Comics Alternative for Young Readers: The Best of 2016

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Great Minds…

Gwen and Andy both are astounded that the end of the year is almost upon them, and with that in mind, they’ve picked their favorite books of 2016 for young readers. The Two People with PhDs each picked five books in the children’s category and five books in the intermediate/young adult (YA) category, but something odd happened: their lists were almost identical!

In the children’s category, Gwen and Andy both chose the following four books, many of which they have already discussed on previous episodes.

Andy diverged by picking Bert’s Way Home, by John Martz (Koyama Press), the story of an orphan named Bert who’s no regular orphan, but an orphan of time and space, stranded on Earth after a cosmic accident.

Gwen’s final pick in this category was Blip! a TOON Level 1 book by Barnaby Richards about a robot whose vocabulary consists of only one word (“Blip”) as he tries to find his way through an unfamiliar planet.

In the Intermediate/YA category, Gwen and Andy also agree on their first four titles:

  • March: Book Three, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (Top Shelf), the third and final book in the March trilogy. March: Book Three is also a noteworthy book in that it recently won the prestigious National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, becoming the first graphic novel to win the award.
  • Camp Midnight, by Steven T. Seagle and Jason Adam Katzenstein (Image)
  • Paper Girls, Vol. 1, by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang (Image)
  • Snow White, by Matt Phelan (Candlewick Press)

The two people with PhDs also had the great pleasure of interviewing Matt Phelan on the show last month. You can listen to that interview here.

Andy’s final choice was Mighty Jack, by Ben Hatke, a title previously discussed on the show back in August.

For Gwen’s final choice, she picked Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling, by Tony Cliff (First Second), a book previously discussed by Derek and Sean in its original webcomics format. This volume picks up where the first volume, 2013’s Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant, left off.

At the end of the show, Gwen mentioned a new all ages wordless comic that she learned about on Dr. Debbie Reese’s excellent American Indians in Children’s Literature blog, Jonathan Nelson’s The Wool of Jonesy: Part I, published by Native Realities Press. Here is the blurb from the publisher’s website:

Written and illustrated by Diné artist Jonathan Nelson, The Wool of Jonesy #1 tells the first story of Jonesy the Sheep and his adventures out on the rez. As Jonesy heads out to explore life after high school he finds himself discovering and dreaming. The wonderfully illustrated story gives young and old alike a simple and enchanting view of reservation life through the eyes of an amazing character!

Readers can check out Debbie Reese’s review.

Gwen and Andy hope that these titles might be considered for gift for the holiday season. You really can’t go wrong with any of these titles. We can’t wait to see what great comics are in store for us in 2017. You can be sure we’ll pass all the information along to you. Happy reading!

 

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Comics Alternative, Episode 215: Our Fourth Annual Thanksgiving Show

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Giving Thanks in a Dark Time; Or, Steve Ditko’s Impending Death

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For this year’s Thanksgiving show, there are seven seats at the table, making this the most populated episode in the podcast’s history. Andy K. and Derek are joined by their fellow cohosts Gwen, Andy W., Gene, Sean, and Edward to discuss what they are thankful for in the world of comics. (Shea and Paul couldn’t join in on the fun, unfortunately, but they were there in spirit.) Among the various things they’re thankful for are

So pull up a chair, strap on the bib, pass the gravy, and settle into the warm, cozy goodness of The Seven People with PhDs Talking about Comics. And remember: the tryptophan will kick in later.

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Comics Alternative Interviews: Matt Phelan

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Pictures, Moving and Otherwise

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Time Codes:

  • 00:24 – Introduction
  • 01:40 – Setup of interview
  • 02:03 – Interview with Matt Phelan
  • 51:30 – Wrap up
  • 52:16 – Contact us

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Gwen and Andy W. are very pleased to offer up another milestone for the Young Readers edition of The Comics Alternative: their first interview! And they couldn’t have asked for a better person to talk to than Matt Phelan. The Two People with PhDs talk to Matt about his new book from Candlewick, Snow White as well as Matt’s previous books, The Storm in the Barn (2009), Around the World (2011) and Bluffton: My Summers with Buster Keaton (2013). In addition to a great discussion about Matt’s books, you’ll also hear talk on a wide range of interesting topics such as film noir, silent movies, the creative process, and teaser or two about Matt’s upcoming projects. We hope you’ll join us for a great talk with creator Matt Phelan!

