Howdy Folks! Last week on Funny Books we covered some of the basics for getting into comics. This week, we’ll discuss reading Non-Superhero comics. Everything outside of DC and Marvel is fair game, so let’s get started.
First, A Little History
As we learned last week, the first comic book wasn’t a superhero story, it was a humor magazine. The non-superhero portion of the comic industry thrived until the 1950’s, when Congress threatened to censor these books based on psychiatrist Dr. Frederic Wertham’s study, Seduction of the Innocent, which accused comic books of causing juvenile misbehavior and mental deviancy. The industry chose to premtively self-sensor with the passage of the Comic’s Code. It would not be until the early 1980’s that non-superhero comics would regain mainstream prominence thanks to the works of Steve Gerber, Alan Moore, and Neil Gaiman.
Should I Even Bother with Non-Superhero Books?
I would advise any prospective comic reader to at least try out one non-superhero comic book. Everyone has different tastes, and superheroes aren’t for everyone. Maybe you like crime stories, or science adventures, or fantasy epics, or a combination of the three. The great thing about comics is that if you can think of a premise, there’s a good chance it’s already been made.
So Where Should I Start?
I wish I could give you a specific company that only publishes one type of genre, but I can’t. Companies like Dark Horse, Image, and Boom!, are pretty good places to start, but each tend to dabble in a variety of books. Then there’s DC’s Vertigo line, which is its own separate thing. Not to mention the myriad of independent publishers. So instead, I’ll give you a few comic series that I think new readers would enjoy.
Fables (Bill Willingham)
Think Disney meets Sex in the City. Fables is about all your favorite fairy tale characters living in modern day New York. But don’t let the large number of princesses fool you. These characters are all based on their original, medieval myths. The series lives up to its roots with its use of violence, sex, swearing, but also a lot of heart. Willingham does an incredible job of humanizing these characters, while still maintaining their timelessness. A definite must read for new and old comic readers alike.
Criminal (Ed Brubaker)
Criminal is a series of crime stories by Ed Brubacker, one of the masters of gritty story telling. Because each story arc is self-contained, readers can pick up any trade paperback collection without feeling lost or obligated to pick up more. I personally recommend Vol. 6, Last of the Innocence. If you like Criminal, or Brubaker’s writing style, I’d also recommend his critically acclaimed series, Gotham Central.
The Sword (The Luna Brothers)
The Sword is a story about a young woman whose family is killed by three super powered beings. Vowing revenge, she hunts down these three self-proclaimed immortals, promising to kill them all using a magical sword. I recommend this book not only for its stellar art work and manga inspired action, but also for its non-traditional use of superpowers. Remember, superpowers don’t necessarily mean superhero.
Saga (Brain K. Vaughan)
Saga is about an idea. What if you created a story so original and weird and fantastic that it could only work as a comic book? Mixing a little bit of Star Wars, Romeo and Juliet, Game of Thrones, and Look Who’s Talking, Saga follows the journey of two lovers from warring species trying to find a safe place to raise their newborn child. On a side note, can I say how incredibly difficult it was to pick just one Brian K. Vaughan series? Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, The Runaways, The Escapists, all of these are incredible reads.
DMZ (Brian Wood)
DMZ takes place in the near future, where the United States is embroiled in a civil war. The story follows Matty Roth, an amateur journalist who gets stuck in the middle of New York, now a Demilitarized Zone. The series takes quite a brutal look at war ravaged environments that uncomfortably remind you of real world parallels. If you’re in the mood for something more political, this is the story for you.
There you have it. Five comic book series that don’t even come close to scratching the surface of non-superhero stories. As always, I’d recommend doing your own research or checking out top ten lists for more books. Next week we’ll cover Reading Manga. Thanks for reading!