Comics Alternative for Young Readers: A Roundtable Discussion on Contemporary Issues in Children’s and Young Adult Comics

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:27 – Introduction
  • 00:03:06 – Roundtable discussion with Charles Hatfield and Krystal Howard
  • 01:25:00 – Wrap up
  • 01:27:49 – Contact us

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Talking It Out

For this Young Readers show, Paul and Gwen change things up a bit by hosting a roundtable on the state of children’s and YA comics with two amazing scholars: Dr. Charles Hatfield, professor in the department of English at California State University, Northridge, and his new college, Dr. Krystal Howard, an assistant professor who is dual appointed in English and Liberal Studies.

The conversation in this month’s episode includes a number of timely topics, including the way scholars define children’s and YA comics, the challenges and benefits of teaching children’s comics, and the exciting formal aspects of comics, as well as other categories, such as verse novels.

Charles had just returned from the San Diego Comic Con, and he shared a list of sessions that were held in conjunction with SDCC at the San Diego Public Library, as well as commentary on this year’s nominees in the three award areas devoted to young readers: Best Publication for Early Readers, Best Publication for Kids, and Best Publication for Teens.

Another rich topic for discussion among the panelists was the portrayal of children in comics written for adults. Recent releases mentioned in this regard included Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Nick Drnaso’s Beverly, and Brecht Evens’ Panther. Recommended children’s texts that seem to be breaking conventions include Eric Orchard’s Bera, the One-Headed Troll, Drew Weing’s The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo, and favorite texts to teach included Luke Pearson’s Hilda series, Barry Deutsch’s Hereville series, and Lewis/Aydin/Powell’s March series, among others.

If listeners have been looking for a good list of must-read children’s and YA comics, this roundtable delivers on that count.

Comics Alternative Interviews: Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock

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Time Codes:

  • 00:25 – Introduction
  • 02:31 – Setup of interview
  • 03:11 – Interview with Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock
  • 54:00 – Wrap up
  • 57:40- Contact us

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Sailing Takes Me Away…

On this interview episode, Gwen and Derek are pleased to have as their guest the creators behind the Four Points books, Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock. The second (and perhaps final) work in the series, Knife’s Edge, comes out this week from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and your two highly credentialed cohosts talk with the creators about the new book and follow up to last year’s Compass South. Over the course of their conversation Rebecca and Hope discuss the genesis of the project, their process for collaboration, the research that went into the two books, and the evolution of the various characters that populate their narrative. They even tease a little bit about their yet-unannounced new collaboration that’s completely separate from the Four Points series.

 

Comics Alternative for Young Readers: The Eisner Award Nominations for Early Readers, Kids, and Teens

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:27 – Introduction
  • 00:02:57 – Context of the 2017 Eisner Awards
  • 00:06:14 – Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 8)
  • 00:57:02 – Best Publication for Kids (ages 9-12)
  • 01:49:53 – Best Publication for Teens (ages 13-17)
  • 02:52:17 – Wrap up
  • 02:53:05 – Contact us

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Jam-Packed

This month, Gwen and Paul discuss the three Eisner Award categories that focus on comics for young readers. And this is a jam-packed, extra-long episode! As they work through each set of nominees, Paul and Gwen discuss the value of prizing in general and the challenges faced by the judges when they must cull such a small number of texts from a pool that is increasingly deep. Inevitably, they mention many other texts that felt were strong contenders for recognition, making this episode a great resource for any parent, child, teen, or teacher who is eager to learn about this year’s great comics.


Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 8)

Best Publication for Kids (ages 9-12)

Best Publication for Teens (ages 13-17)

Comics Alternative for Young Readers: Reviews of Volcano Trash and Real Friends

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Time Codes:

  • 01:22 – Introduction
  • 03:19 – Setup of the episode
  • 04:00 – Volcano Trash
  • 23:10 – Real Friends
  • 48:57 – Wrap up
  • 50:00 – Contact us

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Friendships

For the May Young Readers show, Paul and Gwen discuss two highly anticipated graphic novels: Ben Sears’s Volcano Trash (Koyama Press) and Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Real Friends (First Second). While one text is an action adventure science fiction fantasy and the other is a memoir, both books touch upon the importance that relationships play in young people’s lives.

