One of the interesting things about doing comic book reviews is that it has changed what I read and what I consider to be the best comics. Most fans, and I include myself on this, just hop on the Marvel or DC train and ride wherever that takes us. Back in the 1940s there were dozens of comic book companies producing a wide variety of comic book and comic characters. For reasons discussed elsewhere, this Cambrian Explosion died in early 1950s. Then the 1960s came and between Julius Schwartz and later Stan Lee the Silver Age of comics was born, and with it the domination of the super-hero.
DC and Marvel became and now are the power houses. We are indoctrinated to believe that they produce the best comics and if a comic creator doesn’t work for the big two, then they are merely a poser. In the 1980s with First Comics and then in the 1990s with the rise of the other independents, as well as Billy Tucci’s self-published Shi, fans were given a real choice.
The problem with the big boys is that while they can produce good and sometimes great comics, they can’t consistently produce the best comics. They have too much invested in their characters and can’t take too many liberties. Like Conan Doyle who vainly tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes only to be forced to continue to write a character he detested, DC and Marvel are stuck as well. In an effort to drum up sales, instead of taking real risks, they indulge in cynical multi-title and multi-issue cross-overs forcing fans to choose between continuity anxiety and their next car payment.
The independents have no such problem. They are aggressive and hungry and as a result, pushing the boundaries. They can write a continuing series or a self contained titled. They are not invested in seeing Action Comics continue past issue one thousand.
The big boys, as far as indies go, are of course Image and IDW. Image was formed in 1992 by Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri, and Jim Valentino. The current partners are Robert Kirkman, Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, and Jim Valentino.
The key distinction that Image brought to the table was that Image would not own the creator’s work. This concept of “creator owned” work is very attractive to comic book creators. In other articles, I have and will detail some of the battles between creators and the comic book companies.
There are now a profusion of independent labels out there and with Kickstarter, even more self-published comics. And don’t forget the internet, which allows artists to produce, very cheaply, web based comics.
But as interesting as the work they are doing is, DC and Marvel still dominate. According to Diamond (see my article on Phil Seuling about the rise of the independent comic book wholesaler) in July 2016, in retail market share, DC had 35.36%, Marvel at 34.20%, and Image at number three has just 8.15% of the market. IDW at number four has 4.49% and Darkhorse is at five with 2.83%. Boom! is at 2.05% in sixth place and Archie is in seventh place with 1.36%. The rest just go down from there.
Just some of the indie companies we’ve been looking at here, in no particular order, are Valiant, ActionLabs, AfterShock, Oni, Graphic India, Boom! Studios, IDW, Image, Darkhorse and of course Top Cow. However, I am looking to go even farther afield and welcome suggestions from fans, writers, artists, colorists, letters and even publishers. Unless DC and Marvel come out with something very unique, I’ll be spending more of my time on the independents, not only do they produce the best comics today, they need the exposure.