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Comics Alternative for Young Readers: A Publisher Spotlight on First Second Books

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Monstrous Mysteries

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Gwen and Andy are back with something different for the Young Readers edition of The Comics Alternative: their very first publisher spotlight on First Second Books. The Two People with PhDs have looked at many First Second books in the past, but this time they’re looking at the publisher’s fall selections. (Since they covered Ben Hatke’s Mighty Jack in their August show, Gwen and Andy give it just a brief mention here, but you should definitely check it out!) They begin with Andy Hirsch’s Varmints, a wild adventure set in the Old West with sister and brother Opie and Ned, searching for the man who shot their ma. If you like Western stories filled with action, action, and more action, this is the book for you. (And don’t miss the Comics Alternative interview with Andy Hirsch!)

Next, they turn to Quirk’s Quest: Into the Outlands by Robert Christie and Deborah Lang, an exploration adventure with the crew of the H.M.S. Gwaniimander under the command of Captain Quenterindy Quirk. Quirk’s voyage quickly meets with a near disaster as his crew discovers a land of deadly giants, a valley of weird creatures, and a sorceress who may or may not have the crew’s best interests in mind. Christie and Lang’s characters may look like something out of a Jim Henson production, but the world they’ve created is unique and compelling.

Eric Orchard’s Bera the One-Headed Troll is yet a different type of quest story, this one featuring the titular troll and her owl companion Winslowe as they discover an abandoned human baby on their pumpkin patch island. Everyone seems to want the child for their own nefarious purposes, but Bera is determined to keep the baby safe from mermaids, witches, and a creature called Cloote, the former head witch of the Troll King. Orchard’s wonderfully bizarre illustrations combine with masterful storytelling that’s filled with humor and depth.

Finally, the Two People with PhDs look at The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo by Drew Weing, the story of a young girl who’s a “monster mediator,” someone who patrols the streets of Echo City for trolls, ogres, and ghosts. And they’re all afraid of her! (Note: Sean and Derek discussed the online version of this series in the June webcomics episode.) Andy and Gwen both agree that Margo Maloo is a spectacular story, but it’s so much more. It’s also a book that works on multiple levels touching on the fears, prejudices, and anxieties of us all. First Second is a treasure trove of great books and Gwen and Andy hope that you’ll want to read them all!

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Comics Alternative Interviews: Ethan Young

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Defenders

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:24 – Introduction
  • 00:02:49 – Setup of interview
  • 00:03:54 – Interview with Ethan Young
  • 01:15:31 – Wrap up
  • 01:16:54 – Contact us

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Derek and Andy W. have the pleasure of talking with Ethan Young, whose latest work has just been released from from Dark Horse Originals. The Battles of Bridget Lee: Invasion of Farfall is tale set in a future world where humans fight an alien race called Marauders, creatures bent on extermination so as to colonize and populate for their own survival. The guys ask Ethan about the genesis of his Mulan-inspired hero, Bridget Lee, and his plans for taking her into further adventures. (Invasion of Farfall reads like the beginning of an action-packed adventure series.) They also take the opportunity to discuss Ethan’s notable work from last year, Nanjing: The Burning City, and his long-running webcomic Tails that wrapped up last year.

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Comics Alternative for Young Readers: Reviews of The Backstagers #1 and Snow White

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Discussions, Old and New

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Time Codes:

  • 00:27 – Introduction
  • 03:22 – Context for listeners
  • 06:02 – The controversy surrounding Ghosts
  • 30:26 – The Backstagers #1
  • 40:12 – Show White
  • 59:04 – Wrap up
  • 59:28 – Contact us

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This episode of the Young Readers show begins with a special feature: Andy and Gwen return to a comic that they reviewed for the August YR show, Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts. They present a revised review of that comic, based upon a number of issues that have been raised in the last month by scholars and librarians regarding cultural appropriation and Telgemeier’s status as an outsider writing about the California missions and about the Dia de los Muertos celebrations that are a common feature of Mexican and Mexican American cultural life. Although the two PhDs typically try to avoid spoilers in their reviews, in this case, they mention specific events in the comic, so if you would like to wait until you have read Ghosts to listen to this segment, know that it occurs between the time codes 6:02 and 30:26.