To being the show, Paul introduces Volcano Trash, the sequel to Ben Sears’s acclaimed 2016 graphic novel Night Air, the first in a series that takes place in what Sears terms “the Double+” universe. Both texts feature the exploits of a young man called Plus Man, his faithful sidekick, the robot Hank, as they engage in capers and navigate a world in which adults very often have nefarious agendas. Paul explains that even though the majority of secondary characters in Volcano Trash are male, the series would be enjoyable for all readers. Gwen agrees and chimes in with her appreciation for Sears’s use of color and his ability to add suspense and “motion” to the comic through the use of a variety of stylistic techniques. Gwen and Paul conclude by discussing the way that Sears’s sense of humor adds a welcome levity to the hijinks. (You can also check out additional discussion of Volcano Trash on the recent Publisher Spotlight episode devoted to Koyama Press.)

Next, the pair discuss Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Real Friends, a memoir of Hale’s grade school years that focuses on friendships won and lost. In addition to considering the features of Hale and Pham’s collaborative work, Gwen underscores the importance of the “Author’s Note,” which allows Hale to look back over her childhood, explain her rationale for writing a memoir, and provide young readers with advice about navigating the complicated hierarchies that develop in grade school. Paul agrees and points to the inclusion of Hale’s grade school photographs as a way to highlight the fact that the story is both real and focused on Hale’s actual experiences. Both Gwen and Paul highly recommend this text as an excellent read for any young person, regardless of whether they identify more with Shannon and are struggling to find true friendships or whether they are popular and confident but might benefit from thinking about friendships from the perspective of other kids.

Comics Alternative Special: A Roundtable Discussion on Children’s and Young Adult Comics

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Forever Young

On this special episode of The Comics Alternative, Gwen and Derek moderate a roundtable discussion on comics for children and young adults. Joining them in the conversation are Karly Marie Grice and Joe Sutliff Sanders, both contributors to the brand new book coedited by Gwen, Graphic Novels for Children and Young Adults: A Collection of Essays (University Press of Mississippi). Over the course of the roundtable, both Joe and Karly present the research they conducted for the collection — the aesthetics of children’s digital comics and contesting narratives in Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints, respectively — but the core of the discussion centers on the current state of children’s and adolescent comics, the scholarship surrounding it, questions of demographics, and the pedagogical challenges facing educators when framing the medium.

Gwen’s coeditor, Michelle Ann Abate, had planned on joining the roundtable discussion, but due to technical difficulties she was unable to do so.

Comics Alternative Interviews: Sharon Shinn and Molly Knox Ostertag

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Time Codes:

  • 00:26 – Introduction
  • 02:14 – Setup of interview
  • 04:04 – Interview with Sharon Shinn and Molly Knox Ostertag
  • 57:52 – Wrap up
  • 59:37 – Contact us

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The Stars Are Indispensable

On this interview episode Gwen and Derek talk with Sharon Shinn and Molly Knox Ostertag. Their new book Shattered Warrior comes out this week from First Second, and they discuss their experiences in developing the project and their process of collaboration. This is Sharon’s first graphic novel — she’s the author of over 25 prose novels — so she shares her journey of discover while working in a different medium. And while Molly is primarily known for her successful webcomic Strong Female Protagonist (co-created with Brennan Lee Mulligan), this is her first time in working on a longer, sustained narrative for print. Gwen and Derek talk with their guests about the genesis of this story, the excitement of world creation, and their thoughts on intended reading audiences.

Comics Alternative for Young Readers: A Review of The Stone Heart and a Discussion of the Essay, “Required Reading: 50 of the Best Kids Comics”

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Time Codes:

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Required Reading…and Required Reading?

In this episode of The Comics Alternative‘s Young Readers series, Gwen and Paul discuss the second volume in Faith Erin Hicks’s Nameless City trilogy, The Stone Heart (First Second), as well as Paste Magazine’s “Required Reading: 50 of the Best Kids Comics” list. Paul also conducts a “mini-interview” with Gwen about the release of Graphic Novels for Children and Young Adults, a volume she co-edited with Michelle Ann Abate for the University Press of Mississippi.

The show begins with a review of the second volume in Faith Erin Hicks’s Nameless City trilogy, The Stone Heart. They praise the sequel’s strong plot and attention to perils of colonization and cultural erasure, and they consider the way that a number of contemporary comics creators have handled these concepts. Central to their discussion the fact that “Asian-inspired” texts are also a current trend in comics, and they explore the cultural implications of this trend. Finally, the pair react to the news that the trilogy has been optioned for a three-season, thirty-six episode TV series.

Next, Gwen and Paul discuss “best of” lists in general, and in particular, Paste Magazine’s April 7, 2017 article, “Required Reading: 50 of the Best Kids Comics.” There were some obvious picks on the list, some that were exciting…and others that leave Gwen and Paul shaking their heads.

