God of Comics – Comic Publishers
So. I’ve been reviewing comics for the past five or six years, what with that whole God of Comics thing. I’m going to keep it going it a slightly more limited capacity – three times a week I’ll talk about whatever comics have caught my eye. I’ll tell you why I care about these comics and why I think you should, too.
Why only three times a week? There’s some things that I’m working on: film and pitching to production companies in town and I’d like to talk a little about that and what that looks like. Trying to get some of my novellas published, and getting some print copies to go along with the e-copies of my book. Posting slivers from a project I’ve been working on forever. Finalizing the second edition of the Triune Legacy and making that available for purchase.
I’ll be doing some podcasting, too, but you’ll get a chance to hear about that late Monday night or early Tuesday morning. There’s a lot of projects that I’ve had ready to go for ages that I’ve had to hold back on for a number of reasons that simply no longer apply. We’ll see how this goes.
But back to God of Comics. One of the things we realized early on was that we were most popular among comic writers, artists, editors, and publishers. Readers thought we were okay, but the people making this stuff really liked us. We ended up meeting some exceptionally awesome people at conventions and helping them spread their work and I like helping people and sharing cool stuff.
One thing I never really talked about though was the publishers as a whole. You know, the people what make the comics. If you’re new to comics or say a movie or cartoon and are looking to get into things, this is stuff you might want to know. I’m being extremely tongue-in-cheek here, so take everything mentioned with a huge helping of salt.
You probably will and should start here. Marvel’s got the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, the X-Men (though not the film rights) and Deadpool (no film rights again). They lost those film rights back in the nineties when they bankrupted themselves by doing too many damn comic crossovers. They saved themselves by selling the film rights to their most popular characters and doing no crossovers for a while, but they’re back doing crossovers again now that they have Disney backing them. Their current comic offerings veer between amazing (Spider-Gwen, Moon-Girl and Devil Dinosaur), passable (most of the X-Men comics), and insulting (turning Captain America into a Nazi). It’s that last one, combined with their current CEO’s active racism, that got me to stop buying their comics. If they get rid of the writer who turned Captain America into a Nazi and their vile CEO, I’ll start buying their comics again.
DC Comics / Vertigo Comics
The number two to Marvel’s constant number one, DC owns Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. They also publish adult comics under their Vertigo imprint, which features classic tales like Sandman and Lucifer. Traditionally, Marvel has better art than DC and DC has better stories than Marvel. Sadly, a bunch of Marvel fanboys took over DC Comics a while back and instituted the nu52, eschewing DC’s elegant and operatic stories for the grim and gritty stuff Marvel does. The problem is that DC’s characters (with few exceptions) are geared towards opera, and the nu52 failed and failed hard. Thankfully, DC managed to fix themselves with a series called Rebirth and is undergoing a renaissance right now. You can pick up pretty much anything DC and be pleased with your purchase, and they’re even doing the grim stuff well with their Metal line.
Dark Horse Comics
Back in olden times, some asshats decided that comics were to blame for the kids not being alright. The comic industry responded by forming the Comics Code Authority, and no comic could be carried by newsstands without their sigil on the cover. Dark Horse Comics was the first major publisher to flip the authority the bird and start doing whatever they wanted, mostly with some kick-ass comics based on movie franchises like Alien, Predator, and Terminator. People have largely stopped believing that comics are the devil (the internet is usually the target of choice these days), so the other companies started doing more mature stories and Dark Horse veered into superheroes along with their video game and movie-inspired titles. They tend to be choosy of what they publish and they like stories that explore the best and worst of humanity. You might get into them as a teen for their style, but you’ll stick around for their substance.
So, a bunch of artists got angry that they didn’t own the characters they were creating for Marvel, so they broke their contracts and started their own company. With blackjack. And hookers. Actually, come to think of it…
Image featured comics written by some of the most talented artists the industry had to offer at the time (and Rob Liefeld, who was also there). They were plagued with getting little out on time and other issues that come up when you have no actual writers on your staff. Eventually, they turned into a creator-owned imprint that does some of the most interesting comics you could hope to come across, and today they’re the publisher of things like the Walking Dead and Nailbiter and Injection. There’s a strong horror-presence at Image, but comics from here tend towards high-concept science fantasy or thrillers with the occasional superhero showing up for shits and giggles. If you start with Marvel, most of your comics will eventually come from Image…
Boom Studios / Archaia Press / Boom Box
… unless they come from Boom. Boom publishes under three very different imprints, with their main line being mostly high-concept brilliance like the the Woods, Archaia being more mature and political stories like Hacktivist, and Boombox nabbing popular cartoons like Steven Universe and Adventure Time and publishing tales based in those worlds. Boom! doesn’t publish as much or as often as Image does, but they make up for it by always having something worth reading. Right now, for example, they’ve got Grass Kings coming out on a monthly basis and if you’re looking for a slice of life book with entropic overtones and hopeful undertones, this is what you’re looking for. The worst Boom has to offer is okay, but their best is exceptional.
