The Very Best Comics Of San Diego Comic Con 2012

Louie Falcetti writes for Bleeding Cool;

“Better late than never” is a phrase you get used to once you’re ten years outside of high school. You’ve gone through the larval stage of identity, now it’s time to start hoofing it and making things happen. Unless you’re one of those assholes who accomplishes a lot at a young age. But “Better late than never” is my catchphrase to describe finally “discovering” the world of indie comics. In my capricious youth I’d come home from Comic Con with a duffel bag full of back issues of Uncanny X-men and discounted trade paperbacks (snagged on Sunday, natch, when the deals are plentiful and silly). However now I come home with something much more exciting and interesting, a stack of indie comics, grabbed in the Small Press Pavilion section of the gargantuan San Diego Comic Con floor.

Some of the books I grabbed on the recommendation of this very website, such as Rob Hanes Adventures, of which I picked up the entire series from an extremely happy, extremely gracious Randy Reynaldo. If Rich’s description of the book didn’t move you, well shame on you. The book is fun, different, expertly drawn and a total breath of fresh air as bigger press books meander about aimlessly or make everything “dark” and “gritty”.

Wandering about I was lucky enough to stumble across the table for Curio & Co. Finding them by accident or chance seems like the purest way to discovering their library of amazing publications. Curio & Co. are chroniclers of a pop culture that never existed or to be more accurate, didn’t exist until now. Their products are sublime creations, such as this collection of the classic syndicated comic strip Frank & His Friend. Which of course you won’t remember, since despite it’s 1979 year of publication, it only came into existence within the last year. But the book could easily be slipped onto a book shelf or tossed into a box of thrift store donations and no one would be any the wiser. If you collect maps of places that never were and spend hours pouring over and delighting in alternate histories, get real acquainted with Curio & Co. real quick.

The real gem from Curio & Co. however has to be the owner’s manual for the Gadabout time machine. While Frank & His Friend is a fun, quirky window into a false yet identifiable reality, the Gadabout manual is a masters course in imagination and exhaustive in it’s focused, creative attention to detail. Schematics, detailed instructions and hints at a larger and richer alternate history than you’ll find expressly stated await you inside it’s silk screened and embossed cover.

The Small Press Pavilion isn’t just alternate history artifacts and comic books you’ve never heard of. The Devastator is a quarterly comedy magazine featuring writers and artists from The Daily Show, The Onion, Adult Swim, Marvel and DC Comics.The Devastator is the brain child of Geoffrey Golden and Amanda Meadows, the idea originating as a testament to print comedy such as MAD, Army Man, National Lampoon and The Onion Newspaper. The idea morphed from something that was only to be sold at Meltdown Comics to something significantly larger thanks to the benefits of Kickstarter. Kickstarter also provided the means for the actual shape of the publication to change from flimsy newspaper style to it’s current (beautiful) bound incarnation.

I asked Editor Golden about the writers and artists that have been featured in the book, he said “It’s been a thrill working with folks like Tony Millionaire and Jeffrey Brown, whose work we admire so much. It’s also a thrill working with up-and-coming talents who are bursting with creative energy, like cartoonist Scott Gross, illustrator/sculptor Shing Yin Khor, and our kickass editorial staff.

As to what people can expect from an issue of The Devastator Golden responded,  Every issue is a mix of comics and written satire based around a geeky theme. For example, our “Fantasy” issue includes a template for writing your own Final Fantasy plot, a comic about what a jerk the real Last Unicorn is, plus a playable Dungeons and Dragons parody game called Wizards of Cockblock Forest!

The Devastator crew is going to be doing more cons this fall, such as Comikaze in LA and APE in San Francisco where they’ll be selling their latest issue with the theme, “indie”. Robocop publishes his first poetry zine, David Lynch directs Home Improvement and a Banksy street art kit for kids all in the next issue. Get your hands on a copy and you’ll see this isn’t some flash in the pan college experiment nor is it a hastily thrown together mess of half baked ideas, their ideas are fully baked.

