I was a big time comics fan when I was a kid. I followed a somewhat formulaic trajectory wherein I was exposed to the characters from comics before comic books themselves through things like Spiderman and his Amazing Friends and the classic Superman movies. With my interest piqued, I began flipping through the pages of the comic books at the drugstore and the supermarket. My first comic book was X-men, but that was only the first of hundreds. Although I certainly enjoyed superhero books such as Batman, Flash, and Avengers as much as the next kid, it was in my young teens where my path diverged from most of my fellow classmates and friends.
Sure, I still bought some of those superhero books, but my increasing fascination with comics exposed me to the world of independents. I may have been too young to have been exposed to Robert Crumb, but I was infatuated with books with names like Milk & Cheese, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Scud the Disposable Assassin, and more. Those books and others like them showed me that the comic book medium didn’t have to fit into the seemingly rigid box of the big two publishers Marvel and D.C.. The format wasn’t defined, the stories could be weird and esoteric, and the artwork could be wild and free.
None of the independent titles that hooked me early on are still published, but my desire to seek out the unusual and visually stunning have recently led me to Retrofit Comics. Retrofit, a micropress imprint “dedicated to publishing and distributing floppy alt-comics” got it’s start in 2011 with a successful Kickstarter campaign by author and illustrator Box Brown. It’s actually because of Brown’s stunning work in his book Andre The Giant: Life and Legend that I began following him through twitter which then led me to Retrofit.
With many independent publishers moving to digital distribution or folding entirely, it is refreshing to see a company, however small, put such care and devotion into releasing each of their “floppy,” physical books. As varied as the creators of the artwork themselves, each book is unique. In the several examples I have read, I don’t believe any two have been printed in similar manners as each has a different size, paper quality, and story. Distributed by Washington D.C.-area Big Planet Comics, Retrofit hasn’t necessarily seen the same scale of growth the rest of the comics business has experienced following the popularity of comic-based movies and television shows.
“I’m not sure comic book movies have helped us at all. Though the general exposure of comics and graphic novels as a legitimate form of adult entertainment in recent years has definitely helped us out. Importantly, I think people are seeing more value in comics as medium than they may have 10, 20 years ago. I hope that trend continues.” says Retrofit founder Box Brown
I, for one, certainly hope the trend continues as well, and based on the variety and quality of their 2015 titles, I would be shocked if it didn’t. Here’s a few highlights released this past year that are too good to pass up:
Ikebana – by Ignatz Award nominee Yumi Sakugawa
This 48-page black and white book takes the reader on a journey, not only from the art class to the city where the main character, Cassie Hamasaki, reveals her performance art piece, but an emotional journey that looks at society’s harsh realities. Light on text, but strong on substance, this is one comic that makes you immediately start rereading upon completion to see just what brilliant subtleties you missed upon first glance.
Ink for Beginners: A Comic Guide to Getting Tattooed – by Katie Leth
I personally don’t have any body ink myself, but after reading this, I feel absolutely prepared should I ever choose to get a tattoo. A fun and informative guide to getting a tattoo touches on everything from how to prepare for your first tattoo to tipping policies. The full color work even provides a body map identifying painful areas to get inked. Whether you’re thinking of getting your own body art or if you’re just a fan of quirky comics with a lot of personality, this one doesn’t disappoint.
Butter and Blood – by Steven Weissman
Difficult to describe, even harder to put down. Butter and Blood seems to be a beautiful stream of consciousness by the artist that had me hopping from one page to another in quizzical anticipation. Retrofit describes the 96-page book better than I can: “Featuring roving gangs of drug-addled rabbits, Guns N’ Roses in their Jewish deli days, ghost stories and talking dogs with nothing to say, Butter and Blood is packed cover-to-cover with beautiful drawing, dumb ideas and funny, funny jokes.”
An Entity Observes All Things – by Box Brown
With his stunning visuals, Box Brown manages to turn deceptively simple drawings into a brilliant collection of science fiction vignettes. Plus aliens! 152 pages, full color.
The Unmentionables – by Jack Teagle
Love wrestling? Love lizard women? You’re in luck! In The Unmentionables, Jack Teagle brings what feels like a true underground comic back to the mainstream. One of the more straightforward storylines from Retrofit, this book is also one of the most fun.
Retrofit Comics aims to publish 12 titles per year give or take a few and I would seriously suggest purchasing their yearly subscription pack. The 2015 subscription pack provides 13 books, a free tote, a patch, and PDF versions of each printed comic for just $75! Just from the selection above, you can see that Retrofit Comic’s stable of artists are inventive and unique. If you can’t tell from the descriptions above, most of these comics are aimed at adults, although the mature teen will also enjoy them. While not every book can appease each person’s individual tastes, there’s just enough variety and, well, weirdness in these comics to keep you coming back for more. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2016.
Disclaimer: I received copies for review purposes.