What You May Have Missed: Indie Comics

Just in time for the Small Press Expo, I have dedicated my final entry in this year’s “What You May Have Missed” article series to a variety of excellent comics that were either self-published or released by small publishers.  As with my previous entries, I hope that this entry allows readers the chance to find and support delightful comics that may have otherwise escaped their notice.

The majority of these comics are intended for a young adult audience, personally recommended at about 13 years of age or older.  The final three books are recommended for adult audiences as they contain graphic content in terms of sexuality and/or violence.  Overall, these comics cover a variety of themes, art styles and subject matter, and are an excellent showcase of what the medium can accomplish in terms of art and storytelling.

Young Adult:

Canvas by Theo Stultz

In this delightful original fairy tale, a young painter finds it difficult to pursue her passion, as it is tricky to create compelling art without any models.  Desperate, she tosses her baby teeth into her family’s well to make a wish.  The results were immediate and unexpected.  With delightful characters and a fun art style, this one is not to be missed by those who love fairy tales.

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What You May Have Missed: ShortBox Comics Fair

As mentioned in my previous blog post, traditional, in-person, means of showcasing various art projects were not available to artists of any medium during the initial years of the pandemic. Comic creators were hit especially hard, as conventions and festivals dedicated to selling and displaying the works of these artists were no longer available, with independent and self-published publications taking the largest blow. Thankfully the internet had alleviated some of these issues, with many retailers supporting digital comics and online sales as a means to reach their audiences.

One such event is the ShortBox Comics Fair, an annual digital comics fair established by Zainab Akhtar of independent comic publisher ShortBox. The event originally began in October 2020 as a means to sell out-of-print books and zines, and from 2021 onwards the Fair has become a month-long celebration of new comics by creators from all over the world. It is a fantastic showcase of the vast breadth of creativity and storytelling that is only possible in the medium of comics. While it may be only going into its fourth year, I eagerly await each October to discover what new comics are there for me to read.

Here is a list of twenty comics from both the 2021 and 2022 ShortBox Comics Fairs, which are among my personal favourites. The majority of these comics are intended for either young adult or adult readers, personally recommended at about 14 years of age or older, and cover a variety of themes, art styles and subject matter. I have made sure to include content warnings, typically those provided by the creators, to best ensure readers are properly prepared to read these comics. I hope readers are able to discover at least one new title they love from this list, and will be willing to visit the next online fair this forthcoming October.

Note: Every comic here is available in digital-only formats, with the exception of two comics that are only available as physical books (Give Her Back to Me and Mending a Rift). Two books are available digitally and physically (Twigs and Wormturn).

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What You May Have Missed: Indie Game Recommendations

To say that the 2020s have been an extremely exhausting decade thus far would be a huge understatement.  For people working in various creative fields, this exhaustion has come with many additional hurdles as traditional, in-person, means of advertising their art were not available, particularly during the early years of the pandemic.  Thankfully, various different forms of community awareness have made it possible for various video games and comics to reach a wider audience, be it through “Nintendo Direct” inspired showcases for indie games, digital comic festivals, or positive word of mouth on social media.  That being said, it is difficult for every single title released to get the spotlight, as so many wonderful video games and comics have been released this decade, both independent and mainstream, and many more are planned for release in the near future.  That is why I have decided to do my part in signal-boosting a variety of titles that I personally loved and enjoyed these past few years so that more people are able to discover and enjoy them for themselves.  

This post will focus on fourteen independent video games that were released during the three-year time period of 2020 to 2022, as well as one developer who has released several titles throughout this time period.  The titles all vary in terms of art style and gameplay, but many common themes within them are queer positivity, creative game design, and a strong narrative focus.  I have also chosen to list these titles in terms of both age appropriateness and inclusion of potentially triggering content.  This means that titles that can be enjoyed at any age and have next to no triggering content are at the top of the list, while games that are only intended for adults and have severely triggering content are at the very bottom of this list.  This is based partially on my subjective experience of playing said games, the developers’ own descriptions and discussions of the games in their own words, and any age ratings available in digital stores.

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Anxiety in Animation Part Two: Snufkin

Snufkin standing in the middle of the night. His body is pulled inwards, and his hat obscures his face, in a defensive manner. His facial expression is difficult to determine, but he appears slightly uncomfortable

In the first part of this series, I examined and discussed how the character of Hitori Bocchi was a validating experience for me because it portrayed social anxiety in an empathetic and humanizing manner.  With this in mind, it is important to realize that Bocchi’s experiences are just one of the many ways in which people experience and manifest their social anxiety.  This second article will examine a character from a different animated series, and discuss how their portrayal showcases a different side to social anxiety, specifically how social anxiety can be connected with social exhaustion.

Snufkin is one of the main characters of Tove Jansson’s Moomins franchise, an iconic character who many people love across the globe (especially Europe and Japan).  He is a vagabond known for travelling the world, carrying very few personal possessions, enjoying his solitude within nature, and valuing his personal freedom.  As is the case of many fictional characters, these key traits have commonly been exaggerated to the point of creating a very specific image of Snufkin’s character.  In many adaptations Snufkin is depicted as an incredibly wise individual, who discovers solutions to the problems he and his friends encounter, and seldom, if ever, experiences anger or personal psychological conflicts.

