Comic Books 101

One would think that a child who barely emerged from her self-built library book fort would have cracked open a comic book or two before the age of 28. But alas – I had no real introduction to superhero stories and, to be honest, I was quite happy to be left alone with my sci-fi and fantasy novel collection. (Star Wars EU and Doctor Who Target Novelizations were basically my wallpaper. Nothing has changed.) Comic shops were home to boxes and binders chock-full of ideas for my next surrealist Magic: The Gathering deck (sometimes I even wrote my decks theme songs, but that’s a story for another day). I skipped right past the comics to hang with the D20 crowd and never gave them another thought.

As a New Yorker living in the stereotypical closet apartment, storage issues kept me at bay in adulthood, despite hearing rumblings of truly spectacular stories being told in the graphic medium. Eventually, storage also got the better of my book collection and I caved to the ereader marketplace, which I’ve now grown to love. At the time though, the major selling point for a reading tablet was that I could finally take the plunge into the world of comics. Armed with a brand-new Comixology account and a burning desire to see what all the fuss was about, I got reading.

So, what books drove me to learn about pull lists and the difference between issues and trades? Here are the comics that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

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Sandman is the first series I read, and honestly it’s why I wanted to start in the first place. I’d heard amazing things about this Neil Gaiman masterpiece and it did not disappoint. I strongly suspect that any series less gripping or less stunning artistically would have sent me running from the medium – I needed the motivation of a spectacular story to keep learning about what comics can do. Before I knew what was happening, I was lost in the constellations of Dream’s eyes.

The Endless allow us mere mortal readers to explore the very best of our myth stories across all cultures. The transition from Delight to Delirium is haunting, and I often wonder if I’ve created any half-written transcripts that are kept safe in Lucien’s library. Sandman is almost too big to talk about, and what’s clear even to a new reader is that this is the very best of what comic books has to offer – the depth of the story, the malleability of its characters and the abstract art that is pivotal to the story’s telling (particularly in Sandman Overtures, which is also amazing)  – they all combine to create a tale that simply must be done as a comic. It’s a hell of a place to start.

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From my first full series to the first one I bought in real-time- Bitch Planet is everything I hoped it could be and more. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro have harnessed the ultimate anti-utopian feat. Bitch Planet is a home to us non-compliant females of the world, full of women who dare to act for themselves, who exist without a mind to the Council of Fathers, who side eye the expectations society hoists on us and flip up a middle finger. Bitch Planet is as funny and devastating and completely fucking important as the essays that close out each issue. Speaking of, I hiiiiiiighly recommend reading this issue by issue, because those essays about feminism and identity are vital and don’t appear in the trade editions. Besides, you really don’t want to miss the ad section entitled “Hey, Kids! Patriarchy!”

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Every time a new issue of Saga appears on my Kindle, I know exactly how that night will end – me, yelling at the top of my lungs at no one in particular about how insufferably perfect this story is. It is so good it makes me angry. Saga is my high water mark for the comic book genre: the art is graceful and graphic, the storytelling more than lives up to its Shakespearean inspirationand the characters are just as exceptional, flawed, ever-evolving. The action sequences are paced to perfection. The emotions are devastatingly real. DID I SAY ALREADY THAT IT’S SO GOOD IT MAKES ME ANGRY.

Anything can happen in Saga, and yet it never feels overly wrought or manipulative. Character deaths can be abrupt, but are never glossed over -and the resulting downward spirals from those left behind are executed with care and thoughtfulness. The supporting cast of characters worm their way directly into your heart – I would give anything for a Lying Cat, and if someone so much as looks at Ghüs the wrong way, I can’t be held responsible for my actions. If you take nothing else from this, read Saga. I’m begging you.

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I just love Kamala Khan. Love. Her. Whether she’s maneuvering the let down of realizing your ex is horrible, defending her fellow Jersey City residents from danger, opening up to her family or dorking out over meeting Wolverine, she’s the ultimate fangirl-turned-superhero. This is the kind of story I wish I had access to as a teenager. Kamala has brought me to tears on the regular with her wit and wisdom, and I cannot wait to see what she gets up to next.

Honorable Mentions:  Alias (Jessica Jones), The Wicked & The Divine, Doctor Who (particularly the Four Doctors series)

So that’s it! What’s on your list? Got any killer recommendations for me? Leave ’em in the comments.