Close Encounters of the Indie Comics Kind

I admit it: I am a bit intimidated by indie comics. You know, the ones with the hipper-than-thou covers and the black and white art on unsettlingly thick paper? The ones with no ads for tennis shoes or toothpaste? The ones where the characters look pained and frustrated all the time, or, on the flip side, are so complicated and, well, weird that you assume that it's really good art because it's just so frustrating to figure out? There are (usually) no tights, no capes, heck, many of the characters can't even afford a car, let alone a jet…


It's just a different world, and, you know–different is wrong!


I kid. But still, it can be intimidating. Over the weekend I was taking ex-iFanboy scribe Sonia Harris and world's coolest guy Chunk Kelly on my soon-to-be-trademarked "LA Comic Shop Tour" and during our stop at Secret Headquarters (where I felt a little underdressed, to be honest), I found myself being talked into picking up Uptight #3 and #4 after discovering the second issue of Paul Pope's Thb.  The shopkeeper (who was really nice and runs a terrific store) told me, "Oh, yeah, this is Jordan's latest, it's really good" and i just nodded and said, "Oh, cool, that's…that's great…I…well…" and instead of admitting I had never heard of Jordan…Crane (as it turns out), I just bought the books anyway because the covers were gorgeous, the interior art looked amazing, and, dammit, I felt like supporting a local comic book creator and once in awhile. No matter how freakin' awesome Jerome Opeña gets (and he's killed it again in the latest Uncanny X-Force!!), you have to step out of your comfort zone once in awhile and just try something that's new, something that you may not understand. At all. Plus, the comic guy referred to Mr. Crane by his first name which means that perhaps this guy was a regular to the shop, and, like, you know–it's Jordan, dude, he rarely publishes single issues!


Or something!


My background with Indie comics is laughable. I enjoy Marvel's Strange Tales compilations a lot but honestly, they have not got me picking up books made by Tony Millionaire and other folks, even though I find the art compelling.  I loved the American Splendor and Crumb films, but I've never picked up any of Pekar's or Crumb's books. Even as I type this I think to myself, "Wow, you really are kind of a jerk, why don't you ever pick that stuff up??"  I just don't, okay?  Can I go now?(You need to read that like Newt in Aliens.)  


After reading these three issues, I can't help but wonder if my flareups of comic book frustration can't be eased a bit by a healthy does of Indie comic book immersion.  I mean, yeah, I might not understand anything, but at the very least, reading these kinds of books help me discover new storytellers and broaden my appreciation for comic books overall.  Despite my mutterings to the contrary, I am actually really enjoying what's been going on in comics, especially with Batman and, well, Uncanny X-Force. I'm not going to go into the whole death of (Ultimate) Spider-Man until it actually happens, at which point I shall ramble, rant and make inane protestations.  (If it actually happens.)

The first book I got was, obviously, Paul Pope's Thb #2, the title of which is actually quite hard to discern since it's written in Pope's graffiti goopiness on the back, where it does actually look like "Thb" but you're not really that sure.  Apparently there was only one printing of this book, in August (nerd joy!) and when I mentioned to the comic shop dude that I had the first issue, he was all, "Wow, lucky you."  Which, like–look: if some Silverlake hipster dude actually says you are lucky, you know, beyond a shadow of any kind of doubt that you have actually experienced luck. Silverlake hipsters are like that. They just know.


For some reason I didn't talk about Thb #1 in my previous rundown of Paul Pope's work (almost a year ago to the day!), but it's much like the first issue, that is, beginnings of really interesting stories not followed by middles or ends, with really random one page moments (including a very cool outrigger-motorcycle battle (or the middle, or end, or beginning of one–it's just one page) and deeply inky smell.  It's terrific.  These stories…meditations, really, are just glimpses into Pope's story machine, and they go from the deeply crazy (there's an Itchy and Scratchy kind of story in there that's wonderfully twisted) to the quietly personal–a memory from 1977, listening to Ziggy Stardust and you six your old self asking mom, "Is Ziggy Stardust really a man from Mars?" It's super neat. Both of these Thb books are like letters you are getting from Pope's drafting table, ideas that happen between other ideas, pondering and reflecting on half-remembered characters and themes, with beautiful and disturbing characters.  Pope is nothing if not dramatic, and his pages are just dripping with India ink and bold, bold panels.  He is, of course, an acquired taste, but for me, after reading stuff like the recent issues of Superman, it couldn't be more refreshing.  It couldn't be more exciting and thoughtful and new.  My only criticism is that I bet these books are pretty hard to find and I only hope that they someday find their ways to more shelves.  Now I worry that I will somehow miss #3, because both times I have stumbled upon these issues, at totally random times, and they've been the last (or second to last) copies that were available.  But maybe that's the whole point. These are, according to the subtitle, "Comics from Mars" and Martian literature tends to be pretty hard to come by.