As part of revisiting their discussion of Ghosts, Gwen and Andy bring up a number of resources that readers may wish to consult regarding issues of cultural appropriation, including Dr. Debbie Reese’s blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature; Dr. Laura Jiménez’s blog, Booktoss; and the Reading While White blog that is the creation of a number of librarians who are “allies for racial diversity and inclusion in books for children and teens.”

During the regular review portion of the podcast, Andy and Gwen discuss The Backstagers #1, written by James Tynion IV, drawn by Rian Sygh, with color by Walter Baiamonte, and lettering by Jim Campbell. This exciting, fast-paced comic, published by BOOM! Studios, has a lot in common with another BOOM! Studio’s hit series, Lumberjanes, so whether one is a veteran of theater productions or just likes ensemble comics that feature an eclectic cast of characters, then The Backstagers will fill the bill. For his part, Andy applauds Tynion and Sygh’s depiction of the people who do all of the hard work behind the scenes of a theater production, often without acclaim, and Gwen gives the series praise for its inclusion of a number of gay characters who are part of the stage crew. The Backstagers also includes supernatural elements that would appeal to young readers who have an interest in science fiction characters and settings.

Next, the two PhDs discuss Matt Phelan’s graphic novel, Snow White (Candlewick Press), an adaptation that is steeped in elements of film noir, and even silent film, while managing to comment on contemporary debates about the ethics of the pursuit of wealth. Set during the Great Depression, the evil queen becomes the Queen of Ziegfield Follies, and all of the energy and emotion of the era is expressed in Phelan’s exceptional watercolor panels that are intricately shaded and carefully colored. Andy discusses Phelan’s impressive career as an award-winning creator of such texts as The Storm in the Barn, which won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, and he praises Phelan’s decision to allow the often sinister and gritty aspects that characterized eighteenth- and nineteenth-century folktale and fairytale variants to emerge in this version of Snow White. Although readers would not need to be familiar with the origin text, both Andy and Gwen agree that much of the power of the narrative comes from the way that Phelan translates familiar tropes such as the talking mirror into a Depression-era setting.

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Comics Alternative, On Location: Talking with Creators at SPX 2016, Pt. 1

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Let’s Get Small

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This past weekend, Andy W. and Derek attended Small Press Expo in North Bethesda, MD. While there, the Two Guys interviewed a variety of creators about their recent releases and their upcoming projects. In all, Derek and Andy were able to conduct 27 different interviews, each of which lasted from anywhere between 2 minutes to over 20 minutes. The guys have now edited these conversations and are presenting them in a series of three on-location interview episodes conducted at SPX. In this first installment, Derek and Andy talk with John Martz, Jay Hosler, Blue Delliquanti, Ulises Fariñas, Storm Smith, Ted Stearn, Emma Glaze, Daryl Seitchik, and Sean O’Neill.

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Comics Alternative for Young Readers: Reviews of Mighty Jack and Ghosts

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All happy families…?

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Although some kids may not be so excited to be heading back to school, Gwen and Andy (the Two People with PhDs) give young readers cause to rejoice this month with the upcoming release of two new graphic novels: Mighty Jack (First Second) by Ben Hatke and Ghosts (Graphix/Scholastic) by Raina Telgemeier.

Andy starts things off with Mighty Jack, the story of a kid named Jack who’s not having a very fun summer. To make ends meet, Jack’s single mom finds a second job, but that means Jack will have sole responsibility of keeping an eye on his autistic sister Maddy. Maddy never speaks, until one day at a flea market she shocks Jack by telling him that he must buy a box of seeds from a sketchy-looking man. Later, as Jack and Maddy plant a garden with their new seeds, weird, magical, and dangerous things begin to happen.

Next, Gwen introduces the highly-anticipated new book by Raina Telgemeier, Ghosts. It’s the story of Catrina and her family as they move from Los Angeles to the Northern California coast, hoping the climate will agree with Cat’s sister Maya, who suffers from cystic fibrosis. Cat is shocked to discover that everyone in their new town seems obsessed with ghosts, even Maya. Cat just wishes they could just go back to L.A., but her parents — and perhaps the ghosts — have other plans.

