What You May Have Missed 2023: Indie Comics

If there has been one good constant about the 2020s, it is that there has been a plethora of delightful indie comics of all genres and art styles, by passionate and talented creators.  These titles are those that were either self-published, originally written for the ShortBox Comics Fair, or published through small independent publishers.  They all showcase a true love for the unique forms of storytelling that comics can create and fill me with delight upon reading them.  I sincerely hope that you can find at least one new title to enjoy from this list.

A few notes before properly diving into the list.  Firstly the majority of the titles presented here are digital only, but a few of them (specifically LSBN, My Date is a Total Ike Woman, Silhouette of the Sea Breeze, The Single Life, and Witching Hour) have physical release options and How to Break a Curse is only available as a physical book.  Secondly, I have helped contribute to the publication of several of the comics on this list through crowdfunding campaigns so, for transparency, I have indicated which titles those are.  Finally, these comics are personally recommended for readers aged thirteen or older as they all cover topics and themes that are not appropriate for young children.  The only exception is ‘rainy summer day’, which can be enjoyed by readers of any age.  Each comic has content and trigger warnings where appropriate.

The cover of the comic "Daisy Bush" by 4threset. A naked individual, with shoulder-length brown hair, lays on their side in a field of daisies, their body shining as the yellow light of the sun hits them. A black wing partially covers their face to block out the light.

The cover of the comic “Daisy Bush” by 4threset. A naked individual, with shoulder-length brown hair, lays on their side in a field of daisies, their body shining as the golden light of the sun hits them. A black wing partially covers their face to block out the light.

Daisy Bush by 4threset

Originally written for the 2023 ShortBox Comics Fair.  In this melancholic comic, Aspen finds an angel in the daisy bushes of his greenhouse.  An emotionally moving tale about moving forward after losing those who mean so much to us.

Trigger warnings: Self-harm, implied suicide and abuse


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What You May Have Missed 2023: Indie Video Games

I wanted to start this opening paragraph on a positive note, but I’m going to be honest: 2023 was an extremely awful year for video game developers.  For all of the wonderful and innovative games that were released last year, there always seemed to be news of the people making those games facing extreme hardship.  Between mass layoffs and the encroaching presence of generative AI set to displace human skills, it has been very disheartening to see so many talented and passionate people being tossed aside so executives and shareholders can hold onto the imaginary belief of infinite growth.  To praise the video games I loved, without acknowledging the ongoing hardships the people who actually make games are currently facing, would not sit right with me.  I implore those who are just as passionate about this art form as I am to stay informed and to always try to remember and respect those who made your favourite video games a reality.

With this in mind, I have focused my 2023 “What You May Have Missed” list on a myriad of indie video games whose development teams typically range from the single to the single digits.  Each game here is clearly a creation made from a place of love and passion for the medium, inviting players to take a step into the vibrant worlds they have created and shared.  As with last year’s gaming list, I have decided to organize the game based on age ratings, with games intended for all ages, and containing next to no triggering content on the top.  Meanwhile, games that are only intended for mature and adult audiences, with trigger warnings being an essential thing to read when available, are at the very bottom of the list.  I sincerely hope this list can help you find at least one new video game that intrigues and delights you.

All-Ages (Little to no triggering content, appropriate for any age)

A screenshot of the video game "Feed All Monsters" by DU&I. The screenshot is on Level 121 of the game, as indicated by the centred text on the top of the screenshot. The player has placed the three food delivery worker characters on the three stone starting pads, planned a route for one character, and is still planning the movements of the other two characters, to ensure the five monsters in the level are fed. The game has a cute, cartoon-y art style, which resembles modern animation programs for children. The level is set in a tropical jungle, with a 7 x 7 grid that the player interacts with using the characters. The grid is filled with various terrain types (grass, water, plants, and boulders) that help or hinder character movement to reach the five monsters. The unique stats of each character are on the left side of the screen, while the amount of food needed to feed each monster is represented by a number above the creature.

A screenshot of the video game “Feed All Monsters” by DU&I. The screenshot is on Level 121 of the game, as indicated by the centred text on the top of the screenshot. The player has placed the three food delivery worker characters on the three stone starting pads, planned a route for one character, and is still planning the movements of the other two characters, to ensure the five monsters in the level are fed. The game has a cute, cartoon-y art style, which resembles modern animation programs for children. The level is set in a tropical jungle, with a 7 x 7 grid that the player interacts with using the characters. The grid is filled with various terrain types (grass, water, plants, and boulders) that help or hinder character movement to reach the five monsters. The unique stats of each character are on the left side of the screen, while the amount of food needed to feed each monster is represented by a number above the creature.

Feed All Monsters 

Developer & Publisher: DU&I

Feel All Monsters is a cute, cozy puzzle game where you have to determine the most effective routes to deliver food to all the monsters on a level.  With charming visuals and soothing music, Feed All Monsters was one of the most relaxing games I played this year.  That being said, the puzzles in the game are no slouch and make you consider your character placements, environmental hazards, and power-ups, as the puzzles gradually increase in difficulty.  Recommended for those looking for a creative, low-stress puzzle game.  Available on Steam for Windows.


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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:

A splash page for the comic "Canvas" by Theo Stultz. The spread depicts a woman in a white dress going through the process of painting a portrait, with six different drawings showcasing the various stages of her creative process. As time passes, she goes from sitting on her chair in a poised posture to abandoning the chair entirely, and her body language becomes increasingly animated with each drawing. A series of five melting candles in the bottom left corner illustrates the passage of time, as does the gradual blooming of morning glories in the upper right corner of the page.

A splash page for the comic “Canvas” by Theo Stultz. The spread depicts a woman in a white dress going through the process of painting a portrait, with six different drawings showcasing the various stages of her creative process. As time passes, she goes from sitting on her chair in a poised posture to abandoning the chair entirely, and her body language becomes increasingly animated with each drawing. A series of five melting candles in the bottom left corner illustrates the passage of time, as does the gradual blooming of morning glories in the upper right corner of the page.

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 nineteen comics from 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 can 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, except for Give Her Back to Me, which is only available as a physical book. Two books are available digitally and physically (Twigs and Wormturn).

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What You May Have Missed: Indie Game Recommendations

Image of a person holding blue and orange Joy Con controller for the Nintendo Switch.
Image of a person holding blue and orange Joy Con controller for the Nintendo Switch.

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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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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Patricia Baxter's Autistic Observations