Scotland has a vast and interesting association with the medium of sequential art. Unbeknownst to many, but it is argued that the first ever comic was published in the Scottish city of Glasgow in 1826 (featured image), preceding the birth of the comic (as we know it today) in the form of Funnies On Parade by nearly a century. Since then, the country is largely ignored in favour of the powerhouses of the United States, and the creative wealth of writers from neighbouring England. But a new era may just be on the horizon.
So come join me on a tour of some of Scotland’s best comic book exports!
Sandwiched between the end of Alan Moore’s Watchmen and the beginning of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman (both English Writers, working for American Publisher Vertigo), Scottish Writer Grant Morrison was just getting his first full serial in 2000AD with Zenith. Though it only lasted as a steady story until 1992, it was enough for Morrison’s talent to get noticed and from there he went from strength to strength when poached by DC.
Morrison is among a series of high profile Scottish writers along with Mark Millar and Alan Grant that have helped put Scotland on the comic book map. Since then, Dundee University has elevated Scotland’s academic profile in the medium by being the first to offer a dedicated course to the study of comics. Hell, we even have our own DC! (Thompson that is). And now a new batch of comics are coming forward, looking to further establish Scotland’s reputation in the global comics industry.
So what has caused this rise of independent comics across Scotland and the world?
In a word. Kickstarter
Crowdfunding has a long economic history, but it was not until Kickstarter launched in 2009, that the alternative funding structure began to be considered by the mainstream. In fact, even then, it took several years for the company to gain enough success and attention to become a part of society’s social consciousness.
Since then, over 13,000 comics have been launched on the platform, with a total of over 90 million dollars pledged. Suddenly, the big 2 publishers were not as relevant or necessary to forge a career in the medium of sequential art.
While creators across the world have benefitted from this, Scotland is currently releasing a series of diverse, interesting and above all independent titles that have flourished and are starting to forge a unique identity within the industry.
So what are some of these comics?
Well, one comic above all has spearheaded this new age of Scottish success…
The flagship title in the arsenal of “Card Shark Comics”, (who also created the fantastic Vessels) Killtopia is the neon-drenched, ultra-violent, cyberpunk dystopian vision of future Japan, has taken the indie world by storm. The first issue reached £16,000 on Kickstarter, was released to critical acclaim and was quickly snapped up by indie Scottish publisher BHP Comics.
Incidentally, the second issue has just launched on Kickstarter, which you can check out here.
Bold, bright and unabashedly satirical. It has already established itself as a powerhouse in the indie arena and it’s growing success draws more eyes to Scotland as people look for more creative gems. And what they find, is an incredibly diverse range of stories.
What comic producing country can be complete without its own call to arms, patriotic superhero? Therefore, I give you Saltire, a pseudo-historic superhero comic based on Caledonian lore. The protagonist, a blend of Captain America’s patriotism and the physique of the Incredible Hulk wrapped up in several Scottishisms that border on the stereotypical. His long ginger hair, blue skin with a white cross emblazoned across his chest, wielding a Claymore as he protects the clans of ancient Scotland.
Saltire taps into a primal patriotism that at once helps explore a nation’s identity, while trying to export it to the wider world.
But on the other side of the spectrum, putting up just as tough a fight as Saltire gives in the above image, is 404 inks We Shall Fight Until We Win. A graphic anthology of pioneering political women of the past 100 years. The women mentioned are not all Scottish and so rejects the perceived insular view of a comic like Saltire. It does not play on a single geographical passion but to an entire history of political landscapes influenced by women.
These two comics offer very different narratives, but there is much to be seen between them.
Take for example a personal favourite of mine that recently came out, Nasty Girls a story about an all-female punk band that becomes a vigilante group. It’s Brian K. Vaughan’s paper Girls but with less otherworldly weirdness and more attitude. (Note, I absolutely adore everything Brian K. Vaughan does. Especially Paper Girls).
The story resonated with me for its strong female protagonists, something I am trying to do in my own work. The comics industry is a battleground of gender equality right now, both on and off the page. I talk about this in more depth in a recent interview about my own Comic.
And while female empowerment is a growing movement in comics, Scotland also provides the horror of the everyman in Glasgow. That wondrous monstrosity is called SINK.
Sink is a horror comic about class (and murder, and violence, and clowns in vans) in my home city of Glasgow. The protagonist, a guy out one evening misses his bus home and has to walk through a less reputable area of Glasgow. As one might expect from the cover, it is not a pleasant stroll.
I live there too. Men in fox masks often run around murdering folk with shovels. We just have to deal with it.
Unlike the other comics on this list, Sink places the story in our own backyard. Saltire is set in a distant past, therefore avoiding the pitfalls of modern society. Even Killtopia, with it’s all Scottish team and publisher, is set on distant lands, romanticising the land of the rising sun and escaping the weather and gritty realism that Sink (sometimes) provides. So for its flaws, SINK is more willing to embrace modern Scottish society and its dark underbelly and exposes it by creating a common scenario and pushing it to the limit.
Sometimes, however, a comic just wants to tell a story. It doesn’t want to deal with problems like gender, society or explicit violence. Sometimes, you want a story where you can root for the hero and smile. If that’s what floats your boat and you just so happen to be looking for a good old fashioned romping Sci-Fi adventure, then pop into your local Waterstones and pick up a copy of Chris Baldie’s Space Captain.
This fun little title is sadly just reached its conclusive issue #6 but for the last few years, it has kept me entertained and ready for more. It has definitely been one of the highlights of the Scottish indie scene for me.
Uber-masculine symbols of Scottishness, punk-bands, gender equality, space operas, battle royales, and ultra-violence. All of these things are great. But sometimes, you want something short, sweet, and corny to the point you can’t help but laugh. So to end this limited tour of the Scottish Indie Comics scene, I present to you The Penned-Guin by Alan Henderson.
This little indie strip is a guilty pleasure of mine and has been for some time.
Its composition, expression, and humour are all simple constructs, but Henderson combines them in a way that reveals a greater depth. With only a few simple strokes of the pen, Henderson can create little worlds akin to that of Gary Larson.
One thing, apart from their Scottish connections, unites all of these comics. They have all received funding by utilising Kickstarter.
From the likes of Morrison, Quietly, and Millar showing the world that Scotland has the talent and the creativity to be recognised globally, to the next generation of creators raising Scotlands profile, the future of Scottish comics is not only bright but wonderfully diverse.
If you have read this far, then I would like to shamelessly direct your attention to one final comic; my own Daughter of Titan.
A story about a young woman who discovers she is the descendent of the world’s last superhero, who then has to deal with a corrupt government programme, augmented police, Lovecraftian monsters, and her own disapproving parents. It is on Kickstarter for just a few more days so if you fancy giving it a look, you can do so by clicking this link.
3 thoughts on “The rise of the Scottish indie comic scene”
Great article. I will definitely pick up a few of these. Last time I was in a shop in Scotland (April 2018) I asked for the best of the indie scene. They pointed me to a comic called Boat by David Lumsden and Mark Weallans. Even though I did pick up that book, only having a short time to navigate the shelf and make heads or tails of what’s going on left me confused and wanting to understand more. If there is anything else you would recommend for someone wanting to support the Scottish scene please post it! I have already backed your project so looking forward to that too! 😉
Thank you for backing Daughter of Titan. I’m pretty sure I backed your campaign too! Boat was actually one of the first forays into Scottish indie comics for me, so you definitely got a good recommendation. I’ve just been exposed to a really interesting indie Scottish comic; “Death Sentence Liberty” by Monty Nero. Don’t know how I missed it!
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