In Which I Recommend Comics

It is no great secret that I am an enormous comics nerd. (Or maybe it is? WHO KNOWS.) I was recently asked: if I could recommend any comics to someone to get them started, what would I recommend? The big bookstores now stock full walls of comic books next to the Impossible Walls of Manga with no introduction what to buy or what to start. Does one buy Batman? Avengers? Daredevil? Where does one start?

In considering the question at hand, I swiftly removed anything that required 30 years of comics of multiple different lines to figure out what is going on in today’s issues. It’s hard to recommend, for example, “Grant Morrison’s JLA run” without having background in JLA. I dropped anything with excessive T&A, ridiculous violence, or anything requiring a certain level of pre-assumed nerdiness. I also removed any comics like Planetary which require an understanding of the comics it references. Then I peered at my comics shelf.

My Quick Cheat Sheet:

1. Bill Willingham’s Fables. While some are not thrilled with the overarching metaplot that develops in the later collections of Fables, the original collection, Legends in Exile, is accessible, well-written, well-drawn and requires knowledge only of the standard children’s fairy tales. Some disagree, but Fables has won approximately 15 billion Eisner Awards.*  My #1 pick for a starter comic line.

2. Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. I adore Hellboy. Everyone I have ever recommended Hellboy to has also loved Hellboy. It is physically impossible not to adore Hellboy. Sure, it has violence, but the stories are some of the best weird tales ever to appear in comic book form. Read Hellboy.

3. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Sandman is the old standby, the original gateway drug. When comics went down the dark hole of T&A and ultraviolence in the 90s, the DC imprint Vertigo brought intelligence back to comics storytelling with Sandman. Start with Preludes and Nocturnes. It’s what got me back into comics after a many year hiatus…

4. David Peterson’s Mouse Guard. Only Series Fall 1152 collection is out in paperback. Winter 1152 is still hardcover. Regardless, Mouse Guard is wonderful — beautifully illustrated with a wonderfully written story about the perils of mouse Paladins defending their homes against mouse uprising. If you get anything off this list, it should be Mouse Guard. Go check out the website here and give David Peterson all your money to encourage him to make more.

5. Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim. Yes, it now has a movie and a video game coming out. And I avoided it for years because it was ‘too hip’ but this was a terrible horrible mistake. Scott Pilgrim is indeed about this guy who meets his true love and must fight her seven evil exs. In manga-style. With kung-fu and sword fights. And sound effects. With the power of RAWK. One of the funniest comics ever written.  Sheer brilliance in comic form.

6. Brian Michael Bendis’s Powers. In a world where people with super powers that are relatively common, two cops follow up on “Powers homicides.” One of the cops used to be a super-hero but now he lost all his powers — although he still have deep roots in the “Powers” community. Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl? is one of my favorite comic book stories of all time. It’s beautiful film noir and cop procedural set in a super power universe.

7. Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde and Palestine from Fantagraphics. This is probably not to everyone’s taste but Joe Sacco blends embedded journalism on the ground with his art to make very compelling graphic novels. His Footnotes in Gaza is up for (yet another) Eisner this year. I find his work fascinating and combining on the ground political reporting + drawn pictures gives the tales emotional impact. Also, Fantagraphics offers Love and Rockets, often popular with the “I love comics but not superhero comics” set**. Unfortunately, not often stocked at the big box stores.

8. Alan Moore’s From Hell. Yeah, it’s a classic but of all of Alan Moore’s work, From Hell stands out as my favorite.*** It is a complete novel, it’s about Jack the Ripper, it’s fascinating and extremely well-written with an enormous bibliography.

9. Garth Ennis’s Preacher. It has been re-released into bigger compilations!**** The story of a Preacher whose congregation was murdered by a supernatural creature named Genesis and now crosses the United States to (literally) find God. Also from the 90s but one of the best of the 90s. Has a beginning, a middle and an ending. A complete story.

10. Brian Vaughan’s Y the Last Man. Yorick’s story about a disease that wipes out all men in the world except him and his cross-US journey to get on a boat and get to Australia to find his girlfriend is clinging tenaciously to my list. It’s a great road-trip comic books which includes Another fine Eisner winner and another one with a start, middle and ending.

