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Recommended Comics

Had to offer a few alternatives to a guy on a board when he went a little far, IMO, in praising Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Neil Gaiman--all of whom deserve praise and recognition, but not as the best in the biz. If you read this site, you'll probably have seen me mention some of this before. If so, just take it as a friendly reminder that you need to get out there and support these guys. They deserve it.

The following is the result of that discussion.

Paul Hornschemeier -- Paul has a BA in Philosophy, first self published and sold his comics from a porn store in Cleveland, and now resides in Chicago. His material has an incredible range, is quite intelligent, and often tends towards the avant-garde. Writing and composition aside, his art is excellent, managing at once to feel cartoonish and realistic, while straying away from the look of traditional American mainstream comics. He is equally at home working in black and white, duotone, and full colour.

Sequential, a series of short comics of various tenor, is what got me into his stuff, and has been collected in a very nice hardcover. Mother Come Home, arguably his best, least experimental, and most accessible work, is the only one published by a relatively large press, Dark Horse. If your local comic or book store doesn't have these, you can always ask them to order 'em for you. Same goes for anything else here.

Scott Morse -- A masterful cartoonist, he has a detailed sort of art-deco flavor to most of his stuff. His layouts tend to be rigid, which actually allows for some really neat timing mechanisms here and there, such as having an understated bullet casing pop out of a gun and drop to the floor across several panels as the main action continues. Most of his work is printed in a single colour, usually black or sepia, without use of halftones.

Volcanic Revolver, a 1920s mafia tale of a bread store, its owner, and the little kid he teaches to draw, was his first comic that I read and remains one of my favorites. It incorporates humour, intrigue, Italian culture, and a touch of action into a very human story. The other one I'd recommend would be Soul Wind. Here, Morse dabbles in various genres and styles, trying his hand at fantasy, period fiction, sci-fi, and traditional Japanese and Irish folk, incorporating all of them with aplomb into one overarching journey.

Andi Watson -- Singular british artist who tends to work with Oni Press. His art tends towards stylized cartooning, usually in heavy black brush lines with good use of halftones and whites. His stories focus on typical life experience (as in Breakfast After Noon, the story of a British couple laid off from a pottery factory), but do not cling rigidly to it (as in Geisha, where a cyborg raised as a normal person tries to jump start her art career while working on the side as a bodyguard).

Will Eisner -- Is a legend. His art and layouts for The Spirit, printed from the late '30s until the early '50s, IIRC, are still ahead of their time in certain aspects. Eisner was the master; everybody looks up to him, no matter their aesthetic or political views on comics.

He helped to create the assemblyline approach to comics in their early years, pioneered comics as a learning tool (especially in the army), worked as both a CEO and a grunt in the industry, laboured in all the fields comics has entered into, and wrote the Bible of comics creation (based upon his lectures at several universities) in Comics and Sequential Art. Is often credited with the advent of the graphic novel thanks to his A Contract with God, a series of interconnected short stories about the street he grew up on in Brooklyn, printed in the late '70s. From that point on, Will focused on human drama, sometimes dealing in fact (e.g. My Last Day in Vietnam) but more often in fiction.

Drawn & Quarterly -- A publisher based in Quebec, dealing in alternative comics. I haven't read a whole lot from them, but it's all been top knotch. I especially recommend 5 is the Perfect Number, from the Italian artist Igort.

Fantagraphics -- An alternative publisher based in Seattle. They handle Los Bros Hernandez comics, such as the famous Love and Rockets series, and Daniel Clowes (best known for Ghost World). In that vein, they have a very strict rule about not dealing in genre fiction, and a serious distaste for all things superhero. People like Frank Miller, Mike Mignola, and Mike Allread sometimes confuse and anger them (or at least their owner, who sometimes handles the interviews for their excellent magazine The Comics Journal) despite being quite good.

Aside from alternative works, they are also big into newspaper comic strips. They've reprinted Peanuts, Little Orphan Annie, Felix the Cat, and Hal Foster's work on Prince Valiant, among others.

Blade of the Immortal -- An excellent Edo-period thriller about rounin and a young girl growing up during her quest for revenge. Recent art work in the series has almost become a study of how sketchy something can get while still being discernible. The layouts serve the work well. The translations from Studio Proteus fit nicely, and the book is actually cared for when it comes to printing issues, unlike a lot of the Dark Horse manga. The art and story are handled by Hiroaki Samura, who has also designed characters for video games, such as the Way of the Samurai series.

