Think about the movies and TV shows that you truly love. Who made them? What were their plots? Your favorite TV shows have in-depth stories with real stakes. Some of these shows are likely Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, or Doctor Who. Your favorite movies are original, and are made by a director with a strong sense of vision like Wes Anderson, Christopher Nolan, Paul Thomas Anderson, or Danny Boyle. Chances are, your favorite movie isn’t G.I. Joe. You’re a discerning person with discerning taste. So why on earth would you think Marvel and DC comics are the best?
The stories you find in mainstream comics such as Marvel and DC are basically the same, give or take a cape or two. In DC, the heroes fight some henchmen, find out about a bad guy, then beat the bad guy. In Marvel, the heroes fight each other, then find out about a bad guy, then beat the bad guy. This has been the formula for 80 years. Sure, the dialogue’s a little punchier, and the art has some more variety, but the story you’re getting now is the same one you would have gotten in 1940, 1960, 1980, or 2000.
Mainstream comics are this way because it sells. They repeat storylines and characters simply because people will keep on buying them. DC’s biggest stars are Batman and Superman, characters who were invented in the 1930s. Marvel’s not much better, with Spider-Man coming out of the 1960s and Wolverine coming out of the 1970s. Marvel and DC comics are full of bombastic mayhem, but really give you nothing of substance. They’re the literary equivalent of Chinese food. You eat a lot, but you’re hungry an hour later.
For something filling, you need to go to indie comics. These (usually) creator-owned comics are the equivalents of novels and auteur films. In simpler terms: they’re awesome. They’re not held back by decades of backstory or a corporate machine. Instead, they can simply create new universes and plots, no matter how big or small.
If you look at a list of the greatest graphic novels of all time, chances are that more than half of them will be indie comics (and the other half will be Frank Miller’s Batman and Alan Moore’s Watchmen). More importantly, none of them will be last week’s issue of Aquaman.
Indie comics can do what all great art can do: give you a new perspective on the world. Vertigo's Sandman took you into the world of Dream and the other Endless. Oni Press' Scott Pilgrim took you into the hyper-stylized life of an average mixed-up guy in his early 20s. Top Shelf's Blankets took you into the author’s snowy Wisconsin childhood. Pantheon's Maus took you to a cats versus mice Holocaust. Fantagraphics' Palestine took you to the Gaza Strip.
Indie comics can even satisfy your need to watch muscled men in spandex flying and smashing things. Indie superhero comics tend to show you the potential consequences of people with extraordinary abilities existing. Mark Waid’s Irredeemable and Incorruptible focus on a superman who stopped caring. Garth Ennis’ The Boys shows a government-run team designed to take out decadent superheroes run amok. And Robert Kirkman’s Invincible is, put simply, the best superhero comic ever written.
With Marvel and DC’s offerings, you always know what you’re going to get: buff guys punching each other in the face. For some people, that’s enough. With indie comics, though, you get everything.
Do you like indie comics more than Marvel and DC?