Comics 101: Chapter 6 – Indie Comics
The greatest thing about comics is you can go just about anywhere on the planet, say the name “Superman” and it’s almost guaranteed that everyone will know who you’re talking about, and that they’re a comic book character. You can ask just about anyone on the street who “Bruce Wayne” is, and most will immediately answer “Batman.”
But what about the comics beyond the household names?
Like movies and music before them, comic books enjoy a vibrant “indie” comics scene. Superheroes from Marvel and DC make up the majority of comics sold these days, but there is a wonderful roster of smaller and mid-level publishers as well. Companies like Boom Studios, Dynamite Entertainment and Image Comics may not hold the same kind of market share as the “Big Two,” Marvel and DC, but it’s these companies and companies like them that continue to push the envelope in terms of new and exciting types of stories being published.
Smaller, more art-house publishing companies exist as well. Imprints like Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly and Top Shelf bring comics to the world that are rarely set in the fantasy world of capes and tights, but rather use comics to tell often extremely personal stories that challenge us to think about the world we live in. True, there is a healthy dose of the fantastic in some of these books, but they tend to lean less towards escapism, and more towards emotion and the questioning of the issues the characters face.
The newest “indie” comic platform has come over the last decade via the Internet. Online, or “Webcomics” have skyrocketed in popularity both due to the accessibility of the comics themselves, but also the speed at which they can be updated. Traditionally, readers would have to wait months or even years between installments of their favourite comics. With webcomics, as soon as they are created, they can be uploaded and released to the world. Some popular comics even go as far as updating daily. Another appeal of the webcomic is for the most part they are 100% creator-owned and controlled, and the majority of the print collections self-published.
The term “Creator Owned” refers to a comic book that is controlled exclusively by it’s creators. In some cases this is a writer, artist or both that have come together an put out the book that they want to see, as opposed to pitching it to publishers or compromising to editors. The most successful of the self-publishers came up in the 1990’s. While the comics world was exploding with superheroes, creators like Jeff Smith (Bone), Terry Moore (Strangers In Paradise) and Dave Sim (Cerebus) were going on tours of comic book shops, plugging their comics the way they wanted to, as opposed to a publishers mandate. This gave rise to a whole new movement in comics, under the radar of the big corporations, which continues today.
Now, with that said, Creator Owned comics can be published by a huge company. A book like the mega-hit Kick-Ass is considered creator owned, even though it was published under Marvel’s Icon imprint. The same can be said for hit comic books like The Walking Dead, Scott Pilgrim and The Boys. While these titles are published by established companies (Image, Oni Press and Dynamite, respectively), the owners of the characters and stories are still the people that created them.
There is a major debate raging in the comics these days about Corporate Vs Creator owned comics. Some see the only way to have fun and real creative freedom is to work on your own, independently created and published works. Others think that working on corporate owned characters like Spider-Man and Superman is a more financially stable way of making a living in comics, and I would imagine a lot of fun too.
To this reporter, all this kind of debate does is stress the fact that comics are the broadest, most accessible artistic and entertainment medium in the world. There is quite truly something for every type of person who’s interested to find. You just need to know how to look.
Which brings us to next week, and possibly the ultimate way that most new faces find their way into a comic shop: Comics & The Movies.
Jeff Moss is the General Manager of The 4th Wall in Pointe-Claire, PQ. He is also the writer of No Reason Comics, and Assistant Editor of Gutters. For more news and discussion, listen to Jeff and Donnie Coulter on The Watchtower Podcast.