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November 30, 2007

Comics without superheroes
Posted by Avram Grumer at 05:35 PM * 78 comments

In the Watchmen movie thread, there’s been some discussion of what other comics are worth reading, aside from stuff Alan Moore wrote twenty years ago. Most of what people have been bringing up are just the more respectable superhero comics, and while I occasionally like me a good story about underwear perverts clocking each other in the chops, there’s a lot more out there on the shelves of a good comics shop. (And if you’re in NYC and looking for a good comics shop, check out this Google Map.) Here’s some stuff you may not have heard of:

Ongoing series

by Carla Speed McNeil
self-published through Lightspeed Press

Finder is my pick for best ongoing comic series currently being published. It’s a black-and-white science fiction series centered on Jaeger Ayers, a charming wanderer, and the various people whose lives he wanders into. Jaeger himself is a half-breed member of a nomadic low-tech culture, a sin-eater, a member of a secret society of trackers, and has some biological quirks that have yet to be explained. The world he travels through is set in the distant future, dotted with arcologies, ruled by genetically-idealized clans, and full of weird cultures. The people are utterly convincing. McNeil not only knows what makes people tick, but can bring it out in dialog, posture, and facial expression.

Finder is published two pages a week as a free webcomic, and then collected into paperback volumes. I find it works much better in big batches, so I ignore the webcomic.

edited by Kazu Kibuishi
Flight’s an ongoing series, not a self-contained book. But that’s OK, because it’s an anthology, and each story within is self-contained. The fourth volume just came out, and the earlier ones are in print pretty continuously. It’s a mixed bag, like all anthologies, but consistently has an above-average proportion of beautifully illustrated work.

Scott Pilgrim
by Brian Lee O’Malley
published by Oni Press

Canadian slacker Scott Pilgrim isn’t very bright, but he’s good at fighting. Lucky for him, because his new girlfriend (a delivery girl who skates through a subspace shortcut in Scott’s subconscious) has a Legion of Evil Ex-Boyfriends who Scott has to fight. This combination — a bohemian slacker pals around with his friends and sometimes turns into a video-game character — combines tropes of the American indie comics scene and Japanese manga, and O’Malley’s artwork does the same, with the simple, wide-eyed character designs you expect from manga, but the rough linework you often see in indie comics.

by Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli
published by Vertigo

When a chunk of the US decides to secede from the union, the dividing line in the new civil war runs right through New York City. The island of Manhattan becomes a demilitarized zone, which we see through the eyes of a young photojournalist.


by Dylan Horrocks
published by Black Eye Books

Imagine a small New Zealand town where everybody’s into comics. That’s Hicksville. There are several interwoven stories here, about a successful comics creator who everyone hates but nobody will say why, and a woman who’s been translating a theory about comics and maps by a cartoonist from a fictional eastern European country, and a comic-within-the-comic supposedly sent to Horrocks by an unknown correspondent.

Horrocks’s art is a bit scratchy and simplistic, not the polished work you see in mainstream comics. But he has a good sense of layout, and he’s deeply interested in what makes comics work as a medium, as well as in the history of the form. He’s also creating a sequel, Atlas, set in that eastern European country, that’s seen two issues in six years.

Pulpatoon Pilgrimage
by Joel Priddy
published by Adhouse Books

Not only haven’t you heard of this one, you probably won’t be able to find it. Though I did see a few copies at this year’s MoCCA festival. This small yellow book is (I think) Priddy’s first work in comics, and it’s amazingly polished, with considerable amounts of formal play at the illustrative level. It’s about a trio of pilgrims — a minotaur, a plant man, and a robot (who’s possibly a fish) — on a quest, and their dreams and backstories.

American Born Chinese
by Gene Yang
published by First Second Books

OK, you might have heard of this one, since it was a National Book Award finalist last year. It adapts Monkey’s Journey to the West to a modern, three-layered story about racism and self-hatred. Yang’s artwork is clean and engaging.

Same Difference and Other Stories
by Derek Kirk Kim
published by Top Shelf Productions

A collection of stories — mostly slice-of-life, with some broad comedy — informed by Kim’s experiences as a Korean-American. Kim has a beautiful clear line style. The title story in this collection used to be available online, but the chapters don’t load. Still, that’s a lovely title page.

by Craig Thompson
published by Top Shelf Productions

Thompson’s autobio comic about growing up in a strict Christian family, and the teen romance that broadened his outlook on life. There’s not a whole lot of story here, but the book’s pretty fat regardless, because Thompson takes his time telling it with lush, beautiful brushwork and original, personal iconography.

by Joe Sacco
published by Fantagraphics

Going a step beyond autobiography, Sacco produces journalism in comics form. Sacco visited Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip in the early ’90s, and this book (one volume or two, depending on which edition you get) documents his experiences. Sacco works from photographs, with a style that’s heavy on cross-hatching, and slightly exaggerates the people’s features, producing art that reminds me of Robert Crumb’s more realistic drawings.

