10 Must Read Indie Comics!
Let’s be clear. When I say “Indie” I mean anything that isn’t DC or Marvel, and when I say “Comics,” I mean monthly comics, because as much as I adore graphic novels and trades, there’s still something old school and fantastic about picking up part of an ongoing story once a month and being forced to wait for the next delicious piece. Here are 10 indie comics that are getting it very very right.
The good news is, if you’re behind, or if you can’t find these gems at your local shops, all of them are available digitally. While I’ve been a slow starter on digital comics, I have to say, reading them on a device like an iPad is pretty fantastic. They’re a good size, the picture is perfect, and they are a hell of a lot easier to store (and re-read) than putting them in long boxes. When you add having access to them instantly and finding almost anything you want, it's pretty hard to resist the flexibility of digital. I'll never give up print (so long as it's an option) but I’m definitely a fan.
By Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, Saga is simply a brilliant book. One part space opera, one part comedy, Saga ticks all my personal boxes for what works best in a comic. It’s wildly creative with stunning art, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously and is incredibly relatable and easy to invest in. With some of the most innovative characters (and character designs) to come out of comics in a very long time, Saga pulls no punches and allows itself to wander around aimlessly in the grey area (my favorite place for stories to wander). Yet despite all this it has a ton of heart -- and you just know the characters you fall in love with are going to tragically end up on the opposite sides of things. I’m already worried.
You can read the first seven issues of Saga digitally now at Comixology. If you prefer print you can pick up the first trade, at the crazy low price of $9.99 for the first six issues – and then you can buy the beginning of the new arc – starting with issue #7, which released just this past week. In two shakes you can be entirely caught up with one of the best comic books I’ve ever read…what are you waiting for?!?
Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth’s Oni title Stumptown is finally back, following a hiatus after the release of their beautiful and impressive volume one (including a to die for hardcover edition), and it’s great to have it back. Currently on issue #3, the series delivers fabulous private investigator/detective fiction and a divine female lead named Dex from one of the best comics writers in the business - Greg Rucka. Matthew Southworth's visuals are a loose and expressive mix and though this volume looks a bit different than his work on volume one, he's a great artist for this series. Especially when it comes to the details of Portland, a surprisingly rare setting in comics that is a treat to see portrayed.
Both Stumptown Volume 1 and the first three issues of Volume 2 are all available on Comixology (although I do highly recommend the hardbacked edition of Volume 1, as it is truly stunning).
The great Terry Moore’s latest effort, Rachel Rising, skews far more horror than his previous well-known series (Strangers In Paradise and Echo). But not only has Moore turned out to be great with horror, all the usual things that you'd find in a Moore book are still here as well - beautifully drawn, expertly paced black and white artwork, complex characters that are both likable and terrifying, and complicated strong female leads everywhere you look. I've been a Moore fan for a long time, but Rachel Rising is perhaps my favorite of his books yet. Filled with twists and turns, one more horrible than the next, and a slowly unraveling mystery that has me anxious for each new issue.
Rachel Rising is available in its entirety on Comixology and is currently on issue #12. If you prefer print, the first six issues are available as a trade now from Amazon.
I have never read the Conan novels so I can’t speak to the accuracy of Brian Wood’s Conan The Barbarian as an adaptation, but I can speak to it as a fantastic and riveting comic book. Effortless to jump into for those unfamiliar with Conan (beyond the super fun 1980’s movies), I’ve also heard good things from those that are familiar with the original novels. Regardless, the writing is subtle and character driven, with a particularly wonderful focus on Conan and Belit’s relationship (amidst tons of violence and gore, ‘natch). The book has a rollicking and adventurous tone as it rockets from pirate ships and sharks, to epic battles and horses, and all with a strong love story at its heart. Add to that artists such as Becky Cloonan, James Harren, Declan Shalvey, and colorist Dave Stewart, and you can bet every issue looks stunningly beautiful.
Issue #10 released this past week, and you can buy all the issues digitally at Dark Horse Digital. You can even buy bundles for the first six issues - issues #1-3 for $4.99 and the same for issues #4-6. Quite a deal! If you prefer to wait for print, the first trade by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan, collecting issues #1 - 6 will be out in January 2013: Conan The Barbarian Volume 13: Queen of The Black Coast.
A zombie story that totally isn’t, Revival by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton is creepy and cool. In a world where the dead continue to walk, but don’t necessarily behave like zombies, our hero, small town cop Dana Cypress, is trying to deal with all the problems that arise when your dead loved ones come back to you. These revitalized dead, in addition to causing fear and a bit of chaos also raise political and religious questions that Seeley is already beginning to address. What do you do when you're dead but not dead and just want to go back to your life? What do you do when someone is dead but has tried to resume their life? The questions are fascinating, and just when you think there's not a new way to do "zombies" you get Revival! With strong art and writing, and a great traditional horror vibe this is yet another strong offering from Image among a lot of great titles.
