If you tuned into our grand team-up with Pipedream Comics and ComicScene counting down our joint top 50 indie comics of 2019, you may have thought we extinguished the best of the bunch, right?
Wrong, I say!
It’s nigh impossible to craft an authoritative list of indie comics from any year, let alone the best ones. The amount of sequential content produced and our own subjectivity when judging what counts as the “best” can be rife with implications, resulting in lots of titles getting left behind. Nevertheless, as signal boosters, reviewers and all-round lovers of indie and small press comics, we always endeavour to celebrate the titles we particularly enjoyed this year. To that end then, here’s AP2HYC’s own favourite indie comics of this year. Some we’ve previously reviewed on the site, some crossover with Pipedream’s list, and some we just found to be all manners of awesome, even when we couldn’t get round to writing up a full-length review.
Read on then for comics of monster-battling salty seadogs, cosmic lesbian love, urban fantasy noir and much more.
Griff Gristle: The Endless Voyage
Volume 3 of Madius Comics’ ongoing seafaring adventure series of high-octane occult action has all the madcap energy one comes to expect from the House of Madius. With The Endless Voyage, writers Rob Jones and Michael Sambrook and artist Rory Donald inject high stakes and higher emotions into Griff’s battles with monsters rising up from the darkest depths of the oceans. Griff has always been a surley character to lead this comic, but The Endless Voyage carves out an emotionally-distraught image of him, as past secrets come to the surface. Drawn and coloured with rip-roaring style, Griff Gristle: The Endless Voyage ends one chapter, but leaves you desperate for more.
Stand In Your Power
Autobiographical comics can go one of two ways: overtly self-indulgent or utterly charming. Thankfully, Rachael Smith repeated the success of her first autobio volume Wired Up Wrong with the very charming Stand In Your Power. Dealing with a major break-up, Rachael finds comfort in her friends, her cat Rufus, and the occasional glass of red wine. In her signature cartoon-y style, we watch as Rachael learns to take back control of her life and climb out of her depression back into happiness. Despite its initial sad subject matter, the book is ultimately uplifting and bears a strong message of hope to all those dealing with their own hard times.
“There’s not enough queer science fiction. So we just made our own.” That’s what the back cover of Cosmic Love says, and it succeeds in its mission to gorgeous effect. Edited by Julie Yllogique, Cosmic Love brings 14 different artists to lovingly provide sketches and strips celebrating queer love in a sci-fi backdrop. Some of the comics are funny, some are heartbreaking, some are experimental, but the breadth and quality in Cosmic Love reminds us of one key aspect – that there really aren’t enough queer sci-fi comics out there.
The Black Iris
Sometimes, the most spontanous ideas result in jaw-droppingly good comics. Created by Russell Mark Olson, The Black Iris has its origins in Russell’s 2018’s Inktober event. It’s bursting with the vintage, pulpy goodness Olson is masterful at creating, but with an added dose of homegrown intimacy to it. The cinematic vibes of an undercover agent trekking deep into Nazi territory to track a mechanical monster bursts from page to page. If anything, The Black Iris functions a neat encapsulation of Russell’s visual and narrative style, making it a perfect starting point for those interested in discovering more of his work.
Lad: The Homecoming
Lad: The Homecoming boasts a well-paced combination of hyper-violent, urban fantasy noir that’s drawn with a vibrant, Gothic heart, and that’s just the first issue. This debut from writer Umar Ditta, letterer Kerrie Smith, editor Hugo Boylan, artist Carlos Pedro and designer Dearbhla Kelly is a masterclass in how a first issue should function as a hook-laden affair for the reader. Lad: The Homecoming begins the snarling story of the titular Lad finding his place amongst his murderous brethern as a grim mystery unfolds before them. Lad: The Homecoming is a comic we should all be reading.
Moody, melancholic and meticulous, Earworm is a muted powerhouse of narrative and visual talent. Rick Quinn and Milton Lawson’s downbeat tale comments upon the toxic dangers of drowning in nostalgia, whilst Martyn Lorbiecki’s evocative art fuse together into an exquisite package of wistful horror. Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s lettering is the glue binding everything together, resulting in Earworm boasting a delicate yet gripping power.
