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How to Start Reading Comics
November 23, 2009 12:18 PM   Subscribe

Just in time for your Black Friday wish list needs, MeFi's own mightygodking has written a guide on how to start reading comics. Perfect for total comics newbies or people* who have really only ever read webcomics and seen superhero movies, the guide is a list of twenty volumes of comics that would be good for introducing people to the medium, and why they are his choices.

*Like me.
posted by Caduceus (120 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite

 
Link's not working for me.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:23 PM on November 23, 2009


b0rked. Perhaps if someone gets through they can link to the Coral Cache version?
posted by adamrice at 12:23 PM on November 23, 2009


His list is pretty awesome, as are his DQs. Particularly Watchmen; I've made that mistake a bunch of times, recommending Watchmen as a way to wade into the pool, only to see the reader miss all of the comics metacommentary and wonder what all the fuss is about.
posted by COBRA! at 12:26 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


ya know, I actually tagged that page in delicious specifically because it was full of a ton of incredible info to keep in mind the next time I'm in a comic store. MGK is really pretty awesome.
posted by shmegegge at 12:26 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


also, link works for me.
posted by shmegegge at 12:26 PM on November 23, 2009


Hmm. All seems fairly sensible. However I have the following quibbles:

* Sandman works. You can moan about the art on Vol 1. all you like, but it’s record backs it up as a gateway comic.
* Not really sure what the supposed problem is with Transmet – first trade gets you another to be going on with, and hey, if you like it there’s more
* Some of the suggestions seem a little weak to me. Light Brigade and Ocean are alright, but really nothing special.
* The lack of any mention of The Dark Knight Returns is surprising. That one’s another proven winner.
* No Ware or Clowes?

Big ups for mentioning Criminal and the Ennis war stuff – I’d have thrown in a mention for Battlefields as well, which is really more of the same. And it’s good that there’s some actually new stuff here and not the same old titles from the 80s and early 90s that we usually see.
posted by Artw at 12:30 PM on November 23, 2009


I'll have to try the Ennis war stuff but I seriously think he's the most overrated writer working today.
posted by josher71 at 12:32 PM on November 23, 2009


Also I really should check out the titles on the list that I've not read.
posted by Artw at 12:33 PM on November 23, 2009


* No Ware or Clowes?

Good point. My gateway drug was Ghost World with a side shot of Claremont-Byrne X-Men. I can see leaving Ware off, though, since not everybody's built for overwhelming existential dread.
posted by COBRA! at 12:33 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm always recommending Fun Home for people who want to get into comics.
posted by The Whelk at 12:35 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


I can see leaving Ware off, though, since not everybody's built for overwhelming existential dread

Wait till their reeling, then hit'em with Charles Burn's Black Hole.
posted by Artw at 12:38 PM on November 23, 2009


I'll have to try the Ennis war stuff but I seriously think he's the most overrated writer working today.

I think you mighty have identified your own problem there. That, Hitman and Punisher MAX would probably encompass all of his best stuff. And though he's not the most consitant writer out there when he is good he's very, very good.
posted by Artw at 12:42 PM on November 23, 2009


I think my gateway book was Sam & Max. I don't really remember reading comics with any kind of regularity (aside from reading the odd book at a friend's house or something) before that.
posted by The Whelk at 12:44 PM on November 23, 2009


The link works for me, off and on. Here's the Coral Cache link.

Seriously, not a single female artist on the entire list? Fun Home is brilliant, and Persepolis was my gateway drug. Comics aren't all smash-em-up superhero adventures. I think Jeffrey Brown's stuff is also fun and accessible and would make a good introduction.
posted by oulipian at 12:48 PM on November 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm sad to say that I can't access his list at the moment, but while we're talking about introducing people to comics: a few monthsback, BitterOldPunk asked about introducing his snobby friend to comics for about 50 bucks. My answer's here.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:51 PM on November 23, 2009


The League of Extraordinary Gentleman and From Hell would seem like good ones to push. And yeah, From Hell is dense, has a style of artwork that doesn't scream accessible and has a ton of footnotes at the back, but it really hooks people. I know folks who don't read any other comics at all that have loved that thing.
posted by Artw at 12:52 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


(of course, a better argument for pimping it would be if they had then gone on to read other comics. If anything their likely to go off and read more about Jack the Ripper and victorian London)
posted by Artw at 12:54 PM on November 23, 2009


And incidentally, if we're talking about "gateway" drug comics:
1. Artie recommends X-Men, I start reading all the X-titles voraciously
2. I pick up Johnny The Homicidal Maniac on the recommendation of a comic store clerk
3. I ask a different comic store clerk to recommend me something else that's similar to that, he recommends Dork
4. I slide into a decade of comic nerdery
posted by Greg Nog at 12:54 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I pick up Johnny The Homicidal Maniac on the recommendation of a comic store clerk

That book warped more middle-school minds then pinball and sodapop combined!
posted by The Whelk at 12:55 PM on November 23, 2009


His Asterix blurb is spot on. I'd add The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck as, in my humble opinion, the finest example of the Donald Duck comics that are the gateway comics for the Nordic countries and Germany (and other countries I'm forgetting). Seriously, somebody needs to make a world map which shows most popular strains of comics (American, French, Japanese, Walt Disney et cetera).
posted by Kattullus at 12:59 PM on November 23, 2009


Even if you hate Ennis you should give War Stories / Battlefields a go if you've not read then... it's like they are written by a different person.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:00 PM on November 23, 2009


I'm fine with these choices (even when they wouldn't be my choices) but I do like how the list was constructed. I think too many people neglect the whole ease-of-entry bit with comics and graphic novels. Me, I think it's silly when people talk about how comics is some how a different form of literacy, how people have to "learn' how to read comics, but I also realize that's just something I'm taking for granted because I already know how to do it. You don't want to overwhelm someone who's new to the medium with the whole "No, really, this gets better after you've read five of the volumes" kind of thing.

