Wednesday, October 01, 2008

10 Ideal Books to Introduce Readers to Comics

Since I obviously love lists, here's a primer of comics that, taken together, would make a perfect introduction to the artform for those who haven't read much of modern comics. This is a topic that has occupied me from time to time over the years, and I wanted to finally set down my personal recommendations so I'll have something to point to if anyone asks. The idea is that if you read through the books on this list, you will doubtless come out the other end with a good idea of the artform's potential, its many styles and genres, and what kinds of artists you like and don't like. To that end, each item on the list also includes a brief indication of "where to go next" if you especially like one or two of the books included here.

Acme Novelty Library #18 (Chris Ware)
Many people would doubtless recommend Ware's well-known graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth instead, but to my tastes, this slim volume, collecting many of Ware's "Building Stories" single-page strips from various newspapers and magazines, is a much better indicator of the cartoonist's formal ingenuity. Ware's characters are invariably depressives with sad, boring lives, and the young woman who meanders through these stories — a slightly pudgy, unnamed girl with a prosthetic leg and a broken heart — is no exception. In other hands, this book would be a total drag, but Ware's mastery of comics language turns each page into an exciting exercise in design and storytelling. There is no better book for demonstrating what can be done with the sheer form of comics. The content is more or less neutral, consisting of routine anecdotes from daily life, but the form is dazzling: floor plans for buildings are reborn as storytelling devices, and Ware's minimal text zips around the page in abstract mazes, arrows indicating the flow of the story and the points of interest within the page. Other pages give a similar diagrammatic treatment to the human body itself. These stories reward intense, focused reading with a wealth of details and nuances.

Where to go next: Jimmy Corrigan, mentioned above, is a logical next step, although in that case Ware's depressing material is a bit more overwhelming and may be hard to take for some readers, even while his formal brilliance is still very much on display. Ware is also a good gateway to other creators who meld low-key storytelling with formal invention: Daniel Clowes (Ice Haven, David Boring), Kim Deitch (Alias the Cat, Boulevard of Broken Dreams), Dash Shaw (Bottomless Belly Button), and Dave McKean (Cages).

Buddy Does Seattle (Peter Bagge)
Peter Bagge's rubbery style traces the slacker lifestyle of hapless twenty-something Buddy Bradley, a representative of the grunge generation whose slobby ways and lack of ambition propel him through one hilarious story after another. Bagge is careful to neither glorify nor humiliate his creation, poking much fun at Buddy but also emphasizing his warmth, humor, and peculiar sense of integrity. These stories establish Buddy and his friends as complex, fully formed characters with a rich history and organic development over time. Bagge sometimes reaches for emotion and nuance, but more often his stories are wild and woolly, wallowing in the sex, drugs, and endless partying of Buddy's formless life.

Where to go next: Buddy's antics continue in the sequel Buddy Does Jersey, or you can travel back in time to Buddy's earlier years, living with his family in The Bradleys.

The Cowboy Wally Show (Kyle Baker)
I have deliberately made an attempt to keep this list from skewing too heavily towards the dominant stereotype of modern comics as whiny and depressing, but in case Chris Ware's introspective loneliness or Joe Sacco's uncompromising war reportage get too heavy for you, Kyle Baker's hilarious account of a multimedia cowboy entrepreneur should provide just the right corrective. The relentlessly dumb, offensive, and corpulent Cowboy Wally is captured in Baker's mockumentary about the media mogul's many TV shows, films, and testimonies before Senate subcommittees. Baker's dialogue is hilarious, and his art, a delicate balancing act between photorealism and caricature, gets the humor across with expressive faces and an impeccable sense of timing. There are stretches where the humor crackles like a particularly "on" stand-up routine, and others where the over-the-top parody is like This is Spinal Tap translated to the page.

Where to go next: Some of Baker's other books — You Are Here, Why I Hate Saturn — are only slightly less funny and sharp than this masterpiece. If you like this book (and there's no reason you shouldn't) go get some more Baker, immediately. Some other preeminent cartoon humorists: Michael Kupperman (Snake n' Bacon's Cartoon Cabaret), Joann Sfar (Vampire Loves), Ben Katchor (The Jew of New York). To find a similarly raucous, idiosyncratic comedic voice, though, you'd have to turn to E.C.'s Segar's Thimble Theater, the early 20th Century newspaper comic strip that gave birth to Popeye.

