Tired of reading mainstream comics from DC and Marvel? May be you don’t want to have to read a million different comics to know what’s going on in the current issue. Perhaps you’re looking for a short series that isn’t about blockbuster superheroes. Below is a great list of must read indie comics, that range in genre from horror survival to biblical fantasy to comedies about doctor ninjas. There is bound to be something to interest every kind of reader. Especially the doctor ninjas.
10. Demo Vol 2
Demo is not like the rest of the comics on this list or most comics in general. There isn’t one main story. Rather, Demo has many stories. Each issue, or chapter, has its own character with their own conflicts. All the stories are collected by a common theme. Demo Vol 1 is about teenagers with supernatural powers, and how these characters deal with their abilities. Volume two is a bit more realistic. The characters are still young people with seemingly inhuman conflicts. However, it’s a bit more grounded in that there is still something we can relate to.
In one story, a young man has problems with food. Nothing he eats satisfies him. Throughout the story he becomes weaker. Then he begins to eat his own flesh to satisfy the hunger. Okay. You probably wouldn’t do that. But we can all relate to hunger and having taboo desires.
Demo speaks to the darker side of us, the hidden part. It takes ordinary people and finds the most unordinary part about them. Then it opens that part up. What comes out is a collection of subtly strange stories about identity, emotions, and what it’s like to be human.
9. American Virgin
American Virgin is one of the older series on this list and little known. The story follows young man, Adam, who is extremely Christian. Adam travels around America giving speeches about waiting until after marriage for sex. Adam often receives sexual offers from “fans,” and at one point almost gets raped.
The story starts when Adam’s girlfriend, Cassie, is murdered. Cassie has been in Africa teaching Christianity. As Adam tries to understand what happened he will learn more about who Cassie really was. Adam will start to question his faith and the reasons for his hatred of sex.
This series takes a look at the psychology behind abstinence. We can’t help but look at how sex is viewed around us. American Virgin successfully unpacks a taboo topic through the eyes of Adam, someone who has been running from sex but must now confront it head on.
8. The Woods
What would you do if your entire high school was suddenly transported to an alien planet? Well, that’s exactly what happened to the students and staff inside of Bay Point Preparatory High School. What started off as a normal day in October ended with horror. First, the school and everyone in it inexplicably disappeared from Earth. They reappeared on an alien planet. Then terrifying alien creatures attack and feast on the students. Teachers try to maintain order with little success, and some students try to take leadership. As they fight for control, a small group of students escape into the woods. They’re on a mission to figure out who brought them here and why.
Michael Dialynas’ artwork is beautiful. When the characters aren’t fighting for their lives, you have a moment to enjoy the colorful and alien place. Too bad the characters can’t enjoy the view while they’re running for their lives. James Tynion’s storytelling is dark and realistic. None of the students have special talents or super powers. Characters survive mainly on luck, and no one really knows what to do.
This story asks us what would we do if we were tested to our limits for unknown reasons? Who are we really? Do we want to know? Travelling into The Woods is the only way to find out.
7. Dr. McNinja
Two sentences that can describe this comic are, “What is going on?” and “I don’t know but it’s hilarious.” The main character, Dr. McNinja, was born to a family of ninjas. He then went on to college to get a degree in medicine. He has a doctor’s office where a gorilla named Judy is his receptionist. Yes, a gorilla. Judy is no joke, though. She can doctor people, fight awesome battles, and even drive a car. Later in the series Dr. McNinja gets a sidekick, Gordito Delgado, who rides a velociraptor named Yoshi. Yup, it seems like this comic has got it all. Did I mention that Gordito grew a mustache through sheer force of will? And that he’s only 12? Follow Dr. McNinja into his wacky adventures as he saves the world by playing tennis, stops giant lumberjacks from terrorizing the city, and falls in love with a motorcycle that’s also a unicorn.
Advice to those reading this is: roll with whatever they throw at you. That’s the best way to enjoy this series.
Did anyone know that Christopher Robin, the boy from Winnie the Pooh, is real? The author of the books used his son as inspiration for the stories. Later in life, his son would say he felt like his dad took away his childhood. This comic takes this idea and runs with it. The main character, Tom Taylor, is the living incarnation of boy wizard Tommy Taylor from his dad’s books. His father disappeared several years ago and remains missing. A real bummer considering he didn’t really finish the series. Imagine if J.K. Rowling had disappeared before writing the seventh Harry Potter book. Speaking of Harry Potter, Unwritten has many similarities to the magical wizarding world that the comic itself points out frequently.
Tom is bitter with his father, and isn’t too happy he’s been used for a book character either. Despite his dislike of it, he makes his money by going to conventions and signing books. One day, at a convention a woman accuses him of not being the real son of the series’s author. This accusation spirals out of control. Cult groups who believe that Tom is really Tommy spring up. A man that looks exactly like the main villain from the books attacks Tom. Parents accuse Tom of lying to their children, and children go to therapy. To escape the press and find answers about his identity, Tom goes on a journey where the lines between reality and fantasy start to blur.
This series takes apart our idea of a story being make believe by making you question what is real and what isn’t. What you will realize is that stories shape history, change history, influence lives, and have the power to kill and change the future. You may discover, according to one of the characters, that “stories are the only thing worth dying for.”
