Josh’s Favorite Comics
by Josh Sullivan
This time around, I thought it would be interesting to write about my favorite independent comics and compile a “Top Ten” list of them. Sit back, enjoy and, if at all possible, try to find some of these books. They influenced me greatly and they opened my eyes to a beautiful world. Here goes:
I included both issues as my top choice because they hold the two parts to the story “The Young and the Aimless.” Halby Durzell is depressed, once again, because of his once-love Elsie LeGrande. He keeps going on and on about things and how much he misses her and what could’ve been done to make their relationship work. Halby’s best friend Renensco P. Blue is sick of hearing about it. A little later the two of them decide to head out on the town. These tales of despair, love, and hate take place in 2074. Once a “space opera” involving violence, aliens, and aimless missions, the comic Pirate Corp$ was renamed Hectic Planet to show the shift from all this science-fiction material to the more sympathetic turn the book took. It started to deal more with relationships, hanging out, and going to shows as opposed to the old days of the book seeming like “Star Wars.” Ren and Halby run into Tigger Levy and the three wander around with little money and a whole day to waste. The three of them steal some hot dogs and, later on, skinheads threaten to beat up Ren and Hal. Halby punches a cop after he harrasses one of the female characters. The first book ends with the two guys in jail. They’re split up and #6 concentrates more on Renensco’s thoughts and how angry he is with Halby. This book is an excellent showcase of many of the characters that have appeared over the past issues. “Your planet, my planet…24 hours a day…it’s always a hectic planet.”
One of the funniest and most disturbing comics I’ve ever read. I love Ivan Brunetti’s humor but unfortunately some people just don’t understand it. That is a huge downfall in the comedy business because way too many people don’t allow themselves to be entertained by off-the-wall humor. Oh well, on to the book. Schizo focuses on a huge lack of self-esteem that Ivan has and he puts his thoughts down very clearly on paper and uses his many different styles of art to help convey them even better. He talks about everything from his personal life to his views on the state of people and continues on to discuss his hate for the world. Ivan has a section in the book entitled “1,784 Things That Make Me Vomit.” He only writes about fifty because of “space considerations,” he says. There are some great four panel comic strips that are made to look like those in the daily papers…but they are definitely not. If you hate all the bland humor that is out there and the comic strips that are afraid to take risks, then this book is very much for you.
3. Acme Novelty Library #1 by Chris Ware, Fantagraphics Books Winter 1993
Even if you hate comics more than a punch in the face, you should get this book! The whole Acme Novelty Library saga starts out with a one-page strip with little Jimmy Corrigan, the smartest kid on Earth, getting sick of living on a farm and he throws a rock at a chicken’s head. Then, there is a highly complicated, intricately drawn story spread out about Jimmy Corrigan switching back from his life when he was older and his adventures when he was a child. Some of the pages have tons of panels drawn on them and the detail is breathtaking. Most of this book is in color and it requires many rereadings to even begin to understand anything about it. Older Jimmy is alone and sad while his younger adventures presented him many ways to fill a day. The back cover features the pieces to build a cool little toy robot model out of paper. There’s a single-page strip featuring “Big Tex” and the first of the many fake advertisements, this time you can buy a Telephone Pole:
“What a bargain. Bring one of these home and won’t the neighbors talk. Tremendously heavy, nearly impossible to fit in the front door. Treated acidic wood, will corrode most any material, eats holes in hands, clothing. Some still have wires attached. Put in backyard to confuse the workmen, or to add a ‘nostalgic’ touch to the scenery. ” That’s a small example of the sometimes subtle humor you can expect to find in Acme Novelty Library.