They also have the single best Lovecraft-inspired series period, the perfectly named Fall of Cthulhu, and its follow-up, Hexed. Boom is awesome.
If you really wanna stick with the superhero thing but Marvel and DC are not your thing, you should give Valiant a shot. Valiant takes the classic Marvel/DC Comics set-up and moves it into the mature realm that Marvel and DC keep aiming for and falling short of.
People just getting back into comics might remember Valiant from the nineties, where they were devouring the market share with incredible stories full of compelling characters and complex concepts that held a sense of consequence and progression. They were eventually destroyed via some shady business practices by the now-defunct video game company, Acclaim, but when Acclaim went bankrupt the Valiant people nabbed as many of their old characters as possible and got back to work.
You should be glad they did. Their comics are unlike anything else you’re likely to read and easy to follow along with, given the ease of getting trades. Start with X-O Manowar, Archer & Armstrong, Harbinger, and Bloodshot.
This company has a very simple business model: they grab all the best properties from decades ago (X-Files, Transformers, TMNT, Ghostbusters, Jem and the Holograms, et al), especially those with multiple iterations. They then take the best parts of those iterations, toss them in a blender, and combine them into whole new stories that feel true to the original and do amazing things.
The first fifty issues of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are some of the most heartfelt comics you could hope to read. Their take on transformers looks at the politics and consequences of the Autobot/Decepticon divide after that war is done, and what’s left for that strange species.
Most of their comics are simple to follow and self-contained, so it doesn’t break the bank to follow what you like and you can get your fix on the regular. If you like comics and miss your childhood and hare crossovers, this is the company for you.
This company is so weird. They’re older than you’d think and used to focus more on T&A than story, which was made weirder because their stories were good. They started focusing more on story than T&A about five or six years ago, though, putting their in-house heroes into time travel and conceptual stories that dealt with identity, social paradigm, and the consequences of history. It’s fucking bizarre. More recently, they’ve kept some of the T&A while also tackling the subject of patriarchy. There was a tonal shift somewhere and it’s resulted in a series of limited runs that are incredibly meta and a lot of fun: the most recent run of Vampirella comes to mind, as does the awesome Gail Simone written Red Sonja. Worth checking out but not everyone – but if something they publish clicks for you, you’ll want it to the exclusion of everything else. Again, weird.
They handle manga. All the stuff from Japan tends to go through Viz, so if you like anime and want to see the source material, odds are you’re going through Viz to do it. The big thing they offer is translation and official support for writers and artists and they draw attention to stuff that might get turned into anime later on, or continue following series where the anime ends (I’m looking at you, Berserk). I rarely cover manga but I own a whack of it, ranging from Metroid to Berserk to Revolutionary Girl Utena. Most of it comes from Viz, and if you’re interested in the medium it’s not too hard to find a place that carries it and recommendations to go along with it.
I think Action Lab might be the youngest company on this list. They’re also the most random, doing weird eighties sci-fi concepts and weird horror-fantasy modern things and anything and everything in between. They’re a publisher of modern throwbacks, and that makes their stuff very hit-or-miss, but when it hits, it hits like the hammer of an angry god. To see them at their very best, read Tomboy, Princeless, or Awake. Medisin, Blue Hour, Brigands, and the Circle are also all deeply intriguing, and if you’ve got kids you should nab Miraculous.
Action Lab is young but they’re growing and they’ve got something for anyone. Again, if you’re done with Marvel and DC isn’t doing it for you, you’re gonna wanna give Action Lab a shot.
So, here’s an odd thing: back when I was a kid, every house I went to – without exception – had one of those little Archie digests somewhere. Didn’t matter what country I was in or whose house it was, didn’t even matter if they had kids, everyone had an Archie comic. No one ever remembered buying them, though. They just appeared.
Archie tried branching out into other stuff a few decades ago, notably with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the criminally underrated Bayou Billy, and even took their classic characters and turned them into fifties style pop heroes with Mysteries of the Unknown and other such titles.
The thing is, everyone knows these characters and this publisher. Archie quietly continues being Archie and never changes… at least until recently, when we got hit with Afterlife with Archie and the Chilling Tales of Sabrina and even the recent Mark Waid written Archie series. This company is doing interesting things and it’s weird, mixing horror with both idealized and modernized slice of life books, and everything is at least worth taking a look at.