The independent comics’ scene has grown to outshine the mainstream franchise publishers in recent years. From publishing to printing, most indie titles are now supported by publishers like Image and Mad Cave Studios, which help get books out in ways that have fundamentally changed how readers think of an independent book. Now, the determinant factor for being labeled as ‘indie’ is simply whether or not the book is creator-owned, making it challenging to determine truly independent books, even down to distribution and marketing. Grassroots books can be found in tons of weird little places, most of which are crowdfunded. However, in my quest to find an independent title for this week’s spotlight, I stumbled upon a book created to simply create, learn, and study everything that goes into this medium of comics.
That book is Fortress by writer/artist Joel Van Der Knaap, and in its rugged self-published spirit lies a very promising tale of science fiction action.
Set in an unknown distant future, Fortress follows a rag-tag group of people fighting to protect a cyborg named Caleb from falling into the hands of a new, rising warlord, Voron. The story is told through the lens of recounted history, the lore and plot more critical to the overall delivery of the series’ themes than an ‘at the moment’ and character-driven narrative. The story here is about the macro of what’s happening, which works for what the series tries to do.
This shit is raw, unabashed, and independent shonen storytelling.
Fortress is a bombastic, art and action-focused epic with an intense, thematic soul tied to its surface-level character and narrative writing. Telling a story about never-ending warfare and concentrating on its philosophical logistics can be done much more nuancedly. Still, Knaap isn’t interested in quiet subtlety and rumination. The story is bathed in stylistic coloring, elevating the magic of Knaap’s visual storytelling skills. The art at hand is nothing short of beautiful. Combined with the book’s unique lettering style, it instantly creates an atmospheric and engaging environment in which our somewhat surface-level story can unfold gracefully.
That isn’t to say the book lacks anything exciting and charming regarding its characters—quite the opposite. Most of what the readers learn about the characters comes from Knaap’s visual storytelling, for the most part. The first issue throws readers into the deep end, where they are introduced to several series mainstays in a high-octane action sequence. Knaap’s character designs do a lot of heavy lifting in defining characters in this series. Voron, in all his massive robot glory, Caleb’s cybernetic body, and Old Roy’s exhausted demeanor, say so much by saying nearly nothing at all.
The fortress is an action/science fiction gem hidden among a sea of AAA Indie comics with three issues in the can and a fourth on the way. You can find the book here.
Indie Spotlight: Joel Van Der Knaap’s Fortress
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