to have as his guest one of his favorite creators, Seth. His latest volume of Palookaville was published last year by Drawn and Quarterly, and while every release of Seth’s signature series is worth noting, this one is particularly significant. It wraps up his “Clyde Fans” storyline, one he began in 1997 in Palookaville #10. Derek asks Seth about the process of undertaking this ongoing narrative and the considerations of sustaining it for twenty years. They also discuss the autobiographical “Nothing Lasts,” a series that Seth began in volume 21 of Palookaville. Much of the conversation concerns Seth’s autobiographical storytelling, or his faux-autobiographical comics (in the case of It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken), and the ways in which the past informs his sense of place and identity. Indeed, memory is a major theme in Seth’s stories, and the two spend a good deal of time talking about it as a defining feature of his comics. But while much of the discussion centers on the most recent volume of Palookaville, Derek also asks his guest about the general trajectory of his career. They talk about his sketchbook comics, such as Wimbledon Green and The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists, his evolving illustration style, the creation of Dominion, the melancholy George Sprott: 1894-1975, his rubber stamp diary, his life-defining relationships with Chester Brown and Joe Matt, his design and illustration work for Fantagraphics’ Complete Peanuts series and Lemony Snicket’s All the Wrong Questions books, his plans for future issues of Palookaville, and his wife’s business, Crown Barber Shop.

Comics Alternative, Episode 263: Reviews of Now #2, The Strumpet #5, and Barbarella # 1 & #2

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:32 – Introduction
  • 00:03:00 – Catching up with flu-ridden Gene
  • 00:04:21 – Now #2
  • 00:44:07 – The Strumpet #5
  • 01:11:49 – Barbarella #1 & #2
  • 01:26:56 – Wrap up
  • 01:27:55 – Contact us

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Anthologies, Origins, and Rebirths

This week Gene and Derek discuss three recent titles, two of which are anthologies and one a blast from the past. They begin with the second issue of Fantagraphics’ Now, edited by Eric Reynolds. As the guys mention, this one is comprised of various comics that run the gamut of art and narrative styles. While some of the contributions are more “traditional” in their storytelling presentation — such as the pieces by Susan Jonaitis and Graham Chaffee, Ariel López V., Dash Shaw, and Joseph Remnant — others challenge our understanding of the medium. Short works by Fabio Zimbres, Conxita Herrero, and James Turek are just some of the stories in this issue that experiment with how comics mediate narrative.

Next, the guys turn to another anthology, The Strumpet #5. Edited by Ellen Lindner and Glynnis Fawkes, this collection was successfully Kickstarted last year, and the theme of this volume is origins. As Gene and Derek point out, this understanding of “origins” is rather broad, with some of the contributions focusing on origins of identity, origins of awareness, origins of memories, origins of myths, origins of tyrants (Donald Trump, anyone?), origins of sexuality, and origins via birth. This is a transatlantic anthology, with creators from both North America and the UK providing a diversity of story and style. Gene had been familiar with some previous issues of The Strumpet, but this was Derek’s first exposure to the anthology. And he is sorry he hadn’t discovered it earlier.

The Two Guys with PhDs wrap up by looking at a new series from Dynamite Entertainment that brings back a classic, and controversial, figure from the 1960s. Barbarella is Mike Carey and Kenan Yarar’s contemporary take on Jean-Claude Forest’s legendary protagonist. The cheesecakey emphasis and the eroticism is definitely a part of this title, but Carey gives the space-traveling Barbarella more agency, making her more heroic, and less of a passive vessel, than Forest’s original incarnation. The guys discuss the first two issues of the series, the second of which was just recently released, and both Derek and Gene are hooked.