I guess in some ways, there's really no "bad" place to start with comics. Of course there's going to be disagreement with things like this, and I'm always a fan of recommending comics to people based on what they already like, and I think this list is diverse enough that just about anyone can find something.

(Yes, I also want to quibble about the lack of women on this list, but I think it's mostly forgivable in this case.)
posted by darksong at 1:00 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


My gateway into comics was the Star Wars weekly comic back in the 80s, followed by the (new) Eagle and 2000ad. My gateway into comics that you buy at comics stores instead of the newagents was the Mark Verheiden Aliens comic, followed by a bunch of other dark horse movie titles, the usual suspect trades and then getting hooked on a bunch of the what would be Vertigo comics.

Oh god, I was reading the Hellraiser tie-in comics for a while in between. I really have no explanation for that, especially as it's basically an anthology of stories with the exact same plot.

Hmm.

You know, I should probably stop sneering at movie tie-ins so much.
posted by Artw at 1:03 PM on November 23, 2009


Artw: Charles Burn's Black Hole.

Man I really wanted to like that but I couldn't get past the terrible dialogue.

It's pretty though.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:06 PM on November 23, 2009


Oh, and actually, now you mention it, before Star Wars there was Spider-Man and Zoids. I'd basically ignore Spider-Man, I was all about the robot dinosaurs kicking the crap out of each other.

So yeah, there's my getting-people-into-comics advice:
* Start 'em young
* Use tie-ins
* It should be the 80s

Point 3 may be tricky.
posted by Artw at 1:11 PM on November 23, 2009


Man I really wanted to like that but I couldn't get past the terrible dialogue.

I read it as being all stilted and monotone, like some weird Lynch film. It's mainly about the artwork though. That's linework to give you nightmares.
posted by Artw at 1:13 PM on November 23, 2009


Y'know, the more I think about it, I kind of dream for a day when a list like this is considered pointless. I mean, I'd love for the comics ecosystem to be so diverse that the question of "How can I start reading comics?" would be as weird as 'How can I start reading books?" or "How can I start watching movies?"

I think we're getting there-- just sticking to stuff mentioned on MGK's list and in this thread, there's a hell of a stylistic/content gulf between From Hell and All-Star Superman. But I still think there's a long way to go, both in perception of the medium and in actual output.
posted by COBRA! at 1:14 PM on November 23, 2009


Well now I'll go back and read it again in Lynch mode.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:15 PM on November 23, 2009


Seems a good list. I'm a bit bemused that you would not recommend collections of Peanuts, though. It has characters that pretty much everyone is familiar with and writing that effortlessly blends gentle, well-drawn humour with surprisingly deep insights about life. Plus the strips are about as stand-alone and accessible as you can get. Admittedly the Complete Collections might be a bit too expensive to buy straight off, but the smaller paperback collections can be bought from many used bookstores for only a couple of bucks.

Also, Watchmen was one of the first comics I read and I still thought it was amazing. It's not just a commentary on superhero comics; putting aside its generic attachments, I feel the plotting, characterisation and stunning writing make it a great work in itself.
posted by fearthehat at 1:19 PM on November 23, 2009


If the person in question is not put off by graphic violence, I would suggest We3 as a fine example of both concise writing and graphic storytelling. There are some things that are fairly unique to comics, story-through-layout being one of them, and Frank Quitely's at his best here.

If you get choked up watching Homeward Bound, this may get to you too.
posted by uri at 1:25 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Bastard thing made me cry.

You know what's awesome right now, We3 lovers? Beast of Burden. Once that;s traded that should be on the list.
posted by Artw at 1:28 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


COBRA!,

I mean, I'd love for the comics ecosystem to be so diverse that the question of "How can I start reading comics?" would be as weird as 'How can I start reading books?" or "How can I start watching movies?"

But those aren't weird questions. If someone says, "I'm not much of a reader, what would you recommend to get into literature?" you wouldn't hand them Joyce's Ulysses and tell them to have fun. Some works are easier to get into than others, and that's true of any medium. Or, on the other end, handing them the trashiest bodice-ripper romance you can find. Some works are not good examples and will turn off people new to the medium.

So I think it's wrong to say that there's no bad place to start. You want to show someone new to comics works that are good but accessible, based of course on what you know about them. That's why Watchmen may be a poor choice for new readers: on top of the story it's also a commentary on comics themselves, which will be missed by new people. Handing them a stack of early 90s Liefield work would also be a mistake because it's shit. Then again, maybe either of those choices would be perfect depending on the person.

I think the guidelines the list was built on are excellent in that regard.

fearthehat
Seems a good list. I'm a bit bemused that you would not recommend collections of Peanuts, though.

The guidelines:

"1.) It has to stand alone on its own merit. No encyclopedic collections of comic strips."
posted by Sangermaine at 1:39 PM on November 23, 2009


But those aren't weird questions. If someone says, "I'm not much of a reader, what would you recommend to get into literature?" you wouldn't hand them Joyce's Ulysses and tell them to have fun.

No, but you'd try to figure out if they'd be more likely to be interested in mysteries versus self-aware Modernist novels versus romance versus stirring tales of the high seas. And so on.
posted by COBRA! at 1:48 PM on November 23, 2009


* The lack of any mention of The Dark Knight Returns is surprising. That one’s another proven winner.

