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.
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.
On this week’s episode Andy and Derek check out the old and the new. They begin with Star Hawks, Vol. 1: 1977-1978, a new collection of Gil Kane and Ron Goulart’s classic newspaper strip. As the guys discuss, this isn’t the first time that Star Hawks has been collected, but this new release from IDW’s Library of American Comics imprint is probably one of the best. Next, they turn to Street Angel: After School Kung Fu Special (Image Comics). This is more of the Street Angel fun you’ve come to expect from Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca. Fans of action comics, especially the old 1970s style martial arts type, will appreciate this one-shot. Finally, the Two Guys wrap up with Simon Spurrier and Jonas Goonface’s Godshaper #1 (BOOM! Studios). As with other Spurrier creations, the premise of this title is rather complicated, but it’s not too top-heavy. The creators are able to pull off this inaugural issue with a satisfying coherency.
On this interview episode Derek has the pleasure of talking with James Albon, whose new book Her Bark and Her Bite comes out this week from Top Shelf Productions. James is British artist whose illustrations have appeared in The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, WIRED, the NewStatesman, The Diplomat,The Financial Times, and various publications from the Folio Society. Her Bark and Her Bite is his first graphic novel, and much of the conversation is devoted to this fact and how his work as a professional illustrator informs his graphic storytelling. The book can be described as a romantic comedy, where its protagonist artist figure, Rebecca, moves to the big city and meets Victor, a gregarious and flamboyant socialite with whom she quickly becomes smitten. Complications arise when Victor receives a young dog as a gift, and the canine becomes an unwitting rival to Rebecca’s affections. What follows is a series of faux pas and inanities that pits social acceptance against personal expression. In this interview, James shares the genesis of his narrative, its links to his own life experiences, and why fiction was the perfect platform for his inaugural long-form comic.
This week the Two Guys give you a double shot of recent Fantagraphics books. They start off with a discussion of Ron Regé Jr.’s What Parsifal Saw, his followup to 2012’s The Cartoon Utopia(the paperback edition of which has also just been released by Fantagraphics). This is the first time that Andy and Derek have covered one of Regé’s books on The Comics Alternative — they’ve discussed his comics before, but only as part of an anthology — and they point out how his art requires a different way of reading. After that, they look at the latest issue of Love and Rockets. The guys never miss an opportunity to discuss what the Hernandez brothers are up to, and in this second issue of the new series they see how both Gilbert and Jaime are continuing the storylines they began in the last couple of Love and Rockets: New Stories annuals. Finally, the Two Guys wrap up with the latest title from Donny Cates, Redneck #1 (Image Comics). With wonderful art by Lisandro Estherren, this is a contemporary vampire story set in East Texas (and not far from Derek). Both feel that this is a successful first issue, but Andy points out that the structure feels similar to what Cates has been doing in God Country and The Paybacks.
Andy and Derek are pleased to have as their guest Kirsten Radtke. Her new work Imagine Wanting Only Thishas just been released from Pantheon Books, and it’s a deeply personal speculation on impermanence, decay, and abandonment. Using as a springboard significant events from her own life — such as the loss of a beloved uncle and a fortuitous creative discovery — Radtke explores our sense of place in a culture that privileges newness and disposability. The book has been described as a memoir, but the guys feel that it’s better framed as a meditation, a contemplative graphic essay tinged with introspection and self-analysis. Over the course of the conversation, Radtke discusses the genesis of the project, her experiences with comics journalism, and the challenges of defining the art that she creates.
On this month’s Euro Comics episode, Edward and Derek check out to recent publications, both from publishers that they’ve yet to discuss on the series. They begin with Boulet’s Notes 1: Born to Be a Larve, just out from Soaring Penguin Press. This is the first collection of the comics Boulet created specifically for his blog, and this initial volume includes the entries published between July 2004 and July 2005. While the guys enjoy Boulet’s work, they feel that the strips may not work as well in book form as they had originally on the blog. The episodic nature of the comics could probably be better appreciated as online updates than as a bound collection.
