It’s been another amazing year for independent and small press comics, and so picking our favourites from the year has not been an easy task. It has meant missing out some big hitters from previous years line-ups, but this is a reflection of the calibre and quality of books we have discovered this year, many of which were from first time creators dipping their toe in the world of self publishing for the first time!
50. Brain Shoodles (Emily Owen)
Mental health has been one of the key issues in small press comics this year, with creators handling this difficult subject in a variety of ways. Chris Browning (Grey Fug) and Rozi Hathaway (Self Care and Vegetables) went for cathartic self-analysis, while Rachael Smith (Wired Up Wrong) used humour to get her point across. Emily Owen’s Brain Shoodles (aka Shit Doodles) exists somewhere between these two, by representing her struggles with depression and anxiety with basic, almost abstract, cartoons which distill her feelings and emotions down to their very simplest forms. This allows quite complex issues and scenarios to be explained in a very clear and relatable way. As a result Brain Shoodles is able to shine a sympathetic spotlight on the subject of mental health, reminding those who are affected by these conditions that they are not the only one out there feeling like this.
49. Face Down in the Mud (David Cooper)
Writer and artist David B. Cooper tells the story of how he recovered from the physical and emotional scars that are left when he is brutally attacked by a group of men for no discernible reason. Cooper bravely opens up about the experience and how he pieced his life back to together, to create a book that features some brutal honesty but never wallows in self pity. Instead you get a truly emotional journey which acts as a form of therapy in its creation, with Cooper pouring his soul into his comic. His clever use of simple imagery to tell the story, may make it look cartoony, but it also allows him to use visual cues to represent key moments. As well as an incredibly honest account of David’s darkest hour, it is also a great tool for any who have experienced similar troubling or traumatic events to try and gain some clarity of focus surrounding them.
48. Don’t Fall (Misrule Comics)
Set on a mountainous fantasy world surrounded by a fiery pit, Don’t Fall is the simple mantra that the residents must live by, but when a young brother and sister defy the law they are taken on a fascinating and heart-breaking journey. We’ve been a big fan of Leonie O’Moore’s books like Lord, and this year’s Invoked, but Don’t Fall is a real step away from those dark horror tales into an almost Pratchett-esque fantasy world. But one which is also beautifully sweet and very poignant. O’Moore’s painterly style gives it a child-like innocence, that works perfectly with the subtle and nuanced story telling, and showcases what an interesting and diverse writer she is becoming.
47. Comichaus (Comichaus)
The UK’s premier indie comics anthology has continued to go from strength to strength this year with stories from some of the UK’s top small press talents. Highlights for us have included: Steve Horry and Catia Fantina on Chalk; Rob Jones and Mike Sambrook’s Homeopathos; Simon Birks and Lyndon Whites’s Cold, and perhaps our favourite of all, Hellbound Media’s Matt Warner and Red Mask From Mars’ Vince Hunt teaming up for a new Mandy The Monster Hunter adventure. Last year we said that Comichaus had the potential to be the ‘indie 2000 AD’, and this year they have made that into a reality by producing. With their newly launched app and mini series Lizard Men debuting as well, we can only see good things for Comichaus in the coming months, but it is their anthology which is their crowning achievement as it fills that gap in the UK comic scene for a collection of stories that shows fans the exciting potential of small press and indie publishing!
46. Perrywinkle (Susie Gander)
Inspired by her own fight with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Susie Gander’s Perrywinkle is a super powered allegory for her battle against cancer. Instead of going for the usual slice of life style, Susie has created Perrywinkle, an all action female superhero who acts as her voice of conscience and also battles the cancer within her. It’s a great way to make Susie’s story accessible to a new readership who might not ordinarily pick up a book like this, as it balances action and adventure with highligh personal and emotional moments. While the former makes it fun to read, it is the personal elements that exist in between the action are what makes the book such a compelling read, telling a powerful story with real credibility and emotional potence. With it’s 90s infused artwork and intimate story-telling, Perrywinkle manages to be both entertaining, emotive and educational in equal measures.
45. Freeway Fighter (Titan Comics)
It’s been a great year for Fighting Fantasy fans, thanks to books like The Trolltooth Wars and this all-action mini series courtesy of Titan Comics. Writer Andi Ewington brings Ian Livingstone’s high octane adventure book to life with this prequel story which explains how the characters from the classic 80s gaming book came to be. Focusing around Bella De La Rosa and her battles with the evil Demon Dogs it telegraphs events that will happen in the game book, but still manages to be a really enjoyable read even if you have never picked up the original that it’s based on. With explosive artwork from Si Coleby it feels like a comic book version of Mad Max: Fury Road with plenty of fender bending action, gun-toting goons and a relentless pace that will leave you breathless for more!
44. Cognition: Black Shuck (Ken Reynolds Comics)
Our favourite British Occult Secret Society investigators are back, and this time they are heading to rural Devon to look into a mysteriously monstrous hound. Cognition writer Ken Reynolds’ is crafting one of the most original small press books out there, thanks in no small part to the excellent characters he has created in Sigma and Cal (the robot detective and his mouse buddy). It is this characterisation which is the core of this fantastic series as the pair bicker while on their travels, but also reveal some more about their back story with every new adventure. As always the world of Cognition is brought to life by artist Sam Bentley, whose dark shadowy artwork gives this Victorian supernatural tale it’s dark and moody heart. (Be sure to also check out Ken Reynolds’ excellent work on experimental anthology Sliced Quarterly and apocalyptic pregnancy drama In Trouble).
43. Planet of Daemons (Amigo Comics)
A witch finder from the 17th century battles demons on an intergalactic afterworld in Kevin Gunstone and Paul Moore’s epic Planet of Daemons. Reading like a 70s Hammer Horror but set in space, it has a very classic feel to it, like it could have been plucked from a vintage British weekly. And it is this mix of the horrific and the fantastic which makes it such an excellent read. Gunstone’s complex world-building, and multiple timelines are expertly brought to life by the criminally under-rated Paul Moore who gives the book a timeless feel that perfectly matches the otherworldly concepts. With it’s intelligent world building and unorthodox beasts with unpronounceable names, this feels like a kindred spirit to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and so if you love that kind of complex and articulate story-telling then you will love this!
42. Knock Off Wars
If like us, you grew up on a steady diet of 80s action figures and Saturday morning cartoons, then Luke Toywalker and Lucasz Kowalczuk’s Knock Off Wars will be a heady trip down memory lane. The heroes in Knock Off Wars are a strange mix of ninja turtles and Masters of the Universe (but not enough to trouble the lawyers) and they embark on a mission to discover the secrets of their world in the mysterious Monster Castle. Toywalker’s bizarre concepts are brought to life perfectly by Kowalczuk’s dazzling visuals which mix legally questionable parody with ultra violent fantasy battles (we don’t remember those in Thundercats) and loving homages to 80s and 90s pop culture.
41. Beautiful Canvas (Black Mask Studio)
Ryan K Lindsay and Sami Kivela are becoming quite the formidable duo, as they follow up the excellent Deer Editor and Chum with this tale of a hit woman who gets more than she bargains for when her latest victims son catches her in the act. Just when you think this is going to be another all action female assassin book like Lazarus or Wanted it throws in magical kids, super powered mercenariess and a truly terrifying villainess with penchant for macabre gardening! With the pace of Mark Millar’s Wanted and the coolness of Fraction & Aja’s Hawkeye, Lindsay and Kivela are on the cusp of mainstream success and if they continue to create work as good as this it won’t be long before the Big Two snap them up to work on their beautiful canvases!