So, you want to get someone into comics? That’s fair. Nothing wrong with sharing your hobbies with friends and family members. The question is: where do you start? Some of the mainstream books would be good, if a bit dense. As much as we love Spider-Man and Captain America, it might not be ideal to throw someone in the middle of either the Marvel or the DC universe and their decade-spanning, epic yarns.
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While some of the more esoteric works like “The Filth” or “Unwritten” would be wild to show someone, they might be difficult nuts to crack for people who are new to the medium. Luckily, we at CBR have your back! We know that it’s a difficult stream to navigate, but we’ve got the oars and we’re rowing for the rapids! The… fun… rapids? We’ll stop. Anyway, without further delay, we bring you 15 comics to show someone who’s never picked up a comic before!
Locke & Key
Horror comics are not nearly as common as they used to be. Thanks to the introduction of the Comics Code back in the ’50s, there was a dearth of gruesome and unsettling books for many years. Luckily, there has been an increase in horror books over the past decade or so, and “Locke & Key” by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez is one of the better ones.
After their father was killed during a home invasion, the children of Rendell Locke have returned to their family estate at The Keyhouse in Lovecraft, Massachusetts. It is here that they suddenly discover a door that separates the soul from the body and it becomes apparent that the attack on their family was part of a larger plot — one that goes all the way back to the American Revolution.
With a generation-spanning plot and some truly haunting elements, we recommend “Locke & Key” for the friend in your life who’s a big fan of supernatural stories. Stephen King aficionados are sure to get a kick out of this one.
The Manhattan Projects
Alternate history is a fun topic in comics, even if creators tend to go back to the tried-and-true model of “what was going on behind the scenes during World War II.” Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra asks a similar question, but turns it on its head more than just a little.
“The Manhattan Projects” is an ongoing series about Robert Oppenheimer’s homicidal superhuman twin brother Joseph, born with the ability to gain people’s memories and thoughts by eating them. After devouring Robert whole and accepting a job offer to design the atomic bomb, he is recruited by the U.S. military to help develop a slew of other mad science projects wit just as many fictionally bent, but otherwise real historical figures within the scientific community.
This is a story for the friend who enjoys smashing Nazis and mad science. It’s also for your friends who are into World War II history, because it’s packed with references and guest appearances from major scientists, politicians and thinkers from the period.
“Giant Days” comes to us from British webcomic artist John Allison, perhaps best known for his work on “Scary Go Round” and “Bad Machinery,” and Disney story artist Lissa Treiman. This series is a slice-of-life yarn that airs in-between “Bad Machinery” storylines, a book that would eventually be collected and picked up for serialization by BOOM! Studios. It follows three friends struggling with the day-to-day grind of university life, including the naive and flighty Daisy, goth girl Esther and grounded straight-woman Susan.
The book’s charm comes from the way our main trio interact with each other and by throwing these bizarre characters into everyday situations. We learn about the girls’ lives and watch them grow, and it never stops being entertaining. Though Treiman would later be replaced by Max Sarin, the book never lost steam. We at CBR recommend “Giant Days” to any fan of “Archie,” or for those who enjoy the average slice-of-life style of manga, but want something a little more off-kilter.
At 150 issues, Bill Willingham’s “Fables” is perhaps the longest-running series on our list, and believe us when we say it’s earned a spot. The stories take place in Fabletown, a community in New York where figures from mythology, folklore and fairy tales live together. Isolated from the rest of the world, they struggle to live in harmony, but the relations between the nigh-immortal human and non-human Fables (as they’re called) are tense at best, and people struggle to maintain some semblance of harmony. There’s also the matter of the mysterious Adversary, a powerful entity who chased the Fables from their homelands, and who seems hell-bent on finishing the job he started.
Multiple artists have been brought on to bring “Fables” to life, including Mark Buckingham and Lan Medina. With them, Willingham has built a world that is deep and multifaceted, with different arcs putting the Fables in all manner of stories, from crime dramas to tales of all-out war. It’s well worth a look, if you haven’t checked it out already.
“Lumberjanes” comes courtesy of BOOM! Studios’ editor Shannon Watters. After noticing a dearth in girl-centric stories in the comics world, Watters reached out to writers Grace Ellis and Noelle Stevenson and artist Brooke A. Allen to create a miniseries by, for and about young women of all types. The end result was this Eisner Award-nominated gem that has gone on to become a popular ongoing series.
