So, this is the Crash course Overview of Indie for you fine listeners, readers and otherwise general consumers of our Bamf!y product. Hello, everyone. Before we kick off, you might want to open a Comixology account, as I’m going to be recommending comics you may not have read. They are free. You are welcome to thank me with Groupies or issues of Harvey Kurtzman’s ‘Help’.
Let’s dispense with the misconception, 1st off, that ‘Indie’ is a genre or a style. People confused the liquid with the glass, so to speak, with Indie. All ‘Indie’ means, in this context, is ‘Comic published by a company that isn’t Marvel or DC.’ It has nothing to do with the content, the mood or style, whether the comic is a black and white, self published affair about biscuits the creator has eaten, or a major licensed project with Hollywood Movie tie-in with multiple covers. Again, content does not denote distribution network. The latest issue of G.I. Joe is more ‘indie’ than any Sandman collection.
People create Indie comics for various reasons. Maybe they want to have their work available so they can show various editors at Marvel their artwork in order to secure a job on Captain America. Others simply find the ‘Alleged’ culture of fear at The Big Two too much and want to create work more personal to themselves, without having to argue whether their material is appropriate for the publisher’s ethos and sensibilities. Maybe they just want to put out their work and like the challenge of doing the whole thing themselves. There are whole essays and websites dedicated to why people totally avoid putting their work through mainstream Comics channels. And there’s a lot of creators turning out work who’re more than sick of The Big Two.
So, obviously, the world and history of Independent Comics is vast and huge, and this is in no way meant to be an overview of the last 40 years of comics that have been published, more a series of recommendations of comics and magazines that lead me to the point where i could quite happily never read a DC comic again.
This is where I pretty much got started.
I wish i could remember when I got into The Comic Journal. Probably sometime in my early teens, and some of my favourite times would be taking a few cans of beer down to the park and soaking up all the rage of Gary Groth, the hilarious letters from Die-Hard Marvel Zombies, the ‘I Am Not Terry Beatty’s Girlfriend’ arguments.and the War on Marvel o get Kirby’s artwork back. Also, The Journal was a pretty good gateway into ‘Things you probably haven’t heard of.’ Fantagraphics started off as the name of the publishing company that put out The Journal, but then, brilliantly, they put their money where their mouth is by actually putting out the material that lived up to the high standards they demanded in their reviews. Los Bros Hernandez, Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, Drew Friedman and Peter Bagge all came to prominence via work produced for Fantagraphics. Nowadays, sadly, The Journal doesn’t have the attitude it did, and tends to be published every couple of years in giant hardbacks that cost £25 a pop, They are relentless about keeping classic work like Peanuts in print and you can pick up early issues here.And here’s a link to a sampler of my favourite of their publications
Essentially, if you want the real history of comics written by people who aren’t going to tell you that Secret Wars was seen as an instant classic back in 1986. Start reading those early Comics Journals.
Speaking of attitude…
Dave is one of the great pioneers of this business, he pretty much created the self publishing business model in Western comics as we understand it. His comics are deep, thoughtful, funny, and Cerebus is probably the 1st comic that attempted to create a full, serialised narrative. Also, if you’ve ever bought, sold, created or otherwise enjoyed anything resembling a Trade Paperback, you can pretty much thank Dave for that. He’s one of the great comics historians as well, as anyone who isn’t a total moron and tried reading Glamourpuss will testify.
Sadly, the comics community appears to have become hyper-sensitive in the early 21st Century, and since Dave’s points of view on women aren’t in sync with the majority, there are attempts to try and ostracize and retcon him from comics history every once in a while. Then everyone remembers that if the history of independent comics is built on Underground Comix, which is inherently about the notion of freedom of speech, not just ‘The concepts we want to hear and nothing else.’ and Dave just gets on with the work.
Oh, and if you have ANY aspirations of working in comics, you need to read ‘The Cerebus Guide To Self Publishing’. NEED to. It’ll open your eyes, explain the dynamics of exactly how creating a comics page work, how to talk to distributors and how you’ll be talking to Diamond. It badly needs updating for the digital comics era, but beyond that, again. you NEED to read it. The 1st issue of High Society (The 2nd book in the Cerebus Saga, or ‘Where it got going, Really.’ can be read for free here.)
