More Than Capes Pt. II

Last blog post saw me talking about comics that went beyond the genre of super hero. The whole time I was writing that, I found myself wanting to delve into each series that popped into my head, and it almost got me off topic frequently. So, I decided that this time I would specifically take a look at several non-super hero comics that I think are just the tops. This is in no way a definitive list, they are not ranked in any order either. So, this is not the be all end all, it’s just what’s swimming around my head right now. That being said, I will forget some great series, or overlook others. Don’t take it personally.

Transmetropolitan 

Transmetro

Transmetropolitan is one of the great sci-fi comics. Set in the future, it follows the, what they call “gonzo journalist”, Spider Jerusalem. As a reporter, he aims to challenge corruption and the abuse of power that he sees in the American government. I will say this, Spider is pretty much a bastard. But in true anti-hero form, his despicable nature is what fans want to see. Plus, he really shows us who the bad guys are. A friend of mine loaned me all ten volumes of this once, and I read it in less than a month. I just wanted to keep going and going. It’s a blend of humor and social-political satire that is hard to find done so correctly. Warren Ellis is capable though, and this is probably my favorite thing he’s written (that I’ve read) to date. If you enjoy sci-fi stories that use the future to critique our present, this is the story for you. If you like stories that will make you laugh out loud, this story is for you. If you like good stories, this story is for you.  This is a story that has a definite end, too, so you won’t have to read it for years!

Preacher

Preacher

Where do I start with Preacher? You might have seen the show, but from what I’ve seen, the book is way better. That’s nothing against the series, it’s just the way it goes. Preacher is a very dark, hilarious, twisted book. It will make you laugh, it’ll give you some feels, and it will make you do some double takes. That’s what I love in a story. And like Transmetropolitan, this was published by Vertigo. Oh, how I love old school Vertigo Comics. The basic premise is a man imbued with the word of God travels around with a vampire and his ex-girlfriend fighting a New World Order and all sorts of crazy foes. That does not do it justice, but there is so much that goes on with Preacher that it’s hard to sum up. Just know that it’s worth the read. This was another my friend (same one) lent me, and I read it in quick fashion. What got me was the dark humor and incredible situations that Garth Ennis created, along with Steve Dillon’s (RIP) art work. It was not as polished as so many books I read, and I remember thinking that people looked ugly. And I liked that, it was different. Anyway, if you are watching the show, I recommend that you read the book, because there are some things that are too great about the book that they just can’t put on TV.

Y the Last Man

Y

This was one of the first books I read that really showed me just what comics can do. It was packed with so much emotion, humor, and creativity, it felt like one of the most realized comics I’ve ever read, and that still stands. Y is a story about the only survivor of a plague that kills all the men on Earth. Yorick, the aforementioned last man, has to go through many trials (60 issues worth!) as he tries to get back together with his one true love. The whole story is packed with amazing adventure and great characters, best of all Agent 355, Yorick’s protector. It’s full of twists, turns, and the occasional gut punch. This will probably be my favorite Brian K. Vaughn story he ever does. People love Saga (which is great, but I haven’t read enough of it to compare), but Y will always hold a special place in my heart for showing me a depth and humanity in comics that so many others fail to capture. As you might have guessed, this is another Vertigo title. I promise there are other companies on the list, but these are some heavy hitters for me. The worst part is they’ve been talking about a movie for years, but it’s never happened. Where is it?!

Chew

chew

OK, so this one isn’t Vertigo, it’s Image. Chew is a fantastic story about a man named Tony Chu who gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats. That means if he eats a cheeseburger, he sees how the cow died. If he eats a fruit, he can tell what pesticides were used on it. He works for the FDA (super powerful after chicken was banned due to a bird flu). That is the gist of the beginning. He later starts hunting someone who can absorb other unique food related abilities. There are a TON in this series. That’s part of what seals Chew as one of my favorites of all time. It’s so creative. I never would have thought of Tony Chu’s ability, let alone the others (like people who can make weapons out of chocolate, or Chu’s sister, who can see the future by eating). And it’s just so funny. It’s got moments from all over the spectrum; there’s drama, emotion, and action, but I go all in for the humor of Chew. This is achieved, I think, by the team of John Layman (writer) and Rob Guillory (artist) the words and pictures they put together work in unison better than most other comics I’ve read. Ever. The other big joy of reading Chew is looking closely at Guillory’s backgrounds. He puts all sorts of Easter eggs in there. The series just wrapped up last year, and I still have to finish the final volume. But I love Chew so much that I’m rereading the entire thing just to get there.