Really? I've used it as a knock-out punch before, once people have already dipped their toes in the water but some of the design choices - like the small-panelled, text-heavy news reports - can be a turn-off to those that are looking for a gateway comic.
posted by MUD at 1:54 PM on November 23, 2009


I love a lot of the stuff on this list. I think Bone, Blankets, All-Star Superman, Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot, and Doom Patrol are all brilliant in their own ways. I love that Nexus gets a nod in the article, and Zot throughout the comments. But overall, the list comes off as pretentious and a bit snobbish. A lot of the good superhero stuff from the '80s onward – and I'd include Doom Patrol and All-Star Superman in this statement – is predicated on at least a passing familiarity with the genre. How to start reading comics without a single thing from the first four decades of superheroes? Not a very good start.

The other thing I can't help but notice is the total lack of manga. Now, there's a lot out and it's of highly variable quality, but it's extremely myopic to pretend right now that there's no manga in print ATM that isn't worth reading. The first volume of Maison Ikkoku is entirely worth reading and it's addictive like crack. (And not as infinitely long as Ranma 1/2.) Not to mention Tezuka. This isn't just a "you forgot my favorite X!" as "you forgot Japan, which is one of the two most important countries in modern comics."

Finally - people should be reading Understanding Comics. It explains a lot of how comic artwork works, which really makes reading them more than an exercise in untangling the mixed-up stories and pictures.
posted by graymouser at 1:59 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Boyfriend dearest, aka the co-creator of El Gorgo! with MeFi's Own(tm) kittens for breakfast got me going on Sandman and the Invisibles. Can't remember which came first but I can tell you I've reread the latter + related books about it more than once. Loooove From Hell but have never managed to successfully get through Watchmen. So there's one comic book widow's take on appropriate gateway drugs...

(Also, The Pro cracked me up, but I'd have to be careful recommending that one...only people with a sense of humor, please!)
posted by bitter-girl.com at 2:02 PM on November 23, 2009


El Gorgo! requires a link, and is awesome. Really must actually pay money for it at some point.
posted by Artw at 2:05 PM on November 23, 2009


Yes, Artw! If only you and several hundred thousand other people do, he can quit the day job and get issues out faster... ;)

(I kid, I kid...oh wait, no I don't).

OH! And how could I forget Promethea? That's probably my favorite Alan Moore series, if I had to decide.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 2:07 PM on November 23, 2009


Most Manga beyond the really obvious ones is off limits to me because I really can't do the backwardsy reading thing. It seem to be doing pretty well for itself as thriving and impenetrable subcultures go, what with having it's own far-more-popular section at bookstores and all.
posted by Artw at 2:07 PM on November 23, 2009


Promethea? Wow. I'm big on Moore and i found it pretty... esoteric. In every way possible really.
posted by Artw at 2:08 PM on November 23, 2009


It's funny - I think of myself as someone who's not into comics...except for the years and years that I've been reading Dykes to Watch Out For. And Hothead Paisan, of course.
posted by rtha at 2:10 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Walking Dead
posted by mikelieman at 2:11 PM on November 23, 2009


You know, as MeFi discussions that revolve around a list to do with nerdy things that are a matter of opinion go, this ones gone pretty well. I mean, I think everyone’s on board the whole there being no fixed “best” list but this one being a good starting point thing, yeah?
posted by Artw at 2:12 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, go figure, Artw -- I can read (and re-read) Promethea a zillion times but Watchmen kicks my ass? Maybe Watchmen needs more Weeping Gorilla Comix?

Actually, everything, everywhere needs more gorillas.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 2:19 PM on November 23, 2009


MGK's advice just wouldn't work for me. My eyes glaze over at anything "action" or even vaguely fanboy. But I have a large collection of what are called "alternative" comics that I consider works of art. HIstorical stuff I like too...

Maybe MKG should've titled the piece "how to read comics if you like what I like." Still, I will peruse his pickings to see if there's any overlap in our tastes.
posted by telstar at 2:19 PM on November 23, 2009


bitter-girl.com - Maybe you are in fact a wizard.

(a friend of mine made a bunch of bootleg Weeping Gorilla T-shirts and gave me one. It's awesome. "The thing that really hurts is... the pain!")
posted by Artw at 2:23 PM on November 23, 2009


OK maybe telstar is not down with that :-)
posted by Artw at 2:23 PM on November 23, 2009


Oh jeez, mikelieman, how'd I forget The Walking Dead? Everyone I know who's read that loves it, me included.

And Northlanders! my god, Northlanders! kittens for breakfast got me that one and it's BRILLIANT. Art, story, the whole shebang. It has a very interesting associated Tumblr blog as well with some of the background and influences...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 2:24 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


shmegegge (to himself): hmmm, El Gorgo. I'll just clicky this linky right here and see what all the fuss is a-...
The first words on the first page of El Gorgo #1: Would you believe that only the flying fists and Einsteinian-level intellect of an 800 pound gorilla luchador stand between the world you know and a Mad God's dream global domination?!! YOU'D BETTER! YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT!
shmegegge (to himself): buh. yes. yes, I think I will read you. I will read you very much.
posted by shmegegge at 2:25 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


It has Kirby-Dots!
posted by Artw at 2:26 PM on November 23, 2009


telstar: "MGK's advice just wouldn't work for me. My eyes glaze over at anything "action" or even vaguely fanboy. But I have a large collection of what are called "alternative" comics that I consider works of art. HIstorical stuff I like too... "

I don't know what else to say except to give some serious reconsideration to his #1 suggestion, Bone. As he says, If you look at every volume I recommend with suspicion and you decide to read only one: get Bone. It's just the best thing any reader of any type of fiction could read, ever. I have a big old copy that I'm hanging onto specifically so that I can give it to some imaginary child I may one day have once my feelings on having children significantly change.
posted by shmegegge at 2:28 PM on November 23, 2009


What I've read of Bone is pretty great - it's a bit daunting, you know, with the book being so damn big. But it is undeniably excellent and deserves reading. From his list for the non-superhero/non-fanboy interest I would also suggest Blankets, which is really one of the most painfully personal stories I've ever read in a comic.
posted by graymouser at 2:31 PM on November 23, 2009


I am just seconding "I Kill Giants" , especially as a nice iontro to comics read.
The art is freaking fantastic, and the story arc is really, really nicely done as well.
posted by das_2099 at 2:42 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Off the top of my head, I would recommend Chester Brown's Louis Riel, Alan Moore's Complete Ballad of Halo Jones or the first volume of Jim Woodring's Frank as great examples of what the genre can do. I'm not quite sure that "not being self-contained" is a valid reason for disqualifying first volumes of a series, considering that not only Akira but Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Vallye of the Wind would be great introductions to Manga whose first volumes have very strong, yet open-ended, stories.