Next, the guys turn to Pénélope Bagieu’s latest English translation California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot before The Mamas and the Papas (First Second). Derek and Andy W. had discussed Bagieu’s earlier book, Exquisite Corpse, on an episode about two years ago, and the latest work certainly follows up on that promise. In fact, Edward is bowled away by this graphic biography. As the subtitle suggests, it covers the life of Cass Elliot — born Ellen Cohen — up to the breakout of the famous 1960s quartet. The guys appreciate Bagieu’s art, but they are particularly impressed by her choices of narration and her structuring of the story.
As he tries to do every month, Derek visits his local shop, Valhalla Games and Comics in Plano, TX, to talk with customers and employees about what they’re reading, what they’re looking forward to, and what interests them in current comics culture. For April the topic is open, so anything goes…and the resulting conversation is free-floating and casual. Among the topics that come up are local conventions, Bones of the Coastfrom Cloudscape Comics, getting caught up with the Marvel Universe on Netflix, Astro City, Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name, the return of Rat Queens, Kyle Starks’s Rock Candy Mountain, the convoluted world of Love and Rockets, the new Anne Hathaway movie Colossal,and speculations on how (and if) comics creators will eventually work Donald Trump into their stories.
On this interview episode Derek talks with the Eisner Award-nominated editor-in-chief of Back Issue magazine Michael Eury. His new book Hero-a-Go-Go: Campy Comic Books, Crimefighters and Culture of the Swinging Sixties comes out from TwoMorrows Publishing next week, and the two discuss this project’s genesis and the significance of the camp cultural phenomenon. This text stands out because Eury doesn’t limit himself to just comics, but instead he looks at camp from a wider vista, revealing its convergence among television, film, toys, cartoons, music, and everyday consumable products. In Hero-a-Go-Go, readers will find in-depth discussions of such subjects as Metamorpho, The Inferior Five, Jerry Lewis comics, Monkeemania, Not Brand Echh, Hanna-Barbera cartoons, Herbie the Fat Fury, Captain Action, the TV GreenHornet,M.F. Enterprise’s Captain Marvel, The Cowsills, JFK and LBJ in comics, the ill-fated Harvey Thrillers, and, of course, the Batman television series. As Michael reveals over the course of this interview, Hero-a-Go-Go is intended for diverse audiences, written as both an informed introduction and a chronicle for remembrance.
This week Andy and Derek discuss five new titles. They start off with Michael DeForge’s latest book, Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero(Drawn and Quarterly). While this is an unusual story, it’s nonetheless one of DeForge’s most conventional stories, at least when compared to many of his previous works. It’s an episodic narrative about its titular character, a multi-talented 49-year-old woman who moves to a Canadian national park to escape a scandal surrounding her rich father’s finances. There she befriends a bunny named Oatmeal, a moose lawyer who goes by the name “Lisa Hanawalt,” a love-struck eel, a “marked” young woman called Girl McNally, dumb geese, proxy ants, a bear chronicler, and the park’s wannabe reporter “Michael DeForge.” Did we mention that this is one of DeForge’s more conventional stories? This title began as a webcomic on Tumblr, and while people can still find the complete comic up and available, the guys strongly recommend that listeners get the new book to fully take in the physical, tactile experience.
Next, the Two Guys with PhDs turn to the four new Hanna-Barbera one-shots from DC Comics: the Adam Strange/Future Quest Special(by Mark Andreyko, Jeff Parker, and Steve Lieber), the Booster Gold/The Flintstones Special(Mark Russell, Rick Leonardi, and Scott Hanna), the Green Lantern/Space Ghost Special(James Tynion IV, Christopher Sebela, and Ariel Olivetti), and theSuicide Squad/The Banana Splits Special(Tony Bedard, Ben Caldwell, and Mark Morales).They both enjoy all four of the titles, although Derek has some reservations about the Suicide Squad/Banana Splits team-up, and Andy feels that the Green Lantern/Space Ghost one is a missed opportunity. But they spend about as much time discussing the short backups in these four specials, with Howard Chaykin’s Ruff ‘n’ Reddy being a standout. Is that any surprise
Jon Morris returns to The Comics Alternative, this time to discuss his latest book The Legion of Regrettable Super Villains (Quirk Books). This one is a follow up to his 2015 The League of Regrettable Superheroes, a book that Jon discussed the last time he was on the podcast. Derek talks with his guest about the natural transition from weird and offbeat heroes to their villainous counterparts, the process of researching the new book, and the hard decisions he had to make in deciding what rogues to showcase. Jon also shares some of his favorite regrettable villains across the Golden, Silver, and Modern Ages as well as possible plans for similar books in the future. The Club of Regrettable Sidekicks, anyone?
