Comics Alternative, Manga: Reviews of Dead Dead Demon’s De De De De Destruction, Vol. 1, The Troublemakers, and Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku, Vol. 1

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Fully Loaded

On the last episode in The Comics Alternative‘s monthly manga series — a show that was supposed to be the May episode, but was actually a late April show — Shea and Derek promised that they would provide an additional manga episode at the very end of May, and that that show would be the real May show. As reality unfolded, the two guys had problems in coordinating their schedules and being available at the same time. And as a result, you get this episode. But it’s an extra-long episode, one that includes discussions of not two but three recent manga releases.

They begin with the first volume in a the latest series from one of their favorites, Inio Asano. Dead Dead Demon’s De De De De Destruction (VIZ Media) is an unusual work that, in many ways, reminds the guys of Goodnight Punpun they reviewed in March 2016, a title that they especially loved. And they appreciate this new work at least as much. This new book begins as a realistic narrative of Tokyo schoolgirls and their everyday interactions at school. Soon, though, the reader discover that this is not a normal environment, but one where the city is, literally, living under the shadow of a giant mysterious spaceship that visited them three years previously.

Next they turn to a notable new release from Retrofit/Big Planet Comics, Baron Yoshimoto’s The Troublemakers. Translated and edited by Ryan Holmberg, this is a collection of six short works of gekiga that vary in narrative approach, theme, and (to a lesser degree) style. All of these pieces were originally released between 1966 and 1974, and in a variety of publications. The volume ends with a magnificent essay, providing history and context, by the book’s editor. This book marks the first translation of Yoshimoto’s into English.

The guys conclude with a completely different kind of book, Fujita’s Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku, Vol. 1 (Kodansha Comics). The title is a series of episodes — think of a sitcom — of a small group of young workers, all of whom are otaku (those with obsessive interests in very specific, especially fan-based, media and culture) and interact in everyday scenarios, at work and otherwise. The guys aren’t near as enthusiastic about this work as they are with the others reviewed in this episode. However, Derek is more open to Wotakoi than Shea. In fact, Shea even wonders if the emphases in this series may not even be counterproductive, if not harmful, to consumer health.

Comics Alternative Interviews: Another Conversation with Karl Stevens

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:23 – Introduction
  • 00:02:22 – Setup of interview
  • 00:03:31 – Interview with Karl Stevens
  • 01:03:39 – Wrap up
  • 01:04:05 – Contact us

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A Pope Cat and A Floating Gandhi Head

Derek first talked to Karl Stevens in February of last year, and during that discussion he had mentioned that he was working on a new project for Retrofit/Big Planet called The Winner, and now we have the book out, being released on May 23. The two discuss Karl’s new work, its very autobiographical quality — no masking any identities here — and it’s curious structure and fantastical interludes. But they also talk about Karls others works, as well, including the Xeric Award-winning Guilty (2004), his series of books that followed, all published by Alternative Comics — Whatever (2008), The Lodger (2010), and Failure (2013)– as well as his Penny strips that ran in the Village Voice between November 2016 and March 2017. Karl is wonderful guy to interview, as you’ll hear from the conversation.

Comics Alternative Kickstarter: Retrofit Comics 2018

 

One of Our Favorites

Lately on The Comics Alternative‘s Kickstarter series, Derek has been focusing more on small presses that are currently crowdfunding their seasonal releases. (See previous shows devoted to Kilgore Books and Nix Comics.) And this weekend’s show is similar, highlighting the latest Kickstarter campaign from Retrofit Comics. On this episode, Derek talks with Jared Smith about efforts for funding their diverse array of 2018 titles.

