Books

Radiator Comics Champions Local Underground Comix

Comic creators Dave Ortega, Catalina Rufin, and Sam Sharpe
Photo by Neil Brideau
Comic creators Dave Ortega, Catalina Rufin, and Sam Sharpe
While brightly colored superheroes still dominate the comic book industry, there's been a long history of underground comics devoted to subtlety and shades of gray. That's the nook South Florida comic book publisher Radiator Comics aims to occupy.

"I'm drawn to sincere stories where you can see the fingerprints of the artists," founder Neil Brideau tells New Times from behind his table at last weekend's Small Press Fair in Dania Beach, where he's surrounded by a plethora of black-and-white comics and trade paperbacks. "I'm not just looking into marketing clever ideas. I'd rather find heartfelt stories with strong characters."

Radiator Comics' origin story begins in 2014 in Chicago. Brideau was working at Quimby's Bookstore, which he describes as an epicenter of minicomics and zines.

"I helped found the Chicago Zine Fest and Chicago Alternative Comics Expo. I really found a passion for promoting other people's stuff," he says. "I found the conversation in the small press community was that distribution was a big problem. I knew from working at the bookstore I could do distribution. So I started publishing titles that needed an extra boost."

His first idea was to approach shops that normally wouldn't sell comics.

"I had this one comic with a bike theme, Bikeman by Jon Chad, about an agrarian society run by bikes, so I started approaching bicycle shops," Brideau adds.

In 2017, Brideau moved to South Florida, taking Radiator Comics with him. "I was buying tables at boutique markets sitting next to clothing sellers, selling the comics where people weren't expecting them," he says.

In 2021, funded by a grant Brideau received after winning Oolites Arts' Ellies Award, Radiator Comics put out three issues of Spiny Orb Weaver. Each issue highlights a comic created by a different South Florida creator, like West Palm Beach's Miss Jaws or Miami's Jamila Rowser. Every edition also features an interview with the auteur and an essay about comics from a writer with South Florida roots.

The series' second issue spotlights work by Drew Lerman, a North Miami Beach-based artist. "I grew up on all the alternative comics New Times used to print, like Maakies by Tony Millionaire, The City by Derf, and This Modern World by Tom Tomorrow. I wish they still would," Lerman says, standing next to Brideau.

Lerman instead started publishing his strip, Snake Creek, on Instagram before self-publishing a bound collection of the comics. "It presents an alternative surreal version of Florida," Lerman explains. "It's about two friends. One is trying to write the great American novel, while the other gets involved with oil barons trying to dig for oil in the Everglades. It ends up being a conflict between oil barons and an anarchist collective."

Lerman met Brideau at the Small Press Fair five years ago. Soon after, Brideau began championing Lerman's work and is set to publish a second 176-page compilation of Snake Creek next year through Radiator under the title Escape from the Great American Novel.

According to Brideau, another Radiator-published work worth checking out is Dias de Consuelo, a 180-page book by Massachusetts-based artist Dave Ortega. "His grandmother was born during the Mexican Revolution, so it's the stories she told him mixed with fictional embellishments and interesting facts," Brideau explains.

He also points to the first comic Radiator published, Chronicles of Fortune by Chicago-based artist Coco Picard, which is a very different superhero story from what the big boys of comics Marvel and DC put out. "This is a superhero stricken by ennui," Brideau says. The work provides an alternative to a comic book landscape oversaturated by superheroes only stricken with violence.

For more information on Radiator Comics, visit radiatorcomics.com.