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How do the Two Guys with PhDs celebrate America’s Independence Day? Why, by using the July 4th holiday to launch their brand new monthly series devoted to European comics. That’s right, similar to what the podcast already does with its monthly manga, webcomics, and young readers programs, The Comics Alternative now has a new series devoted to the discussion and appreciation of European works in translation. Cohosting this monthly effort with Derek will be Edward Gauvin (a prolific translator of bandes dessinées).
The guys begin by describing their plans for the new Euro comics series and laying out a rough mission statement. At the same time, they acknowledge that the format of this endeavor can take shape as it grows, and they spend a good deal of time defining their terms. They decided to call the show “Euro Comics” since it best describes what they are attempting with the series. Other potential titles, such as “Global Comics,” “Bandes Dessinées,” and even “BD” are limiting in one way or another, and they’re not as targeted nor as accommodating as the continental designation. What’s more, Edward and Derek point out that their understanding “European” is a bit flexible, as it will allow for the inclusion of translated comics produced out of other regions, such as South America, that owe an immense debt to the various European traditions.
That being said, the guys jump into the core of their inaugural episode. They begin with a discussion of Barbara Yelin’s Irmina (SelfMadeHero), originally published in German in 2014 and translated by Michael Waaler. As Edward describes it, Yelin’s is a “Grandma, what did you do during the war?” kind of fictional narrative where she uses as a springboard her own grandmother’s diaries. It’s the story of a young German woman, Irmina, during the 1930s and 1940s who feels distant from, or ambivalent about, the rise of Nazism in the days leading up to the Second World War. Despite her initial resistance to the propaganda, she ends up growing accustomed to, and indirectly sanctioning, the atrocities propagated by the Third Reich. Howard, a young Barbados student studying at Oxford, functions as both a counterweight and a touchstone to Irmina’s ordeal. As both Derek and Edward point out, this is a text with novelistic breadth.
Next, the Two Guys take a look at Frédéric Bézian’s Adam Sarlech: A Trilogy (Humanoids), a collection of three stories translated by Mark Bence and originally published in France during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Derek begins by contextualizing the book as a graphic cycle, a series of interconnected stories, each of which could stand on its own, but taken together read with more “novelistic” depth and complexity than a mere collection of short fiction. In other words, it’s the comics equivalent of literary short-story cycles (or, as some have called it, composite novels). The three pieces in Adam Sarlech function in this way, where certain characters (particularly Doctor Spritzer), scenarios, and geographic setting bind everything together. This is a macabre work heavily influenced by the gothic and weird fictional touches of Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft. In fact, the guys describe Adam Sarlech as one of the most sophisticated and exciting books they’ve read this year, European and otherwise.