Also, if he's going to break his own rule and recommend specific volumes of Asterix, I'm going to go ahead and recommend Tintin, either earlier stories like The Black Island or King Ottokar's Scepter, or the Destination Moon/Explorers on the Moon sequence.

Now of course, I would recommend anyone read Jaime Hernandez's full hardcover Locas volume, but I'm an extremist. However, even with the "no standout volumes" rule, I would still suggest anyone read The Death of Speedy. That was the storyline that got me back into Love and Rockets after I had put it down, and made me go back and re-read the earlier stories.

Ultimately, I think he's ignoring an important aspect of comics- that most stories are serialized. The narratives are sequential as well as the internal structures, which for many people is part of the pleasure of reading them.

He is right about Scott Pilgrim though.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:52 PM on November 23, 2009


Bone is an excellent intro, because the simplicity of the art means that it is actually much easier for a non-comics reader to read. My first comic was Sandman (the first volume even - not that incomprehensible), but I struggled with the whole image-with-text-thing, so my friend reccommended Bone and other simple, black-and-white comics, and when I came back to Sandman, my reading ability had improved.

It probably also helped that with the Bone, he lent me Understanding Comics.

But this conversation reminds me that someday I have to get my own Bone, and actually read the end of the story -- this was all long enough ago that only 2 volumes had been published, and that's all I've ever read.
posted by jb at 3:00 PM on November 23, 2009


I'll probably address a lot of criticisms from here in a future post (I'll say this much: so far, nobody has mentioned a single title that I "missed" that I didn't at least consider), but I'm just going to take this opportunity to A) graciously thank people for all the nice comments and B) complain about how fucked my Apache cache is and if anybody knows how to fix that could they tell my IP? Thanks.
posted by mightygodking at 3:05 PM on November 23, 2009


I...I....you guys...you shouldn't have...!


*sniff*
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:44 PM on November 23, 2009


Why I Hate Saturn.

As awesome as The Cowboy Wally Show is, I liked Why I Hate Saturn more, and laugh more every time I read it (and that's a lot). It's a little dated, I guess (?), but it's brilliant. I love Kyle Baker. You Are Here is great, too.

And if the huge Bone compendium is too daunting, it's available in smaller volumes that are, in the long run, more expensive than the big one, but way more portable and less threatening to new readers.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:48 PM on November 23, 2009


Ooh! and Hectic Planet!
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:51 PM on November 23, 2009


And I, for one, am totally going to read everything on this list that I haven't already. And probably the stuff I have, too. You know, again.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:53 PM on November 23, 2009


Since I can't see the link, is LOVE & ROCKETS and HATE on there? I sure hope so.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 3:54 PM on November 23, 2009


Bone is interesting. The main Bone characters are drawn simply, but the rest of the world is well-detailed.

If you're looking for an interesting graphic novel (not exactly something to lead you into mainstream comics), I suggest Asterios Polyp, by David Mazzucchelli. The story is great, and the artwork is a lot of fun. It's a serious piece with humor. You wouldn't associate the work as something from the guy who drew Daredevil and other Marvel comics (source).

As for more super-hero-ey stuff, I really like The Maxx (surprise =), though I can't hear Maxx speaking with anything but Michael Haley's voice. That's not a bad thing, but just a bit odd to hear voices so clearly for certain characters.

See also: Mike Allred's stuff is fun, in a crazy sort of way. Easy to read, if that's a key criteria.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:42 PM on November 23, 2009


I think the female writers/characters thing is key, though; in such a visual medium, it does matter if women only show up as tits on legs, or not at all, to female readers. So yes: Persepolis, Promethea, Lynda Barry's comics were my gateway drugs. Love and Rockets to a lesser extent.

Fun Home is excellent, as well as Dykes to Watch Out For, which just came out with a huge "complete" collection. Ellen Forney's "I Was Seven in 75" also.

As far as "easy" introductions go, although I find it sexist and sometimes irritating, the Fables series is easy to catch hold of and get sucked into.

As for the lack of Dark Knight--meh. Plenty of access points for the men-in-tights lovers, it would be nice to see lots more attention paid to the rest of the comics universe.
posted by emjaybee at 5:02 PM on November 23, 2009


Why I Hate Saturn.

Pretty much everyone he's done is GOLD and in so many different styles and genres.

Hectic Planet!

Oh I love that, makes me feel like I'm 17 again
LOVE & ROCKETS

I love love love love LOVE them, but where do you start? It's a huuuuuge story and catalog. Like walking into a soap opera in media res.

Bone

You can never go wrong with Bone.

HATE


Peter Bragge's Libertarianism and chest pounding have put me off him totally. Yes HATE was good but , ehhhhhhh. Kupperman does better surreal humor without the ideology. I'm REAL bacon.

