Image Comics came about within my first three to four years of reading comic books. As somebody who had really only known Marvel and DC (and let’s be honest… only Marvel), it kind of blew my mind.
There would be comics not directly tied into the worlds of Spider-Man or Batman? Comics that could tell stories that Superman or X-Men comics wouldn’t… or couldn’t? That was WILD to little twelve year old me!
Of course, independent press comics had been around for decades, but how was my Wolverine-loving brain to know that? I never really needed them, so I never bothered with them.
but when Image started, all of that changed. I discovered a world of books that were exciting and new. From Image I moved outward to some Dark Horse. I started reading Antarctic Press’ Strangers In Paradise. The comic universe was even bigger than I knew!
So in what in my reading of these fancy shmancy non-Marvel/DC books did I find the enjoyment? Well…
10. The Tick
Do I like The Tick comic as much as I enjoy The Tick cartoon… or the [way too short-lived] 2001 Patrick Warburton led Tick sitcom?
I do not.
But I downright LOVE the cartoon and the live action show, so that’s no knock on Ben Edlund’s comic that started it all. A Superman analogue holding his fingers over his eyes so he won’t be identified when his glasses are off. A row of ninja pretending to be a hedge. A Man-Eating Cow. This book has some bombastically fun ideas.
9. Sex Criminals
What a series this is that bounces back and forth between humor and emotion so easily.
Also, it makes me Google “Sex Criminals” to find good art from the book, so now I’m on SOME kind of watchlist.
Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky have given us a series about folks who have the absolute strangest super power–the ability to stop time when they orgasm–and used it to tell the story of Suzie and Jon, two people who probably aren’t good for each other, but found each other anyway.
A lot of laugh out loud moments here as you wonder if these two should end up together after everything they go through.
8. Black Hammer
Ah, this is what I wanted for so long! A self-contained superhero universe with stakes and continuity and consistency. This is the good stuff here.
I’m far, far behind on Black Hammer, having just gotten about two or three trades deep into it so far, but it’s scratched an itch I’ve had for a while. Too many other independent comics just eschew the ideas of superheroes entirely. Marvel and DC have an impenetrable shell of multiverses and resets… to the point where nothing matters. But Black Hammer has the best of both worlds: I just want superheroes done right!
I hope it stays good as I keep getting more of it.
(And I hope Radiant Black, a comic I was recently recommended for having the same things I want, is as good as this at least started out!)
God, Sana Takeda art is stunning. Even without a good story, I’d get this book just to look at it.
Never fear, though, because Marjorie Liu’s universe is steeped in mythology and monsters and gods and witches… the book throws you RIGHT INTO ALL, but you are able to keep up because the story of Maika is so damn interesting, and the book metes out just enough info to you when you need and want it.
It can be a bit dense and serious at points, but universe is so fantastical, I don’t even care.
6. Scott Pilgrim
The movie is an utter joy. One of my very favorites of all time.
The comic it is based on is somehow even better.
The movies does a good job trimming some of the fat from the series and really streamlining the tale into a cinematic chunk, but it also misses out on some of the best jokes from the book. Most of it in the form of the narration (it makes the Vegan Police scene even funnier), but also how the story keeps Envy around a bit longer (and Gideon builds a sword into her dress).
The art is great for the series. The tone is hilarious. The characters are all despicable, but in a weird adorable way.
Before Black Hammer, there was Invincible!
Back to the self-contained superhero universe idea, Invincible has finally gotten its big market due with the first season of its cartoon having been a hit. The story of teenager Mark growing up with his newly acquired superpowers and alien heritage was a fun book that was never afraid to push the envelope in terms of brutality. Characters regularly got the shit maimed out of them! Robert Kirkman loves blood and guts, guys.
There would be patches where the title would get a bit wiggy, and not all of the stories paid off as well as you might want. Angstrom Levy is an antagonist I never got fully into, so I zoned out when he was featured. But then the book would give you something like The Viltrumite War, and you knew how great it could all be.
Maus is not an enjoyable book to read.
I mean… it’s powerful. It’s gripping. It’s important.
But I’ve read it twice in my life, and… that’s enough. I don’t need to ever read it again.
Is it possibly more important than it’s ever been since it was first written? Arguably so. And it even unfortunately found its way into the public sphere with some talk of schools banning it.
Maybe I SHOULD read it again.
Maybe we should all read Maus pretty regularly, actually.
3. Astro City
Man, I love Kurt Busiek, guys.
I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything of his I haven’t at least strongly liked. And Astro City is Kurt at the absolute height of his powers. An anthology style series of a metropolis crowded with metahumans, Astro City still manages to be a book of immense humanity. The characters feel like PEOPLE. Everything here is believable.
Every arc is glorious. Busiek never loses his touch or runs out of things to say in Astro City. He has all the best stories to tell that Marvel and DC wouldn’t let him do.
2. Savage Dragon
I think I loved Savage Dragon because of how palpable it was that Erik Larson loved Savage Dragon.
From the very beginning of the title, Larson was clear that this was a tale and a character he’d been playing with for almost his whole life. He was dead set on tying or breaking Dave Sim’s run of 300 consecutive issues written and penciled on one book, and the guy had the ideas to do it, too.
Savage Dragon has gone through so many changes since it debuted. Hell, it doesn’t even take place in the same REALITY as the one we were introduced to!
So credit to Larsen for his sheer passion for this character and for his dedication to keeping it going.
Hellboy seems like an odd choice to have supplanted Savage Dragon as my favorite indie book. After all, if not for Savage Dragon, I might never have read Hellboy.
But after HB made a guest appearance in the early days of Dragon’s run, I immediately ran out to get what I could on this character. It was a GREAT decision.
For one, Mike Mignola is one of the best artists on the planet. I’m intrigued by anything he pencils.
But beyond that, you have a brilliantly researched book that draws from fables and mythology from the whole damn world. Hellboy always felt like a living, breathing book where anything was possible.
Even after he died and went to hell.
That’s just ten of my favorites, AND I decided I had to leave manga out of it or it would have been too difficult. But don’t worry; that list is coming soon, too.
In the meantime, let me know: what are your favorite comics not published by Marvel or DC? Tell us in the comments and I’ll probably steal your suggestions and start reading them myself.
Until next time… take care!