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: Julia Wertz

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:25 – Introduction
  • 00:02:39 – Setup of interview
  • 00:04:29 – Interview with Julia Wertz
  • 01:10:16 – Wrap up
  • 01:12:40 – Contact us

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Screw Cronuts!

On this interview episode, Paul and Derek are pleased to have Julia Wertz on the podcast. Her new book, Tenements, Towers and Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City, came out earlier this month from Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers. As the subtitle suggests, this is a different kind of history, a guide to the Big Apple’s present as well as its past, investigating its architecture, its businesses, its facades, its entertainment venues, and the many colorful figures who have populated its boroughs. The guys talk with Julia about how different this book is from her previous works — e.g., Drinking at the MoviesThe Infinite Wait and Other StoriesFart Party — which are primarily autobiographical. For this project, the author considered herself an urban explorer, forgoing the inward gaze and focusing instead on the city that she called home between 2007 and 2016. Tenements, Towers and Trash includes a variety of stories that compose its past, and punctuating the text is a series of before-and-after illustrations of storefronts and city blocks that underscore New York’s ever-changing nature. This isn’t a nostalgic look back at what once had been, but a chronicle of a dynamic urban space in the process of becoming. And of course, the book has more than its share of Julia’s poignant, even laugh-out-loud, humor.

Comics Alternative, Manga: A Discussion of Horror Manga 2017

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“There’s a lot of greasy ooze in this text”

Shea and Derek are back with their second manga episode of the month! On this show, they discuss several horror manga that will get you in the mood for Halloween tomorrow. As they did last year, the Two Manga Guys are both thrilled and chilled with by introducing listeners to a variety creepy titles, some older and some brand new. They begin with Katsuhiro Otomo’s Domu: A Child’s Dream (Dark Horse Manga), a story that is probably the least horrific of those discussed, but it’s nonetheless one of the guys’ favorites on this episode. As the guys point out, it’s a shame that Otomo’s canonical Akira tends to overshadows other impressive efforts such as Domu. After that they look at a markedly different kind of horror manga, Hideshi Hino’s Panorama of Hell (Blast Books). This is a very violent and blood-filled work, so if you have a weak reading constitution, this might be a challenge for you. After that they cover the three-volume Mail, written and drawn by Housui Yamazaki (Dark Horse Manga). As Derek describes, this is a “lighter” narrative compared to some of the others discussed, but one that nonetheless has them wanting more.

From there Shea and Derek turn to a favorite creator of theirs, Junji Ito. However, his latest graphic cycle, Dissolving Classroom (Vertical Comics) is definitely not what they have come to expect from the horror mangaka. Somewhat similar to Fragments of Horror, which the guys discussed last year, Ito relies a little too heavily on over-the-top graphics at the expense of any bedrock terror. But the guys are more impressed with Gou Tanabe’s H.P. Lovecraft’s The Hound and Other Stories (Dark Horse Manga), an adaptation of three classic Lovecraft stories. In addition to the titular reference, Tanabe also presents manga versions of “The Temple” and “The Nameless City.” Finally, Shea and Derek discuss Neo Parasyte M (Kodansha Comics), the latest anthology inspired by Hitoshi Iwaaki’s Parasyte, which ran between 1988 and 1995. Including contributions from a wide variety of creators, this volume is similar to last year’s Neo Parasyte F, which the guys discussed on the 2016 manga horror episode. However, they enjoyed this anthology even more than last year’s.

Comics Alternative Kickstarter: Wayward Sisters

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A Brand New Weekly Series!

The Comics Alternative is launching a brand new weekly series devoted to independent, small-press, and creator-owned Kickstarter campaigns that are comics-related. Every Saturday morning you’ll hear a brief conversation with a creator, or creative team, with a Kickstarter campaign underway, where Derek talks with them about their project, the story behind their ideas, the various levels of support, and why listeners should back their efforts. Since the vast majority of creators on Kickstarter are self-publishing or with very small presses, it just makes sense that The Comics Alternative help give voice to these projects.

On this inaugural episode of the series, Derek talks with Allison O’Toole about TO Comix Press’ Wayward Sisters: An Anthology of Monstrous Women. She serves as the lead editor of this collection, which will include 25 stories from 38 writers and artists. As Allison reveals, what distinguishes this anthology is its focus is on non-binary and female monsters drawn and written by creators from all over the world and who identify as women or gender-nonconforming. It’s a fascinating endeavor and worth backing.