Comics Alternative Interviews: W. Maxwell Prince and Martín Morazzo

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Time Codes:

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Lickety Split

On this episode of the interview series, Derek talks with W. Maxwell Prince and Martín Morazzo about their new series from Image Comics, Ice Cream Man. The first issue comes out on January 17, and Derek asks his guests about the genesis of this project and what to expect in its debut. As Will and Martín reveal, each issue of Ice Cream Man is a stand-alone story, with every release serving as a viable jumping on point into their uncanny world. In fact, both creators liken the title to Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, a series of stories that aren’t connected one to the other, but linked through tone and narration. What binds the individual issues together will be the ice cream man himself, peddling his frozen treats in a small suburban community and witness to — or instigator of? — various macabre events that turns lives upside down. The series’ inaugural issue revolves around a deadly Brazilian spider, a young boy forced to live on his own, and a police detective whose professional ennui is violently shaken. This promises to be a very different kind of comic-book series, one that may not be as soft and creamy as its title suggests.

Comics Alternative, Episode 262: Review of The Best American Comics 2017

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:28 – Introduction
  • 00:02:26 – Better late than never
  • 00:05:42 – The Best American Comics 2017
  • 01:30:43 – Wrap up
  • 01:32:15 – Contact us

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Provocation

On this episode of the podcast Paul and Derek discuss The Best American Comics 2017, edited by Ben Katchor along with series editor Bill Kartalopoulos. The Two Guys usually discuss Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s annual contribution to comicsdom in the penultimate episode of every year, but this time around life got in the way — and Paul, everyone’s heart goes out to you — so they had to postpone slightly the current show. But better late than never!

As Paul and Derek reveal, this has to be the most experimental volume of The Best American Comics we’ve ever seen. Editor Ben Katchor does his best to challenge our understanding and definition of “comics” and to interrogate the very concept of “best.” In fact, you could call these efforts provocative. This most recent anthology is attuned to the current political environment, and this is perhaps best demonstrated in Katchor’s multifaceted and hilarious introduction, as well as Kartalopoulos’s insightful Foreword.

The contributions themselves are perhaps the most fascinating, and definitely the most varied, of any The Best American Comics volume.  There are many names that would be recognizable to listeners of the podcast — e.g., Kim Deitch, Tim Lane, Gabrielle Bell, Ed Piskor, Joe Sacco, Josh Bayer, Michael DeForge, and Sam Alden — but what marks this annual is the sheer number of contributors that neither Derek nor Paul had previously known. Indeed, at least a good half of this collection is comprised of creators never before discussed on the podcast, and it’s exciting to discover this many new artists. To say the least, this is the most engaging, and the most challenging, volume of The Best American Comics to date.

 

Comics Alternative Kickstarter: Loan from the Girl Zone

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For this week’s Kickstarter episode, Derek talks with Ari S. Mulch about her project Loan from the Girl Zone. This a collection of the various minicomics that Ari has published over the past couple of years while studying in the comics program of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She talks with Derek about the various short works collected in this volume, the project’s genesis, and the various reward levels for backing her campaign. But Ari also discusses the long-form comic that she currently has underway, Lucritia’s Midlife Crisis.

The stories you’ll find in Lone from the Girl Zone will include:

  • “Angie Has a Bad Day”
  • “Selfish”
  • “Cicadidae” (Unreleased!)
  • “Coming Back to You”
  • “2 Girls and a Caricature”
  • “I Found God in the Mosh Pit” (originally a limited edition hand printed book)
  • “Fat Bitch Nudes”

Check it out, and be sure to learn more about Lone in the Girl Zone!

Sample Art

 

Comics Alternative, Episode 261: Reviews of Generation Gone, Vol. 1, Assassinistas #1, and Love and Rockets IV #4

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Time Codes:

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Hackers, Assassins, and Locas

This week Gwen and Derek take a look at three recent and exciting titles. They begin with the first trade collection of Aleš Kot and André Lima Araújo’s Generation Gone (Image Comics). This initial volume establishes the premise of the intriguing series. The story focuses on three hackers who attempt to get into government systems, are discovered, and “infected” with genetic codes that give them supernatural powers. Gwen points out that, in some ways, this narrative is reminiscent of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, although as Derek mentions, Kot and Araújo’s world isn’t anything post-apocalyptic. This first volume introduces what promises to be an engaging series and whets readers’ appetites for what may follow.

