There is no denying that comics have become mainstream. With Disney buying Marvel, and multiple superhero movies coming out each year, comic books and their characters have moved from geek culture to mainstream pop culture. But despite that, there are loads of people who say they don’t like comic books. However I think that’s because they have never stepped into a comic book shop in their life, and think comics are only about superheroes. Well, I’m here to tell you they most certainly are not just about superheroes. And today I’m bringing you ten of my favorites!
But before we dive into the ten I have selected off my shelf, let me share with you how I go about shopping for comics, and a bit of comic book lingo.
Issues vs Trades & Compendiums/Omnibuses
I typically don’t buy issues, but instead purchase trades or compendiums/omnibuses. What exactly does that mean? Issues are the what you think of when you think of a comic book; thin, stapled together paper. Trades are a chronological collection of issues, usually about six. Trades typically come in paperback, but they can also come in hardbacks. Then, after an even lengthier period of time, 25-40 or so issues, a compendium or omnibus is published.
There are advantages and disadvantages to buying trades over issues, and vice versa. I prefer trades, because they give me a longer read, as opposed to issues that can be read in a matter of minutes. Trades also store better on shelves. The downside is that trades cost more than a single issue, issues typically cost $3.99, where trades are $14.99-$29.99 or so. Due to this, sometimes I will buy one issue of something to see if I like it, then wait until a trade comes out to finish the story.
Sometimes an author will decide not to even do issues, instead opting for the graphic novel route, publishing a lengthy story all at once, as a hardback or paperback. Often an author has an ongoing story through a series of issues, and after the trades have come out they will put them all together, which will then read more like a graphic novel. The Rocketeer is a series that has done that, with stories such as The Rocketeer at War, The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom, and The Rocketeer: Hollywood Horror.
Where to Start?
With so many different comic books out there, where to begin? How to find something that sparks your interest? Well, there are several ways. You can ask for help from comic book store employees or just peruse the shelves. One time when someone asked if I needed any help, I said I was just looking for something new to read, and they asked what I was into, and I said that I liked period pieces, especially westerns with a twist, which is how I learned about one series in this list. You can also just browse titles either in the trade section or the issues section. I totally judge comics based on their titles and artwork. If a title peeks my interest I’ll pick it up and see if I dig the artwork. I’ll also look at the issues section, because unlike trades, these are typically displayed with the covers out, so you can see what you’re getting into just based on artwork. I will usually look at the issues and then if something looks interesting, I will look to see if a trade of it already exists, or I’ll make note of it and find out when a trade is coming out.
When it comes to how a comic store is laid out, they often separate it by publisher. If you’re not into superheroes, then you’re going to want to avoid the Marvel and DC sections.
Now time for the list! I will make the note that all of these are violent in some manner. The following aren’t in any real order, and you will find some technical “superheroes” but with a slight twist, and nearly all are period works. I have also provided links to various sites if you wish to purchase any of the listed comics.
Half Past Danger (time period: 1943)
Half Past Danger is one part Indiana Jones and one part Jurassic Park, and really that’s all you need to know to convince you whether or not to read this. I can guarantee that if you like one or both of those films you will like Half Past Danger. In this complete story, Staff Sargeant Tommy “Irish” Flynn encounters both dinosaurs and Nazis. The artwork is classic and the writing is sharp as a tack.
You can purchase the complete story of Half Past Danger from IDW in either digital or print form here.
Manifest Destiny (time period: 1803-1806)
Manifest Destiny, which is currently an on-going series, has quickly become my new favorite series. It’s a bit like The X-Files, but with Lewis and Clark. Yeah, that Lewis and Clark. And more with monsters than aliens, at least so far. After learning the land the United States acquired in the Louisiana Purchase is filled with monsters, President Jefferson sends out Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery to clear the land for settling. The artwork is some of my favorite, realistic, but just slightly rounded, and very expressive. The writing is extremely witty with some laugh out loud moments.
You can purchase Manifest Destiny in either trade or issue form from Image in either digital or print here.
Lackadaisy (time period: 1920s)
Lackadaisy is perhaps best described as Boardwalk Empire, but with cats…but without the sex, and perhaps a little less violent. It’s basically a tale (no pun intended) of prohibition and speakeasies in a world where the people are cats. The art is fabulous, a combination of realism and uniquely styled characters, with some excellent writing, including fabulously dry humor. Lackadaisy is an exception to my normal form of comic book shopping. I learned about it…uh, I don’t actually remember now…maybe DeviantArt? Yeah, it was awhile ago…
Lackadaisy started as a web comic, so you can read it all here, as well as follow the store link to purchase it in book form.
Harrow County (time period: 1930s)
Harrow County is a unique supernatural currently on-going series that takes place in the least likely of places, a small rural town. It incorporates unique takes on witches, ghosts, goblins, and other creatures, and features some of the most unique artwork currently out there, as each panel is hand drawn and hand colored using water colors.
You can purchase trade or issues of Harrow County from Dark Horse in either digital or print here.
