Comics Alternative, Episode 239: Reviews of Herman by Trade, Rise of the Dungeon Master, and Eternal Empire #1

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Huzzah!

This week Andy and Derek look at three new titles, each one visiting the fantastic in one form or another. Before they jump into the reviews, however, they discuss some of the big comics news from the past week: the announcement of the 2017 Eisner Award nominations and Free Comic Book Day. The guys don’t go into too much detail about the Eisner nominees because they plan on devoting an upcoming episode to that topic. However, they do briefly mention the curious situation surrounding the nomination of the Love Is Love collection in the Best Anthology category. They have much more to say about last Saturday’s Free Comic Book Day. Both guys share some of their experiences at their local shops and the free comics they got there. Listen to the podcast’s FCBD episode for more details.

But then the Two Guys get into the heart of this week’s show. They begin with Chris W. Kim’s Herman by Trade, coming out this week from SelfMadeHero. Although on the surface this appears to be a more realistic narrative, its fantastic elements become apparent in the transformation of the title character who has the ability to change his appearance and mimic others’ abilities at will. As both Derek and Andy point out, this is an unusual story that sticks with you long after reading.

Next, they turn to a new graphic biography that is all about fantasy, Rise of the Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax and the Creation of D&D (Nation Books). The art is by Koren Shadmi, but the book is written by David Kushner, based on a profile he wrote for Wired magazine in 2008. What’s most notable about this brief biography is the narrative point of view, almost entirely presented in the second person. This is fully in keeping with the spirit of role-playing games, where in this case the the narrating presence is, in essence, your “dungeon master” guiding your awareness as you enter the creators’ biographical realm.

Finally, Andy and Derek conclude with the latest collaboration from Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn. Eternal Empire #1 (Image Comics) is a fantasy set in a distant world that, as Andy points out, is reminiscent of Game of Thrones. In fact, the guys spend a good bit of time speculating on the originality of this series, wondering if the unique elements will become more apparent in the issues to come. And while Andy isn’t sure if he’ll stick around to find out, Derek is going to give Eternal Empire a chance, especially given his appreciation of the Luna brothers’ previous comics, and especially Luna and Vaughn’s previous series Alex + Ada.

Comics Alternative Interviews: Koren Shadmi

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Getting Personal

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On this interview episode Derek has the pleasure of talking with Koren Shadmi. His latest book, Love Addict: Confessions of a Serial Dater was released last month from Top Shelf Productions. They begin the conversation by discussing the genesis of this semi-autobiographical project and Koren’s own experiences on singles dating websites. He describes the challenge of making his protagonist, K., both identifiable and problematic, all the while walking a fine line between authenticity and potential charges of misogyny. But they also discuss Koren’s other works, including his experimental story collection, In the Flesh, and his webcomic-turned-book, The Abaddon. Koren also discusses his latest webcomic on the Vice channel, Motherboard, and his plans for future projects. Derek also asks his guest about last year’s Mike’s Place: A True Story of Love, Blues, and Terror in Tel Aviv, his own Israeli roots, and his thoughts on being identified (and perhaps pigeonholed) as a Jewish or Israeli cartoonist.

Be sure to visit Koren’s website!

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Episode 139: Reviews of Mike’s Place, Nimona, and Optic Nerve #14

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Terror, Teens, and Tatsumi

This week on the podcast, Derek and Andy W. discuss three new and very different titles. They begin with a narrative based in reality, Mike’s Place: A True Story of Love, Blues, and Terror in Tel Aviv, written by Jack Baxter and Joshua Faudem, with art by Koren Shadmi (First Second). MikesPlaceThis is the story of an American who travels to Israel to make a documentary, teams up with an Israeli film student, and then learns firsthand both the promises and the dangers of the conflicted culture. Mike’s Place is beachfront bar in Tel Aviv where politics and religion are checked at the front door. It’s sacred text is written with music, drink, and multicultural camaraderie. But the filmmakers soon learn that safe havens, political and personal, can be a tenuous proposition. Andy and Derek highlight the authors’ evenhanded approach to their politically charged subject matter as well as their ability to make Mike’s Place a story of community, not a single-minded treatise. And after all of that reality, the Two Guys head in the opposite direction with fantasy. Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona (HarperCollins) is a story with supervillains, shapeshifters, and lots of cool scheming. This was a highly popular webcomic — in fact, it’s nominated in that category for this year’s Eisner Awards — thatNimonaInterior is now high-production trade paperback. Overall, both of the guys like the book, however, both of them also have problems with Stevenson’s narrative. Andy feels that the author changes the rules of her storytelling as the book progresses, giving it an uneven feel. And Derek has problems with the pacing and overall story coherency. There are some scenes that are much too decompressed, and at times the dialogue is bloated and meandering. In many ways, the guys see Nimona as illustrative example of how popular webcomics may not successfully translate into other narrative platforms. Stevenson’s style might have resonated with devoted web readers, eagerly awaiting each digital installment, but that kind of storytelling isn’t always as effective (or as convincing) when presented as a singular text. Standing in stark contrast is the final title that Derek and Andy discuss, Optic Nerve #14, by Adrian Tomine. As he reveals in the issue’s final self-depricating one-pager, Tomine has tried to resist the OpticNerve14instantaneous, immediately gratifying world of digital publication and social media. This latest issue of his signature series, published by Drawn and Quarterly since 1995, is divided into two main stories. “Killing and Dying” is a family drama surrounding a teenager’s desire to become a standup comedian, and “Intruders,” dedicated to Yoshihiro Tatsumi, is an unsettling story about a soldier between tours of duty trying to reacquaint himself with his former life. Each is a brilliant example of Tomine’s skills as a storyteller, his abilities to take common, everyday premises and invest in them profound themes. Issue #14 is reminiscent of the previous two issues of Optic Nerve — structured similarly, presented similarly, and packaged similarly — and all three will soon be collected together in Killing and Dying. Much like the guys felt about Seth and Palookaville last month, both Derek and Andy see Adrian Tomine as one of the most important comics artists working today, and his art is a careful, measured testament to medium’s potential.

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