Hellboy

hellboy

You probably know this one. Hellboy’s been around for over twenty years now. Isn’t that crazy? But there’s a reason why. It’s good. Damn good. Mike Mignola will truly be remembered as one of the leading visionaries of comics when it’s all said and done, and Hellboy will be why. If you haven’t read Hellboy, well, it’s tough to explain, his backstory is pretty much mythology now. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him become American folklore at some point. Which is very fitting, considering how Hellboy blends into the work of so many other mythologies and folk tales. That is one of the really impressive things about this character. Mignola really digs into folklore from all around the world. I mean, there are legends that he uses that I never would have heard of other wise. Using them as the backdrop of his Hellboy series is what propels Hellboy into being a mythological figure himself. Not to mention that Mignola cranks out additional titles like B.P.R.D., Lobster Johnson, Abe Sapien, and Witchfinder, which are all part of the Hellboy universe. It’s definitely one of the biggest non superhero universes in comics, and it’s led by one man! His characters, even though many of them are not human, feel just like us. And he knows how to use Hellboy masterfully. When things feel heavy, he cracks a joke. He may be a demon, but he just wants to be a regular guy, and it helps the story succeed. I could go on forever about Hellboy, but I’ll just say go read it!

American Splendor

americansplendor

If you follow me at all, you probably already know that I love American Splendor. It is, without a doubt, one of the greatest and most important comic books ever written. It made the autobiographical comic a thing, and showed the wonder of everyday life. I really appreciate that, because when you’re a writer, you look at the mundane in a grand way. So when I picked up American Splendor for the first time, I was blown away. Here was a guy who could make you care about anything. The way that Harvey Pekar looked at his life made everyone care. It stood shoulder to shoulder with the grand adventures of super hero comics solely on just how damn good it was. And it didn’t hurt that so many great artists worked on the title, either. Getting different art with each story was part of the fun. The changing styles that matched the tone made it a true spectacle to behold. And of course, for me personally,  Harvey Pekar was from Ohio, so how could I not feel pride? American Splendor may not be for everyone, but I do think everybody should try it. If nothing, it’ll show you just what Harvey always said. Ordinary life can be pretty complex stuff.

Wow, this is a long blog, and I’ve only done five title. I’ll stop now, but sometime in the future I’ll list some more comics. But until then, go give these a read. They’ll surly hold you over for a while!

More Than Capes

Let me start by saying that I have nothing against super hero comics. In fact, I still enjoy quite a few. I’m only writing this entry to highlight to readers that there are other genres to choose from. As Scott McCloud once said, people often confuse the genre for the medium. That is, they think that all of comics  (the medium) is the super hero story (genre). And while there are a lot of great super hero stories out there right now (Unbeatable Squirrel Girl being my favorite), I’d like to show people that there’s a wide variety of story telling being offered. In fact, it’s more than ever these days. I think, though, that with the success of the comic book movies, there is more emphasis on these books. But I’d like to get people to see what else is out there.

I guess maybe it’s a bit personal. Like I said, I enjoy super heroes, but personally, it’s not the kind of story I want to tell. At least at this point. Anyone who has read my comics, either on this website, or in the physical form, knows I have a wide variety of stories to tell. Granted, as we speak, I’m working on finishing up a super hero story, but that’s more of a comedy than a tale of tights. I’ve really used comedy to highlight the bizarre. To tell stories that I think will entertain and leave people with a message (sometimes. Other times I just draw pocket bees). I don’t think I could do that with a super hero story. Now, some people can (Alan Moore!) but not me. So I rely on other genres.

