A Beginner’s Guide To Comics: A Response

I had originally written this as a comment to Andrew Hickey’s Beginner’s Guide to Comics, but I thought I would add it here instead. First go away and read his article and then come back to this:

Andrew’s is a good list which I would broadly agree with. Jaka’s Story was one of those strips which was being hailed during the “Pow! Comics Grow Up!” period of the late 80s. I’d like my older self to give it a read – I certainly remember the ending being very powerful. But as he recognises there is that Dave Sim “ick” factor which stops me from rushing.

All-Star Superman is good but I wouldn’t put it above Morrison’s Invisibles or (more controversially) Doom Patrol. It is however, much shorter than those two.

I re-read Sandman earlier this year. It was actually stronger than I remember, although that was partly due to the fact that I was one of those people who read the monthly comic and thus got alienated by Gaiman during The Kindly Ones when he stopped writing a periodical and switched to novel writing. Reading it as a whole it stands up; as a series of (less than) monthly episodes it really didn’t.

One of the big problems with enticing people into comics is that sometimes they can be quite inaccessible from a visual impairment point of view. I won’t bother trying From Hell on my girlfriend not because of the subject matter but because I’m pretty sure she’d find it impossible to read because of Eddie Campbell’s scratchy lettering.

Alice in Sunderland is a book I suspect I will go back and reread every couple of years for years to come. It is such a rich, dense book. As a meditation about what it means to be English (and in particular Northern English) it is fantastic. It SHOULD be taught in schools in my view. One Bad Rat is currently high on my reread pile.

As for things Andrew missed…

The best non-superhero Alan Moore things would have to be V for Vendetta, Halo Jones and (controversially) Skizz. The latter is ET done properly, even if the South African bashing is a little dated.

For the Buffy fans out there, you should give Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run a go. It is his best comics work in my view.

I read Mike Carey’s Lucifer in quick succession last year and loved it. As a meditation on the nature of free will it is required reading (for all those libertarian bloggers out there especially – and I’m not taking the piss there). His Unwritten is also shaping up well. There is a lot of Vertigo stuff which started in the early noughties which I missed completely for the simple reason that I had had enough of tiresome Sandman spin-offs.

Overall, 2000AD is a tricky thing to recommend. Dredd is almost certainly an acquired taste and I do appreciate that a lot of the 80s stuff has dated somewhat. I tend to find the “funny” stuff more difficult to justify than the “serious” stuff despite initially being attracted by the former. This is a shame because Wagner deserves much greater recognition than he gets. Far from being a simple fascist cop, the characterisation of Dredd is incredibly rich and yet understated in Wagner’s hands. One gets the impression it has become semi-autobiographical.

Of the relatively self-contained 2000AD stuff I would recommend Nikolai Dante, Caballistics, Inc. and Leviathan.

Finally, I would throw in Kyle Baker’s Why I Hate Saturn and You Are Here and Evan Dorkins Dork! (an acquired taste but brilliant nonetheless).


  1. Having followed you here from Andrew’s blog, I’d like to disagree and suggest that the best place to go comics-wise for the Buffy fans is the Buffy comics – and Fray, which I don’t count specifically as a Buffy comic, but nevertheless is a much better than average comic and one of Whedon’s best pieces of storytelling.

  2. Good choices for the most part.
    I wouldn’t say your girlfriend would necessarily find From Hell as difficult as you think, though. My wife is legally blind and managed to read it, although she says Campbell’s lettering did take some getting used to.
    I wouldn’t say Halo Jones and Skizz were among Moore’s *best* work, but they are among his more accessible ones.
    (Did you read Andrew Rilstone’s PDF about Watchmen, BTW? You really should if you didn’t).

  3. I have to admit to recently giving a non-comic reader the first two Buffy Season Eight graphic novels. I don’t know what she thought of them though.

    I was somewhat disappointed with Fray, both in terms of writing and art. It is less accessible because it is full of future slang. I certainly don’t think it is stronger than Astonishing X-Men. Plus, X-Men has John Cassady artwork.

    None of that is to say I didn’t like it.

  4. See, if this is meant to be what I thought it was, i.e. a list of comics to give someone who wasn’t familiar with comics in order to try and get them hooked, then yes, absolutely All-Star Superman deserves it more than Invisibles or Doom Patrol. Remember, it’s only partly about quality, and the two latter comics are pretty inaccessible (in general. The person to whom you’re giving these might be a very odd person who immediately takes to Doom Patrol, for instance, but you’ve got to assume that wouldn’t be the standard reaction). As Andrew says, you don’t need to know anything more about Superman than the average person already does, and experiencing a lot of these ideas for the first time through Morrison’s work is perfectly valid.

    Of course, I also happen to think ASS (sigh) is better than Doom Patrol anyhow.

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