Aug 08

Comics: A Beginner’s Guide: Indie Comics

The Brown Wedge5 comments • 1,190 views

Don’t let any perfectly sensible distaste for indie music let my terminology here deter you. I’m using it to collect a few creators I want to mention who can’t be pegged into a genre easily, perhaps more akin to modern underground comics than anything else.

Daniel Clowes gained fame when Ghost World was made into the best comic book movie ever. His work generally focusses on odd outsider characters, alienated and often kind of grotesque, written and drawn with a cool clarity, with a huge enthusiasm for pop culture. I find his work compelling and often shocking (he edges towards horror at times), with genuinely memorable characters. As well as Ghost World, any of his collections (mostly previously serialised in his Eightball comic) are worth reading – I’d particularly recommend David Boring and Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron.

Peter Bagge is an exceptionally funny cartoonist, drawing exaggerated figures and expressions in a bouncy, vicious style. His characters tend to centre on middle-class slacker youth into punk and grunge and the like. The Buddy Bradley stories seems to be almost autobiographical: a young man with no great purpose in life, no hopes, and with rubbish friends. His territory isn’t so far from that of Clowes, but his style is very different. Any of the Buddy Bradley collections are worth having, as is just about anything else, though I’ve not liked his more recent work so much.

Chris Ware‘s Acme Novelty Library comic book is expensive, though beautifully made. The main storyline was collected as Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid On Earth, one of the most praised comics ever, and understandably so. Its formal qualities are particularly thrilling, exploiting countless possibilities of the medium that have hardly been seen before, and never handled and combined as well. The story, of a timid middle-aged man, is also rather moving, though working out what is real and what isn’t is not easy.

I suppose I should declare bias when mentioning Eddie Campbell, in that he did a series of stories for my comics years ago. He made a name, in a small way, with his autobiographical Alec stories. His art is rather scratchy, realistic and deceptively sophisticated, largely from a grasp of some very old illustrators and cartoonists. His writing is exceptional, full of insight and gentle humour, and moved on from Alec to stories of the Greek god of wine, Bacchus, in the modern world. He also illustrated From Hell, a Jack The Ripper tale written by Alan Moore, made into a pretty dull movie.

Everything I have mentioned here should be available in comic shops, and you are very likely to find Jimmy Corrigan and Ghost World, maybe more if you’re lucky, in libraries.


  1. 1
    Dan M. on 14 Aug 2008 #

    A damn good Indie-comics 101 list, since the Hernandez Bros already got their own entry. A few names that I think have the stature to be added to your list are Charles Burns of Black Hole fame, Joe Sacco, whose political series on Bosnia and Palestine combine indie-comics and personal/political journalism; Chester Brown, best known lately for the Canadian history comic Louis Riel, and whose “yummy fur” comics were weird, surreal, painful and beautifully drawn. Adrian Tomine (Optic Nerve) writes well-observed short fiction and draws with a cool, clean style though perhaps not graphically innovative. New Zealand’s Dylan Horrocks has done some terrifically inventive work, mostly dealing with alternate history of comics themselves, in “Hicksville” and “Atlas.” How about Bryan Lee O’Malley’s loopy, slice-of-life, slacker-martial-arts- musical sort-of-manga series, “Scott Pilgrim?” Just to name a few!

  2. 2
    Martin Skidmore on 15 Aug 2008 #

    I did mention Charles Burns in the horror section. My shortlist included Sacco and Brown.

  3. 3
    Trev on 19 Aug 2008 #

    Its a cool small list, but there are loads of indie guys in the uk that barely get any recognition, ie david baillie and andy winter etc. theres a few more listed at http://www.indiereview.co.uk/library/ and on places like the forbidden planet blog.

  4. 4
    Dan M. on 20 Aug 2008 #

    I had a feeling there was a Burns mention somewhere I was forgetting — my bad, Martin. And speaking of uk artists, how about that Tom Gauld? Is he on that list? He gets you into the whole realm of the mini-comic…

  5. 5
    Martin Skidmore on 20 Aug 2008 #

    I don’t know Tom Gauld at all. I used to be extremely well informed on the UK small press scene, but sadly no longer.

    Yes, like any other of these items, this could have been many times longer. These are just intended as starting places for a subsection of comics.

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