Curses (Kevin Huizenga)
No modern cartoonist gets more from less better than Kevin Huizenga, whose spare, minimalist style belies his great formal sophistication. Huizenga's stories mostly concern his generic everyman Glenn Ganges, whose minimally sketched facial features can convey a surprisingly wide array of expressions, but who never really develops much of a personality of his own. Instead, Ganges is a device for Huizenga's stories about suburban mysticism, religion, science, parenthood, and finding the sublime in the most prosaic places. This collection gathers together short stories published in several different venues over the course of a few years, but it is nevertheless a consistent overview of Huizenga's concerns and style. His stories can be formally inventive, particularly in their treatment of time, and range from the mundane (in one story, Ganges' mind wanders for six pages while he simply gets the mail from his mailbox) to the surreal and supernatural (an elaborate fantasy about a "feathered ogre"). Huizenga is the youngest and newest artist on this list, but he's already catapulted into the highest ranks of the artform as far as I'm concerned.

Where to go next: Curses is Huizenga's only full-length book so far, but he has published an equally impressive body of work in his mini-comic series Or Else (especially the very experimental and unfortunately out of print issue #2) and Ganges (#1 and #2), his entry into Fantagraphics' lavishly produced Ignatz series. Huizenga's contemporary Anders Nilsen is just as promising, but has yet to amass a really impressive body of work all in one place, instead scattering varied experiments across multiple anthologies and self-published comics. Dogs and Water, an abstract wartime parable, is his best book so far. Both Huizenga and Nilsen have also appeared in the experimental anthology Kramer's Ergot, which is the place to look for some of the most exciting avant-garde work currently being produced. Issue 6 and Issue 4 are currently available, with the massive Issue 7 coming soon. Another Kramer's alum, John Hankiewicz, is represented by the collection Asthma, which rounds up some of his obtuse, difficult, strangely poetic comics. Definitely not for neophytes, but if you find yourself drawn to Huizenga's more dazzling formal flights, this might be a next step.

Epileptic (David B.)
No summary of modern comics would be complete without an acknowledgment of autobiography (in fact, this list has two: see also Mary Fleener below). This introspective genre has dominated much of the conversation surrounding modern independent comics. It's not an easy genre to do well, though, and the French cartoonist David B. stands so far above many of his peers that some of them might as well just give up. His account of his brother's epilepsy and its affect on their family is inextricably interwoven with dreams, fantasies, and visual metaphors that turn each page of the book into a dense tangle of imagination, reality, and memory.

Where to go next: On the basis of its two issues so far, David B.'s new series Babel promises to be even better than its predecessor, further blurring the lines between reality and metaphor, while mixing in historical and political material with the autobiography. He has also contributed three utterly remarkable short stories of historical fantasy to the anthology MOME, an uneven series that frequently showcases amazing and mediocre work side by side. As such, it's not really a good starting point for new readers, but if you want to see a broad overview of the young, upcoming creators working today — good, bad, and promising alike — reading the full run of MOME is an easy way to do so. David B.'s work is featured in volume 3, volume 4, and volume 12

From Hell (Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell)
Most of the comics on this list were chosen for their relative accessibility and compactness — no sense hitting a new reader with a massive, intimidating brick of a book that will overwhelm them right from the start. But From Hell is an exception, a 500+ page masterpiece that is surely one of the best, most audacious and ambitious graphic novels the artform has produced as of now. Writer Alan Moore takes on the legend of Jack the Ripper, positing a speculative solution to the murders, but more importantly using the investigation into the famous case as a framework on which to hang his ruminations about history, spirituality, psychogeography, gender politics, and morality. Moore's dense text interweaves the stories of Inspector Abberline, the Ripper's victims, the Royal family, and Moore's candidate for the Ripper himself: Dr. William Gull. Along the way, the story pauses for mystical time-traveling visions, linkages of the Ripper to other important historical moments of the era (most memorably, the conception of Hitler), and a breathtaking chapter that provides a tour of London's most famous sites with commentary on their secret occult meanings. Moore's vision is fully realized by artist Eddie Campbell, whose scratchy, expressive pen-and-ink drawings are perfectly matched to the writing's eccentric, eclectic style.