This current Kickstarter campaign revolves around the 12 books they plan on releasing this year. Backers of this project can look forward to:

  • All the Sad Songs – Summer Pierre
  • Fashion Forecasts – Yumi Sakugawa
  • I Love You – Sara Lautman
  • John, Dear – Laura Lannes
  • Our Wretched Town Hall – Eric Kostiuk Williams
  • The Prince – Liam Cobb
  • Survive 300 Million 1 – Pat Aulisio
  • Survive 300 Million 2: Serpentine Captives – Pat Aulisio
  • The Troublemakers – Baron Yoshimoto
  • TRUMPTRUMP vol. 2: Modern Day Presidential – Warren Craghead III
  • Understanding – Becca Tobin
  • The Winner – Karl Stevens

In their conversation, Derek talks with Jared about some of the history of Retrofit Comics and its relationship with Big Planet Comics — in both its publishing and brick-and-mortar manifestations —  their more recent efforts in manga, and, of course, the impressive roster of this year’s creators. As listeners of The Comics Alternative know, Retrofit/Big Planet is one of the Two Guys’ absolute favorite publishers…small press or otherwise. If you don’t already know about this publisher, then shame on you! All the more reason to back this campaign and get the 2018 releases from Retrofit Comics!

Sample Covers

 

 

Comics Alternative, Manga: Reviews of Iceland and Fukushima Devil Fish

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:26 – Introduction
  • 00:02:29 – More listener mail!
  • 00:06:57 – Iceland
  • 00:30:51 – Fukushima Devil Fish
  • 01:04:49 – Wrap up
  • 01:06:13 – Contact us

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Difference

On the March manga episode, Shea and Derek discuss a couple of experimental works. They begin with Yuichi Yokoyama’s Iceland, released last fall from Retrofit Comics/Big Planet Comics. The plot of this book is minimal — two characters are searching for a third, they find him, and then they drive off in a taxi — and it’s something like you might find in Samuel Beckett narrative. But it’s Yokoyama’s art that propels the text. As the guys discuss, there is something kinetic, claustrophobic, and even frantic about the visuals. For Derek, futurism comes to mind.

After that they look at a book that both Shea and Derek have been eagerly anticipating, Susumu Katsumata’s Fukushima Devil Fish (Breakdown Press). The core text comprises nine short stories that provide a diversity of tone. The first two are the most contemporary, originally published during the 1980s and focusing on the dangers of nuclear power. The remaining pieces reflect Katsumata’s style from the late 1960s into the early 1970s, stories originally appearing in the legendary Garo and COM. Some of these are folklore-inspired narratives, presenting a pre-modern Japan inhabited by kappa and tanuki and reminiscent of the stories found in Red Snow. Others are instances of “I-manga,” introspective and highly personal pieces driven more by tone than cohesive storyline. Four critical and biographical essays, two written by Katsumata himself, round out the collection.

 

Comics Alternative Interviews: Back with Box Brown

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:43 – Introduction
  • 00:03:01 – Setup of interview
  • 00:05:06 – Interview with Box Brown
  • 01:05:35 – Wrap up
  • 01:06:48 – Contact us

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Thank You Very Much

Box Brown returns to The Comics Alternative, this time discussing his new book Is This Guy for Real?: The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman, just out this week from First Second. Similar to his previous Andre the Giant, this is a graphic biography of a colorful celebrity with a complicated life story…and involving wrestling. Box talks with Derek about his ideas for beginning this project, his appreciation of stand-up comedy, the challenges he faced in constructing Kaufman’s story, and how his emphases are notably different from those of Miloš Forman’s 1999 biopic Man on the Moon. And since both Box and Derek are big Andy Kaufman fans, there’s a lot of nerding out and reminiscing over the comedian’s many TV appearances, many of which can be found on YouTube. So put on your wrestling tights, slip into that sequin high-collar Elvis jacket, and get ready to engage with this friendly, friendly world.