Vagabond -- Published stateside by Viz. $10 a volume, and includes colour pages. The art is awesome, especially in its expressive potential. The story focuses on famed warrior Miyamoto Musashi and the people around him as he walks the path of the sword. The books read ridiculously fast, but you can always go back and appreciate all they have to offer more than once.

Table for One -- A graphic novel by Bosch Fawstin about a would be writer working as a waiter in Manhattan shortly after the September 11 attacks. The setting is really just a backdrop for a character study. Most striking thing about the book is the layout, which just may be the best I've ever seen printed. It is truly awe inspiring. The rest of the black and white art is inconsistent, but manages along just fine, and makes you feel almost like you were watching an animated film.

Hawkworld -- A mini-series, and then a brief ongoing series from the early '90s wherein DC's Hawkman and Hawkwoman are 'rebooted', eventually becoming something akin to ambassadors to earth from their home planet of Thanagar, the titular Hawkworld. The shorter series was written by Timothy Truman, while the longer one was handled by John Ostrander. The story focuses on the politics and social struggles which policeman Katar Hol (later, Hawkman) becomes entangled in. I don't know if it has ever been collected in trade paperback, but you should be able to find most of the issues for pretty cheap if you take the trouble to look.

Kings in Disguise -- An out of print graphic novel published by Kitchen Sink Press some time ago. It is now back in print, as it should be, being published by W.W. Norton & Company. It tells the story of a young, homeless kid hoboing around the US with the help of an adult trying to get back to his wife in California during the depression. You can check it out from the Seattle Public Library, if you're ever here.

Usagi Yojimbo -- Some people think UY is just another cartoony Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles character. Not so. While Stan Sakai's work didn't get published until a few months after the Turtles made their debut in 1984, he had been planning it four years prior. The character, Usagi Yojimbo, has made appearances in the Turtles' cartoons and books because Sakai is friends with Kevin Eastman.

Sakai is a master artist, able to evoke incredible detail with a few strokes of his brush, and a fine storyteller. Usagi Yojimbo has been ongoing since November of 1984, surviving the bubble bursting around black and white comics in the mid '80s and gaining quite a following despite being a 'funny animal book'. You really should try it out.

Howard Chaykin -- You may be asking, "Why do I know his name?" Because he's been working in comics since 1977? Because he created American Flagg, rejuvenated Blackhawk, focused with fervor on writing pulp fiction for an adult audience at a time when a lot of people didn't believe comics could do such a thing, and brought a unique and influential approach to both character design and lettering to the craft?
Maybe just because some of his stuff has been published by DC's Vertigo. I don't know. You should know his name, reasons be damned. But more importantly, you should know his work.

Timothy Truman -- Recently did some work on the Conan comic published by Dark Horse, if you want to check it out. Been in the biz and turning out fine, almost fantasy-ish work for about 23 years now.

John Ostrander -- Probably the best superhero or action author in comics thanks to his focus on storytelling and his good rapport with artists. Co-created GrimJack (a book which has recently been revived by IDW) with Timothy Truman. GJ manages somehow to emboby all that was good about comics prior to the '80s and a lot of what was going to be good about the newer, more adult-focused material which would follow. He's been working on a lot of Star Wars books for Dark Horse of late.

Mike Baron & Steve Rude -- Best known for their work together in creating Nexus and The Badger, both of which are about guys in costumes who partake in action but aren't really superheroes and don't really function in superhero-type worlds. Baron writes, Rude draws, and both damn well.

MOME -- If you want to check out some comics as actual, serious literature, get this. I just found out about this myself, and so haven't had a chance to read it, but the people involved are tops. It should be good. [EDIT - 1/22/2010 - This recommendation turns out to have been something of a mistake. Sometimes, the comics featured are great. More often, they are rubbish. If you're considering MOME, peruse each individual issue before buying it. See if it appeals to you.]

Mister Blank -- Probably the best, least known adventure comic I can think of (perhaps other than Corto Maltese, but that's at least had a following in other countries). Somewhat cartoonish and exceedingly fun, driven by a complex and original mythology and science fiction, this is the tale of Sam Smith, a timid everyman who is suddenly forced into the realization that he is a complete badass.

This is a product the like of which can only be made by someone possessed with a passion for their craft. Anybody who likes adventure books (and that includes those featuring scantily clad body builders flying through the skies) should purchase this--it can be easily obtained through Slave Labor Graphic's website, and when I ordered mine, it came signed and with a sketch from the creator.