(Originally published on Pipedream Comics)
Zoe Thorogood‘s autobio-comic is a tender, miniature gem of dealing with the fallout of grief and depression. Angel bears a liberating use of colour to communicate its delicate emotions, whilst Zoe’s sumptuous detailing is heavenly to pour over. Fashioning the story from true events, Zoe guides us on a intensely personal micro journey of self-reflection in the wake of suicidal thoughts. Angel doesn’t provide all the answers for grief, but that’s the beauty of the comic – it’s maturity is found in its acknowledgement of these emotions being ongoing processes. Angel is conclusive proof that Zoe is a talent to be keeping tabs on.
MANU Altiplano Volume 1
MANU sees Gustaffo Vargas kick his narrative skills into overdrive with the first of a three-part story that builds on the world and characters first seen in L1MA. MANU boasts all the insanely eye-grapping bio-cyber-punk Gustaffo has rapidly made all his own, but its matched by a deceptively slow-burning story of youthful rebellion against a corrupt higher power. With Trujill0 and L1MA, Gustaffo’s narratives have been succinct and standalone affairs, but it’s hugely gratifying to see him apply his endlessly enjoyable artistic vibrancy to a larger story. The next volume of this saga can’t come soon enough.
Killtopia Volume 2
Killtopia‘s debut in 2018 breathed new life into traditional cyber-punk qualities, but its with Dave Cook and Craig Paton‘s second issue that its story becomes truely engaging. It lays its disdain for celebrity culture with palpable aplomb. Set in the self-destructive battleground of a futuristic Tokyo, the hunt for the sentient mech Crash and rookie Wrecker Shinji swells with a blistering urgency via Cook’s story-telling and Paton’s rich art and colours. Volume 2 of Killtopia shifts the story into new and not altogether expected gears. It’s a slightly muted chapter compared to Volume 1, but Killtopia Volume 2 continues to be a masterclass of high-energy comics.
Blossoms in Autumn
Both gently affecting and with a frivilous energy, Aimee de Jongh and Zidrou‘s pleasent celebration of love between an older couple wins you over with its earthy illustrations and playful story. The colours and art throughout Blossoms in Autumn radiate a sense of homespun romance, whilst also locking into the story to create a medidative vibe as Mediterranea and Ulysses navigate their developing feelings for each other. There’s little angst or drama in their journey, just a simple, sweet love that grips the pair firmer and firmer with each turn of the page.
Mimi And The Wolves: Volume 1
Stately, subversive and seeping with a tense energy, Mimi And The Wolves‘ first volume uses anthropomorphic fantasy as a metaphor for the fallout of absuive relationships. Alabaster Pizzo‘s layered world-building takes form rapidly in this first volume, as the titular Mimi leaves her safe, quiet life behind and falls in with a group of manipulative wolves, who’s dedication to occult mysteries places Mimi in grave danger. Drawn in an intricate, ornate style that matches the themes of religious superstition scattered throughout, Alabaster ias created a thoroughly readable warning of the power of cults with Mimi And The Wolves Volume 1.
Cadavers: World Gone To Hell
Quirky, ambitious and downright ridiculous, Cadavers: World Gone To Hell sees editor Matt Hardy bring together numerous writers and artists to craft an end-of-the-world anthology that could give Madius Comics a run for their money in its levels of gleeful insanity. Were Madius and Mad Robot Comics separated at birth, one wonders? A full-length graphic novel prequel to Mad Robot’s ongoing Cadavers series, Cadavers: World Gone To Hell rolls almost like a sci-fi black comedy, as a world where monsters and humans live side-by-side is turned upside down by nefarious government officials. A superbly bonkers read that packs in some impressive visual talent.
Jeff Lemire and Gabriel Walta’s emotionally-charged sci-fi epic is deeply textured in the personalities of its characters. A group of children forced to pilot a space vessel to safety across the treacherous unknown of space, with only a single A.I. to assist them, quickly blossoms to become a deftly character-driven story of grief, trust and danger. Walta’s supple shapes and colours latches onto Lemire’s tense story to superb effect. With Sentient, TKO continue to be a publisher of exceptional taste.
