Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pages to Panels: A Bookish Guide to Getting into Comics (1)

Comics are a hard medium to break into. Unless you're purely sticking with the literary graphic novels you have 60 years of convoluted, conflicting and confusing story lines to try and get your head around. There are a tonne of great sites online that can help you work out which story line to start with for certain superheroes or which to avoid, but since everyone who reads this blog is a book reader first and foremost I thought I'd write a bit of an introductory post for people wanting to break into the comic world.

There are the obvious choices that I'm sure most of your have already read or at least heard about. Maus by Art Spiegelman, From Hell by Alan Moore, Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. They're typically one off editions (or two in the case of Maus) and heavy on the literary angle. They're all brilliant and you should definitely read them *stares menacingly until you all add them to you Goodreads lists*. But what if you're thinking you want something a little more serial in nature? Something that tackles a particular genre or story line or character arc over a much longer time frame. Well aren't you a lucky duck? I'm here to do exactly that. And to make it even easier, rather than just list a bunch of awesome comics (I mean, you could just check out my review tab for that) I'm going to give you a neat little pathway to wander down, complete with shonky paint graphics.

I'm just starting with 5 recommendations today, but if people seem to enjoy these I'll plan out a few more posts*. And maybe work out a way to make these graphics look less pathetic. These are a mix of new and old comic series, but they're also all fairly straight forward. You're not likely to have any cross-over nightmares to deal with here, thank god.


 1. Rat Queens - Kurtis J. Wiebe, Roc Upchurch (8 issues, ongoing)

If you like the comedic fantasy stylings of Terry Pratchett and Christopher Moore you will probably adore Rat Queens. Rat Queens has the style of D&D fantasy world elements and characters you'd expect to find in a Discworld novel and it's fantastically coupled with the biting humour of both Moore and Pratchett. It's foul-mouthed and rough, but the camaraderie between the four female protagonists is the real motivator in the story.

Similar comics you might also like: Saga (Brian K. Vaughan), Chew (John Layman)

2. Transmetropolitan - Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson (10 volumes, completed)

Big fan of Hunter S. Thompson and his outlaw breed of gonzo journalism? Then you should absolutely follow Spider Jerusalem's antics in Transmetropolitan - since he's inspired by the gun-wielding, drug-taking, truth-talkin' HST. The books take place in a futuristic world where morals, ethics and anything resembling self respect has been traded in for cold hard cash. The humour is dark and the social criticism biting. This was actually my very first graphic novel series and (fun fact) the way Tom wheedled his way into my heart when he saw me in a bar wearing a HST t-shirt ("have you heard of the comic Transmetro - I have the whole series if you want to borrow it").

Similar comics you might also like:  Preacher (Garth Ennis), Watchmen (Alan Moore)

3. Ms Marvel - G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona (9 issues, ongoing)

Ms Marvel is a pretty big deal for a number of reasons. It's the first (or close to) comic to represent both a muslim and female protagonist in an incredibly progressive and positive way. It manages to take the stress of suddenly becoming a superhero and make it incredibly relatable. Khamala Khan deals with the issues every teenager deals with - doing her homework, abiding by her parents rules, conflicting with friends and school bullies, doubting with your self-worth and appearance every other minute - but it does it with the added lenses of being a Pakistani-American and a superhero. There are probably a half dozen YA novels I could have listed here, but one of the best qualities of Ms Marvel is how fresh and funny the dialogue is. Lots of pop culture references and self-deprecating humour, with  moments of startling reality thrown in to add weight. If you're a fan of Allie Brosh's ability to blend serious discussions on depression with ridiculous dog stories in Hyperbole and a Half and/or love Cline's pop culture rich Ready Player One then you should hunt this series down.

Similar comics you might also like:  The Runaways (Brian K. Vaughan/Joss Whedon), Lumberjanes (Noelle Stephenson), She-Hulk (Charles Soule)

4. Locke and Key - Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez (6 volumes, completed)

If I am going to recommend one comic it'll probably be Locke and Key. Like NOS4R2 and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Locke and Key blends horror and fantasy elements with stories of family and loss. They're fun and exciting and a teeny bit tense but they also pack a wallop of an emotional punch that hits you when you aren't expecting it. A horrific coming-of-age story, if you will.

Similar comics you might also like:  The Cape (Jason Ciaramella), Pretty Deadly (Kelly Sue DeConnick)

5. Fables - Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham (145 issues, ongoing)

Okay, so throwing in Once Upon a Time is a bit of a cheat since it's TV but it did begin as an adaptation of Fables, so cram it. Bookwise though, I see a lot of similarities to the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde. While Thursday is an outsider coming into the literary world, Fables is told entirely from the perspective of the displaced fairytale characters. Both work hard to infuse clever nods and hints to their literary origins and are broad mystery series. They also have a lot of heart and a good idea at its core but didn't really come out of the gate at full speed. Which is a nicer way to say that I was pretty meh when I first read each of them, but ended up loving a lot of it in later volumes.

Similar comics you might also like: The League of Extraordinary Gentleman (Alan Moore), Kill Shakespeare (Conor McCreery), Unwritten (Mike Carey)


* If people have specific genres or styles of books they'd like to find a comic partner for let me know in the comments and I'll see what I can do!


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