By Mike Pallotta
It’s hard to blame anyone for not wanting to enter the world of comic books. If you look at a rack in any given comic shop, you’ll see cover upon cover of superheroes posing—heroes who THWIP, SNIKT, POW and BLAM the hell out of their opponents until the problem’s BAMFed away. That’s an intimidating world to get into, where the single issue of Amazing Spider-Man you pick up is a blip on the map of Spidey’s near 50-year history. Not to mention that you’ve probably been turned off by the non-stop shitstorm of formulaic superhero movies from the past decade. So superheroes aren’t up your alley.
Start with either Unlikely or Funny Misshapen Body. Brown built his career on doing relationship stories (all autobiographical) in his scribbly, simplistic style that comes off like it’s all drawn by an 8-year-old. You could interpret it as childish, but I see it as being a no-bullshit, show-the-beast-for-what-it-truly-is style of art. And
when you’re doing a relationship story, there’s no better way to draw it than in a completely
raw, honest way. His stories never paint relationships as all-bad or all-good, instead showing the entire spectrum of how things can be.
This is done to perfection in Unlikely, the story of how Brown lost his virginity. Funny Misshapen Body, on the other hand, is a collection of instances throughout his life that basically make up the man he is today. Like his relationship stories, they’re not all happy or sad or funny, but they all make for an amazing read.
having too much sex, and now we have gross, goofy problems like burning pee or serious, life-threatening diseases like AIDS. Black Hole takes the oddities of sex and creates a microcosm of teenage sexual behavoir in the ‘70s, with some strange side-effects—like a mouth popping up on one kid’s neck that whispers all of his suppressed thoughts. The art is all black and white (you might recognize his works from the magazine The Believer or Altoids ads).
Try Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor (the one with Paul Giamatti on the cover) or The Quitter. Pekar perfected the art of showing the drama of everyday life. You’ll be blown away by what he can make a story out of sometimes. American Splendor (this volume in particular) follows Pekar in and out of his work as a medical file clerk. What makes American Splendor a classic isn’t the anecdotes from issue to issue, but the progression of ideas. The format of the comic allows Pekar to write about the things that he thinks about all day, every day.
And thus, the reader is left with the profundity of humble life. The Quitter is essentially a prequel to American Splendor, telling the story of his life leading up to about age 20. Unfortunately, Pekar passed away recently at the age of 70, so we won’t get any more disgruntled stories of everyday old-man-life, but then again, he’s pretty much been doing that since his 30s. And I miss him for it.
I can’t recommend this guy enough. He writes his characters with a kind of heart and sentimentality that can only be compared to the way Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life, It Happened One Night) dire
cted his films. Everything he wrote and drew is incredible and worth a read. Eisner was around when comics first started in the ‘30s, and he invented the graphic novel in the ‘70s (since these were the first comic stories that were novel-sized in length and weren’t serialized) with his A Contract with God trilogy—which is a set of three books (A Contract with God, Dropsie Avenue, and Life Force).
His way of drawing characters is emotive to say the least and only enhances the drama and emotion of his writing. Eisner could even put emotions into the walls, streets, and lampposts surrounding his characters. He pushed the boundaries of the panels he drew within. I’d suggest starting with the trilogy A Contract with God (my favorite of the three is Dropsie Avenue). If you like that, then you’ll pretty much like anything.
Anything by Warren Ellis. FreakAngels is a free weekly comic he does that’s available online at www.freakangels.com. Each installment is six pages, and there’s an easy “read from the beginning” button on the right. Angels follows a group of early 20-somethings in a post-apocalyptic England who are trying to build their own community out of the rubble that’s left behind.Their reasoning behind building a new society? Well, they might’ve actually caused the apocalypse…with their mind powers. Trust me, you’ll love it. It’s a fast read, and it’s free. That means you get all the joys of pirating material online without doing anything illegal, so why the fuck not?
Jonathan Ames’ The Alcoholic is a memoir in the same retrospective vein as The Quitter (it even shares the same artist, Dean Haspiel), but it’s equally a good read and definitely worth picking up.
His books are worth picking up. (32 Stories, Sleepwalking, Summer Blonde, and Shortcomings—I’m pretty sure they’re released in that order too. 32 Stories was recently reprinted in a nice, new fancy edition.) These are alternative comics, or nobody-gets-me-but-I’m-somehow-still-cool indie comics. They’re short stories about odd people, and Tomine does a good job at making you sympathize with the out-there characters, but you gotta watch out for other people who read them. They can be full of themselves and “hip.”
BRUBAKER & PHILLIPS
If the autobiographical or “real life” stuff gets to be a bit much for you, you can start reading some crime books. I have yet to read one I haven’t enjoyed. Books like Incognito or Criminal by Ed Brubakerand Sean Phillips offer a fresh, modern take on some older noir ideas. In case you need a further nudge to read Incognito, Bill Hader (Superbad, SNL) writes the intro to the book, and is, obviously, also a huge fan of Criminal.
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If you’re still left wanting more, pick up Asterios Polyp, Fun Home, Stitches, or anything done by Jeff Lemire, Chris Ware, or Eric Powell. If you like the stuff I’ve recommended and want to just go hunting for stuff on your own, start with these two publishers: Top Shelf and Drawn & Quarterly. I’m sure you’d enjoy most of the stuff they print.
But don’t use that as an excuse to seclude yourself from a growing artform. These are words and pictures put together! The limits are endless and the ends are limitless! Here are some books from the other world of comics—the indie world—a growing community of creators who want to write stories outside of the norm.