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Hyper Violence, Humour & Finding Home: 10 of the Best Indie Comics of 2018

2018 brought with it an onslaught of quality titles across the indie comics spectrum. A Place To Hang Your Cape was fortunate enough to have a front-row seat to witness some of these titles being published throughout the year, so we thought we’d look back on the best of 2018’s offerings!

We’ve done our best to craft a list that reflects the past 12 months, so included below then is a mixture of single issues, zines, trade collections and hardbacks, not to mention a vast array of genres and creators. Let’s take a dive then into 2018’s wondrous offerings of cyberpunk, puberty, heartache, noir and comedy in indie and small press comics.

Out in the Open

A stand-out title from SelfMadeHero’s routinely eclectic catalogue, Javi Rey‘s visual translation of Jesus Carrasco‘s novel of dystopia, despair and survival is an emotionally taught read. Centring on a young boy’s efforts to escape his tyrannical Mexican hometown, his journey across unforgiving landscapes and ensuing anguish is delicately brought to life thanks to Rey’s exquisite art.

Rey illustrates the nameless boy and his journey with piercing emotional clarity. Escaping ruthless bandits and befriending strange shepherds feels like a metaphor for forced puberty, as if this runaway boy is being forced to learn of the harsh realities of the world all too soon. Rey’s art lovingly wraps itself around Jesus’ story, bringing a triumphant sense of optimism to the comic’s final pages.

Trujill0

Gustavo Vargas is a new talent on the indie scene, and made his debut earlier in the year with his one-shot Peruvian cyberpunk thriller Trujill0. This comic is the first in what seems to be (or rather, we wildly hope!) several titles of this eclectic, idiosyncratic genre, Vargas having also released L1MA later this year. Thematically intriguing and visually arresting, it’s a corker of a comic.

Trujill0 tells the story of two warring tribes and the efforts of a younger generation intent on bringing victory to either side in the most extreme manner possible. Vargas’ lush, swirling attention to detail in the comic’s visuals, from the exuberant violence of the clashing cultures to the comic’s more contemplative moments, is hypnotic. Vargas is a talent to watch come 2019.

Overbear

Rosie Haghighi‘s latest comic bears all the romantic hallmarks of her past work, but feels far more experimental in its structure. A murky narrative and cryptic visuals weave in and out of each other, as the narrator’s descriptions of caring for her plants becomes an unsubtle metaphor for her relationship with her lover.

Overbear‘s rawness is heartfelt and tender. It’s characters caressing themselves around each other and the foliage brings Overbear‘s themes to the surface. A gorgeous addition to her growing bibliography of comics that dabble in matters of the heart.

Retrograde Orbit

Kristyna Baczysnki‘s gently affecting tale of moving home set against a culturally diverse sci-fi backdrop is full of melancholic warmth. A distinctive colour palette used to illustrate the passage of time gives Retrograde Orbit a mature flavour. Young mining apprentice Flint’s choice of deciding whether or not stay with her family or journey into the stars to track down the planet her people left years ago feels reflective of the crossroads young people take in their lives when crucial decisions arise.

For a story set amongst the cosmos and featuring a rich tapestry of alien characters, it’s the quieter, more intimate moments of Retrograde Orbit that hit home the most. Flint’s growing desire to seek a new path in her life is perfectly paced, as well as reflected in Kristyna’s evocative artwork. Retrograde Orbit is her debut full-length comic, and we can only hope more will come.

Moon

Rozi Hathaway has established herself on the indie scene with her ethereal comics, Moon is the latest edition to her growing bibliography of mystical tales. Moon‘s ghostly charms radiate from its near-wordless story. Moon‘s skeletal use of characters and locales is at odds with its other-worldly inspirations. Hathway waxes lyrical in the comic’s backpages about Moon being inspired by Chang’e, the Chinese moon goddess.

