WWAC’s Favorite Indies, Small Press Comics, and Webcomics of 2021

I will not be sad to see the year 2021, my only regret being not making much of a dent in my to-read pile of comics! But the indies and webcomics on this list were good friends during another pandemic year, and hopefully, you’ll find a new favorite here too!

Cyclopedia Exotica
Aminder Dhaliwal
Drawn and Quarterly

A large eye on a red backgroundSlice of life in a society where cyclopes and two-eyed people coexist, but not always equally. Cyclopedia Exotica follows the lives of a bunch of very different cyclopes in their daily lives, dating, waiting in doctor’s offices, hosting art exhibitions and attending them, and other scenarios. Dhaliwal explores issues like fetishization and xenophobia faced by visible minorities through the fantastical lens of cyclopes. I really appreciated the detailed worldbuilding of where the cyclopes’ names come from and how their societies came to coexist with two-eyed people, it made the world feel plausible and imaginative at the same time. It’s also really funny!

— Masha Zhdanova

Stone Fruit
Lee Lai
Fantagraphics

 

two adults walk briskly through a grassy area with a child running between themStone Fruit is about Bron and Ray, the cool queer aunties to Ray’s 6-year-old niece Nessie. They love playing with Nessie, but tensions between Ray and her sister, the overworked single mom raising Nessie by herself, as well as tensions between Bron and her religious family strain their romantic relationship while they work on repairing their fractured familial bonds instead. The dialogue feels incredibly realistic, like conversations I’ve had or heard other people have, and Lee Lai’s artwork is striking in how intensely stylized it is. When Nessie is playing she turns into a feral creature, and when the adults in her life are playing with her, they transform similarly. Visually striking and emotionally resonant, Stone Fruit is a very good comic.

— Masha Zhdanova

The Makeup Remover
Lee Yone
Webtoon

A young woman in a gown and tiara has her makeup applied by someone leaning over her with their hand holding her face. She does not look comfortableI think The Makeup Remover is the best Original on Webtoon right now. On the surface, it’s about a girl who doesn’t understand makeup getting roped into a competitive reality TV show by a celebrity makeup artist, but it ends up being a surprisingly thoughtful and multifaceted critique of the beauty industry, exploring how societal beauty standards affect women and men of all different shapes and sizes. The most recent episode focused on how a child actress is being pressured to act grown up and mature because she’s a celebrity, even though she’s still a kid and should be allowed to have fun with her appearance and life. All of the female characters in The Makeup Remover have a lot of depth to them, and the protagonist is incredibly easy to root for. She’s strong and straightforward and a big photography nerd and I want her to achieve happiness.

— Masha Zhdanova

Itching, Inching
Arantza Pena Popo
ShortBox

From Itching. InchingAt first, it’s just inches — was the wall pressing against the floor rug, or had the floor rug moved? But slowly it becomes clear that, at the same time more white people are moving into the protagonist’s neighborhood, her apartment is literally, physically shrinking — closing in on her. The feeling is in her body as well, in the form of an uncomfortable itching. In this short comic released as part of the Shortbox Comics Fair, Pena Popo brilliantly captures the cramped, horrible feeling of being unwanted and forced out created by gentrification and racial aggression. Despite this being a digital comic that I purchased on Gumroad, I could feel the sense of space — or lack thereof — in each page, and was in awe of how physically real the story felt. The protagonists’ discomfort and rage are equally palpable, especially as her white woman neighbor escalates the situation. Pena Popo is truly a master of visual storytelling and I’m excited to see more of her work.

– Alenka Figa

Motherlover
Lindsay Ishihiro
Self-published

I think it was Masha’s excellent review of the first volume of the webcomic Motherlover, published by Iron Circus Comics, that got me hooked on this series back in 2020. Since then, I’ve returned every few months in 2021 to see how these wonderful moms are doing. While Ishihiro has promised us that these moms will kiss, I’ve really enjoyed that in the last year they haven’t. Watching Imogen and Alex’s (the two main mom characters) friendship develop through an emotionally difficult time for Imogen really hits home because it focuses on how to be a good relation to someone you’re not related to by blood. I love that we see how Alex, and others, care for Imogen through this patch and that Ishihiro delves into the pain of Imogen’s need to make tough decisions for herself about her marriage. It’s messy and emotional and I love it because it explores how even if folks might be meant for each other (at least according to Ishihiro) it doesn’t mean that they get together immediately. It also doesn’t mean that the path is without casualties. And IDK if it needs that much word of mouth, as at least one volume has been published, but it’s been a nice comic to come back to every so often just for the feels.