Five Ghosts I picked up at the Halo-8 table, however it currently doesn’t have a publisher and it really, really should. The premise of the book is treasure hunter Fabian Grey encounters an artifact called “The Dreamstone” which causes him to be possessed by five literary ghosts, each with their own unique abilities. The ghostsare described as The Wizard (Merlin), The Archer (Robin Hood), The Detective (Sherlock Holmes), The Samurai (Musashi) and The Vampire (Dracula).

I talked to writer Frank Barbiere about the inspiration for the book to which he said, “Five Ghosts is an adventure book that is strongly inspired by “pulp” style comics and intentionally crafted in a kind of “new pulp” style formulated by artist Chris Mooneyham.  Chris is my long time collaborator and the idea came about literally in the middle of the night…as a long time fan of English lit (I used to be an English teacher) I think an idea involving a cast of literary characters has been brewing around in my head for a while now, and I have been dying to work with Chris in this style.  The two seemingly just gelled in an epiphany and here we are.”

The first arc entitled, “The Haunting of Fabian Gray”is about Grey trying to save his twin sister, with his powers on the fritz and as always, things going from bad to worse. Barbiere tells me that the first issue will be completed for October and will be debuted at the New York Comic Con. That first issue is going to be 32 pages and like The Devastator and countless other projects was originally funded by Kickstarter. If you’d like to know more about Barbiere and the world of Five Ghosts he can be found at http://www.atlasincognita.com and can follow him on twitter at @atlasincognita.

The ashcan for Five Ghosts was all that was available at the time, but I was instantly hooked. The art is rich and detailed and much like the aforementioned Rob Hanes, is a fun, smart adventure comic trying to make a mark in a sea of ultraviolent capes and cowls. We live in an age where as the noose of copyrights and trademarks gets ever more and more tighter, creative types need to really work that brain muscle to try to utilize the public domain characters available to them. Five Ghosts makes it look easy and does so with an inventiveness and charm that other attempts at similar stories always seem to fall short of.

Another company that I was lucky enough to stumble upon was Poseur Ink. If you’re a fan of music, comics and music comics (like, I don’t know, our perennial favorite Phonogram) than you should know of them already. In 2006 they put out a music/comics anthology called Side A, with an enormous amount of artists offering little strips about music and the way it’s influenced their life and work. That was followed up with 2009′s Side B, different artists, different music, same amazing quality. I wasn’t able to meet the founder/owner of Poseur Ink, Rachel Dukes, but I did pick up her amazing little paper cardigan of comics, stickers, mini-notepads and the like. This paper cardigan of stuff is the perfect example of why I’ve fallen so crazily in love with the indie scene. Unique, fun things that are inexpensive and totally singular. The cardigan contained comics that were funny, personal, autobiographical and entirely fictional. Dukes shows that she can do it all as she moves through genre and medium to bring to life a “Rachel Dukes Starter Kit” of sorts.

Poseur Ink which began as a personal webstore and self-publishing front evolved with the release of Side A to begin to incorporate the work of other creators. Asked about how she feels regarding the sometimes perceived as warring sides of digital and print comics Dukes said, “When it comes to the comics, I really don’t feel pulled in one direction more than the other. I think there are certain benefits to both mediums – unique qualities to both web and print comics that can’t be translated back and forth. And, with that, I’m happy to create and sell in either way. I definitely cut my teeth in webcomics, but I would never try and actively keep web and print comics apart. I love them both and will continue to work in and promote both mediums.” As for whether or not Side A/B would ever be available in the digital format Dukes says that it’s something she’s reading up on and may do in the coming months, provided copyright issues with e-book distributors don’t get in the way.

I really can’t say enough good things about Side A/B, and highly recommend finding your way to copies of both. There’s a music story that I feel is probably something along the lines of an urban legend, or maybe just a convenient cool descriptor that gets used time and again, about an influential band that only exists for a brief moment in musical history, The Sex Pistols, Joy Division or The Velvet Underground for instance, and while the audience in attendance at an early show was small, but every member of the audience left the gig and formed a band. That’s the way Side A/B hits you, it immediately inspires you to create a comic AND start a band or at the very least write a gushing testimonial to the music that mattered (or matters, for the teenager readers out there, I know, it really encompasses what you’re all about, SPOILER ALERT, it won’t always). The stories are sad, funny, upsetting, moving, raw and most importantly, devastatingly honest. In the world of publishing (and small press publishing even more so) the importance of moving books can not be understated, indeed it is what is at the core that drives the wheels of the art we love so dear. The sooner you can get your hands on a copy, the sooner there could possibly be another one. I know you because I am you and while giving a copy of Phonogram: Singles Club to that cute, punkish, indie dream boat you’ve just started seeing is most definitely a wise move, it does bring with it the dangerous possibility that he or she will immediately fall in love with Gillen & McKelvie and completely forget about you (it’s crazy, but it happens). Get them Side A or Side B, at least then there’s a whole catalog of writers and artists to spread the love around, leaving you looking like the king of the cool comics scene. (Also though, totally give them all of the Phonograms)