Next, the Two People with PhDs Talking about Comics turn to the first of two Hernandez-infused comics covered this week. The first is Gilbert Hernandez and Tini Howard’s Assassinistas #1, part of IDW Publications’ and Shelly Bond’s Black Crown imprint. The debut issue introduces us to three former assassins, two of which — at least as far as we know — have left that life and are attempting to “go legitimate” and live a normal life. However, drama erupts when one of the team, Charlotte “Scarlet” La Costa, has her son kidnapped, bringing another team member, Octavia “Red October” Price, back into a life she thought she had left behind her. And what of the third member of this one-time trio, Rosalyn “Blood” Diamond?  Both of the cohosts enjoyed this title, although the paratextual material in the back of this issue, commentary from editor Shelly Bond, is a bit conspicuous and doesn’t add much.

Finally, Derek and Gwen wrap up by discussing the latest issue of Love and Rockets IV (Fantagraphics). This fourth issue picks up with the various storylines that both Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez have established going back to the previous Love and Rockets annuals. For Jaime, this means continuing the Princess Animus and Isle narratives, as well as giving us glimpses into both Maggie’s and Hopey’s pasts growing up in Hoppers. And then there’s Derek’s favorite part of this issue, a two-page focus on Ray that follows up on the events in The Love Bunglers. Gilbert’s contributions gives us a brief glimpse into Killer’s career choices, but there is also a Pipo storyline where this foundational character tries to come to terms with a relationship she once had in Palomar. In fact, in extended flashbacks, we’re taken back to “classic” Palomar and characters we haven’t seen for quite a while. But as Derek points out, one of the most striking things about this issue is that we see little of Fritz…and no mention at all of any Fritz imitators. A rarity in recent Love and Rockets issues!

Comics Alternative, Webcomics: Reviews of The Shaderunners, Binary Star, and Nautilus

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:27 – Introduction
  • 00:03:05 – A new year in webcomics!
  • 00:06:36 – The Shaderunners
  • 00:38:16 – Binary Star
  • 01:01:30 – Nautilus
  • 01:24:50 – Wrap up
  • 01:26:12 – Contact us

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Fun Webcomics for the New Year

For their first webcomics episode of 2018, Sean and Derek discuss three fascinating and diverse titles. They begin with The Shaderunners, written by Lin with art by Capp (AKA Anna Assan). This Prohibition era-tinged webcomic concerns a group of rag-tag bohemians who attempt to bring color into their sepia-toned world. While this looks like a narrative set in early twentieth-century America, the storyworld that Capp and Lin create is actually a fantastical one. Next, the guys turn to a science fiction title, Jamie Primack’s Binary Star. The protagonist of this story, Zaki, is a bounty hunter out to capture a big payoff, and in the process, ends up growing close to and working with her target. And there’s quite a bit of humor. As Derek suggests, Binary Star is reminiscent of Midnight Run, yet set in a sci-fi world. Finally, Sean and Derek wrap up with an already completed webcomic, Jape’s NautilusIn it, the creator, whose real name is JT Trostle, reveals what happened after the passing of his mother and how he managed her affairs in the wake of her death. The mother, Connie, was a hoarder, and the webcomic provides a empathic look at the challenges and frustrations surrounding Connie’s behavior and JT’s efforts to “clean up” after her.

 

 

Manga: Reviews of Servant X Service and Sweet Blue Flowers, Vol. 1

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Time Codes:

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November Is For Lovers

For November Shea and Derek discuss two very different kind of manga, but both that involve romance in one form or another. They begin with Karino Takatsu’s Servant X Service. The complete series was released in two volumes by Yen Press in 2016, and the guys spend much of the episode discussing this strip-like series. The title concerns civil servants on the job — a topic you don’t really encounter much in comics/manga — and both Derek and Shea have a lot to say about the unusual subject matter and format. After that they discuss the first volume of Takako Shimura’s Sweet Blue Flowers (VIZ Media). As the guys reveal, this is an example of yuri manga, where two childhood friends who have lost track of one another become reacquainted in high school, although they attend different academies. As the story unfolds, romances and complicated relationships develop. However, the friendship of the series’ main protagonists (at least in this first volume), Fumi and Akira, is what really anchors this text.

