A lot of indie comics brought me joy in 2021! There wasn’t a unifying theme to the comics that most resonated with me, but I did notice a lot of my comics were the book equivalents of lo-fi beats, perfect for reading with a warm drink on a cloudy day while wrapped in blankets.
Before I get into my top five, some honorable mentions include:
Resonant – David Andry, Skylar Patridge, Jason Wordie, Deron Bennett
The Me You Love in the Dark – Scottie Young, Jorge Corona, Jean-François Beaulieu, Nate Piekos
Inkblot – Emma Kubert, Rusty Gladd
Home – Julio Anta, Anna Wieszczyk, Bryan Valenza, Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
The Devil’s Red Bride – Sebastian Girner, John Bivens, Iris Monahan, Jeff Powell
The Many Deaths of Laila Starr
2021, Boom Studios, by Ram V and art by Filipe Andrade
The Many Deaths of Laila Starr captivates from the first page, making it the series I’m most likely to gift to people once the trade comes out early next year. When Laila Starr loses her job as the God of Death and gets sent to earth to live a human life, she initially wants to take revenge on the human about to invent immortality and put her out of business. Hijinks ensue in a mixture of hilarious moments and emotional moments that hit you like a truck. It is beautiful, it is poignant, and it had me laugh-crying and cry-laughing into my coffee. The whole creative team, Ram V, Filipe Andrade, and Andworld Design made something really special with this five-issue series.
2021, Vault Comics, by Daniel Kraus and art by Chris Shehan
It’s hard to believe The Autumnal is Daniel Kraus’s first comic, but the story gives new life to the ‘Something isn’t right in this small town’ horror archetype in a way that’s peak comics. The protagonist Kat goes home for the first time as an adult after receiving word that her mother has passed away. Inheriting a house seems like a fresh start for her and for her daughter, Sybil, and Kat does her best to be a good mother and an upstanding member of this unfamiliar town, but the town of Comfort Notch has its own hang-ups and secrets. Comfort Notch is painted in gorgeous warm tone colors by Jason Wordie and is beautifully lettered by Jim Campbell. Chris Shehan’s illustration in this rightfully gained them attention as a rising star in comics, because this manages to be breathtaking to look at while scaring my socks off.
The Good Asian
2021, Image Comics, by Pornsak Pichetshote with contributions by Alexandre Tefankgi, Lee Loughridge, and Jeff Powell
The Good Asian is a crime noir comic set in 1930’s San Francisco. The detective protagonist Edison Hark grew up with a white benefactor, with this series exploring the tough positions white-proximity puts him in. He struggles to navigate trying to help the community of Chinatown without giving up the influence he has, which becomes much harder as a series of murders raise tensions between the two communities he doesn’t feel fully part of. Pornsak Pichetshote has put a ton of care into the research of this series while maintaining excellent storytelling and pacing. Visual team Alexandre Tefenkgi (Illustration), Lee Loughridge (Colors), and Jeff Powell (Letters and Design) are faithful to the noir style while highlighting the rich history of Chinatown and creating gorgeous splash pages.
2021, Vault Comics, by Paul Allor and art by Paul Tucker
Hollow Heart is the kind of horror that digs into your brain and stays with you for a while. A modern monster story where everyone is the monster, Paul Allor and Paul Tucker introduce us to El, a cute pile of organs in a robot suit who you’ll totally fall in love with, along with Mateo, who does fall in love with El. Frankenstein, but as a horrifying queer modern love story. The main arc is accompanied by a series of ‘micro-horror stories.’ These are all set in sort-of everyday settings and leave you unsettled and kind of sad. Altogether, this series makes for a good rainy day existential crisis horror read, if you want to sit around and have a lot of feels.
Something is Killing the Children/House of Slaughter
2020 & 2021, BOOM! Studios, by James Tynion IV
James Tynion IV’s series has been doing well basically since it launched, contributing a lot towards the Eisner he received this year for his writing. The third arc of Something is Killing the Children and the new spin-off series House of Slaughter have expanded the world and turned it into the series I read on the bus on the way home from the comic book store because I can’t wait to see what happens next. A world with monsters that hunt children and the mysterious order created to keep the monsters a secret, at any expense, provides the backdrop for these new storylines. The Something is Killing the Children 16-20 arc goes into the protagonist Erica’s back story, detailing how she came to be a monster hunter, while House of Slaughter follows up with a character introduced in an earlier issue of the series and goes back and forth between flashbacks and a more recent assignment. The illustration is done by Werther Dell’Edera in the original and Chris Shehan for the spin-off, with Miquel Muerto and Andworld Designs doing the colors and lettering for both to give them a unified feel.