Happy National Comic Day!

That’s right, fans of sequential art in all its forms! And in celebration, here is a post I wrote about five comics that writers should read. Enjoy!

Comics. I love comics. They really were what made childhood awesome. My dad and I would go to the comic shop every week and buy stacks and stacks of comics, and as a result, I’ve never stopped loving them.

You don’t have to write comics, but there is a lot you can learn as a writer from them: characterization through dialogue, the importance of a strong image, the power of silence. Don’t ever tell me comics aren’t literature. They can be as powerful as a novel – memorable, emotional, character-driven. So what if it has pictures?

So! This week we have 5 comics for writers. I’ve tried to avoid long-running series – it wouldn’t be fair to go, “Read Batman” would it? – but there may be one or two that was technically serialized or came in multiple parts. Whatever.

1. Blankets by Craig Thompson

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I started college with this graphic novel. It was the largest book I had ever owned, and it still dwarfs most of my collection (along with Thompson’s most recent work, Habibi, which is also worth reading). It is a beautiful story about growing up, falling in love, having it fall apart, and then putting your life together again. It’s Catcher in the Rye, Garden State and all those other teens-and-early-twenties-trying-to-make-sense-of-the-world movies and books altogether with beautiful dreamlike inkwork.

2. Watchmen by Alan Moore

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At the basest look, Watchmen is a story about super heroes. And that alone makes it awesome. But when you start taking apart the characters, looking at them as they peel apart throughout the story, you realize that it’s a story about human beings. Each person in this book represents all the things a hero can be, and what a hero can become for a world that may or may not deserve him.

Speaking of heroes…

3. The Killing Joke by Alan Moore

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This comic does pretty much the opposite of what Watchmen did. What we have here is a decoded, dissected look at a villain (a villain who plays the part of the narrator, at that). And then, as we think we know what is sanity and insanity, what is good and evil, the reader questions just how different the protagonist and antagonist are.

4. Maus by Art Spiegelman

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This was the first “non-super-hero, not-for-kids comic” I ever read. It is a metafictional plot in which a father recounts his experiences as a Jew during World War II to his son (who is a comic artist). With all races being represented by animals – Germans are cats, Jews are mice, etc. – it is left up to Spiegelman’s amazing storytelling to make each creature unique enough in voice and features that they can be told apart.

5. Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley

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I love Scott Pilgrim. I love this entire series so hard. When it was first pointed out to me at a local comic shop in Richmond, I had my doubts. But what started as this fantastical, video-game-esque surreal world became…well, it all became suddenly very real. Suddenly, you were seeing your own relationships, your own friendships, your own misconceptions of events.* It suddenly became this weird headtrip that put together every love you’ve ever had. It’s a lot of fun, and then it punches you in your heart-face.

*not in the movie. I liked the movie alright, but just…nope, everything was exactly as it seemed in the movie. Fuck.

51 thoughts on “Happy National Comic Day!

  1. Ah Maus! Now there’s a series that brings back memories. It not only put the Holocaust under a totally different light (that of the animal kingdom), but it highighted a very dysfunctional family’s struggles with all that had happened since the Holocaust. Speaking of which, if you liked Maus, you might also like Adolf by Osamu Tezuka. It’s an excellent manga, one that highlights the horrors of war and racism, through the perspective of three people named Adolf, one of whom is Hitler.

  2. I had no idea it was national comics day. Thanks for the heads up. I’m still kicking myself for procrastinating about buying bags and boards for my comics. They’re still in pretty good condition, but they’re all in plastic grocery bags stuck in card board boxes. At least the temp in my garage is fairly consistent. Every once in a while, I bust them out and let my kids read a few. Not the Watchmen, though. They’re not ready for that. (Too little). I hide that one. They can read it when they’re older.

  3. I wish I would have known about national comics day, a missed opportunity for sure. Nice Post, and while I haven’t read a lot of comics in the past, they are a passion of mine, and I’ll definitely be checking some of these out.

