Comic Books : Not Just For Heroes

Firstly, thanks to and for inspiring this blog. It's my first one ever, so be gentle! ;)

If there's one thing we can all agree on, it's this: more people should read comics. This sentiment is expressed time and time again, on the forums, in blogs, in comments. But what is it that keeps so many people away? Why don't they see that comics can be for all ages, that they can contain art as good - sometimes better - as anything you would find in a gallery; that their best writers surpass anything you'd find on TV; that they offer us a world in which anything is possible?

Unfortunately, a lot of people still have the same outdated misconception that comics are just superheroes and Garfield. Not that I have anything against comics of either type - I don't want to live in a world without Batman, Iron Man, Catwoman, and the world's most famous lasagna-addicted cat - but there is just so much more to comic books. So much more.

One thing I've learned since I joined the Vine is that we are all, in part, a little responsible for this. Yes, there are die-hard Vertigo fans here, horror experts, people who collect nothing BUT alternative and fringe comics. But if we really want the image of comics to change, if we really want other people to take our interest in comics seriously and share the work of these gifted artists with everyone...maybe it's time for something a little different. Maybe we all need to branch out, to show people that in our world, there is something for everyone.

The following list will be old news to some, but for others, maybe - just maybe - you'll find something here.

Straight Titles

The following titles, while sometimes humourous - in particular, Kill Your Boyfriend is infused with dark comedy - do, at their core, have something serious to say. From the art of Peter Kuper to the poetic musings of Alan Moore, these titles offer something more, digging a little deeper than your average comic book title.

  • Bottomless Belly Button (Fantagraphics) - Bottomless Belly Button is a very subtle book, considering it's subject matter. It tells the story of a marriage breaking down after over forty years, and the effect it has not only on the couple themselves, but on their grown-up children. Rather than pour on the melodrama, the story unfolds naturally, and at times beautifully. The pace may be a little slow for some, but I would strongly recommend this title.
Campbell + Moore's Disease Of Language
  • A Disease Of Language (Knockabout) - Alan Moore may be an established name in comics, but that doesn't mean that each of his titles is equally well-read. Certainly, there are a lot more column inches dedicated to Watchmen and From Hell than more challenging or commercially inaccessible works like Lost Girls or this, A Disease Of Language. Collecting Snakes & Ladders and The Birth Caul, Language is a stunning volume, Moore's writing at it's most lyrical and profound, while the art of Eddie Campbell complements this perfectly. Both thought provoking and fascinating, this is Moore at his best.
  • Kill Your Boyfriend (Vertigo) - A funny, dark and at times poignant rampage through the English suburbs, Kill Your Boyfriend is a tale of rebellion and extremity told through the eyes of a jaded schoolgirl searching for something more in life. Think Bonnie and Clyde, or Mickey and Mallory, with a wry British twist.
  • My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Pantheon) - David Heatley's autobiographical graphic novel is funny, moving, and unsettlingly honest. The author takes an unflinching look at his own life, sharing some of his most intimate - and often uncomfortable - moments. Forget the 'real' edge of urban dystopia or limit-pushing gore - THIS is real, possibly one of the most honest pieces of work in comics, period.
  • The System (Vertigo) - The fact that Peter Kuper can not only tell a story but convey a powerful message to the reader, without the use of dialogue or a written linear narrative, is testament to the clarity and power of his vision as an artist. The volume opens with a William Blake quote: "I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's". What unfolds is a hauntingly beautiful take on social and economical politics, with such subtlety and grace that the artist does not preach his message - you can take from it as much or as little as you like.

A Different Kind Of Hero

The comics in this category don't entirely fall outside of the realm of standard superhero fare. Some have powers - even costumes, in some cases - but that is where the comparison ends. There is a darker humour, and a different feel in general to these books, than you will find in a lot of the more mainstream titles.