Anyone who heard me go on about Transformers:All Hail Megatron on Bamf! recently may think I have a problem with IDW as a company. Actually, not at all. I think they’re genius. (Geni? Geniuses?) After the hilarious legal fall out of the Transformers license, IDW picked it up and started reprinting the early stuff, creating new work. Then they did the same thing with G.I Joe. And all of the nostalgia drones picked up their childhoods again but for $4 an issue
Having that built in-income (See Also: My Little Pony, and I’m willing to bet money that i will see IDW publish the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers revival before I die.) IDW used that money to turn themselves intot he greatest publishers of COOL comics history currently going. A lot of stuff gets reprinted, but it’s literally only for historical value, accompanied by a dull Roy Thomas essay telling us how important it is we care about this comic from 1952 for whatever reason. then you read the actual thing, and you realise why the original Mr monster got cancelled in the 1st place. IDW finds the cool stuff that has been lost in history for whatever reason and brings it back to the shelves. the Rocketeer, Starstruck, Bloom County, Mars Attacks,Maze Agency, Terry And the Pirates are all back in print thanks to those guys. they also do a hell of a line of new material like Tank Girl, Wormwood Corpse, Popbot, 30 Days Of Night, Zombies vs Robots and Zombies Vs Robots vs Amazons and such
30 Days Of Night can be read here. For free. I’m nice like this.
There is, apparently, a movie coming up written by one of the original Image Founders which covers the formation of Image, but as far as I can work out, Image was formed by various members talking to each other about how annoyed they were by their treatment by Marvel, went to Marvel Editor In Chief Tom Defalco and said they were leaving. Those founders then created Image, and caused a damn rollercoaster for the whole business in the mid 90’s. Late shipping comics, multiple spin-offs, pandering to the speculator crowd and all kinds of backstage chaos lead to comic shops closing down. Also Marvel put themselves into Chapter 11 Bankruptcy as a result of trying to compete with Image and DC ended up owning Diamond because of it, but that’s a story better covered by Marvel Comics: the Untold Story, which is the 2nd book on the ‘Books you should read before you ever draw one page of any comic ever.’ List.
Larry Marder came along and basically kicked them up the arse so they actually put out the comics they were soliciting rather than announcing a dozen spin-off books that would never be published for the ninth month in a row. Somewhere along the line, Image went from ‘Slick Team Books full of Ciphers beating each other up for no real reason. Bending over of Female Characters probably going to happen’ to being a smart, intelligent company that would take on all manner or interesting projects such as Kill City, The BulletProof Coffin, Infinite Vacation, Phonogram, Common Grounds, Puffed, Liberty Meadows, Black Kiss, and a little quirky book that you may have heard of called The Walking Dead.
As far as I’m aware, image offer the best deal in comics in that if they like your pitch, they’ll pay in advance for the printing of your title and advertise it, take back the printing costs and you keep EVERYTHING else. including the rights to the work, You don’t sign away character designs, the rights to printings in terrotites outside The U.S. and English language editions of your comic. You own everything and can take it anywhere you want, which is currently being put into practice with all of the Wildstorm characters now being part of the DC Universe and Angela (From Spawn.) about to become part of the Marvel Universe. Which probably wasn’t the point, but Walking Dead is still good.
‘If anybody ever said to me “Hi, I’m an alternative cartoonist,” I’d laugh in their face. What the hell does that mean? “Hi, I’m an alternative rocker. I’m an alternative eater.” What the hell is that. You do comics. You just don’t do those kind of comics. Relax.’
Evan Dorkin, The Comics Journal 214, 1999.
My main problem with the Indie scene has always been the preciousness of the creators involved. Some creators have their feet on the ground and are aware that they are, essentially, entertainers. I thought I was alone in this until I started reading Milk +Cheese via greatly lamented UK comics magazine, Deadline back in the 90’s. Milk + Cheese by Evan Dorkin is a Dairy Product based assault on, well, everything, really. It’s also extremely funny, although probably not for the sensitive, Evan also worked on amazing anthology ‘Instant Piano’, wrote one of the greatest thing DC ever published in World’s Funnest, outdid all the autobio darlings with the astonishing Dork (Issue 9 have one of the most truly soul bearing stories I’ve ever read, although issue 6 is highly recommended or those of you who ever had to deal with ArtistE types.) and, of course, there’s the Eltingville Club
Or US, as I like to call it….
Speaking of using brand names to fund more esoteric projects….
Dark Horse is the indie publisher that could. For a long, long time. Before Millarworld was turning every book it sneezed out into a movie, Dark Horse not only produced (and continues to) comic adaptions of Creature Of The Black Lagoon, Aliens, Star Wars, Buffy and countless others, they’ve also had a pretty good success rate in turning things they’ve published into Hollywood KerChing with properties such as Hellboy, The Mask, Sin City all making it to the Big Screen. On top of that, they’ve a pretty healthyManga reprint program, bringing Akira, Ghost In The Shell, Lone Wolf & Cub and more to a wider audience. They’ve also published some of my favourite comics such as The Goon, Nexus, Concrete, The Milkman Murders, Mr Monster and Resident Alien.
That’s probably more than enough to be getting started with, but I’ll be back soon with more on the likes of Oni,Tony Millionaire, Elaine Lee, Shannon Wheeler, Roberta Gregory, Stephen Bissette, Colleen Doran, Avatar, Frank Cho and what Alan Moore did after he got really pissed off with DC*
*Before Spawn 8, I mean.