Gwen and Andy point out elements common in both books: parental issues, sibling rivalries and bonding, freedom, danger, and fear of the unknown. Both books are multilayered, superbly told, and they should appeal equally to readers young and old (something of a rarity these days). Although their art styles are quite different, these two books demonstrate that Hatke and Telgemeier are both masterful storytellers. These creators are producing what are perhaps their best works. It’s an exciting time for comics readers of all ages, and these are two books to pick up with confidence.

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Comics Alternative for Young Readers: Reviews of Compass South, Secret Coders: Paths and Portals, and Level Up

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Pairings

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This month, Andy and Gwen discuss a three graphic novels for young readers that are written by pairs of comics creators. Compass South (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) brings together Hope Larson (Chiggers; A Wrinkle in Time) with Rebecca Mock, a New York-based freelance illustrator, while the other two titles are written by Gene Luen Yang in collaboration with Mike Holmes on Secret Coders 2: Paths and Portals (First Second) and with Thien Pham on Level Up (Square Fish).

To begin the show, Gwen introduces readers to the premise of Larson and Mock’s exciting middle-grade graphic novel Compass South. Set in 1860, this fast-paced, colorful text follows the adventures of a pair of twelve-year-old redheaded twins, Alexander and Cleopatra Dodge. Orphaned as infants upon the death of their mother, the twins are transported to New York City to be raised by the kindly Mr. Dodge, a working class immigrant from Ireland who had once been in love with the twins’ mother. The children have received as an inheritance a pocket watch and a knife, and it turns out that these objects hold secret information that a corrupt pirate and his gang hope to uncover. When the twins’ father mysteriously disappears, Alex suggests that they travel to San Francisco and pose as the long lost children of a wealthy industrialist. In order to participate in the ruse, Cleopatra cuts her hair, dons boys’ clothes, and escapes with Alex to New Orleans. There, things become very complicated when they run into another set of redheaded twins, Silas and Edwin, who also plan to sail to San Francisco and present themselves to the industrialist. Chaos descends as the two pairs of twins are split up, and everyone from a street gang leader in New York and a SecretCoders2-interiorviolent, blood-thirsty pirate chase the children across the globe. Andy praises the novel for its character development and technical brilliance, and Gwen notes that the use of cross dressing allows Larson and Mock the ability to comment upon gendered expectations, both in the nineteenth century and today. Compass South ends on a cliffhanger that will be addressed in the second volume of the series, Knife’s Edge, coming out in 2017.

Next, Andy introduced Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes’s second volume in their Secret Coders series, a set of STEM-oriented graphic novel for middle grade readers. Set in the austere Stately Academy, Secret Coders 2: Paths and Portals takes up immediately where the initial volume ends, with friends Hopper, Eni, and Josh using the principles of coding to solve mysteries. Andy notes that readers will want to be sure to have read the first book before moving on to this second, but he explains that the effort will be rewarding. Secret Coders 2 is action-packed, filled with humor, and encourages young readers to learn more about coding. Gwen agrees, pointing out that even though a lot of instruction goes on in the text, Yang and Holmes present coding lessons as part of a well-integrated plot that follows the experiences of three highly developed protagonists. Gwen also encourages listeners to check out the Secret Coders blog for more information on coding for kids.

For their final review, Andy and Gwen discusses Gene Luen Yang’s collaboration with illustrator Thien Pham on Level Up, a coming-of-age graphic novel that was first published in 2011. The reissued volume is printed on a heavy, glossy paper stock that serves as an excellent medium for Pham’s masterful watercolor illustrations. The story follows Dennis Ouyang, the child of Chinese immigrants, who struggles to reconcile his love of video games with his desire to fulfill his parents’ wishes that he become a gastroenterologist. Given that the comic takes Dennis from grade school through to medical school, Level Up will be of interest to a wide audience, from middle school readers up to adults. After Gwen provides young listeners with an enthralling description of gastroenterology, the two PhDs consider how Level Up incorporates Yang’s interest in faith and magical realism, as well as his interest in describing the immigrant experience.