Bonus: Last December, on my LiveJournal, I wrote little quickie reviews of the forty-odd webcomics in my browser’s bookmarks menu.

Comments on Comics without superheroes:
#1 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 05:57 PM:

I'll second all of these (especially Finder, which is one of the best comic books I've read in years).

I'd also add Eagle: The Making of the First Asian-America President, which is not only the proof of just how good manga can get, but is also nicely relevant today.

#2 ::: Arete ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 06:00 PM:

Hmm, a bit older is Transmetropolitan, what I usually describe as a political satire. First half is clearly Nixon, the second is almost a complete satire for Bush... except that it was mostly written before Bush took office. Nevermind, it works on it's own. Science fiction political satire as seen through the eyes of a Hunter S. Thompson type reporter. Very very good, humor in large doses - offensive humor to some extent, but I don't like potty humor and I find Transmet hilarious. Poignant too, but if I say more, I'll spoil the plotline.

Altogether, there's sixty issues total, with a couple of outtake issues I think...(checks wikipedia) Ten trade paperback volumes with two "special" issues that are a good introduction to the characters, even if you have no idea who they are - handed one of the specials to a friend at a party happening in my apartment, he surfaced 45 minutes later and demanded to borrow the books.

#3 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 06:19 PM:

Arete @2: the Smiler in Transmet is most definitely Tony Blair, not Bush.

#4 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 06:28 PM:

Hmmm... on one hand, it could be argued that Buddha was a superhero. On the other hand, "underwear pervert" really doesn't apply.

I enjoyed The King, which Pirate brought home from the library the other day. (Except for the occasional distracting spelling error. I could explain "helmut" to myself as representing how the character pronounced the word, but "codiene" on a medication bottle? Erf.) Now I need to go put Bubba Ho-Tep back on the Netflix queueueue.

#5 ::: Emma Bull ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 06:29 PM:

Eric Shanower's AGE OF BRONZE. Yowza.

#6 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 06:37 PM:

With regards to the Bonus: I'm going to pimp Three Panel Soul because as of last December it only had three comics up, so you might not have come across it, Avram... And a year later, it only has 62 comics up, but that probably because each one is absolutely gorgeous.

Anyway, I was last night paging back through the archives to find the one they did in the Clone Wars animated style, and I came across one that was perfect for the Vanishing Gibson thread: "On Mixed Drinks".

(And then there's this one on being a pastry chef. Because sooner or later we're going to be talking about cake again.)

#7 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 06:39 PM:

"Hicksville" was great fun, but a "read once."

"American Born Chinese" was good, but also a read-once. (I could see this one, under the care of a good director and producer, making a decent live action movie. Something that mixes animation and real actors.)

"Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Boy in the World" is an example of a keeper, something with awful depth to its description a sad and awkward first meeting between a father and his terribly damaged son. With the help of a magnifying glass, I spotted a brand new surprise revelation last time I read the book.

I'll third the recommendation for "Transmetropolitan." Ellis' "Global Frequency" and "Planetary" series are less even, but worth looking at. His "Orbiter," "Ocean," and "Ministry of Space" are top-notch one-offs.

#8 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 06:42 PM:

Is this the right Transmetropolitan link? The one @2 didn't turn out.

#9 ::: morgue ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 06:42 PM:

He’s also creating a sequel, Atlas, set in that eastern European country, that’s seen two issues in six years.

Three issues. I have all three. Distro continues to be a nuisance, though, so I think #3 has missed some areas entirely.

Nice list, btw.

#10 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 06:46 PM:

Arete #2, I might have included Transmetropolitan (after all, Warren Ellis is the one who coined the term "underwear perverts"), except that I didn't like it. In addition to suffering from Ellis's primary flaw (his protagonists overcome their obstacles by just being cooler than everyone else), the political satire aspects of it generally went wide of the mark. A good political satirist needs to be a sharpshooter, and Ellis was just firing wildly (if energetically).

Compounding this, the comic is supposed to be poking fun at American politics, but Spider Jerusalem keeps using British terminology ("opposition party", "D-notice", "free speech statutes").

On the other hand, I love Ellis's Nextwave (with Stuart Immonen), a brilliant satire aimed straight at the heart of modern superhero comics, but that's superheroes.

#11 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 06:50 PM:

Oh . . . I adore Jim Woodring's FRANK comics.

He's still drawing the character, but only in strange little scenes which aren't part of a story; the adventures that appeared in their own comic book and are now collected in a book are wonderfully strange. Sometimes really scary; "Whim" is a real nightmare creature.

#12 ::: Sean Sakamoto ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 06:58 PM:

Thanks for the interesting post. I'm looking forward to checking those comics out.

I used to read Hate and Eight Ball. I loved those comics in the '90s.

#13 ::: Richard Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 06:58 PM:

What, no Sock Monkey?