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Anxiety in Animation Part One: Hitori Bocchi

Hitori Bocchi hiding behind her school bag. Her face is visibly uncomfortable and anxious, and she is gripping her bag enough to dent the fabric a little

While my experiences as an autistic woman primarily shape what I write on my blog, this is not the only form of neurodivergence I experience in my life.  I have also experienced both general and social anxiety in my life, and it is safe for me to say that the latter can be far more overwhelming than the former, especially since I am also on the autistic spectrum.  Social anxiety has made it difficult for me to try and open up and make connections with other people, as it negatively impacts the way I view myself and how I believe other people perceive me.  I will commonly find myself evaluating and re-evaluating how a specific social interaction took place, criticising myself at what I believed to be a poor job of communicating, and feeling embarrassed for myself afterwards.  While I am aware that the vast majority of people experience difficulties in communicating at some points in their lives, my social anxiety tricks me into believing I am the only person who is capable of messing up at social interactions, and that my socialization skills are among the absolute worst.

Finding a way to properly articulate these feelings is difficult enough, but to actually have these feelings be legitimized is especially challenging.  As many neurodivergent and mentally ill people can attest, describing our experiences to neurotypical people is extremely difficult.  This is probably because to neurotypicals our experiences are not “legitimate” concerns, because they are “all in the mind”, or we are “just over-exaggerating”, and if we just do a specific set of activities we’ll feel better in no time. So finding stories able to showcase our point of view, and present our experiences in a sympathetic light, is something extremely surprising and validating to find.

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Autisitc Observation: Bullying and Special Interests

Image of a road with a lone white plush teddy bear, wearing a red ribbon, in the foreground. A group of people, doing other activities, are in the blurry background

I have found that the worst thing about being autistic is not about being on the spectrum, but rather how allistic (non-autistic) people treat you. I experienced awful forms of ableism, emotional abuse, and bullying directed towards me simply because I am an autistic person. Upon reading the experiences of my friends and peers on the autistic spectrum, this is unfortunately a common experience, making bullying and autistic childhood experiences go seemingly hand-in-hand.

Unfortunately, bullies do not go away when you get older: their tactics just change into something more insidious and covert. The type of bullies that I encounter tend to be thoroughly aware that autistic people will not immediately pick up on subtler forms of bullying, and use this to their advantage. As a result, autistic people may leave a conversation feeling hurt but with no ‘justifiable’ reason to explain these emotions. After all, the person we were just talking to did not say anything really hurtful to us, and they were smiling and putting on the big ‘friendly’ face that means the person is nice and honest. But every time you talk to that person, you find yourself feeling crappier with each encounter, even though you cannot determine the cause for this feeling.

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Needs More Love: “The World Beyond My Shadow”

[Panel One: Schreiter’s left foot is shown walking into the panel. Her shadow is light and slightly noticeable Panel Two: The text box reads “And one I leave the door…” Schreiter stops walking, her shadow is visible in front of her. Panel Three: Schreiter’s antenna make a “Flopp” sound, as they disappear into her head. These are a visual cue that she uses to identify autistic people, emphasizing the metaphor that autistic people feel like aliens in the neurotypical world Panel Four: The text box reads “…I start.” Schreiter stands alone on the sidewalk in the center of the panel, which is a wide shot, emphasizing how small and insecure she feel when stepping ‘beyond her shadow’. Her eyes are wide and uncertain. Her shadow is at its darkest and most visible]
[Panel One: Daniela Schreiter’s left foot is shown walking into the panel. Her shadow is light and slightly noticeable Panel Two: The text box reads “And one I leave the door…” Both of Schreiter’s feet are present in the panel.  She has stopped walking, her shadow is visible in front of her. Panel Three: Schreiter’s antenna make a “Flopp” sound, as they disappear into her head. These are a visual cue that she uses to identify autistic people, emphasizing the metaphor that autistic people feel like aliens in the neurotypical world. Panel Four: The text box reads “…I start.” Schreiter stands alone on the sidewalk in the center of the panel, which is a wide shot, emphasizing how small and insecure she feel when stepping ‘beyond her shadow’. Her eyes are wide and uncertain. Her shadow is at its darkest and most visible]
Comic books are one of my greatest passions.  I read comics almost every day, and even if I am not reading them I am certainly thinking about them.  I love the versatility that the medium has to tell different types of stories, both fictional and personal, and how they showcase diverse ways of being to the audience before them.  I am especially happy to see more narratives, especially those which have previously been ignored or untold, gaining more interest and attention.  One example of this is the growing number of comics and graphic novels focused on examining and discussing the topic of neurodivergence and mental illness.

Among my favourite examples of a comic that has accomplished this is Daniela Schreiter’s The World Beyond My Shadow, a graphic novel discussing Schreiter’s experiences of being a woman on the autistic spectrum.  Originally published, in German, by Panini Comics Deutschland as Schattenspringer: Wie es ist anders zu sein in 2014, the comic received an official English translation by Panini Comics in 2016.  The book is a graphic memoir detailing Schreiter’s everyday life and childhood experiences as an autistic woman, specifically describing her experiences with sensory overload, navigating the confusing and contradictory social world of neurotypicals, and, most importantly, highlighting how much she loves being an autistic person.

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Hello and welcome to Autistic Observations! My name is Patricia Baxter and I am an independent writer, researcher, and media critic.  My writing has been published on various different sites, including I Need Diverse Games, Anime Feminist, FemHype, Take This, and GUTS Magazine. While I still wish to continue to write for websites and publications there are some occasions where the work I wish to publish does not fit their criteria, due to niche personal interests and topics, or because the piece is more casual than the standard essay format. For these reasons I have decided to create Autistic Observations, as a space for me to write out my thoughts and feelings on a number of topics that I feel cannot be properly expressed elsewhere.

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Autistic Observations