With the Sundance Film Festival in full swing, the independent spirit is at the forefront of a lot of minds. More often than not, it’s hard to make it as an independent artist, be it as a filmmaker, writer or artist in any medium.
For lovers of comic books, there’s no reason to limit your reading to the fightsand-tights superhero books of the big two publishers; there’s so much more out there to check out in addition to current offerings. And if you don’t have any current comic books you’re getting, then more independent books might be more your speed (or gateway drug).
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with books coming from the big publishers. In fact, that’s probably most of what I read. But there is no shortage of books as good or better coming straight from the minds of indies.
Let’s talk first about the biggest of the indie publishers, Image Comics. Founded in the early 1990s by a group of artists and writers who wanted more control over the books and comics they were creating, the books are all creator-owned. The three at the top of my list from Image that you should check out are: Invincible, which is a superhero comic drawn by local artist Ryan Ottley and written by Robert Kirkman; The Walking Dead, which is the basis of the current AMC TV show; and The Savage Dragon, which is just a cool book.
Dark Horse Comics puts out one of my favorite creator-owned books, Stan Sakai’s bunny-eared samurai epic Usagi Yojimbo. If you have a crush on Akira Kurosawa movies, like I do, then this is the perfect book for you to read.
I’d also like to point out Scott Morse’s beautiful The Barefoot Serpent for Kurosawa fans. It re-creates moments from Kurosawa’s life that wrap around a very Kurosawa-like story.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point people in the direction of Doug TenNapel. He’s the mind behind the video game Earthworm Jim, and his books are equally odd and awesome.
Creature Tech would be as good a place to start as any. His latest is called Bad Island, which has been released to rave reviews.
Fans of noirish books absolutely have to check out Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales. Drawn by a former Disney artist, Juanjo Guarnido, it tells the tale of John Blacksad, an anthropomorphic cat who solves hard-boiled mysteries that hearken back to the noir films of the ’40s and ’50s.
Old standbys in the indie world include work by Craig Thompson. His book Blankets is a must-read for any fan of excellent sequential storytelling, and it might hit close to home for Utah residents who have had problems dealing with an oppressive, overly religious culture. It’s a semi-autobiographical tale where Thompson explores his first love and sibling rivalries. More than anything, it’s a touching, beautiful story well told.
You’ll be able to get these indie books from major publishers at any comic-book store in the country with relative ease. For more independent books, you’re going to need to take to the Internet for ordering, or go in and find out what your local shop has on the shelf.
I called up Dr. Volts Comic Connection and asked them what their recommendations would be for indie books. Their local expert, Jeremiah Lupo, offered some suggestions. “First would be Severed,” Lupo says, “written by Scott Snyder. It’s a horror tale set in the ’20s, and I would say it’s one of my favorite books right now. Next on my list would be Fatale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips; I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.”
When pressed for more impressive titles from local writers and artists, Lupo pointed me to a book I was quite familiar with: “As for our local shelf, Derek Hunter just put out a book collecting all of his mini-comics called Skidmarks.” Full disclosure: I wrote a couple of stories that Hunter illustrated in Skidmarks.
The indie spirit doesn’t stop with films. Whatever kind of comic book you’re looking for, chances are there’s an indie book to scratch your itch.
Bryan Young is editor-in-chief of BigShinyRobot.com.