The first comic book I ever read was a random issue of Detective Comic (Batman) that my older brother left lying around. Everything about it pulled me in from the first panel. It was a dark world, but to offset that, there was a dude who dressed like a bat and beat people up. So it was the perfect mix of genuine excitement, melodrama, and the kind of shit a kid would think of. But I was lucky because as I grew up with comics, they, too, matured alongside me.
Whereas once most of the comic books I owned were the superhero variety, over time I began to see the medium expand well beyond those limitations. Though there have been plenty of lists that have spoke of the merits of work like Watchmen and Maus and the impact those pieces had on the medium, it is still underappreciated in many ways.
This list will certainly be filled with titles most have no idea exist, and they will be here because most of the world has no idea just how much they redefine the term comic and the kind of stories that can be told using them. Though the spandex is still there sometimes, the ennui and collage of stories that get told through the medium now are as jaw dropping as any other form of fiction we have at our disposal. Here are five underrated comic books that will change the way you look at comics as a whole and make you realize they have grown and matured more than most assume.
Paper Girls: Writer Brian K. Vaughan. Artist: Cliff Chiang
As a fan of comics I will sometimes get something from other fans they think I will like. I discovered Paper Girls via a writer friend of mine (I will spare you the name drop) and all I can say is I am really enamored with this book right now. It is Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Archie meets the Wonder Years meets Stranger Things. I know that is lot of references, but that is one of the things that makes Paper Girls such an amazing read is that it is almost impossible to describe as it sounds like a mish-mash, but the end result is magic. What could be messy ends up being tight and fun as hell.
This is the kind of comic I would not be surprised to see adapted to Netflix in the next few years, and a great way to tonally begin this journey.
Set the bar high and keep going….
Daytripper: Writer Fábio Moon. Artist Gabriel Bá
Daytripper is the book that inspired this list this time around. Though it hasn’t run very long, it is a Vertigo title which, in itself, tells you a LOT (for those who don’t know, Vertigo is an offshoot of DC and anything DC puts out under Vertigo is usually amazing and fantastically unique). Daytripper is both of those things and more.
To tell you the hook of Daytripper is to suck some of the WOW from the book for the reader, so I won’t do that to you. The basic 4-1-1 is a story focused around a man named Bras de Olivias Dominguez who is telling us key moments in his life (but there is MUCH more to it than that). A deep book that deals with some spectacular and some mundane aspects of life, Daytripper will have you looking at both life AND death differently. Powerful stuff and conceptually brave, Daytripper is a must-read for all.
Sex Criminals: Writer Matt Fraction. Artist Chip Zdarsky
Imagine, for a moment, that you and your lover had the ability to stop time during sexual acts. At first thought, it seems an almost incomprehensible concept, but then you see what Matt Fraction does with the story and the evolution of the relationships between its characters and what they choose to do with their powers (the name of the comic book is kind of a giveaway on the lifestyle choice they make) but you end up with a very unique story, some of the best comic book cover art of all time, and a concept that blows minds (and wads).
I know it sounds strange and you’re concerned how people will look at you when they see a copy of Sex Criminals in your house but screw them. Literally, screw them, they might have sex powers you can help unlock.
Essex County: Writer and Artist: Jeff Lemire
I always give extra props to writers who illustrate their own work. I also tend to like to read books where the writer’s illustrate their work because you know you are getting their exact vision and how they saw it in their minds. Essex County is the kind of book it would be easy to overlook, but overlooking this subtle yet powerful read would be a mistake. Expect no superheroes here, but one boys who so wishes he could be. This is a tale about people who feel REAL, and the end result is a surprisingly intimate look into their lives and struggles.
Essex County focuses on a Canadian county small enough that everyone knows each other, and everyone has something that is troubling or vexing them. Essex County dares to turn the medium on its head by being the exact opposite of what comics used to be, and that is why it works so well. no life or death physical fights, this one focuses more on the fights we all have within ourselves and those closest to our hearts.
The DUH Award
The DUH award is awarded to the comic that has been so hyped and talked-up already that if you’re not reading it yet, you are clearly illiterate, as there is no other justification. And the DUH award goes to….
Yes, I began the list with Brian K. Vaughn’s work, and I end the list with it. The man is one of the best writers alive, medium be damned, and If you have not started Saga, there is just no hope for you at all., Also, if the above pic doesn’t make you WANT to read it, you have no soul.