One’s a carton of hate and the other is a wedge of spite. They are Milk & Cheese, dairy products gone bad. The cover of this issue has the two wielding a bloody bat and a broken bottle remarking, “Welcome to our world…” This book is the whole reason I make stupid little comic adventures of my own. M&C were so inspiring to me to create violent little one to two page misadventures for the masses to vomit upon. Anyway, the two little buggers are very smart. They hate a lot of things and they run around declaring it to the world. This crazy little book was something I picked up out of the blue when I wanted to learn more. The two spout off crazy little-known facts and drink an awful lot. They watch T.V. and throw cabbages at children. Milk & Cheese create havoc. In this issue, they ridicule and humiliate the French, set a guy’s head on fire, throw their television set out the window when “Full House” is on, and that’s only 3% of the excitement contained in this book.
Evan Dorkin spares no space for his excellent humor. Anywhere he can, he adds his own quips and gags for Milk & Cheese to abide by. Out of the seven issues of M&C, this one is the best looking and best written. Find it now!
On a side note, Evan just had a cartoon one-shot on Cartoon Network entitled “Welcome to Eltingville.” It was based on characters from his other hilarious book “Dork” and featured music by everyone’s favorite meat piles, The Aquabats!
5. Acme Novelty Library #10 by Chris Ware, Fantagraphics Books Spring 1998
All the issues of this book are amazing but another excellent one is #10. The actual comic is hidden in an intricate book of fake ads and messages. For example, you can purchase a “Genuine Smile,” a “Genuine Roman Crucifix,” or even “Increased Productivity.” The main story of this issue continues with the Jimmy Corrigan storyline started way back in issue #1 and that has run through various other issues. He gets stranded on a deserted island and resorts to talking to himself and making new friends out of a safety pin and a match. That’s all I’ll say about the story, though, because there is so much to it, I’d have to write out the whole thing right here just to explain it.
The crazy ads for fake products are so good! The words are very tiny and Ware packs so much material into describing each item for sale. It’s very amazing that everything held within issues of ANL are all done by one man.
6. Johnny the Homicidal Maniac #5 by Jhonen Vasquez, Slave Labor Graphics Aug. 1996
Fans of this book may be shocked that I picked this book out of all the others seeing as how Johnny isn’t even really in it. You just see him a few times, all bloody, and ready to die. I chose issue #5 because it was the first issue of JTHM that I ever read. I had seen a little bit about Johnny in some of the comic magazines and one day my boss at the comic shop I worked at got some copies in for people who ordered them. Amazingly enough, one of the copies wasn’t picked up and I got my first taste of creator Jhonen Vasquez’ mayhem.
A couple of Johnny’s victims that he has kidnapped are still alive and trying to escape his maze of a house. A tenticular group of beings are chasing them and attacking everything in their path. This is the strangest Johnny book because so much stuff is just thrown in to take up space. I love it, though, because it also introduced me to Happy Noodle Boy. HNB is the creation of the Johnny in the comics and it’s totally insane. He is a stick person that constantly yells at people and says very strange things all the time. To understand all that is “JTHM,” you have to read all seven issues in order. They are an excellent treat to the little demented child in your family.
You might know Jhonen a little more from his great Nickelodeon cartoon, “Invader Zim.” It’s the story about an alien who arrives on Earth in hopes of conquering it. Joined by his adorable robot, GIR, Zim keeps getting his plans foiled by an Earth kid named Dib.
7. Steven #1 (magazine-sized) by Doug Allen, Kitchen Sink Press 1989
This was the first collection of “Steven” strips, detailing the adventures of a twelve-year-old drunk oddly enough named Steven. They had appeared in some magazines and still run in various alternative newspapers around the country. Steven always says “No,” and uses catch phrases such as “Eat some paste!” There are characters with stupid names such as Brock, Mr Owl P.H.D. and Fifi Doodle that have to endure many hardships, mainly the wrath of Steven. That is because Steven hates everything and everybody. He seems sad most of the time and acts out to hide it from the world. This could be why he drinks, too. Many times, the lad gets sick of his own comic and wants to leave. He complains constantly, making this enjoyable to many people who share in Steven’s angst towards the world.
These hilarious strips were a great precursor to many other indie comics to follow in the ’90s. Doug Allen created the little tyke in 1976 and the comics are still being published today through Fantagraphics Books. Seven more collections of the strips were published by Kitchen Sink in the following years.