There’s other stuff that I really enjoy but I could write this post for the next year and never get through them all. I mean, there’s no JMS Rising Stars on this list.***** Nor is Walking Dead. Nor some of the indie stuff I love like Two-Fisted Science. So there’s 10 series — enough to empty out any bank account and fill a shelf with dead trees covered in print.

I was going to limit this list to 5 but then I got typing… sad.

* In 2008, it was 30 + a Hugo. It is nominated this year again.
** I have only read small amounts of L&R so I cannot recommend it.
*** Watchmen is great but it needs so much context to ‘get’ it that it instantly fails off my ‘easy to recommend’ list. I don’t love V for Vendetta. I don’t love Swamp Thing as much as From Hell.
**** So on my birthday list.
***** I have heard your criticism of putting Y the Last Man above Rising Stars and have moved on. It was a fight which one got the last spot.

ComiXology

The big question I have gotten all day is:

“How are comics on the iPad?”

It’s no big secret that I am a comics nerd. I do prefer my comics to be indie but comics are comics and I will go read X-Men or Justice Leage with the best of them. Knowing comics on demand were on the iPad, I was chomping at the bit to check it out. At first I thought only the Marvel app was available which delivers only Marvel comics, but there’s an app called comiXology, which the Marvel app is built on, which delivers indies and creator-owned and small-house and Dark Horse and Image and a fair number of Manga publishers if you’re into Manga. I’m not, but to each his or her own and you can read Manga off the iPad.

Tonight I have read issues of Walking Dead (excellent), Action Philosophers (interesting) and Mark Millar’s Wanted (excellent). The bastards give away the first issue for free and then dangle the rest of the series for pay.

Dear god, I need to delete my iTunes account because I am so doomed.

Okay, so. First off: search and sort by writer, publisher, genre, title. I cannot find any Grant Morrison (hmm) but I can find some Bendis on the two apps. That’s good. Several excellent series are available in their totality.

Second: reading comics on the iPad is a religious experience. The screens are crisp and bright and easy to read. The colors are deep and true. You can click to zoom in on the panels. Reading feels comfortable and natural. It is a flick of the finger to change the page. You can buy issues or entire graphic novel collections.

Third: Buying means clicking on the big happy BUY NOW button. It charges my credit card and downloads the file and puts it in an on-iPad library. Older comics are $0.99, newer are $1.99 and most collections are $9.99. They’re cheaper than the print versions.

I hope someone sends in a rescue team because I might call in tomorrow with ebola. Also, only partial libraries are available so far but this will get better, fast. Pretty soon huge runs of comic series will be available to click, download, and read on demand in bright, easy to read color.

I give comics on the iPad two thumbs and a toe up.

Girl Genius

Hang head in shame.

I finished reading the back archives of Girl Genius. All 1131 strips. I consumed them like some sort of horribly junky needing another fix and hitting that NEXT button over and over. Even worse, I love the Jagermonsters because any plan where you lose your hat is a bad plan.

I feel like I have joined some sort of evil cult. But there it is now, in my feedreader with the rest of my weekly comic strips, 3 times a week.

Watchmen

I have always liked the Watchmen graphic novel, although I have to confess that of all of Alan Moore’s work, From Hell was always my favorite. Or maybe the Green Lantern short story, “Mogo Does Not Socialize.”

Watchmen is essentially unfilmable in its complete form unless it has a 13-part HBO mini-series. It has too much stuff. And I don’t mean just the pirate story that was left on the cutting room floor: extended character backgrounds, extended backgrounds of characters within characters, sub-characters with full backgrounds, side stories, everything that makes Watchmen.

Zach Snyder did, what I felt, was the best possible job he could have with the material in two and a half hours — and it is a full two and a half hours. He stripped Watchmen down to the main story, he gave as much background as he could, and he filmed the essential panels. Jackie Earle Haley is awesome as Rorschach. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a great Comedian. The opening credit sequence does a great job of summing up huge swaths of the graphic novel. It is a distilled Watchmen. It is a more faithful adaptation than his adaptation of the 300 simply because he didn’t need to pad out the material with extra story. It preserved dialogue. It even preserved the pacing and scene transitions.

And being a big comic nerd I am, I greatly enjoyed the very faithful adaptation, and I understand there is only so much Watchmen one can cram into the two and a half hour time frame. I will buy the three and a half hour version with all the cut parts put back in and the reams of director’s commentary.