  4. I love all of these!! I’m working on a graphic novel right now and I’ve been inspired by these selections. Especially Art Spiegelman’s “Be a Nose”! Thanks for a great post!

  5. Watchmen is that comic that all comic fans have to read its simply the best. and the killing joke was also another batman must read.

  6. I had no idea it was national comic day either. I live near Angouleme where there is a comic strip museum and a competition each year. It currently has an exhibition for ‘Mangfra’ – French Manga. It’s strange to see TinTin next to the topography of Tokyo.

  7. Ah, The Killing Joke. Such a good one. Very nice choices overall and I loved the line “…then it punches you in your heart-face.” Ha. Happy Comic Day to you and congrats on being freshly pressed.

  8. oh, wow! national comics day, eh? well i never…but now that i know that youre a comic lover…and now that you know that im a comic lover…well….all’s well in this weird and wonderful world of ours! seriously tho…as a teenager, i used to buy a comic every weekend….my favs were, spiderman, the hulk, fantastic four, captain america and a couple unheard ones…that was way back in the late 60s and 70s…now i realise some of those comics are worth a few bucks…but guess what? yep, my dad threw some of them out years ago….:(

  9. A great list! Maus is one of the best examples of the medium’s power to tell an amazing narrative.
    As a Canadian, I would be amiss to not throw out Chester Brown and his amazing/severely messed up works. “Louis Riel: A Comic-strip Biography” is fantastically deep, and “Paying For It” creates an interesting picture of the “john’s” lifestyle; it is one of the best representations of prostitution/the escort business I have ever seen.

  10. First…I’m a die hard Spiderman Fan…ever since I was a wee lad….you should check out “Y the last Man” Great comic series…as well. And the “Walking Dead” ….and “Kick Ass”, and don’t turn off the flashlight as I walk across the beam…I don’t want to fall…:) great stuff…thanks for the read..

    Philip

  11. Hi! I love comics, from the moment my mother first read one to me before I go to take my afternoon nap, to this moment on. I have a collection that can fill two single beds, at a height of three feet all around. Yet, I graduated from the single pieces to the graphic ones as I grow older, becoming selective and critical in what I read.

    Tops for me are the “Sandman” graphic books from 1 to 13, by Neil Gaiman. Alan Moore’s “The Watchmen” comes next with a lot of Batman following close behind. I am an artist, and thus, drawn to magnificent stories coloured and illustrated well.

    Thank you for sharing with us your thoughts on comics–All the best fun ahead of us!

  12. Oh Maus! I had to read that for a class in college. Art Spiegelman came to speak at my college and it was really interesting to hear him talk about writing/creating Maus. I don’t remember much of the talk but I came away thinking he was a really interesting guy.

  13. Good To know you are celebrating national comic day..

    but when comic comes in to mind I only think about The Big Bang Theory TV Show….

    they used to fight for the comic books … lol…

  14. Thanks Bohemian,
    National comic day you say… Australia could do with one of those.
    Blankets sounds like something worth checking out… will get on it 🙂

  15. Comics can totally be legitimate as literature. In my Philosophy 101 class Batman: The Dark Knight Returns was on the required reading list. Unfortunately, there were a lot of other books on the list so I ended up dropping the class, but still read BtDKR many, many times over the years and get goosebumps at certain pages. (If you’ve read it, you know the ones…)

  16. Wow .. took me back to when i was 15! “Comics Rock” i still have got my First edition Green arrow!… Har Har.. Will always Love comics.. National Comic Day .. Thanks now i know! peace out Reading or watching Studio Gibli.

  17. MAUS! maus was my first comic and remains my favourite! i’m one of those weirdos that really has an infatuation with holocaust lit, and i thought this was such an incredible way of showcasing it in a different setting.

    also, if you haven’t read fun home by alison bechdel and ice haven by daniel clowes, i can’t recommend them enough. oh and of course, the persepolis series by marjane satrapi.

    i was a lit major in unversity and took a course on the graphic novel…it’s given me an entirely new outlook on comics. i’m not so much into the superhero novels (sorry!) but if you have any other recommendations, i would love to hear them!!!!!

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