We talk a lot on this site about Marvel. One of the reasons for that is that we’ve got some passionate Marvel fans, in all fairness, but also, Marvel makes a lot of noise. Enough noise that a lot of other things might go unnoticed. Today, here are some smaller publishers equally deserving of a good look. Maybe some of these you’ve heard of, maybe some of these you never have, but with an ever expanding market, it’s vital to remember that there’s not just one or two, or even three, companies with all the control. This world is for all of us and little companies often tell big stories.
Oni Press is, arguably, the largest publisher I’ve included on this list. However, they operate their main portal off of Tumblr, and that’s good enough for me to include on this list. Oni was established in 1997 and added one imprint, Limerence, that produces erotic or sex positive graphic novels, established in 2016. Like Image, this company operates on creator owned works, but also within licensed works like Rick and Morty or Invader Zim. Some of my very favorite comics come from Oni Press, like Kaijumax and Space Battle Lunchtime, and a favorite of people who are only just dipping their toes into the comics world, Scott Pilgrim. If you’re interested in comics in the least and aren’t picking up at least one Oni Press book, reconsider! Their products cover a wide range from horror to all-ages material. Be careful, though – some Oni books that look like kid’s books on the cover are most assuredly NOT kid’s books! (Looking at you, Kaijumax!)
One of the companies on the list that is growing slowly but surely, Lion Forge doesn’t have as wide a range of titles as some of the others here. After all, they’ve only been around since 2011. However, it is building its business in a smart way. Not long ago in one of my rec lists, I listed the Love series, which is owned by Lion Forge. More specifically, though, Lion Forge owns Magnetic Press, who released Love along with other great titles by even more indie creators. Their imprint, called Roar Comics, is a line directed at kids. Along with that, they’re slowly acquiring licenses for popular series, the most noteworthy being Voltron: Legendary Defenders. They may be small now, but these cats are on their way to ruling the jungle.
Aftershock Comics was founded only in 2015 and it’s already doing a heck of a job taking the shelves by storm. For me personally, it quickly rose to be one of my favorite companies with titles like Strayer and Animosity. Targeted primarily at adults, Aftershock knows what it’s going for and it doesn’t limit the creators in what they’re looking to achieve. While their demographic would certainly lean more toward mature audiences, they have no shortage of types of stories for those audiences. The company boasts the works of some of big names in comics; Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, Mark Waid, Brian Azzarello, Garth Ennis and many more. I can’t imagine that this company will do anything but grow, while the creators involved and the audience itself will grow with it.
Another company that has blown me away since my discovery, and has quickly become a company I trust enough to try anything they put out, is Black Mask Studios. Founded in 2012, they have one of the most diverse rosters of creators on this list, from gender to race to age and experience. That gives them an amazing ability to market to all different types of people. With titles like Kim and Kim, 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank, and Jade Street Protection Services there’s more than enough representation to put many bigger companies to shame. Can it be done? Yes. Watch them do it and don’t tell us again that it cannot. When Black Mask gets a better handle on their publishing schedule, they’ll climb higher and higher in sales and right into the spotlight.
In 2015, Emet Entertainment LLC allowed a wonderful offshoot of comics to be born and called it simply Emet Comics. This company is small, but it moves with specific purpose. Founded to uplift female creators specifically, it has since branched out into both men and women of diverse backgrounds. This is another company who looks at the lack of diversity in the comic book world and finds not just something deplorable, but something that can be fixed. Emet may not have many series for now, but the ones it does have, like Fresh Romance, Helena Rose, and The Wendy Project are outstanding enough to get their foot in the door of the comics world. Downside: You may not be likely to find these comics in your local shop. (Even my shop, which is massive compared to most, has a hard time keeping them in stock!) Upside: You can find them online! We all want to support our local stores, but supporting companies with seriously innovative creations is just as important. Plus, the more you buy from them, the more likely they will be able to create more and get into those shops for us to purchase!
Since 2010, Action Lab Entertainment has been creating comics. I don’t know when it was that they decided their demographic was everyone, but they certainly are doing their best to cover all possible bases. If you can’t find something that you like from Action Lab, I recommend you look a little deeper. You may think you’re too old for Miraculous and Action Lab, or too young for Vampblade and Zombietramp. That’s okay! Try Princeless or Fight Like A Girl! If you look at only a few of the titles that Action Lab produces, you’ll get a certain sense of the company and I’ll let you know now – you are probably wrong. The feminist in many of us may balk at the T&A titles I mentioned before, but those same feminists will cheer for pretty much all of the others. Give them a chance. Let them surprise you.
2010 was a good year, it seems, for the comic book companies of the world. Macmillan Press, known at the time as Roaring Brook Press, released an imprint that year of First Second Books and did the world a great service when it did. At first glance, this publisher seems like an all ages-oriented group, but it’s much more than that. While they do target young audiences a lot with books like Glorkan Warrior or Secret Coders, they also have Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong and Boxers and Saints for teens or nonfictions comics like Box Brown’s Tetris or Lucy Knisley’s several memoirs about food, her parents, and her relationships for adults. (Not to mention, they’ve brought some of my favorite things to life as well! The world wouldn’t be the same without Science Comics or Nameless City to me.) First Second is another of the bigger companies on this list, but because they produce graphic novels rather than serialized comics, many readers lose track of all the good work they’ve done. Don’t worry, though, First Second. We see you.
Like Emet, Iron Circus Comics is a company that’s found more online than anywhere else at the moment. Also like Emet, they have a widely diverse roster of creators and a beautiful, diverse lineup of comics. In 2007, Spike Trotman officially founded the company with series like Templar, Arizona and Smut Peddler. Many of the publications coming through Iron Circus were previously or still are webcomics, which, in a later piece from me, you’ll see that I also love those. Others from Iron Circus include Sleep of Reason, which is one of the scariest books I’ve ever read, and Poorcraft, which helps all of us learn to save a little dough in a fun way. Iron Circus is another one you’ll have to buy online unless you have a very diverse store near you, but it’s more than worth it.
Certainly the youngest of publishers on this list, Vault Comics was established in 2016. Despite that, they have a pretty reliable list of titles ranging from fantasy to sci-fi. For now, they only have a few on their roster, but they’ve already garnered interest from Hollywood execs and their most popular title, Heathen, has gone into several reprints. Besides that, they have enough other amazing titles like Colossi and Powerless, which made me trust them enough to at least pick up the first few of each titles.