Our round-up of the best small press and indie comics of 2021 continues with retro anthologies, violent barbarians, alien gangsters and secret agent damsels!
40. Midnight Highway (Mike Tener Comics)
James says: With a vibe that imbues a sense of the Twilight Zone (but maybe set in a more Top Gear motif), Midnight Highway quickly took the lead in the 2021 race against a line up which contained no slouches. Mike Tener and Alex Maday created a twisted and unsettling, but incredibly enticing story about a man and his car that found itself on a supernatural road. However, while the story may be the stuff of nightmares, Alexander Malyshev and Hedwin Zaldivar sure showed it with art from your wildest dreams, providing a real trippy, surreal beauty. This was a comic which came off the starting grid strong and continues to make me want to see how it travels the road next.
Read our full review of Midnight Highway here
39. Blazer (The 77 Publications)
Mike says: “It’s fair to say that Blazer isn’t breaking the mould but it’s not trying to. The point is to take us back to the days of Hookjaw, Dredger, Roy of the Rovers and Hellman. There are war stories, football stories and policemen riding bicycles There are jokes and pin-ups, letters pages and an advice column from a professional boxer called Tornado Ted! The strips are no longer than 6 pages and, apart from Dominica’s Ring in the centre of the comic, all in glorious black and white. It’s even printed on newsprint. Steve MacManus writes all of the strips here and despite the differing genres they each bear his unmistakable marks of non-stop action and tongue in cheek humour.”
38. Barbaric (Vault Comics)
James says: Michael Moreci is a name that doesn’t get as much recognition as it deserves, but with Barbaric, I do feel that will no longer be the case. This comic had such a bizarre concept at its heart but Moreci wrote a tremendous story in the first issue alone which had me eager to know what happened next without any hesitation. Meanwhile, artist Nathan Gooden more than matches Moreci’s story with breathtakingly visceral art from beginning to end. Vault are offering up top tier Comics on a weekly basis but with Barbaric, they’ve gotten their hands on work that is upper echelon within their catalogue.
Read our full review of Barbaric #1 here
37. Hex Loader (Dan Whitehead Comics)
Mike says: With Hex Loader writer Dan Whitehead tells an interesting tales that works on a number of levels. It’s easy enough to read it as a fun romp in which everyman figure in the form of David finds himself slap-bang in the middle of a fast-moving adventure that mixes Harry Potter-style thrills with a whole lot of eighties nods and winks to readers of a certain age (my age, actually…). Where Hex Loader gets interesting is when we start at how the different characters earn their livings and how they justify this to themselves. Artist Connor Boyle takes the mix of genres in his stride in a story that is also a period piece with his art bringing the Eighties back to life, for better or worse.
36. Coma (Myriad Editions)
Lydia says: “Coma by Zara Slattery is an autobiographical graphic novel focusing on Zara’s real-life experience with her sudden descent into a coma. Told from dual narratives of Zara’s worried husband, and Zara herself stuck in what she calls ‘purgatory’, this one is bound to tug on your heart strings, make you gasp in horror and hug those close to you. This quiet, understated read is refreshingly honest about illness and recovery, and is truly inspiring.”
35. Gateway City Quarterly
Alex says: “After a couple of years away from his pulp inspired take on his mid-west home Russell Mark Olson is back in the wonderful world of alien gangsters, piano playing bears and blue-skinned jazz singers. Having spent that time away working on books like Study in Scarlet and SKRAWL, Olson’s work as a new found confidence and experimental side which has only been aided by him releasing new work via Patreon and then in gorgeous newsprints size installments. This has give the story of private eye ‘Lundy’ Lundqvust investigating a murder in a city full of alien gangsters a renewed energy and vigour, and while the story isn’t as finessed as the first volume, it has an energy and a passion in these new pages which make them even more compelling. With the first 3 issues of Quarterly now collected into a single volume you get more of an idea of where the story is heading, but thanks to the wonderfully unconventional world which Russell has built for us we just find ourselves wanting more dispatches from the glorious Gateway City!”
34. Boomerang Parts 1 and 2 (Rebecca K Jones)
Lydia says: Boomerang Parts 1 and 2 by Rebecca K Jones are a visual delight. Each volume reflects the season it is based in, autumn and winter, as Rebecca chooses to focus on one colour palette to evoke the season that is taking place. Also amazing in this is its discussion of mental health, familial issues and the difficulties of navigating the world as a new adult. As a recent graduate myself, this was one I found myself really identifying with.”
33. Methods of Dyeing (Avery Hill Publishing)
Alex says: The latest volume of B. Mure’s wonderful Ismyre series continues to cement it’s place as Avery Hill’s most under-rated and consistently brilliant book. Set in a magical world of talking animals and eco-terrorists, this is one of those books which is all about the world building, which allows Mure to tell unique and different stories in each volume. Essentially this allows Methods of Dyeing to be a murder mystery as a visiting professor from another city is found dead. Is this a political act or something more home grown? Mure takes this fairly trad. whodunnit concept and weaves a glorious tale of political intrigue and difference around it, while bringing the story to live with some glorious scratchy line work and a rainbow infused colour palette. Packed full of quiet moments which deliver a real punch, the Ismyre series continue to go from strength to strength with every volume and is one of those books which continues to evolve and develop into something really special, in it’s own quiet and understated way.
32. Thoughtscape Comics
Alex says: “We see plenty of comics influenced by the legendary 2000 AD and while Matt Mair Lowery’s Thoughtscape isn’t directly influenced by the Prog, it definitely feels like a tonally similar piece thanks it’s mix of sci-fi tales threaded together by a common theme. Set in a world where the 5th dimension of thought has been discovered by multi-planet conglomerate LifeTech thoughts can be recorded and even reconstructed so they can be used again for education, or entertainment purposes. All of which brings together the otherwise disparate stories together under one umbrella, and while this isn’t always apparent in the stories, thanks to the eclectic nature of each chapter, it does at least make the whole thing feel like a complete concept. As does the wonderful design of the book as a whole, all of which creates one of the classiest anthologies we have read this year.”
31. Damsel from DISTRESS (Bin Cat Press)
Alex says: “It’s been a strong year for writer Andrew Clemson. He released two new issues of his post-modern superhero series Bete Noir, but it was this superb mash up of fairy tales and spy adventures stories which was our personal favourite. Set in the traditional world of brave knights and magical monsters, Clemson turns the convention on it’s head by having his heroine ‘Bec’ not be a damsels in need of rescue, but the other way around as she is as an agent for secretive agency D.I.S.T.R.E.S.S. – an acronym-tastic collective in the spirit of spy staples like U.N.C.L.E. or S.P.E.C.T.R.E. Clemson and artist Mauricio Mora are clearly revelling in the world they have created, making the most of this fun, action packed world with colourful visuals and high energy story-telling. But this is more than a one-trick joke and the story manages to sustain the concept well, creating a really original and genuinely enjoyable reimagining of some of your favourite classic fairytale characters.