#14 ::: Laura ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 07:09 PM:

I'll second Transmet, even if the OP didn't particularly like it. (And I'll energetically agree with the OP's opinion of Nextwave because I am an admitted Ellis-ite.) To go with that, though, I'll add Orbiter and Global Frequency. I suppose that GF could arguably be considered a superhero comic, but there are no underwear perverts. Fell is a definite too, if for no other reason than Ben Templesmith.

#15 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 07:11 PM:


"Sock Monkey" adventures are wonderful. I'm reading the "Inches Incident" now. You have to love a comic book with an installment begins on a piano floating on the high seas, carrying a myopic ship's captain, a sock monkey, and a stuffed crow. And a baby doll with a busted head animated by SPOILER REDACTED.

Millionaire's "Billy Hazelnuts" was also good stuff.

#16 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 07:15 PM:

I see you appreciate Questionable Content on the webcomic list. It's the remarkably entertaining, if much less highbrow, story of twentysomthing hipsters in Northhampton, MA. It's Friends for the indie crowd, perhaps. Lots of fun.

However, I note you omit XKCD, so beloved of Cory Doctrow. It's the Far Side of online geekery, but with slightly more words.

#17 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 07:35 PM:

My choice for best comic of the year is Percy Gloom by Cathy Malkasian. Funny, touching, and full of odd little details that later turn out to mean something.

Love and Rockets is an obvious choice that nobody's mentioned yet. The publisher is currently reprinting it in a series of thick, affordable collections.

Kevin Huizenga's Curses is cartoony suburban philosophical magic-realism. It's brilliant, and thoughtful, and includes a surprisingly effective adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu's story "Green Tea." He's also started an ongoing series called Ganges.

I'll second the recommendation of Jim Woodring. I can't describe the effect his stories have on me; they're textbook examples of "uncanny." Besides The Frank Book it's worth hunting down The Book of Jim. I'm also very enthusiastic about Chris Ware and Carla Speed-McNeil.

(On the other hand, my impression of Flight can be summed up as "beautiful art, inane writing." Although as of the fourth volume it's starting to fulfill some of its promise.)

#18 ::: midori ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 07:41 PM:

Hit the squick button for me in too many times. Not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.

I know, I know, it's "good", but it's a lot like saying Clockwork Orange is good. It's the special curse of visual media: classics in the genre can include really viscerally horrifying content, so a list of classics without additional context is a disaster waiting to happen for some of us.

Speaking of visceral reactions:
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms
is a beautiful, wonderful book, about lives touched by Hiroshima. Yes, there's heartbreak and a little bit of horror. Read the review at tcj, which includes sample pages.

In general, The Comics Journal's short reviews are really good, and always, always provide samples of the selected comic.

#19 ::: Adam Rakunas ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 07:47 PM:

I'm pretty sure most people here have seen The Order of the Stick. If you haven't, and you ever spent time making saving throws, take a look. The simple art style allows for a lot of experimentation in layout, and the writing is wickedly sharp.

#20 ::: midori ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 07:49 PM:

Oh, and for those who have already discovered the diverse pleasures of manga, be sure to check out Shaenon Garrity's* Overlooked Manga Festival, a collection of really wonderful OR awful OR weird comics, again, with sample pages.

For example:
Yotsuba&!, about a tiny, hyperactive green-haired girl who lives with her easygoing adoptive father in a quiet Japanese neighborhood.

Wonderful stuff, and as innocent as can be.

*of Narbonic fame, also works for a U.S. manga publisher. Nice person, too.

#21 ::: Richard Campbell ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 07:53 PM:

Crecy - Another Warren Ellis book, this one a one-shot retelling of the battle of Crecy from an English archer's perspective. Great book.

#22 ::: Adam Rakunas ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 08:06 PM:

...though it's superhero-esque, now that I think about it. There are capes.

#23 ::: Monica Toth ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 08:22 PM:

Surly Ben's Cooking with Anne is a gorgeous, sparing one-off comic in the ostensible form of a recipe. Dicebox by Jenn Lee is an ongoing, vaguely futuristic comic about two strong and interesting women.

As far as paper comics are concerned, I'm partial to:
Action Philosophers - Brief biographies of everyone from Descartes to Ayn Rand, portrayed anachronistically in silly costumes like eccentric superheroes. (I hope this doesn't exclude it.)

The Walking Dead - One reason I think zombies are so popular is, everyone thinks they could stand a reasonable chance. This series displays just how profoundly damaging a world-wide outbreak would be, not only for individuals' lives but for culture, society, and sanity.

The Nightly News - A six-part comic about a fundamentalist, secular cult that starts killing popular media figures with bombs and sniper rifles. It's intensely difficult to figure out whether the author has chosen a side.