Mercy, from the Vertigo title of the same name
  • Ectokid (Razorline) - Dexter Mungo - AKA Ectokid - is no ordinary teenager. His mother is a psychic, and his father is a ghost. As a result, he can only see the real world through one eye. Through his other eye he sees into the realm of the dead, a place known as the Ectosphere. Created by Clive Barker (as were all of the Razorline heroes), Ectokid is a great title for anyone looking for that hero-with-a-twist sort of comic book.
  • Mercy (Vertigo) - This beautifully illustrated story is certainly about a different kind of hero: Mercy. As her name might suggest, Mercy is the personification of compassion, an enigmatic being who appears to people in their darkest and most traumatic moments. A stunning and at times haunting tale, Mercy is not to be missed.
  • Saint Sinner (Razorline) - Another great (and short-lived) Razorline book, Saint Sinner tells the story of Philip Fetter, a young man who is possessed by both an angel and a demon. He also has arguably one of the strangest powers: the power of to evolve or devolve any life form, with mixed - and often unpredictable - results. Whether it's the chaotic artwork, the unique premise, or the moral fable of sin and redemption, Saint Sinner is a great read.
  • Scare Tactics (DC) - A bunch of escaped test subjects form a rock band to provide cover while on the run. The twist? They are a gang of teenaged monsters: a werewolf, a vampire, a lizard boy and a Hulk/Thing-style sludge monster. Led by the cynical, paranoid Arnold Burnsteel, the gang travel the country in an attempt to avoid capture. Humourous, entertaining and occasionally quite profound, the team provide a refreshing take on the world of comic book monsters.

Honourable mentions: The Maxx, American Freak

Humour

Bunny Suicides

It goes without saying that comics are, first and foremost, intended to entertain. The following comics are certainly worth picking up if you enjoy a good giggle!

  • Book Of Bunny Suicides (Hodder & Stoughton) - British cartoonist Andy Riley took British book charts by storm with this darkly humourous collection. The premise of the book is simple: a group of disenfranchised rabbits, taking their own lives in the most creative ways imaginable. The book includes parodies of Star Wars, Star Trek and The Wicker Man, among others. If you've ever read 101 Uses For A Dead Cat, expect more of the same!
  • Great Lies To Tell Small Kids (Hodder & Stoughton) - Another collection from Andy Riley, this time taking a look at the more comedic side of parenting. You don't have to have kids of your own, though, to appreciate the wit and outright craftiness displayed in this volume. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. You can find a review here.
  • Nemi (Egmont) - Nemi Montoya is not your typical girl, or your typical goth - there is nothing typical about this girl at all. Smart and funny, cynical without being cold and sentimental without getting all mushy, Nemi is a strong minded, excitable and perceptive young woman. Although published primarily in Scandinavian countries, there is a lot of translated material out there, just begging to be checked out. If it's wit and originality you're looking for, then search no more.
  • The Tick (New England) - A send-up of all things super, The Tick is a classic title. Though a parody of the comic book world, at the heart of the Tick comics is a strong fondness for the subject matter, not so much a criticism as a strong, back-handed compliment. If you have never read the adventures of The Tick and Arthur, his long-suffering sidekick, definitely get your hands on a copy. You won't regret it.

So there you have it, a quick look at some of the different and downright wonderful comics just off the beaten track. There are so many more out there, but any one of these titles is a great place to start.

Wishing you great reading,

BumpyBoo

23 Comments
23 Comments
Posted by lykopis

**Applause**

Posted by BumpyBoo

Much appreciated :D thank you

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Posted by CrimsonCake

Hurray for the Tick.

Spoons.

Posted by BumpyBoo

I know, what a hero! :)

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Posted by SC

This thread is incredibly valuable. Very well written, but yes lots of very cool comic books get overlooked for not being from the big two or about superheroes in tights. CV should have this on their first page, its a great guide to some alternative books. A lot of these books I am unaware of too, I look forward to tracking them down. Is great seeing The System, Mercy and Nemi get shout outs too! I have heard of Saint Sinner, but now I need to track down. Thank you for this amazing blog, the irony is that like the books you recommend it might get lost in the shuffle of threads, but we who read appreciate greatly and and nice first blog!    

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Posted by BumpyBoo

@SC said:

This thread is incredibly valuable. Very well written, but yes lots of very cool comic books get overlooked for not being from the big two or about superheroes in tights. CV should have this on their first page, its a great guide to some alternative books. A lot of these books I am unaware of too, I look forward to tracking them down. Is great seeing The System, Mercy and Nemi get shout outs too! I have heard of Saint Sinner, but now I need to track down. Thank you for this amazing blog, the irony is that like the books you recommend it might get lost in the shuffle of threads, but we who read appreciate greatly and and nice first blog!

Yes, I also appreciated the irony of that! Thank you, I do feel quite passionately about the comics I grew up reading, and I was quite dismayed to grow older and realise nobody really cares about them - comparatively, at least.

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Posted by Jorgevy

nope. I dont mind if people like to read other stuff but I only read comics for the tights and the flights...

good list though, variety is the juice of life

Posted by BumpyBoo

Well, if that's what you like, then that's cool. Life would be pretty boring if we all liked the same things, you're quite right there! But thank you for taking the time to read it anyway :D

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Posted by Jorgevy

@BumpyBoo: No problemo! just keep writing !