One of the highlights of Rachel’s Cardigan Comics was a brief introduction to her new series Primary. Spanning seven pages of her nineteen page sampler the story is set in the 1980s “that follows a group of friends as they learn about the follies of friendships and relationships” (from the site).The included pages reminded me of a slightly rougher style in the vein of Adrian Tomine (although everyone’s art appears brutish and harsh compared to his masterworks). You could definitely tell that Dukes is invested in her story and the scenes, while brief, drip with emotional texture and personal precision. At the time of this writing she’s got half of issue two completed and will post the entire thing online once it’s done. Unfortunately the obligations of career and family have taken up a great deal of her summer so with a final year of school on the horizon (Dukes studies at the Center for Cartoon Studies) it may not be until May of 2013 when we’ll see the finished project. However if the preview is any indication to the quality of the work as a whole, it’ll be well worth the wait.

If you enjoy comics about cats, kids, culture and (moving related) calamity be sure to find the Poseur Ink table at SPX this Fall.

I also was able to pick up three short works by artist Andy Warner at the Poseur Ink table. Warner who is a close friend of Duke’s is also a classmate of hers from CCS. The books of his that I acquired are, Two Stories, The Creeping Things and The Man Who Built Beirut. These three books vary wildly in their subject matter but are all completed with the confidence and skill of someone born to make comics.

The Man Who Built Beirut is part travelogue, part history lesson on not only the country but one man in particular, Rafik Hariri. Reading it while eating breakfast in San Diego I was moved to tears by it’s sad honesty and emotional resonance (though the Sheraton’s breakfast buffet hardly helped me keep anything together, emotionally or physically).

Two Stories a pair of brief tales that really showcase Warner’s abilities as a storyteller who’s style and tone makes him come off as a combination of Charles Burns’ creeping horror and murky inks with Harvey Pekar’s laser like ability to cut to the heart of human experience.

As powerful and remarkable as both of those books are The Creeping Things is the real prize of the bunch. A heart of darkness style treatment of childhood, Creeping Things follows two brothers and their experiences as they move to a new town and try to adjust to the new world they’ve found themselves in. The world is not just their home and school, but the mountainous region behind their yard, with plenty of room for two young brothers to explore and get lost in their imaginations. However unlike the imaginations of Calvin & Hobbes, these brothers are haunted by a monster, just out of sight, but definitely coming and they make ready for his arrival. The book is haunting and will stay with you for a long time. The characters are so real and the action so perfectly paced, it’s able to get right under your skin and live there, sneaking right past your “this is obviously fiction” defenses. Andy’s work can be found at andysaurus.blogspot.com. I suggest you run there.

Don’t forget about the small press people, they won’t forget about you. Let me put it this way, when you visit the booths and tables of the big boys, you know what you’re going to get. I’m not saying that’s bad, that’s just the truth. The Small Press area of any con however is like taking a trip down a rabbit hole, but not a Lewis Carroll rabbit hole, a rabbit hole with less pedophilia metaphorical connotations. Scratch the rabbit hole analogy, it was weak. It’s more like a Neil Gaiman short story, yes! That’s a fantasy allusion without any creepy subtext or jack the ripper rumors to plague it. It’s like a Neil Gaiman short story, where you see all this weirdness you never knew existed and you see strange sights and the world is once again made new and fascinating. Support these artists and their work, then get out there and make some of your own! 

Follow Louie On Twitter

It's Comic Con week! Comics, Film, TV, and much more... Check out complete coverage on the Bleeding Cool San Diego Comic Con Hub.