In Q & A, a weekly feature of Fantastic Fangirls, we ask our staff to tackle a simple question — then open the floor to comments.
What is a comic you would recommend to new readers?
Marvel has a line of digests (manga or paperback sized books) with titles from Spider-Girl to Emma Frost to Runaways and I think pretty much all of them work as “new reader” comics. They are compact and they have little or nothing to do with whatever the overly-complicated main plot might be going on in the larger universe — but they are a part of or at least connected to that larger universe so they serve as an introduction (the line is now under the Marvel Adventures banner). For example: Sentinel by Sean McKeever and UDON.
I am a huge fan of this short-lived series about a boy and his Giant Robot Killing Machine. It’s a plot similar to the equally wonderful film The Iron Giant but the robot is a Sentinel, a semi-sentient weapon whose mission is to detect and destroy mutants. But even Juston has to do a Google search to figure that out. And Juston’s knowledge of mutants and the X-Men is on par with someone who’s seen the movies, or even just the movie previews, so the reader can learn as he does. But the story isn’t about mutants or superheroes or even giant robots. It’s about a family. It’s about high school. It’s about discovering who we are.
Having relatable characters is the key for me, so of course what someone relates to matters. But I’d start by looking through the Marvel Digests.
It depends on the reader and their interests, of course, but one comic I have particularly enjoyed recommending is The Escapists. Written by Brian K. Vaughan, and drawn by a number of artists including Philip Bond and Jason Shaun Alexander, this 6 issue Dark Horse miniseries is particularly good for people who like books but aren’t sure they like comics.
The Escapists is a modern sequel to Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. That book told the story of a young artist and writer in World War II-era New York City who created a (fictional) Golden Age comic book hero called the Escapist. The modern Escapists series takes place in that novel’s “universe” and tells the story of a young writer and his friends who attempt to revive the Escapist character. Not only is this a compelling self-contained story (it probably helps to know the Chabon novel, though it isn’t essential), but it has the double advantage of teaching readers about how comics are made. I gave this book to my sister — a Chabon fan, but not a comics reader — whose first comment upon finishing was, “It never occurred to me that they need somebody to put the letters in the word balloons!”
That’s the kind of detail that The Escapists makes you think about. It was one of the first comic books I read, as well, and I’m glad it was. Reading this book made me conscious, from the start of my interest in comics, that the books I was buying were created by real people with artistic goals as well as financial concerns. It has shaped how I think about the creation of comics ever since, and because of that I think it’s a great book for a reader who is new to comics.
I can’t give a blanket answer — it all depends on what else the person is interested in. I have, for instance, lent out my copy of Matt Fraction’s The Five Fists of Science to a non-comics-reading friend with an interest in Tesla. For an artist friend who had never opened a comic book, I recommended Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III’s breathtaking Batwoman: Elegy. Seeing the previews for Jim McCann and Janet Lee’s Return of the Dapper Men has already set my mind whirling, thinking of the steampunk and children’s fiction fans I might recommend it to. I take things I have loved, whose quality I can vouch for, and pass them along to those who might be interested in that particular story. Or I simply take a friend to the comic book shop or the book store, let them peruse the shelves, and answer any questions they might have to help them make educated choices. As fans, that’s the best job we can hope to do.
That would depend entirely on what the person I was talking to liked to read.
In the past I have recommended Transmetropolitan, Alias, and Whiteout as first comics. Also Sandman, Astonishing X-Men, and Finder. I recommended Tiny Titans to my kids. Discrete stories in easy-to-find formats, in print, usually in trade paperback or graphic novel form. Stories with a start and a finish, with richly executed characters to whom I think the intended audience will relate.
So What about you? What is a comic you would recommend to new readers?