University English Professor are sometimes seen as gatekeepers for what is literary and worth reading, so people are often surprised when I mention my affinity for reading and teaching comics. In fact, many of my colleagues still dismiss comics as being childish and “too commercial.”
Conversely, I think there are many things going on in contemporary comics that they’d be surprised by. In fact, we’re entering a new golden age of graphic story telling that’s layered, complex, significant, and every bit as worthy of discussion as many novels. But where to begin when recommending contemporary comics to the uninitiated?
There are always the usual suspects that have been given the literary and critical stamps of approval. Books like Maus, Persepolis, American Born Chinese, Fun Home, The Watchmen, and The Dark Knight Returns. These are books that I love to recommend and teach. However, for the purpose of this list, I want to focus on contemporary, main stream comics—the sort of pulp fiction comic books that are exactly what some of my colleagues fear. And that, upon closure inspection, are more complex, nuanced, engaging and culturally relevant than they might expect.
So here’s the list, ten contemporary comics that are doing some fairly amazing things for people who don’t read comics:
6) Think Tank—Real Genius gone rogue in our increasingly technologically horrifying military-industrial complex.
3) Sex Criminals—Definitely for “adult” readers, this series is hilarious and brilliantly written. It’s also an engaging look at love and sex, as well as a commentary on super hero narratives with orgasms that stop time.
2) Saga—Also not for younger readers. Brian Vaughan referred to Saga in an interview as “Star Wars for perverts.” But I think that undersells one of the most popular series out today, with amazing, incredible, gorgeous art. It’s a Space Opera with a powerful emotional core focused on the struggles of parenting, and it gives a refreshingly complex look at relationships. If only movies were this good. Note: This is the third Brian Vaughan title up here (he also did Y the Last Man, and Pride of Bagdad, and in Saga he’s taking his skills to a new level).
1) Sandman (new and old)—Sandman is where it all began for me: the art, the layouts, the complex, interwoven, mythic story lines. Neil Gaiman has written some incredible novels (The Ocean at the End of the Lane is one of my recent favorites), but Sandman is where Gaiman came into his own. And the new colors in the new version are brilliant.
That’s my list for now. Please note: many of these are very “adult” comics. I’m going to make another list of comics to use in the classroom. Stay tuned for updates.
What about you? What am I missing here, and what makes your list?