Read up on our review of Sentient here.
(Originally published on Pipedream Comics)
Heart of Steal #1
A marked departure from the grim, cryptic and downcast majority of Cabal Comic’s output, writer Fraser Campbell took a step into bright, semi-optimistic sci-fi with Heart of Steal. Backed up by the spellbinding duo of artist Katie Fleming and colourist Rebecca Horner (along with letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou and editor Harry French), who grace the comic with a colourful warmth, Heart of Steal‘s first issue sets up an action-packed romp with the Robin Hood-esque Toni getting more than she bargained for when stealing a valuable piece of tech to save her ill brother. Fast-paced and just plain fun, Heart of Steal #1 is a charming debut.
x, y, z
Iqbal Ali’s output weaves together sci-fi, fantasy, detective, horror and more, but always with an emphasis on characters. His greatest strengths come into play in x, y, z, a comic that utilises racism and youthful isolation as a metaphor for some determinedly weird, otherworldly drama. Beautifully drawn by Aleksander Bozic, whose vigorous detailing cements x, y, z in a warped flavour of reality, Ali’s and his 2019 graphic novel is a muscular and fearsome character study.
(Originally published on Pipedream Comics)
Adam Falp‘s freaky, sombre celebration of comic book collecting has a chaotic confidence in its unkempt visuals that’s a joy to behold. A brief tale of a kid venturing to the titular Satan’s Library comic shop on the hunt for some sequential goodness, Falp draws this short encounter between the kid and the comic book shop owner with a ragged, grinding flare, before allowing the story to climax to a surprisingly heartfelt end. Satan’s Library tips its hat to comics culture in a wonderfully creative fashion that makes it an absolute winner.
Cry Wolf Girl
It’s a challenge to pick a standout title from your average ShortBox collection, but Ariel Ries’ Cry Wolf Girl is a riotous blend of grief, paranoia and empathy. Drawn and coloured with a fierce confidence that wonderfully compliments the schizophrenic nature of heroine Dawa, Cry Wolf Girl is a comic where everything clicks into place and rattles along at breakneck speed. Ries’ spry and compact comic bursts with feverish flavour, but never forgets to tell a rich, coherent story.
(Originally published on Pipedream Comics)
As violent as it is enlightened, David Taylor‘s The Grave rejuvinates plenty of familiar gangster fiction tropes into a tightly-woven story illuminated by idiosyncratic, and deadly, artwork. A violent comic with an anti-violent soul at its centre, The Grave grapples with questions of morality that are asked in the criminal underworld. Visually, The Grave is astoundingly good to look at. Laden with sharp, textured shadows, The Grave has no difficulty in conjuring forth its unique-looking world.
Spencer & Locke Volume 2
Spencer & Locke started off as a spoof of Calvin & Hobbes, but with Volume 2 the creators took the story to a whole new level. In addition to new villain Roach Riley – mash up of newspaper strip mainstay Beetle Bailey and the Punisher – there are send-ups and references to a dozen more classic comics running from Dilbert to Spider-Man. But the best part of this book is that it works all on its own, telling a fantastic story that doesn’t rely on the parodies to keep you engaged. It’s a great read that takes you out of the funnies and into a world where everything really is black, white, and bloody red all over.
The Cosplayer That Doomed the Earth Issues 1-2
If you’ve ever been to a comic con – and especially if you’ve ever cosplayed yourself – then this comic is a must-read. Dan Harris captures the world of the comic con brilliantly in this hilarious and irreverent story of a cosplayer who gets mistaken by aliens for the character he’s cosplaying. The story has a distinct Galaxy Quest vibe that works entirely in its favour. Harris’ artwork also perfectly compliments the wacky nature of the story.
And there we have it! Another year of fantastic indie/small press comics for us to have cherry-picked from is under wraps, and we now look ahead to what 2020 has in store. You can check out our 2020 preview to whet your appetites!
Have you enjoyed any of these comics this year? Were there others not featured on this list? Let us know in the comments section below or send us a Tweet!