The world of non-mainstream comics…
For people who enjoy superhero comics, it can be extremely difficult to go to a comic book store and buy anything else. DC is now putting out 52 new comics a month (plus odd spin-offs and mini-series) and Marvel’s putting out about the same amount. Compounding the problem, there’s always big cross-over events that make it hard not to spend all of your allotted cash on the big companies. There are a number of quite good non-mainstream comics though that are worth picking up and following, and even worth setting aside big-name books for. Here’s just a few that I’d recommend, all of which are comics I make a point to buy whenever they come out.
By the way, is there a better name for these than non-mainstream? I would say Indie, but that should be a title reserved more for Daniel Clowes or Jason or other creators along those lines. For instance, you can’t really call Vertigo indie because it’s a subsidiary of DC. Oh well.
Fables: Currently, this is my favorite comic out there. Essentially, it’s a story about the experiences of emigres and diaspora who have come to America and have set up their own immigrant communities. The other thing is, they’re all fairy tale characters/mythical creatures. There’s a lot of reasons to read this book: there’s a huge cast of characters (everyone from The Big Bad Wolf to Little Boy Blue to lesser known characters from Baum’s Oz series), real insight into politics and culture, and a majority of the penciling is provided by Mark Buckingham. To get into Fables, it’s best to try reading a lot of issues–it takes a while to understand who the characters are and what the situation is. This is an ongoing monthly comic put out by Vertigo, usually for $2.99.
The Unwritten: Here’s a comic with wide appeal. My girlfriend, who doesn’t read a lot of comics, rushes to buy this one every month. Similar to The Sandman, this is a series that’s heavy on metafiction (i.e. stories about stories). Similar to Fables, this is a creator-owned series, meaning you don’t have to worry about executives switching up the writers or artists and screwing things up. So far, it’s been written entirely by Mike Carey with most issues drawn by Peter Gross. Yuko Shimizu has provided all of the cover art. This is also put out by Vertigo, and the issues cost $2.99. There’s several inexpensive graphic novels collecting the earlier issues (this one’s best read from the beginning).
Hellboy: This is a comic that has the distinction of saving comics for me. When I was much younger, I’d lost interest in comic books, until I picked up an issue of JLA by Grant Morrison which gave me the intimation that comics could be more and do more. After that though, I didn’t see too many comics taking different directions, so I eventually lost interest in them for several years. Then, in 2008, I saw Hellboy II (an underrated comic book movie), rushed over to Borders (R.I.P.) and picked up a Hellboy graphic novel and I haven’t stopped reading the series since. I’ve relearned how to love all manner of comics, but this is the one that renewed my faith in the medium. This is another comic that, like Fables, uses beasts and characters from mythology and folktales to supply the cast. If you’re into mythology, check this comic out. It’s published by Dark Horse, usually for $2.99. It doesn’t come out every month (new issues aren’t set to be published until next year). The graphic novels aren’t too expensive.
House of Mystery: The series itself has a long history with DC. It debuted in the 50s when superhero books weren’t selling as well and the company was looking to try out different genres. It became a stand-out horror anthology book which took off in the 60s and 70s and spawned a cult following (the older issues have been collected in big b & w volumes) until it ran out of momentum and was canceled. It was later incorporated into Neil Gaiman’s Sandman mythos, now relocated to “The Dreaming,” with several characters from the original series playing big roles in the ongoing story. In 2008, it was brought back by Vertigo. Each issue contains part of a large story arc involving a group of characters living together in a weird house with a lot of supernatural goings-on and at the same time, each issue includes a self-contained short story written by guest writers and with various artists. House of Mystery is published monthly by Vertigo for $2.99. The graphic novels are pretty cheap.
RASL: This is a comic drawn and written exclusively by Jeff Smith, best known for his beloved comic Bone. Where Bone appealed to 10 year olds and adults, this one’s decidedly for adults and mature teens. Not that it’s explicit, but contains adult themes, which is refreshing in a way. The story follows the misadventures of a loner who has stolen a device that allows him to transport himself to different parallel universes which resemble our own with small differences. The story also involves the main character unraveling a conspiracy involving the electricity war between Thomas Edison and Nikolai Tesla, as well as shady military experiments. This is only published 4 times a year, and will most likely be ending next year (Smith plotted it to be around 15 issues).
Read graphic novel reviews.
I’ve written a book of fiction titled The Madness of Art: Short Stories available on Amazon.
What other non-mainstream comics would you recommend?