There are some amazing comics that came out this past year, and we unfortunately don’t have the capacity to showcase every incredible indie book. The to-read pile is high, stacked with promise and adventure. But, we took a crack at it anyway! Below is a selection of what small press releases we loved over at WWAC, in no particular order — let us know your faves, too!
I don’t recall how I stumbled on Larsen’s Holy Diver, but when I landed on the website, purchasing the book was an almost instantaneous development. When it arrived a few weeks later, I was not the least bit disappointed with my impulsive buy, which also came with a bonus one-page comic that my kids found hilarious. Holy Diver is part of Larsen’s Microcosmics series which features fantastical stories of mystical worlds. The stories are told with fabulous colour schemes and styles unique to each one, but all are connected, and all have no dialogue. Or rather, there are occasional word balloons in Holy Diver, but there are no actual words. Instead, gorgeous imagery and colour take you through a story that follows two divers who are overwhelmed by an ocean that births a demon. Larsen so skillfully evokes the sense of fear, loss, hope, and love that encompasses the divers and those who wait for them back on land.
On a Sunbeam
Self-published/First Second/Avery Hill
Tillie Walden’s atmospheric space journey got started as a webcomic and you can still read it here, but I am really glad I read the beautiful paper edition published by First Second. The colors are lush and the lettering is cleaned up and much more legible. I was delighted to see that Walden has discussed her color choices with Rosie Knight for WWAC already, since the colors of this volume provide so much of the atmosphere. On a Sunbeam tells the story of a bunch of people on space ships and in space leading their normal lives and getting stuff done, and sometimes that blossoms into actual adventure and sometimes it does not. I would recommend it to readers who enjoyed the slow episodic space journey in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, as well as those who want to read a story of exploration in which gender is thoughtful and nuanced, and in which women and girls are almost the only people.
The Seance Room
Ben Goldsmith (writer), Keyla Valerio (artist)
Source Point Press
I love a good ghost story or two, and Ben Goldsmith and Keyla Valerio’s The Seance Room from Source Point Press combines ghosts with tackling the idea that “actions have consequences.” The seance room is itself an actual room in a mansion (Weiss Manor) in the Hollywood hills. Those who visit the mansion and enter the room choose from one of the six ghosts that inhabit the room and in turn, face one of their deepest, darkest fears. Each issue is a self contained story in the style of Tales from the Crypt or The Twilight Zone, and the artwork from Valerio is stunning in detail (it’s all hand painted), playing on light and shadow to play with your fears and emotions. While there are only two issues out now, there are more coming in the New Year — and Ben has built a whole world around The Seance Room, including a Weiss Manor website and a concept album. If you want something to read in between your New Year’s Twilight Zone marathon, The Seance Room will do nicely.
The Prince and the Dressmaker
I have to admit, I fell in love with this the moment I laid eyes on that gorgeous pink cover. I’m a big sucker for that color scheme and the sketchy outline of Sebastian’s ivory colored dress framing the adorable art of the two main characters just sealed the deal. The Prince and the Dressmaker is a coming of age story, following Sebastian and Frances as they try to determine their place in the world and come to terms with who they are and who they want to be. Colorful artwork and a cute, almost Disney princess-esque storyline make this a really sweet and endearing read, one that I keep coming back to over and over since I first read it in April. It’s nice to read something that’s mostly positive and sweet every once in a while, and the fact that this is very much a comfort read makes it my favorite of 2018.
Rare Drops volume 1
Jorge Santiago Jr.
Rare Drops collects the first four stories of the impulsive warrior Arya and the cautious wizard Lucio into a slim paperback format. The pair Odd Couples their way through various labyrinths in a fantasy RPG-esque world, trying to make a living from selling the treasures they find.
The thing that first caught my eye about this volume was how cozy the art felt. The characters, with their round, not-quite-beady eyes and expressive faces, feels anime-adjacent but still in a style unique to Santiago (Curse of the Eel). It’s also well-polished, the right balance between sketchy and smooth, with great flow of lines. Those details come through in the storytelling as well, with subtle little touches such as the subtle wing-like emblem that marks the pair and their friends and how Arya’s hair gradually grows longer through the four volumes. Each story is self-contained – there’s no overarching plot. Nor is there any great danger, or amped-up emotional tension. But by choosing to tell heartwarming stories of friendship and trying your best, Santiago manages to perfectly match the cozy art style to some comforting stories worthy of it.
Also, as a canon nonbinary who’s a bit of an idiot and likes smacking things til they die, I appreciate that Arya is a canon nonbinary who’s a bit of an idiot and likes smacking things til they die.
Say It with Noodles: On Learning to Speak the Language of Food
Shing Yin Khor
The 2018 Ignatz winner for Outstanding Minicomic, Shing Yin Khor’s Say It With Noodles struck me hard in deeply personal ways, while giving me a deeply personal look at her own relationship with food. I can relate to having a language barrier with my own abuela, and the cultural and familial connections that food brings. As I get older, I realize how much of my mother’s culture was given to me with the food she fed me, and I appreciate so much that I can continue to explore that now as we both look for those roots in our own ways. The embrace of food as its own language hit me, too — Shing explains she saves her culinary talents for her friends, her family, the people in her life she loves. But for herself, ramen was enough. The word balloons slide across the page, crisscrossing homey illustrations of bowls, vegetables, sinks; you can hear the kitchen sounds while reading it, imagine the thunk of a knife against a cutting board and the racket of plates being moved. Shing creates a bustling home for herself, and perhaps we are all worth the work of a good meal. Read if you want to feel those immigrant family feelings, or if you’re stuck in a rut of brown bag lunches.