Comics Alternative Interviews: Bill Kartalopoulos and Ben Katchor

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:26 – Introduction
  • 00:02:30 – Setup of interview
  • 00:04:05 – Interview with Bill Kartalopoulos and Ben Katchor
  • 01:36:02 – Wrap up
  • 01:37:10 – Contact us


Challenging Comics

Derek talks with Bill Kartalopoulos and Ben Katchor about the 2017 volume of The Best American Comics (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). They are, respectively, the general editor of the series and last year’s guest editor. Paul and Derek had wanted to interview the two back in December, but due to life complications, they weren’t able to have them on the show. And although Paul wasn’t able to join in on this interview, he was with everyone in spirit. So better late than never, Derek speaks with Ben and Bill about the process of their collaboration, the challenges that they faced in collecting potential material, Ben’s choices in structuring and populating the 2017 volume, the ways in which current politics couldn’t help but find their way into the text, and the questions both editors faced with the very concept of “best comics.”

Comics Alternative, Episode 262: Review of The Best American Comics 2017

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:28 – Introduction
  • 00:02:26 – Better late than never
  • 00:05:42 – The Best American Comics 2017
  • 01:30:43 – Wrap up
  • 01:32:15 – Contact us



On this episode of the podcast Paul and Derek discuss The Best American Comics 2017, edited by Ben Katchor along with series editor Bill Kartalopoulos. The Two Guys usually discuss Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s annual contribution to comicsdom in the penultimate episode of every year, but this time around life got in the way — and Paul, everyone’s heart goes out to you — so they had to postpone slightly the current show. But better late than never!

As Paul and Derek reveal, this has to be the most experimental volume of The Best American Comics we’ve ever seen. Editor Ben Katchor does his best to challenge our understanding and definition of “comics” and to interrogate the very concept of “best.” In fact, you could call these efforts provocative. This most recent anthology is attuned to the current political environment, and this is perhaps best demonstrated in Katchor’s multifaceted and hilarious introduction, as well as Kartalopoulos’s insightful Foreword.

The contributions themselves are perhaps the most fascinating, and definitely the most varied, of any The Best American Comics volume.  There are many names that would be recognizable to listeners of the podcast — e.g., Kim Deitch, Tim Lane, Gabrielle Bell, Ed Piskor, Joe Sacco, Josh Bayer, Michael DeForge, and Sam Alden — but what marks this annual is the sheer number of contributors that neither Derek nor Paul had previously known. Indeed, at least a good half of this collection is comprised of creators never before discussed on the podcast, and it’s exciting to discover this many new artists. To say the least, this is the most engaging, and the most challenging, volume of The Best American Comics to date.


Comics Alternative, Episode 219: Review of Best American Comics 2016

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Thanks, Roz!

Time Codes:

  • 00:01:30 – Introduction
  • 00:03:21 – News and updates
  • 00:12:05 – Best American Comics 2016
  • 01:07:29 – Wrap up
  • 01:08:37 – Contact us


Every year the Two Guys with PhDs use the final two episodes of the year as a respective, a look back at some of the best comics out there. Next week they’ll release their own favorites of the past twelve months, but for this, their penultimate show of the year, Andy and Derek discuss what others consider outstanding. The 2016 volume Best American Comics, edited by cartoonist Roz Chast (and with series editor Bill Kartalopoulos), includes thirty contributions from a variety of creators and displaying a wide range of styles and storytelling strategies. These comics were originally published between September 1, 2015 and August 31, 2015, and in many cases they include titles that the guys have discussed on past episodes. (For insights into the selection process for this volume, check out the previously published interview with Bill Kartalopoulos.)

