Indie Spotlight: January 2005

[From the ridiculous to the random to the superb, a quick roundup of notable indie comics (aka, not Marvel or DC proper, though Vertigo, Icon, Image, et al, do qualify) I picked up in the past month. Release dates may vary.]

Skyscrapers of the Midwest #1 (Pictures and Stories by Joshua W. Cotter; AdHouse Books, $5) qualifies as one of the oddest comic books I have ever read. On first glance, the black-and-white artwork is very “children’s book,” like Sanrio’s preschool character Miffy drawn in shades of grey. The shotgun-loading skeleton farmer on the cover, the fake ads promoting “Healthy Habit” Fun Brand cigarettes, and the overall grim fairy tale feel are definitely not the stuff of Noggin’s preschool programming, though. A varied collection of short and really short stories primarily featuring young anthropomorphic cats experiencing some of the worst moments of childhood – the kid not picked for a game of kickball, something’s wrong with grandma, the dark side of day camp – Cotter beautifully communicates the raw emotion and vivid imagination of childhood, both in his words and his woodcut-style art. “The Flight of El Jefe” is probably the strongest story, a tale of the opposite extremes of childhood where the pull of imagination and the push of social acceptance collide. Overall, a great read that stuck with me long after, nicely presented in a hefty, 56-page comic that’s well worth the $5 cover price. If there’s a #2, I’ll be back for more.

Quit City #1 (Written by Warren Ellis, Art by Laurenn McCubbin; Avatar Press, $3.50) is part of Ellis’ interesting experiment “to publish a group of imaginary first issues of imaginary series from an imaginary line of comics on an imaginary fifth week.” It’s the kind of stunt few creators can get away with, though judging from the initial sales numbers I saw for one of the other issues, I’m tempted to say that the experiment failed. That said, separated from the gimmick that spawned it, Quit City is a solid story of one woman’s struggle to deal with the ghosts of her past. Set in an alternate reality where aviators are still heroes and an elite band of them called Aeropirataca fights terrorism from the skies, Ellis’ protagonist, Emma Pierson has quit – “the girl who pulled her own wings off,” she says – and returned to a home where she is a hero to everyone but herself. McCubbin’s art is distinctive and she makes interesting use of grey tones throughout the book, accentuating the shades of grey that define Emma’s reality from others’ perception of it. Ellis’ characterization and pacing is strong and, while his intent was to give a sense of this book being part of a larger whole, he actually succeeds in telling a compact and engaging story that’s perfectly capable of standing on its own.

The Lurkers #3 (Story by Steve Niles, Art by Hector Casanova; IDW, $3.99) continues Niles’ second entry in his Meeednight Pulp imprint, an entertaining blend of pulpy noir and the undead. There’s someone digging up the corpses of young children for dinner and now they’ve gotten so bold as to snatch a living kid from its mother’s arms. Detective Jack Dietz, fresh off a run-in with a posse of undead offering their help, teeters on the edge of sanity as he rushes to investigate. Despite the fact that there’s really only two-and-a-half scenes in this issue, it’s arguably the best one yet, both for The Lurkers and its sister title, Secret Skull, and the first time I don’t feel a slight tinge in my wallet over the steep $3.99 cover price. Casanova’s art is especially strong this time, too, from the incredibly creepy cover to the varied styles he uses on the interior.

100 Girls #2 (Written by Adam Gallardo, Art by Todd Demong, Colors by Lucas Marangon with Marina Quevada; Arcana Studios, $2.95) continues where the stellar first issue left off, with Sylvia Mark running away from home and an unidentified organization that’s tracking her poised to pick her up. The action jumps off quickly as Sylvia gets a surprise assist before taking matters into her own hands and laying the smackdown hard on the bad guys. And I mean hard! Gallardo tells a fast-paced story while continuing to develop the primary characters, exposing new layers to Sylvia and her pursuers while deepening the overall mystery, and Demong matches him every step of the way with cinematic angles and fluid perspectives that bring it to life. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite comics being published right now.

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