Comics blossom into own art form with independents

By Greg Dunlap

While most people think of comic books in the spirit of the classic superhero, the truth of the matter is in the late 1980s, comics blossomed into an art form all their own supported by the proliferation of independent comic companies.

Because major label comics are usually on a strict publishing schedule, many major comics appear rushed in order to meet their deadline.

Independent publishing schedules tend to be more loose, giving the artists and writers more time to spend on their stories. Of course, the downside of this is that you may wait three to four months to see your favorite title, but in general the higher quality is worth the wait.

Listed below are two of the best independent comics. Locally, these titles can be found at Northern Lights Bookstore, but any good sized comic store should carry or be able to get the titles you want.

The Spirit (Kitchen Sink Comics): “The Spirit” was created way back in the late 1940s by Will Eisner, where it appeared in newspapers as a regular feature. Although most of the stories are over 40 years old, the comic still remains one of the most influential strips ever created.

The Spirit is a man who dedicates his life to fighting crime and injustice across the fictional setting of Central City. While many of the concepts are the same as the superhero stories which came after it, there are several major differences.

First, The Spirit is, above all else, human. He has no super powers derived from radioactive spiders or training with monks in the mountains of Siberia. The Spirit is almost like an accepted extension of the police force in Central City. He has friends, a boss and even a girlfriend of sorts. However, The Spirit has no separate life he returns to when he goes home for the day. He is just The Spirit.

“The Spirit” also had a different narrative style than the classic superheros. “Spirit” stories read more like gumshoe detective stories than anything else. This lends a sense of nostalgia to the story and the sense of a crimefighter solving a mystery, as opposed to going out and beating up bad guys.

The stories are short, about six pages each, but they have a definite beginning, middle and end. This simple approach to the storytelling, as well as Eisner’s simple yet complex art style, is what sets “The Spirit” apart from the pack.

While all the original “Spirit” stories are sadly long-since gone, Kitchen Sink Comics has been reprinting four stories into one book on a monthly basis. The books also contain fascinating liner notes which include interviews and reactions from Eisner on the stories included.

Concrete (Dark Horse Comics): “Concrete” is easily one of the best of new breed independents. It has won several prestigious awards in the field, (including a number of Eisner awards, named after “The Spirit’s” creator,) and has been hailed by critics around the globe.

“Concrete” revolves around the life of Ronald Lithgow and his assistants Larry and Maureen. While Ron and a friend are in the mountains on a camping expedition, they are captured by aliens and placed into huge stone bodies with such special powers as night vision and superhuman strength.

On the surface the concept may sound corny, but like “The Spirit,” what makes “Concrete” so great is its humanity. One can identify with the problems Ron goes through in adjusting to his new body, as well as his often bungled attempts to use it for the public good without turning into a generic crimefighter.

One issue has Ron attempting to save a family’s farm with his power, but only with a certain amount of success. In another he uses his super strength to dig a tunnel for the rescue of several trapped coal miners. This too, turns out to be a fiasco through no real fault of his own.

Aside from the regular series, (which has been put on hold due to creator Paul Chadwick’s work on a movie screenplay) “Concrete” also appears in “Dark Horse Presents,” as well as having several higher quality graphic novels out.

These two titles only scrape the top of the pile as far as independent comics go. If you find “Concrete” and “The Spirit” to your liking, then some others to try might be: “The Tick,” “Reid Fleming,” “Flaming Carrot,” “Eight Ball,” “Roachmill,” “LLoyd LLewellyn,” “Cerebus,” “The Watchmen” and “Love and Rockets.” These titles are all indicative of the kind of quality craftmanship you can expect from the independent comic scene.