Note: This article originally appeared on GroupThink under my kinja username “fightinginfishnets”. GroupThink is part of the Gawker Media Group.
So, gals and pals, a lot of you read comics, and some very good comics I might add. In fact, many of the comics I see people discussing are some of my favorite comics ever. So, what happens when you’ve read all the comics that you want to read/heard of/Amazon has recommend? Does that mean that you are out of comics to read? That there are no more comics EVER?!
Some you may know that one of my two jobs is at a comic shop. This is a job I’ve been doing since I was 17 (I’m going to be 23 in a couple of months), and there’s one game I’m really good at– the recommendation game. Usually, it’s easy, usually I’ve got one of my go-to books “Fables, Invincible, Runaways, Gotham Central” etc. But then are the days where I get someone who’s response to every one of them is “read it”, but does Fishnets give up on a challenge? No, she does not. Goddammit, I will find you something you haven’t read and you will enjoy it or I will eat my hat.
I actually love those moments, because that’s when I’m able to give that person who thinks they’ve seen it all something special. And, since you of GT are folks of discerning taste, I’d like to share some of those recommendations with you.
Before we begin, I’d like to make a request. If any of these books interest you, please go to your Local Comic Shop and see if you can find it there before ordering it online. LCS’s are the heart of the comic book community and it is the sales from those independently owned stores that keep great books like these from being cancelled. And your support is what keeps the doors of LCS’s open. Yes, it is often cheaper to buy it on Amazon, but take the time to help out a local business. It’s worth paying the full retail price.
So, in no particular order, here are 5 great comics you should totally read.
1. The Books of Magic (written by Neil Gaiman. Art by John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess, and Paul Johnson)
“But Clare,” you say, “we know Neil Gaiman. Even if we haven’t read it, we’ve at least heard of Sandman!”
Well, yes, but have you heard of The Books of Magic? The answer is most likely no, and there’s a reason for this. The Books of Magic was out of print for a very long time. I knew about it, and it still took several years for me to get my hands on a copy (mine has a 2001 print date, the book originally came out in ’90). But now, Vertigo has put out a shiny new printing that is not only a HC, but is oversized to make the pretty art even prettier.
So, what is Books of Magic? Well, there’s this black haired, glasses wearing British kid named Timothy Hunter, who seems to be a whole lot of nothing special (again this came out in 1990 for those calling HP ripoff). But he’s being followed by four very interesting people, some of the most important members of the magical community in DC Comics– The Phantom Stranger, John Constantine, Dr. Occult, and Mister E. Apparently, Timothy has the potential to become the most power adept of magic ever, but he must decide to choose magic. And so he can make this informed choice, they are going to show him the past, present, future of magic in the mortal realm as well as magic in Faerie.
Books of Magic is amazing for a couple of reasons, the first being that it’s a wonderful romp through magic and the role of magic in the DC Universe. Long time comic readers will take pleasure in seeing characters like Zatanna and Doctor Fate, and new readers will take pleasure in meeting them for the first time, the same way Timothy is. The second is the art, each chapter is done by a different artist, which really helps illustrate the concept that Timothy is seeing all different facets of magic. The third is that there’s an owl named Yo-Yo, thus named because he was at first a yo-yo.
2. Nextwave (written by Warren Ellis, art by Stuart Immonen)
If you’d like to go in the completely opposite direction, then I’d recommend NextWave.
NextWave is quite possibly one of the most ridiculous things I have ever read. Seriously, I don’t want to give too much away, but in one scene the villain of the piece screams “HOMICIDE CRABS!” which are pretty much exactly what you think they are.
NextWave was thought up by the brilliant and bizarre Warren Ellis. In a world where superhero comics focus on large, insane story arcs, Mr. Ellis wanted to see what would happen if there was a book where the story arcs never really exceeded two issues. Also, what would happen if the premise for the comic was off-the-wall-batshit-insane? The result is this book. The premise is that a group of D-List Marvel characters (Photon, Elsa Bloodstone, The Captain, Machine Man, and Boom Boom) start working for this agency H.A.T.E. (Highest Anti-Terrorist Effort) only to discover it’s secretly funded by a bunch of terrorists! Oh the cruel irony! They then set off to fight this terrorist organization and hilarity ensues.
As Mr. Ellis said in an interview: “It’s an absolute distillation of the superhero genre. No plot lines, characters, emotions, nothing whatsoever. It’s people posing in the street for no good reason. It is people getting kicked, and then exploding. It is a pure comic book, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. And afterwards, they will explode.” Plus, the Stuart Immonen art is gorgeous, and the first baddie they fight is the dragon Fing Fang Foom wearing a diaper. ‘Nuff said.
3. Love and Capes (art and words by Thom Zahler)
Ah, what can I say about Love and Capes? Do you like super heroes? Do you like lovingly crafted satire? Do you like situation comedies? Do you like brilliant sit-coms like Parks and Rec?
