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The Wednesday Waffle - Issue One: Stepping out.

We all know what we like, but there's a lot to be said for stepping out of your comfort zone.

We all know what we like. We very easily identify ourselves as "More into Marvel than DC", or, "I'm into indie comics", or "I'm not really into Superheroes". And that's fine. For the record, I tend to think of myself as a DC guy, but in truth the only DC books I've been utterly loyal to over the years have been Batman and Detective Comics. Indeed, now I think about it, the bulk of comics I actually take home with me are from independents like Aftershock, Black Mask, Vault, and of course Image.

Of course, I'm privileged these days. I own a comic store, a position that comes with many headaches and a limited number of perks - but the best of those is I get to read everything and I'll be honest, it's been a genuine surprise.

I thought my experience of the medium was pretty broad. I've been reading indie publishers and self published comes for years. I wrote a column on a comics website for more than a decade and met all kinds of comics creators in the process, and so I reckoned I had a pretty firm handle on what was out there.

Turns out I had no idea.

Let's start with Image. I'm old enough to remember their early days, when their output was essentially 100% Superheroes and they seemed to be trying to create a new Marvel style universe. In the nineties they were the kings of the gimmick cover and the endless variant. I'll be honest - I wasn't a fan.

But then, at some point in the late nineties or early two thousands something changed. Image has always been different from the "big two" because everything it publishes is creator owned - it doesn't own the characters or the stories, the people creating the books do. Attracted by this, a whole raft of very creative people started publishing their work through Image and the results have been spectacular.

The Weatherman #5

Just taking a look at what's hitting the rack on the day this blog post drops gives some indication of their depth - thirteen titles are due in and not one of then involves a superhero. Instead there's the slick, suspenseful horror of Gideon Falls, fast paced Scifi with incredibly high stakes in The Weatherman, the gritty crime drama of Crude and so much more. If I were to try to list and explain the whole of their output we'd be here all day, and that's just one week of releases from one publisher. (And that's before we mention the epic SciFi/Fantasy sweep of Saga, which will most certainly be getting a post all to itself at some point.)

Image is as big as either of the "big two" these days. But perhaps emboldened by their success, or perhaps just because the market was changing other, smaller publishers have sprung up in the last couple of decades to champion an even greater diversity of storytelling.

Take Vault. They're a relatively small outfit based on Maryland and Montana which has only been in business for two years. In that time they have produced some of my very favourite comics.

Heathan #1 cover

Comics like Natasha Alterici's Heathen. A young Viking woman, cast out of her small minded clan embarks on a quest to free an imprisoned Valkyrie. From there the saga expands to take in all manner of gods, monsters, talking horses and some epic adventure.

This is a comic that I might not have picked up were it not my habit to read every #1 that comes through the shop - but I was hooked from the very first page.

For a start, the artwork is beautiful. Alterici has a delicate, spidery style of line-work coloured with a subtle and delicate palette.

I mean just look at it!!!!! Quite simply so beautiful I didn't even mind the fur bikini, which is usually a bit of a costume no-no so far as I'm concerned.

Vault also offers the SciFi action of Vagrant Queen, in which the deposed monarch of a galactic empire flees from revolutionaries while searching for her lost mother, a fantasy eco thriller called Deep Roots which frankly is too complex to even begin to explain here and again, that's just scratching the surface of what this new but ambitious publisher has produced in its two year history.

Then there's Boom/Kaboom/Boom! Box and the sports.

Now, I'm not one of those geeks that dismisses all sports. But I've never found the concept of sports comics interesting - which means now I wonder what I've missed. Because I'm utterly hooked on the comic SLAM!, which is about Roller Derby a sport I have never, ever seen played. Also the somewhat unimaginatively titled Fence! which you'll be astonished to discover is a genuinely gripping comic about about fencing, and Dodge City - which believe it or not, is about dodgeball. Something I didn't even know was a real thing.

Except of course, they're not about any of that at all. The sports provide a backdrop against which the stories are set, but they're not the story. The stories are about love, friendship, loyalty, loss, disappointment, joy and all the other things that happen in life. It all makes me wish I'd paid more attention to Roy of the Rovers back in the day...

Want more diversity? How about a cute book about a lesbian werewolf? Moonstruck follows the misadventures of the aforementioned gay werewolf and her friends in a world full of romance and magical shenanigans.

And if "cute" isn't your thing, how about "utterly

Cry Havocterrifying lesbian werewolves"? Because they can be found in , an incredibly dark and complex tale of secret military operations, supernatural manipulation, obsession and terror. It's rather light on anything that might be called "shenanigans"...

At this stage, I hope the point is becoming clear. I keep saying that we haven't scratched the surface, and we really haven't. There's the record store based teen drama of Heavy Vinyl (formerly known as Hi-Fi Fight Club. The creators insist they didn't get a "cease and desist" order from the people that own the rights to the book and the movie, but they did change the title for the forth and final issue of the first series...), the Goonies inspired adventures of Misfit City the outdoor fun and games of the Lumberjanes, and on, and on and on.

Honestly, the only limit is your curiosity and your budget - because I get that, I really do. It's all very well for me to read everything - indeed, it's kinda my job. But comics are expensive and money is tight. You simply can't afford to get everything you might enjoy.

But if you're still buying a comic you're not enjoying anymore, simply because you've always been a fan of "Flagman", or "Insect-Woman" or whoever, consider dropping it and trying something else. There's a whole world of amazing comics out there and you could have a huge amount of fun exploring it from your armchair - you can read in comfort even outside that comfort zone...