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All Alone on the Comic Front
By Lance Eaton, November 2005

I had the chance to attend a Wizard's Convention in Boston this September. I hoped to make new contacts with publishers whom I've not managed to harass enough to get on their press release lists. Of course, I should have known that people at this convention would not be those able (or interested) to do that. This left me to explore the outlying areas of the comic book industry; not the top ringers (Marvel, Image, DC, etc.) but the second stringers; not the artistically-inclined publishers so often reviewed in big-time magazines but rather solo artists previewing a first or second title, which they have worked many hours to create and possibly twice as long to publish in some format.

Space SheriffI could romanticize these artists and claim they are the elite of the industry, pouring their heart and blood into these works for the love of it. But that line is old and besides, these people didn't strike me as wrapped up in martyrdom. They saw this event as a way to get exposure but were not waiting with bated breath to see if they would finally be discovered and rise to the hall of fame, alongside names like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. They may be dreamers, but that doesn't mean they're prone to hallucinations.

I enjoyed walking around and chatting with small, self and/or independent publishers. Some simply hung out at their tables, engaging people as they approached in a nonchalant manner as if at a bar. Some revealed an aggressive side, almost pulling me in to push their title. Some barely acknowledged my existence for one reason or another. The more memorable ones simple let me look at their displays or waited till I made eye or verbal contact before launching their pitch. 'Oh, this graphic novel is about chickens disguised as humans in an attempt to rid the world of Colonel Sanders and the whole lot of chicken killers. In this first graphic novel, they infiltrate Purdue Chicken and destroy their major factories.' Then, the artist(s) would move on to other work, or ask how I was enjoying the convention.

One trend I found interesting at this convention was how online comics were transforming material comics. People who have been solely publishing their work online for years are now transitioning that work into graphic novel collections, which they sell at conventions. In doing so, they manage to get additional revenue from the graphic novel and potentially direct more people to their online comics.

SquarecatJennifer Omand is one of these. A determined aspiring artist, she made the pact to create at least one panel a day and published them on her Squarecat Comics site. She then bundled her first year into a graphic novel. Squarecat Comics: Volume 1 portrays the artist as a square cat. Her panels tend to be self-contained, rarely crossing over from day to day. Her pieces cover mundane events, humorous anecdotes, and random stories. Some panels get the reader laughing while others just sort of hang in the air. What's most remarkable about Omand's work is that one can see substantial improvement from the first panels of February 2003 to her work in February 2004. Interestingly, one can actually identify specific days when her draws evolved to a higher aesthetic. Her use of black and white, spacing, and consistency dramatically increased over the year, showing how working one's art on a daily basis can yield better results.

Jason Cermak delivers another exciting - if not eccentric - graphic novel in Space Sheriff and Happy Spaceboy, almost a modern day equivalent to DangerMouse, the zany British cartoon series of the early 1980s. This quirky series follows the adventures of one-eyed feline Space Sheriff with Happy Spaceboy, a small sidekick in a spacesuit, renowned for his sunny disposition and exclamations. In the first five issues of an ongoing series, this dynamic duo battle the likes of Pikawhat Pikawho, a King-Kong sized cartoon character, emulating the Pokemon series. In their next adventure, they face off against the wickedly nasty Angela Andsbury (of Murder, She Wrote acclaim) who aspires to take over the world with her Angel of Death cult. Where more mainstream publishers might use caution, Cermak has the opportunity to take his jokes to the extreme, so that his material ends up much more edgy and daring than the norm.

Tall Tails4The folks at DreamWeaver Press provided me with the first three volumes of Tall Tails, an ongoing adventure of a troupe of anthropomorphic warriors, seeking out a magical talisman in a fantasy setting. The depth of story and even development of the artwork over the three graphic novels is admirable. Like many of these others, they provide quality work at moderate prices. And at the convention, authors and artists stand right before you, allowing attendees to ask questions, without having to wait in line or listen to manufactured company answers.

The bigger publishers often repackage the same characters and plots with some minute spin in hopes of getting readers to buy a new book. Though they do come out with new ideas, they often overuse them. Small, self, or independent publishers take chances and often try really interesting and different takes on their art and stories. Granted, they are not always great ideas, but the effort remains. The purpose of this column is not to encourage you to swear off buying from DC Comics, but rather to suggest perusing the independents to see what they have to offer - if you look hard enough, you will find something worth your time.
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