There is a chance that you have looked at the recent trend in superhero movies based on comic book characters and had two related thoughts. First, that you are not interested in superheroes, and second that you must, therefore, have no interest in comic books. But you’d be wrong about the second part, and I suspect you are lying about the first part. Whether you like superheroes or not, there are comic books out there that you will definitely like.
The thing about comic books is that they are a medium not a genre. Comics, or graphic novels, can be about anything. They are nothing more or less than a marriage of words and pictures in the service of storytelling. While they may be best known as the home of Superman, Batman, and The Avengers comics have housed hard-boiled crime stories, beautiful and thoughtful fiction (firmly grounded worlds where people do not fly), terrifying alternative histories, and deeply moving memoirs. Honestly, there’s not much comic books haven’t dabbled in. So, in case the endlessness of Marvel and DC’s day-saving heroes is not up your alley, here is a short introduction to graphic novels of a few different stripes. In the interest of space I’m going to list a few genres and make a single recommendation (I know, I know, try not to be mad when I leave out your favourite title).
If you haven’t read Maus —well, go read Maus. It’s written and drawn by Art Spiegelman. It won a flippin’ Pulitzer. It doesn’t count, so my other suggestion if you are looking for a memoir to read is Blankets by Craig Thompson. It is drawn in a simple flowing style, and beautifully remembered. Craig Thompson will bring you right into an intimate part of his life, and you will be glad he did. It’s a first love story, and also a growing up story, but mostly it’s just a life story and it has something to say to anyone and everyone.
I don’t know if I can tell you the definitive best graphic novel crime story, but I can give you a definitive excellent option in the form of Criminal written by Ed Brubaker and illustrated by Sean Phillips. The art is nice and linear, in subdued colors that suit the gritty lifestyles of its protagonists. Criminal serializes stories of thieves and murderers in a clear eyed, straightforward way the keeps you holding your breath and flipping the page.
Grim Alternative History
The U.S. is in the middle of a civil war again. This time the line has been drawn right through the island of Manhattan. This is DMZ by Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli, and they are doing their level best to put you face first into life in a war zone. Our protagonist is Matty Roth, a photojournalist who finds himself stranded in the middle of the DMZ. Matty is new to all this, but he’s not exactly doe-eyed and trembling, and he embraces his new place in the chaos with enthusiasm and the determination to be honest. It’s a rough ride, and it puts you firmly in the outrage of the human cost of war.
What would your obituary say if you died today? What about when you were 8? Or 50? Or 21? Welcome to Daytripper, written and illustrated by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba. It’s a story about life (aren’t they all?), with respect and even gratitude for the powers of circumstance. If it doesn’t move you, and stay with you, it is because you are a robot.
Even if my lively prose and charming enthusiasm for my subject matter have already convinced you that there is more to comics than you knew I still want you to go find one of these books and give it a read. There is art here, and love, and fun, and I don’t want you to miss out.