Comics: Making a Start

I’ve been asked by a number of librarians for recommendations for comics for their libraries, so I came up with the following suggestions to help those who stand outside the world of comics with a perplexed frown on their face.

The public perception of comics is dominated by mainstream American superheroes from the likes of DC and Marvel and to a lesser extent, Dark Horse as well as the new acceptance of Japanese Manga comics, so I’ve tried to list as many alternatives as possible – not because these comics are poor quality (although some of them are, some remain among the best ever produced) but because they are overexposed due to all the film and television adaptations and massive marketing and merchandising drives. So much of the following falls outside this category, while at the same time remaining within the graphic, action-packed and populist genres that all comics fans know and love.

Where possible, it would be best to choose comics that are sold as complete stories, to make them more library-friendly and to offer a more sustained read – particularly to boy readers who aren’t very well catered for by books for their age groups. Book-sized comics with a sustained storyline are often referred to as ‘graphic novels’, but there’s much disagreement about what is or isn’t a graphic novel and most long stories start out as a series of comics anyway. The major comics companies are getting into the habit of sticking any batch of stories together to make up a big volume, but they often don’t work as a stand-alone book. Some great comics series run for a limited number of issues and are then sold in collected volumes. There can be a disadvantage here in that you don’t get a complete story in one book, and important background information can be missing from the one book you get. For series like this, you often need to invest in the whole lot, or at least start with the first ones, to avoid a very disgruntled reader. That said, I discovered quite a few of these titles halfway through their runs and it didn’t do me any harm. All the collections here are marked as such, but most of the individual books within the series represent complete stories. If in doubt, a good comics shop can give you advice on what’s best to buy.

I’m also not including the funnies, like Calvin & Hobbes, Peanuts, Dilbert or any number of other must-reads, simply because they’re pretty well-known by people outside the comics market. And do I really need to mention Asterix?

For young or reluctant readers, it might be an idea to introduce them to comics adapted from films; anything from The Incredibles to Bram Stoker’s Dracula – and of course the flood of Star Wars publications – or television series such as Doctor Who, 24, CSI, Star Trek or X Files. Often turned out by lesser-known writers and artists, the fact that they are recognizable from other media could help attract these kinds of readers. While they might sometimes be less ‘worthy’ than other titles, they are normally well-produced and will definitely contain a complete story. It’s also possible to get many adaptations from novels, ranging from Moby Dick to the Discworld novels.

The following are books I think represent some of the best in the comics market and offer a good place to start for anyone just getting into comics. Though it’s not an objective list, most of these titles are well-known, popular and should be easily available – many have been made into films. Information on any of these titles can be found on the web; Wikipedia in particular is very useful.

I’m not going to comment on any content that might be considered controversial or suggest what age groups they might be suitable for – that’s for other people to argue over – although most of these captured my interest in my early teens and upwards. To find out the most up-to-date and popular mainstream titles, the people in comics shops are the best people to ask.

Many of the creators of the following books have huge numbers of other quality titles available.

  • ABC Warriors – Pat Mills and Various Artists (collection)
  • Akira – Katsuhiro Otomo (collection)
  • Animal Man: The Origin Of The Species – Grant Morrison and Various Artists
  • Appleseed – Masamune Shirow (collection)
  • Arkham Asylum – Grant Morrison and Dave McKean
  • Artemis Fowl – Eoin Colfer, adapted by Andrew Donkin, Giovanni Rigano and Paolo Lamanna
  • Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident – Eoin Colfer, adapted by Andrew Donkin
  • Batman: The Killing Joke – Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – Frank Miller
  • The Big Book of Urban Legends – Collection of one-page stories by Various Writers/Artists (there is a range of these books in different categories – perfect for short attention spans)
  • Blueberry – Jean-Michel Charlier and Jean “Möbius” Giraud (collection: originally published in French, but there should be plenty of English versions available)
  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula – Bram Stoker, adapted by Roy Thomas, Mike Mignola and John Nyberg
  • Cerebus – Dave Sim (collection)
  • Charley’s War – Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun (collection)
  • A Contract With God And Other Stories – Will Eisner
  • Criminal: Coward – Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (first in a series of one-of stories)
  • Daredevil – Any of the Frank Miller collected editions
  • Death: The High Cost of Living – Neil Gaiman and Various Artists
  • The Dormant Beast – Eriki Bilal
  • D.R. And Quinch – Alan Moore and Alan Davis (collection – but not a big one)
  • Elektra: Assassin – Frank Miller and Bill Sienkewics
  • Enigma – Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo
  • Fables – Bill Willingham and various artists (collection)
  • The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers – Gilbert Shelton (collection)
  • From Hell – Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell
  • Havok & Wolverine: Meltdown Walter Simonson, Louise Simonson, Jon J Muth and Kent Williams
  • Hellblazer – Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon and Glenn Fabry (collection)
  • Hellboy – Mike Mignola (collection, but most are stand-alone stories)
  • H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells, adapted by Ian Edginton and D’Israeli
  • Kingdom Come – Mark Waid and Alex Ross (though there are a lot of DC superhero characters to keep track of in this one)
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill (collection, but each one is a stand-alone story: science fiction set in the nineteenth century using classic contemporary literary characters)
  • The Light And Darkness War – Tom Veitch And Cam Kennedy
  • Locke & Key – Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodrigue
  • Lone Wolf And Cub – Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima (collection)
  • Love & Rockets – Jaime and Gilbert Hernandes (collection
  • Marshall Law – Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill (a number of books, each with complete stories)
  • Marvels – Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross (a lot of Marvel characters to keep track of)
  • Maus – Art Spiegelman (only comic ever to win the Pulitzer)
  • Nemesis The Warlock – Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill (collection)
  • New Statesmen – John Smith and Jim Baikie
  • 100 Bullets – Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso (collection, but the early ones are in the form of stand-alone short stories)
  • The Originals – Dave Gibbons
  • Palestine – Joe Sacco
  • Preacher – Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon and Glenn Fabry (collection)
  • Road To Perdition – Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Raynor
  • Sandman – Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean and Various Artists (collection)
  • The Savage – David Almond and Dave McKean (part prose and part comic)
  • Sin City – Frank Miller (collection, but each one is a stand-alone story)
  • Skim – Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
  • Sláine: The Horned God Vols 1-3 – Pat Mills and Simon Bisley (Long-running series illustrated by various artists, heavily influenced by Irish legends such as Cuchulainn. All of them are good, but these three books are among the best.)
  • The Spirit – Will Eisner (collection)
  • Swamp Thing – Any of the Alan Moore collected editions
  • Tank Girl – Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett (collection)
  • V For Vendetta – Alan Moore and David Lloyd
  • Watchmen – Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (only comic ever to win a Hugo Award)
  • When The Wind Blows – Raymond Briggs
  • The Best of Wolverine: Book 1 – Chris Claremont and Frank Miller
  • Y: The Last Man – Brian K. Vaughn, Pia Guerra and Jose Marzan Jnr
  • Zenith – Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell (collection)

I was a big fan of 2000AD back in the late eighties/early nineties. They had the best mix of straightforward action stories and thrillers with a decent helping of more thoughtful stuff too. All of their most popular characters’ stories have been collected into books. Some I’ve already mentioned here, but others include Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, Chopper, Judge Anderson, The V.C.s, Halo Jones, Strontium Dog and Tyranny Rex. They’re all worth checking out.

Right, that should be enough to get anyone started but there are so many more good books out there begging to be read. Hope this has been useful and that your readers get as much out of these books as I have.

All the best,
Oisín McGann.