Where to go next: If Moore's writing intrigues you, it's hard to go wrong with his anarchist parable V For Vendetta, with art by David Lloyd. He's also written several great books which deconstruct and expand upon the language of superhero comics as few other writers have: Watchmen (with Dave Gibbons), Promethea (a magical textbook disguised as a superhero book, with J.H. Williams III and others), and the unfortunately uncollected Miracleman. If Campbell's stunning art is what really gets you here, his autobiographical series Alec is the obvious next step, followed by his short experimental work The Fate of the Artist, which reconsiders his approach to autobiography through a multitude of comics techniques. These two books also display Campbell's wry, surprising sense of humor, which will provide quite a contrast to Moore's serious tone.

Life of the Party (Mary Fleener)
Mary Fleener's raunchy, sexy, funny, inventively illustrated stories from her rock n' roll life prove that autobiography need not be the boring, sad-sack genre it has come to be known as from its more famous practitioners. Fleener's stories of playing in bands and hooking up would be enjoyable enough just based on her observational wit and sharp storytelling sense. But even more impressive is her art, which ranges freely from attractive clean-line cartooning to elaborate art-deco patterns and cubist abstractions. At her most abstract, she can suggest emotional states by dissolving forms into geometric figures and swirling patterns, creating tension through her carefully modulated use of lights and darks. The result would be intoxicating even if the stories were dull, and when combined with the details of Fleener's active life, the inventive art is simply perfect.

Where to go next: Fleener's closest kindred spirit is undoubtedly Julie Doucet, whose dream diary My Most Secret Desire and autobiographical account My New York Diary are strikingly drawn, revealing, and far from staid. Also worth noting are Chester Brown's The Playboy and I Never Liked You, which are closer to conventional autobiography but still have the frisson of energy and idiosyncratic style that sets Fleener apart. Megan Kelso's The Squirrel Mother is a great collection of short stories, some fantastical and some slice-of-life, told with a sparse but charmingly stylized aesthetic. Finally, Fleener, Doucet, and Brown have all done the art for stories written by Dennis Eichhorn and collected in his Real Stuff, which also contains great art by Peter Bagge, Joe Sacco, Jim Woodring, and many other cartooning greats. Eichhorn's life is, if anything, even more outrageous than Fleener's, and his colorful, blunt writing style perfectly captures his asshole demeanor and the hilarious situations he finds himself in.

Madman Comics (Mike Allred)
If you ask most people in the US what they think of when they hear the word "comics," they'll probably say something about superheroes. This list doesn't include much in the way of superhero fare because it is specifically targeted at two types of prospective readers: those who are already well-versed in American superhero comics, and those who don't care to be. Nevertheless, I felt like the list would be incomplete without at least one nod to the prevalence of the capes-and-tights crew, so I'm including Mike Allred's incredibly fun, charming, and often uproariously funny tribute to costumed heroics. Allred's character Frank Einstein is a reincarnated hipster whose goofy adventures include travels through time, tangles with aliens and mad scientists, brushes with the minions of Hell, and perhaps most importantly, worries over his squeaky-clean romance with his sweetheart Joe. Allred's pop-art aesthetic is reflected equally in his vibrant drawings and his golly-gee, whiz-bang pattering dialogue. These stories don't require much context to enjoy, so a good place to start might be with the first color stories, from the series originally called Madman Comics, now collected in either the Madman Volume 2 softcover or as part of the recently released Madman Gargantua, a complete compilation of every Madman comic. These stories are some of Allred's most fun and smart, culminating in an amazing sequence where a beautifully executed 13-page fight scene is paired with Frank's internal musings on philosophy, religion, and mortality.

Where to go next: Allred's poppy visuals are married to the wry, ironic writing of Peter Milligan in the duo's run on Marvel's X-Force (later X-Statix), which despite its title had little to do with the characters who previously bore that name. Other purveyors of smart, light-hearted pop-culture takes on superhero tropes include Robert Kirkman (Invincible), Brian Michael Bendis (Alias, Powers), and Grant Morrison (Seaguy, The Filth).

Safe Area Gorazde (Joe Sacco)
Starting with Palestine, his account of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Joe Sacco has been using comics to document world strife and current events in ways that few other artists have. His journalistic instinct is sharp and incisive, tending towards anecdotal storytelling rather than big-picture analysis. In Safe Area Gorazde, one of several books he's done about the Balkan conflicts, he gets down and dirty on the ground with soldiers, mercenaries, politicians, and civilians on all sides of the conflict, collecting interviews and aural histories into a stunning, passionate entreaty for decency, peace, and justice. Sacco's style is cartoony, though his dense crosshatching infuses his art with a sense of realism and weight. His stories are often heartbreaking and terrifying, but he also leavens the horrors of war with his sense of humor and his ear for convincing dialogue, including the inanities of everyday life. One of his characteristic themes is the way that normality continually tries to reassert itself even under the most horrific conditions. His work is bracing, powerful, and profoundly humanist, a much-needed tonic for the spread of political apathy and ignorance.