I've gotten some arty-er friends hooked on Eddie Campbell's recent work. It's all very experimental and fun, The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard is a joy from start to finish and so unlike any other "comic".
posted by The Whelk at 5:07 PM on November 23, 2009


I have heard that Bagge isn't a dick with the whole libertarianism thing, and that the collection of stuff he did fopr Reason is kind of good, but yeah, eeesh.

(One time I was at a party at a friend of a friends house and I noticed all this comics art on the walls, including pages from Hate, which being me I ignore everyone else to admire. It turns out that the owners of the house have this art because Peter Bagge is their neighbor. Later on he wanders over, looking for his cat, and seemingly a bit annoyed that this party was going on. I wanted to bug him about comics stuff but it really didn't seem the right moment. Ah Seattle.)
posted by Artw at 5:15 PM on November 23, 2009


I have heard that Bagge isn't a dick with the whole libertarianism thing, and that the collection of stuff he did fopr Reason is kind of good, but yeah, eeesh.

I actually just finished reading the collection of stuff he did for Reason and wound up kind of wanting to punch him in the dick for all of the fuck-you-I-got-mine sentiment. He's less dickish than some libertarians, but there's a pretty broad dick spectrum. How many more times must I say dick?
posted by COBRA! at 5:28 PM on November 23, 2009


Yeah, I have to say I'm not exactly in a rush to read it.

And Apocalypse Nerd was awful.

Hate is still good though. And I like the little American history pieces he does, and the weird Ballard-centric little articles.
posted by Artw at 5:32 PM on November 23, 2009


On balance, if a comics great is going to end up becoming a libertarian or a wizard, I'm going to prefer wizard every time.

I dunno, maybe wizardry is like the British manifestation of whatever it is that causes American artistic counter-cultural types to turn libertarian as they get older.
posted by Artw at 5:49 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Naw, I just think bragge is a crank.
posted by The Whelk at 5:55 PM on November 23, 2009


On balance, if a comics great is going to end up becoming a libertarian or a wizard, I'm going to prefer wizard every time.

Oh hell yeah. I think "wizard or libertarian?" should be the standard by which we judge all artists' progress as they age. (Obviously if one falls into a category like "objectivist," something has gone terribly awry.)

I dunno, maybe wizardry is like the British manifestation of whatever it is that causes American artistic counter-cultural types to turn libertarian as they get older.

I think it's just another version of "get off my lawn," only aging hipsters/punks just don't have it in them to go all the way into the straight-up republicanism that usually entails.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:09 PM on November 23, 2009


As far as I can tell, once you turn wizard you don't get all "get off my lawn", you just start inving everyone and their dog around to your cramped little house for tea and dope and start having long rambling conversations with them. Some of these get published as interviews.
posted by Artw at 6:11 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Unless people are trying to give you large amounts of money for movie rights they already have of course, THEN you get to chase them with the stick.
posted by Artw at 6:12 PM on November 23, 2009


Gah, my bad -- I meant that libertarianism is "get off my lawn" (but with porn and beer and stuff). Wizardry seems to be something a great deal more enjoyable for oneself and others.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:13 PM on November 23, 2009


You do get an awesome stick.
posted by Artw at 6:14 PM on November 23, 2009


That's what I'm talking about.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:15 PM on November 23, 2009


Morrison doesn't have a stick though. His wizardry is weak!
posted by Artw at 6:16 PM on November 23, 2009


I think sticks are too earthy for Morrison. He'd probably want a stick made out of some futuristic techno-organic substance that can reshape itself into an iPhone that lets you contact loa and will also serve as some kind of weird sex-toy. Moore's too old school for all that fancy shit.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:19 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ellis might have that stick already, despite not being a proper wizard yet.
posted by Artw at 6:20 PM on November 23, 2009


I'm pretty sure Garth Ennis has a stick that's actually just a huge beer icicle.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:24 PM on November 23, 2009


Garth Ennis is really very definitely Not A Wizard. I suspect calling anyone from Northern Ireland a wizard would probably end very badly.
posted by Artw at 6:33 PM on November 23, 2009


...so for Christmas people should be getting wizard sticks?
posted by COBRA! at 6:37 PM on November 23, 2009


Actually recalling the back pages of that one issue of The Invisibles I think I know where Morrion keeps his stick.
posted by Artw at 6:45 PM on November 23, 2009


Blankets helped me realize that I had no interest in reading comics - it's like Alice Munro stretched out to 600 (rather pretty) pages of boring. This list is pretty great because it gives comics fans 19 other suggestions besides Blankets to force on their non-comics reading friends.
posted by betweenthebars at 7:01 PM on November 23, 2009


If it helps, Blankets seems pretty awful and unreadable to me (and I think that Alice Munro is a piercing experimentalist!). There are a lot of other much more humanist and poignant comics that aren't so drenched in psychologically unsubtle angst: Eddie Campell's Alec comics, Kings in Disguise (about the '30s), Rutu Modan's Exit Wounds (set in present day Israel), Love and Rockets of course (sometimes I think one can make an entire emotional vocabulary just out of Love and Rockets panels), and Carol Tyler's Late Bloomer (the best depiction of motherhood and familial love in comics), just for starters.

In fact, there's a lot of Garth Ennis hate on this thread, but I think he's actually very capable of poignant, quiet, realist stories: his best issues of Hellblazer don't even have John Constantine in them, but just follow his girlfriend Kit around Ireland as she gets drunk, sees her family, gets hit on; you can really see the influence of Brendan Behan in the combination of warm sentimental humanism, singing, and booze.
posted by johnasdf at 8:41 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I really wish there were collections of Matt Howarth's Savage Henry to throw at people. That comic really is a lot of what got me interested in the potential of the comic book: it's about a dimension-hopping prog rock band whose members include Cthulhu and Conrad Schnitzler, and regularly had all kinds of weird musicians as guest stars - sometimes heroes, sometimes villains. It's all the joyous incoherence of something like Kirby without it being all about DUDES PUNCHING.

