25 Essential Columbus comics

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

In recent years, there's been a lot of talk centered on Columbus' emergence as a comics town. Most recently, CCAD announced the addition of a new Comics & Narrative Practice major - a marked shift for a school artist Jeff Smith briefly attended in the late '70s before coming to a realization it "didn't take cartooning very seriously," as he toldThe Onion's AV Club in a 2000 interview.

"CCAD was not unusual to not be interested in comics in 1978," Smith said during a recent interview at a Downtown coffee shop. "But I think they're a little ahead of the curve now.

"There's been this big shift … that brought comics out of those hobby shops and into libraries and online and big box stores. Comics are now in the hands of millions of children around the world."

Accompanying this boom is Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC), the second annual three-day celebration of all things cartooning, which kicks off on Thursday, Oct. 13 and runs through Sunday, Oct. 16, taking over venues like the Columbus Museum of Art, the Columbus Metropolitan Library and the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum. (A full schedule of presenters and events is available at cartooncrossroadscolumbus.com).

With so much focus on the future of cartooning in the city, we thought we'd pause and take a look at its past, assembling a knowledgeable panel to create a list of the 25 essential Columbus comics. Panelists were restricted from voting for their own works, and no, you won't find James Thurber on this list, but only because Thurber did most of his cartooning after moving from Columbus to New York.

Read on to see which comics were chosen, complete with select panelist commentary.


Gib Bickel, The Laughing Ogre

Bob Corby, S.P.A.C.E. and Back Porch Comics

Victor Dandridge, Vantage: Inhouse Productions

Ken Eppstein, Nix Comics

Jared Gardner, OSU professor specializing in American literature, comics, film and popular culture

Dan Gearino, Columbus Dispatch

Canada Keck, Ruminera Comics

Dara Naraghi, PANEL Collective

Lauren McCallister, True Life Comix

James Moore, 2 Headed Monster Comics

Alissa Sallah, cartoonist illustrator and designer

Amiculus, Travis Horseman(writer) and Giancarlo Caracuzzo (illustrator)

Travis Horseman's Roman epic, with subtle aspects of ghost stories and fantasy, is a testimony to the power of disregarding advice. Most up-and-coming comic creators are told to start small because ambitious stories are almost impossible for a neophyte to complete. It's what I told Travis. I'm glad he ignored me!

Travis' seriesAmiculusis not only a riveting tale, but also an excellent example of how amazing quality can be achieved outside a publishing house.

Writer Travis Horseman has put so much research into this drama, set during the fall of the Roman Empire, and it really shows! I can't wait for the next installment of the story.

Askari Hodari, Glenn Brewer

"The story of three men fighting crime, poverty, and inequality in the fictional city of New Buscoll" is socially conscious urban grit with the most unique line work you'll see in black and white comics.

A unique style and a unique voice, Glenn's vision is very much his own.Gritty yet hopeful urban crime drama.

I'm a sucker for a good crime story! Glenn Brewer's pen-and-ink tale of underworld revenge is a must read.

Bad SexandTeen Girl Killed, Lauren McCallister

Hilarious because we've all been there. Lauren shows sex in its most common form: awkward, goofy and really only good for the story you tell your friends later.

Bone-dry humor and deceptively casual line work practically weaponize these cringe-comedy stories of awkward sex.

Lauren McCallister says so much with just a few panels, understanding the language of comics far better than most of her peers.Rural Ohio in the '90s never felt so darn cool.

Blammo #9, Noah Van Sciver

Noah's first comic drawn after his move to Columbus doesn't disappoint! Featuring multiple stories with a variety of subjects,Blammoreally has something for everyone.

New to Columbus, his work has grown from snarky-young-man riffs to something deeper and more enduring.

Blink, Max Ink

Max Ink's ongoing tale of two friends living in Columbus has been a mainstay of Columbus comics since 2003. Chock-full of landmarks and local business references,Blinkis one of the most distinctively "Columbus" comics in town.

Max's slice-of-life stories are set in Columbus, which is obvious from a single glance at the detailed backgrounds he creates for each and every scene.

He draws great buildings, and his figure work shows the influence from some greats such as Carla Speed McNeil and Terry Moore.

Bone, Jeff Smith

A seminal work in the self-publishing movement, and a comic which has broken barriers and reached new audiences that never would have read comics a generation ago.

The Columbus comic everyone will put on this list - for a good reason. Tolkien-meets-"Looney Toons" almost sells shortBoneas the masterpiece of cartooning and iconic characters that it is.