#24 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 08:23 PM:


On the other hand, my impression of Flight can be summed up as "beautiful art, inane writing."

i was gonna say. i'd recommend flight only if you prize art much higher over writing.

i didn't chime into the other thread on this, cause it did seem as if the inquirer was looking for sf/action stuff, & that is less my bag these days (except for a few authors, like alan moore, garth ennis, & greg rucka).

i'm into the literary/memoir/interpersonal stuff nowadays. & my favourite book i read in the past year (surprised it hasn't been mentioned yet) was fun home, by alison bechdel. it's won a bunch of awards, but i still think it should be more well known than it is.

it's smart, insightful, & beautifully though unflashily drawn. i've read it three times now & see different things each read.

several years back, i was surprised & delighted by chester brown's louis riel, a great book wich is both history & psychological drama, with a deceptively simple tintin/little orphan annie drawing style that brown gets tremendous mileage out of.

i enjoyed this year's exit wounds by rutu modan, partly perhaps because of my familiarity with the setting. her characters are very good, but i thought the clair ligne didn't work as well here.

as far as action-adventure goes, i haven't read matt kindt's super spy yet, but it's come highly recommended by people i trust. it's interwoven stories of spies in wwii europe, & apparently very well researched.

for younger readers, nick abadzis' laika is very sweet & also painstakingly researched. it's terribly sad at the end, though, of course.

#25 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 08:30 PM:

Did anybody read Strange Girl's 18-issue story? It starts with a 12-year-old girl who's Left Behind when the Rapture happens then the story jumps 10 years later, with her working at a San Francisco Bar frequented by demons, until she has to run away across the land with her sidekick, randy devil Bloato.

#26 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 08:32 PM:

Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo is very good; although there are some supernatural elements and the occasional ninja turtle, I don't think there's a serious superhero quotient.

Do Larry Gonick's nonfiction Cartoon Guides/Histories count in this context?

#27 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 08:36 PM:

Thanks to various for the comments on Flight. Sounds like one to borrow, not buy.

#28 ::: Mike Berry ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 08:44 PM:

I'm surprised no one here has mentioned Bill Willingham's on-going series "Fables," which convincingly chronicles the further adventures of exiled storybook characters.

"Y: The Last Man" by Brian K. Vaughan is also worth picking up in the trade editions. The series ends in January or February.

#29 ::: Cassandra ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 08:45 PM:

I very much like "Digger" by Ursula Vernon (you can read it for pay online, but you can also get collected volumes). Our heroine is a spunky wombat.

Another favorite is "Vogelein," about a clockwork fairy in New York City. Lovely lush art because all the panels are actually oil paintings.

Also, I really like "Raven's Children" by Layla Lawlor. A kind of post-apocalyptic blend of Inuit and Japanese culture, with hints of high-tech.

My recommendation for "comic that starts out looking ok and then becomes amazing" is "Zebra Girl," by Joe England. (Search for "Zebra Girl comic" on Google, not "zebra girl.") The artwork is stunning and I find the plotting thrilling and humorous by turns. Definitely worth reading through the sometimes uneven first year or so.

#30 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 09:14 PM:

Nobody wears tights in HellBoy's spinoff B.P.R.D., but I guess it counts as a superhero comic-book, albeit a dark-fantasy one, instead of SF. Liz Sherman's dreams about a future Earth infested by lovecraftian horrors like a piece of rotten meat, certainly would give me sleeping problems.

#31 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 09:29 PM:

Strangers in Paradise. A wonderful comic. I'm behind, and I know Terry Moore has finished the story, but you can pick up the collections. It is a wonderful and complex story.

#32 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 09:30 PM:

There's a whole universe of non-superhero comics now, and more every week. Making a list of good comics almost feels like making a list of good SF, i.e. there's rooms full of the stuff, and I get slightly worried that the presumption behind the lists seems to be that most of it is worthless (& not Sturgeon's canonical 90%). But while that might be the case in similar lists elsewhere, I assume it's not here. So I'll jump in with more one-shots, since those are easiest to get a handle on:

Bryan Talbot, Alice in Sunderland -- a nonfiction work, just came out this year.

Howard Cruse, Stuck Rubber Baby - an autobiographical novel about a white, gay man growing up in a thinly-disguised Birmingham, Alabama in the early 1960's.

Matt Madden, 99 Ways to Tell a Story. - formalist play with a very brief, day-in-the-life vignette.

Grant Morrison, The Filth -- Morrison usually does superheroes; here he does SF, and does it well.

Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell, From Hell -- historical fiction about Jack the Ripper, seeing him as a way to understand his entire culture, and the twentieth century that it birthed.

Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean, Signal to Noise -- story about a dying filmmaker making one last film in his head. Also by the same two: Mr. Punch.

Jeff Smith, Bone -- okay, I'm cheating, this is nine volumes, but he *did* put out a one-volume edition. Fantasy, it begins as humor and then turns epic.

Samuel R. Delany & Mia Wolff, Bread & Wine -- autobiography from SRD.

J. T. Waldman's Megillat Esther -- an adaptation of the biblical book, including the entire Hebrew text.

...and I'll second the mentions of Kevin Huizenga's Curses, Chris Ware (although he's depressing), Brian Vaugahn's Y: the Last Man, Willingham's Fables, Woodring's The Frank Book.