Well, I’ve got the book for you. Simply put, this is the best Superman/Lois Lane story that’s not actually about those characters you’ll ever read (now say that three times fast). The story begins when Abby (bookshop owner by day, kickass lady by always) finds out that the sweet, mild-mannered accountant Mark she’s been dating is The Crusader, the most powerful hero in a world full of powerful heroes. While the world is full of capes and flying and heroics, Love and Capes is at its heart a story about relationships, about learning how to be comfortable with each other, about dealing with exes, about meeting each other’s families.
Mr. Zahler is also blessed with the gift of perfect comedic timing. He brilliantly breaks down all his pages into eight panels, all with the same rhythm- beat, beat, beat, punchline, beat, beat, beat, punchline. It’s like watching a well-crafted sitcom, yes you are aware that there is a formula, but at the same time you could really care less because it is so well done that the formula only serves to enhance the story, rather than detract from it. And like any well-crafted sitcom, he knows when to break away from the formula.
The eight panel breakdown also serves another purpose! Mr. Zahler makes all of his material available free online (although, the online content is staggered, so the print copies always have newer material. For example, the current stuff he’s posting is from the third collection, while four exist). So, please, take the time to check it out. I can’t explain just how dear this book is to me, just read it and see for yourself. Then buy it. Buy all of it.
4. Friends With Boys (art and words by Faith Erin Hicks)
Friends with Boys was one of those books that came completely out of left field for me. I didn’t know much about First Second, the publisher, but this book was given to me during an informational interview with them. I read it, went to work, and immediately sold out every copy we had in the store.
The story is about a girl named Maggie, who after being home-schooled her whole life, is starting at the local high school. All her older brothers did the same thing (home-school and then public high school), and they’re all really excited to see their baby sister grow up. All of them were also taught by their mom, who has just recently walked out on the family. So, with all of this family drama going on Maggie has to go to a new school where there are friends to be made, bullies to be avoided, and boys who make her feel all funny inside. Oh, and did I mention that she’s haunted by a ghost?
As far as hauntings go, the ghost, a nineteenth century widow, is pretty tame. She mostly just shows up, hangs out around Maggie, and looks kinda sad. Maggie’s been seeing her since she was seven (where she has the most adorable reaction ever: “I gots a Mars Bar.”) But still, there’s the question, why is she bothering Maggie? Ms. Hicks’ art, all black and white ink work, is super expressive and sets the perfect tone. This book is charming beyond words, and should be mandatory reading for any pre-teen/teenager. It’s also mandatory reading for you. Go buy a copy.
and last, but not least….
5. Beasts of Burden (written by Evan Dorkin, art by Jill Thompson)
Before we begin, I’d like to make a note. Yes, this is a book about animals solving paranormal mysteries. No, this is not a children’s book. Please, please, please, do not give this to anyone under the age of 14. It is not for them. The first few stories seem pretty simple and cute, but then it gets legitimately scary. The last page of the last one-shot that came out is one of the freakiest things I’ve ever seen in a comic. I still get shivers when I think about it. If anyone would like me to recommend some spooky, age appropriate things, I would be happy too.
Anyway, moving on. Beasts of Burden is incredible. It centers around a group of dogs (and one wonderful cat named Orphan) who live in the neighborhood of Burden Hill, and circumstances bring them together to investigate and solve paranormal mysteries. For some reason, Burden Hill seems to be a hotspot of paranormal activity and the pets always have plenty of work to do. From demons to ghost sheep, they face it all, with the help of the older “Wise Dogs” of the neighborhood of course. Yes, this is indeed Buffy With Animals.
Evan Dorkin finds the perfect character voice for each pet, but the real star of this book is the breathtaking watercolors by Jill Thompson. Those of you who have read Sandman may recognize her from the story arc “Brief Lives” which is great, but I really do think that this is the best work of Jill’s career. When things are cute, they’re squee worthy; when things are funny, they’re hilarious; and when things are scary, your stomach turns and you want to pee your pants.
Beasts of Burden is more of an episodic comic, due to the fact that there has never been a fairly regular series, but is instead often featured in anthology books like Dark Horse Presents. However, the majority of the stories are collected in the Animal Rites hardcover featured above. If your Local Comic Shop has a good back issues section, they also may be able to help you find the recent one-shot “Neighborhood Watch.”
Well, that’s all folks. I hope you enjoyed my list, and learned about some books you may not have heard of before. If anyone is interested/liked this, I’ll happily do more. If not, well, I suppose I’ll just hide under my bed and cry.
Happy reading, everyone! And remember to shop at your Local Comic Shop! Don’t know where that is? Thankfully the handy-dandy comic shop locater does!
Also, the article image is from the hilarious webcomic Our Valued Customers by Mr. Tim.