Not just for kids

I spent my summer watching superhero movies. We went through all of the X-Men movies, saw The Avengers at least five times which led to rewatching the Iron Man movies as well, and after watching all three of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies my husband encouraged me to watch the 1992 Batman: The Animated Series.

When I was a kid I read comic books. I demanded my father read to me from a novel sized copy of The Incredible Hulk every night. I remember reading and rereading the comic book where Superman dies. That huge rock monster dies too, but I was distraught, how could Superman be dead? I think I read a little Batman here and there, never read any Spider-Man or X-Men though.

Once I moved on to novels I never really looked back. Comic books were something I had done with my father and after he passed away I didn’t have anyone bringing new comic books into my life. I think I viewed them as a phase that was in my past. Stories with pictures went out the window once I moved past chapter books. I’m not saying comic books are childish, so don’t get up in arms, no one is being insulted here. I still love superheroes and I wish I didn’t need to confirm details with my husband about the movies we watched this summer.

His favorite superhero is Batman. The hero with no powers — just loads of money and a deep dark pain that he seeks to heal by helping Gotham, and hurting some bad guys on the way — speaks to a lot of people. He has become my favorite too. The only details I know about Batman are from the movies. I know that I like the new, darker reboot than the George Clooney movies but not much else. I asked my husband what comic books I should start with if I wanted to read the Batman series and he looked like a kid on Christmas. I haven’t had time to start yet, but I look forward to reading the original Batman stories.

Entering the world of comic books can be intimidating these days. Stories are everywhere about how “real geeks” are hazing the newcomers, especially women, who they believe lack the geek cred to belong to their club. Graphic novels have serious followings and while they are becoming more mainstream I still feel lost in that section of the bookstore. The fans aren’t always welcoming to people who don’t know what they’re doing. I want to start reading these stories and appreciating the fantastic artwork, but I’m not sure where to begin. My husband knows about traditional superhero comics but he is equally uneducated about the newer books.

I have Maus I and II and The Complete Persepolis, both are biographical graphic novels about dark periods in our history. Maus is the story of the author’s parents’ life in concentration camps during World War II. Art Spiegelman uses animals as the different races in the story. Persepolis is the story of Marjane Satrapi’s childhood in Iran during and after the Islamic Revolution. Neither are light reading.

I want to start out with something less intense, preferably fiction. But I need recommendations. Do I start with Batman, where I’m comfortable? Or the graphic novel version of Game of Thrones so I know the storyline already? I feel like I’ll be distracted by the pictures on the next page and knowing the story might help keep me from jumping ahead in the plot. Do I try Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series? I know I like the author already. Or should I start a new genre with a new author? I need help. Tell me where you started or wish you had started when reading comic books or graphic novels. I’m not really interested in manga, but maybe I will be after dipping a toe into this new world. I won’t rule out anything at this point.

Any advice is welcome, help a girl gain some geek cred!

Kelly Hannon worked in an indie bookstore, is editing her first novel, and blogs about annoying people at Follow her on Twitter @KellyMHannon

7 Responses to “Not just for kids”
  1. Oh my oh my. *rubs hands together* This is my area of expertise.

    Of all the things I’ve written about for the Idler, I’d recommend Batman (current run by Scott Snyder), Batgirl (current run by Gail Simone) and Batwoman (any, particularly Batwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka) the most for super-hero fare. All are available in initial collections and recent issues can be found at your local comic shop.

    Sandman is an always classic choice, but I would also point you towards Fables and Sweet Tooth. Fables may seem daunting (volume 18 just came out), but all collections are readily available online and in stores. Sweet Tooth is just ending its monthly run, so starting at the beginning would be no daunting task.

    And if you like Game of Thrones, and want to hit a local comic shop, I’d try Sword of Sorcery by DC Comics. Only 3 issues have been out and it’s a great read. It is also readily available through and its iPad/tablet app.

    Can’t wait to hear what you choose!

    • Kelly Hannon says:

      Sword of Sorcery sounds good, I’ve been looking for something to fill the Game of Thrones void in my life. I’ll have to head out to my local shops and see what’s available.

  2. Barbara Postema says:

    I’m not a big Marvel/DC reader, so I’ll give you some alternatives that you might enjoy:
    Jeff Smith’s Bone, Craig Thompson’s Good-bye Chunky Rice, Brian Ralph’s Daybreak, Love and Rockets by the Hernandez brothers, Lynda Barry’s One Hundred Demons, Jessica Abel’s La Perdida and Life Sucks, Colleen Doran’s A Distant Soil, It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken by Seth. And lots of other books by Drawn and Quarterly, Fantagraphics, Top Shelf Productions and First Second Books, basically. There’s just too much, so see what you like of the stuff I’ve mentioned and let me know if you want more suggestions ;-)

    • Kelly Hannon says:

      I’ve heard of Bone, I think we had it in the kid’s section where I worked, not that that means it can’t be awesome. :) I liked the artwork in it.

  3. Agree muchly with Barbara’s suggestion of Bone.

    This past weekend, I picked up a few trades. Two were gifts. They’re both by Brian K. Vaughn, and they’re both pretty grand: Runaways v1 and Saga v1. Also picked up Planetary v1-3, and you’re welcome to borrow if you’d like.

    For light reading, Runaways is pretty win. Also, if you can find it, the Middleman is pretty awesome (as was the tv adaptation).

    The Boys is great, but doesn’t really fit the bill for what you’re looking for right now. The same is true of Irredeemable and the Walking Dead.

    Warren Ellis’ Freakangels is pretty good and readable on the interwebs for free:

    Transmetropolitan, also by Ellis, is also quite good, ableit a bit batshit insane at times.

    As much as I disliked the massive character shift, I’ll admit the the Alan Moore-penned Supreme books were worth reading. I think I have the trades somewhere.

    I’ll dig through my big box this weekend and see if I have anything I can salvage for you.

    • Kelly Hannon says:

      Whatever you want to lend me, I’ll take it. I can’t promise returning anything soon. The baby is pretty awful.

  4. Gavin Craig says:

    I only just got my hands on Planetary volume 4 yesterday, and highly recommend the whole thing. If you’re looking for more “literary” comics, I’m a big fan of Adrian Tomine — his collections “Summer Blonde” and “Shortcomings” are like if early, alcoholic Raymond Carver had been a millennial and written comics. Rich, bleak, depressing, and masterfully done. Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” is essential reading — it’s possibly the most literary superhero story ever done — and his “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” series does something sort of similar to Planetary, but with an entirely different tone and set (mostly) at the tail end of the 19th century instead of the 20th.

    I’ll second Greg Rucka’s “Batwoman: Elegy.” It’s simply one of the best, most beautifully drawn, most rounded mainstream comics stories of the past few years. Rucka and Ed Brubaker’s “Gotham Central” series is also amazing. (I wrote about it here on The Idler a while ago.)

    But more than anything, get to CADL! Lansing’s library has an amazing set of comics collections available to check out. They have most or all of what I’ve listed above, and probably most of the other recommendations here as well.

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