Good evening, purveyors of powerful paraphernalia, and welcome to a new edition of indie comic exploration.
Let me begin by apologizing. I know that Facebook fever has you sick with Top Ten-donitis. No, I’m not funny, but I am compassionate toward millennial attention spans and the fact that we’re losing to goldfish. So while we’re trapped in this electric desert whirlwind of media madness, we may as well get to it.
Here are my top 10 reasons you NEED to roll the dice in the game of indie comics. Don’t worry. I promise no more Monopoly metaphors.
#10. An Aardvark Said So!
That’s right. An aardvark. It is with great honor and respect that I insist we bow our heads to yet another amazing Canadian. No, he’s not an aardvark, but he is brilliant. His name is David Sims. He created the very first technically successful indie comic in 1977. Now I love that date for 3 reasons: Star Wars, Cerebus the Aardvark, and the year my girlfriend came into existence. Seriously! This dude was a mastermind behind breaking every rule in the comic universe. What started out as roughly a parody of Conan the Barbarian would go on to tackle serious territory where other comics didn’t have the matza to really tread at the time. The art style changed. The page layout was sometimes randomized. The topics were literally whatever David wanted. It survived the bellowing battalions that were DC and Marvel because it was so unique, so well drawn, and so well crafted that people literally HAD to read it. If I may be so bold to say– it is the first indie comic that was truly undeniable. Dave even said up front that the character was going to die after 300 issues and people STILL went for it. Lastly, the hero is an aardvark. An AARDVARK! Arthur’s got nothing on this pimp. Screw him and his after-school jingle.
#9. The Numbers
Like I mentioned earlier, our attention spans are sad to say the least. However, have no fear of any lack in mental staying power. Our membership amount will keep your ADHD mind short-circuiting ‘til rapture, and you’ll keep begging for more during the transition of the soul, I assure you. Okay, let’s take “success” out of the equation because its definition varies from artist to artist. Have you ever seen A Bug’s Life? There’s a scene in it I’ll never forget where the main villain, Hopper, is explaining to one of his underlings the value of numbers. Essentially, if the ants ever figured out that they outnumber the grasshoppers exponentially, then the grasshoppers would lose their power. We, the seemingly indecisive and insignificant inciters of indie incident, are the ants. The great gargantuans, Marvel and DC, know this, but there’s nothing they can do. Make no mistake– they’re still sitting healthily at the top of Money-Maker Mountain, but we have surrounded them with awesomeness. The indie arena is an ocean of creativity, and the original golden palace is eroding.
#8. The Speed
DC may have created Barry Allen, but we are The Flash. Why do I separate it from numbers, you ask? Well, my frequently friend-zoned compadre, it’s because of my meticulous nature. You see, while the two goliaths are indeed taking risks, they have to go through an approval process. We do not, for the most part, have to deal with red tape. While there’s certainly major advantages to having a well-paid corporate team on your side, that’s a lot of cooks in a big kitchen. Individual creators may indeed be the sole chefs of their destiny. Indie comics have an edge in both output and volume as long as creators have enough passion under their feet. We can produce what we want, when we want, however fast we want it (sort of). We don’t have the marketing or production budget of Detective or Marvel, but we have other advantages.
#7. The Variety
Both DC and Marvel have created some incredible heroes, no doubt. Here’s the thing: you know them all! And even if you don’t, you’re going to burn out on fan service way before indie comics come close to dying. Want a horror comic that’s also a comedy and doesn’t mind destroying 1950’s purity? Try Afterlife with Archie. How about Final Fantasy meets drug use, alcoholism, rats, and a spoon-full of friendship? Take a stab at Rat Queens. Need a comic about orgasms stopping time? Try Sex Criminals. You won’t find any of this in Marvel or DC. I’m not saying they don’t have variety of their own.
However, when you have the courage to step away from the original superheroes and see what magic exists in our world, you’ll level up faster than you think.
#6. Easy Integration
This one may require some clarification. The major players in comics these days usually have lots of overlapping and complex storylines requiring you to buy multiple issues of various comics in order to keep it all straight. It’s a gimmick big companies use to get you to spend more money. If you’re loyal to the brand, it works. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this tactic.
In the indie world, though, you can become a part of the community instantly and easily.
The stories are intricate and interesting, but not a lot of insane crossover and backstory is required. We love people on this side of the fence, and we don’t judge you for loving the giants. We love them, too. However, for our new ink-addicted travelers, our rides are easier to manage. Marvel might be able to afford a subway system, but we’ve got Ubers waiting for you wherever and whenever you need them.
