Our rundown of the best small press and indie comics of 2021 gets to the business end as we break the top 20. This lot includes: mysterious monsters, post apocalyptic boy scouts, animals in a castle and a book about premonition – but you knew that already!
20. I Walk with Monsters (Vault Comics)
James says: “Paul Cornell is a British institution in comics, with works for both of the big two as well as a major presence within the Who-verse. However, it is with I Walk with Monsters where he not only creates what feels like his most personal story but is also up there amongst his best yet (and that is quite a feat). Cornell’s writing in this series is immensely captivating in both its story and its dialogue. Meanwhile Sally Catarino produces some sublimely gorgeous sequentials with the assistance of Dearbhla Kelly’s colours. Vault Comics have spent much of 2021 giving us winners (much as they did the year before), but with I Walk with Monsters, Vault, Cornell, Caterino, Kelly and letterer Andworld Design started this year with something horrifyingly special.”
19. Turtlenecks (AdHouse Books)
Lydia says: “As an English lit graduate, Turtlenecks by Steven Christie was right up my street. I adored the stunning pastel illustrations and individual art style – what a treat for the eyes! Focused on an art exhibition heist, which doesn’t quite go to plan, this one is really hilarious. But the more obscure aspects of Turtlenecks, like it’s focus on literary theories and interior time and space, are what make this one really special. Get ready to have your mind a bit boggled – in a good way!”
18. Scout’s Honor (Aftershock Comics)
James says: “Back when this year began, the hype surrounding David Pepose’s prior works (Spencer and Locke, The O.Z.) really made Scout’s Honor a highly anticipated comic. Well, this series certainly didn’t fail to live up to this expectation with a superbly engrossing and mysterious story set within a visually stunning world as depicted by the terrific Luca Casalanguida and Matt Milla’s fine colours. While the first issue we reviewed left us with a lot of questions needing answers, it also gave us a complex world where a single issue was definitely not going to be enough to quell our enjoyment.”
17. The 77 (The 77 Publications)
Mike says: “The 77 started off as a retro anthology with the tagline “Your future is history!”. The current issue features the beautifully painted art of Ian Stopworth, bringing Paul Goodenough’s ecological warning tale Extinction 2040 to life. Galactic Geographic from Noel K Hannan and Warwick Fraser-Coombe takes the reader far into a time yet to come where as Jormun by R-DVE and Bruno Stahl takes us back to the age of the Vikings. It no longer feels like it’s got one foot in the past. Ironically, the things that it’s got in common with classic 2000AD is that it’s looking towards the future and isn’t scared to take risks.”
16. Animal Castle #1 (Ablaze Comics)
Alex says: “Animal Castle was a late arrival on the list, but this anthropomorphic tale of a castle that has been taken over by animals has the heft and gravitas of Animal Farm and the visual spectacle of Scurry making it one of the best books of its type we’ve read in recent memory. Writer Xavier Dorison tells a sublime story which feels both classic but also very contemporary – mentions of disease wiping out the humans and a single mum feline heroine make it feel very relevant. Meanwhile artist Felix Delep draws some of the most beautiful and expressive animals we have seen in a book like this, as well as balancing it with some wonderful light moment and some brutally harsh scenes that make this a book which will live long in the memory! This has the potential to be a truly regal read!!”
15. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Reppion/Penman)
Mike says: “Writer John Reppion and artist MD Penman retell a familiar tale of King Arthur’s nephew, Gawain, challenged by the sinister Green Knight to strike him with his axe on any part of his body. It’s a great story that has been interpreted in many different ways. Reppion manages to make the tale of Gawain exciting and accessible without unnecessarily altering it to somehow make it “relevant” to a contemporary audience. If you know your Arthurian folklore, you won’t feel as though you’re being talked down to. If you are a complete novice, you won’t feel lost. That’s quite an achievement. MD Penman’s art is delightful and sinister simultaneously.”
14. Lights Planets People (Avery Hill Publishing)
Lydia says: “With heavy weight topics like bipolar disorder, mental health issues, therapy and relationships, Lights, Planets, People! By Lizzie Stewart and Molly Naylor could easily feel heavy handed. However, this gorgeous graphic novel is anything but! Focusing on female physicist Maggie, who worked in the world of space, the author handles these concepts with a wonderfully light touch which will give hope to anyone who deals with anxiety.”
13. Tiny Wizards (Eben Burgoon)
Alex says: This is one of those books that is so packed with great ideas and concepts that trying to sum them all up in a simple synopsis is impossible. At its simplest, Tiny Wizards is a story about a group of magical fantasy people who are transported from their homeland to live in an American city, but in the process they end up only a few inches tall and living in fast food restaurants as a result! In our review we called a mix between the Borrowers, Lord of the Rings and Fast Food Nation, but ultimately it is one of those books which manages to exemplify the imagination and originality of small press comics in its finest. Writer Eben Burgoon creates a brilliantly over the top world full of magical and mayhem, which is brought to frenetic life by the brilliant Dean Beattie (including some truly epic double page spreads) to create one of those books which you have to truly experience to understand just how enjoyable and unique it is.
12. Alone in Space (Avery Hill Publishing)
Lydia says: “I love a graphic novel compendium, particularly one as well-thought out and put together as Alone in Space by Tillie Walden. With three longer stories by Tillie with distinct art styles and genres, and many of Tillie’s other, shorter works, this is a real treat. With my personal favourite of the three stories being the claustrophobic and eerie feeling ‘The End of Summer’, Tillie Walden has done a stellar job in slipping into different genres with ease and making each her own. Almost lyrical at times, this fascinating collection takes us from spooky to romantic to magical and is an absolute must have for collectors.”
11. Hocus Pocus (Hocus Pocus Comics)
Alex says: “We often see a decline in the quality of small press series over time, as real-world contraints like money and time, stifle creative endeavour. However one glorious exception to this rule is Dr Richard Wiseman’s Hocus Pocus. Writer Rik Worth and artist Jordan Collver have compiled one of the most inventive and original comics out there with Hocus Pocus. With it’s mix of urban legends and supernatural stories, gorgeous artwork (especially Owen Watts’ colours) and genuine mind-bending trickery thanks to Wiseman (who has worked with Derren Brown in the past) this is a book which continues to delight and amaze in equal measure. One of the genuinely great small press series out there at the moment with every new issue being better than the last!