Many times in comic shops and online you might here terms thrown around like “indie”, or “small press” comics.
What do these mean??
I think to understand what these terms mean, we first need to understand what it means to not be an “indie” comic. This requires us to define what a “mainstream” comic might consist of.
When most people think of comic books, they tend to automatically conjure up visions of Superman, Spider-Man, Hulk, etc. Most of the heroes and characters that we are now seeing come to life on our silver screens and TVs come from 2 companies; Marvel and DC.
Many people refer to these companies as “the BIG Two;” and for good reason. When one looks at sales in the comic book industry across the country, Marvel and DC take up way over HALF of the market in terms of sales.
Part of this is due to the enormous amount of titles that they put out each month, but also, they each have their own cohesive universes with really well known characters. Ask a young kid in Europe or Japan about Spider-man and there’s a good chance they know the character.
They have also been around since before pretty much any of you (myself included) were born and they have survived SEVERAL near collapses of the industry (albeit some of which were brought about by their own bad choices). But, to have survived this long in a game in which consumer tastes change month to month, and even, week to week is no small feat and should be respected in terms of staying power.
That being said, each of these two companies is owned by even larger corporations. Marvel is owned by Disney and DC (along with parent company Warner Bros.) were just bought by AT&T.
So, when an artist or creator is working for either of these companies, all of their IP (intellectual property) and creative work now belongs to the corporations in charge. Not only that, but, every decision that an artist or creator wants to make (because you know…they’re creative…) has to be approved by the company and fit within the mold and model of the company.
So, many moons ago, people started realizing that maybe they don’t want to work for a corporate juggernaut like the big two. Maybe they were even turned down. Maybe they simply want to create and do their own story without having to fit into a mold and have to answer to tons of shareholders. They wanted to be pirates.
Witness the birth of the “indie” comic movement.
An “Indie comic” is a comic whose creators are not bound by appealing to a larger corporation. The creators have complete control over their material and are not subject to rules and standards set by higher ups. The creators are “independent” of the company for the most part. They might be published by a company, but that company does not step into the creative process and control the end product. That means that when a creator develops a new story with new characters, all of the ownership usually remains with the creator and not the publisher.
Indie comics are no new thing. People have been hand stapling and selling their black and white comics that were drawn by hand and copied at Kinko’s basically since the silverage and early bronze age (late 60’s and 70’s).
California (specifically the Bay Area) used to be (and still is) famous for indie comic ‘zines and material that was too edgy for the Big Two.
The advent of the comic retail shop in the early 70’s really helped lead to the birth and growth of the indie scene because now there were dedicated shops that could push these daring and wacky stories to a niche market.
If I had to place the boom of the indie scene on anyone’s shoulders it would be 2 creative teams. Wendy and Richard Pini and Eastman and Laird (Elf Quest and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles respectively.)
Wendy and Richard Pini believed so much in their story that, despite several rejections, began self printing and distributing their books to dedicated comic shops around the country and people began to eat them up.
Eastman and Laird printed their black and white Ninja Turtles for almost nothing and hand sold the early books to shops in the 80’s.
Both of these titles helped to bring indie comics to the forefront of the comic scene. To think that people who believed in their art so much that they self printed, sold, and pushed their books into the spotlight is an inspiration. Copies of TMNT #1 can easily fetch a small fortune now, btw.
When we look at the indie comic scene in our current environment we still see this same attitude of people that refuse to let their creative work be controlled by others. Companies like BOOM! Studios, Alterna Comics, Image, and many others continue to put out really quality material that offers a breath of fresh air to those that are looking for something different.
Let’s highlight what a few of these companies offer.
BOOM! Studios offers not only licensed material such as Jim Hensen’s work like Labyrinth and the Dark Crystal, but original and creator owned stories as well. Many of their titles, such as the award-winning LUMBERJANES and GIANT DAYS offer great stories that are really non-genre. This means that they tend to be stories more about life and all of the awkwardness that accompanies it.
Image Comics is probably the largest indie company around and is the next in line when it comes to market share after the Big Two. Image offers a large variety of stories and characters that can vary from the very dark and disturbing to lighthearted and family friendly. Since indie companies don’t necessarily have their own cohesive universe, you can simply pick one title that you enjoy and read ONLY that one title without fear of missing out on cross-overs and massive events that the Big Two like to through together. Titles such as East of West, Paper Girls, Seven to Eternity, and Invincible all offer great story telling and have the awards to back up the content.
Alterna Comics is a small-press company out of California. This means that while being indie, they also print in smaller companies than say, Image. What Alterna brings to the table is great story telling with an equally exciting price point. You know how some comics (they will remain unamed) have been putting out $3.99, $4.99, up to $9.99 single-issues, well most of Alterna’s single issues are priced anywhere from $1 to $1.99. Alterna prints on newsprint instead of the glossy paper that other publishers use which gives their comics a great old-school quality while also giving an old-school price point. You can literally grab a copy of every Alterna comic we sell for less than 3 comics from other publishers. The stories are self contained and easy to pick up on AND they have a great selection of stuff for young readers. I know that, as a parent, I would much rather spend $1.50 on a comic that my kid might tear up as opposed to $4.99.
Obviously these are just a sampling of the many different publishers out there. If you are a comic fan and find yourself getting a little bored and frustrated with some of the tactics, prices, and storylines from some of the bigger publishers, I would suggest that you give an indie company a try.
One of the things our shop offers is the Dollar Value Menu. Basically, we have a dedicated section (that is growing) featuring $1 reprints of various indie titles. It’s a dollar investment (and we all know that we spend 4x that much for a coffee). If you like the issue, bring it back and we will give you a DOLLAR OFF of volume 1. It’s a great way of finding new stories and expanding your reading.
We here at HIVE know the importance of supporting our indie creators and their work. NO, we don’t hate the Big Two, we love them and need them for a strong comic community. But, I would argue that supporting our smaller publishers is one of the best ways of keeping our favorite hobby strong. It is definitely one of the BEST ways to have a sustainable and healthy industry for decades to come, even if that issue you just bought might not let you retire in a few years (more on collectibility next time.)
So, my final thoughts.
Go out and support the little guys. The guys that bleed their work and have passion behind what they do. Give that crazy sounding title a try, it just might be what you’ve been looking for.