Deconstructing Comics #068: “Black Hole”: That OTHER time we discussed it

Black Hole

FLASHBACK! Recently our podcast covered Charles Burns’ Black Hole for the second time. So what did the first time sound like? Here it is, featuring Tim and Brandon. In the style of the early episodes, we spend part of the show analyzing Burns’ book through the lens of Scott McCloud’s Making Comics, chapter three: The Power of Words.

Originally published March 26, 2007

Deconstructing Comics site

Comics Alternative Interviews: Scott McCloud

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Understanding Scott


Andy and Derek are pleased to have as their guest on The Comics Alternative the artist who has done more than anyone to help us understand comics, Scott McCloud. He has just concluded an exhausting world tour — traveling all over the United States and Europe, and then wrapping up at this year’s TCAF — and the Two Guys were able to catch him during a breather and talk with him about his latest book, The Sculptor (First Second). They begin by asking him about the reception of his new graphic novel and the kind of reader reaction he Sculptorhad experienced on the road. Scott shares some of the commentary he received, such as finding the book a quick read as well as questions regarding the story’s ending. In fact, the guys spend a bit of time discussing the concluding section of the book — without really spoiling anything — and ask Scott about his thoughts on structuring his narrative. He reveals that The Sculptor was a long time in coming and that he’s been thinking of the ending almost from the beginning, over five years ago. This leads Derek and Andy to observe that this is a meticulously crafted book, one that demands multiple readings in order to see the various clues and allusions that are buried throughout the text, linking the end to the beginning and revealing a solid narrative cohesion.  The guys also ask Scott to speculate on his current statue as one of comics’ preeminent spokespersons. They wonder if his celebrity as “the guy who wrote Understanding Comics” has been eclipsing his reception as a fiction writer. That then becomes a springboard into a fruitful conversation about Scott’s career as struggling young fan-turned-artist, the creation of Zot!, the critical reaction to his expository trilogy — Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics, and Making Comics — his prescient advocacy for webcomics, his brief stint on Superman, the writing of The Sculptor, and his current project concerning visual communication. They even discuss Scott’s recent work as editor on last year’s Best American Comics, and how in many ways it brought him back into an awareness of current comics. Toward the end of the conversation, Scott shares his experiences as a teacher, and he even gives Andy and Derek useful strategies for using comics in the classroom. (Hint: The guys are going to fish out their copies of Shaun Tan’s The Arrival.) All in all, this was an incredible interview. Derek and Andy had really wanted to have Scott on the show around the pub date of The Sculptor, but this later post-publication conversation turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Not only are they are able to talk with Scott McCloud about his latest project, but they also get all of the detail surrounding his world tour, his thoughts on the critical response to his book, and how his recent post-publication activities have impacted an already impressive career. This is an interview you cannot miss!


SPECIAL NOTE: After the guys finished recording the interview, they talked with Scott briefly about the other kinds of media outlets vying for his attention. And he mentioned in the course of his response that he wanted to make sure to get on The Comics Alternative as he felt it is one of the most important North American comics-related podcasts. Scott McCloud called The Comics Alternative one of the best podcasts out there! Apparently, he’s of the same mind as Whitney Matheson who recently listed The Comics Alternative as one of her top comics podcast today.

Be sure to check out Scott McCloud’s website.



#445 Secrets of “The Sculptor”


By now you’ve no doubt read or listened to several reviews of Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor — and perhaps you’ve read the book itself. Mainstream-media and average-Amazon-user reviews have been adulatory; reviews in the comics media have ranged from a hesitant thumbs-up to vitriol-fests. But, it seems to us, all of those reviewers are missing some things — both about the book’s intended message and how that message looks in light of McCloud’s own purpose in making the book.

Should comics people be concerned about the impression this book from the lionized McCloud might make on new comics readers? Is it a book about “living in the now”? Does it really read like a book for teens? Tim discusses these questions and more with Loyola Marymount University Associate Professor Juan Mah y Busch.

Deconstructing Comics site

Episode 126: Reviews of The Sculptor, Divinity #1, and Descender #1

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Chipping Away

The Two Guys with PhDs are back with another review episode, and on this one they explore three fascinating titles. They begin by discussing the much-anticipated recent release from Scott McCloud, The Sculptor (First Second). In fact, Derek and Andy begin their conversation with the very fact that this was a much-anticipated, Sculptorand heavily reviewed, new book, and how all of that attention may be affecting the book’s reception. They speculate on the ways in which the artist’s prestige and reputation feeds into the expectations. Although McCloud has created memorable narratives — e.g., the Zot! series and The New Adventures of Abraham Lincoln — this is an author most famously known for Understanding Comics and the expository/instructional books that followed, Reinventing Comics and Making Comics. The guys question if the author can ever get beyond his reputation as primarily a theoretician of the medium, and if he can ever gain renewed recognition as a creator of innovative narrative forms. And both Derek and Andy feel mixed over the prognosis. Yet despite all of the extra-textual commentary, Divinitythe Two Guys spend most of their conversation in a close reading of the text. Much of their talk centers on the book’s protagonist, David Smith, and the author’s possible attitude toward his creation. Does McCloud want us to see Smith as a heroic (possibly romantic?) figure, or are we expected to read the sculptor more critically and as a flawed artist? This is a question that remains unanswered, and perhaps it speaks to McCloud’s talents that the Two Guys cannot put a finger on an exact character assessment. They also discuss The Sculptor as not only as a creative treatise on art and its place in our culture, but also, and perhaps more specifically, as a commentary on the comics industry today. Theirs is not a gushing, unequivocal endorsement of the new graphic novel — there are already plenty of those out there — but Andy and Derek do see this as a serious new work and give it the full Comics Alternative treatment…spending a little over an hour discussing the text! Next, the guys look at two new number one issues from some of their favorite creators. Matt Kindt and Trevor Hairsine’s Divinity #1 (Valiant) is a beautifully rendered science fiction narrative that apparently rests just on the periphery of the Valiant University. This is the first of a four-part series, Descenderand Hairsine’s cinematic style is the perfect platform for Kindt’s complex storytelling. Both Derek and Andy love Matt Kindt as a writer/artist, but this time around they get their fix through his scripting only. They experience the same with Descender #1 (Image), written by Jeff Lemire and with art by Dustin Nguyen. Most times they discuss Lemire’s work — and the Two Guys have done this often — they do so by looking at him as a sole creator, but his new series with Nguyen demonstrates without a doubt Lemire’s developed writing chops. The first issue accomplishes what it sets out to do, establishing a premise and tone that will both frame and propel the first story arc. This is definitely not a title that encourages trade waiting. Indeed, with both Descender and Divinity, you’ll want to get every issue as soon as they come out.