Comics Alternative, Episode 260: The January Previews Catalog

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Panda Issue?

Happy New Year from The Comics Alternative! To help bring in 2018, Gwen and Derek are back to meticulously go through the January Previews catalog, providing recommendations and insights on a variety of upcoming titles. This month’s catalog is jam-packed with great solicits, so many, in fact, that this becomes an extra-long episode. They begin by looking at the various offerings announced for this year’s Free Comic Book Day, and then they move on to the catalog proper. Among the many comic books and graphic novels that Gwen and Derek highlight are:

Comics Alternative, Manga: Reviews of Battle Angel Alita: Deluxe Edition, Vol. 1 and Children of the Whales, Vol. 1

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Time Codes:

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Post-Apocalyptic Takes

On this episode of The Comics Alternative‘s manga series, Shea and Derek discuss two recent publications that, in one way or another, explore a post-apocalyptic world. They begin with a classic, the first volume of Yukito Kishiro’s Battle Angel Alita. Kodansha Comics has recently started to release this legendary cyberpunk series in nice deluxe hardbound editions — the second deluxe volume is due for release in late February — and the guys are excited that the title is back in print. Neither Shea nor Derek was familiar with Battle Angel Alita before, outside of hearing about the upcoming James Cameron/Robert Rodriguez film adaptation due out in 2018, but now both are hooked. In their overview, the guys highlight the kinetic quality of the illustrations, the ways in which Kishiro contextualizes even his most nasty characters, the complexities (and embedded mysteries) of his storyworld, and the ways in which he visualizes the title character…which, for Shea at least, is a little problematic.

Next, they look at Abi Umeda’s Children of the Whales, Vol. 1 (VIZ Media). This is another post-apocalyptic narrative — at least the guys think things are set in a post-apocalyptic world — and the storyworld that Umeda maps out is quite complex. In fact, as Derek suggests, there are so many nuances in this first volume that the story runs the risk of toppling over due to sheer ambiguity. However, the author is able to maintain a comprehendible balance in her tale, although several passages may require more than one reading. There are a lot of questions posed in this book, and while Derek is willing to continue on in future volumes to get the fuller picture, Shea isn’t as enamored of the story. While he admires Umeda’s art, he feels that the story’s premise, especially as it relates to the Committee of Elders, may be a bit too predictable. Still, Derek feel that the volume is worth checking out.

Comics Alternative Interviews: Another Happy New Yoe with Craig Yoe

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:25 – Introduction
  • 00:02:12 – Setup of interview
  • 00:03:56 – Interview with Craig Yoe
  • 02:01:22 – Wrap up
  • 02:02:17 – Contact us

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Just Say Yoe!

Welcome to 2018! And as The Comics Alternative has done for the past several years, they start off the new year with an interview of perennial   favorite of the podcast, Craig Yoe. These are called the annual Happy New Yoe shows. And this year, Derek talks with Craig about Yoe Books past, present, and future. They start off by discussing many of the books that Craig and his wife/partner, Clizia Gussoni, released in 2017. These include those published through Yoe Books/IDW Publishing — e.g., Mummies!: Classic Monsters of Pre-Code Horror ComicsBehaving Madly: Zany, Loco, Cockeyed, Rip-off, Satire MagazinesHaunted Love Vol. 1; The Complete Voodoo Vol. 3Jay Disbrow’s Monster Invasion; and volumes of both Haunted Horror and Weird Love — but also works that Craig published elsewhere, such as his book for younger readers, LOL: A Load of Laughs and Jokes for Kids, published through Little Simon. 

After that, Craig fields several questions asked by fans via Facebook…some sensible, others rather wacky. That eventually leads them into a discussion of books from Craig we have to look forward to in 2018. Among the various upcoming titles they discuss are We Spoke Out: Comic Books and the HolocaustSuper Weird Heroes: Preposterous but TrueLou Cameron’s Unsleeping DeadDrawing and Life Lessons from Master Cartoonists, Super Patriotic Heroes, and Reefer Madness. This is an extra long interview, running for almost two hours, and there’s a lot packed into the conversation. Plenty to help carry listeners comfortably into the new year!