Welcome to the last installment of my 2015 reviews. Over the last two weeks I covered movies and comics from the big two. In this final recap for last year, I’ll be going over the brightest and best part of the industry, independent publishers.
Now before I get into the nitty-gritty of the article, I have to say one thing: Calling it the “independent scene” just doesn’t wash with me anymore. We used to call them the independent publishers because they were smaller companies, and usually run by a handful of people, while Marvel and DC were the big boys on the block. Over the years we’ve seen an arrival of publishers into the mainstream, which have carved out a nice chunk of the comic industry.
Dark Horse is the first company that comes to mind for me. They kind of blazed a trail for others to follow; they were not the first good independent publisher, but they are the first that became an industry mainstay of notable size and longevity. Next came Image, who burst onto the scene. After their transition into a more creator-owned company, they became a force of nature in the marketplace.
Since then we have watched as more companies throw their hats into the ring, setting themselves up as serious publishers capable of cranking out tons of great stuff. Companies like IDW, BOOM, Dynamite, Valiant and, two recent arrivals (and personal favorites), Dark Circle Comics (in fairness, this is Archie) and Aftershock. That being said, I really don’t look at these companies as independents anymore so much as innovators.
Our industry has really been transformed over the past fifteen years. Comics are no longer seen as just for kids and I attribute that to a number of reasons, but two in particular stand out to me. First is the acceptance of comics into mass media via movies and television. This phenomenon opened the door for all of those who never picked up a comic to experience characters and stories we already loved. The second is the natural evolution of readers in general. Comic fans are as wide and diverse as the types of comics that are being made these days. There is a ton of reasons for this evolution, and too many to go over in this article, but let’s just say that today’s comic-book fan is no longer pigeonholed into what used to be called the “fan boy.”
Renaissance is a term has been thrown around recently — I’ve used it before in describing the current state of affairs in the independent comic world. And if you think about it, we really are in a new golden age of comics. Never in the history of the medium have we had the variety of comics that are on the stands these days. Never before in the history of comics have we had the diversity of creators that is seen today either, and that diversity just helps to perpetuate the variety of content. These changes in the industry are so strong that it has influenced both Marvel and DC, pushing them to expand, evolve, and appeal not just to the core of old-school customers, but to try include everyone else as well.
If I started to suggest the various titles of all the great books that continued through 2015, or even those that launched in 2015, I wouldn’t have enough room in this article for myself to write anything else. So instead of listing them, I’ll propose a simple challenge to those of you out there who are interested in finding more great comics from the independent publishers. First, just look at the Eisner award nominees. It might seem like a simple thing to do, but if you do, you might be surprised at what you find.
The awards are overwhelmingly dominated by the indie market, a trend that actually finds its roots in the 90s. Sure the independents have always been around, and have been represented in the past, but the 2015 list is an excellent survey of these publishers’ presence in the modern marketplace. Looking for more outside of the Eisners? Go to your local comic shop and ask anyone what are they are currently reading. Of course we still have superhero purists, and there is nothing wrong with that, but I think you’ll find that the average reader these days is into more than just capes and tights.
The true innovation, fresh ideas and great stories are all coming out of indie comics. The sad downside of the superhero movie’s success is the amount of influence leveraged by Hollywood over printed comics at the big two. Sure, there are still gems being made in the films as well as their comics, but Marvel and DC have lost their innovative edge. Everything is carefully planned out for maximized sales impact, not the telling of a great story. This simple fact means the independent publishers are now the torch bearers for modern comics. They are the ones that push the boundaries, exploring stories that can be great despite not being met with commercial success. Simply put, the heart of comics now lies within the independents.
To sum it up, the independent scene in 2015 has been just the latest chapter in the continued evolution of comic books. Of course the industry will always have its superheroes, indeed I personally have a huge soft spot for the genre, but the industry is no longer the private domain of the big two with other companies fighting around the edges for the leftover scraps. Do yourself a favor, grab a copy of Prieviews magazine, available at any comic shop, sit down, and flip through all the great stories coming out. You know we’ve made it as an industry when comics are mined by Hollywood for movie ideas as much as the traditional world of prose fiction.