(And DUDES PUNCHING is why it is a great idea to have a 'starter comics' list that barely includes any superhero books; they may be the majority of what comes out in the US but when I go to the comic shop I don't pick up any of that stuff, I just can't be bothered to care about it.)

Also I would love to suggest a collection of Little Nemo but pushing newspaper comics from the 20s is probably not gonna help someone "get into comics", especially because McCay's panel placement is frankly on the border of illegible in the early days.

But I cannot argue with any list that includes Asterix. I had a ton of Asterix when I was a kid (still have it, in fact) and I just ate that stuff up. I recognized the Unfortunate Racial Stereotypes but hell, all of the "Asterix In Some Foreign Country" books are full of racial humor, it was pretty easy to figure out that it wasn't serious.
posted by egypturnash at 9:47 PM on November 23, 2009


My own gateway was Archie Andrews. (Team Betty). Then it was mutants mainly and for a long time. If I were to give a gateway, I know I would mistakenly give someone a list of favorites, so this was really interesting to read.
posted by scunning at 10:30 PM on November 23, 2009


I think Ennis was capable of great work, rather like Claremont used to do a fine supergroup-as-family book. The Boys permanently turned me off Ennis.

However, my pick hasn't come up yet-- Matt Wagner and Sam Kieth's Mage: The Hero Discovered. I re-started in comics after a couple years off while The Invisibles was still coming out monthly, sure-- but Mage was my antidote when it was 3am and all the shoggoths and extra letters of the alphabet were wearing on me. Just a great, atmospheric piece of work from two guys who went on to become genuine comics legends.

Mr. F is rooting for Hellblazer #27, the one Neil Gaiman issue, as an intro to Gaiman's sequential work and comics in general, because it's the one our friend gave him to get him started in the first place.

These days, I'd nth Bitter-Girl's rec of Northlanders (and, really, any Brian Wood from The Couriers and onward), throw in Matt Fraction's The Invincible Iron Man arcs "The Five Nightmares" and "World's Most Wanted" to pull in the kids who liked the Iron Man movie, definitely pitch Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's Phonogram to the indie-rock types, and re-sucker the old-school Marvel Zombies with Jonathan Hickman and Dale Eaglesham's current completely ass-kicking work on Fantastic Four. Cheer up the Rocketeer and mad-science/ Silver Age fun and games fans with Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener's Atomic Robo and Fraction and Steve Sanders' Five Fists of Science, toss in Jason Aaron and RM Guera's Scalped for the Cormac McCarthy/ Johnny Cash lovers, and I think I could cover a pretty good spread.

Gillen and Hickman are tremendous talents, seriously. Kieron's hitting a great creative peak with Phonogram: The Singles Club and his Marvel work, and Hickman's FF got me back into the book after nearly twenty years out on the strength of "hey, he wrote all this great creator-owned science madness for Image." Keep an eye on them.

Also, y'all want the color sketch of Wes Dodds I bought off Matt Wagner last year at SDCC. Just sayin'.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:02 PM on November 23, 2009


Oh man. I don't read comics often, but the list prompted me to download and read I Kill Giants. I don't cry often either, but that was a great book. I just ordered a print copy for my 16 year old niece. Thanks for... just thanks.

That's not a bad idea, is it? I was a fairly serious kid, and I remember getting into some fairly serious literature when I was that age, but maybe I need a reality check here. She's into manga (which I know nothing about) and is writing and drawing her own stories, but I've never been a teenage girl. Would it be weird if I shared this with her?
posted by team lowkey at 11:05 PM on November 23, 2009


Lowkey, I friggin' loved I Kill Giants, and I think it's got just enough overlap, artistically and thematically, with the sorts of things teenagers into manga like (more serious/ darker topics, mythology, the sort of Invader-Zim-style exaggerated and bold artwork) that your niece will dig it.

Actually, I think anyone who doesn't dig IKG has something fundamentally wrong with them. One of the best reads I've had in years.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:08 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


fearthehat
Seems a good list. I'm a bit bemused that you would not recommend collections of Peanuts, though.

The guidelines:

"1.) It has to stand alone on its own merit. No encyclopedic collections of comic strips.


Yeah, I did actually read the list that this entire discussion is based on, Sangermaine. As I stated in my previous post, however (was I not clear enough?), I feel the strip-based format of Peanuts makes it both fairly stand-alone and accessible. By that I mean it is entirely possible for a person to read and appreciate a single strip or a collection of strips without having read the entire series. I also stated that the cheaper paperback collections might be a better entry point than the "encyclopedic collections".
posted by fearthehat at 11:18 PM on November 23, 2009


Lots of good recommendations in here. I guess I should finally read Scott Pilgrim. Everyone flips out over it.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Jimmy Corrigan, and Ghost World are musts that others have mentioned. Top Ten, maybe. I guess I'm alone in thinking that Bone is nothing special. I guess I'm also alone in wanting to include some Groo.
posted by painquale at 11:50 PM on November 23, 2009


Wait, I forgot about Beanworld! Hell yes, Beanworld.
posted by painquale at 11:55 PM on November 23, 2009


I emailed you even before I saw you pop up in the thread, mightygodking.
posted by Pronoiac at 11:58 PM on November 23, 2009


I've just started reading Stray Bullets because of a recent thread here, and that's damn good stuff. I'll second Beanworld and Groo too, been fans of those for ages.

Of course, you have to tailor these things to the individual -- you give Groo to the friend who reads fantasy novels, and Beanworld to the friend who likes... man, I dunno. Quantum physics? If you know someone who liked Invader Zim, you give them a copy of Squee. (not JtHM, they can pick that up later. Squee is way more accessible, and frankly, better.) Hunter S. Thompson fans get Transmetropolitan, H.P. Lovecraft fans get Hellboy, and people who like Lost should read The Invisibles. And so on.

