This is by no means intended to be an exhaustive review, simply a mostly random sampling of indie titles present on the convention floor.
“Black River”, Story and Art by Jesse H. Mead
“Now that's something I miss, ducks.”
The exception in the reviews, as this is the only book whose author I was already a fan of before I went to the con. The creator of one of my favorite unintended con purchases 'LinkyFranky', 'Black River' is the first work of Mead's that feels like a complete work rather than collected musings or 'LinkyFranky's episodic quality. The story concerns four twenty-something year-olds living self-aware in a fantasy RPG world. It's a familiar story in our post-post-post-ironic geek culture, but what is exciting about the book is how fresh it feels regardless. The story isn't written for meta parody; you don't have to fear worn out 'arrow-to-the-knee' jokes as there are none. Instead the focus is on the four young people as they breeze past a world of goblin towns and magical creatures on a cloud of Kevin Smithian self-obsession and dick jokes. Mead's artwork is as deceptively simple as the world it's set in, with great moments of creativity that keep you from reading through it too quickly. The book ends with the promise that this is but a small prologue to a longer story, leaving one curious to see if the book expands its scale or rather compresses and becomes even more personal and intimate. Either way, it is a story worth anticipating and a book well worth your dollars...err...lutes.
Various Comics, Story and Art by Liz Suburbia
“It gives me a taste of what it's like to be you, to go wherever I want, knowing I'm dangerous.”
There's something special and a little sad about the small black and white comics printed on copy paper at cons. Little jokes or cryptic images mysteriously devoid of context drawn on the inside cover. Deeply personal stories that shiver and sweat. The flimsiness of the printing material, the $1 price tag on the cover; they aren't books that are to eventually be collected in a big glossy medium for future consumption. They're immediate and very quickly lost in the shuffle to complete disappearance. Liz Suburbia's are some of the best little examples of this I have ever read. Bought in bulk for a dollar a piece, each is a special moment, from a textless story of the internal world of a nymphomaniac woman to a fever-dream nightmare about rape and violence. Probably my favorite, 'Eat or Be Meatball', is short but affecting story of young love, told with bizarre perfection through the impossible narrative of being legally sentenced to relive your life over. There's something invasive both ways about the books, like a stranger handed you a trunk of their personal belongings and let you rummage through their childhood toys and teenage summer photo collections while they looked over your shoulder. You wish the little books could be preserved forever, but it isn't really the point. They are moments, and more precious for it.
“Aspire” Story by Rachel Pandich, Art by Ashley Lanni
“What's wrong with these ants?”
Your father is killed and you live in a world of superheroes: why wouldn't you try to get in on that to get some revenge? 'Aspire' tells the story of Destiny, a twelve year old with this exact question in mind, only sans a Bruce Wayne fortune or the good sense of age. Armed with a notebook with a list of potential murder suspects and ways of getting superpowers, Destiny spends her time trying to volunteer for scientific experiments, get bit by ants near a power plant, and other hazardous behavior. The premise is exciting and rife with potential, a unique and dreadfully irresponsible way of dealing with grief, and a lot of the book has the great ability to mimic the emotional mentality of a twelve year old, lonely and prone to swings in judgement and behavior. Unfortunately, the book does slip a bit in places, as the great ideas aren't always well handled. The first two books have a quality of aimlessness that doesn't quite evolve into introspection, presented rather at face value. The art also is a little hit-and-miss, with some panels having some nice stylization and others feeling somewhat clumsy. However, a nice pro is that the series was imagined as a mini, so all 8 issues of the story are already available, giving you a chance to see a complete story told from beginning to end. It's also nice to see a deconstructed superhero story in a different mold than post-'Watchmen' political criticism or 'Kick-Ass' inspired mid-life crisis power-fantasy.