Comic books can seem intimidating. If you go into a comic book store, you’re confronted with walls and walls of paper and no road map that tells you where to start. If you’ve never read a comic before and want to dip your toe in the ink-filled waters, here’s a few recommendations that blend excellent storytelling and incredible illustration.
But first, some advice: comic books have long histories, confusing continuities, alternate universes and multiple personalities that use the same name. If you’re looking to read comics a bit more, it’s best to look for a synopsis that captures your eye.
You should always take recommendations from people that enjoy the same sort of things that you do. I can recommend all sorts of strange comics that I've loved reading, but I also get really excited by science fiction and fantasy tales that tell great stories about people. I might not have the same tastes as you! That's totally cool!
With that in mind, here's 10 comics everybody should absolutely read.
If you’ve never heard the name Neil Gaiman before, I feel slightly sorry for you. The now-revered fantasy author published his Sandman series all the way back in 1989 and it remains one of the most fascinating series of comics I’ve ever read. Gaiman has an innate ability to weave the fantastical and mythological into his stories and Sandman, which tells the story of the lord of dreams, showcases that talent. I don’t think Sandman is for everyone but don’t let that scare you off, start with Preludes and Nocturnes and go from there.
Chew reeled me in because my favourite protein is chicken. In the world of Chew, an avian flu outbreak ends up making eating chicken illegal and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) come down hard on anyone eating poultry. It centres around one of the FDA agents who has the ability to see everything that has happened to whatever he puts in his mouth. Actually, most of the series is about a whole bunch of people with strange food-related ‘superpowers’. It’s really quite a ride and it made me dislike chicken, if only just a little.
Transmetropolitan is a cyberpunk comic written and published in 1997 that's set about twenty years into the future and now, in 2017, it seems like some of the things it had to say about politics are coming true. It tells the tale of slightly- insane gonzo journalist, Spider Jerusalem, who goes after a corrupt president he calls The Smiler.
Did I say slightly insane? Spider is a menace and definitely doesn't fit the typical comic book protagonist mould, but there's something redeeming about his character that keeps the pages turning. I won't lie, if you haven't read a comic book ever before, it may be a little jarring to jump straight into Transmetropolitan, but the dialogue is so biting and entertaining, that it has to go on a list like this.
There have been a number of iterations of the Ms Marvel character but the standout is Kamala Khan, the first Muslim character to headline her own comic book. Credit must go to G Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona for creating an origin story that doesn’t feel derivative or old and for making Kamala relatable. The first volume went on to win the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story in 2015, and it’s one of the easiest ‘superhero’ comics to get into. You’ll know pretty quickly if you like Kamala or not, and that will decide whether or not you continue with this series.
The Wicked And The Divine
Mythological beings as Pop Idols. That’s the strap for this one. Created by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Jamie McKelvie, the central idea is that every 90 years, a group of 12 gods incarnate as human beings – the key being that the people they incarnate as only live for two years after merging with the deities. It’s an interesting concept, apparently conceived as a result of Gillen’s father being diagnosed with terminal illness, and one that warrants your time if you’re looking for something that really drills down on the themes of reincarnation, life, death and the experience of being a teenager.
This is an ideal jumping off point if you want to read a comic that will get you excited about superhero comics. Kingdom Come is a short series about the Justice League - you know, Superman, Wonder Woman etc - and a battle of superheroes v superheroes. Because of the sheer amount of characters, it may seem overwhelming at first, but the illustrations by Alex Ross are distinct and beautiful and the story chugs along at such an excellent pace that it rocketed Kingdom Come to the top of my list. I'm really not the biggest Justice League fan, but this is an absolute gem.
(Lifehacker editor Chris Jager wouldn't let me write about this one without mentioning Ross's work on Marvels as well. He suggests you check that out too.)
This is, in my humble, unbiased and totally-not-trying-to-fanboy opinion, the best comic book series going right now. It’s a science fiction slash space opera slash fantasy series that features winged humans, horned humans, anthropomorphic snow seals and a race of aliens that have TV sets for heads. Yeah, exactly. It sounds insane and it often is.
Yet somehow, it manages to tell the most human stories you’ll find – about growing up, about parenting, about diversity and about love. It’s often described as Star Wars meets Game of Thrones and somehow, that actually does it a disservice. I haven’t even mentioned the illustrations, drawn and coloured by Fiona Staples, which leap off the page and assault your eyeballs. She manages to humanise utterly-not-human characters with ease.
Absolutely read this, even if you’ve never enjoyed a comic book before.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
Some people love Squirrel Girl, some people hate Squirrel Girl, but I think it’s one of those comics that, if you’ve never read a comic book series before, it’s worth giving this a shot just to see if it sticks. In a way, it kind of gives a huge middle finger to comic books and just says ‘hey, let’s have fun with this thing’ and some people just do not enjoy that at all. It’s often silly, kind of irreverent at times and can be a little grating because of how often it points out that it’s clever, but it’s definitely one of those titles that non-comic book readers have to give a go. It’s a whole different jumping in point.
If freezing time after you orgasm sounds like something that excites you, then Sex Criminals is where you should start. The reason this makes the list, even though I wasn't the biggest fan of its art style, is because the story is exceptional. It may seem like it would be all about naked bodies but it often rewards the reader with these deep, emotional points that appeal to anyone who has ever experienced love and lust. It's just wonderfully written, and wonderfully written stories are the easiest to get into, no matter what medium you're using.
Batman: The Court Of Owls
Everyone knows who Batman is and you don’t need to trawl through years and year of history to enjoy a Batman comic. This series, by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, launched when DC rebooted their franchises and, though it’s not an origin story, as long as you have just a faint idea of who Batman is, this is an excellent run. Personally, I didn’t get through a lot of the major Batman stories before this besides Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Year One, but the first arc Snyder served up The Court of Owls provides some Bruce Wayne introspection I still think about to this day.
Sidenote re. Batman: there are hundreds of Batman comics and a lot of them are really good. Gizmodo journalist and Wonder Woman, Rae Johnston immediately recommended Jeph Loeb's Hush, and then everyone in the office started rattling off other Batman comics to read. Court of Owls is by no means The Best, but I loved it.