Corto Maltese -- I just mentioned that, right? It's an adventure book, too, but completely different from Mister Blank. The art is kind of sketchy, the stories are more or less realistic, and often deal with very difficult subjects occuring around the time of the first world war. The lead, however, is just as badass as Sam Smith. He's a pirate, a hero, a mercenary, a spy, and apparently popular and somewhat famous throughout Europe while remaining not too well known. Basically, he travels the globe and gets involved in just about anything that might turn out in a mess.
If you can find any of the books from this series, which appears to be out of print in America, you should snatch them up right fucking away.

City of Glass -- An adaptation of Paul Auster's novel, the transformation of which was handled by Paul Karasik and David Mazzuchelli (who worked most famously with Miller on Daredevil and Batman: Year One, though this is totally fucking different material) under the supervision of Art Spiegelman (of Maus fame).

The premise is that an erstwhile author has been mistaken for Paul Austor, who is fictionally some sort of detective, and been asked to find a person somewhere in New York. That, however, is just an excuse to get into the main character's head, which is where this book really excells.

It's well known enough to be available at a large bookstore, but obscure enough to probably not be in stock at your local comic shop. If you see a chance to pick it up, you should do so. You absolutely will not regret it.

Maus -- Come on. You know about this. Everybody knows Maus. It's long time underground artist and publisher (RAW) Art Spiegelman's book about interviewing his father on being a Jew in Nazi Germany and ending up in Auschwitz. It mainly stays in his father's time, though. Also, the lead characters are mice. More than anything Frank Miller or Alan Moore did, this got comics recognition as an art and literary form of high potential.

Of further interest are Jeff Smith's Bone, Mike Allred's Madman, Ashley Woods's Popbot, Jay Stephens's Atomic City Tales, Bob Burden's The Flaming Carrot, the early Lupin III comics from Monkey Punch, John Pham's work, and anything by Alex Toth.

Comments

  1. I picked up Watchmen tonight at Barnes and Noble and found it offensive to my eyes. The drawing and color sucked. I mean, I grew up reading Spiderman and X-men and I absolutely love Todd McFarlane; to me, those are good comics. Why is Watchmen so critically acclaimed? It's been over a decade since I picked up a comic book and this one looked like garbage.

    Maybe I'm just not into a panel with two colors total -- like an entire person is red and the background is yellow. Blah.

    The story seemed "meh" too.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The comics you liked as a kid were, quite honestly, trash. But, hey, I liked them when I was 12, too. Thing is, I also thought Watchmen was the greatest comic ever at that point.

    A lot of the comics I read when I was young were actually purchased by my dad or uncle before I could have, prior to, say, 1987 and stretching as far back as the late '60s. On my own, I got into a lot of reprints of Silver and Golden Age material, also. So I was well acquainted with old school comics, the way things were before Miller and Moore exploded onto the scene. I think that set me up to better appreciate what they brought to the game in terms of craft and approach, and to see how later comics were influenced by them.

    Something few comic writers had realized prior to material like Watchmen was just how important the juxtaposition of words and pictures really was in comics--how the two could complement eachother without replicating one another, how they could be used to play up themes in the work merely by their composition. In the case of Moore's work, his scripts are so detailed, you have to attribute this to him and not his artists. However, Gibbons (who didn't handle the colouring, but was the main artist for Watchmen) did make a major contribution just by way of style. His drawings were more realistic and less idealized than most comics tended to be at the time, but still managed to evoke an older style than the more sketchy approach which had become the norm by the mid '80s. This complemented Moore's writing perfectly, for Watchmen was more or less intended as a funeral march for the superhero genre.

    It also builds up into a very cool story, which is why it (along with Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns) accidentally reinvigorated the whole superhero thing.

    But that does not make it come out on top of the best literature comics have to offer. It ain't the pinnacle. It just hinted at some of the possibilities, many of which were realized or even furthered by the works I mentioned. And in the case of Will Eisner, who was one of the greatest innovators in this realm, the vast majority of his work came before Miller and Moore had jobs, some of it before they had been born.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Incidentally, there is a newly recoloured version of Watchmen out, which may or may not satisfy those who didn't like the original. Watchmen: the Absolute Edition has 134 pages of extras, comes in a slipcase, and costs a ridiculous $75.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Just want to say thanks for the good words, really appreciate it.

    Best

    ReplyDelete

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