Your Dynamic Hosts of The Comics Alternative Podcast
Andy Kunka is Professor of English at the University of South Carolina Sumter, where he teaches courses in literature, film, and comics. Growing up first in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and later Colfax, North Dakota, Andy became immersed in comics from an early age. His first published work was a letter that appeared in Justice League of America 214 (May 1983), in which he complained that the annual JLA/JSA team-ups were using the same Justice Society members repeatedly. He then had about half a dozen other letters published in comics over the next year or so.
Though he received his PhD from Purdue University with a dissertation on First World War British Literature, he has since focused his scholarly work on comics. He believes that his 14-year-old self would high-five him so hard for figuring out a way to have a job where he gets to write about and talk about comics all of the time.
Derek Royal is a comics scholar and a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas in their School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication. His writings 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, which is where he met Andy. Since then, he has focused his teaching and scholarship on traditional literary works as well as comics studies. 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repository of weird ads, labels, and signs) and Words Generally Only Spoil Things (a reading review blog that has now been replaced by his writings for The Comics Alternative), neither of which has really rocked the world or undermined the foundations of entrenched power.
And Assisting Andy and Derek on the Podcast are:
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 Journal, The Chronicle of Higher Education, the International Journal of Comic Art, Hogan’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 ComicsResearch.org, 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.
Andy Wolverton is a librarian at the Severna Park Community Library, part of the Anne Arundel County Public Library system based in Annapolis, Maryland. Although he taught band for 15 years and received a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in conducting from The University of Southern Mississippi, most of his musical attention these days is focused on singing and playing guitar during library storytime programs.
A comics fan since childhood, Andy spends much time teaching parents that comics and graphic novels are not only fun for kids (and adults), but can also play an important part in helping turn reluctant readers into lifelong readers. You can visit his blog Journeys in Darkness and Light.
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.
Sean Kleefeld has only managed to attain his Master of Arts 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 Resources, MTV Geek, and FFPlaza.com (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 Fantastic Four Masterworks Vol. 10, Comics Creators on the Fantastic Four, and The Amazing Transforming Superhero. Sean’s first book is entitled Comic Book Fanthropology, and he’s working on another focused on the Blackstone comics of the 1940s. He currently has ongoing columns for The Jack Kirby Collector and FreakSugar, and blogs daily at Kleefeld on Comics.
So What Do These Guys Know about Comics?
They know things about comic stuff. For informal discussions and analysis of comics and graphic novels, you can check out Andy, Derek, and Gene’s personal blogs:
Andy’s blog on comics, film, and other pop culture topics. He covers the spectrum. Andy hasn’t updated the site in a while, but there you’ll find some really cool insights.
Derek’s reading blog where he used to write about the various things he’s reading. (It’s now replaced by his reviews on The Comics Alternative blog.) There you’ll find commentary on the various novels and histories he’s reading, but mostly you’ll find entries on comics.
Gene’s primary blog, and ComicsResearch.org‘s chattier sibling, featuring calls for papers and other research opportunities, his own essays and publication announcements, site updates, and other comics-related items. Also, check out his comics reviews at More-Than-One-Sentence Reviews.
Andy W.’s blog of general comics discussion and reviews of the kind of books he reads and recommends. It’s an extension of the insights and suggestions he gives at the library.
Sean’s daily blog devoted to all manner of comics culture, from reviews of current titles, to retrospectives, to insightful critical essays, to analyses of the business side of the industry.
Oh Really? Well, What Kind of Professional Credentials Do These Guys Have?
Andy, Derek, and Gene have devoted much of their scholarly energies toward comic studies. In addition to the various reviews and commentary they write for The Comics Alternative blog, each has contributed to book collections and published essays in peer-reviewed journals. At times they have even worked together on several projects, including a couple of upcoming books. Here’s a sampling of their published work in comics studies:
Essays on The Black Condor, Hellblazer, Gil Kane, Richie Rich, and Marv Wolfman. Encyclopedia of Comic Books and Graphic Novels. Ed. M. Keith Booker. Greenwood Press. 2010. 59-60, 277-79, 342-43, 510-11, 701-2.
Review of Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature, by Charles Hatfield. MELUS 32.3 (2007): 304-7.