Where to go next: All of Sacco's books are worth reading, starting with his ground-breaking Palestine. His other books on the Balkan states include The Fixer and War's End. Otherwise, there are basically no other cartoonists who attempt long-form comics journalism in the same way or at the same level as Sacco, but Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus (a memoir about his father's experience in Nazi concentration camps) is very much worth a look as well. For more contemporary political material, the finest commentator in comics is arguably Jules Feiffer, whose long-running Village Voice comic strip is being collected by Fantagraphics, starting with The Explainers.

Tekkonkinkreet (Taiyo Matsumoto)
Any list of this sort would be hopelessly incomplete without at least one manga contribution, so Taiyo Matsumoto's urban adventure epic will have to stand as the token manga choice, pointing the way towards the breadth and variety of Japanese comics. Matsumoto's stylized character designs and warped perspectives are perfectly suited to his rapidly paced action sequences, including some of the best fight scenes in comics. His two protagonists are a pair of street urchins (nicknamed Black and White) living in a distopian future where rival gangs control rigidly maintained territories, while corporate forces seek to muscle in for themselves. Matsumoto's brisk, punchy art carries the book, but his writing is equally strong, deftly balancing action, humor, violence, and pathos. It's fun and fast-paced without sacrificing heart or intelligence; a very rare combination.

Where to go next: If American comics tend towards a dichotomy between arty/literary comics on one end and superheroes on the other, the Japanese manga industry is dominated by genre work of all kinds. In addition to sci-fi action books like this or Hiroki Endo's Eden, there's horror (Junji Ito's terrifying Uzumaki and deliriously weird Gyo; Kazuo Umezu's Drifting Classroom; Hitoshi Iwaaki's Parasyte), hard science fiction (Makoto Yukimura's space opera Planetes), thrillers (Naoki Urasawa's addictive Monster), contemplative fiction (Jiro Taniguchi's The Walking Man), and soap opera (Ai Yazawa's Nana). This is a hopelessly incomplete list, but a manga primer could easily take up a whole other list (or ten) in itself, and with my limited knowledge of the Japanese comics scene I am certainly not the person for that particular job. If it turns out that manga's where it's at for you, the titles above should provide a good starting place, though.

I should also note: the ONLY reason that this list does not feature the work of the Hernandez brothers, Jaime and Gilbert, is that there is really no easy way to be introduced to their long-running series Love and Rockets, which has been collected in an oft-confusing array of books. Within this shared comic, each brother has crafted continuing stories featuring their own casts of characters, plus one-off shorts and other ephemera. The series started off somewhat slow back in the early 80s, with both brothers struggling a bit before really finding their voice, another reason it's difficult to recommend their books to new readers. It's equally difficult to jump in at the middle, since so many of their stories depend on the long back histories they've crafted with their characters. But Fantagraphics Books has recently released a new set of affordable paperback collections that simplify things greatly, so there's really no excuse now for anyone not to check out Jaime's Locas, an exactingly drawn soap opera about former punk rock girls growing up and deciding what to do with their lives, or Gilbert's Palomar, a sweeping epic about the inhabitants of the eponymous South American town. Fantagraphics also provides a very handy guide on how to read Love and Rockets


Matthew J. Brady said...

Nice list. I agree with all the selections, for the most part, although I don't know if I would go with Joann Sfar and Ben Katchor as humorists; I would think a good follow-up to Kyle Baker would be Eric Powell, or maybe Sergio Aragones.

Also, if you're mentioning Grant Morrison superhero books, Seaguy is a good choice, although it's kind of a surreal commentary on the industry rather than a superhero adventure. The Filth isn't a superhero story though; myself, I would go with All-Star Superman, JLA, or New X-Men, with Animal Man for more advanced studies.

Eh, but that's just my viewpoint. Overall, well done.

Ed Howard said...

