Many people still believe that reading comics means you do nothing but “look at pictures”, but comics are a fantastic, visually enthralling literary and artistic artform that can provide magnificent stories. Comics are great for readers who, for any reason, are unable to read long prose as they’re usually short, straight to the point, and give good visual aids to help you follow the story. So, when someone tells you that comics are for kids, or are just pictures, don’t listen to them.
Comics aren’t for everyone. Some have hundreds and hundreds of back issues, making them almost impossible to catch up on unless you’re willing to invest considerable time and a lot of money to catch up. Trade paperbacks, complete books, and compendiums are great, cost-effective ways of reading comics as they contain several issues in a single volume (and in the case of books and compendiums, loads of issues).
If you are in the US and aren’t able to spend money on comics then Hoopla is a great website where you can read comics, completely for free and all you need is a library card! Both Marvel and DC offer an online subscription service where you can pay as little as $9.99 a month and read as many comics as you would like. Amazon also has a similar service named Comixology which is similar to Marvel and DC’s service except you aren’t restricted to just one brand.
I’m going to give you my personal top five recommendations. You’ll probably notice that only Image Comics and Marvel Comics are represented — while I do read outside of the two brands, it was just a coincidence that my favourite five were from Image and Marvel. Please, feel free to give your own recommendations in the comments!
This list is in no particular order. Provided alongside the titles are the publisher, number of issues and the various collected formats available at the time of writing.
Disclaimer: None of my recommendations contain spoilers!
Current writers: Jason Aaron (2015–2017) and Kieron Gillen (2017 — )
Publisher: MARVEL Comics
Issues: 52 Volumes: 8 Books: 3 (issues 1–37 and Annuals 2–3)
The Star Wars movies have been getting quite a bit of flack since the release of The Last Jedi, but set that all aside and venture into a galaxy far, far away in comic-book form. The Star Wars franchise has several comic series out including several one-shots, miniseries, and three ongoing series, but I want to recommend the main comic line simply titled Star Wars.
Star Wars is set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and it focuses on the adventures of the main four cast members: Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewbacca. The stories feature a range of adventures including Han Solo’s mysterious wedding and the fantastic event that is Vader Down, which sees both Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader crash land on a desolate planet following The Battle of Vrogas Vas.
It’s hard to state what the main Star Wars series is about as every six or so issues a new storyline begins. But that means it has a lot of entry points that you can start with.
There have been very few stories that I’ve not liked and the artwork is usually fantastic. My one problem with Marvel’s Star Wars is that it often crosses over with its other ongoing comics such as Darth Vader, which means you must either purchase those other issues or wait until the event has its own trade paperback containing all of the related issues. For example, you will not get the full story of Vader Down unless you purchase the titular one-shot, issues 13–14 of Star Wars, and issues 13–15 of Star Wars: Darth Vader, or the Vader Down book.
Being set between Episodes IV and V it comes with one of the biggest criticisms of the Original Trilogy — it’s diversity. We still follow a mostly white cast of characters but when compared to the Original Trilogy, and even the Prequel Trilogy, it is a huge step beyond with its characters of colour.
If you’re new to comics then Star Wars is great starting point as the stories are relatively simple and they don’t really deal with any heavy issues, plus a new story begins roughly every five or six issues which means you can start without much catching-up.
Author: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Publisher: Image Comics
Issues: 54 Volumes: 8 Books: 2 (issues 1–36)
If you already read comics then you’re either already reading Saga or you’ve at least heard about it, and if you aren’t reading it… why the fuck not?!
Saga follows husband and wife Alana and Marko, who have managed to fall in love and have a child, Hazel, despite being from two sides of an ongoing war. I don’t want to say more because I get so excited talking about Saga that I can’t help but spoil it, but just think: Lord of the Rings meets Star Wars meets Shakespeare meets Game of Thrones meets the Marvel Comics Universe.
Saga is quite unique as Vaughan has masterfully woven stories surrounding pressing issues such as corrupt governments, racism, and war, all while celebrating racial and sexual diversity, family, and one’s individual freedom — which is all integrated into the main characters.