Definitely the big man on campus for Columbus comics. Jeff Smith'sBonestands alone as an influential piece of Columbus comic art. Masterful in its execution and transcendental in its reach.

Calumet, Tom Williams

Tom Williams showcases his artistic talent inCalumet. His gorgeous illustrations lend a dreamlike quality to everything he creates.

Nobody else out there draws like him.

Cap'n Hap Hazard, Bob Ray Starker

Frankly it doesn't get much cooler in Columbus than Bob Ray Starker.Cap'n Hap Hazardmerges aspects of "The Wizard of Oz," "Dr. Who" and "Popeye" into something new, fun and distinctly hip.

Starker's oddball riff on the classic adventure strips is one long swan dive into rip-roaring pulp lunacy.

Columbusonian, Julian Dassai

Julian Dassai's interview comic in614magazine was unique in both content and that a publication would be willing to devote a full page to a local cartoonist in every issue, harkening back to the days ofThe Yellow KidandLittle Nemo.

I remember seeing his story inThe Sequentialistand thinking two things: First, who is Julian Dassai? Second, how can I get some more of his work?

Fake Empire, Eric Palicki (writer) and Vinnie Rico (illustrator)

Eric Palicki'sFake Empirecombines two of my favorite genres: detective stories and fairy tales. It's an awesome murder mystery with a Shakespearean twist!

Green Lantern, Darryl Banks (artist)

In the mid-'90s, along with writer Ron Marz, Banks turned longtime Green Lantern Hal Jordan into a villain and created new Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, a character who is still popular and featured in various DC comics. He was the main artist onThe Green Lanternmonthly comic from 1994 to 2001.

During the peak of DC's extreme '90s updates, Banks' artwork had classical craft underpinning with a fresh, contemporary style that's aged better than most of his contemporaries. His co-creation Kyle Rayner proved to be an enduring Everyman hero.

Lumberjanes, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen, Shannon Watters and Noelle Stevenson

Claimed as a Columbus product thanks to author Grace Ellis living in town, award-winningLumberjanesis at the forefront of the national trend towards comics aimed at a diverse audience.

Lumberjanesis everything I wish an adventure comic had been when I was a girl. The storytelling is delightful!

Nix Comics Quarterly, Ken Eppstein with various artists and writers

[Eppstein is] one of the key players in the local comics scene, publishing Nix Comics and its spinoffs and bringing an irreverent sensibility to everything he does.

Now on its ninth volume, this quarterly anthology has been funded through successful Kickstarter campaigns and sees Eppstein recruiting and featuring dozens of local creators. "Comics for the huddled masses, by the wretched refuse."

Oh, Comics!, Bob Corby and various

Bob Corby began publishing Back Porch Comics in 1987, the flagship title of which became the annualOh, Comics!anthology, featuring artists from all over the state. Looking through all of the volumes ofOh, Comics!can give you a great overview of the past 30 years of DIY comics culture in Columbus.

When Bob isn't organizing the Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo (S.P.A.C.E.) and serving as the affable uncle for small-press comics in this town, he writes and draws his own work. He is the heart of the local comics community and doesn't get nearly enough credit for it.

Persia Blues, Dara Naraghi (writer) and Brent Bowman (illustrator)

Dara is a wonderful storyteller, and hisPersia Bluestrilogy is a great story with a strong female lead.

Persia Bluesis filled with rich characters and compelling drama of both mundane and fantastical nature. Plus Bowman adeptly works in two different art styles.

PLOX, Steve Hamaker

Steve Hamaker's Columbus-based web comic follows the exploits of a small community of gamers.PLOXis a comic dedicated to an existing subculture outside of comics, which is exactly the kind of thing that comics need in order to grow as an art form.

Hamaker's dysfunctional gamer dramedy is filled with local color and is an affecting ode to friendship.

Steve Hamaker does withPLOXwhat so many creators try to do: make you feel their characters are real and compel you to come back and visit as often as possible.

Radio Free Gahanna, James Moore (writer) and Joel Jackson (illustrator)

The main title from publisher 2 Headed Monster features both musical and geographical references that strike a chord with anyone who lived in the suburban areas around Columbus in the '90s.

[Moore is] a steady presence in the local comics scene and a wry writer.

Spitball: A CCAD Comic Anthology, various

Teaming CCAD students with professional writers, theSpitballanthology is now in its second year. The project is one of the few in the country that teaches the students the brass tacks of producing a book for publication.