Also, be sure to check out the Paste review of The Sculptor written by friend-of-the-podcast, Shea Hennum!


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 Episode 115: A Review of The Best American Comics 2014

More Better Best

BAC2014On this episode of the podcast, the Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics review The Best American Comics 2014, the latest installment in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s ambitious anthology series. This follows a previous review show published earlier in the week where the guys spoke with Bill Kartalopoulos, the new editor of the series. But whereas during the interview Derek and Andy learned about the process and backstory to the Best American Comics series, in this episode they plunge into the specifics of this year’s volume and give their own takes on the comics included. BAC2014-SharpThey begin with a larger discussion on the concept of “best American comics,” the kind of audiences the annual collections appeal to, and the efforts of the editors in pulling together a select or representative anthology. Here, the guys return to issues they had previously highlighted in their review of The Best American Comics 2013: the predilections and experiences of guest editors, the challenges of being inclusive, as well as the viability of a “best of” anthology. This time around Andy and Derek bandy about definitions of “mainstream” and speculate on the book’s intended audience. Although both feel that this is an intelligent and eclectic collection of comics (first appearing between September 1, 2012, and August 30, 2013), Derek feels that the book might appeal more to academics and the New Yorker crowd than it does to general comic shop-visiting readers. (Returning, once again, to a topic that the guys have discussed many times previously, the unintended bifurcation of comics readership.) Furthermore, he wonders what a volume guest edited by someone enmeshed in mainstream comics – and not just superhero comics – might look like…if that is indeed a BAC2014-Sagadirection that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt would sanction. Andy reminds Derek how inclusive this year’s volume is, and that depending on your definition of “mainstream,” McCloud’s includes several comics you could certainly define as “popular.”

But despite these dialectics, both guys agree that this is one of the strongest collections in the series’ run and that the way that McCloud has organized his presentation is compelling. In this year’s volume you have selections from the grand figures of contemporary comics (e.g., R. Crumb, the Hernandez brothers, Charles Burns, Ben Katchor, and Adrian Tomine), all-age and young-adult comics, excerpts from memoir and autobiographical comics, historical works, experimenters of narrative form, abstract and avant-garde BAC2014-Onsmithcomics, and almost as a centerpiece, a selection from what McCloud christens “the book of the year,” Chris Ware’s Building Stories. Webcomics are given their fair share of attention in this volume, and the guys understand McCloud’s decision to highlight and list URLs instead of attempting to reproduce comics from another platform (although they’re not as excited by the one webcomic that does find its way into the collection, an excerpt from Allie Brosh’s “Depression Part Two”). All in all, the guys have a great time discussing the many selections in The Best American Comics 2014, and in doing so, they get all revved up for their own “best of” exercise which they will present in next week’s podcast episode.

This episode’s music comes to us through more
holiday obscura uncovered by Andy Cirzan!
Episode 115 Image

Comics Alternative Interviews: Bill Kartalopoulos

Setting Up the Best

BKOn this episode of The Comics Alternative Interviews, and in anticipation of their review show later this week, Andy and Derek are pleased to talk with the new editor of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Best American Comics series, Bill Kartalopoulos. They congratulate him on the publication of the first volume under his stewardship, guest edited by Scott McCloud, and then ask him a variety of behind-the-scenes questions. For example, Bill discusses the laborious process that goes into screening and choosing which comics to pass onto the guest editor, the challenges he and McCloud faced in compiling their selections, the unexpected finds and discoveries he makes when interacting with the comics community, the logistics of incorporating comics that appear in unconventional — including non-print — BAC2014formats, and his attempts at balancing a “best of” volume that represents the contemporary comics scene. The guys also ask him about the process behind choosing each year’s guest editor, how this volume is different from those under his immediate predecessors (Jessica Abel and Matt Madden), and if he thinks this year’s selections adequately do justice to the comics-publishing mainstream. The conversation is engaging, and Bill gives Derek and Andy much to think about, and a variety of talking points, as they prepare for their own discussion of The Best American Comics 2014 later in the week. And who knows…perhaps talking with the BAC series editor will be a yearly event for the Two Guys.

Be sure to check out Bill Kartalopoulos’s website!

This episode’s incidental music is brought to you by
T-Bone Burnett’s The True False Identity
Interview Image - Kartalopoulos

Deconstructing Comics #105: Comics & Movies: What Scott McCloud won’t tell you!

FLASHBACK! While we take a week off, enjoy this vintage episode from December 10, 2007!

How comics & movies have influenced each other: what Scott McCloud won’t tell you! Also, digital inking, The Spirit, and All Star Superman! Mulele, Patrick G., Tim, and Tim’s brother Paul discuss.