Growing up, my Dad bought us the Beano every week and I loved to read about the Bash Street Kids and all those other characters. But then I got too old for the Beano and I never replaced it with other comics, turning instead to novels.
When I met Tim he wasn’t a big reader of comics either, but he owned a few and had read a few more, and over the years he’s increasingly become a big fan, to the point where the staff at our local comic shop know him by name and we’ve started to invest in comic book storage boxes. I’ve always liked Tim’s taste in books, so I figured I should see what this comic thing was all about, in case I was missing out on something.
I didn’t feel interest in classic superhero stuff at first, because they all have these huge decades-old universes that call back to all that background, and even outside of superheroes I was tentative of where to dip my toe, so I opted mostly for one-off graphic novels.
And I read some amazing books that way. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, We3 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, Persepolis by Marjane Sartrapi, Palestine by Joe Sacco and Lost at Sea by Bryan Lee O’Malley. (I’d like to go back to reading more of these one-offs. I recently bought Pride of Baghdad by Brian K Vaughan and Niko Henrichon, and I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and J M Ken Niimura, and I already have a long list of other titles to look out for, but more recommendations are always most welcome.)
Next up, I read discrete series, where I knew there was an ending that had been planned from the start (and I generally had Tim’s personal recommendation that I would enjoy them). The best of these was Y: the Last Man by Brian K Vaughan and Pia Guerra. And of course there was Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley. Which is a brilliant mini series and was made into the excellent film Scott Pilgrim Versus the World – possibly the best book-to-film adaptation I know.
Then, finally, I felt ready to read “proper” comics – stories written as serials that might last one year or thirty-plus years, depending on their popularity, or what other projects come along to tempt members of the team away. They’re not all superheroes. Neil Gaiman created some amazing fantasy with Sandman and The Books of Magic. Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson’s Transmetropolitan is a very dark and twisted sci-fi alternate reality. Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise is a sort of spy for hire with plots reminiscent of classic TV shows like The Avengers or Charlie’s Angels, except that there isn’t a man pulling the strings (can you tell why I like it?!).
And as for those classic (or new) superheroes? They’re a lot of fun with the right writers. I recently read Matt Fraction’s run on Fantastic Four, an old Marvel property that’s been helmed by many people over the years, and it didn’t matter at all that I didn’t know the background. I was told what I needed to know and no doubt I missed some references but nothing that was integral to the storyline. I highly highly recommend Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye and G Willow Wilson’s Ms Marvel.
So what’s the lesson here? If you’re tempted by comics but not sure they’ll suit you, just go ahead and give them a try. There are so many styles of art, styles of writing and different genres out there – do some hunting around; if you have one, ask for advice at your local comic shop. They’re definitely not just for kids. In fact, almost all the ones mentioned above are very firmly not at all for kids.