If you’re an adult and you’re not reading comic books, you need to grow up. Although every Marvel Blockbuster (and every DC Flop) would have you believe they are nothing more than superheros punching bad guys and delivering quips, there is an almost limitless supply of books as tightly constructed as any episode of Mad Men or Game of Thrones.
Comic Books and Graphic Novels are a medium for storytelling, not a genre. And with that in mind, we’ve put together a list of 10 Comics and Graphic Novels specifically curated for the curious reader that couldn’t care less about Batman or Captain America.
By now, someone has told you to read Alan Moore’s Watchmen or Frank Millers The Dark Knight Returns after you feigned interest in the movies. Maybe you even entertained the idea of ordering a copy of Ghost Word or Scott Pilgrim because it seemed a little more “your style” but you figured, whatever, comics just wouldn’t be your thing. You like to sit down with a good book. Something that requires your attention, something that focuses on character development more than muscles and explosions. You actively seek out writers that question your belief in what the written word can accomplish.
Believe it or not, there are comic writers and artists out there that take their projects as seriously as the Ernest Hemingways and Jane Austens before them. For every 1 caped-crusader on the shelves, there are 10 independent books that deal with identity crisis, personal tragedy, and Horror-esque weirdness. Example:
The Walking Dead (W: Robert Kirkman, A: Charlie Adlard)
You’ve seen the show- Zombies! zOMbies! zOmBiESss! But what if you knew that there was a darker, ultra-violent, bleakest of the bleak alternate Walking Dead on a different channel? Like an original British version or a bonus disc loaded with alternate endings and never-been-seen footage, the monthly comic is (simply put) more Walking Dead than you thought you could handle. Hands down one of the darkest books anyone in the Straw Boss crew is reading right now.
Black Hole (Charles Burns)
Good art rarely seeks to provide answers. Good arts asks questions. For instance, what if there was a Sexually Transmitted Infection running through the United States toward the end of the 1970’s that turned teenagers creatures from the Twilight Zone? Mutations are unique to each person, in varying degrees of grotesqueness, including a girl who sheds her skin and a boy that has a second, smaller mouth halfway down his throat. Black Hole is a gritty, dread-filled, Fincher-esque thriller that reads as a story board for next year’s Oscar winner for best picture.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (Alison Bechdel)
Self-described as a “Targicomic”, Alison Bechdel’s memoir bring to light a strained relationship with her closested father in such intimate detail you almost feel you should wash your hands after reading it. With diction that would impress even David Foster Wallace, Bechdel peals back the layers of family mystery and personal tragedy in the wake of her father’s death, weeks after discovering his homosexuality.
Y The Last Man (W: Brian K Vaughan, A: Pia Guerra)
In a single moment, the males of every species across the world drop dead. Bulls, Caterpillars, Humans- everything with a Y chromosome had died, save for 1 sarcastic 20-something and the pet money he was training the afternoon everything fell to pieces. Naturally, being the last man on earth puts a pretty big target on Yorick Brown’s back. Man-hungry lonely hearts want him for his body, feminist extremist cults want him dead, and Agent 355 just wants to get him to the country’s top geneticist. The only problem is that Yorick could care less about preserving the human species without first finding his girlfriend in the remote outskirts of Australia. Y The Last Man, for all it’s ambition and originality remains one of the most poetic, sprawling pieces of story telling that rivals today’s most critically acclaimed fantasy epics.
Saga (W: Brian K Vaughan, A: Fiona Staples)
On the surface, it’s a Romeo and Juliet story with a diverse and outrageous cast of characters spread across generations and galaxies. Thirty pages in you realize it’s a complex, painstakingly constructed epic tackling war+peace, feminism, and motivations heavily weighed against turbulent lifetimes of bad and even worse decisions. If you’ve been fist pumping the air while watching Sansa Stark’s ascension after seasons of abuse and wallflowering, this book is for you.
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (Chris Ware)
Probably the saddest book I’ve ever read. Maybe not the strongest sales point for a recommendation, but Chris Ware’s infinitely complex “House-of-Leaves approach” to graphic novels is the perfect example of the emotion a visual medium can convey. A novel will deliver a heart breaking description of the emptiness and isolation Jimmy Corrigan feels, but pages of facial expressions with no dialogue bring you uncomfortably close to the story’s post-modern despair.
Daytripper (Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon)
On your darkest days, in your happiest moments, and after your most reckless escapades, you’ve asked yourself- What if I died, right now? Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon’s gorgeous and profound graphic novel takes us through the beaches and bedrooms of Brazil exploring the many lives a person leads from adolescence to adulthood. With it’s main character’s death separating each chapter, Daytripper is a book that most point to as evidence that comics can be true works of art.
Sweet Tooth (Jeff Lemire)
The apocalypse has happened. We don’t know why everyone started dying. We don’t know why all the woman began giving birth to babies with bizarre mutations and deformities (PAUSE: The babies don’t have super powers). We don’t know why Gus’s father will not let him leave the forest clearing they call home. But after his father dies, Gus decides it’s time to leave and explore the world he has been sheltered from his entire life. What follows is a Mad Max style serialization of the darkness that has overtaken a world of reluctant survivors.
Paying For It (Chester Brown)
Surrealist artist Chester Brown as covered a wide variety of subjects in his art including a Lousi Riel, Ed the Happy Clown, and (for better or worse) himself. in 1996, Chester Brown’s girlfriend broke up with him and although he had no desire to begin another relation (maybe ever again), he didn’t like the prospect of also giving up sex. Brown begins seeking out and visiting sex workers in the Toronto area, documenting the next several years with honesty and subtlety.
Epilectic (David B)
David B’s autobiographical account of his family’s struggle with his brother’s intractable epilepsy is an incredibly powerful entry into the world of graphic novels, and no doubt the book that I’ve gifted to my friends the most of the years. With elaborate interpretations of dreams and fears and obsession as living creatures, Eplilepsy seeks to make sense of the chaos caused by the invisible forces that shaped each of his family members lives.