As San Diego Comic-Con continues to prove itself the unshakable epicenter of all pop culture each summer, a common complaint is that on the convention floor, comics themselves have been pushed to the fringe.
But past the parading cosplayers, the towering racks of branded t-shirts, the My Little Pony vs Transformers exclusives, and the hungry masses outside Hall H are a wide selection of new creator-owned comics. SDCC is an opportunity not only pick up the many books and exclusives that make their debut at the convention, but also a great place to discover small press books, webcomic print collections, and Kickstarter-funded projects that might otherwise be difficult to come by.
Here were some of this year’s best finds from the exhibit hall:
The Divine – Asaf Hanuka, Tomer Hanuka, and Boaz Lavie (First Second)
If there’s one book on this list that’s due to be the Next Big Thing, it’s absolutely The Divine. Based very loosely on the story of two twelve-year old boys who led an uprising of Karen rebels in the 1990’s, this graphic novel balances ancient magic, brutal violence, and a cinematic scope with themes of industrialization and exploitation, in pages that seem more like collections of animation cells than comics. It’s haunting, and effing gorgeous.
DMFAO Tree – Geof Darrow (self-published)
If artist sketchbooks are your thing, Geof Darrow (Hard Boiled, Shaolin Cowboy) still proves that he can wipe the floor with any artist out there even with his pencil drawings. The third book in his DMFAO series features, among other things, a giant zombie skeleton with a tattooed dwarf troll for a head, and mini zombie skeletons for hands.
You know. Like ya do.
Space Riders –Fabian Rangel Jr, Alexis Ziritt, and Ryan Ferrier (Black Mask Studios)
This has been one of the buzziest indie comics this year, and reading it feels like uncovering an old Jack Kirby title, if Kirby had gotten lost in the desert with a lot of peyote in his youth. Trying to describe one-eyed space pirate Capitan Peligro, his mandrill co-pilot, and their skull-shaped ship doesn’t do it justice. To quote one review, artist Ziritt “is a God lashed to the drawing table, or the cintiq undulating through the infinite like great an-anu herself.”
Kaijumax – Zander Cannon (Oni Press)
Zander Cannon has worked on everything from Alan Moore’s Top Ten and Smax series to graphic novels for English professors, and his Inferno-esque graphic novel Heck won the 2014 Lyn Ward prize. This year he’s taken another left turn with his new series Kaijumax, which explores the obvious question: what happens to the families of Kaiju monsters after their monster parents are vanquished? The answer is somewhere between Guantanamo Bay and Pixar, which is still somehow surprisingly poignant.
Rocket Salvage – Yehudi Mercado, Bachan, and Jeremy Lawson (Archaia)
Yehudi Mercado is an animator by trade, and the feeling of well-paced Disney feature runs through this brightly-colored sci-fi romp. It’s also a straight-up hotrodding adventure story, overloaded with cyborg clones, weird aliens, crazy racecars, and backroom double-crosses. The worldbuilding and slick aesthetic of the book is the main draw here.
Die Homer – Tyler Hutchison (self-published)
For being totally weird, Die Homer is high concept: it’s Die Hard, retold with licensed cartoon characters: Homer Simpson stars as John McClane, supported by the likes of Scrooge McDuck and Skeletor. It started as webcomic, then became a minicomic, then became a hit Kickstarter, then came to Comic-Con. Somehow, no one got sued. Yippee ki-yay!
The Android’s Astrological Companion – Cody Vrosh, various (Binary Winter)
An android zodiac book seems so obviously cool that as soon as you pick up this oversize coffeetable anthology, the only response is Oh, yes. Of course. This is another Kickstarter project, and not Vrosh’s first — he’s also the author of the equally beautiful Coffee Creatures, among others. What makes the Companion even more interesting is that it’s also a short story collection, featuring writers from fiction, video games, and comics.
Steam Ark Playing Cards – Chet Phillips (self-published)
Chet Phillips is one of those guys who’s good enough to come to Comic-Con without needing a single comic. Instead he’s mostly selling unusual items like this — it’s a deck in which each card features an animal in steampunk gear with its own unique name. (Emperor Harkness Pepperpit is a raccoon who happens to be the king of clubs, while the gibbon Clive Parsley Weathersbottom is a very grumpy 9 of diamonds.) Only look for this if you need a deck of cards that will make you want to play cards ALL THE TIME.
Above the Clouds– Melissa Pagluica (self-published)
The only way to really learn how to make comics is to start making comics — but it’s doubtful that most of us can use the process to turn out something as beautiful as Above the Clouds. Pagluica’s mostly-silent fantasy series started as a webcomic in 2013, and she’s now up to her third issue in print. It’s incredibly delicate work that almost seems too perfect for the paper it’s printed on.
Falling Rock National Park – Josh Shalek (self-published)
Another long-running webcomic-turned-comic on this list is Falling Rock National Park, which follows the day-to-day of an oddity of animals (and the occasional human) at the titular Falling Rock. The latest issue features an impressive collaboration with Tyrell Cannon, but even more impressive is the body of work Shalek has created since the strip’s start in 2006. It’s the kind of comic that allows easy access for new readers, while still providing a huge backlog of story to explore.
Zombie Dickheads – Chris Moreno (self-published)
All right, so Zombie Dickheads is not the newest book on this list — but it got a new printing last year, and more people need to know about it, which is just as good. If you’re a zombie comedy fan, but you’ve really been wanting to see a story focusing on being a zombie, this is your book. Moreno’s “dickheads” were first featured in the indie anthology series ZombieBomb! back in 2010, and they remain one of the strongest undead offerings in small-press comics.
Entropy – Davor Radoja and Well-Bee (Epicenter Comics)
Also not new, but new-to-us — and how could we not discuss this one? Epicenter’s publishing team seems to focus on translated work , and they put out extremely polished graphic novels in the vein of 2000 AD or Metal Hurlant. Entropy chronicles a religious uprising in a dystopian future that’s equal parts Fifth Element and 1984. (Plus that title, right? Right?)
At a gathering as large as SDCC, it’s hard to suggest that the titles covered here are even a small representative sample of what was showcased on the convention floor. Is there something you saw at the show that you think bears mentioning? Let us know in the comments, or contact Comics Curator Keith McCleary via the Entropy submissions page.