Regarding Garth Ennis, I consider him as basically the comics equivalent of Quentin Tarantino -- lots of violence and snappy dialogue, and every once in a while there's an emotion or he gets a little philosophical for a moment, but mostly it's just violence and snappy dialogue. And if that's what you're in the mood for, he's goddamn awesome.
posted by rifflesby at 3:21 AM on November 24, 2009


Oh, also missing from mightygodking's list: Fell. Self-contained, good value, and it's fucking great.
posted by rifflesby at 3:28 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Fun Home was really good, but every time I try to read Dykes to Watch Out For I get turned off by how difficult the archive is to navigate and how pessimistic it seems to be. Will that bother me less if I just get the volumes and can read the full story?

Also for what it's worth seconding (thirding? infiniti-ing?) Scott Pilgrim as a good gateway drug. Especially if the person likes the silly.
posted by edbles at 5:36 AM on November 24, 2009


You know what's always gotten in the way any time I've tried to read comics or graphic novels? There's like too much going on on the page and my brain sort of overloads and gets sort of panicky and shuts off and I get confused waaaaaaaaay too easily.

I don't even know how to explain it really. I'm pretty sure I'm quite ADD, and I read otherwise very well, but if I open a comic my brain just EEEEEPS on me and I have to close it. My brain's like "ooh words" "NO SHAPE SHAPE LOOK AT THE" "oooh more words" "colors!" "wait what's this guy doing" "is that a sword" "who is that?" etc.
posted by TomMelee at 5:51 AM on November 24, 2009


Fun Home was really good, but every time I try to read Dykes to Watch Out For I get turned off by how difficult the archive is to navigate and how pessimistic it seems to be. Will that bother me less if I just get the volumes and can read the full story?

Yes!
posted by rtha at 5:55 AM on November 24, 2009


All this talk of wizarding sticks has got me excited for a Grant Morrison/Lady Gaga crossover (and just what the hell is a 'disco stick', while we're on the topic of sticks and people who are awesome but also from outer space?).
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:05 AM on November 24, 2009


and just what the hell is a 'disco stick',

I think it's similar to a rhythm stick...

Moore has a big staff made of oak. Morrison has a plastic wand. Ennis just has a pint of Guinness...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:13 AM on November 24, 2009


I've always seen Posy Simmonds as the comic writer/artist for people who have never read comics (well within reason, I wouldn't recommend her to everyone) but I don't really know where you would go from there. She's sort of in her own closed off world.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:15 AM on November 24, 2009


Hunter S. Thompson fans get Transmetropolitan

Transmetropolitan fans should defiantely check out Bug Jack Baron by Norman Spinard. It;s shocking how much of Spiders cultral DNA isn't necessarily from Hunter.
posted by Artw at 7:21 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Preface: I'm a comics scholar, this stuff is my life.

So: over the past few years, my mom has become really interested in comics and graphic novels, so I have seen what has worked and what hasn't. She really, really got into Y: The Last Man; she wasn't thrilled with DC: The New Frontier. She loved Persepolis and Fun Home, but wasn't that big on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Now she's come to a place to be recommending things to me, which I think is the ideal outcome.

I like this intro list well enough--I think the constraints are reasonable, but there should be a few more. Number one should be availability and accessibility. Do you have a copy to lend? Is the book expensive? Can you get it at a library? Can you curl up with it in bed? It might seem like a silly concern, but a phone-book sized text is physically a challenging place from which to enter a genre. Similarly, an expensive or hard to find book is a tough choice unless you can loan someone a copy. (Size is my concern with Bone, even though it is really otherwise awesome; as well as with the huge Love and Rockets collections, which I own both of but are physically intimidating, also pricey. See also the "Ultimate" editions of stuff like Sandman, which are gorgeous but larger than my torso.)

I guess my number two concern is that you can't just have one list of great introductory comics. Great introductory comics for your mom, your kid sister, your politically radical girlfriend are meaningfully different situations. One thing this list does really well is steer *away* from certain texts as it steers toward others. There's a huge glut of new comics biographies and adaptations that seem really attractive to a lot of people I know (like the comic version of A People's History of American Empire which is on my shelf right now) that really aren't all that great, and might discourage further explorations as much as any of the stuff mightygodking crosses off.

Blarg. I have to go to class. Anyway, welcome to the inside of my head, pretty much all the time.
posted by Tesseractive at 7:26 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd quibble with the Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life; it has a lot of charm, and I guess it's sort of self-contained, but if you don't stick with the series, the protagonist's annoying callowness kind of leaves you thinking, "So what?". I'd swap Ocean, a fairly undistinguished potboiler, for Global Frequency, available in two collected volumes. Light Brigade isn't all that great either, but there isn't much in Ennis' bibliography that fits the list's criteria.

Other options: The Adventures of Little Archie - There are two volumes collecting these great Bob Bolling tales of everyone's favorite ginger horndog as a kid; there is a lot more action, pathos, and genuine humour in these 'kiddie' stories than you will find in the regular Riverdale-set comics. Suitable for all ages.

Box Office Poison - Alex Robinson's urban melodrama features a sprawling cast of realistic and identifiable characters. Although the story gets sort of inside baseball with a detour into the history of the comics biz, you are sufficiently invested in the people Frontal nudity of all kinds, as well as cursing.

Jason's oeuvre - Nearly wordless comics featuring human characters with dog, cat, bunny, and bird heads, zombies, Frankenstein monsters, mummies fumbling through life. Poignant, violent, bawdy, and funny, often at the same time, I just wish Fantagraphics would release a bigass compilation.

