I'm Pouring My Heart Out #5
Updated: Jan 1, 2021
My Top 10 Favorite Indie Comics
Sure, the big two and the other larger publishers put out some good stuff. But have you bothered looking into the indie market? It’s rife with amazing properties. Let me tell ya about a few of my all-time favorites. Let’s talk indie comics.
What is an Indie Comic?
Let’s start off with what I mean by “indie” comics. For me, indie comics are those that a creator creates, owns and produces completely separately from the big publishers.
In this vein, I’m going to avoid titles that are creator owned but produced with the resources of a significant publisher. So, I’m avoiding companies like Image, due to their size and resources. No gatekeepers or corporate hand holding here.
I will allow some that have since been picked up by a major publisher… cuz we should all acknowledge success, right? But if they did it the indie way at some point, I’ll allow it.
This means I’m leaving off some real favorites of mine that may be considered indie by some, such as Pitt and Shar-Pei. But them’s the rules!
These are my top ten favorite indie titles, in no particular order. First up...
Ah, Battle Pope, the breakthrough comic of the prolific Robert Kirkman. I fondly remember reading this wonderfully blasphemous title when it first came out. Who knew the team that was making this irreverent little self published comic would go on to such heights?
What is it, you ask? Well, I was gettin’ to that… Don’t tell me what to do!
Battle Pope was an indie offering from Funk-O-Tron (the creators’ small press label) back in 2000. Created by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore, of Walking Dead fame, Battle Pope tells the story of a womanizing, boozing, foul mouthed and vulgar pope—Pope Oswald Leopold.
When judgment comes, God leaves the pope behind with all the other people who didn’t make the cut. Left to fend for himself among the earthly chaos, Oswald is eventually killed by a demon. But when the leader of God’s army, Saint Michael, is captured by Lucifer, God offers the pope the task of freeing Michael in return for passage to Heaven. With a beefy bodily upgrade and Jesus H. Christ at his side, Battle Pope returns to Earth to get to work. Needless to say, shenanigans ensue.
The original indie series ran from 2000-2002 and was printed in black and white. Image Comics started reprinting the series with updated covers and full color interiors in 2005.
If you’re into superhero action parody and potty humor, I’d suggest you give Battle Pope a look.
Ash is a rather obscure favorite of mine. Although the character and title sprout from not so humble beginnings, I consider it an indie gem.
What do I mean by that? Well Ash was the flagship title of the indie publishing label, Event Comics, created in 1994 by none other than Jimmy Palmiotti and Joe Quesada. Big names in comics, for sure.
What I like about Ash is the character, himself, and his backstory.
Caught in a burning building, firefighter Ashley Quinn is trapped within the raging structure. Luckily for him, inside the building was a high-tech device—a regeneration device from a future timeline. He gets into the device to avoid the flames but is burned almost beyond recognition. Via mysterious circumstances, Quinn heals completely from his horrific burns and now possesses alien superpowers and a calling to heroism.
He’s pretty cool. I feel like the My Hero Academia character, Endeavor, took cues from Ash (maybe that’s just me). Either way, his fire-based abilities and cool design make for an interesting character. A dual hero, if you will (firefighter and superhero). There’s even a nice little dedication to firefighters in the first issue’s credits page.
Ash’s had a fair amount of crossovers and exposure but still seems to be a rather obscure property to a lot of people. For what it’s worth, I’d recommend Ash to any fan of that attitude-laden 90s style. It’s also got some great art and plenty to delve into, especially with the aforementioned crossover material.
Yes, that’s right, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A lot of people aren’t aware that the Turtles started as a small self-published project all the way back in 1984.
The comic was created by writer/artists, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird and published under the name, Mirage Studios (a nod to the fact that it was not an actual company, at first). In true indie fashion, they produced it using money from a tax refund and a loan from a family member. Not only was it a small project started by two dudes with a random idea (starting from a series of sketches meant to make each other laugh), but it was started as just a single issue done as a parody of the popular comics at the time. Little did they know what a phenomenon it would become.
The original comics were much different from what most modern fans may realize. They were violent and gritty. The Turtles had no qualms about maiming and killing their adversaries. In fact, they were fairly bloodthirsty. It was awesome! They were basically tools of vengeance, trained for nothing but the murder of Shredder. Master Splinter sure knew how to hold a grudge!
