Wednesday, January 28, 2009

WooHoo! Indie Comics!

One of my New Year's resolutions was to read more independent comics. And while, for some people, this simply means, "Anything not published by Marvel, DC, or their subsidiaries," I was aiming more at self-published and web comics. And while finding "good" web comics has proved easier than I thought (through some recommendations of friends), it's a little harder to find self-published comics. My local comic book store does, in fact, dedicate a small, hanging, plastic folder near its entrance, filled with such oddities. And while before my resolution, I'd flipped through a few, I'd never purchased or really read the material because most of it seemed, to be honest, lame. Enter fellow blogger and educator Andrew Wales and his quarterly serial, Eclectic Comics (now on its second issue).

At first glance, Eclectic Comics, looks like yet another superhero parody comic--the kind that the annual Best American Comics anthology likes to publish because no superhero comics "were particularly good"--stupid Harvey Pekar...But I digress.

Despite the covers, Wales' self-published comics aren't just about superheroes, and when they are, he's more concerned about the conventions of the genre. So while he might be making fun of superhero story plots with his one-bad-guy-after-another story "A Day in the Life", he's also demonstrating / practicing the genre's tendency to put as much on the page as possible while keeping from cluttering it.

In fact, most of the comics in Wales' issues are the products of comics "challenges" like: "Draw a comic based on this quote," "Draw a comic using the lyrics of your favorite song," etc. In fact, Eclectic Comics is as much a learning experience for Wales as it is a reading experience for us. And that's probably what I like about it most of all--it has the same personal feel as, say, flipping through an artist's sketchbook or a writer's journal. But since it's a comic, it has the feel of both examples, making it a comic unlike any I've read. Most of the comics, though reactions to particular challenges, are based on personal stories, just as those featuring The Mighty Andar (Wales' superpowered alter-ego) are based on personal observations of comics in general. It's also interesting that Eclectic Comics appears to be a family affair, featuring comics by both his daughter Anna and son Daniel (who also helped with the "computer stuff" and colouring of the covers).

Seeing as how Eclectic Comics is more an ongoing work-in-progress and labour of love than a publisher's high-end cash-cow, I don't have complaints so much as I have constructive criticism of aspects I'd like to see in the future. For starters, I love Wales' art style--like a mix of Charles Schulz and (Wales' self-proclaimed inspiration) Sergio Aragones--but it was nice having the work of his kids break that up. To that end, I'd like to see Wales experiment with his style a bit. An excellent example of this, is his story "Cannibals" (his take on the Mark Knopfler song) which is almost a series of flashback-like scenes of Wales and his young son in which everything is excessively shaded. But it isn't so much "dark" as it is "hazy," perhaps meant to signify the shadow that muddles memory. All of this is in stark contrast to Wales usual black-and-white, broad outlines, and rare shading. Which brings me to more a hope than a criticism: I'd love to see Wales do a full-colour issue. The covers are so vibrant, it's almost a shame to open them to black-and-white.

Of course, this last concern is as much an issue of money as it is time--both of which the project must already soak up quite a bit. To that end, I highly recommend you pick up a copy Eclectic Comics #1 and 2 in support of good, independent comics. And if you already have, see what else Wales is up to over at his blog Panel Discussion.

Questions? Quibbles? Controversies?


Marek Bennett said...

Thank you... that's exactly what I like about Andy's work, too! I feel like I'm sitting over his shoulder at the drawing board, watching him work with his characters, come up with ideas, and experiment with them... The fact that he's a teacher and he's teaching all this stuff to his students (and often learning it right alongside them) adds another powerful dimension to the stories.

Hmmm, full color pages would be pretty darn cool with Andy's mixtures of fun shapes and lines. Well, there's always the poor artist's color alternative -- market it as a coloring book!

Ben Villarreal said...

Yeah, I can imagine what it must be like in Andy's class--him getting really excited about a student's success and wondering how he never thought of that before, while his student just looks at him like he's a dork! Or maybe that's my class I'm thinking about :-)

And really, shouldn't it be that way? I, for one, think that the best teachers never stop being students--and Andy, technically, still is. It's awesome to read his Curriculum Comics for this same reason!


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