– Paulina Przystupa

Lore Olympus
Rachel Smythe
Webtoon

a selection of a panel from Lore Olympus by Rachel SmytheOkay, admittedly, Lore Olympus is the Webtoon that needs the least word of mouth. An Eisner-nominated smash-hit, it’s been advertised in Times Square, scored a publishing deal with Penguin Random House, and is about to become an animated series via The Jim Henson Company. Oh, and of this writing, it has over five million subscribers. So, you don’t need me to tell you that Lore Olympus is good, but I’ll say it anyway: Lore Olympus is good. Rachel Smythe’s long-running epic is a sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking soap opera of the gods, with the love story of Hades and Persephone as its emotional core. (Or should I say Kore?) 2021 has been an especially big year for the series, with the trial of Persephone leading to explosive revelations and the surprise appearance of at least one goddess of strife and discord. Beautifully drawn and deliciously addictive, Lore Olympus is the perfect introduction to the Webtoon platform.

— Kayleigh Hearn

Djeliya
Juni Ba
TKO Studios

A masked figure in West African regalia reviews computer screensTo think that I almost overlooked this book. Instead, I cannot stop singing its praises. This is my “AND YOU GET A COPY AND YOU GET A COPY” book of the year, which hasn’t happened since the first volume of Rat Queens. Djeliyah is a West African fantasy epic about a dethroned prince and his storyteller who must find an answer to how the world came to an end. Though steeped in West African lore, culture, and symbolism, the story sings with universality and a resounding beat that can be felt through its stark and stunning illustrations. Read my full review and creator interview for more!

— Wendy Browne

The Kiss Bet
Ingrid Ochoa
Webtoon

A young girl with short hair in a half pony tail holds flowers that are falling out of her hand. She is looking behind her and blushingI picked up this Eisner-nominated Webtoon out of curiosity but then I couldn’t put it down! Something about it is obsessively compelling — and it’s not just the fact that everyone loves the leading character, Sara Lin (though I do love the drama of it all!). It’s a gentle take on the complexities of high school through the eyes of an actually average student where whether she’ll pass her math test is just as suspenseful as what guy she might end up with in the end. The layout of the comic is often simple, but lends itself to compulsive reading on your phone. This year’s “season 3” however really stepped up the background game. While The Kiss Bet isn’t a groundbreaking webtoon, it was absolutely one of my favorites when I needed something soft and a little sweet.

— Kat Overland

The Shadow Prophet
Anne Cazemier (colorist), Daniel De La Cruz (flatterer), Marissa Delbressine (creator, artist), Anne Delseit (co-writer), Sabrina Kooijmans (letterer), Annie Lahue (editor), William Ritstier (concept), Pieter van Oudheusden (concept)
Webtoon

Drawing of a woman surrounded by tall buildings. Her arms are thrown up in the air with joy as paper cranes float around herRyuichi lives in a perfect world under the ever-watchful eyes of Godo. She keeps her neurodivergence in check with medication and her life is grand — until she fails an exam that leads to her being expelled from the upper echelons of society. Flung into the depths of the city, she meets Vero and his underground terrorist army and learns that her role is so much more than she could possibly have imagined. Surrounded by images of origami cranes and eerie music, it has been a pleasure to watch this series evolve and I cannot wait to discover what comes next. Read my full review here.

— Wendy Browne

Embodied: An Intersectional Feminist Comics Poetry Anthology
Various
A Wave Blue World

Though I am not as skilled in the art of appreciating poetry, I stand by the words on the inside code: “Embodied sings with a beautiful melding of evocative words and imagery. It serves as a reminder of how powerful and unique comics can be when it comes to telling our stories.” This anthology, complete with a study guide in the backmatter, was the perfect read for my comic book club, especially after talking to curator Wendy Chin-Tanner to learn more about it.

— Wendy Browne

 

Kat Overland

Kat Overland

Small press editor Kat Overland is a displaced Texan now living in Washington, DC, where she is perpetually behind on reading her pull list. She's a millennial, Latina, exhausted, and can often be spotted casually cosplaying America Chavez and complaining.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Close
Menu