Lately the independent comic scene has seen a very welcome resurgence. Some of the HANDS DOWN best books on the shelves are coming from publishers you may not know, know little about, or are new to the scene. This isn’t the first time that independent comics have burst to the forefront and it certainly isn’t the first time that indie publishers have been pushing out the best books on the shelves. There’s something a bit different about this time though. At least, it seems that way. This push has not just been sustained, but rather, the momentum has grown and there’s been more of a swell and growth. There’s depth to independent books now and they aren’t just serving a niche or telling a story or two that the “big” publishers won’t touch. For the past several years there has been connection between the independent outlets and the fans. The synergy has been glorious and I truly hope that this is the new norm. Now let’s get to your favorite indie publishers (alphabetically).
Founded in 2015 the company quickly got the attention of readers with one of the best books of the past five years. Animosity immediately showed that the company was intent on making an impact and producing original, quality stories. Other early titles such as Black Eyed Kids, Dreaming Eagles, and Alters showed that Aftershock was willing and able to deliver on a wide variety of comic stories as well as tackle relevant and resonating societal issues. More quality books have arrived and, as with their initial pushes, they cast a wide net. Jimmy’s Bastards, Dark Ark, The Normals and several other titles continued the strong debut titles and follow ups. The publisher has already had a very distinguished list of creators work on their books; Cullen Bunn, Donny Cates, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Francesco Francavilla, Mark Waid, Tim Seeley, Amanda Connor, Marguerite Bennett, Hayden Sherman, Eliot Rahal, and Christopher Sebela are but a few of the names that have already worked with Aftershock. They’ve got an anthology that looks as though it’ll be a regular thing (SHOCK) and have continued to enlist known creators to help draw attention to their ever growing line. There’s something for pretty much everyone within their library already. Not afraid of taking chances, Aftershock has been a welcome addition to comics.
Ahoy Comics launched in 2018 and was a smash success right out of the gate. They’ve already got a linchpin title/book/character with the Wrong Earth saga (Dragonfly/Dragonfly Man is now out and is the second volume in this universe). The other three launch titles (High Heaven, Edger Allen Poe’s Snifter of Terror, Captain Ginger) all found varying degrees of fandom but were all critically acclaimed and well received (Captain Ginger continues to make new fans especially). The company has given MORE to the reader with each book they put out by including back up stories or novella type entries after the main story of each issue. It’s clear they are paying tribute to the whole of comics as well as just having some damn fun. The follow up wave of books was just as much fun (Bronze Age Boogie and Hashtag Danger getting most of the love) and continued the love for the medium. With what’s on tap for 2020 it is clear that Ahoy doesn’t plan on stopping the fun any time soon.
Two of the best and absolute hardest hitting books to grace shelves the last two years have come from the Tribe. Both Sink and Wailing Blade are as in your face as you can get. Distinctly different genres drive the titles but the results are the same. They’re fantastic and they’re perfect examples of what goodies are on offer with ComixTribe. The past 18 months have been especially good for the publisher with highly successful Kickstarters helping a guerilla approach to marketing their books. The outfit also Kickstarted The Standard and just finished a short campaign for the second volume of their acclaimed Red Ten series. Don’t let the recent success cloud over the fact that solid and well received books have been out in the wild for a while now. And Then Emily Was Gone and SCAM preceded the recent titles and created a nice buzz for the publisher. Heading into their 9th year of making books the Tribe looks like it’s just getting started.
The publisher has long been known for faithful retellings of licensed properties as well as quality expansions of said properties (The Abyss, Aliens, Mask, Buffy, Star Wars, Predator, Terminator, and Godzilla among them). Just as identifiable are characters/stories Dark Horse combined with the licensed properties in the debut (and highly acclaimed) book from the publisher Dark Horse Presents. Many books were spun from the pages of the anthology such as Concrete, Sin City, and Next Men. That anthology had three iterations with the last volume debuting a new fan favorite pulp hero in The Black Beetle. The outfit isn’t without its own properties however. Ghost, X, Barb Wire and most famously Hellboy. Not to be lost in it all are the recent run of books from Dark Horse that have embraced the new era of creating comics. Harrow County, Death Orb, Triage, Black Hammer, and The Strain have continued the fine precedent set by titles before them. The licensing continues as does the original creation. There’s a hell of a lot in Dark Horse’s basket and the quality has been steady for over 30 years now.
(Contributor Kellie Keener’s pick) “Image was the reason I really got into comics because they were publishing Saga. And it seemed like they were always putting out a new story, book, or #1. Which was great because that was so much less intimidating to me, a complete newbie, than heroes with 50+ years of history and countless reboots. Image gave me lots of options with a very clear place to start and follow a character or story. Image titles I love: Plutona (A group of kids finds a dead superhero in the woods and have to decide how to handle this; coming of age, dark), Saga (A family tries their best to survive despite a war raging on and everyone wanting them dead; space, drama, action, NSFW), Bitch Planet (takes place in a futuristic prison for women who are deemed Non Compliant; LGBTQ+ representation, action, social commentary, NSFW), and Rat Queens (Dungeons and Dragons-esque adventure following a group women who party hard and fight harder; LBGTQ+ representation, action, fantasy, NSFW).”
A wide open cabinet of stories has helped Image maintain the reputation of being a go to publisher for fresh ideas and quality books that they’ve had for quite some time. These titles all exemplify this perception of the publisher. Each year they seem to just add to the stack of top notch comics that’s been piled up under their banner already.
The hits just keep coming from Vault. Not even a full handful years old yet and they’ve already put themselves atop the “hot” list in terms of where to go to find the best quality of book on the shelves. Even though they focus on sci-fi and fantasy it hasn’t kept them from pushing the envelope within those categories. Finding new and intuitive ways to express these ideas has been paramount in their ability to churn out title after fantastic title. What may be most impressive is that readers of all ages can find a book they can relate too (and Vault is launching a specific YA/YR line shortly). In very quick time though they’ve published absolute chart topping titles such as Wasted Space, These Savage Shores, and Heathen. Another title, The Plot, launched their new “Nightfall” imprint (another publishing initiative) and looks to be yet another chart topper. The publisher instantly grabbed readers though with a wide array of approaches to sci-fi/fantasy and wasn’t afraid to take chances as is illustrated by Powerless, Karma Police, and Deuce of Hearts. I’ll end with the fact that Vault is also pushing what the medium can do with titles like Fearscape, Deep Roots, and Friendo.
I do want to mention Source Point Press and TKO Studios.
While TKO is brand new (having just released their second wave of books) they have immediately captured the attention of readers. The innovative approach to publishing aside, the stories they’re putting out are top shelf worthy. Everything about their books screams quality. With just eight titles released they’ve got, IMO, bon-a-fide hits in Fearsome Dr Fang, Goodnight Paradise, Sentient, and Eve of Extinction. That’s not a dismissing of the other titles but simply where my feelings are. Critical acclaim has found many of the books at TKO. Should this course continue I’ve no doubt they’ll be one of my favorite outlets in short order.
Source Point Press has been at it since 2012 but they’re a “new to me” publisher. I’d heard of ’em but only in the last year (little more) have a truly started getting ahold of their books. So far so good. I’m loving the recent uptick in grabbing creator projects such as Touching Evil, Gutter Magic, and Samurai Grandpa. On top of these there’s been high praise for titles such as Rottentail, The Family Graves, Hope and Achilles Inc. The partnership with Comics Experience has really helped get solid books out to the masses as well. SPP is picking up steam and I’m here for it.
*Eye on SCOUT, BOOM, IDW … plenty of gems in these publishers if you take the time to look.