Indies: The Next Level

Independent comic books, I feel, are the soul of the industry. DC and Marvel are the standard bearers, the frontmen of this game at large, but independent comics are where you can see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

If you call yourself a true comic book fan, you have to go to the conventions. That’s where you get the true flavor. Especially in these times, as Diamond tightens its grip and shuts more independents out every day, as this economy puts everyone under pressure including the local comic book store limiting their ability on taking a chance with a new, untested title, as more and more creators are moving online distributing individual issues digitally with the goal of producing a print graphic novel, conventions are becoming the place to cop the new ish.

Throughout Griot’s journey in this industry, I have had the pleasure of discovering new work and meeting the wonderful people who created it. I am proud to call many of them friends and brothers-at-arms. Here are five books that have been some of favorites:

1.) Blackjack by Alex Simmons and various artists

This book was awesome, no doubt about it. This was the legend of Catcher Freeman… But for real. I loved, loved, loved the concept. An African American soldier of fortune in the 1930s, Blackjack captured all of the adventure of Indiana Jones and the pulp adventures of the time period. This book was also my first introduction to the work of Ken Lashley and Jamal Igle, two brothers whose work that I’ve come to admire and follow as they moved up the ranks to become stalwarts at DC and Marvel comics respectively. And, Alex, I consider Mr. Simmons to be a mentor. He has always bee very gracious in giving his time and advice to a young brother coming up in the game. I haven’t seen any new Blackjack material in a minute, but the second a new Blackjack adventure hits the scene, I’ll be first in line to pick it up.

2.) Body Bags by Jason Pearson

In my opinion, Body Bags is the evolution of Brotherman. I don’t mean that in terms of art nor theme, but rather in its writing, which was fresh, honest and real. If Brotherman was the comic book Nation of Millions, then Body Bags is the equivalent of Busta Rhymes’ When Disaster Strikes. I have always been a HUGE fan of Jason Pearson’s artwork. A true student of Michael Golden, It’s one of the most perfect hybrids of cartooning and realistic rendering I’ve ever seen. Exaggeration of art and story work in complete harmony with this book (I mean, Panda’s supposed to be, like, fourteen to sixteen years old… Looking like that? Must be all those hormones in that milk!). Again, this is a book that comes out very sporadically. But, when it does, it’s a good Wednesday.

3.) The Ride by Doug Wagner with various artists and writers

Now, crime comics are a strong genre in the industry thanks to Frank Miller’s Sin City. Since it’s launch in the early 90s, lots of people hopped onto that bandwagon producing excellent work with David Lapham’s Stray Bullets and Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso’s 100 Bullets immediately coming to mind. The Ride is the other great crime comic. The stories become these great character studies and cautionary tales with the ridiculously simple premise that a 1968 Camaro is always the centerpoint of the story. The art in The Ride is produced by the Gaijin Studios crew including Cully Hamner, Brain Stelfreeze, Georges Jeanty and Jason Pearson. These cats can take my money anytime… And they do.

4.) Atomika by Sal Abbanatti

There has been a periodic fascinating with Russia and the former Soviet Union with Nexus being one of the first books to deal with the subject. From Christian Gossett’s Red Star to Brett Lewis & John Paul Leon’s The Winter Men, the topic has been addressed in some interesting ways.

Now, I must admit that I have a certain “snobbery” when it comes to comic book art (Hey, opinions are like assholes… Everybody has one…), and Sal’s art is not the kind of work that I normally gravitate to…

… And that’s one of the things that I love about this project. Atomika is a prime example of art and story working in perfect harmony. Abbanatti’s re-contextulization of the history of Russia through the use of their mythology is married seamlessly with his rough, almost German Expressionist style. Atomika is bold, almost cruel and unrelenting with a lovely romantically poetic undertone. I consider this book to be a spiritual sibling to my work in The Horsemen. Great minds do think alike.

5.) Black Summer by Warren Ellis & Juan Jose Ryp

You know what? I hate Warren Ellis, I really do. His work is so disgustingly amazing, it almost pisses me off. The Authority with Bryan Hitch is still one of the best books to come out of the early new millennium… Its sister title, Planetary with John Cassaday rocks… Ocean with Chris Sprouse was out cold… I mean, come on man!

At first, I fronted on Black Summer. Nope, wasn’t gonna pick it up, not gonna do it. But, my guy at Graham Cracker Comics pushed the zero issue on me (it was only ¢.99) and I was hooked. Black Summer is the evolution of the concepts established in The Authority. It was a true study of what would happen when superheroes take it upon themselves to be the conscious of America. Ryp’s art is the perfect compliment to the brutality depicted in the world of The Seven Guns.

I loved these books when they came out and they still rock. This is some classic material, my people. Click on the titles in this article to learn more about these books and pick them up if you’re so inclined. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. Get some comic book soul into your collection and I’ll holla at you soon. Cheers!

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