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Comics Alternative for Young Readers: A Special Look at the 2016 Eisner Awards

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And the Winners Are…

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On this special episode of the Young Readers edition of The Comics Alternative, Gwen and Andy take a look at the 2016 Eisner Awards, both the nominees and the winners, in each of the three young readers categories. The Two People with PhDs discuss not only the books and their creators, but also the categories themselves, the changes they’ve seen in those categories over the years, and changes they’d like to see in the future. Gwen and Andy know you’ll find some great books here and hope you’ll share your thoughts with them once you’ve read them. (You can find a complete list of all the Eisner Award winners here as well as the complete list of nominees here.)

In the lists below, the winner of the category is in bold face type.

Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 8)

Anna Banana and the Chocolate Explosion, by Dominque Roques and Alexis Dormal (First Second)

Little Robot, by Ben Hatke (First Second)

The Only Child, by Guojing (Schwartz & Wade)

SheHeWe, by Lee Nordling and Meritxell Bosch (Lerner Graphic Universe)

Written and Drawn by Henrietta, by Liniers (Ricardo Siri Linders, an Argentine creator) (TOON Books)

Best Publication for Kids (ages 9-12)

Baba Yaga’s Assistant, by Marika McCoola and Emily Carroll (Candlewick)

Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War, by Jessica Dee Humphreys, Michel Chikwanine, and Claudia Devila (Kids Can Press)

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor, by Nathan Hale (Abrams Amulet)

Over the Garden Wall, by Pat McHale, Amalia Levari, and Jim Campbell (BOOM! Studios/KaBOOM!)

Roller Girl, by Victoria Jamieson (Dial Books)

Sunny Side Up, by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm (Scholastic Graphix)

Best Publication for Teens (ages 13-17)

Awkward, by Svetlana Chmakova (Yen Press)

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans, by Don Brown (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

March: Book Two, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (Top Shelf/IDW)

Moose, by Max de Radiguès (Conundrum)

Oyster War, by Ben Towle (Oni)

SuperMutant Magic Academy, by Jillian Tamaki (Drawn & Quarterly)

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Comics Alternative for Young Readers: Reviews of Musnet, Bird Boy Vol. 1, and Poppy! and the Lost Lagoon

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Big Blue Marble

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This month, Gwen and Andy take listeners on a worldwide tour featuring adventures of various cultures in three books: Musnet: The Mouse of Monet by Kickliy (Uncivilized Books/Odod), Anne Szabla’s Bird Boy Volume 1: The Sword of Mali Mahi (Dark Horse Books), and Poppy! and the Lost Lagoon by Matt Kindt and Brian Hurtt (Dark Horse Books).

Before they get to the books, Andy and Gwen both regret not being able to attend HeroesCon, but Gwen gives a brief (and very interesting) report from her recent experience at the Children’s Literature Association Conference in Columbus, Ohio. Who knows? Maybe the Two People with PhDs Talking about Comics for Young Readers will both be there next year?

Gwen and Andy are always excited to see more comics translated into English, and Kickliy’s Musnet: The Mouse of Monet is now available in French and English editions. Both enjoyed the leisurely storytelling and the wonderful use of color in this story of a mouse named Mus who longs to paint like a master artist. This first volume of a projected four-volume series introduces us to Mus’s world in Giverny, France, his teacher, his new friend Mya, and the world of painting. This book will appeal especially to young readers (ages 8 and up) who show an interest not just in painting, but in any of the arts. The look and pace of the book may take some getting used to for young readers, especially if this is their first venture into European comics, but the venture is certainly worth taking.

Next, Gwen and Andy discuss Bird Boy Volume 1: The Sword of Mali Mahi, which began (and continues) as a webcomic by Anne Szabla. This book (suggested for ages 8-12) contains familiar elements of quest/adventure stories, yet it has the feel of something both fresh and ancient. Szabla combines elements of myth and legend from a great many sources — Mayan, Norse, Northwest Native American, etc. — to tell the story of Bali, a 10-year-old boy birdboy_interiordesperate to prove his worth to his tribe despite being small in stature. Although considered too little to participate in an important coming-of-age ceremony, Bali takes matters into his own hands and discovers a dangerous secret that’s been kept hidden for ages.

Gwen and Andy love the story and can’t say enough about the fabulous art and use of color, yet they wish that the creator and publisher had given readers some information about the cultural influences reflected in the book. (Perhaps they will in the second volume, which comes out later this summer.) Still, Bird Boy is an exciting, unique new series that the two look forward to exploring further.

