Everyone knows about indie darlings that have hit it big (think Image’s Saga, Bitch Planet, and Rat Queens), but there are tons of non-“big two” titles out there that are ripe for reading. This is my top 10 list* for the best books out there that you aren’t reading right now (but absolutely should start reading asap):
*To qualify for this list, books have to be: published in monthly, single issue format; are current published/have a promise of a sequel or an ongoing series; are not based on pre-existing properties; and are from a publisher other than Marvel or DC Comics. Bonus points to creator owned series!
10. Another Castle (Wheeler/Ganucheau, Oni Press)
Still a fledgling comic (which may explain why people aren’t gushing about it like they should), Another Castle is a beautiful play on the damsel in distress story. When the kingdom’s princess is kidnapped by an evil power, the handsome prince thinks it’s up to him to save her. Except he’s not very adept at fighting, where as the princess is an expert in all things combat, strategy, and sneaking. So while the prince bumbles about, it’s the princess, and her newly-made friends (a dreamy gorgon and a sheepish, wimpy demon), to plan her own escape and save the prince, her kingdom, and her father at the same time. The clean, colorful art compliments the energy of the storytelling perfectly.
9. Tomboy (Goodwin, Action Lab)
Definitely not an all ages title, Tomboy is part murder mystery, part slasher, only the heroine of the title is the one doing most of the killing. Tomboy plays with reader expectations by setting up a story about loss, but turning it into one of revenge. The teenaged hero takes matters into her own hands when her best friend and his father are murdered, but only becomes proactive after she begins to hallucinate her favorite anime character, who tells her how to go about exacting revenge. It’s a dark story, fabulously written, with unexpectedly cute (and, at times, gory) art. The disparate nature of the art and plot may be why people don’t initially pick it up, but it is definitely worth reading for just that.
8. Jonesy (Humphries/Boyle, BOOM!)
Just recently announced as an ongoing, Jonesy should be THE comic for the tumblr generation. From its zine-inspired art, to its referential voice, this comic is all about what it means to be a modern teen. The titular heroine loves donuts, ferrets, Stuff (a musician, not just “things”), and…she can secretly make other people fall in love with anything. Of course, this power is usually her downfall. Along with her friend, her father, and her abuelita, Jonesy lives the life of a normal teenage girl. Well, mostly normal.
7. Superzero (Conner & Palmiotti/de Latorre, AfterShock Comics)
Everybody who reads comics wants to be a superhero sometimes. But have you ever actually tried to get your own superpowers? The heroine of this comic is will to do anything, and does everything–radiation, bug bites, the death of her parents–yet she still can’t seem to achieve her super dreams. Unrelentless, she keeps pushing and pushing until…well, the comic starts off grounded, but ends up going pretty far out into the galaxy. The writing hits this concept out of the park, with the art playfully reflecting its references to a range of comic origin stories. One of many great series that launched AfterShock, I suspect it will gain more popularity as the publisher expands.
6. Henchgirl (Gudsnuk, Scout Comics)
While some people want to be heroes or villains, others just want to make a living. But sometimes, in a town full of capes and cowls, the best way to get money is by henching. The heroine of this title is lazy, funny, and a little bit dense, but also lives in a world where people can fly, lift buildings, and shoot carrots from their fingers, but can’t tell that someone is the same person when they put a pair of thick glasses on. The comic is a bit like if Scott Pilgrim slapped on a mask and stopped playing music, with fantastically rough art and expressive characters. The story is fun and light, but has an underlying depth to it. This comic slid under a lot of people’s radars, but is a must read!
5. Diesel (Hesse, BOOM!)
With the first volume wrapped up, Diesel has set up a wider story than it might initially seem. The comic starts off about airships, steampunk pirates, and a spunky heroine who can sometimes shoot sparks from her fingers, but turns into a world-hopping political adventure, with plenty of intrigue and a good does of humor. Though it sounds complex, Hesse exceeds at having the comic make sense. The cartoony art compliments the more comedic tone, but also gives the comic more powerful moments of darkness.
4. Zodiac Starforce (Panetta/Ganucheau, Dark Horse)
I love magical girl stories, but it’s rare that we get more than a brief epilogue of the heroines after the great evil has been defeated. Zodiac Starforce’s entire existence is a subversion of this trope. Taking place a year after the day has been saved, the girls still have their magical powers, but no evil to fight. Then something goes awry, and it’s up to the Zodiac Starforce to save the day. The comic plays with the tropes of classic girls’ cartoon characters, but features different body types and sexualities prominently. Although the first volume just ended (and came out in trade), Panetta confirmed to me on Twitter that a second volume is in the works, with a release date to be determined. This comic needs more love, as it is a standout within the magical girl subgenre.
3. Princeless (Whitley/Various, Action Lab)
I will never not take a chance to praise Princeless, a series all about princesses saving themselves. The most significant thing about this comic is how all the princesses are women of color. The story follows one of seven princesses as she escapes her tower by befriending the dragon that protects her, and then goes on a quest to save her sisters. The book plays with gender roles, but allows each character to be who they are without judgement. One of the best examples is when the eldest sister, a girly girl who is obsessed with her appearance, refuses to be saved from her “captivity” because she likes where she is, and she is helping the people in her own unique way. Princeless celebrates the difference in women (and men), while also being a fun-filled book of adventure and daring.
2. Shutter (Keatinge/del Duca, Image)
This comic is a hair’s breath away from being number one on this list. Since issue #1, I fell in love with the dreamy art, the modern take on a pulp story, and the fully realized characters (including a lead WoC and a supporting trans character). The comic has only gotten better since then, including meta-textual moments, a variety of beasts and aliens (all of whom co-exist with humans), and a sentient cat clock named Cassius (with all the implications that brings). Each issue of Shutter goes places that the others have never been, but always stays true to its roots and inspiration as an action/adventure comic that pays homage to the pulps of yore. Unlike some of its brothers and sisters at Image, Shutter has been quietly successful and has a very loyal fanbase, but I feel it is due much more praise and attention.
Before we hit my choice for number one, honorable mention shout outs to Insexts (Bennett/Kristantina, AfterShock Comics), Paper Girls (Vaughan/Chiang, Image), and Goldie Vance (Larson/Williams, BOOM!), which are just a few more great books out there that are definitely worth picking up if you haven’t already.
1. Public Relations (Sturges & Justus/Hahn & Marzán & Wilson, Devil’s Due/1/First Comics)
Public Relations has it all: dragons, damsels, scathing satire, dirty jokes, its own recorded music for the in-comic band Peter Smurfy, Garfield references…the list goes on. The reason this title is at number one is because I’ve yet to meet someone else who shares my passion for it. I text my friends random panels from Public Relations every time I get a new issue, hoping to share with them a fraction of the giggles I got from it. This is one of the best comics being published right now, with slick art, sharp writing, pop culture wit and awareness, yet no one seems to be reading it! This is the number one, must-pick-up title of 2016, if only so I can have someone to talk to about it.
Have you read any of these titles? What comics do you think this list is missing? Let us know in the comments section!