9 Indie Comics Every Topless Roboteer Should Know

By Chris Cummins in Comics, Daily Lists
Monday, September 27, 2010 at 8:04 am
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Obviously, a great many Topless Robot readers are comics fans. And we're not just talking about Marvel and DC; there are plenty of Roboteers well versed in the more independent comic alternatives to grown men gadding about in tights (not that there's anything wrong with them). This list is not for you. This list is for the non-comics readers who frequent TR, and for those comics fans who maybe haven't looked much beyond the offerings of Marvel and DC. And it's for those fans who might've read the Scott Pilgrim books so often they can recite them from memory, or have spent hours discussing Mike Mignola and debating why The Amazing Screw-On Head is better than Hellboy.

This list is of nine under-the-radar indie comics titles that may have fallen through the cracks of your consciousness. Some of these you may have heard of and dismissed, or just never gotten around to checking out in the first place. Or maybe you've never heard of them. It doesn't matter why you haven't read them, but if you read Topless Robot, you totally should. So take a chance and read on for nine reasonable obscure indies that are worthy of your obsession and devotion.

9) The Muppet Show
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Kicking off this list is Roger Langridge's stellar re-envisioning of The Muppet Show from Boom Studios. Perfectly replicating the feel of the classic series, Langridge has singlehandedly brought back the magic of the Muppets. His comic is a tribute to the work of Jim Henson, Frank Oz, et al, and the joy that leaps from every panel transports readers to a simpler time when all that mattered in life was whether or not Fozzie was going to bomb on stage. The past decade hasn't been to kind to The Muppets (the nadir of which was a 2005 Pizza Hut commercial in which Miss Piggy inadvertently promotes cannibalism), but Kermit and the gang are poised for a comeback with the help of puppet lover Jason Segal. If his Muppet movie comes anywhere close to the genius of Langridge's comic work, the characters will finally regain some of their past glory. Unlike most of the entries included here, Boom's Muppet books are easily obtainable. In other words, there's really no reason for you not to be reading them. Don't be a jaded bastard and dismiss this comic as strictly kids stuff. This is thrilling reading regardless of your age. Jim Henson would have been proud of Langridge's work here. I can't think of any finer tribute than that.

8) The Fart Party
Like a lot of her peers, Julia Wertz has developed a following by writing autobiographical indie comics that are heavy on the self-deprecation. But what differentiates her work from that of the hundreds of other cartoonists roaming the streets of Brooklyn is a sincerity and self-awareness that is genuine as opposed to careful image/brand-building self-indulgence. Her most recent work, the memoir Drinking at the Movies, is a Cliffs Notes style overview of her life so far. For a more detailed look at her daily experiences, pick up The Fart Party. As the above video points out, the comic doesn't really feature much farting or partying and instead focuses on Wertz's attempts to manage a career on her own terms while also navigating relationship and health problems. Her wit and breezy illustrations make The Fart Party read like the anti-Cathy -- tales of a smart, strong single woman who faces every challenge on her own terms, without needing to scream "ACK." Awesome yet irrelevant trivia: Wertz named her work studio Pizza Island.

7) Everything Dies
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After exploring relationship issues in his webcomic series Bellen, Philadelphia-based artist Box Brown recently turned his attentions to grander topics in Everything Dies. First released this March, the ongoing title explores the impact that religion has upon our society -- for better or worse. Brown's visual style is a mixture of Chris Ware, Charles Schulz and The Family Circus' Bil Keane (which is oddly fitting given the religious themes that permeate that newspaper standard). But instead of opting for preachniess or cutesy sentiment like Circus does, Everything Dies features thought-provoking examinations of everything from a contemporary re-telling of the story of Job to Brown's own funeral plans. Smart and often funny without being disrespectful, the comic is an illuminating examination of how and why people believe.

6) Optic Nerve
My first exposure to the work of Adrian Tomine was in Tower Records' old giveaway magazine Pulse. His slice-of-life comics in the rag were always infused with a knowing insight about the world. This wisdom spilled equally over into his comic, Optic Nerve. Originally self-published in 1991, the book's subject matter -- usually angst and cultural identity -- is consistently compelling. Given Tomine's naturalistic storytelling and art, it's surprising that as of yet Optic Nerve hasn't made the jump to TV or movies. If there's a criticism to be lobbied in Tomine's direction it is that his work is often uncomfortably realistic. This is best demonstrated in his Shortcomings graphic novel (compiled from three Optic Nerve issues) which chronicles the often painful experiences of Ben, a twentysomething who is trying to find himself. His generally assholish behavior makes him one of the most unlikable protagonists in recent memor, and also one whose actions hit too close to home. Many readers found their own mistakes reflected in Ben's self-serving behavior. This type of realism is ugly, but it is infused with a sense of genuine honesty that is becoming increasingly rare in any form of literature.
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