Finally, Gwen and Andy could not stop singing the praises of Poppy! and the Lost Lagoon by Matt Kindt and Brian Hurtt. Although suggested for ages 8-12, this is a book that can be enjoyed and appreciated by much older readers…even those with PhDs! Ten-year-old Poppy Pepperton and her legal guardian Colt Winchester are explorers working for a 4,000-year-old Egyptian pharaoh with the body of an eight-year-old boy. The pharaoh sends Poppy and Colt on an adventure that would make Indiana Jones think twice, a story filled with danger, mystery, riddles, puzzles, a flying carpet, a mummy head that talks, a creature called a gigantipus, and more!

Poppy! is truly a book of wonder, reflected not only in characters we quickly come to love and care about, but also in its fantastic art and glorious use of watercolor. And although Poppy! is an enormously entertaining book filled with humor, it also speaks to issues of the environment and the preservation of natural habitats without getting preachy or didactic. It’s pretty safe to say this is one of Gwen and Andy’s favorite books so far in 2016.

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Comics Alternative, Episode 192: Reviews of Limbo, Weird Detective #1, and Control #1

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Well-Handled Weirdness

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The Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics are back to give you another ear-full of good quality comics talk, and this week the focus is on noir weirdness. They begin with the collected trade edition of Limbo (Image Comics). Dan Watters and Caspar Wijngaard’s six-issue limited series ran from November 2015 to April of this year, but last week the TPB was released. It’s the story of Clay, a cynical and world-worn detective who finds himself stuck in a strange world whose origins are a mystery. Andy W. and Derek liken this book to a voodoo-infused version of Videodrome, and the guys are particularly struck by by Wijngaard’s neon palette and his occasional metafictional page layouts.

And while Limbo injects more than enough weirdness into its noir, it’s easily rivaled by the Lovecraftian flair of Fred Van Lent and Guiu Vilanova’s Weird Detective #1 (Dark Horse Comics). The first issue in this miniseries introduces us to Detective Sebastian Greene, a heretofore mundane investigator whose recent display of uncanny abilities at detecting confound his partner, Sana Fayez, and their superiors. The strangeness is compounded by a string of unusual crimes that are sure to appeal to fans of the Great Old Ones.

Finally, Derek and Andy wrap up with a more conventional noir narrative, Andy Diggle, Angela Cruickshank, and Andrea Mutti’s Control #1 (Dynamite Entertainment). While this one doesn’t have the genre-bending, otherworldly twists of this week’s other titles, it nonetheless concerns an unfathomable dark region. Not electric voodoo or Cthulhu, but Washington, D.C. politics. At least that’s what the guys gather from this first installment in this six-issue series. As Andy and Derek point out, Diggle is an old hat at this kind of storytelling, and this helps explain why Control is perhaps the most tightly woven narrative they look at this week. And from the information found on the copyright page, this looks like a series with a promise of multiple volumes, something akin to Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s Criminal. At least the Two Guys hope.

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Comics Alternative, Episode 190: The June Previews Catalog

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Wallet-Busting Goodness

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It’s the first of the month, and that must mean that it’s time, once again, for the Two Guys with PhDs to take a conversational stroll through the latest Previews catalog. For the month of June, there is an inordinately large number of notable titles for Derek and Andy W. to discuss, making this a longer-than-average episode (a little over two hours). So strap in and get ready to boogie! Among the many solicits they highlight are from publishers such as

Andy and Derek also discuss the new Goodreads reading group The Comics Alternative is setting up, and they ask listeners for their input in how they’d like to use that social media platform. They also share some audience feedback and encourage everyone to go to the podcast’s iTunes page to leave a rating and review, if they haven’t already.  In other words, do your part for The Comics Alternative!

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Comics Alternative Interviews: Jeremy Sorese

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Orange Is the New Black

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On this interview show, Andy W. and Derek have the pleasure of talking with Jeremy Sorese. His book, Curveball, was published by Nobrow Press in late 2015, but it’s up this year for a Lambda Literary Award in the “LGBT Graphic Novels” category. Those award winners will be announced in June, and the guys talk with Jeremy about the attention that Curveball has been receiving. This is his first long-form comic, and Jeremy describes it as a queer sci-fi romance. The story takes place in an indeterminate future, but the generic elements take a backseat to character relationships. At the same time, Jeremy talks with the guys about how science fiction is an appropriate platform to explore facets of identity. Derek and Andy also ask their guest about the series for which he’s more popularly known, Stephen Universe, and the other work he’s done for BOOM! Studios. They also discuss his interests in short narratives, the unbelievable mileage he’s gotten out of his early comic, “Love Me Forever! Oh! Oh! Oh!”, and what projects he’s working on currently.