Taking place in an all-girl summer camp, “Lumberjanes” follows five friends struggling to earn their badges and solve the mysteries of the nearby forests, not to mention the fantastical beasts that seem to inhabit them. It’s a story where our heroes grow to understand each other and overcome their differences, thwarting evil along the way. While fans of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Gravity Falls” are sure to get a kick out of this, “Lumberjanes” is all-in-all a fantastic series full of humor, fun characters and exciting story beats. We highly recommend this one for readers of any age. Scout’s honour.
This one’s for the film noir fan in your life. “Criminal” comes to us courtesy of the comic book tag-team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips. These two are known for being a match made in comic heaven, working on such critically-acclaimed work as “The Fade Out” and Wildstorm’s “Sleeper.”
Originally published under Marvel’s Icon imprint before migrating over to Image comics, “Criminal” was a long-running anthology series that took place in the same city but had different arcs that focused on a new set of characters and circumstances. Such stories include tales of a drug kingpin’s rise to power, an ex-soldier going underground to solve a murder case, and a counterfeiter turned comic artist being forced to help someone impersonate an FBI agent.
Fresh sets of characters and new stories with a Dashiell Hammett-esque tone already make “Criminal” a great read, but it’s Philips’ art that really ties this one together. Go show it off, or give it a read yourself if you haven’t already.
The Wicked + The Divine
Got a friend who’s psyched for “American Gods?” Know someone who’s a big mythology or world religions buff? Thankfully for them, we’ve got a comic for their reading pleasure (and yours, of course)!
Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s “The Wicked + The Divine” is an ongoing comic series about gods walking among us. Every 90 years, 12 gods of old possess human bodies and explore the world. Those hosts will die in two years, but that’s plenty of time to gain some followers and do some damage. This time, the gods’ ways of winning over the new generation is to manifest as pop icons. Naturally, there’s controversy afoot once the gods start winning over groupies, drawing ire from critics and sceptics, and attracting the attention of people who think they aren’t dying fast enough.
Both a well-written and well-drawn yarn and a commentary on the modern Pantheon of reality TV stars and musicians, “The Wicked + The Divine” is certainly the narrative dichotomy its title purports it to be. And then some.
Plenty of graphic novels depict the horrors of living under an oppressive regime and the human toll of war. Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” tells us about the hell that was Nazi-occupied Europe in a literary work so grand, it’s required reading in schools. Similarly, Joe Sacco‘s “Palestine” — while being a particularly heavy and somewhat polarizing read — is a great book about life in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Hot on their footsteps comes Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir “Persepolis,” about her life growing up in Iran after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The story follows her childhood days, her relationship with her family, being sent abroad to live and study in Europe, and how different her country looked when she returned as a young adult years later. Not only is the book itself charming and exciting, but it was also adapted into a stellar animated movie by Satrapi and French filmmaker Vincent Paronnaud. We recommend you check out both!
It would be easy to populate this list with almost everything Brian K. Vaughan has touched (or even sneezed at) over his career. From his superhero political drama “Ex Machina” to the narrative gut-punch that is “Pride of Baghdad,” Vaughan’s work is consistently engaging and entertaining. Out of all the ones we can think of, however, we have to pick “Saga” because it demonstrates a mad creativity that captures fans of many genres and is sure to leave all readers wanting more.
“Saga” is an epic science fantasy yarn that follows a number of stories cleverly (and often complexly) interwoven together. It follows the life of a child whose parents’ races are on opposite sides of an intergalactic war; a cyborg dictator with a television for a head; as well as bounty hunters fighting and screwing their way across the cosmos. All this is held together with killer art brought to us by Fiona Staples. Really, all you’d have to do if anyone asks why they should read “Saga” is show them a couple of pages and say “Pretty much this.”
Jeff Lemire is a Canadian giant who’s perhaps best known for his work on “Sweet Tooth,” “Teen Titans: Earth One” and the New 52 “Animal Man” series. Between 2008 and 2011, however, he wrote and drew a series of graphic novels and short stories based within Essex County in Ontario, Canada that gained critical acclaim called — wait for it — “Essex County.”
“Essex County” includes a batch of interconnected stories about life in its titular Canadian hamlet; stories about a young boy’s new friendship with a gas station attendant, an old man struggling to recall his days as a hockey legend, and a nurse with deep connections to the town and its history. The main trilogy includes “Tales from the Farm,” “Ghost Stories” and “The Country Nurse.” Lemire’s sad and beautiful story is a distinctly Canadian one, with each book telling tragic and heartwarming tales of family, farm life and loss in small-town Canada.
