Did you know…
Well, maybe not for all of you, but truth be told, all we ever see in theaters or in comic book racks at big stores or on TV are the biggies: Marvel and DC. And while both of those companies offer wildly different reading experiences (DC is a tad bit more serious usually, with Marvel having more fun with a lot of their books lately, outside of every “event” they now hold once a month, I.e. Infinity Wars and such). But if you choose to look at the comic book industry as just those two powerhouses, you are blinding yourself to some of the best indie comic book publishers out there.
And honestly, in the last few years, some great indie comics have resonated with me (as a lifelong comic book fan) more than some of the big stuff from the big guys, which seems to be getting more and more, how do I put this, financially hungry. Put it this way, Deadpool and Wolverine both have had up to six versions of their own comic at one time on the shelves. No joke. I would go to buy an issue of Deadpool and see Deadpool, Headpool, Deadpool Corps, Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe, Deadpool and Cable, Gwenpool, and more (and that is just a FEW, all very real examples).
In that moment I thought to myself, oh crap, do people even KNOW there are alternatives? I know many of you do, but even if one of you doesn’t, this article is well worth writing (and for all of you, reading).
So now onto the list of comic book publishers who are not Marvel or DC but create characters and stories just as memorable (and sometimes, even better -- real talk).
Dark Horse Comics
If I had to pick a personal favorite comic book publisher besides the big two, Dark Horse would be number one (with the next entry on the list being my personal second favorite).
Why, you ask? Well, I will give you a few reasons:
Alien (yes, same ones from the movies but better because you can do more and get away with more in comic form than you can do with actual special effects).
Predator (Yes, one from the movie with same above rules applying).
Alien VS Predator (You may not have liked the movie and that is OK, but the comics are f*cking brutal and amazing).
The Mask (The funny Jim Carrey movie was not supposed to be funny, but rather, dark, grim, and quite violent. An amazing read, truly).
Star Wars (Yes, THAT Star Wars, and many agree that some of the Dark Horse Star Wars stories beat ANY of the movies because again, you can get away with much more in a comic book. Hell, in one of the books, Luke’ son is addicted to space heroin. Not even kidding and it is WAY cooler than I just made it sound).
Sin City (Yes, THAT Sin City)
Yojimbo (Samurai ninja rabbit. Need I say more?)
Umbrella Academy (come this time next year, when the show is on Netflix, you will see what I mean -- puts X-Men to shame)
And I could go on and on…
The funny part is, you have been exposed to half of these already through pop culture and movies and didn’t even know it. The term “dark horse” means underdog, and that is just what this company was until people realized all the stuff they were putting out was GOOD!
Hell, they even made an Indiana Jones comic that was better than all three sequels. Get on the Dark Horse bandwagon ASAP and thank me later.
Right under Dark Horse, when it comes to indie comic book publishers is IDW. Though the name is all but foreign to most, they have put out some of my favorite comics of the last five years. They are a comic book publisher whose demographic is nerds and geeks like us -- and they hit the bulls-eye every time.
Honestly, the best comic book series I think I ever read was called Locke and Key, and it is written by Stephen King‘s son, Joe Hill (who has become a better author than his father, said with all due respect to both) and published by IDW. All I will tell you is it has all the best elements of horror, fantasy, tension and heart, and the art of Gabriel Rodriguez is nothing short of stunning. His thick and heavy line work resonates deeply with the grim yet enchanting story that is told.
Also, IDW has done some really cool geek shout-outs by doing Metal Gear comics (done in the art style of the game box and game itself) and other geeks books (Robots VS Humans VS Amazons is, indeed, a stunning comic book about a world where robots, zombies, and female amazonian women all battle for survival and it is exactly as insane and awesome as it sounds).
People don’t realize it and say it enough so I will:
I love you IDW. You publish books that other companies wouldn’t have the balls to, and one cannot help but respect that.
If there is one company on this list the general public may know of outside of Marvel and DC, this is it.