See where it all started! Visit Jon’s blog, Gone and Forgotten, and get the inside scoop on retro comicdom! And if you’re a Columbo fan, check out his sleuthy podcast, Just One More Thing.
This month Sean and Derek offer a genre buffet of webcomics goodness. They begin with Jay D’Ici and Matt G. Gagnon’s Conceptual Heist, a heist narrative with a unique science fiction twist. As the guys reveal, the story is solid, and the black-and-white art, accentuated with a monochromatic blue, suggests a noir tone. After that they discuss a highly popular webcomic that has been around since 2008, Gisele Lagace and David Lumsdon’s Ménage à 3. Derek and Sean describe this as a cross among Strangers in Paradise, Archie, and the TV series Three’s Company…but more suggestive and explicit than the latter. While the guys can see the appeal of this thrice-weekly strip, they nonetheless feel that reading its various narrative arcs over a more concentrated time period — as opposed to experiencing this story as its pages are released — doesn’t necessarily work in the webcomic’s favor. Finally, the guys wrap up with fun completed webcomic from Chris A. Bolton and Kyle Bolton, Monstrous. This is a mini-story within their Smash world, one that the Bolton brothers completed between their earlier work, Smash: Trial by Fire, and the next Smash book that will be published through Candlewick Press.
In an interview that is a long time in coming, Gwen and Derek have the pleasure of talking with Gabby Schulz. His new collection of diary comics, The Process of Drastically Reducing One’s Expectations, was recently released from Alec Longstreth’s Phase Eight Publishing, and in their conversation, Gabby shares his views on the uses and misuses of autobiographical comics. And the three spend a lot of time discussing several of Gabby’s earlier works, especially Sickand Monsters (both published through Secret Acres), and how the personal necessarily becomes political when exploring individual shortcomings and predilections. Gwen and Derek also ask Gabby about “Ken Dahl,” his recent travels, and the experiences of living on the road.
It’s time to look at the current Previews catalog from Diamond, and for this month Derek is joined by Paul, the new cohost of the monthly Young Readers series. Paul has helped out on earlier Previews shows, and as Andy has jokingly pointed out, on those occasions the episodes have tended to clock in on the longish side. And indeed, that’s what happens this week! But the lengthiness of the April Previews show is filled not only with choice solicits, but also with critical commentary, astute observations, and even a couple of soapbox rants. In their highlights from this month’s catalog, the guys discuss offerings from:
On this episode, Gwen and Derek welcome Jon Nielsen to The Comics Alternative. His new book Look recently debuted at the MoCCA Arts Festival, and Jon talks with the cohosts on the eve of the event. Among the various topics they cover, Gwen and Derek ask Jon about the story’s evolution from webcomic to printed form, his process in finding an appropriate publisher, the existential nature of his narrative — something like a Waiting for Godot with cute robots — the all-age appropriateness of his storytelling, and his broader work within the webcomics format. His popular online title, Massive Pwnage, came to an end last year. Jon is a young creator, doing some exciting things, and both Gwen and Derek were glad to get him on the podcast in early bloom.
As listeners of The Comics Alternative know, Andy oversees the annual Sumter Comic Arts Symposium every spring, and this year is no different. And this time, not only has he organized the entire event, but he also took time out of his duties to interview several of the creators who appeared at the symposium. First, he speaks with Sophie Goldstein and Carl Antonowicz at the local Waffle House — the sound quality isn’t ideal, but the breakfast ambience is palpable — and then he conducts an interview with Jeremy Whitley, talking primarily about his recent work with Marvel Comics.