I firmly believe that, if given the chance, every person can find a comic they will truly enjoy. In America alone, hundreds of new issues are published each month, and they’re not all superhero books either. If you spend a good amount of time browsing around a quality comic shop, you’re going to find all sorts of stories–more than you can keep track of.
Part of finding the comic that’s right for you is to understand that, while a comic might be well-made, it may not interest you. So many comics now are drawn well, but what you should do is try to find the comic that somehow resonates with you. Here’s an example: in my early teen years, I knew I wanted to be some sort of artist, but didn’t know what. Largely for that reason, Green Lantern became my favorite comic. At the time, Green Lantern was Kyle Rayner, who was a graphic designer/painter, who found creative things to do with his ring. So back then at least, Green Lantern was the comic for me. It was a b-list comic at DC, and it usually didn’t get the best artists, and issues of JLA and Batman were definitely flashier, but I could identify with this struggling artist character, and that made a huge difference.
So my point is, you should do yourself a favor and look around until you can find a comic that matches your personality or interests. Here are a few suggestions.
If you’re a fan of fantasy…
I’d highly recommend you take some time to check out Fables by Bill Willingham. There’s a large cast of characters, each one derived from fairy tales. The stories often have philosophical and political undertones, almost like The Song of Ice and Fire (George R. R. Martin is a fan of Fables), without all the constant gore. Fables isn’t a comic that’ll immediately grab you, so you should try to read a handful of issues (a lot of libraries carry this series). If you would prefer a fantasy series that’s fast paced and adventurous, give Bone a shot. It involves Carl Barks‘ style cartoony characters caught up in an epic that sprawls out like The Lord of the Rings. The entire series can be purchased in one large volume for about $40.00. If you want something shorter, check out the prequel to Bone called Rose. It features a warrior-princess fighting a dragon, and is drawn by the popular fantasy artist Charles Vess (who illustrated novels for Charles De Lint). If you want fantasy that’s darker and has more action, check out Mike Mignola’s comics (Hellboy, B.P.R.D., Witchfinder, etc.). Imagine Jack Kirby-meets-H.P. Lovecraft and you’ll have some idea of what Mignola’s comics are. If you’re looking for dark urban fantasy with a strong emphasis on story, make sure to check out Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece Sandman.
If you’re an indie/hipster kind of person…
Daniel Clowes has monopolized the hipster comic scene. He created the iconic Ghost World, which in turn was made into the cult classic starring Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson, finally teaching teenagers everywhere it was cool not to care. Since then, he has taken his art in different directions, from the pretensions of the art world in Art School Confidential (also made into a movie) to the trials of bachelorhood in Mister Wonderful, to the strange joys of maturity in Wilson. Another indie artist/writer you have to check out is Chris Ware, who created Jimmy Corrigan The Smartest Boy on Earth. Seth MacFarlene (creator of Family Guy) admitted on a subconscious level he got the design of Stewie from young Jimmy, but that’s where the comparison ends. The story involves Jimmy growing up, living for the most part a lonely life, until he suddenly gets the chance to reconnect with the father he never knew.
If you enjoy complex postmodern fiction…
If your idea of a good time is puzzling out Thomas Pynchon’s mammoth books or discussing possible solutions to the unanswered sub-plots of Lost or Fringe, then you should make a point to check out The Unwritten, RASL, Air, Planetary, and Promethea. The Unwritten is about a man whose life is mirrored by his father’s Harry Potter-like fantasy novels. As the series goes on, fiction and reality blur in unforeseeable ways. In RASL, a young scientist steals a device that lets him travel through different dimensions, then has to find a way to avert the catastrophes his device could have if it falls into the wrong hands. Air is a fascinating series set around the Middle East where a stewardess stumbles upon a secret occult group whose members include Amelia Earhardt. Planetary is a dark series about a group of paranormal investigators who discover what it would be like if certain sci-fi concepts played out in the real world (in one of the grimmer moments, a woman resembling Wonder Woman travels from her island paradise to America, where she is immediately killed by the CIA as they perceive her as a threat). Promethea is about a young woman living in a big city who finds inexplicably that she’s the newest vessel for an Egyptian goddess. Promethea is made by two of the biggest names in comics: Alan Moore and J. H. Williams III (artist/writer of Batwoman).
If you’re into artsy things…
Europe should be given credit for accepting comics as a real art form much sooner than America did. The masterful comics artist Will Eisner had to petition his whole life for comics to be taken seriously in the US, only to have his ideas come to fruition more abroad (he directly influenced Yoshihiro Tatsumi in Japan). I would say Herge’s Tintin displays an incredible amount of artistry (I don’t know how I feel about the upcoming CGI film). There’s an artist who only goes by the name of Jason who has been creating spare, haunting, and oddly humorous stories involving dogs, cats, and birds (for a good introduction to his work, check out What I Did). If minimalism doesn’t interest you and you want something in the opposite direction, check out Blacksad, featuring images often gorgeously rendered in watercolor (not for minors). I have only recently discovered the work of Jacques Tardi, and I’m completely amazed and fascinated by his comics. Most of his work takes place at different points in history, and his series The Arctic Marauder and The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec are sure to appeal to steampunk fans.
If you’re looking for something that’s light and funny…
There’s no rule that comics can’t be funny. That’s what “comic” means. And yet many contemporary comics are utterly humorless. If you want something to read that will make you laugh and not insist on making you follow long, operatic stories, then here’s a few you might want to look into. Calvin and Hobbes immediately comes to mind, but you’ve probably already heard of this. I recently re-read some Calvin and Hobbes and found there’s no such thing as being too old for this series. A lot of people frown on The Simpsons comics, but I usually enjoy them. While they’re not as funny as the show, I usually find myself laughing out loud while reading them. If you’re looking for something featuring an edgy Far-Side sense of humor, you should give The Perry Bible Fellowship a shot. You can read some of it online for free. If you want something weird and quirky to read, check out Krazy Kat. It’s a long running series from the earlier half of the twentieth century involving a dog who loves a cat that loves a mouse–and the mouse hits the cat with bricks. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with revisiting Charles Schultz’ Peanuts.
Hopefully, this gives you some general idea of what comics might appeal to you. If not, the best thing to do is either browse around your local comic shop or just go to the library, where you can try out different comics without any cost to you.
—-I have recently published a novel titled A Rapturous Occcasion, available on Amazon in paperback and as an ebook. If you want to know more about it, please watch this short video I put together this week. It’s not a comic, although I have been considering trying to make my own comic for some time now. I mainly need to get better at drawing.
If my book A Rapturous Occasion sounds like something you might enjoy reading, please go to the Amazon product page. The paperback is currently priced at $12.00 and the ebook version is just $1.50.
If you’ve read this guide and visited your local comic shop and library and still can’t find the comic right for you, you can write the sort of thing you’re into in the comments box and I might be able to make suggestions.