Everyone loves the indie comic scene. It serves as a great alternative to narrow-minded, studio-controlled projects and, more often than not, indie comics show artists embracing their passions or dream projects.
Independent productions are the reason why college radio stations or the Sundance and Slamdance film festivals exist and thrive. So long as major companies or established systems dominate a medium, independent creators will serve as a necessary catalyst for new ideas.
Unfortunately, the independent scene in the comics world has not been as strong. That’s not to say there aren’t dozens, if not hundreds, of creators producing exciting material, because there definitely are. The problem is that the comic book medium is a struggling one, and if someone’s working outside the established publishers or distribution routes, the challenge of creating a comic and building a solid audience is even greater.
But independent comics have been a highly influential, major part of the industry for years. Because of their separation from any major company or publisher, independent comics have more room to explore topics.
Harvey Pekar’s seminal slice-of-life series, American Splendor, started out as a self-published independent book in the 1970s. Art Spiegelman’s magnum opus Maus, a look at the horrors of the Holocaust, was instrumental in starting to change public perception that comics are more than just “kids’ stuff.”
It might not seem it, but comics can be a cutthroat scene and it’s incredibly difficult to even get a book produced. Everyone has a story they want to tell or a project they want to draw. And when certain stable companies only have so many spots or titles for creators to work on, the independent scene finds itself flooded with people trying to make their own books.
And then there’s the matter of getting an audience. Locating hard-to-find cult titles published by mainstream companies that last longer than a year is hard enough, but it’s even harder to keep independent series afloat. Readers only have so much money to spend on comics, and what are they more likely to do — spend it on titles they know they like or take a gamble and try something new? And that’s even if they have access to independent books.
The sad truth of the matter is that writers and artists are producing amazing, groundbreaking and innovative comics every year. But they get ignored, no matter what the creators or fans of the series do to expose them to a wider audience. Word of mouth can only go so far. But maybe the situation is changing.
There’s been a strong resurgence of independent comics in the last decade. Independent lines are getting more attention as the comics market starts to diversify beyond the grim and gritty superhero or action series that dominated during the mid-1990s.
Publishers such as Oni and Top Shelf are getting more attention, and independent comics, such as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, have come to the big screen. Some of the biggest names in comics today are indie-book writers, such as Ed Brubaker and Brian Michael Bendis.
But there needs to be more done to help independent creators. Conventions such as the Alternative Press Expo are great showcases for independent pieces, but that work needs to be seen alongside more mainstream works. If a buzz starts about independent comics, it could help hardworking creators succeed and maybe work on more material if they know they have an audience.
Sure, independent scenes in other mediums give rise to people more concerned with trends than content, but that doesn’t mean indie works should be ignored. Indie content tends to be a slice of the alternative or ignored world. If superhero stories or sci-fi epics aren’t your thing, don’t give up on an entire medium — try the other options it has to offer.
A sudden spike in readership is highly unlikely for independent comics, but the greater exposure would be good for both creators and audiences. The writers and artists get a chance for their books to succeed, and readers, whether they’re longtime comic book buyers or new buyers drawn to the elements of independent books, get to check out another side of the comic book industry.
Innovation doesn’t tend to happen by using the same tools or concepts over and over. That’s true for technology and it’s true for creative works like comics. It’s time to dive into the indie scene.
Nicholas Slayton is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. His column “Panel to Panel” runs Thursdays.