10 Must-Read Independent Comic Books for Aspiring Comic Book Writers

Independent comic books, often created by smaller publishers or self-published by the creators themselves, offer a wealth of unique voices, diverse stories, and innovative storytelling techniques. For aspiring comic book writers, studying the best independent comics can provide valuable insights into crafting original, thought-provoking narratives that push the boundaries of the medium. In this blog post, we’ll explore 10 essential independent comic books that every aspiring comic book writer should read and analyze.

“Maus” by Art Spiegelman

This groundbreaking graphic novel tells the story of Spiegelman’s father’s experiences as a Holocaust survivor, depicting Jews as mice and Nazis as cats. Spiegelman’s poignant, deeply personal writing and stark, expressive artwork create a powerful, unforgettable tale that explores the lasting impact of trauma and the importance of preserving history. Aspiring writers can learn from Spiegelman’s ability to tackle complex, emotionally charged subjects with sensitivity and creativity.

Learn more about “Maus” here.

“Blankets” by Craig Thompson

This autobiographical graphic novel follows Thompson’s childhood and adolescence, focusing on his first love and his struggles with faith and family. Thompson’s introspective, poetic writing and beautifully rendered artwork create an intimate, emotionally resonant story that explores the complexities of growing up and finding one’s place in the world. Aspiring writers can learn from Thompson’s ability to craft a deeply personal narrative that resonates with universal themes.

Learn more about “Blankets” here.

“Bone” by Jeff Smith

This charming, epic fantasy series follows the adventures of the Bone cousins as they navigate a mysterious valley filled with magic, danger, and colorful characters. Smith’s engaging, humorous writing and expressive, cartoonish artwork create a rich, immersive world that appeals to readers of all ages. Aspiring writers can learn from Smith’s ability to blend fantasy, humor, and heart into a cohesive, compelling narrative.

Learn more about “Bone” here.

“Ghost World” by Daniel Clowes

This darkly comedic graphic novel explores the lives of two teenage girls, Enid and Rebecca, as they navigate the uncertainties of adolescence and the complexities of friendship. Clowes’ sardonic, insightful writing and distinctive, stylized artwork create a quirky, thought-provoking story that captures the essence of youth and alienation. Aspiring writers can learn from Clowes’ ability to create authentic, multi-dimensional characters and explore the nuances of human relationships.

Learn more about “Ghost World” here.

“Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi

This autobiographical graphic novel chronicles Satrapi’s childhood and adolescence in Iran during and after the Islamic Revolution. Satrapi’s honest, witty writing and stark, expressive artwork create a powerful, eye-opening story that offers a unique perspective on a turbulent period in history. Aspiring writers can learn from Satrapi’s ability to use the personal to illuminate the political and create a compelling, relatable narrative.

Learn more about “Persepolis” here.

“Love and Rockets” by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez

This groundbreaking series, which began in the 1980s, follows the lives of a diverse cast of characters in both a Mexican-American community in California and a fictional Latin American country. The Hernandez brothers’ distinctive writing styles and artwork create a rich, multi-layered narrative that explores themes of love, identity, and cultural heritage. Aspiring writers can learn from the brothers’ ability to create a vast, interconnected world and tell stories that span generations.

Learn more about “Love and Rockets” here.

“Barefoot Gen” by Keiji Nakazawa

This harrowing autobiographical manga series depicts Nakazawa’s experiences as a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Nakazawa’s unflinching writing and expressive, detailed artwork create a powerful, emotionally devastating story that serves as a testament to the horrors of war and the resilience of the human spirit. Aspiring writers can learn from Nakazawa’s ability to convey the raw, visceral impact of trauma and the importance of bearing witness to history.

Learn more about “Barefoot Gen” here.

“Daytripper” by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá

This poignant, surreal miniseries follows the life of Brás de Oliva Domingos, an obituary writer, as he experiences multiple possible deaths and reflects on the meaning of life and love. Moon and Bá’s lyrical, introspective writing and stunning, expressive artwork create a thought-provoking, emotionally resonant story that explores the beauty and fragility of human existence. Aspiring writers can learn from the duo’s ability to use innovative storytelling techniques to explore profound philosophical questions.

Learn more about “Daytripper” here.

“Black Hole” by Charles Burns

This unsettling, surreal graphic novel follows a group of teenagers in the 1970s who contract a mysterious sexually transmitted disease that causes bizarre physical mutations. Burns’ haunting, atmospheric writing and starkly beautiful black-and-white artwork create a disturbing, metaphorical exploration of adolescence, alienation, and the fear of the unknown. Aspiring writers can learn from Burns’ ability to use genre elements to explore deeper themes and create a memorable, unsettling narrative.

Learn more about “Black Hole” here.

“This One Summer” by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

This coming-of-age graphic novel follows two preteen girls, Rose and Windy, as they navigate the complexities of growing up and confront the adult world during a summer at a beach town. Mariko Tamaki’s subtle, nuanced writing and Jillian Tamaki’s evocative, impressionistic artwork create a poignant, emotionally honest story that captures the bittersweet nature of adolescence. Aspiring writers can learn from the Tamakis’ ability to create authentic, relatable characters and explore the delicate balance between childhood innocence and adult reality.

Learn more about “This One Summer” here.

Final Thoughts

By studying these 10 must-read independent comic books, aspiring comic book writers can gain valuable insights into the art of crafting unique, thought-provoking narratives that push the boundaries of the medium. From tackling complex subjects and exploring universal themes to creating authentic, multi-dimensional characters and using innovative storytelling techniques, these works offer a wealth of knowledge for aspiring creators. Dive into the diverse world of independent comics, analyze the techniques used by these talented storytellers, and apply what you learn to your own comic book writing journey.

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Frank Gogol is a San Francisco-based comic book writer. He is the writer of Dead End Kids (2019), GRIEF (2018), No Heroine (2020), Dead End Kids: The Suburban Job (2021), and Unborn (2021) as well as his work on the Power Rangers franchise.

Gogol’s first book, GRIEF, was nominated for the Ringo Award for Best Anthology in 2019. Gogol and his second book, Dead End Kids, were named Best Writer and Best New Series of 2019, respectively, by the Independent Creator Awards.