My plan is to publish comics that I don't think anybody else would," said Tom Devlin, founder of Cambridge, Mass., indie publisher Highwater Books. The company publishes small, thoughtful, arty, beautifully designed graphic novels that are entirely outside the mainstream comics world. Every element of their presentation, from their shape and size to their paper stock and ink, is planned with affection and care. Some of them (such as Megan Kelso's story collection Queen of the Black Black and John Porcellino's Perfect Example, a coming-of-age story) are adapted from self-published black-and-white comics; none of them are commercial blockbusters-at least so far. Highwater's bestselling title is Brian Ralph's Cave-In, a long, surreal, wordless narrative that was nominated for three Harvey Awards and an Eisner Award, and has sold nearly 3,000 copies to date.

But Highwater has caught on in a big way with comics critics and with readers outside the traditional graphic-novel audience. John Davis at Koen Books, which distributes Highwater's titles, names Jordan Crane's tiny, bittersweet novel, The Last Lonely Saturday, as a particular favorite, and the comics-crit community has praised it as well. And Highwater's newest release, Ron Regé Jr.'s terrifying allegorical fantasia, Skibber-Bee-Bye, has been highly praised by such acclaimed cartoonists as Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan) and Dan Clowes (Eightball). Coming up soon is This Day's Wait, a noncomics collection of short prose stories by Dan Buck, which Devlin calls "my scheme for sneaking into bookstores."-D.W.