Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Two Great Independent Comics, and Another that is Always Enjoyably Weird

Smaller to Larger
"Look honey, an article on those 'independent comics' our friends are always going on about."
In the field of independent comics there is a wide range. You have the really small-press (some call it "micro-press" but I find such a term a bit dismissive), to the kind of publishers who have some titles that in appear in "Previews" but are still pretty small, all the way to the much bigger-yet-still independent publishers who put out good stuff such as your BOOM!, IDW, or Image. Today I wanted to discuss three independent comics, growing in "size" with each publisher. First is a publisher whom is small-press (Nix Comics with their seventh issue of the  "Nix Comics Quarterly"), followed by the larger (in that some of their stuff appears in "Previews") publisher, Northwest Press, with the 2nd issue of the so far quite enjoyable "Dash". Lastly, I'm going to cover the ever-reliable Jim Balent and Holly Golightly, the married couple with the long-running little comic that could, "Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose" through their own publishing brand, "Broadsword Comics." Why "Tarot", you may ask? Because despite arguably being a bunch of T&A with aspects of Wicca sprinkled in it tends to always be enjoyable in its weirdness.

Nix Comics Quarterly #7
Nix Comics is a small-press publisher, founded by Ken Eppstein back around the year 2010 (with the first-ever issue from the publisher releasing in January of 2011). While it all started with the quarterly that focuses on being a rock and roll-type horror anthology, Nix Comics has branched out into some other genres such as your Western comics or youth-focused stuff. Seeing as how it began with "Nix Comics Quarterly" however I thought it would make sense to review the newest issue that came out a couple months ago in September of this year. True to its stated goal of being equal parts "rock" and "horror", this anthology has many tales involving music and is perhaps not scary enough to give you nightmares, but definitely contains some stories that were a bit spooky. There is a good deal of humor too--not unlike the old EC Comics back in the day the series draws inspiration from, and that helps carry many stories along nicely.

The humor I just mentioned actually plays an integral part in my two favorite stories within this issue of the anthology--"MP3s of Madness" and "Do This For Chuck". "MP3s of Madness" is the first yarn in this comic and kicks things off nicely. Written by Christian Hoffer and illustrated by Derek Stewart it is a post-apocalypse-meets-Cthulu story. Basically, it turns out that low-quality MP3s along with small-sized media players actually opened up another dimension which invaded ours with these squid monsters, and it infected almost everyone except your "purists" who stuck to vinyl, and I assume even CDs. It sounds like a bit of a snobby idea for a horror story--"Oh, those dullards with their crappy sound-quality!"--but has enough of its tongue firmly in-cheek to get away with the concept. 
Anyways, an unnamed main character who owned a record store roams the city in search of supplies and upon encountering a survivor has an intense (but funny for us) discussion about the man's music tastes and if he might in fact be carrying the evil trans-dimensonal monsters inside of him. It turns out his affinity for U2 and their love of releasing music digitally has sealed his fate and things get violent. It's dark, but also a bit silly, and that makes it a tie for the other story I liked. 

The other piece is written by Nix-owner Ken Eppstein and illustrated by Jess L' Heureux. At first it makes little-to-no sense with these rocker-girls talking about honoring the last wishes of someone named, "Chuck." Well, after debating for a bit and then  grabbing some shovels and beer they go out to the graveyard and dig up a body holding a gun, at which point they remove the gun and replace it with a beer with the punchline finally becoming apparent with the name on the tombstone--"Heston". Yes, they went there and made a gag out of Charlton Heston's famous NRA quote about how people could take his rifle from his, "Cold dead hands." It's an incredibly stupid and tasteless joke, and that is probably why I loved it. The incongruity of these teenage girls even knowing who Heston was and digging up his corpse has just the right mix of being a horrifying concept and a hilarious one that for some reason it really work for me.
As for the other stories in the anthology, they are all perfectly fine with Eppstein writing some and other folk doing others with good artists all-around. The only stories that didn't really "do" anything for me were two bits about a man named Ned who bothers people waiting at a bus station with him. His stories come off as a bit more sad than funny. Otherwise, it is all good stuff. Should you be interested in getting this issue from Nix Comics or any of their other wares, you can do that here as they are a smaller publisher and not found in "Previews". So yeah, good stuff!
4 out of 5 stars.

Dash #2
Northwest Press is a publisher that describes itself as focusing on comic-books that can appeal to an LGBTQ audience, but which makes titles for everyone. Therefore, while many of their comics may deal with LGBTQ themes, a cisgender heterosexual male can still enjoy their output, as a good story is a good story regardless of who within it is gay or straight, just as a bad story is a bad story. Therefore, I am happy to say that the newest issue of "Dash" continues expertly from the strong start of the first issue, which I liked a great deal, and even improves upon it!

I wanted to see a bit more of Dash's background when I read the first issue and learn how he came to be the private eye he is in 1940's Los Angles. That's why I was pleased to see that desire met in this issue which explains why some of the general populace seem to not know he is a gay man, but all the police appear to know. It turns out Dash Malone was a hero cop before it "came out" he was actually a gay man, and as that could actually be prosecuted as a crime back then, he was stripped of all his awards and medals. Not one to be deterred, Dash started-up as a private investigator, but due to the shocking conclusion of the last issue where his on-again, off-again boyfriend "Plink" was murdered Dash now is in an understandably dour mood.
This issue opens with a detective grilling Dash about his whereabouts when Plink was killed, and we immediately gain a strong dislike for the detective that makes it quite cathartic when Dash beats him up a tad later in the issue--although as he himself points out the only reason he gets away with it is because everyone hates this particular detective, were he to lay a finger on anyone else he'd be in some trouble. The rest of the issue involves Dash investigating Plink's death, and how a woman named Zita is his prime suspect. In an interesting twist things seem to take a turn for the supernatural at the end of the issue, with me wondering if Dash is seeing things or if we're shifting gears from a noir-type tale to an almost sci-fi and horror story. I'm a bit concerned to see the supernatural elements kind of suddenly popping-up without warning, but the character development for Dash has been strong enough that he is the kind of character I like to a good enough degree I'll read about whatever happens to him.

