The Cohosts

Your Dynamic Cohosts of The Comics Alternative Podcast

Stergios Botzakis, or Sterg (rhymes with merge), is one of the Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics, one of the weekly review cohosts. He has read comic books for as long as he can remember. Sterg grew up in New Windsor, NY, and when he was a boy, he would haunt the pharmacy next door to his father’s pizzeria, especially on the day the news distributor dropped off magazines. He spent many years drawing comics to entertain himself and his classmates, most prominently the “Criminal Bill” series that no one except his high school friends read. Sterg became a middle school reading teacher after going to Boston University, and later earned his PhD from the University of Georgia, writing a dissertation about the literacy practices of adults who read comic books.

Today, Sterg is a professor of adolescent literacy in the Theory and Practice in Teacher Education Department at The University of Tennessee. He has published research about multiple facets of comics reading, such as how they connect to content area learning and reading comprehension, how comics readers practice literacy, and how some webcomics creators approach comics. He also maintains a blog, Graphic Novel Resources, where he regularly posts reviews. Sterg teaches classes on content area literacy, working with struggling adolescent readers, and theoretical models in education research. His research interests include secondary education, adolescent literacy, popular culture, and media literacy. And of course, he still loves comics. Check out his curriculum vitae for a more complete overview of Sterg’s work.

Derek Royal is the other Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics. He is a comics scholar and editor, and the founder and former executive editor of Philip Roth Studies. His books include Unfinalized Moments: Essays in the Development of Contemporary Jewish American Narrative (Purdue University Press), Visualizing Jewish Narrative: Jewish Comics and Graphic Novels (Bloomsbury Academic), and the upcoming The Hernandez Brothers: Conversations (University Press of Mississippi). His essays on comic studies, American literature, and film topics have appeared in a variety of journals and book collections. Derek grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he constantly visited 7-ll, Little General, local supermarkets, and other stores with spinner racks — Hey Kids, Comics! — to satisfy his hunger for comic books. His brush with “comics greatness” growing up came with a brief correspondence he once had with Charles Schulz, where he sent Schulz a drawing of a cartoon character he had created — Lummy the Dummy, a visual ripoff of Sad Sack — and Schulz kindly replied back that his efforts were worth pursuing. Although Derek never seriously developed his comic strip, he was nonetheless inspired by Schulz to become a comics fan into adulthood.

Although first enrolled in a multi-disciplinary studies graduate program at UNC-Greensboro, where the idea of pop cultural research appealed to him, Derek went on to receive his MA and PhD in English from Purdue University.  Since then, he has focused his teaching and writings on traditional literary works as well as comics studies. His scholarship on comics has primarily focused on Will Eisner, the Hernandez Brothers, comics and adaptation, and representations of ethnicity in American comics. A sampling of his publications can be found on his website. In recent years he has maintained two different blogs, The Gallery of the Absurd (a repository of weird ads, labels, and signs) and Words Generally Only Spoil Things (a reading review blog that has now been replaced by his writings for The Comics Alternative), neither of which has really rocked the world or undermined the foundations of entrenched power…although The Gallery of the Absurd did win a Webby Award, in the “Weird” category, in 1997. Along with colleague Andy Kunka, he founded The Comics Alternative in July 2012. Since then, he’s served as primary cohost and as producer of the podcast.


And Assisting Stergios and Derek on the Podcast are:

Shea Hennum doesn’t have a PhD (yet), but he is current enrolled at the undergraduate Literary Studies program at the University of Texas at Dallas. He’s been reading comics, in one form or another, for over a decade, and he spent several years working comic book retail.

Shea has published short fiction and poetry in over a dozen fanzines and digital magazines, and he currently serves as the lead writer about comics for This Is Infamous. His writing about comics and movies has also appeared at Paste, Loser-City, Bleeding Cool, and The Comics Alternative, and he’s contributed back matter to Shutter by Joe Keatinge and Leila Del Duca. He can be found at @sheahisself on Twitter and Tumblr.