To finish the episode, Paul interviews Gwen about the genesis and contents of Graphic Novels for Children and Young Adults: A Collect of Critical Essays, a volume that she co-edited with Dr. Michelle Ann Abate, a professor of children’s and YA literature and English at The Ohio State University. This “mini-interview” serves as a teaser for an upcoming Comics Alternative roundtable discussion that will feature Gwen, Michelle, and two of the contributors to the volume.

Comics Alternative Interviews: Gabby Schulz

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:25 – Introduction
  • 00:02:18 – Setup of interview
  • 00:04:43 – Interview with Gabby Schulz
  • 01:11:55 – Wrap up
  • 01:14:04 – Contact us

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“The sewage of negativity I bring to comics”

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 Sick and 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.

Be sure to visit the artist’s Ignatz Award-nominated website Gabby’s Playhouse.

Comics Alternative Interviews: Jon Nielsen

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Time Codes:

  • 00:24 – Introduction
  • 03:03 – Setup of interview
  • 06:30 – Interview with Jon Nielsen
  • 43:18 – Wrap up
  • 44:33 – Contact us

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Existential Robotics

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.

To learn more about Jon’s comics, visit his website, Dark Magic Press!

Comics Alternative for Young Readers: Reviews of Nightlights and The Best We Could Do

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:26 – Introduction
  • 00:02:47 – Setup of the reviews and interview
  • 00:05:29 – Nightlights
  • 00:26:13 – The Best We Could Do
  • 00:58:56 – Interview with Thi Bui
  • 01:42:29 – Wrap up
  • 01:43:20 – Contact us

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Conflicts, Ghosts, and Art

On this month’s episode of the Comics Alternative’s Young Readers series, Gwen and Paul discuss two new releases: Lorena Alvarez’s Nightlights from Nobrow Press, geared toward younger readers, and Thi Bui’s graphic novel The Best We Could Do, from Abrams ComicArts, an all-ages comic that will be of interest to our teen and adult listeners. They also had a chance to interview Thi Bui and include that segment at the end of the review portion of the show.

Lorena Alvarez’s Nightlights, a beautiful hardback, picture book-sized comic, focuses on the early years in the life of a young girl, Sandy, who clearly has artistic ambitions and an abundance of creativity. However, Sandy also experiences doubts regarding the source of her imagination and fears about what might happen if inspiration were suddenly to desert her. Gwen and Paul love how Alvarez respects the creative process of a young artist, and they appreciate how Alvarez brings her own experiences growing up in Bogotá, Columbia, into the themes and artwork for Nightlights. For more about Alvarez’s biography and work, head over to her website. Those listeners who have enjoyed Vera Brosgol’s YA graphic novel Anya’s Ghost or Neil Gaiman’s novel and graphic novel Coraline, that features the “ghost children,” Nightlights will be a treat. In all three stories, the presence of the supernatural encourages the protagonists to think critically about their various gifts and emotional burdens.

Next, Paul and Gwen discuss Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do, a graphic memoir published by Abrams Comicarts. Bui, whose family came to the US as refugees in the wake of the Vietnam War, tells her own and her family’s stories, in a narrative weaving history and reflection. Given that the book addresses issues of war and loss, Paul and Gwen emphasize that this text is probably geared more towards the upper range of the YA category. Paul praises the text for its evocative depiction of parent/children relationships, and Gwen agrees, noting that she also appreciated Bui’s focus on the refugee experience.

After their discussion, Paul and Gwen play an interview that they conducted with Thi Bui about her inspiration, her process, and her work with young people at the International School in Oakland, California. Listeners can learn even more about Bui at her website. Ms. Bui also mentions an event at Oakland International High School featuring her students’ comics work. She clarified afterwards that the event will be held April 14th, and listeners are welcomed to attend!

Comics Alternative for Young Readers: Reviews of Bats: Learning to Fly and NewsPrints

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Changes

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:27 – Introduction
  • 00:03:08 – Introducing Paul Lai as new YR cohost
  • 00:04:50 – A farewell message from Andy Wolverton
  • 00:07:12 – Bats: Learning to Fly
  • 00:32:29 – NewsPrints
  • 01:01:27 – Wrap up
  • 01:02:01 – Contact us

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The Comics Alternative extends a warm welcome to Paul Lai, who has taken over from Andy Wolverton as co-host with Gwen Tarbox on the Young Readers show. Everyone at The Comics Alternative family will miss Andy’s wise and engaging reviews and perspectives on children’s and young adult comics.