I clearly quite liked the story this issue, but how about the art? I think it was stellar. It continued to capture the mood of the 1940's in its coloring and attention to the details of the era, and it also wonderfully conveyed action. Sometimes in comics it can be tricky to illustrate a fight scene well, but within this issue when Dash and the jerk-detective get to brawling, it only takes about a page-and-a-half of wordless imagery to convey the flowing movement of how Dash is clearly someone not to be trifled with. That is just one bit in the comic, but stands as a good example to how this comic doesn't just tell a good story, but looks good while doing it.
This second issue of "Dash" is stellar and even more enjoyable than the first. The only thing worrying me is the sudden introduction of potentially otherworldly elements at the end. For all I know this could be a fake-out or result in the story actually being even cooler, but for now it has me a bit hesitant. Other than that one concern this is a great read and a series you definitely ought to check out. As Northwest Press is a big enough publisher to be in "Previews" your comic store can most likely order an issue for you if they don't have a copy for sale. If you lack a comic shop or want to order it yourself however you can always go here too. I recommend you do!
4.5 out of 5 stars.

Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #89
The first issue of Tarot came out back in 2000. Jim Balent had been doing work for years for other publishers such as a run on "Catwoman," but wanted to break out on his own. He founded his own publisher called "Broadsword Comics" with his then-girlfriend and now wife, Holly Golightly, and they proceeded to make a comic together. This comic would go on to become equal parts famous and infamous for its strange mixture of feminism, Wicca, and a lot of nudity with just-tame-enough-to-not-be-pornographic sex. That comic's name? Well, in case my header didn't tip you off, "Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose". Yeah, this is the, "enjoyably weird," comic I mentioned.

Compared to other issues of "Tarot" this one is a bit more tame, with only some hints of nudity and raunchy-talk. Instead, this edition of "Tarot" focuses on the titular character and her sister, Raven Hex, attempting to stop a group of Krampus (Krampuses?) from terrorizing the children of the town. A Krampus is a sort of Christmas-Devil who punishes children that aren't nice with beatings or kidnapping them to be taken to his lair and beat-up some more. Anyways, this issue features a bunch of Krampus on their way to a town and how the sisters want to stop them. It's an issue that has almost no "speech bubbles" instead presenting the story with a bunch of text and pictures to break it up--kind of like a strange story-book almost.
Instead of warming spells to keep your from freezing you could wear more clothes,
that would ruin one aspect of the comic that makes it popular, though.
It is a relatively basic story, with Tarot and Raven trying to fight against the Krampus, facing some difficultly, but basically coming out on top in the end--even if in a way they didn't anticipate (apparently Raven's spells are so terrifying to the townspeople they now fear her more than any Krampus). Quibbles with the story aside, Jim Balent has always shown a masterful skill as an artist, with his page-design and break-downs showing a deep understanding of the comic-page works. He just chooses to use this immense skill to draw stories featuring busty witches with his wife, Golightly, providing the color-work and lettering (and sometimes her own art in a manga-like style). There have been some other titles from "Broadsword Comics" but "Tarot" is arguably the bread-and-butter of the line, with a comic by Golightly called "School Bites" probably bringing in some income too (interestingly enough the next issue kicks-off a cross-over between "Tarot" and "School Bites").

Balent found something he enjoys doing with the love of his life, and they make a solid living creating this comic full of raunchy imagery and Wicca that lets them have their cheesecake-art and eat it too. As for this issue itself and its overall quality, the lack of speech bubbles made things a bit harder to follow, and unlike the more zany issues of "Tarot" that pack-in a bunch of absurd ideas, this one was relatively straightforward. Still, it was a pleasant enough read and a comic I recommend if you're into the weirder sort of comics or enjoy discussions of Wicca.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Concluding Thoughts
Today I looked at some various independent comics, from the small-press (Nix Comics), to the slightly larger (Northwest Press), to the small-but-also-weirdly-popular (Tarot). Clearly there is a variety of publisher-sizes in the indie world and the most wonderful thing about independent comics is that there can be such a wide spectrum of genres and topics discussed. My suggestion would be to check these publishers out, see if they have something you like, and if they do buy it to support them!


  1. I came into Tarot after they had already reached about 50 issues. It is hands down my favorite comic ever. Not only because of the wonderful art but also for the very meaningful stories, many of which truly hit home for me. In a lot of ways, both Tarot and School Bites are helping me to be more comfortable with who I am. I also cannot say enough good things about School Bites which I have been following since the beginning. School Bites does more than a little bit...its an awesome comic filled with fun, cupcakes, romance, cupcakes, cute bats, cupcakes, coming into your own individuality......and did I mention cupcakes?

  2. Angela, thank you for your comment! It continues to interest me how Tarot appeals to such a wide variety of folk, from folk who enjoy the messages and subtexts, to others who enjoy the artwork, and folk such as myself who are a fan of when it gets really weird. I've never read "School Bites" but it sounds fun!

  3. I totally recommend School Bites. Holly has it as a free Web comic (you can also buy hard copies), you can check it out at