So You Want To Get Into Comic Books

So you want to get into comics… but you don’t want to read about the superheroes of the big two companies.  That’s okay because comics can be about so much more than just superheroes!  In fact, there are even more comic book publishers than just Marvel and DC such as Dark Horse, Image, Top Cow, and countless other independent publishers.  The following recommendations are mostly the products of a DC Comics offshoot publisher called Vertigo and represent a range of genres.  They are not, however, the only books in the game.  I also avoided recommending any tie-in comic books but if you are a fan of something like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Star Wars, you could always begin with picking up those comic books as a way to see if you like the medium.  Although I’ve only included a few, I’ll also suggest that if you enjoyed a film or a TV show that was based upon a comic book that you pick up the first volume of that comic and give it a try.

Long story short, comics are great and are about so much more than just the Marvel and DC Superheroes.  There really is a book out there for everyone!  With that said, I’ll just get on with some of my own recommendations.

Watchmen
[AmazonComixology]
This is a very predictable way to start the list but Watchmen isn’t one of the best selling comics of all time for nothing.  Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons did some amazing work when they created this book.  It’s a sort of alternate history where Nixon never resigned and costumed vigilantes began popping up in the 1940s and 1960s.  The story opens with the investigation into the death of one of those costumer heroes, the Comedian.  Rorschach, a former teammate, figures out that someone is trying to kill their entire team and takes it upon himself to warn them and the tale progresses from there.   Not only is the book a critique of the concept of superheroes but it also presents readers with a few ethical dilemmas and you have to ask yourself if the villain is really a villain or perhaps actually the hero of the piece.  It’s certainly a darker comic than some of the others in this article but oh man is it worth it.

In all honesty, Watchmen is probably one of those comics that you will have to read at some point during your comic reading career because it is just that iconic.  I’ll even go so far to say that this book is essential reading even for people who aren’t into comics.  And then you get to walk around for a week afterwards asking yourself, “Who Watches the Watchmen?”.

Fables
[AmazonComixology]
Do you like fairy tales?  Do you like fantasy?  Do you like ABC’s Once Upon A Time?  Do you like a good story?  If you answered yes to any of these then you will like Fables.  Years ago, all of the fairy tale characters were driven out of their land by a fearful enemy referred to only as the Adversary.  Now they live in our world with their very own society right in the middle of new work, trying to not be noticed by the “mundys” as they live their lives in exile.  Bill Willingham draws upon dozens of fairy tales and somehow makes their back stories all fit together while simultaneously bringing them into this new world.  Snow White is a crucial part of the government, Bigby (the Big Bad Wolf) is the Sheriff of Fabletown, and Prince Charming is a pathological liar who is divorced from Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, AND Cinderella.

Overall, it’s a lovely take on the fairy tale genre and Willingham puts his own spin on both the tales and the characters while simultaneously weaving the overarching plot with the Adversary throughout the story.

Y the Last Man
[AmazonComixology]
This is genuinely one of my favorite comics of all time because it’s just such a good concept and story.  It’s written by Brian K Vaughan, the writer of Runaways, and like that book, has a simple premise: What if a mysterious plague instantly killed every mammal with a Y chromosome except for Yorick Brown and his monkey Ampersand?  One might think that being the only guy on earth might be nice but that quickly turns out to NOT be the case.  Alas poor Yorrck.  Of course, everything gets thrown into chaos, societies rapidly crumble, and everyone soon realizes that humanity is doomed for extinction unless a miracle happens.

The book follows Yorick and the quest to make sure he’s not the last man to ever walk the earth.  Obviously, given the premise, this is a book that also features a very strong female cast.  Agent 355 has been assigned by the President to protect Yorick and Dr. Allison Mann is a brilliant geneticist and women both travel with Yorick as they all try to figure out what happened.  Agent 355 might actually be one of my favorite characters that I’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering in literature.  If there’s one thing that BKV excels at, it’s creating beautifully well-rounded characters.  He also tells an excellent story over the sixty issues that was clearly planned out, something that’s crucial for stories like this.  This is absolutely a comic that’s worth your time.

Sandman
[AmazonComixology]
Sandman is one of those books that after 3 years of working at comic store, I still don’t know how to properly describe.  The best place to start is by saying it’s by Neil Gaiman.  That alone should really tell you a lot about the book.  It tells the story of  Dream/Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams.  He and his siblings, known as the Endless, are the anthropormorphic personification of different aspects of life such as Death, Despair, and Destiny.  It’s a wonderful fantasy story and so classically Gaiman.

Sandman’s strengths lie not just in Gaiman’s storytelling but also in his characters.  The protagonist, Dream, is of course a solidly intriguing character and you can’t help but love the fourth story arc where the series and the character really come into their own.  My favorite character, however, is Death.  She’s Dream’s older sister and is a cheerful and down-to-earth sort of person which is, of course, in direct contrast to Dream.  Each of the Endless’s characterizations is fantastic and helps take the story to a whole new level.

The Walking Dead
[AmazonComixology]
I’ll fess up that I haven’t actually gotten around to reading this yet but it is basically the zombie comic book.  It recently hit its 100th issue and continues to still go strong.  If you’re interested in a zombie story then this is obviously the comic for you.  For those of you who don’t know, The Walking Dead is the story of a small group of people struggling to survive in a world taken over by zombies and society has effectively crumbled.

Regardless of whether or not you watch the show, I still think it’s worth reading especially if zombies are your thing.  Plus, the plot lines of both the comic and the television show have definitely not run parallel so you’ll be treated to some surprises along the way regardless if you’ve watched or read the other.

