We continue our rundown of the best indie and small press comics of 2020 with country crime noir, demons in dugouts, shotgun wielding teddy bears and cabbies in the afterlife!
#40 Palomino (Dark Planet Comics)
You wouldn’t instantly picture a western being set in 1980s Los Angeles, but writer Stephan Franck (Silver) draws on his own experience as a country guitar player back in the day, to you bring us this sublime slice of country crime noir. The blend of rhinestones and revolvers is a perfect mix that you can’t believe hasn’t been done before and Franck has developed a very gritty new art style that perfectly suits this fantastic series. It has shades of Brubaker and Philips smokey world of Criminal, but with the added glitz of country music, the shine of 80s LA noir and the tropes of a classic western. This is a huge contrast to Franck’s last work Silver, but it is one which mixes classic crime with a really personal edge and so it makes for a really exceptional read which many may have missed this year. It’s also proof that Franck is the kind of accomplished indie creator who continually manages to mix genres to perfection, creating sublime melodies every time!
#39 Darkboy and Adler
We described Edward Bentley’s twisted romance as like Weird Science meets Child’s Play thank to its surreal blend of unrequited high school lust and terrifying gun toting teddy bears. Bentley and his team have created a truly frenetic, one-of-a-kind comic that is like a whirlwind of ideas and concepts all brought to life with twisted and intricate work that swirls around the page, packing every square centimetre with demonic detail! With a frantic pace and snarling attitude this is a truly unforgettable comic that starts with a bang and then only gets weirder and more outrageous as the series develops!
#38 Hell in Stalingrad (Mad Robot Comics)
Rob Jones and Matt Hardy’s second world war set supernatural demon story definitely lives up to its hellish title. Set in the midst of one of World War 2’s bloodiest battles, German and Soviet troops uncover a demonic presence in the midst of the mayhem and things take a dark and sinister twist for all involved. Hardy and Jones manage to balance a historically detailed back story with some truly one of a kind, almost abstract artwork from newcomer Russell MacEwan. His scratchy, cut and paste style manages to mix the chaos of war with the twisted nature of the dark forces to make a really uncompromising and challenging read. While it may not be for everyone, it deserves rewarding for it’s ambition and intensity of ideas.
#37 Afterlift (ComiXology Originals)
It’s been another strong year for ComiXology’s creator owned imprint, with with big name’s like Chip Zdarsky joining their ranks. Chip’s tale of a cab service for the afterlife more than blew away any detractors who thought he wouldn’t make it away from the House of Ideas to deliver a story about a driver tasked to deliver a soul through hell. Afterlift was a truly full-throttle comic, as it’s exhilarating story went out of the gate at full speed and never even stopped for gas. The characters, especially the lead were well written and the great art from Jason Loo was a wonder to see and perfect match for this story.
#36 The Show Complete Collection
Jed McPherson’s tale of a prisoner caught up in a reality TV show, was a firm favourite on last year’s list, but this new collected edition has helped to really cement it as a must read. With its mix of Truman Show and Oldboy, the adventures of Johnny TeeVee and his maniacal producer overlord suffered the initial hurdle of changing artist after 1 issue, with Joseph Velazquez being replaced by Robert Ahmed (A Devil Disguise). This shift in tone was a bit difficult to reconcile in the individual issues, however now that its collected together you can really appreciate the story as a whole, with Ahmad really taking the character on his own journey after taking the reigns at late notice. An ambitious and exciting piece of media satire, that really benefits from being read in one go.
#35 I Walk With Monsters (Vault Comics)
A late comer on the list, this fantastic book new book from Vault follows a young woman as she travels cross-country seeking out very human monsters with her companion (who becomes a very different kind of monster). Paul Cornell’s story is may only being 1 issue in, but he has offered up an intriguing backstory for many of the key characters that we can’t wait to see explored further. Sally Cantirino’s art is equally captivating, mixing very wholesome country scenes with a dark undertone to really create an enigmatic and intriguing first issue. To say Vault are firing great guns has been an understatement for years but with this book they have again made something really interesting that really stands out from the indie comics crowd.
Read our full review of I Walk With Monsters here
#34 Crow Song
This anthology of 4 subjectively similar stories is a glorious showcase for the writing of Tony Vanraes. It feels more like a portfolio sampler than a comic, and so once you finish reading it you just want to read all 4 stories in much longer outings. Vanraes has cherry picked some truly amazing artists to bring his stories to life and so the quality of stories on offer is exceptional. From high concept fantasy in The Immolated Lady, to quirky comedy in Squires, there is a fantastic range of writing and visuals on offer, which makes the whole book very readable, as well as showcasing those involved to their very best. If you love ambitious fantasy and sci-fi then be sure to check this out, and when Tony hits it big you can remember where you read his work first!
#33 Flake (Penguin/Random House)
It’s been a long time coming, but Matthew Dooley’s first full length graphic novel was everything we had hoped it would be and more. Having become huge fans of his work via his award winning shorts (Colin Turnbull), his self published anthologies (Meanderings) and his contributions to Dirty Rotten Comics, this tale of a pair of warring ice cream men had everything that we loved in those early works, expanded into a long form story. It’s surreal and quirky, packed with gloriously odd moments. But it’s also incredibly grounded and packed full of real emotional heft. As well as looking absolutely wonderful in Dooley’s own unique and very meticulously observed style. Effortlessly charming and genuinely engaging, this is the book that should cement Dooley as one of the UK’s most imaginative and insightful cartoonists!
#32 Gamayun Tales Volume 2 (Nobrow Press)
Alexander Utkin’s retelling of Slavic fairy tales are a timeless delight and this second volume collects together two new wonderful stories. They focus loosely around Baba Yaga and her golden apples as we see a young girls trying to save her family with them, before going back in time to meet 3 brothers trying to get the apples in the first place. Like all classic myths the stories leap around in time and intermingle, but as with the first volume, having a common thread (and narrator) it helps tie this volume together. This makes both stories incredibly readable, along with some sublime painted artwork that mixes Studio Ghibli characterisation with a gloriously mythic sensibility to create a truly glorious package. Sublimely rendered, effortlessly told and a wonderful example of the kind beautiful and thoughtful work that makes Nobrow one of our favourite publishers.
#31 The 77
The latest sci-fi anthology to try and capture the spirit of 2000AD or Warrior for a new generation is The 77. Born out of a 2000AD fan group on Facebook, The 77 is a highly ambitious collection of stories that is clearly aiming for greatness from the outset! It has a decidedly retro approach with many of the strips feeling like they could belong in the Prog, or at least have been inspired by it. Whether that is opener Temporal Anarachy or Steve Bull and Ade Hughes V, they have that anarchy and passion which people most readily associate with those early progs. It’s not all retro charm though, and is backed up with some more contemporary stories such as Michael Powel and Phil Elliot’ss The Last Man which has an almost Avery Hill vibe to it and was our stand out from the debut issue. With three issues under it’s belt this is a series bulging with potential for greatness and looking set for even greater things in 2021!