The most obvious sign of a small publisher tends to be black & white interiors. To an outsider, it insinuates that the material must be cheap or inferior to what the major companies produce, otherwise they could afford to colorize it (ie, black & white is not a creative decision when used by small publishers).
I never actually formed these thoughts, but they must have lurked within me. In retrospect, it's the only reason I can think of for avoiding the small publishers for as long as I did. Eventually, a comic came along which shattered my resistance: Street Angel#1.
Writers: Jim Rugg & Brian Maruca. Art: Jim Rugg.
Street Angel is a homeless teenage girl who is an exceptional skateboarder and martial artist. When a band of ninjas hired by Dr. Pangaea (the world's most deadly geologist) kidnap the mayor's daughter, only Street Angel can save the day!
It was because of the glowing reviews online that I took a gamble on Street Angel. This was my first encounter with publisher Slave Labor Graphics and I kept up with Street Angel all the way to the end (it lasted 6 issues). I've seen Street Angel touted by some as an example of how a book which receives major critical acclaim is unable to translate that into a successful continuing property.
However, in my eyes Street Angel was a major success; Slave Labor went on to publish Rex Libris which became one of my all-time favourite comics, ensuring that I would continue to judge comics by their own merit, regardless of publisher or colorization .Most importantly, Street Angel helped me accept that I could take up comics from off the beaten path and enjoy them; that black & white comics aren't just for aging hippie comix fans. I've also remained very interested in Jim Rugg's work, whether on his Street Angel follow-up Afrodisiac or his Captain Kidd story in Next Issue Project.
I suspect that most comic book fans are already very satisfied with what they read and know where to get more of the things they like; if they're happy just reading Marvel, DC, Image, etc., more power to them. But to those who want material which might be a little more challenging and a lot more personal than what the major companies put out, it's so worthwhile digging through the small publishers. There's certainly a lot of hit-or-miss in those Previews back pages, but when you find a hit like Street Angel it's wonderful.
Next time: becoming a professional; was Gruenwald right when he said "If your hobby becomes your profession, find a new hobby?"