The Sixth Gun (time period: post-American Civil War)
The Sixth Gun is a supernatural western and introduces readers to a slick, anti-hero named Drake Sinclair, and the innocent Becky Montcrief who is thrust in the middle of a battle between good and evil, with six guns capable of supernatural acts. I will admit that this series has taken an odd turn as it has progressed, and I’m not as big of a fan as I was at the beginning, but I still recommend it and I plan to keep reading it. The Sixth Gun is the series that was recommended to me by a comic book shop employee. He also recommended East of West, a more futuristic, sudo-western that Patrick has taken a liking to.
In 2013 The Sixth Gun was slated to be made into a TV show, and even had a pilot made. But it sadly failed, and I have yet to get my hands on a copy of the pilot, which stared Pedro Pascal.
You can buy trade paperbacks of The Sixth Gun on Amazon.
The Rocketeer (time period: 1930s)
Okay, how many of you already like the film The Rocketeer? Well, then you should be interested in reading the original material in which it is based. Plus there are plenty more tales on comic books shelves and more being published! The new stuff doesn’t compare artwork wise, as Dan Stevens’ original stuff is flawless, but the writing is just as good. The original tale is a little bit different than the film, and I won’t lie, I do prefer the film, but the original story is still fun, and worthy of reading. The Rocketeer is still going today, and you can read new adventures as well.
You can buy the original complete story by Dan Stevens, as well as the new stories on Amazon.
The Spirit (time period: 1940s-today, but with vintage styling)
The Spirit is considered a “classic” and a bit of a superhero. There is the original series done by Wil Eisner, and a new revived series that was published by DC beginning in 2006, which there are several trades of. Perhaps you remember the 2008 film, which was poorly received by critics and audiences alike, I however thoroughly enjoyed it, because I knew the source material, which is, at its heart, campy. Before The Spirit was well, the Spirit, he was Denny Colt, a do-well cop, who was killed, but wakes up after being in suspended animation. He sets up shop at the cemetery where he was buried, and, enjoying his knew found anonymity, fights crime hand in hand with the police, as it is the Commissioner who is the only person who knows the Spirit’s true identity. The Spirit almost creates a wonderful new genre that is supernatural noir, as it was born in the 40s, and while the new series keeps with modern technology, it maintains its 40s styling, but also combines supernatural elements in its stories. And if you like The Spirit or The Rocketeer, you must check out the 2013 crossover Pulp Friction.
The Spirit has many incarnations as it has been passed around to different publishers, including DC, IDW, and most recently Dynamite.
If you want to read original Eiser Spirit, I recommend The Best of the Spirit, available on Amazon.
If you are interested in the newer stuff, start with The Spirit Volume 1 (DC Comics), and move forward from there, also available on Amazon.
The Rocketeer and Spirit crossover, Pulp Friction, is also available on Amazon.
Jonah Hex (time period: post-American Civil War)
If you love westerns, then you should really be reading Jonah Hex. Forget the tragically bad 2010 film, and get your hands on some of real Jonah Hex comics, as they are really just little short western stories about a bounty hunter with a chip on his shoulder…er, or should I say, face? I enjoy both the early stuff from the 70s as well as the run DC did from 2006 to 2011, and the stuff published in 2014.
I recommend starting with the 2014 trade, Jonah Hex: Origins, available on Amazon, then go from there.
Gun Fu (time period: 1936)
I feel like I should just share the summary from the back… “The year is 1936. Cheng Bo Sen is a Hong Kong cop who has been recruited by England to help fight the Nazis. He also speaks hip-hop which no one seems to notice…” Yeah. It is a hilarious combination of James Bond and Indiana Jones, but done in the style of Cartoon Network’s late 90s TV series.
As far as I know there was only one volume of Gun Fu, which is available on Amazon.
Batman ’66 Meets Series (time period: 1960s)
Okay, so Batman may not exactly be offbeat! But it is specifically the Batman ’66 Meets series that is really fun. There are a wide variety of Batman series, but DC has gone back it is roots a little bit the with the Batman ’66 series, which uses the style and charm of the 1960s TV show. There is the ongoing Batman ’66 series, but they also do complete stories where Batman ’66 crosses over with other characters, beginning with The Green Hornet (a fitting first crossover as the crossover did actually occur in the TV show), and continued with The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Wonder Woman ’77, and my personal favorite, Steed and Mrs. Peel. Sadly they couldn’t call it “Batman ’66 Meets The Avengers,” which is the name of the TV show where the characters of John Steed and Emma Peel are from, which started in 1961. Marvel’s Avengers first teamed up in 1963, so really the British ones are the original. But whatever…
I really hope that this has inspired some of you to give comic books a try. I currently have a handful of trades I have yet to read, but once I’ve read them, I hope to perhaps do a second installment of this!
Note: I was not approached by any of these authors or publishers to write about any of these comics. I selected and wrote about each of these because I thoroughly enjoy them and would like to try to break the stereotype of comic books.