Pairing pro writers with CCAD students to excellent results,Spitballis the future of local comics and showcases the … diversity of the scene.

The Ballad of Doctor Richardson, Paul Pope

One of Paul's first works, you can see his style gelling. I always enjoy looking at the backgrounds and seeing Columbus.

The Ballad of Doctor Richardsontells the story of a burnt-out academic on a journey of self-discovery. Pope's ability to convey mood with a few dashes of ink is showcased to its fullest here.

The Dreamer, Lora Innes

Lora Innes is a wizard who has managed to grab two different audiences with the same web comic and graphic novel. Running since 2007,The Dreameris both a modern teen romance comic and a history buff's dream.

Long before "Hamilton"-mania swept the nation, Lora Innes was doing this historical romance comic about a modern teen who finds herself in the Revolutionary War. While Innes lets her history nerd flag fly, it's the deft character work and her appealing, well-crafted art that makes it great.

The Ineffables, Craig Bogart

Craig Bogart's Columbus-based science-fiction and adventure stories are off-kilter in the best of possible ways, reminiscent of Grant Morrison'sDoom Patrol. Truly great spins on classic motifs.

A fantastically inventive, humorous and fun series. As Bogart puts it: "[It's] a science fiction/political satire series about a loosely knit band of investigators driven by insatiable curiosity."

The Passing Show, Billy Ireland

Ireland, for whom our world-renowned library and museum is named, was a rock star who could have worked anywhere and chose to work in Cbus when it was far less cool.

The Seeker, Liz Valasco

The Seekeris a beautifully drawn comic about a young girl and her magical talking Halloween candy bucket. No, really! Read it.

Capturing the liminal, spooky mood of a good Halloween night, Valasco balances childhood wonder with creepiness perfectly. Her art makes you feel the coolautumn air, hear the leaves crackle underfoot and see the spiders crawl off the page.

TheSignifiers, Michael R. Neno

Michael Neno'sThe Signifierssaga is an homage to the wild and wooly bronze age of Jack Kirby comics likeKamandiandOMAC, as well as psychedelic music and TV shows like "The Prisoner." Boasting one of the most identifiable styles of local cartoonists, Neno's work is recognizable at a glance.

I'm just going to say it: I think Michael Neno may have absorbed the powers of Jack Kirby in some kind of dark ritual. Every panel ofSignifiersis so much fun to look at!

A long-time Columbus art MVP, Neno's work exists at the intersection of Jack Kirby and Paul Pope.The Signifiersis his best synthesis of those two halves.

Tom Strong, Alan Moore (writer) and Chris Sprouse (illustrator)

Collaborating with comics god Alan Moore (Watchmen,V for Vendetta), Sprouse drew this series about a 100-year-old strongman … during its 36-issue run from 1999 to 2006.

[Sprouse is] one of the best mainstream comic book artists in the business and has been for a long time. Go readTom Strongright now.

Online Bonus: Panel Picks

A handful of panelists offered up picks for comics that fell outside the top 25 in voting.

Gib Bickel, The Laughing Ogre

Clan Apis, Jay Hosler

Clan Apisis a top-five book, but I'm betting most people don't remember Jay doing it here.Clan Apisreceived the 1998 Xeric Award and has been nominated for three Ignatz Awards and three Eisner Awards. I weep from its exclusion.

James Moore, 2 Headed Monster Comics

Pistachio the Manmanatee Loses His Virginity, Emily Clouse

It shouldn't work, and it's a testament to Clouse's skill with pacing, expression and gesture that this fantastical (and very explicit) romance does. A first date between a human-manatee hybrid and a human woman ends with a romantic encounter that's tender, awkward and honest.

Ken Eppstein, Nix Comics

Natalie's Coal-Fired Pizza monthly event calendars, Matt Wyatt

My guess is Matt Wyatt's efforts for Natalie's go unnoticed by most of the cartoon-savvy crowd in Columbus. But on a monthly basis, he basically creates 30 tiny thematic gag cartoons for the music venue's calendar. They are very reminiscent of Sergio Aragonés work inMadmagazine to me.

Dan Gearino, Columbus Dispatch

Giants Beware!, Jorge Aguirre (writer) and Rafael Rosado (illustrator)

Rosado, the artist onGiants Beware!andDragons Beware!, is a smooth and funny storyteller who should have a national following, if he doesn't already.

Cartoon Crossroads Columbus

Oct. 13-16