Curious about indie comics, from the big-name/big-reputation titles to obscure ones, but not sure where to start? Interested in digging into the indie titles populating the backlist of a now-popular mainstream creator? Each month, the Indie Shortlist takes a look at four titles from an important indie creator.
Writer/artist/designer Paul Pope burst on the indie comics scene with a handful of self-published graphic novels in the early-to-mid 1990s that teemed with storytelling verve and visual panache. Since then, he’s refined his ecstatic visual style and quirky dialogue through sprawling epics and tightly controlled stories. While his stories straddle many genres, nearly all of them have science fiction elements and take place in the future, even when those elements don’t add up to a science fiction story (take his early work, The Ballad of Dr. Richardson: It may take place in an SF future, but it’s really a love story about art and intellectual pursuits).
Pope’s largest work, which he’s been involved with for nearly two decades, THB, follows the adventures of teenage girl H.R. Watson and her super-powered sidekick THB through Mars and beyond. You won’t find THB on this list as it’s never been collected and the individual issues are hard to find. A 4-volume collected edition is due from First Second at some point (it was originally announced for 2009, but hasn’t appeared yet). Keep an eye out for it.
Batman: Year 100
Now here’s a Batman that rightwing crackpot Frank Miller would hate. In 2039, the titular 100 years after the Caped Crusader’s debut, superheroes and villains have been eradicated, no identities can be secret, and parts of the labyrinthine government that have established this security state are conspiring. Into this repressive world comes a shadowy, previously unknown figure who wears a mask and a costume that makes him look like a bat. When “The Bat-Man of Gotham,” as the urban-legend-made-flesh is known, stumbles into a murder that quickly embroils him in the conspiracy, the government’s carefully controlled police state begins to crumble. Besides being a really great political detective thriller, this Batman is subversive by the very fact that his name and face aren’t known. Batman: Year 100 stakes a claim for Batman as civil libertarian, a man whose mask is a bold declaration of the right to privacy, a declaration backed by a fist. And besides that, it’s one hell of an action comic.
The better of Pope’s two big works for Vertigo (the other being Heavy Liquid), 100% is an interlocking tale of three couples struggling with issues of love, trust, and art. In 100%’s future, traditional porn has become boring, replaced by a more explicit alternative: gastro. In gastro, instruments are inserted inside strippers to allow the audience to not only see the woman dance, but also to see what’s happening inside them as they dance. A particular gastro pub, The Cat Shack, a gastro club, is the nexus of the action. There, a new dancer named Daisy strikes up a flirtation and then a relationship with the dishwasher/busboy, Johnny. The owner, Strel, struggles to decide whether or not to let her boxer ex back into her life. Strel’s friend and employee Kim feels threatened by violence in the city, but intrigued by Strel’s cousin, the installation artist Eloy. 100% is perhaps Pope’s most cohesive and accomplished work, a tale about following your passion, the rewards and beauty of art, the miracle of connecting with another person. It’s a powerful, affecting comic.