(Or find the entire series here.)
by Dr. Brad K. Hawley
I would hate to continue writing my essays without recommending a few actual comic books! I would like to recommend two books that are fairly recent; they look back at the beginning of certain superheroes but with a contemporary sensibility, particularly Marvels by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross, a look at the origins of some key characters in the Marvel Universe.
The other major comic book publisher — DC (which stands for Detective Comics) — also has a great book about the past called DC: The New Frontier. This two-volume set by Darwyn Cooke and Dave Stewart features recognizable characters such as Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and Green Lantern. Both Marvels and The New Frontier take us into the past, and the stories are written to make us feel a nostalgia for these characters even if, as is my case, they didn’t shape your childhood. They are a great way to both understand and feel close to what comic book lovers must feel in their affection for these characters. I really can’t recommend enough your purchasing these titles as your first comic books.
If you’d like something other than superheroes, you could start with what is officially considered the first graphic novel since Will Eisner (creator of The Spirit) came up with the term to describe this particular work of his: A Contract With God. It is a serious work dealing with a man who feels betrayed by God.
Criminal: Coward by Ed Brubaker is in the genre of crime fiction and focuses on one particular criminal, the coward of the title. This book, perhaps because I love crime fiction so much, is what made me get into comics for the first time.
Two other excellent and well-respected crime fiction comic books are Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins (made into an excellent movie) and John Wagner’s History of Violence, not nearly as violently graphic or historical as the title suggests: The title put me off for years because, much like Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, it sounded like a bad work of horror fiction that I would never want to read. I was wrong about both books (So read Vonnegut, too!).
If you prefer memoirs, The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames is sad, funny, and touching as are all well-told memoirs. If you want the indie-band version of comics, I highly recommend Brian Wood’s Demo, a collection of stand-alone short stories about growing up.
And finally, if you want a touch of magic realism, a taste of Murakami or Rushdie in your comics, I recommend highly one of the most powerful books (of any type) I’ve ever read: Daytripper by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba. All these books can be picked up and read without any knowledge about any other comics at all. Any of them would make for a great introduction to the world of comics.
Next time: Part 7: Trades, arcs, volumes
Author’s Note: This essay wouldn’t be possible without those people who made great recommendations over the past five years. My life-long friend Andy, in particular, has consistently made excellent recommendations and has been willing to answer my questions on a weekly and all-to-often daily basis (the poor guy is probably beginning to see the downside to texts at this point). I also want to thank those who work in comic book stores for their help: Ken, Zach, Rory, Hart, Roxanne, and Amjad. With them around, who needs Wikipedia?