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REVIEW: TCJ Talkies and Comic Book Decalogue

Although some listeners may be put off by their coverage of relatively obscure cartoonists and comics, The Comics Journal podcasts TCJ Talkies and Comic Book Decalogue provide a great look into the American indie comics scene of recent years.

TCJ Talkies
Mike Dawson, host
The Comics Journal, 2011-2016
episodes at

Comic Book Decalogue  Greg Hunter, host
The Comics Journal, 2015-present
episodes at

If you know The Comics Journal, you are probably aware of its reputation as an insular and snobbish publication, whether or not you hold that opinion. To the extent that it's accurate, relatively little of that tone finds its way into the conversations making up these podcasts. Instead, listeners are treated to revealing and insightful conversation among practicing cartoonists, comics journalists, and more.

Through its archive, Talkies host Mike Dawson uses two formats for his episodes, the first being an unstructured conversation with a guest. Dawson is himself a practicing cartoonist, as well as a warm and self-deprecating presence on the microphone, so these episodes feel something like old friends catching up with each other. And though the conversations are friendly, they don't skip out on difficult topics like relationships, sex, religion, and so on, as some of these play a role in the comics of most guests, who include Craig Thompson, Lisa Hanawalt, Julia Wertz, and Jason Lutes among many others.

The other episode format is basically a book club, where Dawson and one or two other cartoonists (and sometimes famed comics librarian Caitlin McGurk!) talk about comics that none of them created. These episodes are still friendly-but-deep conversations among professional peers, but shifting the topic to an external work makes for added dimension to the discussions at hand, as well as providing an especially interesting new perspective when the listener has already read the work at hand. Of the episodes I've listened to so far, I particularly enjoyed Isaac Cates on Asterios Polyp, and Caitlin McGurk and John Porcellino on I Never Liked You and Summer of Love. Dawson's conversations in both formats are somewhat prone to insider topics -- first names of publishers, technical cartooning terms, etc. -- but they are uncommon enough that missing a reference won't be too big an interruption for listeners.

Comic Book Decalogue, in contrast, is highly structured. In each episode, host Greg Hunter asks more-or-less the same ten questions, using this reliable framework to build an image of  his guests' ideas and working lives, and ultimately a deeper understanding of indie comics as a whole. It is naturally a stilted way to interact with a creator, and some questions are less suited to interesting responses, but Hunter clearly gets more comfortable with the interactions through time: his latest interview (as of this writing) has 10-15 minutes of engaging conversation with cartoonist Emil Ferris before getting to his prepared questions. The guests of this podcast are even farther from the mainstream than those of Talkies -- Ferris is among his better-known -- but that's a further illustration of the vibrancy of indie comics, and listeners could find much worse ways to create a reading list of its current landscape.

Any downsides to these podcasts won't be surprising: minimal mainstream coverage, few children's and teen's titles, few international creators, and almost universally white guests, though they are surprisingly good on gender balance if not 50/50, etc. But the quality of their work demonstrates the need to expand into these areas, perhaps excluding mainstream comics, rather than a reason not to listen. All varieties of comics librarian would benefit from listening to at least some of these conversations, whether to deepen their understanding of a familiar title or creator, or to expose themselves to something new. It doesn't quite work as a collection development tool because of the number of out-of-print, hard to find, and nontraditionally distributed (at least by librarian collection development conventions) titles, but it might serve well as a list of cartoonists to watch for in the future. Its greatest direct application is probably for programming, both as a model of how to discuss comics in a book club or booktalk scenario, and for selecting guest authors and getting comfortable with the kinds of conversations you might have with them. While not for everyone, these podcasts are definitely recommended listening.

Top image © The Comics Journal