8. Optic Nerve #3 by Adrian Tomine, Drawn & Quarterly Publications August 1996
The first Optic Nerve issue I ever read, this series evolved from the mini-comics of a very young Adrian Tomine. This book is drawn more realistically than the others that make this list. The characters show more emotion and make their thoughts more aware to the reader. There are four stories that make up this book. The most notable one is the first one, “Dylan & Donovan.” D & D are twin teenage girls that have grown apart from each other and society. Donovan (Donna for short) is going through serious teenage angst and is very moody. Their dad wants to bond with them after having just gotten a divorce from his fourth wife. He tells them that he is taking them to a comic convention because he is trying very hard to relate to his daughters (Donna digs comics and Dylan thinks they’re “O.K.”). He tries even harder with Donovan, though, because she is so despondent. They go to the comic con and split up and buy comics and other pop culture junk. Later that night, Dylan gets ahold of Donna’s diary to try to figure out what is up with her. She reads some stuff she’d rather not know about, she closes it, and goes to bed. There’s another day of the convention and the three split up. The story keeps going to Dylan, who can’t seem to figure out why she is so worried about her sister. She decides it’s a waste of time to think about it. The day after that, they go home and no one talks as their dad keeps driving down the road.
This book taught me that comics can still make you reflect on your own life. Adrian was born in 1974 and only a teeanger when he was first praised in the world of comics. He still produces top quality stories and books for all of you to marvel at.
9. Reid Fleming, World’s Toughest Milkman #1 by David Boswell, Eclipse Comics October 1986
Reid Fleming is, in fact, the world’s toughest milkman and he will make it a point that you know that. Reid lives in a world where it is still custom to receive milk door-to-door. He constantly wrecks his delivery trucks. He yells at his superiors and basically does what he wants. He’s a balding man, but always remarks that he cuts his hair that way. His favorite show is “The Horrors of Ivan,” which is about a skeleton of a man who wanders around. Reid is a winner with the ladies and loves causing trouble wherever he goes. Issue One of the Eclipse series took over from Boswell’s earlier self-published Reid Fleming tales with the first part of the story “Rogue to Riches.” The art is very attractive. He spends a lot of time on detail to his characters and his backgrounds. Like Chris Ware, he draws buildings and backgrounds very well. It seems that they’ve both studied architecture. Boswell uses hatching and cross-hatching techniques in his art that works to his advantage. The cartoony/realistic approach is a huge plus with the art that makes the very smart stories of Reid that much more enjoyable.
10. Sin Comics #1 by Jay Stephens, Black Eye Productions Winter 1993
Sin is a great showcase of all the things that were to come from Jay Stephens. It uses a comic-within-a-comic style at some points of the book and even once uses a cartoon-within-a-comic approach to display some comic fun. The stories in here feature characters from Stephens’ later series’ The Land of Nod and Atomic City Tales. This book is a great jumping-on point for those not familiar with his earlier work with the weekly strip “Oddville.” Issue #1 goes from totally insane to very humorous, to superhero serious and back through all of them again. It doesn’t disappoint you no matter what kind of comic style you like. Stephens caters to all of your needs. The back of the book is a great end to the whole adventure. It holds a “Captain Rightful” comic. C.R. is a super-powered flying thing that always comes to the rescue of those in need a little too late. This one is about a guy who’s riding a motorcycle when he hits an animal, flys off his bike, and smacks himself into a tree. As he screams for help, he falls back off the tree limb he flew into and lands in a river. As he goes over a waterfall, the whiny little brat screams for help one more time. He ends up dying on some rocks just as Captain Rightful arrives declaring, “Here I come.”
Jay also had a few cartoon shorts a few years back on Nickelodeon’s “Kablam!” that featured his cute superhero character JetCat. A book with all of his “Oddville!” strips just came out from ONI Press.
Let me know what you think of this top ten list and tell me what some of your favorite comics are. See you next time!