Here it is, 9 of the very best indie and small press comics of 2020. The overall winner of our poll will be announced tomorrow, but for now enjoy outstanding anthologies, unlikely genre mash ups, the worlds greatest detective as you’ve never seen him before and comics that will mess with your mind!
#10 SKRAWL Comix Magazine
We often find ourselves writing about what makes a great anthology, and you can’t go a lot better than looking at the pages of SKRAWL – The Comix Magazine. This anthology is compiled by the self proclaimed SKRAWL Lords, a rag tag band of indie creators who include Gustaffo Vargas (MANU), Russell Olson (Gateway City), Nick Prolix (Slang Pictorial), Rosie Packwood (The Incredible Bun) and Pete Taylor (The Seven Sagas of Silverbeard). Just this combination of talent would make an awesome book, however they have created this wonderful mix of comic and magazine which is not only a showcase for their own unique talents but is done so in a really awesome package that brings everything together to perfection. There is also a real sense of passion and creativity on every page which at it’s heart is what make anthologies, and small press comics as a whole, so truly fantastic!
#9 Knight vs. Pirates (Reckless Hero)
The team at Reckless Hero have made a name for themselves on the UK indie scene thanks to their bombastic brand of artwork on books like The Last Sheriff and Operation Boom, that was inspired by 90s artist like Joe Madureira, 90s Capcom video games and classic anime. So, making a book about knights and pirates may not seem the obvious choice for their high impact brand of story telling – but it really works. Teaming up with ALV’s Jay Martin, Knights vs Pirates is a glorious ‘down the pub after a convention’ concept that sees King Arthur’s knights take on Blackbeard’s pirates via some kind of time tunnels. It’s all just one big pre-amble for some amazing artwork from Chrises Imber and Jenkins, and with the longer format it gives them time to really show off their story telling chops and awesome artwork. However it’s not all about the art, as Martin gives the world just enough detail to keep it interesting and helps build an outrageous concept into something really fun. As a concept, it shouldn’t work, and only a team like Reckless Hero could make it this damn good!
#8 What We Don’t Talk About (Avery Hill Publishing)
Trying to pick a favourite Avery Hill book each year is never an easy task, and this year’s offering has been a really eclectic but very timely mix. With Zoe Thorogood’s The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott and Owen Pommery’s Victory Point featuring on this list already, perhaps the most enlightening has been Charlot Kristenson’s look at provincial racism. What starts as a simple tale of a young girl meeting her boyfriend’s parents, soon turns into a subtle but affecting look at how middle class racism permeates our culture, and how silence and acceptance are as responsible for this, as out and bigotry. Kristenson’s story is told in a really light and engaging way, painting a picture of a very real situation in a very thoughtful, but positive approach. In the year of #blacklivesmatter this was a wonderful look at how bad things can be in plain sight, but more importantly how things should be when it comes to this emotive subject.
This heart breaking time travel romance literally spans time and space to bring us one of the most emotive stories we have read all year. Astronaut Murray is terminally ill and so when her engineer wife and she are given a chance to save the world by going on a one way journey into the future to save mankind they take the opportunity. While this might sound like a space romp, it is anything but. Instead it is a wonderful character study of two people in love who will do anything to make that continue. Writer Tom Woodman has crafted a wonderful story that has a very Chris Nolan feel to it mixing plausible near-future sci-fi with a real emotional, but very believable core. While artist Rupert Smissen gives everything a slick near future feel, yet without it ever disappearing into outrageous space silliness. A really intelligent and beautifully told story.
#6 Write it in Blood
We love it when we discover an amazing gem of a comic months before it gets picked up by a major publisher, and that is exactly what happened with this. Rory McConville and Joe Palmer’s crime caper was released early in the year via Gumroad, but has since been picked up by Image, and we always new it was destined for greatness. The tale of two bumbling hitmen brothers, who are trying to do one last job before they retire has the tone of a classic early Cons Brother movie, with sparkling dialogue and over the top twists and turns – as well as the odd moments of graphic violence just to keep thing real. McConville’s writing is on point throughout, while Palmer’s artwork continues his amazing work that we saw in last year’s Grind. A book that is distends for greatness, and you heard it here first!
#5 Friday (Panel Syndicate)
Taking a break from his prolific partnership with Sean Philips, writer Ed Brubaker has brought this amazing teen sleuth story to the pay-what-you-want digital platform Panel Syndicate. But with it being Brubaker he has is own slant on everything as former teen sleuth Friday returns to her hometown after her first year at college only to find her former teen sleuth partner is still investigating mysteries. It’s a great twist on this classic genre and Brubaker layers the story with sexual tension as well as supernatural mysteries. With sublime artwork from The Private Eye’s Marcos Martin this is one of those books that reminds you just what an accomplished writer brusker is and how is capable of breathing life and new ways of telling stories into even the most familiar of genres. This is destined to be an underground hit [until it gets reprinted by Image at a future date of course], so be sure to read it now and be ahead of the masses!
#4 Hocus Pocus
A glorious mix of the history of the supernatural along with some genuine mental trickery. Each issue of Hocus Pocus looks at a different subject, from ghosts to psychics, and profiles three eminent figures from the history of this subject. However what makes Hocus Pocus even smarter is thank to the involvement of eminent psychologist Dr Richard Wiseman. He helps to ensure the pages are also layered with subtle mental trickery and neurotic programming tricks to make them genuinely interactive. It’s a wonderful combination for a comic, as writer Rik Worth spins a great selection of stories and artist Jordan Collver brings every page to life with exquisite artwork and colours (aided by Owen Watts). It has the look and feel of a Nobrow book but in a small press comic, and with different variations available online this is one of the smartest and most original books around. A truly magical and mystical read!
#3 My Doyle’s Class presents A Study in Scarlet
This gender flipped version of the classic Sherlock Holmes mystery is so much more than a simple rehash of the famous detective’s debut case. Because this book was produced in association with the Doyle collection in Portsmouth it is a wonderful mix of classic sleuthing and really intelligent adaptation of what is quite a tricky story. Hardy and Olson cast the story as being produced as a school play, which allows them to shuffle the genders of the protagonists, without it feeling too ‘woke’. But it also allows for them to use that dynamic to give the story some pep. They also adapt the complex middle section in a really unique way, so that they can be both faithful and not get bogged down with the story telling. If you’re unfamiliar with the original, a quick read of the Wikipedia page before and after really helps, and in doing so you can see what a wonderfully clever and imaginative adaptation this is. It also features sublime artwork from Gateway City’s Russell Olson whose red and black colour scheme makes the Study in Scarlet an essential read!
#2 The Junction (Norm Konyu)
We always love it when discover a book that is full formed, and honed to perfection, and Norm Konyu’s The Junction is just that kind of book. The story of a young boy who returns to his small town being missing for 5 years, starts of us a curious crime thriller and soon evolves into a magical mystery that takes in some complex issues like grief and loss. All of this is told in an exquisite style which feels like a mix of children’s illustrators like Oliver Jeffers and Cony’s own animation background. It’s an incredibly accomplished debut that feels every bit like a professionally published book. This is one of those books that improves with every read as you spot more and more detail in every page, but also feels like a timeless story which we will be returning to again and again as the year goes by. Especially if Norm continues to produce work of this exceptional quality.