I want to start out first and foremost by stating that I am NOT by any means a “comic snob.” I do indeed still love my Marvel and DC comics and if you try taking them away from me, I will scratch and hiss. After all, those are the books I grew up reading and those characters will remain near and dear to my dark heart until the day I shuffle off this floating mud ball. With that said, after being fiercely loyal to the mainstream superhero genre for years and years, my eyes finally began to wander one day. They began to peek over to the independent area of my local comic book store. The part where all the cool kids with backpacks and hair swooshed over to one side of their face always stand around.
I started to grow a bit tired of the capes and cod pieces and was ready to try something new and different. I waited for all the patchouli smelling kids to disperse and I quickly snapped up half a dozen books I’ve never read before. After reading them my mind and soul were doing loop de loops of excitement. I had no idea comics could take me to the places I had just been after reading those books. Now many years later I’m still reading my mainstream books as well as independently published comic books. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. In fact reading the two have just made me appreciate what the other offers that much more.
I feel everyone that reads comics should read some independent comics, alternative or underground comics as they’re sometimes called. Let’s start off with what exactly is an independent, alternative, or underground comic and then I’ll tell you a few things that have been said to me about them and the reasons why those people are wrong and why I love them. An independently published comic book just means it’s published by a smaller publisher other than Marvel or DC comics for example and usually has a smaller print run. These books are often creator owned and sometimes deal with subjects that are off the beaten path so to speak. The stories and art are also sometimes edgier and more abstract. Sometimes, not always. These books come straight from the hearts and minds of these creators. Since artists and writers are the principle architects of these works, their ongoing story arcs are often more cohesive. As opposed to major publishers that are switching creative teams every arc (4 to 6 issues) or “relaunch” their titles every couple of years. This joint effort also makes for some really passionate story telling. The masterminds behind these books have a sincere love for these characters and it shines through in the pages.
I’ve had it said to me that it’s not wise to monetarily invest in independent comics since they’re not going to be worth as much as Marvel or DC books in the future. That is simply not true! Many independent comics have often been made into major motion pictures and well received television series. Consequently making the value of these books skyrocket. Like I mentioned before, these comics usually have smaller print runs so there’s less of them out in the world making them even more sought after by collectors. Have you looked at how much Mirage Studios’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 is worth lately? Don’t because it’ll just make you cry.
Quite often your favorite mainstream superhero artist and writer have their own creator owned book series going on at a smaller publisher. This means that while many fantastic funny book fabricators are working for a major publisher to pay the bills, they have their own books which they came up with over at another publisher. Because again, smaller publishers have smaller print runs and can afford to take more chances on new and original books. For example, one of my favorite writers for Marvel Comics, Cullen Bunn, is currently penning X-Men: Blue as well as his phenomenal creator owned series called Harrow County for Dark Horse Comics.
Because these publishers can afford to take more chances on a wide range of books, you often get comics that are all over the genre map and some even take that map and line their bird cages with it. There are a lot of phenomenal writers and artists out there making comic books. These people often come up with stories and characters that defy any kind of pigeonholing. Because of this, they have taken comic books which were once considered a throwaway art form or a “just for kids” medium into a formidable creative outlet that has begun to turn heads and drop jaws time and time again. An example of this is Aftershock Comics series Rough Riders. It’s part historical fiction, science fiction, part steam punk, a dash of fantasy, and it’s all wrapped up in a big red bow of fantastic.
I’ve heard people comment: “Why should I care about new weird characters, I just want my X-Men and Justice League!” Not all comics published by smaller publishers are “creator owned.” Chances are some of your favorite characters from TV, movies, video games and even animation have their own series out there. For example IDW Publishing has ongoing X-Files, Transformers, Star Trek, and GI Joe series. Dynamite Entertainment publishes the ongoing series for John Wick, Battlestar Galactica and my favorite James Bond 007. Much to the contrary of popular belief, these publishers put good creative teams behind these books, they don’t just let them sell themselves based on the titles or blow all their funds on the licensing fees to use these names and characters. I personally read GI Joe, Transformers, and James Bond books monthly and enjoy them quite a bit.
But, if you still love your superheroes but just want a small break from the Batmans and Spidermans that are being rammed down your throat everywhere you turn, then I offer you Valiant Comics. Valiant has some of the coolest superheroes around. Check out some of my favorites that I also pick up monthly: Ninjak, Bloodshot, The Eternal Warrior and X-O Manowar. If you’re a fan of characters like Batman, The Punisher or Iron Man you’ll love these guys!
A lot of times a smaller publisher will start out a series by giving the creators a limited series first, just to see how well it’s received by both critics and the public. Based on that, publishers will then grant the series ongoing status or not. This means there are new stories being launched all of the time. So for those of you that are always moaning about jumping into an ongoing series smack dab in the middle and fear being lost, this is a good opportunity to hop on as the train is leaving the station. For example, Vault Comics just released a wonderful new series called Alien Bounty Hunter. It’s created by Stephen Levinson, producer of Ballers and Boardwalk Empire.
It is OK to judge a book by its cover in the world of comics! Unlike widely distributed novels where the publisher slaps on a book cover, usually without the consent of the author, comic book publishers and creators often put a great deal into the covers of their books. They realize that more often than not, this will be your first introduction to their stories and characters. For example, I love old noir detective movies. I love the look, the tone, everything. Late last year I saw a book sitting on the shelf of my local comic book store titled Angel City #1 published by Oni Press. It instantly spoke to me, called to me by name in fact. I bought it, it was marvelous, and it became one of my favorite books I read all year!
Comic books and graphic novels have become an essential, respectable, and highly influential art form in contemporary society. I strongly feel that independent publishers have played a major role in this. They’ve given artists and writers the creative freedom that has allowed the expansion of what this story telling art form is capable of. Consequently this has commanded the attention of a much wider audience. So whether it’s Horror, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Biography, Fantasy, or anything in between, there is something for everyone at your local comic book store. You just have to let your eyes wander.
For more comic book coverage check out Dynamite Comics – Intertwined Review and Review: Red Sonja, Worlds Away: Vol. 1 (Dynamite Entertainment)