Comics Alternative, Episode 244: Reviews of Nothing Lasts Forever, What Is a Glacier?,and Revenger and the Fog

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Time Codes:

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Killer Butts

This week the Two Guys with PhDs review three recent releases, two of which are autobiographical in nature. They begin with Sina Grace’s Nothing Lasts Forever (Image Comics). This follows a couple of other autobiographical works from Grace including Not My Bag (2012) and Self-Obsessed (2015), but this latest work has a looser feel to it. Written in diary form when the author was suffering from a rare esophageal condition, the book reveals Grace’s struggles with his health, his romantic/sexual relationships, and his art. Indeed, as both Andy and Derek point out, it’s his emphasis on the latter, along with the pencil art, that makes this such an intimate text.

Next, the guys turn to What Is a Glacier?, a short autobiographical piece from Sophie Yanow (Retrofit Comics/Big Planet Comics). In this work, the author uses a trip to Iceland, and a visitation to a glacier, to explore the nature of life changes, feelings of uncertainty, and grief over loss. In terms of the latter, Yanow deftly associates the end of a relationship with our treatment of the environment, contextualizing climate change in dire, yet not completely hopeless, terms.

After that Derek and Andy look at a completely different kind of comic. Charles Forsman’s Revenger and the Fog (Bergen Street Press) is the follow-up (and prequel) to his first Revenger volume, Children of the Damned. Originally appearing as four-issue miniseries, and including a one-shot, Revenger and the Fog is a 1970s-/1980s-inspired action narrative of a vigilante, Reggie (AKA, Revenger), enacting retribution against the victimized. In this case, the victims are other members of her team, The Fog, specifically her lover Jenny (AKA, Dynarat). There’s a lot of extreme violence in this story, along with a premise that is sure to gross you out. But as the guys point out, Forsman’s over-the-top handling of his subject matter adds a touch of humor that helps to mitigate the discomfort.

Comics Alternative Interviews: Karl Stevens

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Diluted Horse Piss

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:24 – Introduction
  • 00:02:26 – Setup of interview
  • 00:04:01 – Interview with Karl Stevens
  • 01:26:32 – Wrap up
  • 01:28:02 – Contact us

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On this interview episode, Derek talks with Karl Steven about Penny, his current weekly/semiweekly strip appearing in The Village Voice. The two discuss this ongoing comic and its genesis, but they also talk about a variety of Karl’s other works. Of particular focus are the series of strips he created for the Boston Phoenix between June 2005 and November 2012. The earliest ones are collected in Whatever (Alternative Comics), and the later comics in two follow-up compilations, The Lodger (KSA Publishing) and Failure (Alternative Comics). In this way, Derek is able to talk with Karl about his distinctive realistic style and  how he has evolved from a heavily reliance on crosshatching to a more simple, even softer approach. Along with this, Karl shares is aesthetic philosophy of naturalistic detail and  how it differs strongly from that of creators such as Scott McCloud, Jessica Abel, and Matt Madden.

The guys also talk about Karl’s first book, the Xeric Award-winning Guilty. This effort is what put Karl Stevens on the map in 2005, and even today it serves as a wonderful introduction to his style. They also cover the artist’s efforts in the fine arts, including his highly informative Anatomy for Artists: A New Approach to Discovering, Learning and Remembering the Body (North Light Books), coauthored with Anthony Apesos. Karl also shares some information about The Winner, his new book that will be coming out this fall from Retrofit Comics/Big Planet Comics, and future plans to collect his and Gustavo Turner’s Succe$$ comics into book form.

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Comics Alternative, Episode 224: Reviews of Beowulf, Canopy, and Shadows on the Grave #1 and #2

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Hwæt!

Time Codes:

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For this week’s episode, Andy and Derek put on their English professor hats, and with a vengeance, when taking on the latest comics version of Beowulf (Image Comics), adapted by Santiago García and David Rubín. While this is not, by far, the only comics adaptation of this classic Old English poem, the guys feel that it’s one of the best they’ve seen. Indeed, Rubín’s artwork is particularly suited to the violent action and Beowulf’s heroic exploits. And the ending of this text, which takes a significant self-reflective turn, goes on to underscore the guys’ appreciation of this adaptation.

