October 9, 2015

MEDIA STOMP | Down the Panel Hole: Five Gateway Comics

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By MARK KASVIN

Comics and games, once considered quite niche, are, as I have mentioned before, gradually opening up to wider audiences and becoming more accepted as part of what is considered to be “mainstream.” Thus, I feel it’s important to ease those unfamiliar into the media that have a reputation for being difficult to get into.

I decided to come up with a quick list of five comics for those of you out there who have even the slightest interest in comics. This list is not in any particular order and consists only of comics that I have read myself.

There are dozens, maybe even hundreds of books or series out there that I could recommend, but these five are the ones that I could pick off the top of my head.

Here we go:

Photo Courtesy of Jeff Smith

Photo Courtesy of Jeff Smith

Bone (1994-2004)

Bone, written and drawn by Jeff Smith, opens with the cartoonish Fone Bone stranded in a wasteland with his cousins, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone, having been run out of Boneville. The three are whisked away by a mysterious locust swarm to a vast, fantasy valley, where they are caught up in a conflict between the valley’s denizens and the dark forces that threaten them. Smith’s characters are compelling as hell and his designs and layouts are stunning to behold.

You can get it either in separate collected paperbacks that bundle several issues together or an entire omnibus that collects the whole series (which is actually pretty cheap as far as omnibuses go).

 

Photo Courtesy of DC Comics

Photo Courtesy of DC Comics

Watchmen (1986-87)

Written by Alan Moore, drawn by Dave Gibbons and colored by John Higgins, Watchmen is a giant in the comic industry. It has made a lot of lists as more-or-less essential if you want to get into comics. Set in an alternate 1980s where America won the Vietnam War and has undergone several periods of costumed-vigilante craze, the story kicks off with the sudden murder of The Comedian, one of the few superheroes to be sanctioned by the government.

Whereas I recommend Bone for its sheer accessibility and compelling nature, I recommend Watchmen because of how big of a game-changer it was for the medium. So many tropes and devices you see in comics that come out today, both literary and visual, owe a lot to Watchmen. The creators did things that few others had done before its publication and it’s almost a cliché at this point to list it as a must-read. Bonus points for the fact that it’s easily obtainable in a collected edition.

 

Photo Courtesy of Vertigo

Photo Courtesy of Vertigo

The Sandman (1989-96)

The Sandman is a long-running series penned by book darling Neil Gaiman and drawn by a variety of artists. Here I’m recommending the initial run that was published from 1989 to 1996. Whereas Watchmen changed the game for comics, Sandman pushed the boundaries of its subject matter.

The series consists of several self-contained stories detailing the journeys of Dream, the personification of dreams who is called by many names throughout the series, as he faces several challenges from the mythological and metaphysical realms, and also from his forays into the human world. This series is a good example of how wide a range of subject matter can be explored by the medium. It’s excellently written and drawn and is collected in several volumes.

 

Photo Courtesy of Pantheon Books

Photo Courtesy of Pantheon Books

Asterios Polyp (2009)

Now, whereas The Sandman pushes the boundaries in terms of subject matter, Asterious Polyp pushes boundaries in terms of form. Writer-artist David Mazzucchelli tells the story of a down-on-his-luck Cornell architecture professor Asterios Polyp, who delves into his past after losing his apartment to a fire as he tries to figure out his direction in life.

Each character has a different design style and word bubble font. Traditional square panels are sometimes done away with entirely. It’s a madcap character study and perhaps my favorite among this list. Plus, it’s all contained in one book! No need to worry about volumes.

 

Photo Courtesy of Oni Press

Photo Courtesy of Oni Press

Scott Pilgrim (2004-2010)

This series is a ton of fun. Everything from the art to the humor brims with infectious charm and style. Creator Bryan Lee O’Malley integrates tropes and conventions taken from geek culture into Scott’s story as a recent college grad who has to come to grips with being a fully functioning adult as he goes on a quest to vanquish his girlfriend’s seven evil exes.

Out of the five I’ve listed, it’s maybe the most light-hearted, but it still manages to be compelling nonetheless. It was released over six volumes, which can easily be found in a boxed set.

That’s my list! Let me know what you guys think. Happy reading!

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