Not too long ago, comic books were the refuge of the strange nerd, and readers had to put up with a whole lot of snobbery. The Simpsons nailed the public perception of comic book fans with Comic Book Guy, a character no one wants to be.
Now, however, those brave souls who kept on reading comics have had the last laugh, with superheroes and comic books taking over the mainstream. Marvel and DC have had some of the biggest blockbusters of the past ten years. Superhero TV has become its own genre. Comic books beyond the classic heroes have started to become fodder for adaptations, and new comics, conventions, and cosplay are booming.
As longtime comic book geeks settle in to enjoy seeing all their favorites hitting the big screen, though, what about the newbies? The people who have never so much as flipped through a Spider-Man comic, who don’t know their Bane from the Batman, and who would love to discover what all the fuss is about? Well, when decades of comic books can seem a little intimidating, we’ve got all the best places to start—whether superheroes are your thing, or you are more interested by the idea of comic books and graphic novels that take a different, less-caped, approach.
For Younger Readers: Lumberjanes (Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooklyn A. Allen and Noelle Stevenson)
While comics aren’t just for kids, there are still myriad options for all ages to enjoy—and it’s hard to recommend just one! The best bet is to actually take a young reader to the store, and know that most comic book store workers will love to help them pick out something exciting and age-appropriate. However, if this isn’t an option, Lumberjanes is a great place to start for readers around age 8 and up. It’s not superhero-based, female-led and female-created, and most importantly, incredibly fun.
For Tabletop Gamers: Rat Queens (Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch)
For those who cut their nerd-teeth on Dungeons and Dragons, but haven’t made the leap to comics, there are some incredible titles that feel like your favorite games come to life. Rat Queens is definitely not all-ages, as it follows a band of adventurers on fantasy quests, complete with lots of sex, drugs, booze, and violence. Hilarious, fast-paced, and borrowing heavily from RPG worlds, Rat Queens is perfect for gamers to try.
For Literature Lovers: Maus (Art Spiegelman)
Maus may be one of the most famous graphic novels in the world, and even won a Pulitzer—no small feat for a comic. For anyone who is intrigued by comics, but plagued by the fear that they aren’t quite cerebral enough, Maus is the perfect way to prove that comics and literature aren’t so far apart. The story of the Holocaust told through mice and cats is definitely heavy going, but an incredible work that is elevated by the artwork.
For The Superhero Curious Teen: Ms. Marvel (G. Willow Wilson, Nico Leon)
Teens looking to get into superhero comics have a huge range of possibilities, and any teen who already has a hero in mind would do best to find the start of their most recent run (ask your friendly local comic book dealer!) and go from there. However, for those who have absolutely no idea where to start, Ms. Marvel is a great option. It’s recent (2015-2019), and relatively self-contained, allowing readers to feel their way into the world of a teen hero, and get a little glimpse into the Marvel world at large.
For The Superhero Movie Fan: Batman: Year One (Frank Miller)
For anyone who loves superhero movies, but doesn’t know how to get into the books that chronicle their favorite heroes, Batman: Year One is a solid place to start. Frank Miller is a legend in the comic book world, and Year One works well as an entry point, focusing on Batman’s early days as a crimefighter after completing his training.
While most recommendations are a bit on the shorter side (stand alone comic arcs and newer series), it’s still worth delving into some longer series that inhabit their own world. Saga is a massively popular series that follows a range of incredible and out-there characters; winged and horned beings, enormous psychic cats, half-spider-women, ghosts, robot-headed people, and more. Saga wanders between heartbreaking and surprisingly gory, telling the story of corruption and forbidden love, and is a must-read to keep any new fan hooked.
Finally, for readers who are intrigued by superheroics but not quite ready to dive into the massive worlds of DC and Marvel, The Wicked & The Divine is another hugely popular series that stays within its own world—one where Gods reincarnate into humans, who become wildly famous (and not a little corrupt). Themes of life and death, of fame and responsibility, run through the series that is beautifully drawn and truly addictive.
Which other books would you recommend to new readers? Tweet @quirkbooks and let us know!