Next, the Two Guys look at one of the latest releases from Retrofit Comics/Big Planet Comics, Karine Bernadou’s Canopy. Neither Derek nor Andy were familiar with Bernadou’s work before this book, but they find this a fascinating introduction to the French illustrator. Canopy is an almost completely wordless tale surrounding a young woman trying to make it on her own. But she does so in a surreal wilderness infused with male-centered threats.

For their final title of the week, the guys discuss an author who’s not gotten enough attention on the podcast…at least from Derek’s perspective. The first two issues of Richard Corben’s Shadows on the Grave (Dark Horse Comics) are now out, and the guys take on this anthology-like miniseries. These brief stories have a Night Gallery feel, but with an amped up creepy factor. This is all due to the wonderfully disturbing art of Corben, who opts for a black, white, and gray tone rendering, a change from his other recent Dark Horse work.

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Comics Alternative Interviews: Luke Howard

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Mother

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:24 – Introduction
  • 00:02:08 – Setup of interview
  • 00:03:43 – Interview with Luke Howard
  • 01:04:41 – Wrap up
  • 01:06:33 – Contact us

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On this interview episode, Derek has the pleasure of talking with Luke Howard. His new book, Our Mother, was recently released from Retrofit/Big Planet Comics, but he also had another work published earlier this year from AdHouse, Talk Dirty to Me. Derek talks with Luke about both of those titles as well as his comics collected in anthologies such as IreneDog City, and Maple Key Comics. Over the coarse of their conversation, Luke shares the personal history that went into Our Mother, his experiences in self-publishing, and the ways in which his training as a filmmaker informs his visual storytelling.

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Comics Alternative Interviews: Box Brown

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Players

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Time Codes:

  • 00:24 – Introduction
  • 02:14 – Setup of interview
  • 02:57 – Interview with Box Brown
  • 53:28 – Wrap up
  • 54:53 – Contact us

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On this episode of the interview series Derek talks with Box Brown, whose new book Tetris: The Games People Play has just been released from First Second. As the two discuss, this is a detailed history of the famous video game and the cultural, business, and political contexts swirling around the program’s creation. Box shares his experiences and fascination with the game, explaining the genesis of the project and the research that went into it. Whereas his previous First Second book, Andrea the Giant, focused on one figure, the new work synthesizes the lives of everyone involved in the creation of Tetris including its designer Alexy Pajitnov as well as the many key players at Nintendo, Mirrorsoft, Andromeda Software, Atari, Bulletproof Software, and Elorg, the government bureau tasked with overseeing the profits and negotiations surrounding any computer products coming out of the Soviet Union. But Box also focuses on the psychology of gaming and role it plays in our lives, using Tetris as his illustrative example.

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Comics Alternative, Episode 207: Reviews of The Lost Work of Will Eisner, Libby’s Dad, and Blubber #3

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“It is a liquidy issue”

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Time Codes:

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This week on The Comics Alternative, Andy and Derek discuss three new titles that are quite different in tone. They begin with The Lost Work of Will Eisner, a collection of Eisner’s earliest known professional comics. This began as a Kickstarter campaign last year from Locust Moon Press, and just last week the book went on sale to the general public. The collection is made up of two serial strips, the pantomime gag comic Uncle Otto and the espionage adventure Harry Karry. While they do talk about the former, it’s Harry Karry that interests the guys more. They spend a lot of time discussing some of the problems of that action-packed strip — e.g., its racist caricatures and its abrupt shift in narrative direction and art style — and how it can be read as a testing ground for what Eisner would later do in The Spirit.

Next, the Two Guys turn their attention to Eleanor Davis’s Libby’s Dad. This is one of the latest books from Retrofit Comics/Big Planet Comics, a publisher that has become a favorite of the show. This is a straightforward and deceptively simple short story about a young girls’ pool party and sleepover. The power behind this tale is Davis’s ability to focalize the action through her teenage female narrator and to do so in a detached and non-judgmental manner.