Oh, and everyone knows about Spiegelman's Maus and the various works of Scott McCloud, right?

#33 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 09:34 PM:

...I wasn't too clear in the first paragraph above. All I meant was that sometimes people list good comics with a surprised tone that, wow, there are good comics? Although I know that's not the case here.

Anyway, on this general topic, might I be so conceited as to point to this longer essay from my blog, where to start with graphic novels? Thanks.

#34 ::: Dave Lartigue ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 10:26 PM:

The only thing I dislike more than superhero comments is the phrase "underwear perverts". Like many things geeks find amusing, it ceased to be so somewhere within the first 8,000 times it was used.

And for the helpful portion, I'll add/second these:

Anything by Kevin Huizenga, but 'Curses' is a good place to start.

Scott Pilgrim.

The two Love and Rockets collections. I personally prefer 'Palomar' but Locas' is good as well.

"Dragon's Head" is manga. If you like "Lost", you should check it out.

"Planetes" is EXCELLENT science fiction Manga. I loved it despite not being much of a manga fan.

'Bone' by Jeff Smith is one that often makes these lists, but I've really cooled on it. It's very charming at first but pretty soon devolves into a pretty by-the-numbers fantasy story.

'Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man' by John Porcellino is a collection of themed strips. I like it a little better than his 'King-Cat Classix' but that one is still pretty good as well.

'Exit Wounds' by Rutu Modan is going to make it onto a LOT of "Best of" lists this year.

'Box Office Poison' and 'Tricked' by Alex Robinson are worth a read.

I highly recommend the journalistic books of Joe Sacco.

Check out the offerings from the company "First Second". Nearly everything they've done is stellar.

Remember, folks, comics are a medium, not a genre. Within that medium are books that appeal to fans of different genres (some more than others). I'm not a fan of murder mystery novels, but I don't dismiss all other novels because of it.

#35 ::: j ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 11:55 PM:

For those who look back fondly at (or still play through their) their D&D years, we have

Order of the Stick

Webcomic, collected into 3 volumes so far. The art makes South Park look like DaVinci's technical illustrations, but the writing manages to both appeal to gamer geeks and tell a fun story at the same time. Nothing worldchanging, but a lot of fun.

#36 ::: anatidaeling ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 01:28 AM:

May I recommend Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

#37 ::: Claire ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 01:51 AM:

#34: I'm on exactly the other side of the fence on the Locas-Palomar stories. Possibly my failing, but I identify much more closely with the 80s punk characters in Jaime's L.A. than with the folks in Gilbert's Palomar. Be warned, though: there are a few underwear perverts in Locas, though, especially in the earlier stories.

Other than various Alan Moore books (Promethea, in particular), the really nice Absolute Sandman collections, and some manga, I haven't bought much in the way of comics since the late 80s/early 90s. But I did recently pick up Grant Morrison's Invisibles books, which were fun. They're about a very twisty conspiracy, and some heroes who are maybe trying to fight the power, or maybe trying to be the power, or maybe the power is manipulating them... it's all very complex, and even a bit pervy if you like that sort of thing. They've been compared to Illuminatus!, and that's not too far off.

Another Moore classic among my faves is Halo Jones, about a girl who sets out for the stars and has various adventures and somehow becomes a famous and inspirational figure along the way. Similarly, Kyle Baker's Why I Hate Saturn, also featuring an underwear pervert ala Jaime's Penny Century, is wonderfully funny.

And, finally, I have to put in a plug for Megatokyo, another web comic that's occasionally collected into nice little books. It's about two gamer/manga fans who've managed to get trapped in Japan, and alternates between silly battle scenes and tearjerking romance. I think it's sweet.

#38 ::: Lindra ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 02:15 AM:

Another vote for Transmetropolitan here, but with the caveats mentioned by Avram at #10 - the political satire does shoot wide of the mark, and there are incogruities that irritate me. I recommend it for the same reason I find it so compelling - the background art and worldbuilding. However wide of the mark Ellis was, however reliant the story is on the main character's invincible reputation, the details are amazing right down to the graffiti.

#39 ::: Tom Scudder ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 02:28 AM:

I like CEREBUS, though I've only read through Book 4 (mostly due to laziness in tracking down the rest; partially because I've heard it goes Bad somewhere down the line, and Cerebus fans don't agree exactly where). Goes from being a Conan parody to a lot of social, political and religious satire, with beautiful art and layouts. Then Dave Sim goes mad, but not in the first 4 books.

#40 ::: paxed ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 03:03 AM:

I'm surprised no-one's mentioned Girl Genius yet. Another favorite of mine is The Perry Bible Fellowship.

#41 ::: Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 06:06 AM:

Alison Bechdel's Fun Home (graphic novel) and also her continuing series Dykes To Watch Out For. DTWOF has been comfort-rereading for me for a long time, and Fun Home is a powerful, literate, clear-eyed work of biography.

Lea Hernandez's Texan Steampunk books are beautiful, and the first one, Cathedral Child, is available online under a Creative Commons license.

