You'd be pretty safe betting your life on the fact that your average comic book writer or artist was never the Head Cheerleader or the Prom King.
How can I make such a sweeping generalization? Easy. Having spent a couple of decades working in the comics biz, I lay claim to being one of these socially alienated, eternally self-employed, cave-dwelling misfits. We are loners, individuals. We do not join. So, given the choice between herding comics pros and herding cats -- trust me -- take the cats.
Unfortunately, this "not being joiners" thing has a cost. You've no doubt seen some of those blockbuster superhero movies that made a blue billion bucks for the studios that released them, the stars who were in them, and the comics companies that published the illustrated stories they were based on. But very little (often none) of the profit found its way into the bank accounts of the talented folks who created the characters and concepts portrayed onscreen. The reason? Most work in the comics industry is work-for-hire meaning the company owns the product, the creators own zip. Past efforts to change the situation by organizing comics professionals have fallen flat, in part due to the reasons mentioned above, in part because every freelancer is legally a small business and may bargain collectively only at the expense of violating anti-trust laws. Corporations may be people, but that guy who draws Ninja Babes is a company.
Enter the Owner-Creator and the era of Fair Trade Comics!
Since the late 1970s, "creators' rights" has been a hot-button issue and there have been brave experiments in creator-owned comic publishing. Most companies have tried out creator-owned imprints, some offering better deals than others. There are many flavors of creator-owned comic contracts and "creator-owned" does not always mean creator controlled. But many of the comics I'm about to recommend are owned, in large part, by their creators. The first of these is from Image Comics, a company that writer Brian K. Vaughan calls "the only publisher left that can still offer a contract I would consider 'fully creator-owned'."
Vaughan's new book Saga, featuring gorgeous art by Fiona Staples, is a science fantasy Romeo-and-Juliet story, set in a universe where science is at war with magic. Don't let the fairy wings fool you. This is an adult story. The first two issues came out in March and April, but you may have trouble finding copies, as they quickly sold out. This is, however, a series that's sure to be collected as a graphic novel and, in the meantime, you can pick up the digital books online.
Two titles from Dark Horse Comics are among my creator-owned faves. Just out in April is Issue #1 of the incredibly entertaining Reset. As creator Peter Bagge said in an interview with The Outhouse http://www.theouthousers.com/index.php/features/interviews/19181-pushing-reset-with-peter-bagge.html>, the book is about "this guy. Named Guy. He's a washed up loser who sells out by agreeing to relive his life, in a virtual sense. With other people watching. Humiliation ensues." Maybe it's because I have a couple of stand-up comics in my family, but I love this guy named Guy!
With at least ten volumes of the collected comics available on Amazon, the second title from Dark Horse has been around for a while. The Goon by Eric Powell, is not your granny's comic, unless granny was a roller derby queen (though issue 38, out in March, was dedicated to Powell's grandma, Betty Jane). Accompanied by his sidekick Franky, the Goon spends his time killing zombies and other monsters, with as much spraying slime, blood and gore as possible. And it's funny! Also great is Powell's blog on The Goon's website, explaining why Roller Derby Girls (he sponsors a team) have more going for them than comics nerds.
From IDW comes Memorial, a six-issue series by Chris Roberson and Rich Ellis. It's a fantasy about a young girl with amnesia who falls in and out of alternate worlds, meets a talking cat named Schrodinger, is chased by a villain with a robotic hand, makes friends with a shadow. And that's just the first two issues! The series is peopled with characters you'll recognize from folklore and myth, each with a new slant. Four of the issues are out and available through IDW's website or as digital comics from Comixology.
Warning: Once you go creator-owned, you may never again be satisfied with generic heroes in tights. And c'mon, tell the truth. Would you rather eat at Ruby Tuesdays, or at that hidden jewel of a restaurant on a charming side street in your own neighborhood?
See below for examples of Fair Trade comics