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Comics aren’t just for ten-year-old boys anymore. Which comics should you be reading? There are thousands of series to choose from, so where’s a beginner to start?
That’s where I come in. I’m the resident comic book guy, and that’s because I’ve lived the entire cycle from fan to comics journalist to published pro comic book writer. This isn’t an exhaustive list by the stretch of anyone’s imagination, but it might provide some hints of where you might like to start. I don’t list every creative contributor to every volume mentioned, but that in no way diminishes the contributions of the writers, artists, letterers, colorists, and editors that work hard every day to entertain their readers.
1. If You Like Marvel Movies
You might have 10 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but you’ve got about 79 years of Marvel comics. A few gems that might pique the interest of the Marvel moviegoer include Captain America: The Winter Soldier by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting, the Hawkeye solo series by Matt Fraction and David Aja, any Thor book written by Jason Aaron, the various volumes of Guardians of the Galaxy written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze, and the original Infinity Gauntlet by Jim Starlin, George Perez, and Ron Lim.
2. If You Like the Justice League
So you grew up with the Super Friends or Justice League on TV and you love the Big Guns of the DC Universe. You’re in luck: You have some of the most acclaimed comics ever ahead of you. Check out 1986’s The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson, which set the stage for the Batman of the movies. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman captures the essence of the Man of Steel. The various volumes of Wonder Woman by George Perez give you some classic Diana stories. And Grant Morrison’s masterful run on JLA with Howard Porter and others redefined the group for the modern audience.
3. If You Like Biographies/Autobiographies
Comics are not just super-heroes. Super-heroes are the “cop show” of comics; there are a lot of them out in there in a lot of flavors, but they aren’t the only thing to watch. In fact, a number of incredible biographies exist in comic form. One of those is The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story by Vivek J. Tiwary, Andrew C. Robinson, and Kyle Baker; it tells the story of the Fab Four’s visionary but doomed manager. A towering achievement in comics bio (and autobio) is Top Shelf’s March trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. The John Lewis in question is indeed the legendary congressman that fought for civil rights, and his story is rendered wonderfully by the sublime art of Powell. One more I can’t pass up is Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (also known as creator of the Bechdel test). With unflinching honesty, Bechdel deals with family secrets, including her own. And there’s also Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Craig Thompson’s Blankets and Art Spiegelman’s Maus . . . okay, time to move on.
4. If You Like The Lord Of The Rings, But Wish It Were Funnier
Believe me, there’s a metric ton of awesome fantasy comics out there, but I keep coming back to Bone. Jeff Smith’s magnum opus is available in one complete volume. In it, three cousins that look like funny comic strip characters stumble in a high fantasy valley on the verge of war. Becoming embroiled in events both hilarious (The Great Cow Race) and terrifying (the Lord of the Locusts may haunt your dreams), the cousins try to help their new friends while searching for a way back home. A sheer delight from cover to cover, Bone has won 10 Eisner Awards and is beloved around the world. Don’t miss it.
5. If You Like Teenage Heroes
While there’s no shortage of teen heroes in comics, I’m going to focus a little bit on the Big Two of Marvel and DC. In recent years, Marvel’s had a bit of a teen hero renaissance with G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel at the forefront. Ms. Marvel is Kamala Khan, a Muslim Pakistani-American teen with shapeshifting powers and an encyclopedic knowledge of super-heroes. Though only introduced five years ago, Kamala has made her way into animation, action figures, and the comic book ranks of The Avengers. She’s also a member of teen team The Champions, which gathers a number of Marvel’s youth movement in one book. Kamala also shares the Marvel Rising animated series with The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, a ridiculous-heroine with a thoroughly hilarious series (for you Netflix fans, she’s Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’s babysitter).
On the DC side, the terrific Super Sons books follow Superboy (Jonathan Kent, son of Clark and Lois) and Robin (Damian Wayne, son of Bruce and his enemy Talia ah Ghul). As written by Peter J. Tomasi, every issue contains at least one laugh-out-loud moment centering on the grudging friendship between the relentlessly upbeat Superboy and the comically dour Robin. Robin is also featured in DC’s young hero hang-out, Teen Titans.
6. If You Like Mysteries
There are enough mystery series and original graph novels in comics for lit sites to run features on the top 10, or 25, or 50 mystery comics. I’ll hat-tip three. Torso, published at Image Comics by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Andreyko, is a fictionalized account of the true story of the hunt of the Cleveland Torso Murderer of the 1930s by legendary lawman Eliot Ness. Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale gives us an early case from Batman’s career as he hunts a holiday-themed serial killer for a calendar year. The last one, My Favorite Thing is Monsters, published by Fantagraphics, has a story behind it that’s almost more remarkable than the book itself. After suffering from paralysis brought on by West Nile virus, writer and artist Emil Ferris fought her way back to recovery while working on her 700-page mystery. It won three Eisner Awards last year and is widely considered the best graphic novel of 2017.
7. If You Like Shakespeare, Gothic Culture, and General Amazement:
The Sandman series, by writer Neil Gaiman and a murderer’s row of incredibly talents artists, remains one of the great achievements in comics. After a period of captivity, Morpheus, the king of dreams, tries to reunite with his fractured family, including his loveable sister Death. A high point in fantasy, the series defied conventions and came to stand for “literary comics” in the best possible sense. Gaiman, of course, has continued to produce stellar works in comics, prose, and other media (American Gods, anyone?).
8. If You’re Anywhere from K-12
If you don’t know Raina Telgemeier, your kids or grandkids do. A one-woman brand that means great, heartfelt comics, Telgemeier built up a solid resume of work before breaking out with the autobiographical Smile in 2010; it stayed on The New York Times bestseller list for more than 220 weeks. Each subsequent release (Drama, Sisters, and Ghosts) has only expanded her popularity and demonstrated her unique sensitivity to the real issues affecting young people. To borrow another publishing phrase, she’s a wonder.
9. If You Like It Deconstructed
Alan Moore got big in super-hero comics, then he wanted to burn it all down. Seen by many as the author laureate of the comics form, Moore rebuilt DC’s Swamp Thing into a work of post-modern horror before turning his attention to the entire super-hero genre. Watchmen, with Dave Gibbons, remains a perennial bestseller and one of the things that pushed super-stories into the darkness in 1986. Since then, his vast repertoire of books like V for Vendetta, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and more continue to showcase his stunning attention to detail and his mastery of a medium that he keeps pushing toward maturity.
10. If You Like to Be Scared
Well, you’re in luck. Horror abounds in comics. Easily the bestselling horror series of the last decade is The Walking Dead, basis for the TV show with a massive fanbase; if you follow Rick, Michonne, and Negan, it all started here. I also heartily endorse Uzumaki by Japanese horror manga legend Junji Ito; a masterwork of paranoia and Cronenbergian “body horror,” it’s an incredible unsettling read. And if you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned Archie yet, that’s because I’ve been saving it. In the past few years, Archie Comics have totally reinvented themselves with a variety of series that take the characters into startling new directions. Two of the best are the horror titles Afterlife with Archie and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, both written by Archie Comics Chief Creative Officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (who also developed, executive produces, and writes for the Archie-derived TV series Riverdale).
Get out to your own local comic shop (or local library; graphic novel sections are huge there) and find what you like. And feel free to make your own recommendations in the comments below!