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Check out Jeremy’s website to discover more of his art!

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Comics Alternative for Young Readers: Reviews of Hippopotamister and Camp Midnight

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Disguises

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This month’s show includes a review of two recently released graphic novels, John Patrick Green’s Hippopotamister (First Second) and Steven T. Seagle and Jason Adam Katzenstein’s Camp Midnight (Image Comics), as well as interviews Andy conducted at the first-ever Anne Arundel County (Maryland) Public Library Comic Con, held on May 14. At this event, Andy had the chance to speak to a number of young readers, as well as their parents, about their favorite comics and about their own work as budding comics creators.

At the beginning of the podcast, Andy reads an email that comics writer Samuel Teer wrote to him and Gwen regarding their October 2015 review of Veda: Assembly Required (Dark Horse), an all-ages comic that he wrote in collaboration with artist Hyeondo Park and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick. Samuel was kind enough to thank the two for their positive review of the book and mentioned that the two people with PhDs gave him some helpful suggestions for future works. (Glad to oblige, Samuel! Keep those great comics coming!)

First up in the review segment is Hippopotamister, a title that both Gwen and Andy can say three times fast and recommend three times over. This graphic novel for younger readers provides a humorous, carefully-crafted story about the way that two friends, Red Panda and Hippo, enter into the “human world” in order to find jobs, after their city zoo falls into disrepair. Red Panda, who leaves the enclosure first and returns with tales of his exciting forays into the world of work, Hippo_Interiorencourages his friend to join him, but he cautions, “amongst the humans you can no longer be just a hippopotamus. You must become…HIPPOPOTAMISTER!” What follows is a tour through occupations that help Hippopotamister and Red Panda figure out their natural talents. Of course, complications arise on these friends’ paths to self-understanding and a regular paycheck, but both end up finding work that suits them well.

In addition to praising the color work of Cat Caro, Andy highlights one of the funniest splash pages in the comic that depicts Hippopotamister’s invention of a new hairstyle entitled “The Hippopompadour.” Gwen loves the whimsy of that scene and notes that, in addition to creating vibrant splash pages, Green excels at planting small details across the entire graphic novel that are clearly put there for the amusement of adult or middle grade readers. For instance, the restaurant where Red Panda and Hippopotamister try their hand at being sous chefs is called “Trattoria Della Bestia,” a name that draws a fine line between those animals that prepare the food versus those who serve as the meal. Andy and Gwen also point out the effectiveness of Green’s images in moving the narration along. As Andy puts it, a beginning reader could figure out the action of the story, even if s/he couldn’t read all of the words, yet the wordplay throughout the comic underscores the fine balance that Green achieves in his comics artistry.

Next, Gwen and Andy discuss Camp Midnight, a collaboration between longtime friends Steven T. Seagle, a TV writer/producer and comic-book author, and Jason Adam Katzenstein, a cartoonist whose work regularly appears in The New Yorker. Their colorful and sophisticated all-ages comic follows Skye Sullivan, a disgruntled tween, who boards the wrong bus and ends up at a summer camp where everyone but her new friend, Mia, sheds their daytime human exteriors in order to reveal their true monster identities. At first, Skye wants nothing more than to head back home, but she finds herself drawn to Griffin, a boy worthy of “cute guy alerts,” and she wants to figure out why Mia is also something of an outcast at Camp Midnight.

Both Gwen and Andy comment on the powerful, saturated colors employed throughout the comic, as well as the realistic depiction of all of the joys and pitfalls of living away from home with a group of kids who are all too eager to form cliques and exclude outsiders. Like Hippopotamister, Skye learns a great deal about herself and then uses that knowledge to help a good friend. Gwen and Andy highly recommend Camp Midnight to tweens and teens, alike, though adults may also enjoy the coy humor and fantastic line style that carries across the text.

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