Tuesday, March 4, 2014

200th Blog Celebration: Who is the 'King of the Indies' in comics?

Well, here we are! It's been 200 blog posts on this main blog page, and so today I'm going to talk about something everyone wants to hear about: Independent comic publishers!

Yeah, yeah, it seems like an odd choice, but honestly, I spend so much time talking DC Comics that I feel like it's necessary sometimes to draw attention to some of the other companies.

Publishers. Publishers everywhere.
Plenty of reviewers draw wide attention to the Big Two publishers of DC and Marvel, who have jockeyed for the top of the sales charts for decades (currently Marvel wins a lot due to the fact that they publish an absurd amount of bimonthly books), but today I ask the question: Who is the King of the Indies?

I like to think of comic history in terms of 90s wrestling. DC is WWE: the oldest and in possession of the most legendary names. Marvel is WCW: run by a media juggernaut and always trying to be the edgy new product. The question is, who is ECW: the smaller group who takes an alternate route to success but still has national value?

For a long time, Archie was considered an equal to DC and Marvel, providing a family-friendly, non-superhero option to kids reading. But eventually, the 1980s came around. When the general public realized comics had taken a darker, deeper turn, older audiences became as much of a driving force as kids, and Archie's success has been hindered since.

Don't get me wrong: They still have a decent supply of readers, long-standing titles that are as old or older than 99 percent of the books out there, and a spot in supermarket racks that other titles can't claim. But even with Sonic the Hedgehog and Mega Man in their arsenal, they are no longer in the picture in terms of sales dominance.

I've reviewed Green Hornet and Red Sonja on this blog from Dynamite Comics, and I've expressed respect for their titles "The Shadow" and "Lady Rawhide." But Dynamite has the issue that their major characters fell out of fashion with television. It's a pulp company in a time when pulp just can't carry the market. Boom! Studios has a similar issue, though having Adventure Time under contract certainly helps them.

Honestly, when judging the companies who jockey for the No. 3 spot, it comes down to the three who combine to make up between 18-23 percent of the industry at any given time: Image Comics, Dark Horse Comics and IDW Comics.

As of today, Image is the one with the sales figures that put them in third, but a lot of that can be attributed to one title: The Walking Dead. Of all the indie titles right now, that's the one that's garnered the most attention thanks to a highly successful TV adaptation of the title.

Because of the TV show sustaining much of Image's success, I can't say they've become a permanent No. 3. Saga is really the only other title they have near the top of the sales charts. Though right now Dark Horse and IDW don't seem to crack very high either.

So rather than give a definitive selection, I'm going to leave you some recommendations and notable titles for each so that you too can get involved with the non-Big Two comics scene.


Notable titles: Walking Dead (duh!), Saga, Deadly Class, East of West, Sex Criminals, Chew and Spawn

Thoughts: Image is a true indie through and through. Their titles are never established beforehand and many are creator-owned. Titles like John Layman's Chew and Brain K. Vaughan's Saga got famous for being good, not for having an iconic figure in the title. Overall, these books are not a style of title I enjoy reading consistently, so they're not for me. But they are clearly for quite a few. If a jack-of-all-trades company is up your alley, this is a company to look at.

Dark Horse

Notable titles: Tank Girl, The Mask, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Star Wars (through 2014), R.I.P.D., Sin City, Serenity, Conan the Barbarian

Thoughts: Dark Horse strikes me as an indie in need of a major title to spike and soon. With Star Wars, their long-time money maker, on the way out in favor of Disney's Marvel, the company has very few monthly titles that get very high. Many of their titles like Tank Girl and The Mask have long since run their course of popularity, and Avatar, while I read it regularly, is published infrequently. As such, it's hard to find anything to recommend with any kind of regularity. I guess if you like Serenity or Conan, you've got something here, but this company is definitely in transition.


Notable titles: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (both TV and its own continuity), X-Files, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Samurai Jack, Powerpuff Girls, Dexter's Laboratory, Star Trek, Black Dynamite, Magic the Gathering Theros, Transformers

Thoughts: If the list of titles is any indication, you know that IDW makes its living off of the past successes of franchises. The reason I listed them all is to give you a feeling as to how much they've bought up. Quite honestly, I love their titles more than any other indie. Samurai Jack, TMNT and PPG are all solid additions to the universes of those franchises, and I've heard good things about Start Trek and MLP. The main problem is that very few of their titles are creator run and very few can cross over with each other. It's basically just a niche company who attracts the fans of the various franchises they swallow. If you like these programs, buy the comics; they do good work. Otherwise... well, still buy the comics and expand your base. These are objectively very good titles. It just so happens they're not original thoughts.

You know what, I actually do need to give a verdict...

We should just let this title be
King of the Indies.
Verdict: While I believe IDW produces the best quality books, Image Comics is probably the true King of the Indies for all intents and purposes. Just looking at the library of each, it's clear Image has carved out an area in original content the way DC and Marvel have. Whether I like that content is another matter entirely, but nonetheless, they've found a way to draw in readers who may not be into strictly superhero fare.

Dark Horse was the king and may be there again one day. Right now, though, they've become very Star Wars heavy and I need to see what they do post-Star Wars before making a judgment. They've got some decent stuff in place, but until it pans out, they have a lot of work to do.

IDW is basically the anti-Image in that virtually all their titles are ripped from established franchises. As good as IDW is, Image can continue to make new ideas happen. IDW is forever tied to franchises that could easily be consumed by other companies. I really hope IDW finds real success with this route and eventually does become the top of the indie heap, but more original content is necessary, as you can't just get by on TMNT, Star Trek and MLP: FIM.

Speaking of MLP: FIM, Lent is beginning and so this March is devoted to reflection on a certain topic: Bronies. And so for the next few weeks, I'll be infrequently be publishing articles as I explore the phenomenon that is My Little Pony and why so many adults have become fans of it.

Will I be a fan by the end of it? You will only know by following March of the Ponies.

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