Both issues of Uptight have two stories in them, and Uptight #3 featured the first part to each one.  As soon as I opened the books, I was a little irritated that I couldn't get the first two issues, because this art is gorgeous.  The first story follows the lives of Leo and Dolores, who are a couple in what has to be Silverlake or Echo Park.  (Lots of hills and palm trees, garages, that kind of thing.)  It's a rough story, I gotta say, with Dolores cheating on Leo while he's getting his real estate license (after working all day at the garage) and Leo being pretty sure that Dolores is cheating on him. (I'm not really spoiling anything, by the way, I promise.)  Looking at these issues I see that Uptight #3 was published in April 2009 and #4 was printed in November of 2010, which officially is bumming the crap out of me because, like…is that how it is with indie books? Because that's a hell of a long time to see what happens next.  Anyway, the second story is about these kids who crawl into the broken meat refrigerator at the school cafeteria with a cat.


Yeah, it's kind of like that, to the left. Couldn't be more different. One story is this poignant, angsty relationship drama, the other is this wacked out kid's story with scary adults, screaming pipes, freezing kids and lots of yelling and freaking out.  It's a perfect kid's story, if it weren't so freaked out and weird. It's like one of those old cartoons where everything is just kind of scary, with the repeating sequences and squealing characters and undulating movements…which, upon reflection, is kind of cool that a comic can do that kind of thing.  I don't know anything about Jordan Crane, but it is clear that he's both enormously talented and kind of twisted…which, again, is wonderful, you know?  Comics are a perfect medium for that kind of thing. I just wish I would pay more attention to the indie scene, you know?  It's a lot like music: when everyone's raving about some band and you listen to it and you can't figure out why everyone else likes it and you just kind of give up, only to find that years later you can see what buzz was all about.


I liked Uptight mostly for the first story–Crane captures the anxiety and frustration and clumsy communication of a relationship that, despite its obvious problems, could still work out if they would just listen to each other…oy.  It's painful, but when it's followed by this crazy story of two kids, a cat, and a hungry monster that lives in the cooling system of the cafeteria's refrigerator, you just have to shake your head and laugh. It doesn't sound like it would work, but it did, at least for me, and I am glad I got a chance to check it out.


Indie comics provide a wonderful taste of that awkward sense of discovery, where you aren't really sure what is going on, when all you can trust is whether or not you enjoy it or not, regardless of what other people say. I don't know how often I will be able to check all this stuff out–there are a lot of indie books floating around and many of them are not cheap (which makes sense, they are often self published)…but I am going to do my best to visit the indie section more often.  My regular store just doesn't carry them, but the guy has been getting asked to carry more and more, so maybe I will add Uptight #5 to my pull list so I can get the issue when it comes out in May of 2012.


How about you? Do you check out the indie section and slowly back away, or is all of this stuff old hat for ya?


See ya next week!


Mike Romo is an actor in LA. He's eating Chinese food and trusting his manager when he says pilot season is slow yet. Email him or follow him on Twitter!


  1. All of this indie / creator owned talk has me seriously considering “trade waiting” the entire Flash Point event from DC and spending my weekly dollars on finding some good non-superhero books.  My local comic shop, luckily, stocks any Indie / creator owned book they can.  So yeah, I’m going to be approaching the Indie section with a little more hunger from now on.

  2. Just finished reading ben edlund’s “tick” from nec. Priceless independent, albeit 20 years old! Quality lasts

  3. Unfortunately my LCS doesn’t really stock any indie titles so I’m pretty much out of the loop when it comes to this kind of stuff. My impression is that “indie” media, whether it be comics, music, or films, takes a certain amount of “work” from the consumer to actively seek out new things, which is fine and dandy except that I now that I’m a father of two I just don’t have time to put that kind of “work” in anymore. Thankfully I have this website to at least keep me a bit informed as to what I should be checking out next time I’m in a better-stocked comics shop.

  4. All I read are indie and vertigo books. There is so much awesome stuff out there that I kind of feel sad (in a non-patronising way) for people who just stick to the big 2. Every week when the comic releases are listed I check for any #1s that are coming out and then google them. If they sound good, I try the 1st issue. That’s exactly how I came across amazing books like Locke & Key and I Kill Giants.

    Also, I don’t really know what you mean about not understanding indie books and them being intimidating. All you have to do is go straight to #1 and you have as much knowledge of the book as anyone else. Unlike superhero books.

  5. Democracy in Egypt, Jordan Crane mentioned on ifanboy, I expect the seas to turn to blood anytime now.  So correct with your picks. Jordan Crane had a great anthology book called NON as well as fun cat stories that began with a mini zine called “the shortcut” I bought NON from him at the San Diego Comic-Con way back in 1997 where he’s been for a while. so if you’ve been to SDCC over the last decade plus and haven’t seen his work, you may want to glance at the small press area on your way to the snack bar. You can get to see some great art and get an overpriced hotdog.

    Being open to knew ideas and experiences seems to me the only point in being human. If you already know everything you want to know and just repeat the same tasks daily, there’s not much difference between you and the rest of the animals on the planet…except the opposable thumbs…and sneakers…and Nerf balls…and…

    Yeah humans!

  6. Mike, the next time you’re at the Isotope, I would HIGHLY recommend checking out Ed Luce’s Wuvable Oaf. James Sime calls it his favorite self-published comic book currently running and I call it my favorite comic book right now period point blank with no other qualifiers whatsoever.

  7. Thanks again for the awesome tour Mike! I wrote about it too (and even snuck a photo of you in there, hehe), so we know it was damn inspiring!