#5. Image Comics
Anyone who loves indie comics knows that this company was and is a game changer for our side of the table. Here are the basics: some really talented people over at Marvel were like, “We want more creative power,” and Marvel was like, “No,” and the angry peeps went, “We’re gonna start our own company,” and Marvel went, “Good luck losers,” and then Todd McFarlane went, “Spawn!” Yes, another amazing Canadian to the rescue. Image is one of the main gatekeepers for the indie(ish) artist. The print is real high quality, and the company is still driven by creativity. They are technically keyholders, but in the best way. Image Comics is more about creative quality and less about following trends. The company has a decent market share and has earned a great deal of respect in the comic and storytelling community in general. I give props to Kevin Eastman and IDW of course, but there’s something really special about creators breaking away from the safety of a conglomerate and taking a huge risk based on their collective skill level. Spawn of course went on to be a massively successful franchise, despite doubt. The whole thing reminds me of a frisky aardvark for some reason.
#4. Freedom+Risk= New Trends
Sugar, spice, and everything not necessarily nice. Let’s not forget accidentally spilling some well thought-out storytelling in the mix. Yes, that was a painfully produced Powerpuff parody, but alliteration is like medicine to me, and I needed my fix.
Trends are now the natural byproduct of speed and creative freedom. When it comes to risk, the Big Two need time to adjust. The idea of weaving new characters into an established comic to determine marketability is effective, but ultimately an old business model that began in the 40’s and 50’s.
Indie comics, on the other hand, are less about testing the market and more about jumping for the sake of the free fall. While superhero stories still live in a maze of rules, Indie comics have no walls. While that amount of freedom is certainly challenging, indie comic creators are brilliant at creating their own rules within the world they establish. We could talk about Image again, and how their critically acclaimed Walking Dead is bringing horror back to life. Maybe we should mention Frank Miller and Dark Horse blending indie with Hollywood. Remember what I said about speed advantage? I think the most exciting thing is how quickly Indieland adapted to Internet culture. We were doing digital way before DC or Marvel, and this is just one of many examples where the masters of mainstream had no choice but to follow suit. This brings me to my next point…
#3. Indie Marketing Magic
Thanks to the budget of the industry giants, they can shove stories in your face with massive paid ads and suite-wearing sadists. We, however, get to be shameless in our own way. We can vomit an origin comic at the drop of a hat for free. We have the luxury of “pay what you want” campaigns. We can do cheesy low budget ads that give our audience an immediate glimpse of our own vulnerable reality. In some ways, the heroes we’ve been loyal to forever have to remain in the past to be successful. Modern stories don’t have the luxury of overdosing on member berries (check out South Park to understand that reference). In order to compensate we have to reach into a bag of tricks that the Big Two are simply too big to understand.
#2. Deep Impact (Gravity Always Wins)
Yes, I’m sort of referencing a terrible movie with Morgan Freeman, but it’s also a metaphor for how we reach our audience. I nodded to this a bit previously. Authors of indie comics can create grassroots movements rather easily. There is a strong desire to have real relationships with fans. It’s why crowd-funding isn’t frowned upon in our world. While bigwigs live in the money palace, we get to hang out in the slums of sensational storytelling.
At their center, indie inventors’ hearts beat with want and desire. We love how a story brings people together. It’s less about privacy protection and more about forming a support system where fans and artists work as a collective.
We can’t win by force, so we win with genuine emotion.
We not only bring new audience members to our world, but we also have the courage to bring them back down to earth with us. That’s the beauty in all this. We won’t make you go anywhere, but once you show up, you never want to leave.
#1. We Are an Underdog Story (and the underdog always wins)
Everyone wants to root for a new hero, and we have new heroes coming out of the woodwork everyday. The ultimate twist is that this is not a competition. Even the big guys want us to win. We’re all creators here. The whole reason we love this art form is because the world needs heroes (yes I’ve said that line before). Indie comics fill a need that nature is desperate for, and through it all, Batman and Superman are actually on our side. If we stay the course, they will follow us anywhere. Unlike a lot of art, comics haven’t been damaged by the digital age. Online love is just as hyped as holding the real pages of a freshly unwrapped comic. Why? Because comics are as much about collecting gems as they are about the stories themselves. In other words, the internet hasn’t driven away a desire for the real thing.
Here’s the secret, and it’s the best news. Superman will never die, as long as he dodges Doomsday of course, but he WANTS to be conquered. He’s tired of bearing the gold crown of goodness. Batman is no help because you know those two constantly bicker. Rich dudes always be bitch’n ‘bout things. I love me some Stan Lee, too, but he’s got to be exhausted!
That’s where we come in. If we can reach our hands to the sky as a team, the burden of heroism will feel lighter than air. Who knows, maybe the gravity of our situation is really just the force that teaches us how to leave the atmosphere. Trust me. Superman is up there somewhere waiting with a smile on his face, and he’ll probably say something like, “It’s about time. I told you, you didn’t need a cape to fly.”
I want to thank CNBC, ComiXology, IGN, Wikipedia (yes Wikipedia), Image, Darkhorse, www.thecomicbooks.com, Amazon, www.creatoratlarge.com, Comics Beat, and of course my amazing nerd friends for some of this source material. Thank you for helping build a universe that makes me feel right at home.