Finally, Derek and Andy discuss a much less innocent text. Gilbert Hernandez’s Blubber #3 (Fantagraphics) is, in many ways, more explicit and more potentially offensive than the previous issue, which the guys discussed back in April. And back then they thought that issue #2 was “worse” than the first. So what is it about Hernandez’s obscene free-for-all that keeps drawing the guys’ attention? Perhaps they are just on board for everything Hernandez does. Perhaps they see Beto as a happy First Amendment rebel. Perhaps they are mesmerized by Hernandez’s attempts to out-Crumb Robert Crumb. Or perhaps Andy and Derek are just two warped sickos who get their jollies talking about offensive comics for the podcast. You decide.

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Comics Alternative Interviews: Leela Corman

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Trauma, Bellydancing, and Eurovision

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:25 – Introduction
  • 00:02:07 – Setup of interview
  • 00:03:01 – Interview with Leela Corman
  • 01:06:25 – Wrap up
  • 01:07:25 – Contact us

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On this interview show, Andy and Derek have the pleasure of talking with Leela Corman. Her latest book, We All Wish for Deadly Force, was just recently released by Retrofit/Big Planet Comics, and it’s a collection of shorter comics spanning a wide range of topic and tone. These pieces have previously appeared in such publications as The NibTabletWomen’s Review of Books, and Nautilus, and the guys begin by asking Leela about her work with these magazines. As both Derek and Andy point out, the comics in this collection fall into one of three main (and, at times, interconnected) categories: stories addressing the loss of her first daughter, Rosalie; those focusing on Leela’s family and her Jewish roots; and tales involving bellydancing, one of Leela’s passions. Indeed, the loss of Rosalie arguably pervades this entire collection in some form or another — see the guys’ earlier interview with Leela’s husband Tom Hart for more on this topic — and the guys talk with Leela about the role that art can play in dealing with trauma. But there are also lighter moments in this collection, such as the occasional comedy found in Leela’s Jewishness as well as her exercise in live drawing the Eurovision song contest. The guys also take the opportunity to talk with their guest about her earlier works, such as Unterzakhn and Queen’s Day, and her upcoming fictional narrative set in the 1940s.

Learn more about Leela at her website!

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Episode 191: Reviews of Dark Night: A True Batman Story, Midnight of the Soul #1, and The Experts

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Space Nazi Celebration

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Buckle up, because Andy and Derek are back behind the wheel. On this week’s trip, they’re taking you down a road that includes three very different titles. They begin with Paul Dini and Eduardo Risso’s Dark Night: A True Batman Story (Vertigo Comics)…and yes, you did read correctly, the guys are discussing a book with “Batman” in its title. But while the Caped Crusader is a prominent part of the story, this isn’t a standard superhero narrative, but an autobiographical account of a traumatic event in Dini’s life. The guys discuss the manner of Dini’s narration, especially as it’s represented by Risso’s art. In fact, it’s the latter that consumes much of the conversation, as they highlight Risso’s diversity of style to reflect shifts in the storytelling.

Next they look at the first in a five-issue limited series from Howard Chaykin, Midnight of the Soul (Image Comics). This is a story that Chaykin has been wanting to tell for some time, and the guys are happy to see it MidnightOfTheSoul-interiorfinally coming to fruition. It’s the tale of Joel, a wannabe writer who is emotionally scarred from the fighting in Germany during the closing days of World War II. In this first issue, Joel discovers that his wife is living a double life, and both Derek and Andy comment on the signature Chaykin elements in the story, including someone getting shot in the head in the middle of a blowjob. But there’s more than just sex and violence in this comic. As the guys reveal, they’re impressed by the tightly woven elements within the premise, the visual patterns and rhythms that Chaykin establishes at the outset, and in anticipation (they hope) of big narrative payoff.