#42 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 08:21 AM:

A bit off-topic, but does anybody know if there is a book that reprinted the SF comic-strip Brick Bradford?

#43 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 08:37 AM:

I heartily second the recommendations for Alison Bechdel, both her strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, and her memoir, Fun Home. The latter is the easiest place to start because it's self-contained. The former is fantastic, but the first few books have fairly amateur art -- if this bothers you, skip to vols. 3 or 4 or 5, depending on how picky you are.

#39: On Cerebus: first few volumes are great. (Well, v1 is quite amateur; then they get great.) v5 is definitely worth tracking down if you liked v1-4. Where he goes crazy is a matter of dispute, but I think the consensus is v9, Reads, although he does have some good moments after that before he plunges fully into the abyss. But I think that Cerebus, great as some of it is, is too mixed a bag to recommend as a starter comic. Start elsewhere; come back if you feel like. Much, much more on Cerebus here.

#44 ::: Iorwerth Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 08:56 AM:

"Another vote for Transmetropolitan here, but with the caveats mentioned by Avram at #10 - the political satire does shoot wide of the mark, and there are incogruities that irritate me. "

OTOH, as an over-the-top (and possibly a bit unfair in places, says this Blair-hater) satire of UK politics circa the ascension of New Labour, it seems to work reasonably well.

I'll add to the recommendations.

#45 ::: Katherine F. ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 10:30 AM:

Alice In Sunderland is fandabbydabulous. One of the best graphic novels ever -- the kind of thing that can't be done in any other medium. It's very hard to describe it because it's unique: it spirals and jumps around in time, telling stories that connect to other stories that cast a new light on the stories he was telling fifty pages ago. Even if you have no interest in Lewis Carroll or Sunderland, it's a fascinating exploration of the unexpected ways in which things are connected to each other -- and if you're not interested in Lewis Carroll or Sunderland when you start reading, you will be when you're finished.

(I will add one caveat: in the early pages there's a slightly tedious recitation of a speech from Henry V illustrated by a serious of unfunny visual puns. This is more of a throat-clearing exercise than anything else, and doesn't add much. Skip it if it bores you: there's better stuff on the way.)

Has anyone mentioned David Petersen's Mouse Guard? Animal fantasy, richly imagined and gorgeously illustrated.

I've been greatly enjoying Andi Watson's Glister. Glister Butterworth lives in Chillblain Hall in the village of Gravehunger Moss; she attracts strange happenings, like that time when her teapot turned out to be haunted by a dead novelist who wanted her assistance in finishing his last novel, or the time when Chillblain Hall overheard a local bigwig describing it as an eyesore, got into a snit, and went walkabout. Charming and funny and suitable for all ages.

#46 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 11:05 AM:

Mm, comics. I've never been much of a fan of superhero stuff, so I'm overjoyed when I find a good comic that doesn't have spandex overload.

I'm especially fond of Ross Campbell's Wet Moon. It's a meandering day-in-the-life telling of a group of punk/goth college girls in ongoing series of graphic novels--which is normally a sort of thing I'd find dead boring. The characters feel like very real late adolescents without being objectified, their interactions and hints of their past are poignant and funny, and there's just enough weird in the background to keep a reader curious. All in all it's a very relaxing read.

He also did The Abandoned, which is put out by Tokyopop, but that is a very, very different story about a zombie apocalypse and is geniunely frightening. And gory. I loved it, but I've only been able to read it once.

Otherwise, I mostly stick to webcomics because I am usually dead broke. I have a pile of them I love but not enough time to describe them all...

Wish3--This completed webcomic is a modern-day fairytale that takes the setup of a kid granted three wishes and twists it a little more than usual by making those wishes an out-and-out hereditary curse. The protagonist, Basil, decides he's not going to succumb to the curse and makes his first wish to start him on the path to uncovering just how this curse began plaguing his family. Complete series print volumes should be available by the beginning of next year. Obligatory disclaimer: I'm an old friend of the artist/writer and helped her work out kinks in the script way back when--but I like the comic enough to write fanfic for it, which I otherwise never do.

Dicebox--Ongoing comic. The first thing that struck me about this comic was how lovely the art is. It isn't just the visuals that are good; the characters are strong and believable, the futuristic setting is just there without turning the story into being all about the technology, and the artist/writer has incorporated interesting cultural twists, such as the flexible portrayal of gender.

Other'n that... I read Something Positive (a strip-type comic), Metanoia, Kagerou, Templar: Arizona, Cat and Girl (another strip-type comic), and Demonology 101 (completed), and a handful of others that sadly don't update regularly enough for me to want to mention them...

#47 ::: Shannon ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 11:29 AM:

In terms of graphic novels, I'm surprised no one has mentioned Ghost World (although Dan Clowes was more generally mentioned). I don't think it's the end-all-and-be-all of comics that some of its fans think it is, but it's a sharply funny look on what it means to be a teenage girl. Especially one that's weird.