Posted by blackwolf0925

I am not really a comic book fan per say more of a manga reader myself. What I have notice myself with comics is that companies like Marvel and DC don't really like to branch out from there Superhero stories. There is not a lot of variety I see when it comes to them. I look at the books that I have in my collection and I see that there is a variety there from romance, comedy, sports, for teens, for adults, and even some for kids. My point is that if the big companies want to catch more of my interests they have give they obscure titles more of a push forward.

Posted by BumpyBoo

That's exactly my point, if you want to appeal to everyone then you have to offer a range of different things :) In fact, two of the books - Ectokid and Saint Sinner - were put out by a Marvel imprint called Razorline. Only problem is, they didn't really care about it (or at least that's the impression they gave), and it folded.

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Edited by RedQueen

Strangely enough, I've actually read quite a lot of these; the book of bunny suicides (and the sequels) is hilarious. And the one about the lies to tell to small kids....

This is an awesome blog, and something a little different from the norm *thumbs up*. Yes, I agree that more people should read comic books -of any sort. Most of my friends, who don't read comics, have the misconception that all comic books are about superheroes in the most obvious sense. It's taken me forever to convince them otherwise.......

Posted by BumpyBoo

@RedQueen said:

Strangely enough, I've actually read quite a lot of these; the book of bunny suicides (and the sequels) is hilarious. And the one about the lies to tell to small kids....

This is an awesome blog, and something a little different from the norm *thumbs up*. Yes, I agree that more people should read comic books -of any sort. Most of my friends, who don't read comics, have the misconception that all comic books are about superheroes in the most obvious sense. It's taken me forever to convince them otherwise.......

Yay! Someone else who already knows about the bunnies! Couldn't believe they weren't already on here :D I'm very glad to have your support. Sadly, my friends are the same way. Thanks for reading :)

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Posted by Imagine_Man15

Fantastic blog, and it opened my eyes to some books I'll have to read... wasn't aware of most of the things on your list, and most of them piqued my interest. I'm mostly a superhero comics reader, but I've begun to grow tired of the seeming lack of originality within the genre (this doesn't affect EVERY superhero book on the shelves, but enough of them that it gets off-putting).

Posted by BumpyBoo

I'm really glad you've found something here, that's exactly what I was hoping for :D You're right, there are superhero titles out there still providing original content and quality work, but I think there is far too little recognition for people who work outside of the mainstream.

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Posted by minigunman123

Interesting, not bad.

Also, lol @ the Tick. I used to watch the cartoon show he had on TV. He's awesome.

Posted by BumpyBoo

Thank you :)

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Posted by IrishX
@BumpyBoo
Nice write up.  I like any opportunity to mention the titles I like that don't get enough attention.  Many good titles listed in this thread here as well... Independent Love .
 
My own list from it... 
Hellboy / B.P.R.D.  
G.I. Joe  
The Goon 
Sin City  
Lady Mechanika  
Blacksad  
Project Superpowers / Black Terror 
The Rocketeer 
Carbon Grey 
The Walking Dead 
Last Man Standing 
The Spider  
Star Wars 
Elephantmen
Posted by BumpyBoo

Oh great, I didn't see that thread yet, nice find :) And thanks for reading! Always good to meet another follower of the road less traveled :D

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Edited by feebadger

@BumpyBoo: Some of my all time indie favourites are HERE.

Your article is fantastic and much needed. I have always felt that there is not enough of an independent presence on teh Vine and its good to see someone coming in to help balance that. You highlight a lot of comic companies who seem to fall by the wayside as people focus more on companies like Image, Dark Horse and Vertigo, which are not necessarily as independent as people might think. there are so many truly indie companies who could use the support who are putting out truly innovative and exciting stuff. And, of course, i will always doff my cap to Fantagraphics who just refused to say die and have, year upon year continued to diversify the comic book world for all concerned.

Thank you for this BumpyBoo. Very inspiring.

Posted by BumpyBoo

@feebadger: Thank you very much, I enjoy giving the smaller companies the credit they deserve. I love Vertigo, but it still surprises me that there are some people who think it is some cool, quirky independent company! I have absolutely nothing against the big names, but I just wish that people would open their minds a little. I grew up reading things like this, and it's kind of disappointing when you grow up and realize that an awful lot of the titles you love, hardly anyone could give a crap about. They deserve so much more.

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Posted by wildvine

Bump because I missed this, (despite knowing you forever) and so other people have probably missed it too. Will definitely hunt some of these down.

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Posted by BumpyBoo

@wildvine: Oh my gosh, the first one! I forgot it existed XD

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