Krystal Howard is an Assistant Professor in the Liberal Studies Program at California State University, Northridge, where she teaches children’s and adolescent literature, integrated teacher education, and comics. She is one of the cohosts, along with Gwen Tarbox, of The Comics Alternative‘s monthly Young Readers show. She holds a PhD in English Literature and an MFA in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University, as well as a BA in English Writing, Women’s Studies, and Religion from Drake University. Her research focuses on form and cultural studies in literature for young readers, and her areas of interests include children’s and young adult literature, comics and poetry for young readers, comics studies, multicultural children’s and young adult literature, and contemporary American poetry. Her scholarship has appeared or is forthcoming in Children’s Literature Association QuarterlyThe Lion and the UnicornGraphic Novels for Children and Young Adults, Critical Insights: Neil GaimanThe Artistry of Neil Gaiman: Finding Light in the Shadows, and Critical Insights: The American Comic Book. For more information, please visit

Gene Kannenberg, Jr. received a PhD from the University of Connecticut in 2002. His dissertation discusses the comics of Winsor McCay, Art Spiegelman, and Chris Ware. His Milwaukee childhood consisted in large measure of trips to comics spinner racks in places like the Rexall Pharmacy and Open Pantry market to pick up whatever (generally Marvel) comics he could afford each week — though the first comic book he ever owned wasn’t from Marvel.

Gene has given presentations about comics in Canada, Belgium, and across the USA. His writing about comic art has appeared in publications like The Comics JournalThe Chronicle of Higher Education, the International Journal of Comic ArtHogan’s Alley, and various academic essay collections. He helped establish and was the first moderator of the Comics Scholars Discussion List. Formerly the Chair of the International Comic Art Festival (now Forum), he maintains the website, the general book-review blog More-Than-One-Sentence-Reviews, and the self-explanatory Tumblr Reading, Drinking. And then there is Twitter. Gene’s book 500 Essential Graphic Novels was published by Collins Design in 2008.

Sean Kleefeld is one of the cohosts, along with Derek Royal, of The Comics Alternative”s monthly webcomics series. He has only managed to attain his Masters degree, but that’s largely due to the amount of time he’s spent writing about comics! He’s been reading them since before he can remember, and he started writing about them in 1988, when he had his first letter published in The Fantastic Four. His first professional writing gig wasn’t until 1996, though, when he started providing reviews for American Entertainment‘s online magazine.

His writing has since shown up on Comic Book ResourcesMTV GeekFreakSugar, and (which Sean operated for over a decade), and printed in Alter Ego, Back Issue, and The Critical Survey of Graphic Novels: Independents and Underground Classics. He’s also provided contributions to Athena Voltaire and the Volcano GoddessThe Lost Works of Will EisnerComics Creators on the Fantastic Four, and Superman in Myth & Folklore. Sean’s first book is entitled Comic Book Fanthropology, and he’s working on textbook examining all aspects of webcomics. He’s also been threatening to write a book on the Blackstone comics of the 1940s. He currently has an ongoing column for The Jack Kirby Collector and occasionally blogs at Kleefeld on Comics.

Michael Kobre is Dana Professor of Literature and Chair of the Department of English and Creative Writing at Queens University of Charlotte. His essays and stories have appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Tin House, TriQuarterly, West Branch, MAKE, and other journals.  He’s the author of Walker Percy’s Voices (University of Georgia Press)His writing has also been featured in the anthologies Reading the Boss: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Works of Bruce Springsteen, Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer at Fifty, and Superhero Bodies: Identity, Materiality, Transformation. Michael is one of the cohosts of The Comics Alternative‘s on-location series, recorded bi-monthly at Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find in Charlotte, NC. On the on-location shows, he covers the mainstream superhero beat, leaving much of the indie or alternative titles to Derek.

Gwen Athene Tarbox teaches children’s and YA literature, comics studies, and gender studies in the Department of English at Western Michigan University. She is one of the cohosts, along with Krystal Howard, of The Comics Alternative‘s monthly Young Readers series. In addition to writing on the relationship between children’s literature and children’s comics, Gwen is particularly interested in getting comics into K-12 classrooms, an initiative that she will be working on during an upcoming sabbatical. Gwen conducted her graduate work at the University of London, Queen Mary (MA, Modern Literature) and at Purdue University (MA, PhD, American Literature). She has published articles on children’s and YA comics in the Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, the Comics Forum, and in Joe Sutliff Sanders’ edited collection, The Comics of Hergé. In 2017, she co-edited, with Dr. Michelle Ann Abate, Graphic Novels for Children and Young Adults: A Critical Collection (University Press of Mississippi), and she has a monograph, Children’s and YA Comics, appearing in 2019 in the new comics studies series from Bloomsbury Academic. In her meagre spare time, she likes watching British and Canadian TV programs on Britbox and Acorn, and following all of the Detroit sportsing teams, as well as A.F.C. Bournemouth in the English Premier League (“Go Cherries!”).