Comics go Indie

Goodreads Shelf: Indie

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Same Bat-Time! Same Bat-Blog!

Previously: Superman!

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Daaa-daaaaa-DA-DAAAA! Daaaa-daaa-daa-daaaaa-daaaaaaaa….

Finally, everyone’s favorite superhero. Though I was never the greatest Batman fan in the world, what with all those more interesting escapist science fiction characters out there, I have read a lot of Batman over the years and it would behoove me to not elaborate.

He is central to the DC Universe, the resident hypercompetent genius who always has a plan to save the day. It’s not really ironic anymore that he’s beats everyone else with super powers, we get it already, and Batman is super smart and super cool. He does, obviously, have the best villains in all comics.

Bob Kane created Batman in 1939, though really Bill Foster contributed much of the mythos, and he was quite dark at first. Soon however, came the whimsical wiles of the Golden Age to the Silver Age and he got pretty ridiculous. He’s bounced around from camp to serious over the years, with various incarnations acted by Adam West and directed by Tim Burton.

My favorite incarnation ever is still the brilliant Animated Series, produced by Bruce Tim and Paul Dini and expertly voiced by Kevin Conroy. Mr. Conroy remains the absolute best Batman actor of all time, and I’ll fight anyone who says different.

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Back in the world of comics, Batman had a resurgence in the 1970s as writer Dennis O’Neil and and classic artist Neal Adams took Batman to his darker roots. They also had a James Bond sort of vibe, has he traveled the world fighting Ra’s al Ghul.

It wasn’t until 1986 when Frank Miller — of pre-Sin City fame — came along that things went real ‘grim n gritty’ dark. The Dark Knight Returns, still considered one of the greatest graphic novels ever, was about a futuristic Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement and fighting a corrupt Gotham City. Then he fought a corrupt United States government, as Superman was an asshole stooge of Ronald Reagan. It almost comes across as satire today (indeed, Miller’s later work cannot be taken seriously at all) but it was just so amazing and has aged wonderfully. Reread it today, I dare ya, it’s epic.

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Frank Miller returned for a reboot after the Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1987, with Batman: Year One. Miller only wrote, and David Mazzucchelli drew. It was a fine story, a bit short for my tastes without a proper ending. Yet, modern Batman wouldn’t be Batman without that tale.

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1988 the mainstay Batman titles were still normal superhero comics, but they needed more tension. DC decided to hold a vote to kill the unpopular second Robin, Jason Todd. The original Dick Grayson had become Nightwing over in New Teen Titans. It was a gimmick that added real tragedy to the DC Universe, as the Joker beat him to death and Batman could forever remain guilty. Joker being a middle-eastern official with diplomatic immunity at the time, a surprising twist. Yet, it wasn’t the grim gritty kind of thing, as the story was firmly set in the science fictional universe with Superman coming to help. Death in the Family, written by Jim Starlin.

Don’t worry, Robin II came back to life eventually.

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The followup crossover with New Teen Titans was also firmly set in the greater DC Universe, and then introduced the third Robin Tim Drake. More on Batman’s various partners shortly.

There were many a-Batman crossover throughout theyears. Like Marvel’s X-Men, the most popular property gets to milk the readers as much as possible.

That and 90s excess, and you have the worst of it: Knightfall. In 1993 Bane was introduced, yes like the movie, and the prison-raised South American (not Germanic) hatched a devious plan to BREAK the BAT. He let loose Arkham Asylum and then when the caped crusader was at his worst he broke his friggin back. All this just as Superman was dying mind you, it was the thing back then. With Bruce Wayne crippled, the antihero Azrael armored up and took charge of the cape and cowl. Sooner than later things were back to the status quo.

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In 1999, standards were higher and the crossover No Man’s Land fared much better. Gotham City had been destroyed by an earthquake and the government had given up, which led to total anarchy. Fun times. Later, Lex Luthor would rebuild it all and it set him up for his presidential bid.

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I always liked when Batman faced wits with Lex Luthor and Superman battled the Joker.

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Marvel Comics – 1980s

Previously: Growing up with the X-Men

The Uncanny X-Men were my absolute favorites when I was young, but those were not the only comics I was into. I had a great love for the whole Marvel Universe, and like the mutant corner of the epic tessaract room, I too was introduced to Spider-Man and the Avengers and the Fantastic Four by living in a house full of 80s comics…

I was never a Spider-Man completist, but with SO MANY Spider-Man spinoffs out there, Marvel really milked the franchise and I read a lot. Amazing, Spectacular, Web of. At least X-Men were teams and had spinoffs, how did Spider-Man get so many titles? The classic character, of course, has among the greatest rogue’s gallery. Peter Parker was also a relatable guy, and for this reason the underdog of superheroes because the most popular flagship of a whole company.

Some say that Spider-Man lost it when he got married. I didn’t think so, I liked the continuity and growth in the character’s life. Marvel has since, as all comics readers know, retroactively rewritten Spidey’s history so he was no longer ever married. Talk about a harsh annulment!

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Speaking of Spider-Man and X-Men and more, Secret Wars was the perfect story to tie together all the superheroes. Required reading in 84, it was on of the great original crossovers. Secret Wars took all the main heroes and villains and thanks to the mysterious Beyonder they were put a planet to fight a war. Nowadays crossovers are a comics cliche, but back then it was a big deal. Certainly a big deal for me to read.

I read it out of order, finding random back issues and more until I completed the story years later. The chapter introducing Spider-Man’s new costume was hard to get — expensive (the costume was precursor to Venom) — but eventually I bought the bullet and paid.

That’s how it was back then, piecing together the Marvel Universe.

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The sequel Secret Wars II sucked by the way. Trying to be philosophical and shit, the omnipotent Beyonder went to Earth and took human form and became a lame 80s hipster. Really terrible stuff.

But Marvel could do better.

This was the era of the great writer-artists. Truly great reads.

John Byrne’s science fictional Fantastic Four, took them to the Skrull Galaxy and Eon the Living Planet and the Negative Zone antimatter dimension and the microverse. Let us not forget, the mighty Galactus.

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Walter Simonson’s high fantasy Norse epic of Thor, as Thor’s world was fleshed out in Asgard joined by Balder the Brave. The actual mythologies were utilized as Ragnarok occurred, the end of the world, with Allfather Odin himself fighting the evil Surtur.

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Later I caught up on all the tradepaperback reprints of Frank Miller’s seminal noir-eque Daredevil (note that Miller is famed for Sin City, but this was his previous mainstream work leading up to that). Groundbreaking at the time.

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That covers all the main genres of adventure stories.

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