Obviously, comics needn’t always be about superheros. Not even ninjas or pirates or robots. Comics are simply a medium and can contain as many diverse genres as prose novels or film. The simple juxtaposition of words and pictures can create works of high literary value, and has for decades.
I don’t have to explain that to you sophisticated readers, right? The whole ‘comics are for grownups’ conversation has been cliché for ages already.
Point being, I do read comics of a higher caliber. I enjoy comics written by authors of literary merit. Not only that, but sometimes I try to support comics that are not published by the big media comics (DC being owned by Warner Bro. and now Marvel owned by Disney), such as publishers Fantagraphics, Kitchen Sink Press, and Drawn & Quarterly. It’ good to support storytellers who have a more independent streak, as well as those fun boy’s adventure stories.
I like an auteur who both writes and draws, in cheap black & white, getting to the core essentials of humanity.
In no particular order, here are my favorite indie comics.
Will Eisner is a legend. Credited with popularizing the concept of graphic novels in the first place, one of his seminal works is the very deep A Contract With God.
Dealing with issues of Judaism and American identity and the (non) existence of God, this sort of book has nothing whatsoever to do with capes.
I also recently read Fagin the Jew, among others. There’s a consistent theme. Also, Eisner going back to his early 1940s days with the Spirit was very good at playing around with the panels of the page. A serious writer and artist all at once.
Nowadays, Dan Clowes is my kinda guy. One of the great alternative cartoonists of all time. His anthology series Eightball was weird and brilliant. The surreal Velvet Glove Cast in Iron. His latest book Wilson about a misanthrope’s misadventures.
Yet the best of the best is undoubtedly Ghost World, about two young women complaining and trying to figure themselves out. It was making fun of hipsters long before it was cool to make fun of hipsters. The film is a fine film as well, but if you’ve ever seen it please treat yourself to the original.
One running them of indie comics is that they are often autobiographical. Time and time again the format of the memoir has led to some great writing throughout the history of literature. In comics, this goes all the way back to the pseudo-pornographic comix of R. Crumb in the 60s.
Contemporarily, Blankets by Craig Thompson is a wondrous thing of beauty. About young love, a Christian boy losing his innocence in naive middle America, with powerful art. It hit me so hard the first time I read it in my early twenties, and I’ve gone back to it from time to time when in the mood for that soft melancholy feeling…
Craig Thomspson’s more recent middle-eastern epic Habibi is also quite worth the read.
Speaking of autobiography, Maus by the great Art Spiegelman. I don’t have to sell this one; he won the friggin’ Pulitzer Prize for this famed story utilizing the metaphor of Jews as mice and cats as Nazis. Yet, as much as it is a very important work about the Holocaust, I think it is almost overhyped on that aspect. At it’s core. Spiegelman speaks about his relationship with his father more than about war atrocities. Still, intense on all levels.
If i may be more irreverat for a moment, fuckin’ Sin City by badass writer-artist Frank Miller. I’ve already spoken of him in my 80s Marvel post for Daredevil, and my Batman post for The Dark Knight Returns. He may be insane now, but he used to be among the greats.
Sin City was published by Dark Horse Comics, which is a little mainstream in that they also had the rights for Star Wars comics and various other franchises, but Sin City was creator-owned from the beginning and Dark Horse is a solid company on respecting artist’s rights.
I loved these graphic novels in my teens, illicitly reading them in the bookstore and peeking at the nude parts. Like a rated X noir movie, it was unrelenting. Marv, Dwight, Hartigan, Nancy. A Dame to Kill For, the Big Fat Kill, the Hard Goodbye. Damn.
Guess what. I know they’re popular and sure he even codirected, but I don’t like movies at all. Sin City is best as a hardcore comic, nothin else.