Review of The Jewish Graphic Novel: Critical Approaches, ed. by Samantha Baskin and Ranen Omer Sherman; Yiddishkeit: The Jewish Vernacular and the New Land, ed. by Harvey Pekar and Paul Buhle; Jewish Images in Comics: A Visual History, by Frederick Strömberg; and Superman Is Jewish?: How Comic Book Superheroes Came to Serve Truth, Justice, and the Jewish-American Way, by Harry Brod. MELUS 38.4 (2013): 247-52.
“Drawing Attention: Comics as a Means of Approaching U.S. Cultural Diversity.”Teaching Comics and Graphic Narratives: Essays on Theory, Strategy and Practice. Ed. Lan Dong. McFarland Publishing, 2012. 67-79.
“Strategies of Narration in Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Spider-Man: Blue.” Web-Spinning Heroics: Critical Essays on the History and Meaning of Spider-Man. Ed. Robert Moses Peaslee and Robert G. Weiner. McFarland Publishing. 2012. 81-89.
Essays on the Hernandez Brothers’ Love and Rockets and Will Eisner’s Dropsie Avenue in Critical Survey of Graphic Novels: Heroes and Superheroes. Ed. Bart Beaty and Stephen Weiner. Salem Press. 2012. 212-15, 517-24.
“Picturing American Stories: An Interview with Ben Katchor.” Unfinalized Moments: Essays in the Development of Contemporary Jewish American Narrative. Purdue University Press, 2012. 223-43.
Superheroes and Gender. Spec. issue of Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics 2.1 (2011). Guest editor, along with Peter Coogan and Mel Gibson. Devoted to superheroes and gender.
Graphic Engagement: The Politics of Comics and Animation. Spec. issue of Forum for World Literature Studies 3.1 (2011). Guest editor, along with S.C. Gooch and Juan Meneses. Devoted to international politics in comics and animation.
Jewish Comics. Spec. issue of Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 29.2 (2011). Guest editor. Devoted to Jewish comics and graphic novels.
Review essay on 500 Essential Graphic Novels: The Ultimate Guide, by Gene Kannenberg, Jr.; and The Rough Guide to Graphic Novels, by Danny Fingeroth; The 101 Best Graphic Novels, by Stephen Weiner; and Graphic Novels: Everything You Need to Know, by Paul Gravett. International Journal of Comic Art 12.1 (2010): 483-492.
“Sequential Poe-try: Recent Graphic Narrative Adaptations of Poe.” Poe Studies/Dark Romanticism 39-40 (2007-2008): 55-67.
Coloring America: Multi-Ethnic Engagements with Graphic Narrative. Spec. issue of MELUS 32.3 (2007). Guest editor. Devoted to multi-ethnic American graphic narrative.
“Palomar and Beyond: An Interview with Gilbert Hernandez.” MELUS 32.3 (2007): 221-46.
Review of The Art of Ditko, ed. Craig Yoe. Ulysses “Seen” blog, March 7, 2010.
Erotic Comics 2: A Graphic History from the Liberated ’70s to the Internet. By Tim Pilcher with Gene Kannenberg, Jr. Introduction by Alan Moore. New York: Abrams, 2009.
500 Essential Graphic Novels: The Ultimate Guide. NY: Collins Design, 2008. also East Sussex: ILEX, 2008.
“The Not-So-Untold Story of the Great Comic-Book Scare.” Review-essay on The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, by David Hajdu. The Chronicle Review, The Chronicle of Higher Education 54.37 (2008): B19.
Erotic Comics: A Graphic History from Tijuana Bibles to Zap Comix. By Tim Pilcher with Gene Kannenberg, Jr. Introduction by Aline Kominsky Crumb. New York: Abrams, 2008.
“A Conversation with Art Spiegelman.” Art Spiegelman: Conversations. Joseph Witek, ed. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2007. 238-262.
“Oh No, Not Again!: He’s Not Like the Other Kids.” Little Sammy Sneeze: The Complete Color Sunday Comics 1904-1905. Winsor McCay. Ed. Peter Maresca. Sunday Press, 2007. n.p.
Exhibit review: “Disney Planet Amusement Facility, the dwarf planet formerly known as Pluto, Sol system.” Interplanetary Journal of Comic Art: A Festschrift in Honor of John Lent 1.1 (2007): 84-85.
“Chips Off the Ol’ Blockhead: Evidence of Influence in Peanuts Parody.” Studies in American Humor New Series 3.14 (2006): 91-103.