Tales Designed to Thrizzle - Absurd humour in delicious, bite-sized chunks. I've ordered my 4-Playo Robot, have you? Handy-dandy Children's, Adult's, and Old People's sections are clearly delineated to ensure every reader gets what they want and what they deserve, from Michael Kupperman.

The Filth - A dirty, dirty story of love and identity and life, featuring day-glow wigs, giant flying black sperm, and giving the President of the United States a boob job, whether he wants one or not, courtesy of Grant Morrison and Chris Weston. For bright teenagers and older.

Also, seconding the second Locas volume in the Love and Rockets Library, The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S., hell yes to We3, and huzzah for Beanworld!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:48 AM on November 24, 2009


fearfulsymmetry: I've always seen Posy Simmonds as the comic writer/artist for people who have never read comics (well within reason, I wouldn't recommend her to everyone) but I don't really know where you would go from there. She's sort of in her own closed off world.

I feel the same way about Edward Gorey.
posted by oulipian at 9:15 AM on November 24, 2009


Another thing about Dykes to Watch Out For: the big hardcover collection that came out recently isn't the complete series, but "The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For"--it's a best of, but it leaves out a lot of the longer stories that Bechdel wrote especially for the trade paperbacks. However, it's my impression that it pares out a lot of the frantically topical strips and sticks more closely to character and plot. The introduction to the volume is also a really great comic in itself.

(Actually, the plotted series of DTWOF doesn't start until halfway through volume 2 of the paperbacks--before that it's mostly one-offs and random jokey things. Actually, doing a plotted series rather than gag strips is what sets Bechdel off from a lot of other lesbian cartoonists who got their start in the same era, I am finding.)
posted by Tesseractive at 9:16 AM on November 24, 2009


I guess I'm also alone in wanting to include some Groo.

No. You're not. Thank you for reminding me. Stories by Evanier, art by Aragones and lettering by Sakai, seriously, why is this comic not worshiped more universally? It was the gateway drug that led me down the long dark passage to being the middlign comics nerd I am today (I discovered Usagi Yojimbo through Groo which in turn led to more awareness of the Japanese comics market and you can guess where this went...) It might be hard to just jump into Death of Groo, but the casual reader will figure it out pretty quickly (hey! A bumbling parody of Conan, I get it!) and it is a very good stand alone story.

Hmmm. I should let my inner geek out more often, he seems to have a lot to say.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 9:47 AM on November 24, 2009


When do I get my wizard stick?
posted by The Whelk at 10:12 AM on November 24, 2009


Christmas. Duh.
posted by COBRA! at 10:22 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


It goes with your robe and wizard hat, natch.
posted by Tesseractive at 10:25 AM on November 24, 2009


Well, I love comics, but have almost no tolerance for superheros, fantasy, or sci-fi really. If you need a recommendation for someone like me, it is this: Epileptic by David B. Graphic memoir with art as engrossing as the narrative. Did I miss mention of this fantastic work in this thread?
posted by barrett caulk at 11:24 AM on November 24, 2009


- I'll have to try the Ennis war stuff but I seriously think he's the most overrated writer working today.

- ...That, Hitman and Punisher MAX would probably encompass all of his best stuff.


No love for Hellblazer? Issues 41-46 are, for my money, the height of occult-noir, whereas Punisher MAX is just more of that semi-automatic punchline that is Frank Castle. You keep squeezing that trigger, man, but I'm out of laughs. Although the death of Micro was neat.
posted by kid ichorous at 1:52 PM on November 24, 2009


Quite a lot of crossover: The best comics of the ’00s
posted by Artw at 2:33 PM on November 24, 2009


No love for Hellblazer?

It's alright. Probably need to give it a re-read and re-assessment since I was reading a bunch of other Vertigo stuff at the time and it was kind of the runt of the bunch for me, and TBH a lot of those titles might niot have aged as well as it has.
posted by Artw at 2:38 PM on November 24, 2009


Hellblazer 41-46 (collected as "Dangerous Habits") is my favorite story arc in the whole series. I would definitely recommend that to any horror fan, comics-reader or no.
posted by rifflesby at 2:41 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am not a man of impeccable taste, so I may have hugely overvalued Dangerous Habits.

Evidence: the speaker is someone who sifted through kilometers of mylar and yellowed discard heroes - Turok, Archer and Armstrong (!), fucking Cable/Bishop spinoff series, Kid Eternity - for something called Brother Power: The Geek, all because it contained a single panel wherein a pinocchio doll impregnates a bearded mannequin with a sportscar. Talking high art, here.
posted by kid ichorous at 2:50 PM on November 24, 2009


Oooh Brother Power the Geek! There's a back-up story in one of the early Swamp Thing annuals about that guy. I only own the comic because it also has a really early Neil Gaiman story with part of his "vegetable mythology" story idea that never happened because he never took over writing the comic.
posted by Tesseractive at 3:39 PM on November 24, 2009


I was reading the other day how Angels and Demons will be the next Vampires and Zombie, and thinking back to those Vertigo days when every other strip was Machiavellian scheming by heaven and hell with mortals trapped inbetween. It's all a big loop really.
posted by Artw at 3:58 PM on November 24, 2009


/remembers there was even a angel JLA team member. Oh dear.
posted by Artw at 3:59 PM on November 24, 2009


Oh shoot that wasn't supposed to be an infinite loop, I just messed up my iterator....

string popular_culture;

for(int year=0; year < 5; year--){
popular_culture = Fight(Monkeys, Robots);
popular_culture = Fight(Pirates, Ninjas);
popular_culture = Fight(Zombies, Vampires);
popular_culture = Fight(Angels, Demons);
}
posted by edbles at 7:09 AM on November 25, 2009


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