Finally, the Two Guys wrap up with a recent publication from Retrofit/Big Planet Comics, Sophie Franz’s The Experts. This is a short one-shot that blends horror with the fantastic. In the story, a group of individuals, the experts, are studying a mysterious group of aquatic humanoids while their experiences doing so are slowly pulling them apart. This is the first time either Derek or Andy have encountered Franz’s art, but they like what they see and call it one of the most notable titles they’ve read this year. But then again, this is the kind of comic they have come to expect from Retrofit/Big Planet.

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Comics Alternative Episode 143: A Publisher Spotlight on Retrofit Comics/Big Planet Comics

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Fearless Symmetry

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The Two Guys are back for yet another publisher spotlight, and this time they are looking at the 2015 releases from Retrofit Comics / Big Planet Comics. The episode begins with a brief interview with Box  Brown, the founder and editor of Retrofit Comics. He discusses the origins of Retrofit as a Kickstarter campaign, his education as a publisher, the ensuing partnership with Big Planet Comics, and the philosophy behind and publishing trajectory of their efforts. After that, the guys discuss the 2015 releases (so far) from Retrofit / Big Planet, beginning with Kate Leth’s Ink for Beginners: A Comic Guide to Getting Tattooed. Andy points out that Leth’s work is one of a growing number of informational or expository comics to be found out there, and that tattoo parlors around the country would do well to stock this small book. Next, the guys turn to Box Brown’s An Entity Observes All Things, a collection RetrofitHeadof nine short stories, all with a sci-fi or futuristic themes of some sort. Some of their favorites include “Mundo Jelly,” “Voyage of the Golden Retriever,” “Memorexia,” and the title story. Then they look at perhaps the most experimental, and the smallest, book of the lot, Niv Bavarsky’s Piggy, a disparate series of stories and drawings in mini-comic form. The unconventional nature of Piggy is then contrasted to the more genre-based comics of the week, Laura Knetzger’s Sea Urchin and Jack Teagle’s The Unmentionables. The former is an autobiographical account of the author’s inabilities concentrate and relate to others — represented effectively by a sea urchin inside her brain — as well as a speculation on her place in the world. The Unmentionables is a fun, action-packed story of a group of pro wrestlers who become crimefighters, and its origin-story feel promises more installments to come. Finally, the Two Guys turn to what may be the two most ambitious narratives of the week…or so Derek feels. Olivier Schrauwen’s Mowgli’s Mirror is a wordless, almost treasury-sized comic about a young man in a jungle — no overt links to Kipling’s stories — searching for companionship and finding unexpected encounters. As the title suggests, there are parts of the narrative that are symmetrical in nature, but in this aspect the book doesn’tBigPlanetHead hold a candle to the final book discussed in this publisher spotlight, Matt Madden’s Drawn Onward. As we have come to expect from Madden — see, for example, 99 Ways to Tell a Story and A Fine Mess — this book is an experiment in form, where the second half of the narrative mirrors the first half…or vice versa. Depending on how you read it, it’s a story of either connectedness or alienation. Either way, it’s a self-reflexive tale where the narrator uses her art to make sense, and perhaps even transform the meaning, of experiences that unsettle her. In wrapping up the episode, Andy and Derek also talk briefly about some of the other books that Retrofit / Big Planet have been putting out over the last couple of years. (Box Brown and Jared Smith, the head honchos of the two respective presses, sent the guys a large package containing their back catalog.) Among the earlier titles they mention are James Kochalka’s Fungus: The Unbearable Rot of Being, Sam Alden’s Wicked Chicken Queen, Anne Emond’s Debbie’s Inferno, Josh Bayer’s Theth, and issues #1 and #2 of Box Brown’s Numbers. If you didn’t know anything about Retrofit Comics / Big Planet Comics before, then there is no excuse not to be turned on to their stuff after this episode. Go get it!

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A big THANK YOU to Box Brown and Jared Smith for their abundant generosity.
And be sure to check out the websites of both Retrofit Comics and Big Planet Comics for a full range of their publications!
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