Indie Spotlight: The Kill Screen, Under the Flesh, Proud

Indie Spotlight: The Kill Screen, Under the Flesh, Proud
In Indie Spotlight, we take a look at new or recent comics that we've stumbled across (or been told about) in the world of small press, self-publishing and webcomics. To begin with, here's a roundup of three indie books that have crossed our path in recent months.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, zombie and post-apocalyptic stories are a popular topic for self-published creators - but that doesn't mean that there isn't still room for fresh takes on the genre. Writer Mike Garley, who last year published the Kickstarter-funded anthology Dead Roots (attracting some impressive names to contribute in the process), already has some experience with this kind of story, but in collaboration with artist Josh Sharwell seems to have come up with something genuinely distinctive in The Kill Screen.

As a huge fan of the videogame documentary The King of Kong, I'm already familiar with the gaming concept that is the "kill screen", but if you're not: it's a feature of old arcade games in which, due to the game running out of memory (usually due to being played far past the point that the developers ever thought anyone would reach) the game glitches in some unforeseen way. The most famous killscreen - and indeed, the one that probably named the trope - is that of Donkey Kong, which actually lets the player start the final level before suddenly and randomly having Mario die partway through.

The concept of The Kill Screen, then, is that this - or at least, something akin to it - has happened to humanity. There's been a glitch, and computer-style errors are infecting reality itself. It's a neat hook, and although it has hints of things like The Matrix, it's in folding that reality-technology crossover into a post-apocalyptic survival horror that the book marks itself out.

The first issue, titled "ILOVEYOU", is a fairly simple one-shot that serves to set up the conceit without really establishing anything in the way of a long-term story or characters. At the story it's telling, it's fine enough - but in terms of the story beats, little is likely to be surprising or unexpected to anyone with a passing familiarity with the genre. What makes it interesting, however, is the way the "glitches" affect the story - and there are some genuinely clever storytelling tricks, based around computing errors, that get this across. In particular, the way that the "glitched" humans (essentially the story's "zombies") are represented is a familiar visual, made chilling by where and how it's deployed. Oh, and see if you can spot the neat gag in the naming of the two lead characters, too.

If The Kill Screen were a straightforward survival horror, it would be solid if unremarkable - there's nothing wrong with the art, which is clear and expressive, or the dialogue, or the storytelling. What really makes it stand out, however, is a genuinely strong hook - and on the strength of "ILOVEYOU", that hook could yet play out into a truly distinctive series.

Self-published, The Kill Screen can be bought via Mike Garley's website. Fans of Ian Churchill might be interested in picking up his variant cover edition.
Speaking of straightforward survival horror, we come to Under the Flesh. This series has just had a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund both the production of the second issue, and a physical printing of its first. It's by writer Gilbert Deltres and artist J.L. Giles, and tells the story of a genetically-modified super-soldier who finds himself as one of the few male survivors of a zombiefying plague that for some reason only infects men.

It's a book that wears its influences on its sleeve: its creators have even described it as basically being "The Walking Dead meets Y: The Last Man", which isn't that appealing for those of us who don't really like either book, but the idea's not entirely without merit. And throwing what is essentially a Captain America-esque character into the mix is a surprisingly innovative take - indeed, with the exception of Marvel Zombies, it's frankly a surprise that superheroes and zombies (essentially the two most popular genres in comics) haven't crossed over more often.

In truth, Under the Flesh suffers from some slightly underdeveloped characterisation (despite throwing an array of different characters at the page courtesy of the group of women survivors the lead character finds himself with), and somewhat melodramatic dialogue; but what really makes it stand out for a book of this type is the art. Giles is a fine draftsman - raw in places, and without much flair to his storytelling, but his character work is expressive and his action clear, which is about as much as you can ask for. His line style is reminiscent of someone like Sean Murphy, and is made to look even better by a nuanced colour palette. It's the kind of art that you could comfortably imagine seeing in a mid-tier Vertigo or Image book, and it's undoubtedly the book's major selling point.

As someone who's never really been into zombie comics in the first place, let alone initially loving them before eventually becoming tired of their proliferation, I can't say Under the Flesh is entirely up my street. But it's fairly good at what it does, and its creators at least seem to be keen to try something a bit different with the genre.

Under the Flesh can be read in webcomic chapters at the website. While the Kickstarter campaign has finished, you can also help fund the book on Patreon.
A change of pace for our third and final feature: Proud, a webcomic short by writer James Mulholland and artist Caitlin Soliman. Just four pages long, it's an affecting little piece, and although slightly naive - it's unlikely that you won't see where it's going by the end of the second page, as it's fairly on-the-nose - it has no small amount of charm.

In particular, the art by Soliman is excellent - a cartoony style, but one with a lot of character, and it has the necessary lightness of touch required to carry off the lead character. The colouring is a bit patchy - much better on the first and last pages than on the two in the middle, but there's a specific stylistic choice on the last that works well.

It's hard to get much of a handle on Mulholland's writing from what is, by its nature, a largely pastiche-style piece. Despite being perhaps a little blunt, though, it doesn't do much wrong, and it's enough to make me interested in what he might do next. Certainly, for a developing writer learning their craft, I've seen far worse.

You can read Proud in full at Short Stories.
Do you have a comic you'd like us to cover in Indie Spotlight? Get in touch! We can't promise we'll cover it, but we'll do our best, and we read everything we get sent.