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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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!

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

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