[Tribute to Will Eisner.] Comic Book Artist 2.6 (2005): 151. Also, contributing editor to the issue.
“Life in Shanty Town” and “The Problem with Mars.” Little Nemo in Slumberland: So Many Splendid Sundays! Winsor McCay. Ed. Peter Maresca. Sunday Press Books, 2005. n.p.
Entries on “Comic Books” and “Tintin/Hergé” for Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood: In History and Society. Macmillan Reference USA, October 2003.
“Read All (or Some) About It.” Review of X-Tra 3.3. Comics Journal 242 (April 2002): 68-69.
“What Lies Beneath?” Review of David Boring, byDaniel Clowes. ebr: electronic book review 12 (2002).
“The Comics of Chris Ware: Text, Image, and Visual Narrative Strategies.” The Language of Comics: Word and Image, ed. Robin Varnum and Christina Gibbons. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2002. 174-97. Reprinted in A Comics Studies Reader, ed. Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2009. 306-324.
“Graphic Text, Graphic Context: Interpreting Custom Fonts and Hands in Contemporary Comics.” Illuminating Letters: Typography and Literary Interpretation, ed. Paul Gutjahr and Megan Benton. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001. 163-92.
“Virtuoso Cartooning.” Historic Virtuoso Cartoonists, ed. Lucy Shelton Caswell. Catalog of the 2001 Festival of Cartoon Art, August 26 through September 30, 2001. Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library, 2001. pp. 31, 33.
“‘I Looked Just Like Rudolph Valentino’: Identity and Authority in Maus.” The Graphic Novel. [Proceedings of the Second International Conference on the Graphic Novel, KU Leuven, Belgium, May 2000.] Symbolae Facultatis Litterarum Lovaniensis – Series D – Volume 13. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2001. 79-89.
Review of Comic Book Culture: Fanboys and True Believers, by Mathew J. Pustz. Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing News 10.2 (2001): 13-14.
“The Ad that Made an Icon Out of Mac.” Hogan’s Alley 7 (2000): 80-87.
“Western Twist.” Review of Red Range, Joe R. Lansdale, Sam Glanzman, and Douglas Potter. Comics Journal 217 (1999): 31.
“Proving ‘Silas’ an Artist: Winsor McCay’s Formal Experiments in Comics and Animation.” International Journal of Comic Art 1.1 (1999): 57-75.
Reviews for The Comics Journal‘s “Top 100 (English Language) Comics of the Century,” Comics Journal 210 (1999). “No. 66: Zippy, 1970-present, Bill Griffith,” 53; “No. 36: Calvin & Hobbes, 1985-1996, Bill Watterson,” 68; and “No. 4: Maus, 1986, 1991, Art Spiegelman,” 100-101.
“‘One-of-a-Kind’: The Ohio State University Festival of Cartoon Art: October 9-10, 1998. A Personal View by Gene Kannenberg, Jr.” Comics Journal 209 (1998): 9-14.
“Veni, Vidi, BD: A First-Time Review of Angoulême, 1998.” Comics Journal 202 (1998): 24-26.
“In Good Company.” Review of Castle Waiting: The Curse of Brambly Hedge and Castle Waiting 1-3, by Linda Medley. Comics Journal 201 (1998): 43-44.
“Read This Comic: RAW 2.3.” Comics Journal 200 (1997): 37.
“Looking at the Dots.” Review of Zippy’s House of Fun, by Bill Griffith. Comics Journal 194 (1997).
Review of Deceased Corpse, by Ed Brubaker, et al. Comics Journal 189 (1996): 118.
“Self-Indulgence.” (Contributor to collection of critical essays on the “State of the Comics Artform and Industry, 1996.”) Comics Journal 188 (1996): 104.
“One Insider’s Story.” Review of The Golden Age of Comic Fandom, by Bill Schelly. Comics Journal 184 (1996): 57-59.
“Dark Knights Sheds Little Light.” Review of Dark Knights: The New Comics in Context, by Greg S. McCue with Clive Bloom. Comics Journal183 (1996): 44-45.
“Devil Dinosaur #1.” Comic Effect 8 (1994): 15-18.
“How I Was Bitten by the Radioactive Comics Bug: Amazing Spider-Man #160.” Comic Effect 3 (1993): 8-12.
Comic Book Fanthropology. 2nd ed. Hamilton, OH: Eight Twenty Press, 2011.