Episode 174: Reviews of Beverly, Mirror #1, and Kennel Block Blues #1

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It’s Wednesday, which means that the Doctoral Duo return to share their recommendations of recent releases! And this week, Gwen and Derek focus on three exciting, yet quite diverse, new titles. They begin with Nick Dranso’s Beverly (Drawn & Quarterly), a series of six stories set in a Midwest suburban landscape, where individuals grapple with friendships, alienation, and the uncertainties of growing up. Gwen notes the dark poignancy of these narratives, character studies that often make the reader uncomfortable and made all the more effective through Dranso’s clean lines and simple illustrative style. What struck Derek was the book’s construction. This isn’t a “traditional” collection of separate stories — something like you would find, for example, in Eleanor Davis’s How to Be Happy or Adrian Tomine’s Killing and Dying — but a text more akin to a short-story cycle, a collection of discrete stories, each of which could stand on its own, but all interconnected in such a way that a fuller meaning is generated by their textual proximity. Derek’s term for this hybrid form within comics is “graphic cycle,” and a classic example of this would be Will Eisner’s A Contract with God. All of the narratives in Beverly connect in some way, and over time, through a few key characters. This debut graphic novel from Dranso is this week’s highlight for both Gwen and Derek. Next, they check out the first issue KennelBlockBlues-Interiorof Emma Rios and Hwei Lim’s Mirror #1 (Image Comics). This story is part of the 8House universe, and the two begin with a brief discussion of that context. Both enjoyed this first issue — especially Lim’s elaborate design and watercolor art, which is truly stunning — but found the setup a little confusing, at times. As Derek points out, this first issue lacks the amount of exposition necessary to fully grasp what is going on, although it’s assumed that many of these narrative questions will be answered in the issues to follow. While both cohosts appreciate Mirror, they feel that those prone to trade waiting might want to wait until the complete arc is collected. Finally, Gwen and Derek wrap up with a look at Ryan Ferrier and Daniel Bayliss’s Kennel Block Blues #1 (BOOM! Studios), the first of a four-issue limited series. This is a wild anthropomorphic tale about a kennel as prison, and about a protagonist unable to deal with reality on the inside. Oliver is not sure why he is sent to the Jackson State Kennel, and in times of uncertainty he retreats into a happy place, a technicolor fantasy world of dancing figures and catchy tunes reminiscent of the old Merrie Melodies or Fleischer brothers cartoons. As with Mirror, the art stands out in Kennel Block Blues, with Bayliss adeptly handling the transition between the dark kennel and Oliver’s song-happy fantasy world. But Ferrier’s writing in this first issue is equally impressive, providing just enough setup to satisfy, yet leaving the reader with eager expectations for the next installment.

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The Comics Alternative is a podcast and blog focused on the world of alternative, independent, and primarily non-superhero comics.

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