❉ Our latest comic book roundup! This time: Baroque Dystopias, Mental Health & Crocodile Gods.
The indie/small press comics landscape is awash with talent and creativity. Super news for your average connoisseur of indie comics, but where are the rest of us meant to look? How do we pick the best of the best? Indiequential is the column to help guide through the worlds of independent and small press comics and zines that are well worth your time!
From The Bookshelf
What a frighteningly baroque thing The Needleman is. Serialised as a two-part story in Soaring Penguin Press’ flagship anthology Meanwhile… and now collected together, this sobering, stately tale of fascism under threat from individualism is so hauntingly good. The Needleman is set in a gargantuan city devoid of freedom of expression, its inhabitants forced to work under a capitalist, dystopian thumb, with the titular Needlemen governing law and order.
One particular Needleman, Agent Rasp, undergoes a psychotic crisis of confidence when a case to track down a runaway worker bleeds out of his comprehension. Martin ‘Simo’ Simpson crafts a strangely intense comic that reads like an oddly elegant Judge Dredd. His attention to detail is exquisite, whilst the purposefully limited colour palette highlights the sickly perverse, quietly manipulative role the Needlemen play. An overwhelming sense of quiet menace engulfs The Needleman, making it a supremely evocative and engaging a read.
Stand In Your Power
Rachael Smith had lit up the indie comics scene long before Stand In Your Power came along. She had lit up the scene even before its predecessor, Wired Up Wrong, was published back in 2017. Now with Stand In Your Power, her second collection of autobiographical strips that explore living with anxiety and depression, she’s created another sublime and heartfelt comment on mental health.
Stand In Your Power is often awkward and cringe-inducing with its uncensored peaks into Rachael’s life as she recovers from a break-up, but that’s the point. Rachael carefully opens her life up into these pages and pours forth an undiluted perspective into restoring some order and normality back into herself that’s heart-tugging and laugh-inducing. Her sense of humour never lets her down, with her boldly coloured and caricatured art complimenting the self-deprecating humour. Funny and heart-breaking, Stand In Your Power is gorgeously honest.
There’s rarely such thing as a duff title in your average ShortBox collection, yet Sobek is the undeniable champion of the most recent box. Written and drawn with immeasurable gusto by James Stokoe, its sense of colossal grandeur colliding headfirst with stony humour wind up creating a hugely enjoyable riot of a comic.
Sobek charts the brief journey of a group of tribesmen on a quest to awaken a mighty crocodile deity to rescue their town from the villainous, wolf-like monstrosity Set. Full-throttle action and deadpan humour weave in and out of each other, creating a humorously distinct read. Stokoe’s command of intensely detailed art cements the comic’s boisterous tone, resulting in a comic that’s as daft as it is sharp.
All We Ever Wanted: Stories of a Better World
After a successful bit of crowdfunding through Kickstarter, this chunky, glossy anthology from A Wave Blue World hasn’t disappointed us with its varied, optimistic viewpoints. All We Ever Wanted: Stories of a Better World brings together numerous artists and writers to craft compelling visions of a hopeful future, one freed of bigotry and hate. It’s a gorgeously curated collection of celebrations of humanity’s capacity for hope in the darkest of times.
Visually, All We Ever Wanted is unified by it vibrancy, matching against the sometimes sombre, reflective stories, which rarely forget their sense of empathy and acknowledgement of the sacrifices made in the fight for a more accepting and harmonious world. It’s as if editors Matt Miner, Eric Paliki and Tyler Chin-Tanner wanted to make All We Ever Wanted as eye-catchingly accessible as possible in order to entice the reader to indulge in the comic’s breath-taking sense of thematic scale. It’s more than a ray of hope; it also digs deep into the root causes of hatred in our world, enabling these heartfelt, optimistic comics to shine through.
Indie comics has proved to be a diverse and fertile ground for representation of mental health, and artist/animator Lucy Sullivan’s forthcoming graphic novel Barking looks set to become a watershed statement for how indie comics tackle anxiety and depression. Where many comics have tackled the general experiences of living with a mental health illness, Barking goes a step further by exploring how the death of a loved one can impact on someone with a pre-existing condition. Barking charts the visually freakish, warped journey of Alix Otto, who’s coping mechanisms with dealing with the passing of her friend spiral out of control. Sullivan injects a terror that’s both cerebral and tangible as Alix is pursued by the titular creature. A manifestation of her mental state, or something more?
Sullivan illustrates Barking in a hypnotically distorted, black-and-white manner that provokes endless visual fascination, but also reflects a very real encapsulation of the feelings of depression. Barking is currently crowdfunding through Unbound, though thankfully has broken through its target goal, meaning that the campaign is now functioning more as a pre-ordering system. A comic that’s heartily recommended for its subject matter and its execution.
Is there such a thing as a bad ShortBox? Fortunately, we may never know. The last collection of this specially curated box of small press comics delivers stories involving manipulation as a cure for loss, a mission for a dream bookcase resulting in a close friendship put to the test, and the consequences of leaving a cavity untouched.
ShortBox comics often feature titles whose enjoyably odd premises give way to far deeper meanings and ideas that reward multiple readings, and the five comics that make up this latest batch promise to be no different. Each one looks set to pack in peculiar vibes whose art and overall stories prize open universally relatable concepts of love and loss. Illustrated and written by a wildly varied array of talent, the best of the best is always brewing in your average ShortBox.
Pick of the Kicks
Everybody works a mundane job at some point in their lives, but what if your mundane job also involved you having to do battle against all manners of havoc-wreaking monster and spirits? That’s the question posed by writer Denny Connolly and artist Sloane Leong in #1 of Worst Job Ever. With its easily-identifiable premise and intimate, stripped-back artwork, this debut issue teases a wonderfully quirky full length series to follow.
A darkly uncompromising blend of fantasy, crime and toxic masculinity, Lad: The Homecoming wears it noir-influences on its sleeves, yet looks set to be quite an idiosyncratic tale of family-driven vengeance. Criminal outfit The Family have their haunted world turned upside down when their leader is found dead on the outskirts of The Forest, the one place The Family dare not tread. Written by Umar Ditta and drawn by Carlos Pedro, with lettering by Kerrie Smith, Lad: The Homecoming may well blossom into the engrossingly disturbed five-part series it aims to be.
Starside carries plenty of recognisable concepts in its two-part debut, but is illuminated with richly elegant artwork and plenty of intrigue. Co-written by Dylan Klein and Lane Brettschneider and illustrated by Jordan Chao, Starside looks like it aims to add a wistful flavour to its familiar tale of a young soul accidentally caught up in an intergalactic conflict that’s larger than our protagonist could ever have imagined.
❉ Fred McNamara is a contributing writer for a variety of digital and print publications, covering comic books, films, TV and more. His work has appeared on such websites as PopMatters, WhatCulture, Flickering Myth, Grovel, the Official Gerry Anderson Blog, ScreenRelish, and in such publications as Starburst Magazine, Andersonic and Comic Scene. His work has also appeared in anthologies published by Watching Books and Who Dares Publishing.