Mad Doctors

How do you read an indie comic? In my view, if you approach an independent creator’s work the same way you approach a mainstream comic, you’re going to miss what’s extraordinary about it.

Mad Doctors #1

Mad Doctors #1

Mad Doctors, by Matt Blairstone, has all the hallmarks of an indie comic and yet subverts the expectations implied by such a presentation. The art is whimsical, stylized with larger-than-life character designs like something from back in the golden age. The page layouts and overall compositions possess a rough sensibility, complete with small pagination imperfections. Holding the print edition of the book in my hands, it has the overall the aesthetic of one of those morose, hand-crafted comic zines.

But Mad Doctors isn’t one of those lyrical autobiographies about a depressed illustrator; it’s a weird tale. Very weird. It imagines a world were evil geniuses, in the vain of Dr. Doom, rule the planet and hatch machinations to undermine each other's mad science empires. It’s dark sci fi; by the second issue I began to suspect that the cartoony style is intended to soften the blow of its bleak setting. Yet, for every scene of dystopian political intrigue, there might be a battle between a t-rex and a muscle bound cyclops or else some ironically banal office repartee. Whenever you think you have Mad Doctors pegged, it shows a different side of itself.

So, how do you read an indie comic like Mad Doctors? You take it on its own terms. I guarantee you’ve never read anything like it.

You can find Mad Doctors in book stores through Emerald Comics Distro or on Comixology.

Small Press Finds from San Diego Comic Con 2016 - Native Drums

Native Drums (17Machine Studios) is like a Greek epic poem, but with a cabal of corporate masterminds in their orbital Olympus rather than a pantheon of gods and a genetically enhanced super-soldier in place Perseus or Odysseus. It has that straight-forward heroic adventure appeal that belies the depths of many a great narrative. Several days after finishing the first trade of this independently published comic series, I’m left pondering the significance of the question at the core of the heroine's journey.

The protagonist is agent M17, a resilient warrior as strong as she is smart. Writers are often advised to “start with action”––which, in my opinion, is just as problematic (for the purpose of engaging a new audience) as starting with a character portrait or a doxology on the nature of man. Why do I care about what’s happening? What’s really at stake? Native Drums jumps into the action at the start of issue #1, and it’s the protagonist herself that pushes the reader past any apprehension about the worthiness of the tale. Artist, Vince Riley, designed an instant charmer. Far more than just a ‘babe with a gun,’ M17 emotes with every panel, leading the reader’s feelings with her expressive eyes. She’s clever and quipy, thanks to Chuck Pascall’s dialogue; if you’ve been missing Buffy on the small screen (and already burned through the comic follow-up) M17 does not disappoint. It’s important that the creative team succeeds in making you like M17, because the central conflict revolves around the question of whether goodness––as personified in her character––can ever triumph over the pragmatism available to the truly evil. You have to believe in her as your moral stand-in for the story to work––and you do!

This question at the core of the Native Drums is a subtle but powerful one: two agents strive against each other, one encumbered with the burden of moral virtue, the other willing to do anything, hurt anyone, to accomplish the mission––which agent wins the contest? On this level, Native Drums is less a philosophical exploration than it is an affirmation of our shared human values. It allows the reader to root whole-heartedly for M17, while pondering the genuine seductiveness of abandoning one’s principles when it’s convenient to do so. In other words, as the epic struggle plays out on the pages of Native Drums, it also plays out in the reader’s heart and mind.

You can pick up the digital version of Native Drums on Comixology and the print version from 17 Machine Studio's online store

Graphic the Valley: Some Thoughts on a Novel

I recently read Peter Brown Hoffmeister’s latest book, Graphic the Valley, and I have some thoughts about it. In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you I know the guy. We’re not friends, but I do like him. One time, at the birthday party of a mutual friend, he and I got to talking about writing. Everyone was ordering expensive micro-brews from the bar like suckers–except Peter. He had a twelve-pack of some piss-water beer in his backpack. It’s hard not to admire a guy like that.

So, the book.

Graphic is a re-telling of the Samson and Delilah narrative in the biblicalBook of Judges. This serves only to structure the narrative and not as any sort of moral compass. In place of Israelites, we have the original inhabitants of the Yosemite Valley, and instead of Philistines, it’s the Indian tribe that sold them out to the American military. It’s an interesting reversal; if a straight allegory were to be made, the originals would be the Philistines, Samson would be fighting for the usurpers and the American Military might be a stand in for God. But the hero of Graphic has a more naturalistic claim on the land, rather than a divine one–his people were there first. Nature stands in the place of God throughout the book, in fact.

The core of the story’s conflict lies in the tension between two versions of the human ideal. On the one hand, you have man existing as a part of a natural ecosystem. On the other, you have man as a political or social animal; he finds his place in a social ecosystem. It reminds me of Nietzsche’s Genealogy Of Morals, the Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomy, the triumph of the herd over the charismatic strong man. I picture the Homeric heroes breaking like waves against interlocked Hoplite shields.

In one of my favorite passages, Graphic’s narrator (the stand in for Samson) talks about the encroachment of a fast food chain into the Yosemite Valley Park. He knows the restaurant represents some form of evil but can’t reconcile that fact with how good the french fries smell–even nature’s freedom fighter is powerless to resist the draw of refined civilized technique. Indeed, his quest is to rid the Valley of defiling civilization and yet he lives off the food scraps civilization leaves behind. He, like Samson, fails morally by not fully forsaking the enemy’s charms.

An act of God, nature itself, finally redeems the Valley–it’s a conceit at the end of the book, but, remarkably, it’s what makes the story ring true in regards to human nature. Even as the book judges us for the evils of our society, it recognizes that any one individual is powerless against those evils. It would take a miracle to untangle the mess humanity has made of itself and put us back in our proper place in nature.


Image and Design by  Courtney Stubbert

Image and Design by Courtney Stubbert