So You’ve Decided To Give Your Life To Comics…
Have you ever said to yourself, “Self, comics appear to be a pretty cool and unique story telling medium! I sure wish I knew more about them, so I could explore this new and exciting world!”
What a coincidence! I just happen to be here to tell you more than you’d ever want to know about the wonderful world of comics and graphic novels!
Graphic novels typically refer to two different kinds of books. Many graphic novels are collections of monthly comic books, compiled into one volume. Batman, Superman, The Avengers, The X-Men, etc, all have serialized comics that release monthly issues, and these are usually collected two to three times a year, and published in graphic novel form. The other kind of graphic novel is the stand-alone graphic novel, of which Persepolis is an example. These are stories that are appearing in their entirety for the first time as a graphic novel.
What follows are some recommendations. These are some of the best graphic novels available now. Some are stand-alone, others are collections of ongoing comic series. None of them require any background knowledge, just the love of good stories and amazing artwork. A general warning: some of these recommendations contain strong language, violence, sex, and the desire to crush the patriarchy. Viewer discretion is advised. Also, don’t sue me if your child reads these books, learns the word “fuck”, and wants to stick it to the man.
Like Persepolis, Blankets is an illustrated memoir. It was released to critical acclaim in 2003, being named the Best Comic of the year by Time magazine, as well as being ranked #8 in their list of the Best Ten Comics of the decade. Told in gorgeous black and white artwork, Blankets traces author and artist Craig Thompson’s life growing up in his Evangelical Christian family, his first love and his early adulthood. It explores the ideas of family, spirituality and love, and is deeply personal and exceptionally beautiful.
Thompson has also released Carnet de Voyage, an illustrated travel journal he kept while doing research in Europe and Morocco. This research was used in his next graphic novel Habibi, a lavish, fairy-tale love story that intertwines Christian and Islamic themes and folklore.
Remember that pretty great movie from a couple of years ago with the kid from Arrested Development in it? (And the daughter from Parenthood? And Superman? And Captain Dorito?) Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (the movie) was PRETTY AMAZING, and if you don’t think so, I’m not sure we can be friends. Now, read the six volume graphic novel it was based on!
Scott Pilgrim is a 23 year old slacker who falls super hard for Super Rad Ramona Flowers. But in order to keep dating Ramona, Scott must defeat her Seven Evil Exes in physical combat! He also should probably get a real job, pay some bills, and confront the fact that he’s kind of a dick sometimes. Also: GIANT ROBOTS! NINJAS! VEGAN CASSEROLES!
Writer and artist Bryan Lee O’Malley has re-released all six volumes in hardcover and full color, but whether you read those, or the original black and white versions, you’re in for a funny, witty, action-packed story that is as much about growing up and learning who you are as it is about fighting demon hipsters who shoot fireballs at you. O’Malley has recently followed Scott Pilgrim with Seconds, a single volume graphic novel about Katie, a chef that finds a convenient cosmic loophole that lets her travel back in time and undo certain decisions. That shouldn’t cause any problems at all, right?
Hawkeye is a Marvel Comics superhero, and was portrayed in movie The Avengers (and Thor) by Jeremy Renner. In his own comic series though, we explore what life is like for a superhero when he is off the clock. Turns out, that Clint Barton (Hawkeye’s real name) is a great hero, but a train wreck of an adult. (Kind of like Jeremy Renner!) His protege Kate Bishop, isn’t much better, and together they stumble forward, trying to make the world a safer place, but also just trying to get a damn cup of coffee, ya know?
Watch as Clint pisses off the mob by rescuing a dog they kicked in the street! Marvel as Clint calls in Iron Man to help him set up his VCR! Thrill to see Clint literally get caught with his pants down. AGAIN. And will anyone ever remember exactly which superhero he is?? (“Hawkguy?” “Iron Fist?”) And what about Kate? Will she defeat the evil Madam Masque even after her daddy shuts down her credit card??
With beautiful minimalist art and color and some of the funniest writing in comics (by Matt Fraction), Hawkeye requires no prior comics knowledge to enjoy. But it does help if you really, really like arrows.
The title of “Captain Marvel” has been bandied about by a bunch of different heroes for decades, but in Kelly Sue DeConnick’s series, Captain Marvel is Carol Danvers, a former fighter pilot now gifted with extraordinary, alien superpowers. Captain Marvel is an Avenger, and you will see her join forces with Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and more. But the real reason to love this comic, is that DeConnick’s Carol is a strong, brash, loyal and straight up fun character who isn’t always perfect, but always pushes herself to be go Higher, Further, Faster, More. She also once hit a shark with another shark.
Captain Marvel has also given rise to the Carol Corp, a dedicated, passionate and immensely supportive fan community of which Kelly Sue is closely involved. As writer Gavia Baker-Whitelaw puts it, “Calling yourself an Avengers fan or a Spider-Man fan could mean almost anything, but calling yourself a member of the Carol Corps means something specific: inclusivity, optimism, and a belief that feminism is a truly superheroic cause.”
Much to the delight of Carol Corp members everywhere, Marvel recently announced that Captain Marvel will be getting her own movie in 2018! So now is the perfect time to join the Corp!
Kelly Sue DeConnick also writes Pretty Deadly, a historical fantasy about Death Faced Ginny, the daughter of the Grim Reaper; and Bitch Planet, a sci-fi satire about a space prison where society’s Non Compliant women are sent to fight to the death. Kelly Sue is also married to Matt Fraction (of Hawkeye fame) and it is one of my life’s goals to get invited over to dinner at their house.
A galaxy spanning space opera, Saga tells the tale of Alana and Marko, two lovers from opposite sides of an interstellar war, who are trying to raise their child Hazel. Narrated by Hazel, Saga follows the family as they flee from their governments, disapproving families and bounty hunters. But Saga is more than a gorgeous sci-fi epic, (though it certainly is that) it is an exploration of family, love, trashy romance novels, loyalty and freedom.
With amazing art by Fiona Staples and written by Brian K Vaughan, Saga might be the best story you read all year, but it is rather mature, with violence, sex, and a giant blue cat who can tell if you are lying.
Ms. Marvel: Kamala Khan is a teenager Pakistani Muslim living in New Jersey who just happens to have superpowers and a giant super-powered dog named Lockjaw. She does some pretty cool stuff, like battling junkyard robots and passing Chemistry class!
Fables: Follows the lives of Fairy Tale characters as they live in modern society. Basically Once Upon A Time, but Fables did it first, and better.
The Wicked + The Divine: “Every ninety years, twelve Gods are reincarnated as humans. They are loved. They are hated. And in two years, they are dead.”
Rat Queens: Four bad-ass ladies use their might and magic to kick ass, save their village and get drunk, though not always in that order.
Sex Criminals: A couple realizes that when they have sex, they literally stop time, so naturally they decide to rob banks. I mean, what else would you do?
In addition to all the links above most of these comics are available at your local library, if you want to check some out without investment. And, this selection is but a narrow swatch of a rich tapestry of visual storytelling. There’s historical comics, noir, romance, horror and more. No matter what it is you like to read, or watch, there is probably a comic or graphic novel out there for you!
Read more comics!