The first issue opens with the Turtles facing off with a gang of thugs, 15 strong. After the Turtles slash, maim and batter the thugs, claiming victory, they return to the sewers to inform Master Splinter of their success in what was essentially a test of their skills. Splinter is pleased and begins to tell them of their origin and their mission—to kill Oroku Saki, aka, Shredder.
As Eastman and Laird continued with the series, it grew and expanded. We all know how huge the Turtles became. But to know the origins of the comic—it makes it all the more impressive.
Bone is a bit different from the others I’m listing here—no gun wielding vigilantes, super powered heroes or combat hardened psychos. The reason I like Bone so much is precisely because of the fact that it’s so different from my usual stuff. It’s just a light fun read, reminiscent of a Chuck Jones story. It’s super easy to pick up, not getting bogged down with uber-heavy plot lines, and the story is well told.
Created, written and drawn by Jeff Smith and first published in 1991, Bone is bit of a homage to “funny mags” and cartoons. Smith’s drawing style serves the story and the world of Bone perfectly. I actually like his art quite a lot. I especially like his renditions on other well known characters (see his Shazam miniseries).
Smith self-published the comic until issue nineteen, under his label, Cartoon Comics. While Image picked up publishing for a time (eight issues), it eventually went back to Cartoon Comics to finish the run. Aside from that small era of Image publication, this dude did it all himself. True indie mack.
It’s described by its creator as a “fish out of water” story, and that’s absolutely fitting. Bone follows the titular character being lost in a strange valley after being kicked out of his hometown of Boneville. As you’d expect, he then gets into capers and high jinks while meeting new people, animals and monsters. It’s fun stuff.
If you can get into a light-hearted and cartoony sort of title with an element of high fantasy, I think Bone is a great choice to scratch that itch. I’m a huge fan of early Warner cartoons and this just sort of hits that same feel. I’d recommend checking out the full color versions to really get into the atmosphere.
Oh boy, The Crow… This is one of my all-time favorites—indie or otherwise.
Listing this one is pushing the boundaries of my definition of indie a little bit. But The publisher (Caliber) had just begun operations that very year that they published The Crow, and though they became a fairly prolific publishing company, they weren’t at the time. Hey, it’s my rules!
A little history:
The Crow was created by James O’Barr in 1981, while enlisted in the Marines. He began work on the comic as a means of dealing with the death of his fiancée, who had been killed in an automobile accident before he enlisted in the military. This personal loss, as well as inspiration from
events he’d seen in the papers,
helped to mold the dark and tragic atmosphere of The Crow.
His work on the comic sat idle for years before he actually published it. After seven years, O’Barr finally moved forward with The Crow, having it published by Caliber Press in 1989. And, whoo-doggy, am I glad he did. O’Barr’s illustrations are able to pull me right in and hold my attention as I scan the words of his story. It’s dark and full of direction.
It goes like this—After their car breaks down, Eric and his fiancée, Shelly, are jumped by a gang of thugs. The crew of degenerates shoot Eric, paralyzing him. They then proceed to violate, beat and murder Shelley while Eric is left helpless to do anything about it. Eric is later taken to a hospital but succumbs to his wounds there. A year later, Eric is resurrected by The Crow to exact reprisal upon those responsible. The pain of what happened, the sole purpose of his resurrection, is detailed as Eric wanders through memories in the house he shared with Shelly. That is, when he’s not smiting those he seeks.
Like I said, it’s dark and the emotions of the original comic are raw and on full display throughout. I can’t get enough of the original run, but there’s also quite an expanded universe of subsequent characters who’ve become The Crow with their own tragic stories to tell.
Atomika is a superpowered dystopian read for the socioeconomic hypothesizers.
Let me explain…
Created by Sal Abbinanti and Andrew Dabb in 2005, Atomika tells the story of the titular Atomika, a man-made atomic super being—a “god” of sorts—who seeks to destroy the pantheon of old gods, becoming the one and only deity. If that doesn’t pique your interest, then I don’t know what to tell ya, crazy.
The story takes place in a 1930’s where Russia has conquered America and the Earth has become ruined by the wars of man, the sky is dead, resources are scarce, religion is outlawed and technology reigns. A Russian man creates the first man-made “god” from the depths of the Earth’s molten core, a technological deity, Atomika. The story follows his quest to eliminate the opposition in order to become the singular god of man, a symbol of the power of science. Atomika fights against the old gods, who wish to retain their hold on humanity, as well as other synthetic beings created to police the arrogant Atomika.