As the guys point out, there are entries in this collection that should come as no surprise to comics readers — e.g., Adrian Tomine’s “Killing and Dying,” Drew Friedman’s “R. Crumb and Me,” various Kate Beaton strips, and excerpts from Richard McGuire’s Here and Chris Ware’s The Last Saturday — but some of the most notable contributions are from artists with whom the guys weren’t yet familiar, or are selections that might not be on most readers’ “Best of” lists. As you’ll hear on this episode, Derek and Andy are excited to discover the work of Taylor-Ruth Baldwin, Sophia Zdon, Lance Ward, and Char Esmé, while at the same time they are glad to see recognition of works by Joe Ollmann, John Porcellino, Keiler Roberts, and Nina Bunjevac. But every piece in this anthology is worthy of attention, as are the various titles listed in its “Notable Comics” section at the very end. With a new year on the horizon, it’s always useful to look back at those comics that have helped define where we are today. And as the guys point out, the annual Best American Comics volumes are some of the gauges out there.


Comics Alternative Interviews: Bill Kartalopoulos

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More Best

Time Codes:

  • 00:01:20 – Introduction
  • 00:03:07 – Setup of interview
  • 00:04:13 – Interview with Bill Kartalopoulos
  • 01:17:31 – Wrap up
  • 01:18:53 – Contact us


Andy and Derek are pleased to have back on their podcast Bill Kartalopoulos, the general editor of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Best American Comics series. He was on the show two years ago to discuss the 2014 volume of Best American Comics, that one guest-edited by Scott McCloud and Bill’s first after assuming editorship. This time around the Two Guys talk with him about the latest volume guest edited by Roz Chast. They specifically ask Bill about his experiences in working with Chast, a cartoonist who brings a very different sensibility to anthology. Most of the conversation is devoted to the process of pulling together each year’s volume, and Bill goes into great detail in explaining both his and his guest editors’ roles. But they also discuss the specific contributions to the 2016 edition, the decision-making behind those selections, and the many discoveries Bill and Roz made along the way.


Comics Alternative, Episode 167: A Review of The Best American Comics 2015

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As has become an annual event, Andy and Derek use their penultimate show of the year to discuss the current volume of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s The Best American Comics. The series is overseen by Bill Kartalopoulos — whom the guys interviewed on the show last year — and this year’s collection is edited by novelist Jonathan Lethem. The entries collected in The Best American Comics 2015 represent what both Lethem and Kartalopoulos consider to be the most outstanding comics published between September 1, 2013, and August 31, 2014. The guys begin by highlighting the organization of this year’s volume, pointing out that Lethem has retained the topic- or theme-based approach used by Scott BAC2015-coverMcCloud in last year’s collection. The editor breaks down his entries into ten different chapter topics, ranging from the self-evident “Storytellers” and “Biopics and Historical Fictions” to more obscurely intriguing groupings such as “Brainworms” and “Raging Her-Moans.” The guys are familiar with most of the contributions included this year — to paraphrase Andy, The Best American Comics volumes just seem to reinforce their tastes in comics– and many of them have been the subject of previous Comics Alternative reviews and interviews. They comment on the sheer number of entries that are excerpts from longer works, including Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?, Jules Feiffer’s Kill My Mother, Farel Dalrymple’s The Wrenchies, Gabrielle Bell’s The Colombia Diaries, Sept 14-16, Cole Closser’s Little Tommy Lost, Matthew Thurber Infomaniacs, Anya Ulinich’s Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel, Jim Woodring’s Fran, Anya Davidson’s School Spirits, and Josh Bayer’s Theth. Most of these selections easily stand on their own, but some could have benefited from more content or additional editorial context (examples being the excerpts from Anders Nilsen’s Rage of Poseidon and Joe Sacco’s The Great War.) Some of the highlights in this year’s volume include works by creators that either Derek or Andy have never read before, such as Mat Brinkman and his darkly surreal Cretin Keep on Creep’n Creek, or Gina Wynbrandt and her hilariously self-deprecating Someone Please Have Sex with Me. This is another must-read book for the Two Guys, but their discussion isn’t without its disagreements. In good Siskel and Ebert fashion, the guys spar over the nature of the Best American Comics volumes and, specifically, over the curious “Notable Comics” list in the very back of the book. (This is a list of other significant comics published between September 1, 2013, and August 31, 2014, but not making it into the volume proper.) Derek mentions the almost complete absence in this listBAC2015-LethemIntro of any titles reflecting mainstream (in a broad sense, not just the Big Two) sensibilities — the one exception to this is Geoff Darrow’s Shaolin Cowboy from Dark Horse Comics — and scratches his head over these choices that come with no permission or copyright obstacles. And he argues that discussing a text by what it is not can actually give a firmer grasp of what it actually is. Andy, on the other hand, is completely OK with the totally subjective approach to anthologies such as this, and he questions Derek’s assumptions of the book’s readership. The guys also discuss the notion that, in many ways, these selections are also political choices, especially when published by a major trade house such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. But these are the kinds of debates that should sound familiar to Comics Alternative listeners, especially when it comes to matters of awards, essential readings, and “Best of” collections. The bottom line, though, is that both Andy and Derek agree that The Best American Comics 2015 is yet another important contribution to our ever-expanding understanding of the medium. “Best” or not, these comics are definitely well worth reading.



