Hey everybody, when I started this blog, promoting comic books as a medium was one of my primary goals. Comics have had a massive surge in popularity over the last 10 years due to the explosion of superhero properties on the big screen and on TV. Of course, while there are a variety of excellent superhero comic books to read, superhero stories only scratch the surface of what the comic book medium is capable of. So this week in my “Comic Book of the Week” article, instead of picking the best comic book that came out, I’m going to list some of the best comic book series that aren’t necessarily superhero stories.
Right off the bat, for new readers, I want to explain how comic books are published. Comic book storytelling is best described as a mix between a novel and a television show. Comic book publishers put out hundreds of books every month, so to new readers, the whole thing can be a bit intimidating.
Take for example “The Walking Dead”, the comic book created by Robert Kirkman that is the basis for the mega-popular hit AMC show. Like all comics, The Walking Dead began with its first issue, The Walking Dead #1 published in October 2003. Since then a new issue has come out every month (just like a magazine comes out once a month). Most comic books break up into “story arcs”, one overarching story taking place over 6-12 issues, with each individual issue acting as chapters in the story. Like episodes of a TV show or chapters in a novel. Once a story arc is completed, the publisher will put collected editions that contain the entire story in one book. These are the “graphic novels” that you see in bookstores like Barnes & Noble. This continues on for however long a comic exists. Some like Batman have been around for over 75 years.
So there you have it Comic Books 101… Below are some of the best comics ever written and the best place to start reading them. This is a list specifically for people who may have read some comics in the past or have seen the movies, but aren’t sure what’s for them or where to start.
This is going to be the first in a series of articles about the best and coolest comic books out there. Below each of my picks I’ve included an Amazon link for the best editions of each of these series for those of you who want to jump right in and purchase a copy for yourself! (And I highly recommend that you do!)
The Sandman writer- Neil Gaiman/ Artist – Various
Considering that this is easily one of the finest pieces of comic book literature every published, I’m often surprised how few comic book readers I know have actually read this series. This isn’t just great storytelling, it’s art. Neil Gaiman’s magnum opus holds the important distinction of being one of the first comics to have a largely female readership. The Sandman defies description, but at its center is Morpheus of The Endless, Lord of The Dreaming (the land we all go to when we dream). The series involves everything from William Shakespeare to Ancient Rome, Lucifer, Pagan Gods, a serial killer convention, Batman and million other wonderful things in between. But most simply put, The Sandman is a story about stories.
The entire series is available in trade paperback. The first volume is The Sandman vol.1 Preludes and Nocturnes, but the series CAN be read out of order so I would recommend starting with The Sandman vol.4 Season of Mists.
Preacher writer- Garth Ennis/ Artist- Steve Dillon
Preacher is an American classic. If I had to call Preacher anything, it’d be a Western. It’s the story of a man named Jesse Custer and his quest to find God…literally. Along with his great love Tulip and his best friend Cassidy, the trio embark on a batshit crazy road trip across the country to find “The Good Lord”. Really though this story is a love letter to America as only an immigrant can tell it. Writer Garth Ennis is from Ireland and the America of Preacher isn’t the America we all really know. It’s the America of hope, dreams, darkness, optimism, danger, and beauty. Ennis’ outsider viewpoint may show an America seen through rose colored glasses, but this story of duty, love, friendship, honor, and faith is probably my favorite work of fiction PERIOD. Ride into the sunset with Jesse Custer and his motley crew of characters, you’ll be glad you did.
Pick up the first trade paperback in this series, Preacher vol.1 Gone to Texas. By the way, though it’s by no means a terrible adaptation, stay away from AMC’s Preacher tv series. Just read the comics which concludes with Preacher vol.9 Alamo. Also, if you’re really religious, stay the FUCK away from this series.
Archie writer- Mark Waid/ Artist- Fiona Staples
Archie is a perfect example of the versatility of comic books. Fantasy and Sci-Fi not for you? How about a charming, delightful high school comedy? Archie has been a very lame comic book staple for decades. The stories center on lovable high school student Archie Andrews and his perpetual love triangle with girl next door, Betty and cosmopolitan, rich girl Veronica. Along with Archie’s loyal best buddy Jughead, the students of Riverdale High have been engaging in lame, 1950s-esque hijinks for years. Until, a few years ago when someone had the genius yet obvious idea to update Archie for the 21st-century. The basic concept is the same, the characters and their basic archetypes are the same. But they got one of the best writer/artist teams in the industry to craft what is essentially an incredibly entertaining coming of age comedy. This is not a gritty reboot at all, but the best example I can give is, Archie used to be Batman & Robin and they made it Batman Begins. Writer Mark Waid is the guy who gave us modern masterpieces like Kingdom Come and artist Fiona Staples is drawing Saga, which is currently one of Image’s hottest titles. I had zero interest in this book, but I kept hearing how good it was and it lived up to the hype. This book is an absolute blast. Just a really fun comedy about high school. This is the perfect book to give to your wife or girlfriend who is reluctant to read a comic book.
Archie vol.1 & 2 are both available in trade paperback now.
Bone Writer/Artist- Jeff Smith
Bone is the rare comic book that can be genuinely, equally enjoyed by both a 10 year old and a 60 year old. Many comics or films try to make that claim but it’s very rarely true. Bone is the exception. Imagine if you crossed Lord of the Rings with classic Walt Disney and you’d get something very much like Bone. I first read Bone when I was around 10 years old and my mind was blown. It was the first time that I realized how cool comic books could be. As an adult, I’ve revisited Bone many times. Most recently, a year or two ago, I re-read the whole series and I enjoyed it even more than I did when I was a kid. The story and characters are so rich that I picked up on subtleties and nuances I missed as a child. There’s magic in revisiting a story you think you know and seeing it in a whole new light. Bone is a funny, thrilling, heartfelt fantasy epic with wonderful characters and an engrossing story. Give the first volume, Bone vol.1 Out From Boneville, to the 10-year old in your life and it won’t be long until they’re begging you for vol.2. The entire series is collected in very affordable softcover volume, Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic, which is a great way to read this fantastic series. As I said above, the whole series is also available in trade paperback starting with Bone vol.1 Out From Boneville.
Here are a few other great series you may want to look into if you like any of my above recommendations:
The Walking Dead