Bryan Lee O’Malley is another Canuck that’s been on a few radars since his “Scott Pilgrim” series first hit the shelves, and especially after Edgar Wright adapted it into a cult classic action comedy film. Other noteworthy books of note are the melancholy “Lost at Sea” and his new series “Snotgirl,” a collaborative project between him and Leslie Hung. We also have to give attention to a particularly massive slab of graphic literature that’s turned some heads: “Seconds.”
A down-on-her-luck restaurant owner is in a bad way. She’s struggling to keep her business afloat, pining for a relationship she screwed up and now one of her best servers has been injured badly. When a mysterious house spirit offers her a chance to reset one mistake, she gladly takes it. However, when she finds that there might be more ways to change her fate, things get complicated. With its wild narrative and art style, “Seconds” is a great book about the decisions — and mistakes — that define who we are.
Dark Night: A True Batman Story
Plenty of people know and love the “Batman” animated series from the early ’90s. The creative pedigree behind the program was astounding, and it tugged on a lot of viewers’ heart strings while at the same time injection unforgettable action and one of the truest depictions of the Dark Knight on any screen. There were also some wild stories that happened behind the scenes: this is just one of them.
With the help of illustrator Eduardo Risso, Harley Quinn co-creator Paul Dini brings us “Dark Night: A True Batman Story,” a graphic memoir that talks about Dini’s life and a moment that changed his world forever: a mugging in 1993 so severe that he had to go to the hospital. It’s an ironic and tragic event for anyone, especially someone working on a series about one of the world’s most famous masked crime-fighters. In fact, this event was so traumatic for Dini, he couldn’t work on the show and nearly quit the industry. A surprisingly human story, Dini and Risso’s “Dark Night” is a must read for fans of behind-the-scenes tales or really anyone wanting a harrowing, heartfelt story.
The civil rights movement remains one of the most important in North American history. There are countless stories about the abuse and bigotry proponents of the movement endured during that time, with deep (and deeply troubling) explorations into the zeitgeist of the time and the continuing social justice of an era. One such testament of that tumultuous period comes to us from none other than U.S. Congressman John Lewis.
An autobiographical comic co-written by one of his own advisors, Andrew Aydin, and illustrated by Nate Powell, Lewis’ “March” is a story that goes all the way back to his time on a chicken farm in his youth, following him as he grows up and begins to notice more and more how black people in America have been held back by a prejudiced system and reactionary citizens. Book One features Lewis’ first interactions with Doctor Martin Luther King Jr., why he became committed to nonviolence, and his involvement with the revolutionary group called The Freedom Riders. Honest and powerful, “March” is an ideal book for any politically-charged person in your life, or really anyone interested in exploring the modern human condition.
I Kill Giants
Reality is horrible. We all know this. The heroes don’t always win and at the end of the day, the odds are always stacked against us. Figuring out how to cope with these sad facts is a huge part of life. This debate also makes for great and highly relatable fiction.
Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Niimura’s “I Kill Giants” follows the story of a dorky, unpopular girl who firmly believes that giants are real. She’s training herself, mind and body, for their arrival. Nobody believes her but she knows they’re coming — or is she preparing for something else?
Held together with beautiful visuals and line-work, as well as a tragic but compelling story anyone can enjoy, “I Kill Giants” deserves to be on this list more than anything else. We advise you to check it out — and keep your eyes peeled for the film adaptation Treehouse Pictures is doing.
A Contract With God
Will Eisner is a huge name in the comics world. He’s one of the first cartoonists to work in the comic industry, as well as a talented artist and analyst of the comic format. As such, it wouldn’t be fair if we didn’t top off this list with probably one of his most inspirational works. We’re talking, of course, about “A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories.”
Drawing inspiration from Will Eisner’s own life experiences, “A Contract With God” is a collection of short stories about impoverished Jewish characters living in a New York City tenement building. Each beautifully-illustrated story is more tragic and dramatic than the last and the book tackles incredibly hard themes such as antisemitism, loss of faith, trauma, abuse and desperation. “A Contract With God” is bleak, beautiful and rife with piquant melancholy. It is also striking in its imagery and a testament to the power of the comic medium.
Which comics have you recommended as a gateway into the medium? Let us know in the comments!
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