Deconstructing Comics #430: Bill Kartalopoulos & the Best American Comics

Best American ComicsHow does one (or two) go about selecting the best American comics from any 12-month period? Especially a challenge when many are by independent creators who aren’t used to submitting their work to publications like The Best American Comics. This week Tim talks with series editor Bill Kartalopoulos about the selection process, working with the 2014 guest editor Scott McCloud, the changing American perception of comics, and much more.

Why Comics Are More Important than Ever” by Bill Kartalopoulos (Huffington Post, 10/28/14)

Deconstructing Comics site

Comics Alternative Podcast Episode 66: A Review of The Best American Comics 2013

Best. Best! or Best?

best-american-comics-2013This week the Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics take their annual look at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s The Best American Comics collection (including material published between September 1, 2011 and August 31, 2012), this year edited by Jeff Smith. They begin by noting that this volume is significant for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that this is the last to be overseen by series editors Jessica Abel and Matt Madden. Andy and Derek marvel at the work the two have been doing since they began with the 2008 volume, and they wish Abel and Madden well in their future endeavors…and they look forward to seeing what the new series editor, Bill Kartalopoulos, will bring to the table.

The guys highlight what they consider to be their favorite contributions to the 2013 volume, specifically commenting on the sheer number of entries that originally appeared in Dark Horse Presents. They also discuss the need for a book such as this to introduce readers to new material, ConcreteParkthe pros and cons of excerpting from longer works — Derek noted the potential pitfalls of the practice, although Andy was more accepting — how the 2013 volume differs from  previous years’ collections, the kind of trends they see in this year’s volume, the fact that Evan Dorkin has two different kinds of contributions in the book, the growing representation of webcomics in these yearly volumes, and the dominance of comics anthologies in Smith’s collection as well as the relatively little attention this year given to serialized titles. (Were there just not that many “good” serialized comics between September 2011 and August 2012?) The Two Guys also get into a larger discussion of the very idea of publishing a “best of” anthology of this type. The “best” according to whom? Might there be certain biases involved? What’s the role of editorial predilection? Who is included as part of the “best,” who is excluded, and why? They don’t attempt to second guess this year’s volume editor, Jeff Smith, but they do think it’s important to keep these questions in mind. Well…Derek does. He had a problem with the “Best” part of the title and would feel more comfortable with a different name. Andy thought that Derek was being too critical in addressing the series name. Derek said that maybe Andy should change his name, as well.

But once again, the Two Guys with PhDs hearty recommendation the annual Best American Comics collection, marvel at the gargantuan task undertaken by the editor, and thoroughly enjoy the many contributions collected between the covers!


This week’s incidental music is brought to you by
the wonderful holiday obscura collected by Andy Cirzan!

Episode 66 Image