In terms of webcomics, I love Shaenon Garrity's Narbonic, second the Something Positive recommendation, and for the more politically-minded here, A Girl and Her Fed. It's got odd, charming art, is about a government conspiracy, and has a talking, genius-smart koala. Ozy and Millie and Count Your Sheep also have a lovely way of capturing the oddness of childhood.

#48 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 12:18 PM:

Seems like everyone's getting into the act. The New Yorker for 12/3 has a special comics section, and today's NY Times has a piece in the Holiday Books section with recommendations.

I didn't grow up on superhero stuff the way my husband (and many people here) did, and must admit that the only thing in the NYT article that really rang my chimes was the Don Martin in MAD collection.

#49 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 12:26 PM:

Faren... Ah, yes, Mad Magazine in its glory days, when they'd spoof the Comet cleaner by showing someone getting punched in the mouth then bleeding all over the kitchen sink.

#50 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 12:28 PM:

Peaking of spandex... American Gladiators is coming back to TV. Oh, goodie...

#51 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 12:38 PM:

This is entirely off-topic, but Serge #50: One of the wealthy people I went to college with was the daughter of the guy that created American Gladiators. Apparently two of the Gladiators carried her into her Bas Mitzvhah.

#52 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 01:58 PM:

I've been reading Fables for a week or so now, and I think I finally figured out why the name "Bill Willingham" sounds familiar; someone of that name illustrated at least one of the RPG adventures I wrote in the early '80s.

#53 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 02:02 PM:

I was interpreting the request as being for "mundane" comics, no fantastical elements at all. Since it's not...

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley has always charmed and delighted me.

#54 ::: Tom Scudder ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 02:03 PM:

Stefan: same guy. He was one of the designers of the old-timey superhero RPG Villains and Vigilantes, and his first comic book spun off from his V&V campaign or something like that.

#55 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 02:10 PM:

#54: Yes, it's coming back to me.

I wrote a few of the V&V adventures.

As I recall, Willingham and Jeff Dee actually worked in the FGU offices in Mineola. And another artist / designer guy who went on to work on Shadowrun with Tom Dowd. (Who started as FGU's stock boy.)

Well . . . that's cool. It's neat to see an artist jump over to being known mostly (?) as a writer.

#56 ::: Tobias ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 02:35 PM:

If anyone likes spy thrillers then I'd suggest Queen & Country by Greg Rucka. Imagine a James Bond novel written by Len Deighton.

#57 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 04:49 PM:

Another thing about this post: Parts of it have been sitting on my hard drive for a few months, under the title "Half-a-dozen good comics you've never heard of". Remnants of this origin can be seen in the descriptions of Plupatoon Pilgrimmage and American Born Chinese.

As I was working on it the other night, I added descriptions of various comics I've got sitting on the back of my couch, or that turned up while I was looking for one of my copies of Watchmen. But that's why I didn't mention Love & Rockets, Sandman, or Cerebus. Everyone's heard of those already. Also, I have mixed feelings about Sandman, which is a great story, but only a so-so comic. And about Cerebus, which is a flat-out brilliant comic made by someone who went crazy about halfway through.

I've got no mixed feelings whatsoever about Jamie Hernandez's "Mechanics" stories in Love & Rockets. They're well written, gorgeously drawn, and I've kinda got a crush on Maggie. I've got the great big Locas hardcover collection, and I'm thinking of picking up the smaller "Mechanics" collections anyway.

#58 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 05:08 PM:

I highly recommend Shaun Tan's "The Arrival". It's a one-shot, only recently available in America. He's known mainly as a writer/illustrator of children's picture books, but really, his work has a much broader appeal.

#59 ::: Zarquon ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 06:14 PM:

Gunnerkrigg Court Recomended by John Allison of Scarygoround

#60 ::: c. ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 08:07 PM:

i'm fond of Black Hole, and just about everything else that Charles Burns has done, especially Curse of the Molemen. dreamlike, psychological surrealism.

in manga, i really enjoyed Parasyte. it had superheroic elements, but no tights, and no easy answers. the dilemma of having conflicting motivations is dramatized as an intelligent alien parasite taking up habitation in a young man's arm.

for webcomics, no one has mentioned Cat and Girl.

#61 ::: c. ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 08:11 PM:

Stefan@52: Willingham also did my second favorite cover of any roleplaying game (though the game itself was lacking), the moody watercolor for Lands of Adventure from FGU (my favorite is still the original Traveller cover).

#62 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 08:16 PM:

There's also Scott McCloud's The Right Number, a web-comic that isn't finished yet (first two parts of three available). It's a fascinating experiment using online capabilities, i.e. not (quite) limited to static images.

#63 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 08:17 PM:

Well, I have to put on my comic publisher hat and point out all the good stuff we've got going on at ComicMix-- all free, and not a superhero in the bunch:

GrimJack by John Ostrander and Tim Truman: a hard-boiled barbarian in an interdimensional city.