Saga quickly became my all time favourite comic series thanks to its intriguing story, characters and consistent artwork which is some of the best artwork in comics right now, Staples work splashes the page with so much realism you won’t be able to stop visualising the comic as a live-action series (which is something I desperately want!).
Saga is a must, must, must, MUST, MUST, MUST!
Author: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Cliff Chiang
Publisher: Image Comics
Issues: 22 Volumes: 4 Books: (issues 1–10)
Following on from Saga is another Brian K. Vaughan science-fiction series. Paper Girls follows four, you guessed it, newspaper delivery girls who discover that their town is being invaded by time-travellers while on their morning route.
Paper Girls is a very different comic compared to the others on my list as it has a much slower pace and it certainly takes its time in revealing important story elements, but don’t let that put you off as Vaughn shines through by giving us a diverse cast of characters for us to follow, including an Asian-American, an African-American, and a Jewish girl, all of whom are struggling with their own private issues such as adoption, sexuality, femininity, and the looming force we all know and love — puberty.
Paper Girls is as dramatic as it is funny, it’s filled with expertly-written mystery and the characters are drawn in a realistic yet cartoonish style which perfectly fits the tone of the comic.
(Matt Fraction’s) Hawkeye
Writer: Matt Fraction
Illustrator: David Aja (Main)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Issues: 22 Volumes: 4 Books: 1 (collecting the entire 22 issues)
Fraction’s stint on Hawkeye is actually the fourth volume in the Hawkeye comics line and it’s simply named Hawkeye, but to help differentiate it I have referred to it as Fraction’s Hawkeye.
Where do I even begin?
Matt Fraction’s run on Hawkeye has to be the best Marvel comics run I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. It made Hawkeye my favourite Avenger, David Aja one of my favourite artists, and Matt Fraction is now my favourite comic writer.
The story is relatively simple: Clint Barton (Hawkeye) now owns a residential building and he protects his tenants and friends from the Mafia. Don’t expect too much superhero action as this is very much the “Netflix series” of the Marvel Comics line (think Netflix’s Daredevil compared to Marvel’s The Avengers).
Fraction’s Hawkeye managed to be a visual feast with its minimalistic approach (aided by colourist Matt Hollingsworth, whose muted pallet makes the panels pop!) which in turn make the panels and dialogue simple and easy to follow, perfect for a newbie comic reader.
The dialogue itself is as funny as it is dramatic and that’s even if there is dialogue in the first place, because for once the artwork is given the bigger treatment than the story (which can also be its downside at times as I often find myself staring at the wonderful images rather than focusing on the story).
If you can get your hands on it, Fraction’s Hawkeye is well worth the read.
Deaf or hard of hearing readers like myself should note that Clint Barton’s hearing disability hasn’t been erased like it has in the movies. Barton uses hearing aids and American Sign Language — in fact, late into the series there is a whole issue with no “spoken” dialogue whatsoever but is instead signed all the way through in ASL!
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Chip Zdarsky
Publisher: Image Comics
Issues: 25 Volumes: 5 Books: 2 (issues 1–20)
Yep, another Matt Fraction comic! And this one is … interesting…
Sex Criminals won’t be to everyone’s tastes, so it’s best to just try a few issues to see if it’s your thing. But, to sum up, Jon and Suzie discover that when they orgasm, time stops, which is perfect time for them to go out and rob banks… yep! And it’s fab.
The larger-than-life plot means that the writers are able to explore the sexual spectrum, from the cisgendered heterosexual main characters, to the side-characters they meet who are straight, gay, bisexual, and even asexual. It also gives them the ability to discuss controversial topics such as rape and slut-shaming, among others, all of which are handled professionally and realistically.
There is a lot more to it than that, but I won’t go too into it. It is an addictive story with wonderful originality, quirkiness, and relatable characters in very intriguing predicaments.
I’m reading many other series and hopefully I will have a chance to recommend more in the future. Look out for my upcoming comic book reviews on NPOC!
Editor: Caleb Zimmerschied