5. Alex + Ada
Set in the future where people have cell phones inside of their heads and machines to make coffee and run errands, we have Alex. Alex is unsure of his life after his girlfriend breaks up with him. When his grandma calls to tell him happy birthday she suggests that Alex get a companion robot. The companion robots are the most advanced. They look, feel, and sound human. In a lot of ways they are human. Except they don’t have artificial intelligence. Alex instantly feels weird about the idea and refuses, but upon coming home from work he finds a large box inside his house. A note says it’s from his grandma, and inside is a female Tanaka-X5 android. Despite not wanting a companion robot, Alex decides to keep her and names her Ada. However, Ada, like all other robots, has no self-conscious. Alex decides to explore ways to make Ada more alive. This choice will lead Alex and Ada to secrets about the androids, trouble with the law, and freedom.
One pro of this comic is the setting. The setting looks a lot like today despite the advanced technology, which makes it more believable. The main thing driving this story is the intrigue behind robots and artificial intelligence, and what will happen to Alex and Ada when they explore this. Alex and Ada’s relationship is also interesting. Alex treats Ada as an equal and not a slave. The exploration of what it means to give life to something is the core of this comic. It can only answer this question by putting Alex and Ada through difficult times that will make them question their motivations and their relationship.
4. East of West
Imagine if the history of the United States had been changed. Then throw in the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse into an Old West setting with sci-fi technology. What happens? Well, first Death falls in love with a human and they have a child. Then the other three Horsemen destroy Death’s family. What does Death do? Find two Native American friends, Crow and Wolf, then go get revenge.
That’s not all the author, Jonathan Hickman, has going on. The other three Horsemen are secretly controlling the world, and are behind a lot of major events. They rig the succession of the president until a woman of the Chosen takes over. The Chosen are a group of people who are trying to bring about the end of the world. Why? Well, it’s not for the destruction. East of West has several sub-plots that are woven throughout the first arc. What is the Chosen’s motivation? Why are Crow and Wolf helping Death? Who is the mysterious ranger riding around in the country?
The first volume focuses mainly on Death’s plan for revenge and how having your family broken may drive you to do extreme things. East of West promises much more in the future with the complex story, and with interesting characters to explore. Definitely a read for fans of the dystopian west and apocalyptic themes.
Bonus: Death is basically Clint Eastwood.
3. Rat Queens
This comic is definitely for Dungeons & Dragons fans and others who enjoy role playing games. If you’re not, don’t worry. You’ll still understand the inside jokes. Now, if you love amazing female characters (and who doesn’t?) then you’ve come to the right place. The story follows Hannah, Violet, Betty, and Dee who make up the Rat Queens, one of several adventuring groups. They take on challenges and quests in exchange for gold and supplies. However, they’re a little…excessive. We first meet the four women after they win a bar fight. They cuss and are crude and fairly violent. Some people in the town want them gone, but hey, they get the job done right? Then assassins are sent to kill them and the other parties. Hannah, Violet, Betty, and Dee must use their spells, fists, and sass to figure out what’s really going on behind these assassination attacks. Along the way there will be espionage, heart breaks, and some serious butt kicking. Kurtis J. Wiebe does an amazing job of writing these four unique characters. The artwork is gorgeous eye candy. You may just want to stare at the pictures instead of actually reading the comic.
Tony Chu is a detective with a special power. He’s a cibopath. That means that he can get psychic impressions from whatever he eats (except for beets for some reason). For example, if Tony eats an apple he can tell you where it was grown and what kind of fertilizer was used on it. If he eats beef, however, he’ll be able to feel the things the cow was feeling right up to its death. Pretty cool, except that the psychic impressions make it difficult to eat. Tony eats a lot of beets.
Most of the days Tony works with his partner, John Culby, try to catch people who buy chicken. You see, a few years back there was a bird flu epidemic. This tainted all the chicken and chicken related products. Since then the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has become a powerful part of the government. Buying chicken has become illegal, and chicken speakeasies have popped up all over. There’s this weird fruit that tastes like chicken, an actual crazy chicken, and alien signals bouncing off of the earth.
Yes, this is exactly as weird as it sounds, and it’s absolutely fantastic. Chew takes on a fresh portrayal of cannibalism and mass conspiracy that is hilariously thrilling.
1. I Kill Giants
Absolutely a must read for anyone. I Kill Giants is about Barbara Thorson, a fifth grade girl, who is branded as a freak for her interests in high fantasy and Dungeons & Dragons. Barbara often reads fantasy books and carries around a heart shaped pouch. She believes she is a giant slayer, and that the pouch carries Coveleski, a war hammer. At school she is spiteful to teachers and bullied. At home she plays D&D with her brother and his friends while her older sister takes care of them. Upstairs is a door that Barbara avoids, scared of what’s behind it.
I Kill Giants is about loss and how everyone has their own giants that they must overcome. We know that the fantasy giants Barbara talks about aren’t real, but we also know that they’re covering up for something else that she must face. The real giants are scarier. When it’s time for Barbara to face the real giants, we can’t help but think of the things that we’ve faced and will have to face. Barbara gives strength to us, and reminds us that “we’re stronger than we think.”
Top 10 Must Read Indie Comics
- I Kill Giants
- Rat Queens
- East of West
- Alex + Ada
- Dr. McNinja
- The Woods
- American Virgin
- Demo Vol 2
Author – Sierra Defoor – an undergraduate student at the University of South Carolina studying information Science and English, and will be continuing studying at the University of South Carolina for my master’s degree in Library Science and English.