Be sure to check out their Kickstarter site, and for more information, visit the Wayward Sisters website. You can learn more about the project by contacting the creators via social media:

Twitter
twitter.com/WSanthology

Facebook
facebook.com/waywardsistersanthology

Instagram
instagram.com/waywardsistersanthology

Tumblr
waywardsistersanthology.tumblr.com

 

Comics Alternative Interviews: Back with Andy Hirsch

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Time Codes:

  • 00:25 – Introduction
  • 02:55 – Setup of interview
  • 04:20 – Interview with Andy Hirsch
  • 57:15 – Wrap up
  • 59:51 – Contact us

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Acorn Flipper

Andy Hirsch is back on the podcast, and this time he talks with Gwen and Derek about his new book, Science Comics: Dogs: From Predator to Protector. This is the next volume in First Second’s important Science Comics series, one that uses comics to educate both younger readers and adults. In fact, Gwen and Derek spend a lot of time asking Andy his illustrative strategies for taking complex concepts and making them understandable to a broader audience. There is a lot of science packed into this book, and not all of it specifically devoted to canines. But Andy uses colorful charts and graphs, as well as particularly effective storytelling conventions, to present his dense subject matter. Guiding the reader through all of this information is Rudy, the lovable mixed-breed narrator who, in many ways, functions as a stand-in for Andy Hirsch himself. Over the course of the interview, Derek and Gwen talk with their guest not only about the new book, its genesis, and Andy’s growing association with First Second, but they also share their own love of and histories with dogs, making this episode of the interview series somewhat of a canine lovefest.

Comics Alternative Interviews: R. Sikoryak

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:24 – Introduction
  • 00:02:56 – Setup of interview
  • 00:04:17 – Interview with R. Sikoryak
  • 01:12:42 – Wrap up
  • 01:13:32 – Contact us

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Parody. Big League.

On this interview episode, Derek talks with R. Sikoryak about his latest work, The Unquotable Trump, just released this week by Drawn and Quarterly. The conversation begins with Bob’s apologies for having to write the book and his distaste for the subject matter. But as he makes clear in the interview, these cartoons are his way of dealing with what he feels is a malignant force unleashed by last year’s election. In fact, Bob reveals that the genesis of The Unquotable Trump actually dates from the days before the election, when he was using the figure of Donald Trump — and more importantly, the candidate’s own words — in classic comic-book cover parodies as a way of trying to vent his anger. These black-and-white illustrations originally appeared in a minicomic released back in January, but his publisher, Drawn and Quarterly, convinced him to create more parodic illustrations and release them in a 48-page color volume, oversized in the style of a 1970s Marvel Treasury Edition.

Each page of The Unquotable Trump displays a parody of a classic comic-book cover with the figure of Trump inserted, spouting off comments that the real-life candidate-turned-president actually made. Among the many stylistic allusions Bob makes are to such legends as Jack Kirby, Wally Wood, Bob Montana, Jerry Robinson, Carl Barks, John Romita, Gil Kane, and C.C. Beck. In fact, Sikoryak documents all of his comics references in the back of the text, along with a bibliography of Trump’s actual quotes. But although most of the interview is devoted to the new book, Derek also talks with Bob about other topics, such as Terms and Conditions, the complete colorized volume of what had originally been published as the two-issue mini-comic, The Unabridged Graphic Adaptation of iTunes Terms and Conditions (originally reviewed on The Comics Alternative a couple of years ago), his ongoing work mashing up comics and classic literature, and the genesis of his parodying impulses, reaching back to his days working with Art Spiegelman on Raw.

Comics Alternative, Episode 254: Halloween Comics 2017

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Behind You!

Once again, it’s that creepy time of the year: the Wednesday before Halloween. And as the Two Guys have done for the past several years, they’re using this occasion to highlight a variety of Halloween-specific and recent horror titles. This time around, Paul joins Derek in discussing a variety of comics, ten in all, that will appeal to a diverse community of readers. There’s something for young readers, something for more mature fans, something for classic horror aficianados, something for comedy lovers, something for mainstream superhero readers, and something for those who appreciate the truly offbeat. Specifically, on this episode Paul and Derek discuss:

Comics Alternative Interviews: Roz Chast

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:24 – Introduction
  • 00:02:38 – Setup of interview
  • 00:04:40 – Interview with Roz Chast
  • 01:12:04 – Wrap up
  • 01:13:54 – Contact us

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Rat Afterbirth

Paul and Derek are pleased to have on The Comics Alternative the great cartoonist, Roz Chast. Her new book, Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York, was recently released by Bloomsbury Publishing. The Two Guys have been longtime fans of Chast’s offbeat and hilarious New Yorker strips for years, and they spend a good bit of time talking with their guest about how she has translated that sense of humor into a long-form narrative. They also talk with Chast about her previous book, Can’t We Please Talk about Something More Pleasant?, her memoir on living with aging parents, and how her mother and father find prominent places in the latest work. Along the way, Chast discusses her process of writing — she indiscriminately explores narrative paths to see what does and doesn’t work — her unique non-comic-book community of cartoonist colleagues, and her experiences editing last year’s Best American Comics volume. And of course, she spends a lot of time talking about her experiences and love of Manhattan, complete with its mind-blowing variety of restaurants, its subway system, its out-of-the-way specialty shops, its giant waterbugs, and the annoyance of rat afterbirth. Yes, rat afterbirth.

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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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.