It’s a wild concept with a wild execution and the themes of industry, technology, religion and communism are deeply intertwined in the tales. I’ve always enjoyed delving into the alternate world it depicts. Plus, the art is quite good. Alex Ross lends his talents to the first issue cover, with interior art by Sal Abbinanti and the writing of Andrew Dabb. It’s graphic and, sometimes, a bit convoluted but I enjoyed the series quite a lot. The art and overall look of the book is odd, almost disorienting, but wicked and beautiful.
It’s definitely deserving of its spot on this list. The series was initially published with Speakeasy Comics for a span of four issues, until the company faced financial issues and had to cease publication. At that point, Abbinanti decided to self-publish Atomika, himself, through his own label, Mercury Comics. It’s called Mercury home ever since and has been collected in two TPBs.
The Goon is a supernatural crime romp for “immature adults.” This series was created by Eric Powell, who’s handled virtually every aspect of the comic (writing, art, color & covers) at some point or another. Powell has been very much hands on with the comic since its inception. Occasionally other writers and/or artists will handle certain stories, but Powell has remained the main writer, and often artist, throughout publication.
Speaking of which, The Goon has a bit of a jumpy publication history.
Powell started the first series with Avatar Press all the way back in 1999 (though, the character had appeared before then). They published three issues of The Goon but, as the story goes, Powell wasn’t satisfied with how the issues came out and decided to let the contract with Avatar lapse. Another true indie mack, Powell decided to self-publish The Goon through his label, Albatross Exploding Funny Books, in 2002.
Albatross published a further four issues before garnering the attention of Dark Horse who took over publication until 2013 for the main series, with various mini-series produced until 2015.
In 2019, Powell once again began self-publishing The Goon under his newly minted Albatross Funnybooks (dropping the “Exploding” from the name).
This is a favorite of mine because of the mixture of simple storytelling, goofy comedy and dark themes (a pattern you may recognize in this list), as well as Eric Powell’s art. His painted covers are fantastic and when he plays with his art style, which he often does, it produces some amazing stuff. I particularly like his penciled pages, sans inks.
If a comedy-laden tale of one goonish brute fighting zombies, vampires, gravediggers, mobsters, skunk-apes and myriad other freaky and supernatural characters, then give The Goon a shot. You can thank me later.
Many of you have no doubt heard of The Rocketeer. A character in possession of one of the most iconic helmets around, in my mind. The Rocketeer is a huge nostalgic rush for me. I have always loved the character, from the retrofuturist design, to the good old fashioned adventure stories told, The Rocketeer is a solidified favorite.
Created by Dave Stevens, the character’s first story appeared in a special backup feature in the back of indie publisher, Pacific Comics’, Starslayer #2, in 1982 (his first actual appearance was a promo in the issue before). The illustrations by Stevens are great and portray the beginnings of The Rocketeer in dynamic form.
His origin is simple. When two crooks are fleeing from the police, they come across stunt pilot Cliff Secord’s hangar where he keeps his “stubby” plane. The crooks place their package in the plane and attempt to use it to escape. Before they can do so, they’re caught and taken in by the cops. Cliff inspects his plane and finds the package that the crooks had with them—an experimental government device—an engine. Complete with plans, Cliff reads about the personal back-mounted engine (jet pack) and decides to keep it around rather than turn it in. Later, when he’s late for a flight show, Cliff is forced to use the engine to save the man who took his place at the stick. The Rocketeer is born.
The character initially only appeared in those issues of Starslayer, as well as issue #3, again as a backup feature. Two more were published by Pacific after that. Publication then bounced around a bit, with the wrap up being published in a special edition by Eclipse Comics in 1984, with a collection by Eclipse being published the next year. The character’s adventures have continued to jump around, being published by the likes of Comico, Dark Horse, Disney, HarperCollins and IDW, among others.
The series currently sits with IDW, but if you want to check out the humble indie origins, I feel like it’s definitely worth giving a look. Dave Stevens died in 2008, so he’s no longer involved, but his stories and illustrations are some of my favorites. The reprinted stuff, with his art recolored is great too.
Scud: The Disposable Assassin
I’m sure it’s no surprise to see this on the list. I’ll admit, I do love me some cray cray shenanigans. This most definitely delivers.
