Celebrate Independence With Five Creator-Owned Comics You Should Be Reading

As a small child (12 and under), I was a big Marvel Comics guy.

As a teenager and into my twenties, I was a huge DC Comics guy.

Around the time I had my own apartment, utilities to pay and a long-distance relationship that taxed my finances (I was driving from Syracuse to the University of New Hampshire every couple of weeks, giving up weekends at work to do so), I had dropped most comics from my pull list. The only two that remained were Savage Dragon by Erik Larsen and Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore.

It's been that way more or less ever since; while sometimes I will fall in love with a Hawkeye or Booster Gold, my favorite comic is usually something like Amelia Cole or Savage Dragon. There are a lot of great creator-owned comics out there and, with rare exception, most people aren't reading them.

Yes, sales are great for books like The Walking Dead and Saga and we routinely hear about Image Comics selling out more or less 2/3 of the books it publishes in any given week. Some of that is because the books really are selling what they deserve, but more often than not it's becuase anything below Saga isn't being ordered in big numbers, so any improvement whatsoever over the previous month's orders means a sell-out.

So in honor of Independence Day, here are ten "indies" -- creator-owned comics -- that you should be reading and, statistically speaking, probably are not.

Besides being good books, we're trying to shine a little light on titles that dont' get a mess fo attention month in and month out. We all love Sex Criminals and The Goon, but they're never wanting for a little press. These titles, on the other hand, tend to be fairly anonymous if you aren't already looking for them.

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Savage Dragon

Why do we talk to Erik Larsen about Savage Dragon every month when the new issue hits? Because ever since issue #150--which came out nearly four years ago now--there isn't a more consistently entertaining superhero comic on the market--period.

Over the course of the last five years or so, Larsen has transformed a good, solid book into something that's an absolute crime to miss. Savage Dragon is so good that when I get my advance reader copy, I usually drop everything I'm doing and read it immediately, sacrificing not only whatever is going on at the time but also something of the reading experience since that first version comes to me as a batch of jpegs that represent individually-scanned pages.

Larsen has not only crafted a story that's been wild, creative and hugely engaging, but he's managed to continue experimenting long past the point where most guys would have. Playing with the format, the coloring, even releasing a "digest-sized" issue just for kicks and giggles, Larsen challenges himself as a writer and artist, and the audience reaps the rewards.

Rachel Rising

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It's my opinion that Terry Moore is one of the most talented cartoonists on the planet.

Certainly twenty years of doing ongoing, monthly-ish comic books that he has to write, draw, letter and edit all by himself is impressive--even if I hadn't long ago decided that Strangers in Paradise is arguably the best single achievement in American comics. Rachel Rising ups the ante, as he tries to push himself and his readers farther, hoping to make you jump while reading a comic made up of static images.

And, yes, it's got just enough of the "Terryverse" to give fans who want obscure connections to his other book something to cling to--you know, for those who have years of DC and Marvel experience informing their reading decisions.

Edison Rex

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Dennis Culver's clean, almost traditional-looking art belies just how crazy this book can be--in a good way. Monkeybrain Comics publisher Chris Roberson, who writes it, would be my personal pick if I had to choose a "Most Likely to Be Alan Moore Someday" in the comics-professionals high school yearbook.

Why? He's a tremendously talented writer with a flair for the absurd, a passion for incorporating the tropes of non-comics fiction into comics, a deep sense of what makes superheroes special and particular characters tick.

He's also managed to burn his bridges with his former employers at DC so thoroughly that seeing him start his own comic book publisher, and then immediately launch a title that's been fairly described by more than one critic as the best Superman book the market has seen in years, was actually not at all surprising.

The subgenre of superhero self-examination, epitomized by Watchmen but also encompassing books like J.M. DeMatteis's The Life and Times of Savior 28, is one of my favorites, and Edison Rex manages to play in that world with the kind of gleeful abandon that Grant Morrison managed during his best Animal Man work, and which is a truly rare pleasure to read.

Amelia Cole

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Also from Roberson's Monkeybrain Comics imprint, Amelia Cole puts D.J. Kirkbride and Adam P. Knave together on one of the coolest, craziest takes on a magical superhero you'll ever read.

As somebody who prefers science fiction to fantasy and superheroes to magic, the only thing about this title that jumped to me at first was the fact that artist Nick Brokenshire created a gorgeous cover to the first issue that just begged to be read.  The color palette and solicitation text gave it the general vibe of a kind of poor man's Harry Potter, but that art was just too good to pass up, and thank Goodness. The book hit the ground running and by the third or fourth page, I was hooked and all of my previous concerns that they were somehow creating a derivative work melted away.

Amelia is one of the most compelling female leads in all of comics, and her supporting cast--being built up slowly but surely--is stronger than anything you'll get in the crossover-burdened Big Two.

And as an aside, check out their book Never Ending at Dark Horse, out in collected edition for the first time this week. If you read it and Amelia Cole in a single sitting and don't see these guys are f---ing all-stars, you're blind.

Lazarus

Over at Image Comics again, Gotham Central alums Greg Rucka and Michael Lark are working magic of a different kind with Lazarus, an dystopian adventure story featuring a badass woman who's the muscle of a powerful family of aristocrats in a culture where all of the power and wealth is in the hands of a few clans who have an uneasy peace at best.

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The character work is impeccable in this comic, the humor hits just right and Forever Carlisle is a compelling and sympathetic character, living at the core of a book where there are very few sympathetic characters.

Read it.