This year, one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to read and review more comics by creators who I don’t already know. I’ve set some guidelines: no Big 2 books, no books I’d have read anyway, and at least one webcomic or book handed to me directly by its creator.
I'm doing this for two reasons: 1. I want to read more stories, and 2. as an aspiring writer myself, I want to read work from creators who aren’t quite as far along in their crafts as the superstar talents I read every Wednesday.
I’m coming into this with no expectations. It would, however, be dishonest of me to say I’m not expecting to read a bad book sometimes. That’s a problem for a different day, though! The first batch of indie titles I read were all great. I chose a diverse set of comics, some of which I’d heard of, some I’d had recommended to me, and one that was emailed to me by a writer I randomly found on Twitter. I can honestly say I found high quality throughout!
Now, I’m not really one to do full-on critical reviews with number rankings or stars, or whatever, but I would like to share some thoughts about what I read. I think it’s important for developing writers to articulate these type of thoughts. It helps us see craft clearer and to find our own voices. Also, who knows, maybe I can inspire YOU to read some new books by rising creators. All of these are worthy.
Let’s do it!
Witchblade #1 by Caitlin Kittredge / Roberta Ingranata
I started with Witchblade #1, which was maybe not as “indie” as I’d have liked but felt off the radar enough to be true to the spirit of my mission.
Plus, Top Cow has done solid work lately, Roberta Ingranata’s art looked stellar and clean, and I’d never read Caitlin Kittredge’s writing but knew she’d done urban fantasy-noir novels, which seemed BEYOND perfect for the writer of a fresher and less booby version of Witchblade.
What I found was a #1 with as much potential as any in recent memory. Ingranata’s art is versatile and crisp, able to oscillate from hard-boiled to ghostly between panels, and Kittredge’s script is engaging, using the spirit of the original Witchblade to create a fantastical modern mystery, one that is high on the creep factor and also has a strong female lead.
I’ll admit I dabbled in Witchblade in the ‘90s (what do you want from me? I was a teenage boy) and I enjoyed the occult mythology, as well as the gore, and, fine, also the boobs, but as a grown-up reader who now breaths far less from my mouth, I greatly appreciated how thoughtful this book felt. It has a layered and intricate feeling that I love to discover in young comics.
Verdict: Witchblade has gone from gratuitous flesh to intriguingly fleshed out in its latest iteration, breathing new life into the franchise. A must-read book for fans of occult mysteries.
Vault Comics Grabbag
I first became aware of Vault Comics because of a roiling wave of praise for Natasha Alterici’s Heathen (which is a-maze-ing, btw). I got that book in trade, read it, and immediately started thinking of Vault as one of the coolest indie publishers around. I vowed to check out more of their books.
Then I procrastinated (because I’m me), until this month, when I tracked down the first two issues of a trio of Vault series: Alien Bounty Hunter, Spiritus, and Zojaqan. The hype around Vault is very real. Here are some rapid fire descriptions of the books I read, all of which I enjoyed.
Alien Bounty Hunter by Adrian Wassel / David M. Booher & Nick Robles: Intricate world-building meets a charismatic lead character, who we follow into a compelling and shadowy sci-fi world. Who is this book for? Comic readers, obviously, but specifically for fans of the X-Files who always wished Agent Mulder would crack more jokes, have more humanity, and kick a few more asses.
Spiritus by Tim Daniel & Michael Kennedy: A high-minded look at the intersections of violence, corporate exploitation of the individual, and technology, with imaginative art that conveys a sense of robotic and existential dread. This book has shades of The Fugitive (including one deliberate homage early on), just with a complex post-cyborg take that seemingly has a lot to say about where society may be headed.
Zojaqan by Colin Kelly / Jackson Lanzing & Nathan Gooden: Just wow. The art in Zojaqan is so gorgeous and unique, depicting a fantasy realm interwoven with visions of our own world. The writing team of Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing (who are doing issues of Green Arrow and Nightwing for DC soon) provide a gorgeous and abstract script that reads like a fevered dream, complete with character development and glimpses of modern tragedies from our own times. This was my favorite of all that I read this week, a literary comic with questions about grief and theology, and a total joy for fans of surrealist art.
Start Again #1 by Jamie Me / Toni Doya
I found Start Again, quite honestly, at random on Twitter, which I think is part of why it surprised me the most.
I’d never heard of Jamie Me (writer) or his collaborators, Toni Doya (artist) and Sean Callahan (colorist), which is exactly the point of this series! Their work, however, was engaging from the start. The dialogue and narration kept us moving, and the pencils were impressive and stylish, doing some great work to convey character emotions through facial expressions, always a heavy lift in comics.
What I liked most about Start Again, though, was its ambition. It essentially sets out to tackle society’s unhealthy relationship with celebrity while also telling a superhero story AND a romantic drama. It's a lot of plot to juggle, and it gets unweildly at times, but it’s to Jamie Me’s credit that he largely navigates his ideas with coherence and then absolutely nails the ending, leaving us with an intriguing cliffhanger that will bring me back for a second issue.
Verdict: Jamie Me clearly loves comics and has big ideas about where he wants to take this story, and he does a great job translating that into a promising first issue rich with big ideas.
NOTE: I was also going to include some of the Lion Forge Catalyst Prime books but thought better of it because the intent of this series is to motivate me to read books I would have otherwise missed, and I’ve been reading Catalyst Prime from the start (and you should be too!). So, I disqualified it.
Anyway, that does it for the first month of Indie-ana Jones (sorry about that name!). Check back to the site during the last week of February for the next installment!
Zack Quaintance is a career journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.