In their first show together, Gwen and Paul discuss the newest volume in First Second Books’ Science Comics series, Falynn Christine Koch’s Bats: Learning to Fly, as well as Ru Xu’s fiction (“diesel-punk,” as Paul terms it) graphic novel NewsPrints, published by the GRAPHIX imprint at Scholastic Books.

Since its launch in 2016, the Science Comics series has included volumes on coral reefs, volcanoes, and dinosaurs. Geared towards upper elementary and middle school aged readers, Science Comics take advantage of the elements of visual storytelling to put forward scientific information. As the editors point out: “With the increasing ubiquity of visual information,” young readers need to “learn to process and respond to visual content, and comics are an incredibly effective medium for exploring visual literacy.” Regular listeners to the podcast may remember that Gwen and Andy reviewed Dinosaurs by M.K. Reed and Joe Flood in their March 2016 YR show, and many of the elements that they praised, including the accessibility of scientific information, as well as the use of humor, appear in Koch’s volume, as well.

Bats: Learning to Fly encourages young readers to understand the important role that bats play in the ecosystem, to overcome their fear of bats, and to learn how they can become involved in protecting and caring for bats. In addition to providing a great deal of information on various species of Bats, Koch creates a narrative in which a teenage girl, Sarah, volunteers at a bat rehabilitation center after her parents overreact to a bat and injure it. Lil’ Brown, as the bat is known, is both a character in that narrative and a narrative presence in his own right, as he directly addresses the reader at various points regarding his own anatomy and role in the ecosystem. As part of their discussion, Paul and Gwen consider how young readers might respond to the way information is imparted in the comic, and they look forward to Koch’s upcoming volume for the Science Comics series, Plagues: The Microscopic Battlefield, due out in August, 2017. Koch recently graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), and Gwen and Paul discuss how her precision drawings and humor-filled text combine to create a text that will delight readers, while encouraging them to appreciate how they can play a role in scientific study by volunteering to rehabilitate bats or building bat houses for their backyards.

Next, Gwen and Paul discuss another debut comic from a SCAD graduate. NewsPrints is written and drawn by Ru Xu, a comics creator who was born in Beijing, immigrated to Indianapolis as a young child, and has had a lifelong love of comics from a variety of traditions, including manga, European comics, and even superhero comics. NewsPrints takes place in a fictional diesel-punk world where the land of Nautilene is torn by war and a newspaper called The Bugle is the only media outlet left that is still reporting the truth. The protagonist, Blue, is a rare kind of newsboy in a society that counts on its newsboys to shout out the headlines and sell papers…and that’s because Blue is not a boy, but a girl, orphaned by the war and adopted by the family who owns the newspaper. Blue sets out to provide that one doesn’t have to be a boy to be vital in the news business, and along the way, readers are introduced to a cast of characters such as Jack, the eccentric and secretive inventor; Crow, a strange kid who remains wrapped in a scarf and in mysteries of his own; and Goldie, Blue’s loyal canary, who matches Blue’s welcoming of people and spirit of flight.

As part of their discussion, Paul and Gwen praise Xu’s mastery of many genres of comics, including her ability to meld various traditional forms into an entirely unique story world. Thus, while the text shares much in common with recent fantasy releases, including Faith Erin Hicks’ The Nameless City and Jorge Corona’s Feathers, NewsPrints stands on its own, with a vast, inviting story space and a focus on issues of truth and representation that are ever more a part of our own political and social climate. Paul praised Xu’s deft handling of interactions among characters, and Gwen expressed her admiration for Xu’s use of color and shading to help set the mood and to ease transitions across the comic. Given the book’s indeterminate ending, Paul and Gwen look forward to the series continuing into additional volumes, and they dwell on Xu’s treatment of gender and ethnicity in thoughtful ways.

 

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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 Interviews: W. Maxwell Prince and John Amor

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Textual Adventures

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:26 – Introduction
  • 00:02:16 – Setup of interview
  • 00:04:11 – Interview with W. Maxwell Prince and John Amor
  • 00:59:17 – Wrap up
  • 01:00:47 – Contact us

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On this interview episode, Gwen and Derek have the pleasure of talking with W. Maxwell Prince and John Amor. Their latest book, One Week in the Library, comes out next week from Image Comics. Most of the discussion topics surround this new work — how the two creators met, their process of collaboration, the ideas behind the book’s structure and intertextual allusions — but Gwen and Derek also talk with their guests about their previous collaboration, Judas: The Last Days, as well as their separate efforts, including Will’s current IDW series, The Electric Sublime. And, of course, a lot of talk about books and a lot of talk about libraries. What’s more, you don’t have to be a bibliophile to enjoy the conversation!

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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.

ForbiddenWorldsThanksgiving

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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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