Whilst Moon may dabble in deities, it’s message is intimate and unassuming. Set against the backdrop of a Chinese shipping docks, Moon tells the story of an inquisitive grandson’s discovery of what his grandfather hides from him in one particular shipping container. More akin to a snapshot than a story, Moon‘s warm colours and dockside setting lends it a detached, melancholic flavour. Printed in a bespoke, mini-tabloid format, Moon is a small, enchanting read.

Taemons

An app that offers to help isolated and insecure people with the help of a cup of tea sounds ideal, but what if it also transported you to a mystery world fashioned from those feelings? That’s the question Kim Salt poses in Taemons, a deftly cool mixture of fantasy and mental health commentary.

Using minimal colours and details, Salt crafts an endearing visual punch for Taemons. There’s a dexterous, energetic approach to Taemons‘ appearance, with fantasy and reality interchangeable throughout. Salt’s narrative strengths aren’t left behind either, as she paints a gentle, heartfelt snapshot of youthful isolation. One of the standout titles in the September edition of ShortBox.

Killtopia

Dave Cook and Craig Paton set the scene alight with their raucous cyberpunk action thriller Killtopia. A wildly successful Kickstarter campaign led to a publishing deal with BHP Comics and a Creative Edingburgh award. It’s something a relief then to open the covers of Killtopia and discover it’s worthy of the hype. Dave and Craig’s passion for telling this story radiates across every page.

Killtopia‘s world of a far-flung Japanese metropolis infected by a nano-virus whilst a vicious blood-sport keeps society entertained is raucous stuff. However, as Aliza Cohen points out in our recent review of the comic, Killtopia‘s winning formula is how it conjures up a vibrant, almost cheerful tone against the otherwise dystopian flavoured human dramas that play out amidst the neon-soaked streets. Volume 2 is coming soon!

Gateway City

Russell Mark Olson‘s pulpy sci-fi/crime mashup would be entertaining enough if it relied solely on the classy, noir-ish exploits of P.I. Lundy Lundqvist. However, throwing in a barrage of displaced aliens and dinosaurs makes it a riot of a read. Gateway City‘s intricate yet full-throttle fusion of world-hopping galactic action and vintage detective drama pops out of its pages.

Written and illustrated by Olson, Gateway City has an ambitious story, but it’s charming, colourful visuals ensures it never looses the wink in it eye. Volume 1 collects the comic’s first four issues, which have a potent world-building flavour to them, setting up the platform for future stories to take Lundy beyond the cosmos as he learns the truth behind 1925’s St. Louis’ place in the galaxy. Deliciously delirious, Gateway City is wondrously fun stuff.

We Shall Fight Until We Win

A daring collection of women who shook society to its core, everyone from U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst to lesbian rights advocate Jackie Foster, it’s a moving tome of figures from history who’s contributions to society aren’t vocal enough. A collaboration between 404 Ink and BHP Comics, its an endlessly charming read, who’s multiple contributors illuminate these lesser-known areas of political history with gusto.

The individual strips themselves are all-too brief affairs, as is often the case with anthologies, though this isn’t a a criticism of the vibrant story-telling at play here. Condensing each player’s history into a few brief pages is a challenge, but We Shall Fight Until We Win rises to that task. Perhaps that’s the best thing about this anthology, how it makes you want to dive deeper into the histories of its 19 subjects.

Wine & Zine Anthology

Wine & Zine have built up a handsome body of work since 2017, including charity zines and behind-the-scenes titles, culminating in this gorgeously diverse comic. Wine & Zine Anthology features 5 short stories, one from each of the group’s members, and throws a varied emotional kick with tales of humour and heartache.

Some of the strips are more experimental than others and rest more on delivering moods than story, yet the zine’s contents is equally enjoyable. The tender heartache of Rise stands at odds with the straight-forward humour of Roy and Rei Get Ice Cream, yet there’s a vibrant eclecticism that holds the anthology together. Wine & Zine Anthology is a vibrant mixture of emotions, and hopefully a sign of larger things to come from Wine & Zine themselves.

That’s a wrap for another year then from our indie comics friends. Are there any titles not included here that struck a chord with you this year? Let us know in the comments section below or send us a Tweet!

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Fred McNamara

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