Percy Gloom is my newest hero.

I'll give you that he doesn't look like one. He’s a little guy, with big jug ears and a notoriously weak stomach. He has a lazy eye, too, and he’s apt to break into tears at even the slightest bit of bad news. He’s the star of Percy Gloom, the debut graphic novel from children’s film and TV director Cathy Malkasian.

Why is Percy so important? Because he’s one more piece of evidence that the world of independent comics is thriving. A host of imaginative creators is releasing impressive graphic novels, stories that stand up as real literature. They’re the kind of works you don’t have to hide behind your newspaper when you’re riding the train to work. They make you think. And Percy? He made me laugh. Often.

Percy Gloom is the funniest comic I’ve read this year. It’s also inspiring. You ever feel ineffectual and small? Well, Percy feels that way all the time. But despite his timid nature and weak stomach, Percy does manage to have his very own adventure. And it’s a satisfying one, for everyone involved.

I grew up reading comics. Like most people, that meant nabbing every issue devoted to my favorite superhero – in my case, that’d be Spider-Man. But as I grew older, I stopped reading. Spandex became boring.

I can credit my local library with reeling me back into the world of comics. I’m fortunate that my library has an entire section devoted to graphic novels and comic books.
Sure, there are plenty of superhero comics here – and that’s fine – but there’s also plenty of competition for the spandex brigade. The comics at my local library include graphic biographies of famous philosophers, moody horror tales, candy-colored Manga spectacles, slice-of-life musings from talented writer/artists, sepia-toned western adventures and anything else you can imagine.

Big-eared little Percy fits in perfectly with this crowd. He provides just one more reason to love independent comics. D.C. and Marvel, the big two of comics publishers, are good at what they do, and they have created some of the most beloved fictional characters of all time. But innovation? You won't find much of it at the big two. You will find it, though, in the dustier corners of your comic shop, or on the bottom shelves of the graphic novel section in your local Barnes & Noble or Borders. That's where the characters like Percy hang out. If you want to find graphic fiction that's as challenging, funny or heartbreaking as any other piece of literature, it's where you'll head, too.

It’s my hope to use this blog to highlight all the other heroes like Percy, and to attract new readers to the graphic fiction being released by studios like Fantagraphics – which publishes Percy Gloom – Slave Labor Graphics, Drawn & Quarterly and Soft Skull Press. These companies, and others, are producing the best graphic fiction out there. Seek it out.

Are you an independent publisher or a creator working outside of the big two comics publishers? Then send me an e-mail message at danrafter@sbcglobal.net. I’d love to hear about your current and upcoming projects. I may even feature it in this blog. And if you want to learn more about Percy, visit his Web site, www.percygloom.com.