Jon Sable Freelance by Mike Grell: a gun for hire in the African jungle or the urban jungle.

EZ Street by Robert Tinnell and Mark Wheatley: Think The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay meets Wonder Boys.

The Adventures of Simone and Ajax by Andrew Pepoy: A female firecracker and her friend, a four foot tall talking dinosaur.

Munden's Bar: A place where anything can happen and usually does.

Fishhead by Michael T. Price and Mark Evan Walker, based on the Irwin Cobb short story-- for those of you who like southern-fried pulp horror.

And starting on Monday, a new series from Robert Tinnell and Bo Hampton entitled Demons of Sherwood.

End of soft sell, true believers. Heck, I didn't even go link happy-- I didn't even put a link in to Sable, and I'm coloring that one.

#65 ::: hypochrismutreefuzz ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 09:39 PM:

Groo the Wanderer, by Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones
The Spirit, by Darwyn Cooke (continues Will Eisner's classic and updates in crucial ways, viz Ebony White)

#66 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 11:06 PM:

I've deliberately NOT mentioned web comics. There are a lot of web comics I love, but with one (set of) exception(s), I don't class them with graphic novels.

The exception? The work of Patrick Farley. The e-sheep guy. He's gone quiet; his domain hasn't been renewed. Which is a damn shame. We may never see the completion of:

"Spiders," an alternate history Afghan War story, in which President Gore, after the attacks of 9/12, deploys an army of little spy bots run by civilian volunteers.

"Apocamon," a satirical take on the Book of Revelations drawn in anime style.

"Scotty Barracuda," about a desperate dot-com-con-artist making one last grab of IPO riches.

#67 ::: C. N. ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 11:22 PM:

The Rabbi's Cat by Joann Sfar comes to mind.

#68 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 11:43 PM:

Stefan #66 -- That's a damn shame. I was enjoying the heck out of Spiders, and a lot of Farley's other stuff was great too.

I've just posted to the LJ onlinecomics community, asking what happened to him.

#69 ::: Sara ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2007, 12:14 AM:

I never see it recced, but I'm very fond of Jim Ottaviani's Fallout, which is a history of the development of the atomic bomb. No underwear perverts whatsoever.

#70 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2007, 01:46 AM:

Glenn, #63, I already mentioned Comicmix on the Watchman thread.

#71 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2007, 11:09 AM:

#57: I'm trying to think of a way to say this that will sound amicably amused rather than snarky, because really, honest to FSM, that's how I mean it. Because I am rather delighted by imagining the subset of people for whom Cerebus is in the "everyone knows about this" category, while the National Book Award finalist American Born Chinese is a plausible entry for a "comic you've never heard of" post.

Now the reason I'm trying to be amused not snarky is because I imagine that the readers of Making Light are in this subset, or at least a good portion of them are, so it's reasonable here. It's just a funny look on the world, like that classic New Yorker cover showing the world from Manhattan...

#72 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2007, 02:22 PM:

Marilee: you did? I missed it. Bless you.

#73 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 04:20 PM:

Already mentioned above, so I'll just second the recommendations for:

Strangers in Paradise (Terry Moore)
Dykes to Watch Out For (Alison Bechdel)
Fun Home (Alison Bechdel)

and add:
Pride of Baghdad (Brian K. Vaughan, Niko Henrichon)

#74 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 05:32 PM:

also want to echo the recommendation for same difference. i, too, read the main story online from someone linking to it (totally serendipitously, i don't follow webcomics), & then bought the collection.

when i heard the premise of adrian tomine's much-hyped new book, shortcomings, i thought, "huh. adrian tomine does derek kirk kim?" & it is basically. kim with lifeless drawings, no jokes, & the author disliking all the characters.

& that is why adrian tomine will always be more critically acclaimed than derek kirk kim.

#75 ::: coffeedryad ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 11:19 PM:

Thinking of Warren Ellis, a couple years back he did a delightful three-issue miniseries called Two-Step. People being Very Cool And Getting Away With Stuff Because Of It in a sort of future/alternate-present London. There's also his early Lazarus Churchyard stuff that's been collected, but I seriously wouldn't recommend that unless you actually, y'know, enjoy extremely bleak and depressing miserabilism.

#76 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2007, 05:47 AM:

One of my favorite comics lately is called True Story Swear to God. It's an autobiographical comic about romance and culture shock; it's funny and sweet and drawn in an expressive cartoony style.

(I must, alas, say that when I went out googling for links to give you, I came across the author making an ass of himself in the comments thread of a review site.)

Strong second for Age of Bronze.

There's plenty of manga out there with no superheroes. Let me just mention Hikaru no Go, about a boy and his thousand-year-old go-playing ghost.

#77 ::: The Comics Creator ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2007, 04:44 PM:

I absolutely loved Blankets! I was intimidated by the thickness at first, but it was an overall smooth and insightful read.

Happy New Year!

#78 ::: Pooper ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 10:40 PM:

SCALPED is the greatest. Its published by Vertigo

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