Thanks for the comments Matthew, points well taken. Good call on Sergio Aragones in particular, who would indeed be the perfect follow-up to Baker. I don't have any Groo collections myself, though I've read a lot of it; I'd imagine any of those books would be a good choice. I do think Katchor is generally hilarious, though, as is the particular Sfar book I recommend. Both are a slightly more understated form of humor, but that's OK.

I'll admit The Filth was a bit of a stretch, which I mainly included because it's my favorite Morrison book and because it's self-contained. I also find I don't really like his more mainstream superhero stories, like JLA or X-Men, though Animal Man is a good choice. Maybe Doom Patrol too.

Matthew J. Brady said...

I've barely read any Katchor, but he does strike me as understated, as does Sfar (I also liked Vampire Loves quite a bit). I guess I was thinking that that understatement would be an odd follow-up to the raucous Cowboy Wally.

Animal Man is great, but it's a bit reliant on DC Comics minutia for new readers, I would think. But I guess that means it would be good for the "superhero readers who are looking for something more adventurous" audience. Doom Patrol is also great (I only just finished reading that run for the first time recently), but I would call it an "explorers of weirdness" series rather than superhero. Eh, that's probably nitpicking.

Benjamin D. said...

If I were going to attempt to introduce an educated adult female reader to comics--a fool's errand--I wouldn't give her any of the books you mention, Ed. Rather, I'd have books by Posy Simmonds (Tamara Drewe, Literary Life, Gemma Bovery, etc.) and Claire Bretecher (Mothers, Frustration, More Frustration, Still More Frustration, Agrippina, Agrippina Throws a Wobbly, etc.) at the top of my list.

Ed Howard said...

Thanks for the comment Benjamin. I'm not a big fan of Simmonds and I haven't read any Bretecher, but why do you think an "educated adult female reader" couldn't enjoy the books I cite? There are a few (Peter Bagge, Chester Brown) that probably appeal more to men but for the most part I think it's a very general list that would appeal to a broad range of potential readers.

The unspoken subtext of what you're saying is that women respond best to women cartoonists, I take it? But why should a woman not get the same thing from Joe Sacco's work that a man gets? It seems to me vaguely insulting to suggest that you wouldn't recommend, for example, a comic about world politics to women, but would instead point them to some supposedly more female-friendly artists. I'm sure those "educated adult" women wouldn't appreciate being condescended to in that way. I'd happily recommend any of the titles in this list to men or women, though I doubt that many people of either gender would like everything I suggest.

For that matter, if I was going to be PC about it, I'd recommend smart, sophisticated cartoonists like Mary Fleener, Julie Doucet, Megan Kelso, Carla Speed McNeil, Eleanor Davis, and Carol Lay to women before I'd mention Posy Simmonds.

Benjamin D. said...

I'm not sure it's a great conversation starter for you to begin by accusing me of being insulting or condescending to women, Ed. But never mind that...

What I see in your list is a bunch of books that have more or less proven appeal to people who already like a variety of different types of comics.

What I don't see in your list is any "ideal books" to introduce "readers" to comics. Rather, it's a list that, for better or worse, displays your "good taste" in comics.

What I think is needed, however, is not a one-size-fits-all list of "ideal books to introduce readers to comics" but a variety of lists, each targeted at a specific, identifiable group.

Now, fact is, none of the educated female readers I know cares one whit about comics. None. So I ask myself, what types of books DO the educated female readers that I know read? And the fact is, what I see educated women reading is, for the most part, middle of the road, character-based, non-experimental "literary" fiction, often written by women, but not always, along with a smattering of mystery novels, some classic novels by Jane Austen and others, old favorites from childhood (such as the novels of Lucy Maud Montgomery), and so on.

Posy Simmonds and Claire Bretecher make the top of my list for educated women readers of the sort I've just described because I take the pre-existing interests of those readers seriously.

Although you apparently don't think she measures up, Posy Simmonds is a terrific artist and storyteller and needs no defence from me. I'm aware that her readers aren't, for the most part, dyed-in-the-wool comics geeks, but I'm also of the opinion that it is entirely their loss if they don't appreciate her work, not hers. (If we take Julie Doucet at her word, it is comics geeks who drove her out of comics altogether!) And Claire Bretecher's comics, which despite their focus on women's experience say more to me about my life than anything by Mike Allred or Alan Moore or Megan Kelso, are laugh-out-loud funny, much funnier, in my view, than anything by Peter Bagge or Kyle Baker or Mary Fleener or Julie Doucet, though please note that that doesn't mean that I think Moore and Kelso and Bagge and Baker and Fleener and Doucet are pikers. Far from it, though I'm sad to report Doucet's 365 Days was a major disappointment on pretty much every possible level.