You can read all four issues of Revival on Comixology, and at $1.99 they are well worth the price of admission.
Valiant relaunched in 2012 with a series of interesting new books that are callbacks to their 1990’s characters (and books). The star of this new line is Joshua Dysart’s Harbinger. High on action but never skimping on character development, Dysart and Khari Evans' Harbinger is a superhero book that isn’t. More concerned with telling a great story and exploring his characters than getting everyone in spandex right away, Dysart aims for the epic with his tale of Pete Stancheck, a teenager with the power to change the course of history. Perhaps most interesting is that Dysart has created, from issue #1 a very complicated moral grey area for the primary character, having him commit a terrible crime, and yet keeping in the lead and showing both the bad and good in him. It's potentially alienating for some readers, but it's also bold and provokes questions, which is the mark of any great comics. Filled with conspiracies, betrayals, and of course a slew of badass superpowers, Dysart has created a great "new" series worth following.
Brian Wood is known for his insightful political comics from Channel Zero and DMZ to his latest creator owned book, The Massive, from Dark Horse. A post-apocalyptic environmental piece, The Massive follows a handful of environmentalists that have essentially failed in their mission as the world has been driven to the brink (and beyond it). Filled with gorgeous art (including some appropriately massive set pieces), and wonderfully character driven, The Massive is Brian Wood doing what Brian Wood does best. I've often said that the thing I like most about Wood's work is his ability to merge the the epic and the intensely personal to perfect effect and The Massive is doing that in spades. Partnered with the exceptional Kristian Donaldson and Garry Brown on art duties and with colors by Dave Stewart there’s just nothing not to like here.
The Massive #6 released this week from Dark Horse and you can read the entire series thus far via Dark Horse Digital (and for only $1.99 a pop it's an incredible deal).
Kelly Sue DeConnick and Phil Noto’s new take on the character Ghost from the 1990’s just released its first promising issue this past month (though there is also a zero issue worth checking out). Full of humor and intrigue and with the effortless and perfect art of Phil Noto this series shows a ton of promise. With only one issue out, it's hard to say where it will go and what it will become, but there's enough to like in the first issue that it's worth jumping on board now. Phil Noto is doing some of his strongest work yet, which is saying a lot and DeConnick knows exactly what to give him so that he can bring his absolute best. The opening pages, a narration by the lead character that could have been a slow and expected start, is instead riveting and even gave me chills. If DeConnick can continue to deliver that level of writing and surprise even within ideas that have been mined before, we are indeed in for a treat.
Speaking of price point, Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover’s Bandette is a shockingly low 99 cents via Comixology, and the first two issues are nothing but adorable fun. With a light approach to superheroes (or perhaps anti-heroes), and Coover's sublime fluid cartoonish art, Bandette is a great escape from so many of the dark monthly superhero comics we see these days. Bandette, the local hero/anti-hero bounces around with the energy of a teenager (which she is) solving crimes and helping her community, all with the help of what she calls her "urchins" - a whole network of local street kids. The first two issues are extremely light, and it's clear the tone will remain that way, but there's a larger story looming as the villains in Bandette's universe decide to up the ante. On the whole Bandette is a delightful change of pace, for an insanely low price - hard to beat.
This is a bit of a cheat in two ways. One, it comes from Vertigo which is attached to DC, which is of course decidedly not indie, but I still think it counts as indie given how different Vertigo and DC's offerings are, and the marketing attention they get. The bigger cheat is that this mini-series just ended, but it’s good enough that I feel it deserves mention, even if you can no longer pick it up on a monthly basis. Created by Dan Abnett and I.N.J. Culbard, The New Deadwardians is the best twist on zombies and vampires I’ve seen (perhaps ever?). Drawn in a completely unexpected style and with brilliant world building, The New Deadwardians is a detective mystery wrapped up in a supernatural zombie/vampire tale wrapped up in historical fiction. While the ending didn’t deliver quite what I had hoped for, on the whole it was a wonderful read and one of the better comics mini-series I’ve read in the last few years.
All eight issues of The New Deadwardians are available on Comixology now, and if you prefer to wait for print and can’t find the single issues, the trade will be available in February.
Digital comics have simply made reading independent comics a whole lot easier. And with so much great stuff to choose from, there’s no excuse not to check out some great comics and support the indies. What did I miss? What monthly indie title are you reading that you just can’t get enough of?
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