I think the biggest thing that these genres give me is an ending. Super heroes have been around for a long time. They continue to be published, and there’s really no ending for many of them. And even the ones that die come back. Now, for me personally, one of the best things about fiction, for me, is an ending. Writers can craft something that ties everything together. I wish life worked that way, which is maybe part of the reason I got into writing. Now, with many books outside the super hero genre, these stories have a beginning, middle, and end. They are epics that stretch for just the right amount of time, then come to an end. Take Y the Last Man for example. 60 issues was the sweet spot for that story. That sounds like a lot, maybe, but it was always going to come to an end. It didn’t just run until it got cancelled. It told a great story. In fact Y was one of the first stories that really showed me what comics can do. I read the whole thing and saw the power of the medium, controlled not by the genre, but by a story to be told. In fact, you should go read Y right now.

Y-the-Last-Man-feat

OK, done? You read it all? Wasn’t it so good? These types of stories also often offer us much more real stakes. Part of the super hero genre is the impermanence of death. That’s just part of the territory. But personally, it often leaves me asking “what are the consequences, really?” That could just be me. I’ve read a lot of super hero books, so it might have partially numbed me to anything really happening. But when someone dies, they don’t stay dead (for the most part). And, as I’ve said, most characters have been around so long, I wonder what they could possibly do next. It all kind of becomes a game. But take a story like Y the Last Man or Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire. When something bad happens, the results will be permanently felt. When a character dies, they stay dead, often in truly heartbreaking fashion. There are often fantastical elements to these stories (Sweet Tooth is a deer boy), but they somehow feel more real. I think these other genres invest us in their characters a little easier because they are not super heroes, and neither are we. So it’s easier to see ourselves in Sweet Tooth, even though he’s part deer, because faced with danger, he’s scared. Super heroes, not so much. But that is part of their appeal, and I understand that.

But sometimes these stories aren’t fantastical. Sometimes they are really our stories. One of my favorite comics ever is American Splendor which is an autobiographical account of Harvey Pekar’s (RIP) life. You might say “I don’t want to read about someone’s life. I come to comics for adventure!” and yes, comics are good for that. But read Pekar’s work, and I bet you’ll change your tune. It might not seem like the medium lends itself to these down to earth stories, but it does. Very much so. Harvey had a way of looking at everyday life and turning it into a narrative. Even the most normal things turn out to be examinations of the human condition. That’s something that everyone can understand, if you are in fact human, and not a lizard person. Sure, you get this from time to time in the super hero books. But I think it’s a whole lot more genuine when it comes from a normal guy who spent his whole life in Cleveland. When Superman gets a flat tier, that’s easy stuff. When Harvey gets a flat tire, he’s got to deal with it like the rest of us. There are a lot of emotions to be found in auto bio comics. And, I don’t know about you, but I like hearing people’s stories. I think that is because I’m a writer. I think that real life is the basis for the best stories, or at least the issues we face in real life. And when you hear someone’s story, it’s so fascinating. Let’s face it, we tend to think that most other humans are just empty shells, but then they tell you about this or that, and they’re actually real live people, with backstories, hopes, and dreams. Sorry, that’s a bit of a tangent, I suppose. But American Splendor does that to me. Not only that, but it inspired my own auto bio comics, Bearded Comic Book Enthusiast (issue 2 coming soon!). Shameless plug aside, thanks, Harv.

americansplendorpekarname

He always asked the important questions. Anyway, listen, I think I’ve gushed enough. Just know that these type of stories are what influence me the most, and are worth a read. In fact, here are some suggestions: Chew (One of my favorites of all time), Transmetropolitan, Preacher, Lumberjanes, Hellboy, Judge Dredd, From Hell, and really I can keep going and going, but maybe I’ll publish that as a separate list so I can go into more detail.

Listen, like I said, the super hero genre is a good read. I’m only trying to encourage people to delve into other areas. Comedy, horror, auto bio, sci-fi, fantasy, realistic fiction. Though super hero stories have many of these elements, they are really only one genre. I only hope to get people to take a bigger look at what talented creators have to offer. Independent books might not be your thing, but I think if you try the right one, you’ll open a new door, to a world full of stories you never would have experienced before. And in the end, that’s what comics are all about.