The Losers
[AmazonComixology]
Maybe you caught the film adaptation a few years ago or maybe you missed Chris Evan in his greatest role ever.  Either way, you should definitely check out the comic it was based upon.  The Losers are a Special Forces team that were betrayed by their CIA handler and had to fake their own deaths.  Now, they want revenge and the chance to be able to safely return to their normal lives.  The first arc, which the film was clearly based upon, sets up the rest of the series so nicely.  It’s definitely a modern day action comic that anyone who appreciates the genre can enjoy.

Along with being a solidly written book, The Losers also has some wonderful characters especially Jensen who is easily one of the most entertaining characters I’ve encountered in Vertigo books.  You also can’t help but love characters like Cougar or Aisha and root for this team of misfits to succeed in their mission. 

Hero 9 to 5
[US Distributor - UK Publisher - Comixology]
Remember how I said there are a lot of independent publishers out there?  Hero 9 to 5 is the product of a British publisher called Orang Utan Comics.  Written by Ian Sharman, this book is a delightful satire of superhero comics.  The artwork alone will have those familiar with superhero comics chuckling especially in regards to the double boob window that one of the female characters sports.  It’s a story where being a superhero is no different from holding any other 9 to 5 job.  You just happen to have some powers.   Unfortunately for Jacob Reilly, aka Flame-O, he’s fallen in love with his archenemy.  Uh-oh.  It’s a really fun story set in modern day London and you can’t help but grin at all of the pop culture jokes Sharman works in along with all the self-aware little quips.  If you like satire and humor alongside your superheroes, this is definitely the book for you.

Obviously there are TONS more comic books out there that don’t deal with the main Marvel or DC superheroes but these are just a few personal recommendations.  A few more suggestions that might interest you include Scott Pilgrim vs The World, Hellboy, Sin City, Rex Mundi, Chew, Bone, Irredeemable, Phonogram, Morning Glories, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  If there’s a general sort of story you want to read about, chances are that there is a comic out there just waiting for you.  Good luck and happy comic book reading!

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12 Responses to So You Want To Get Into Comic Books

  1. Ryorin says:

    Great selection! I have a special fondness for Fables. The only problem I see with your choices is that I must now add two more series to my Comics-to-Read list. Curse you!

    I would add Atomic Robo for light-hearted pulp adventurey fun starring an atomic-powered robot created by Tesla. He punches Nazis, goes to Mars, and faces eldritch horrors in multiple time periods. All ages and appealing to all ages. Basically pure fun.

    Also: Girl Genius. A story of adventure, romance, and MAD SCIENCE! Basically, in a steampunk-ish world run by mad scientists, a girl discovers that she's the heir to the maddest family of scientists of all and the most amazing of pulp adventurers. Super fantastic, has won three Hugos, and is available to read as a webcomic. It's good from the start, but it REALLY picks up once they get to Castle Wulfenbach. Again, appeals to all ages, but the creators give it more of a PG-13 rating themselves.

    And there's Fullmetal Alchemist, the dark fantasy adventure series which Faith Erin Hicks sums up here: http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/10/fullmetal-alchemist-is-the-best (Speaking of whom, there are all of Hicks' comics as well.)

    Also, I really like recommending comics.

  2. Lora says:

    Curse you! Now I have to find money to buy and read some of those I haven't already read. ;D

    I also agree with Ryorin: Girl Genius is brilliant; I follow the webcomic, and when I have money to spare I buy the paper versions. I really love the Jägers. (And yes, while it's good from the beginning, it really picks up speed in volume two.)

    I would also like to recommend Looking For Group, also a webcomic, which can be bought in paper form as well. If you're a gamer or just a geek you'll love it. Heck, even my less-geeky-than-me siblings love it. ;)

    Now I need to write down whose recommendations, so I don't forget them...

  3. Ian Sharman says:

    Wow, that's some pretty amazing company Hero: 9 to 5's keeping there! Just wanted to leave a quick note saying that, rather than Amazon, readers in the US are probably better off ordering the book direct from our US distributor here - http://www.orangutancomics.co.uk/ and readers in the UK and internationally can get it direct from the publisher here - http://www.markosia.com/titles/hero-9-to-5/

  4. Brian says:

    I absolutely cannot recommend The Manhattan Projects by Johnathan Hickman enough. It's only 7 issues in, so it's easy to catch up on, and is very different from any superhero fare. There are lots of other great books from that company, Image, out there too. Definitely a brand to check out.

  5. Nancy K says:

    Watchmen is...an experience. A brilliant example of the comic book medium, but also really dense and dark. I recommend starting with something like Fables before trying to tackle Watchmen, especially if you've never read comics before!

    I definitely second Fables, and Atomic Robo and Girl Genius mentioned above. To that I would add Usagi Yojimbo from Dark Horse Comics. Set in the Edo period in Japan (roughly 17th century) Usagi is a ronin - a masterless samurai - who wanders the country, at times a bodyguard, at times a detective, always a fierce warrior and loyal friend. And he's a rabbit. Don't let the anthropomorphized characters fool you, these are fantastic stories of adventure, intrigue, triumph, tragedy, humor and beauty. And you'll learn a thing or two about the history and folklore of feudal Japan!

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  8. Peter de Vries says:

    Certainly have to add Marooned. Great comic comes now in beautifull exclusive version. Get yours too! Check out the details: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tdellaringa/marooned-the-graphic-novel

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