Image comics was formed by all the greatest comic writers and artists in the 90’s (Jim Lee and Todd McFarlane being the two most exceptional) who were pissed off that the two major comics publishers were not paying them enough or giving them enough credit for just what they had done for the brand (Jim Lee rebooted X-Men and changed the game in that move, Todd McFarlane jumped on Spider-Man and ended up changing the way he was looked at and made him super cool again, as well as helping visually create the now iconic Venom costume and character).
So all those dudes banded together (which in itself is insane as at the time, all of them were competitors) and they stared Image Comics. With comic books like Spawn and Youngblood, the publisher actually did really well for itself, even if the people who started it can now admit they knew nothing and it was a TAD bit overwhelming for them and a little egocentric of them.
The truth is, to this day Image is still putting out some of the best comic books out there, so safe to say no one has any regrets.
A few examples of their best current books:
Saga (Best sci-fi anything I ever read, and I have read and seen it all; it’s only a matter of time before this becomes a series or series of movies, mark my words).
The Maxx (A comic book about a schizophrenic homeless man who sees himself as a superhero and sees his social worker as a jungle queen…to tell you more will ruin its majesty. Also, Sam Keith’s sketch-like art is frigging breathtaking and wholly unique to only him, which is VERY rare to see in an industry where every artist attempt to rip off every other artist).
The Wicked and the Divine (MAYBE the best adult comic book ever written, dare I say outside of….
Sex Crimes (Not even gonna tell you anything. Just trust me, read this comic book NOW!)
And again, I could go on and on on. Image did something very brave and cool by stepping away from the two biggies and staring what would very much be the genesis of the true indie comic movement (though we can actually take that back to writer and artist Robert Crumb, pre-Image, which is a different article in and unto itself).
Though I am admittedly not a huge fan of the work Valiant does, I respect what they do wholly. And you cannot make a list of indie comic book publishers and leave Valiant comics out because they did it long before many of the others that came before them on this list.
For me, the problem was always reflected IN the actual problem. They were not a major comic publisher so they did not have tons to pay artists and writers, and if you were big into visuals (like I am) it made getting into some of their work difficult (again, I speak solely for myself regarding this) but I know people who swear on their lives that X-O ManoWar is one of the greatest comic books not enough of us are reading so I had to include it (and have finally and officially added it to my must-read list).
But even if I am not a huge fan of what they put out, I am a huge fan of what they do, which is providing people an escape from their world -- and did it by skipping over Marvel and DC, which, at the time that Valiant came out, was unheard of. For that alone they deserve hella-props.
And now we come to end of the list with a cool comic book publisher that some of you may actually be somewhat familiar with. Why? Well, they didn’t get too huge outside of this ONE comic book that I cannot seem to recall the name of.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!
Yes, the biggest I.P. on this list was created by two guys who decided to start a comic book company because they wanted to write about ninja turtles who brutally kill people and die.
There is LITERALLY no dialogue in the first issue, it is stark and black ad white, and they find, fight, and KILL Shredder. It was SO violent and bloody, it is hard to believe what it morphed into (Pizza time, DUDES!) but that is how those two creators went on to become Trillionaires and it all started with an indie black and white comic made by two dudes about sewer-dwelling ninja turtles.
So remember that next time tells you one of you dreams is stupid or impossible. I am sure the creators of Mirage comics were told the same thing, but didn’t listen and are now doing this:
Minus the dead and broken part (and yes, that is a shout-out to Duck Tales).
Well, there you have it. A very versatile list of comic book publishers other than Marvel or DC who, frankly, deserve just as much credit as those two powerhouses because they have managed to stay afloat when the comic industry is mainly a monopoly run by DC and Marvel.
Just always remember, Hellboy comes from Dark Horse, which in itself easily proves that Marvel and DC are not the only ones at the top of their comic book game. Widen your gaze and more and more of these other comic books will pull you in, I guarantee!