(And--quick aside--I must say, I really love Eleanor Davis's work, but the fact is, she's right at the beginning of her career, without a solid book for adult readers--collection or graphic novel--to her name yet. Maybe you like handing out mini-comics for people to read, but I find they just turn non-comics readers off, no matter how great we who are in the know think they are.)

Now, given my target audience, I might recommend Fleener's or Doucet's or Baker's or Ware's or Sacco's work further down the line, depending on the reaction to my opening suggestions. But there are aspects of the work of each of those artists that I think would be difficult for a new comics reader to digest, and I prefer to proceed with caution...

I know you don't think Mariko and Jillian Tamaki's Skim is great, but I happen to think it is not only a terrific first graphic novel but also the kind of book, both in its subject matter and presentation, that would have far more immediate appeal to the women readers I describe above than anything by Joe Sacco or Chris Ware, both of whom I think are first-rate comics writer-artists.

Anyway... it's late, and I'm starting to ramble. I'll check back tomorrow, after you've had a chance to tear another strip off of me, and we'll see if I have anything more to say. LOL!

Ed Howard said...

Sorry about the harsh tone in my last response, Benjamin. You raise a good point in that this list is a somewhat artificial construct, aimed not at someone whose tastes I know and can tailor my recommendations to, but to a general audience of people of all types. If someone I knew was asking me for recs, I'd certainly give them a different list, depending on what I know of their tastes. If they like sci-fi, there'd be some Warren Ellis, Carla Speed McNeil, and much more manga. If they like pulpy mysteries, I might point them to Richard Sala. And so on. This list is more of a general base where hopefully everyone can find at least 1 or 2 things to like.

Anyway, your clarifications make me think that maybe we just know different women. I know some women who read Chuck Palahniuk and Italo Calvino and, yes, the Hernandez brothers, and who would doubtless make gagging noises if I brought up Jane Austen. I also know women who have no interest in comics whatsoever, and that's fine -- I know men who also have no interest in comics. And I know both men and women whose taste in reading material is limited to Tom Clancy or J.K. Rowling, and who knows what they'd make of any good comics. Pretending that all women (or all men for that matter) have similar tastes, as though they're a monolithic united group, is a little strange, especially since your description of what "educated women" read is sort of a stereotypical recounting of the things that women are "supposed" to like according to popular stereotypes. The fact is, lots of women are interested in (non-superhero) comics these days, and lots of them seem to be interested in many of the same comics as men are. Suggesting that Joe Sacco and Chris Ware are for guys, while women might be better off reading Posy Simmonds and Skim, does seem a little condescending to me, especially when you go on to describe women's interests in reading as "middle of the road."

Your point about Eleanor Davis is well-taken, and that's why she wasn't on my list. I look forward to the day when she puts together a graphic novel, or at least a collection of short stories, that could bring her work to a larger audience. Her stories in Mome have been uniformly excellent, even better than any of her mini-comics.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Skim to a teenage girl, it's beautifully drawn and though I'm clearly not its target audience, I imagine it would appeal to young girls. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems too juvenile to have much to say to women in general. I'd say Megan Kelso and Debbie Drechsler explore similar territory in much more sophisticated ways.

Anyway, thanks for keeping the conversation going and I hope you don't take my disagreement with you as personal attack. I also hope some women can chime in here with what they think of the list and its potential to reach both genders.

Matthew J. Brady said...

I definitely can't speak for all women, but I do try to get my wife, who is educated and generally likes Harry Potter and the like, to read comics regularly. So far, her favorites have been the Vertigo series Fables, Bone (which would probably be another good one for this list, although I don't know which category to fit it in), and manga like Hot Gimmick or Nana. She also thought Fun Home was really good. I haven't been able to get her to read any Chris Ware, but she liked the exhibit of his artwork at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. So there's some anecdotal evidence for you.

Benjamin D. Brucke said...