Scud came about in 1994—created by writer/artist (a detail many indie comics share) Rob Schrab, Scud: The Disposable Assassin is a screwball escapade in a world where vending machines offer robotic assassins for sale and monsters exist. These assassins are called, Scuds. The story picks up with the dispensing of one such Scud.
A “pest problem” in the form of a large creature eating the labor force of the overbearing, Mr. Spidergod, develops. In order to cheaply deal with the problem, Spidergod has his subordinate buy a Scud to kill the creature. Once Scud is dispensed, he embarks upon his mission to kill “Jeff,” as he’s named the creature, but soon notices a sticker on his body warning that upon completion of his objective, he will self destruct. In order to avoid this, Scud instead immobilizes the creature, shooting off its limbs, to keep himself in commission. He sends Jeff to the hospital but finds out they will only provide life support for one month, then it’s on Scud to pay for it. How does he do that? Well, by taking hit jobs, of course! And the adventures begin.
The series was published by Fireman Press throughout nearly its entirety, save for the final four-issue installment, published by Image Comics. Scud’s had some great crossover exposure, and even video games on the Sega Saturn and PC in 1997. It’s also had the likes of Dan Harmon (of Rick and Morty fame) working on it at various points.
The series has since ceased and Fireman Press has since been dissolved, which is unfortunate. But, in my opinion, Scud is something to check out. It’s a quintessentially 90s comic. It’s wild, it’s crazy and it’s an absolutely absurd blast. I love Scud.
Scout is another cool dystopian entry on the list. Like Atomika, it plays with themes of the post Cold War U.S. becoming destitute, along with communism and other socioeconomic topics, coupled with Native American lore and myths. It’s kind of like a Native American Mad Max sorta deal. I mean, there’s more to it than that but... that’s a start.
Scout was created by writer/artist Timothy Truman in 1985 and ran for an initial 24 issues. The story is sort of a western, dealing with an Apache and former Army Ranger named, Emanuel Santana, a.k.a., Scout, who roams the Southwest Free States (a pocket of freedom within the new loosely united states). While fighting to remain alive and free against the tyrannical Washington government, Scout is chosen to take the reigns of a spiritual mission. He is approached by an entity called “Gahn” and told that, although he is found to be a rather inferior choice, he is the one to take up the fight against four mythical monsters who have resurfaced. Gahn aims to act as Scout’s guide in teaching him the ways to kill the four monsters, who have managed to capture U.S. political influence (e.g. the presidency). Talking animals abound!… Gahn likes to manifest as different creatures.
Scout fights against supernatural threats, as well as traditional human threats, like hit men and the like. The world he inhabits is bleak and dangerous, giving a very distinct sense of vulnerability in these stories. It’s always been one of those titles that (like the rest on this list) is able to pull me in and keep me enthralled with what’s going on. The mixture of themes and the way they’re handled is fantastic, in my opinion. In a surface-level sort of way, it really has more than a couple parallels with Atomika. But past the surface, those parallels are thin. This is very much its own thing and is a bit more straight forward. The art follows along those same lines.
It’s a comic I didn’t get into as a kid, but when I finally got around to it, it was an instant favorite. It jumps right into the thick of it, from go. I mean, the first monster is a giant self-mutilated pornographer owl-man. C’mon. Give it a looksie.
The New Wave
Over the past few years, the indie comics scene has really ramped up. There is now, probably more than ever, a plethora of great indie comics offered from varying perspectives and depicting myriad worlds and characters. If you ask me, it’s really a boon to the comic community, as a whole.
The big bad boogieman of the comics community, ComicsGate, has produced some incredible properties and talent, alone. But 2019 was an incredible year for indie comics creators, regardless of what sub-community you look at. And that’s a good thing.
Publishers like Alterna have managed to hit the ground running and have pumped out some great indie offerings, seemingly surging over the past year.
The more alternatives we have to the “big two,” the more options we all have—as consumers and as creators—and the more we can collectively dodge gate keeping, the better we’ll all be. We’d never have seen any of the great stuff above if the indie market weren’t available. But with the acceptance of the masses, methods like crowdfunding have blown the doors wide open and it’s only getting better.
Support indie creators and let indie comics reign!
(Battle Pope #1, 2000, Funko-O-Tron - Image credit mycomicshop.com, utilized under fair use)
(Back cover of Starslayer #2, 1982, Pacific Comics - Image credit therocketeer.net, utilized under fair use)