My recounting of what the educated women I know read is based on my observation of what the educated women I know read, Ed. Now, the educated women I know are mostly between the ages of 30 and 60, so my view may be skewed a little bit, but I'm definitely not resorting to stereotypes. You may have contempt for "middle of the road, character-based, non-experimental 'literary' fiction"--which doesn't include the Harry Potter series, by the way, or Tom Clancy--but it's a fairly large proportion of the fiction market here in Canada. And a significant majority of fiction readers these days are women. Ergo...

(Frankly, the comics industry WISHES it had as many women readers as "middle of the road, character-based, non-experimental 'literary' fiction" has.)

Moving on...

Where, btw, did I say that Sacco and Ware are for men and Simmonds and Skim are for women?

What I actually said was this: "given my target audience, I might recommend Fleener's or Doucet's or Baker's or Ware's or Sacco's work further down the line, depending on the reaction to my opening suggestions." (And I'd jump at the opportunity to recommend works by Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez. Just so you know.)

You see the difference?

I also said that, although Claire Bretecher's comics "focus on women's experience," they "say more to me about my life than anything by Mike Allred or Alan Moore or Megan Kelso." In other words, Bretecher's comics aren't just for women, they're for (open-minded) men, too. Same goes for Posy Simmonds' comics, by the way.

"I also hope some women can chime in here with what they think of the list and its potential to reach both genders." -- LOL! Good luck with that! Maybe you can lure some of the women over here who post to the Comics Journal messboard. Oh, wait... there's only one woman over there... maybe two... never mind...

Ed Howard said...

Maybe I'm thrown off by your use of the descriptor "middle of the road," which to me is not something to be taken as praise or encouragement, in any way. Maybe it's not as much of a negative the way you're using it. But I'd much rather recommend the top of the line best works in comics rather than settling for more middle of the road material, which in my opinion at least would include Posy Simmonds and Skim.

Matthew, Bone is a great recommendation as well, and the only reason I didn't include it is that its most accessible edition, the big one-volume collection, is kind of an imposing brick of a book, and I wanted to limit that kind of thing.

Benjamin D. Brucke said...

The middle of the road is where the vast majority of the "readers" you want to introduce to comics spend most of their time, Ed. Michael Cunningham outsells Italo Calvino by a HUGE margin. You and I prefer Calvino. But so what? Would you give "If on a winter's night, a traveller..." to someone who doesn't read novels as an introduction to novels? I sure wouldn't.

p.s. You'd really recommend Jeff Smith's Bone to a sophisticated reader of fiction, male or female, over Gemma Bovery and Tamara Drewe? I sure as heck wouldn't. But then again, I think Hilda Terry's Teena is a better comic strip than "unknown comics visionary" Norman Jennett's tremendously tedious Monkey Shines Of Marseleen. So what do I know...

Ed Howard said...

"The middle of the road is where the vast majority of the "readers" you want to introduce to comics spend most of their time, Ed. Michael Cunningham outsells Italo Calvino by a HUGE margin. You and I prefer Calvino. But so what?"

So what indeed. If I'm going to recommend something, it'll always be more Calvino than Cunningham. Yea, recommending accessible middle of the road stuff might be easier and more dependable, but what's the point? I don't want more people to read mediocre comics, I want them to read great ones. I probably wouldn't hand a non-reader If On a Winter Night, even though it is my favorite of his books, but I might give them his much more accessible Difficult Loves. I wouldn't try to give a non-reader Foucault's Pendulum either, substituting Eco's more recent and more narratively straightforward Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, for another literary, sophisticated work that is definitely not "middle of the road" (and which has some connection to comics too, incidentally).

For the same reasons, I wouldn't hand a non-comics-reader Ninja or a Yuichi Yokohama collection, but the books I listed I think are much more accessible than those or Calvino's most meta writing. In my opinion, of course.

Benjamin D. Brucke said...

"I don't want more people to read mediocre comics, I want them to read great ones."

Who said he wanted people to read mediocre comics? Not me.

Posy Simmonds and Claire Bretecher are not mediocre comics artists, Ed. They're first rate! AND their work is more accessible than most of the comics you list to readers who don't currently read comics at all but instead enjoy "middle of the road, character-based, non-experimental 'literary' fiction." There is no contradiction here, any more than there is a contradiction between your desire for people to read great comics and books and your willingness to recommend "much more accessible" ones to neophytes.

The trouble is, you've conceded so much in your last few posts that I'm finding it increasingly difficult to find anything about which to argue with you--we agree more than we disagree! So rather than descend into unadulterated nitpickery, I'm going to bow out now.

See ya!