Here’s an idea – what would you recommend?

Published On August 9, 2009 | By Joe Gordon | Comics, General

whyihatesaturn batman-the-dark-knight-returns

(On the left, possibly a good idea for first comic. On the right, definitely not.)

The Onion AV Club has another interesting comics related post, this time asking the important question:
If someone asked you to recommend a first comic or graphic novel, what would you recommend?” (via LMG)

The AV Club opens this out to it’s contributors and they come up with an interesting list: V For Vendetta, From Hell, Peter Bagge’s The Bradleys, Ultimate Spider-Man, Batman: Year One, Astro City, Bone and more.

Which made me start thinking about it……………

The novice comic reader was a fairly regular event when I was working the floor at the wonderful Nostalgia & Comics in Birmingham and was always something that, to be honest, the staff used to always try to outperform each other with. We’d spend as long as it took talking to the customer, working out exactly what the customer liked in books, movies, music etc etc and building up a bizarre comic psychological profile that usually gave us enough to go on to get together a shortlist of books.

One key thing we always made sure we did for the customer was to back whatever we recommended with a solid promise that if they didn’t like the book they could bring it back and we’d refund the money. As far as I know, we never needed to refund a penny. We were always very proud of that.

G3866 sandman_vol1_preludes

(Strangers In Paradise good, Sandman not. It’s all about the accessibility of that first volume)

Of course, we knew what we were talking about and deliberately catered our recommendations to the person before us. But how many of us have tried to foist completely unsuitable comics on someone with predictable and embarrassing failure? I’ll put my hand up first: I was 16 and madly in love with a girl I’d been seeing for a few months. So as a present to show her my love and devotion and with the hope that she could share in my passion for comics I decided that the perfect first comic book was:

Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller.

It didn’t last much longer than that. I don’t think Frank Miller was completely to blame though.

history-scholastic1 3010-1

(It’s immaterial how much the 7 year old boy loves the Hulk he’s seen on cartoons and got the action figure for – Bone would be the better bet.)

No matter how hard you try to answer the question “If someone asked you to recommend a first comic or graphic novel, what would you recommend?” you can’t really properly answer it because there is NO set answer.

The first comic for a 6 year old boy is different from the first comic for a 6 year old girl. And a 40 year old woman may well not appreciate the same comic as some 18 year old lad.

We also found at Nostalgia & Comics that superhero comics do not go down too well with a new reader. A horrible generalisation perhaps, but generally true. And before anyone jumps in about this, I have to say that I absolutely love great superhero comics, always have and always will. But as introductions to comics, they just don’t work that well since people who don’t read comics tend to see superheroes as childish and inconsequential. In fact the only times it does work is when you find out that the customer has a nostalgic yearning for the Stan & Jack Fantastic Four comics he remembers reading as a child or something similar.

Even children can’t necessarily be given superhero books. You can’t. I’ve tried. I remember one particular 7 year old boy who loved his cartoon superheroes particularly The Hulk. Dad figured something similar in comics would be available. Or maybe not. Every single book he picked up just wasn’t suitable in one way or another. It’s better now, with a few more all-ages superhero books but those are still really only suitable for older children.

Tale of One Bad Rat Hardcover Bryan Talbot Cape The_Invisibles_v2_01_00FC

(Again, both favourite books of mine. But I’d only ever recommend Bryan Talbot’s book for a comic novice.)

Here are some of the comics that I always found would work, providing you get the age and customer profile right:

Bryan Talbot’s The Tale Of One Bad Rat, Terry Moore’s Strangers In Paradise, Kyle Baker’s Why I Hate Saturn and The Cowboy Wally Show, Jeff Smith’s Bone, Garth Ennis’ Preacher, Neil Gaiman’s Death, Paul Grist’s Kane, Andi Watson’s Breakfast Afternoon, Three Days In Europe, Calvin & Hobbes and many, many more that currently escape my addled old mind.

(Right now if I were there I’d be using books like Scott Pilgrim, The Complete Peanuts, American Elf, Derek The Sheep, Fluffy, Fun Home, Rainbow Orchid and Parker to name but a few.)

Interestingly we’d often avoid the obvious big hitters: Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, most Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Frank Miller etc etc. But when folks did come in, as they often did, talking about some great comics writer they’d heard of, we’d always try and pick something relatively simple and self contained. Grant Morrison’s We3 worked well. The Invisibles didn’t. Alan Moore’s V For Vendetta sometimes worked, Watchmen or From Hell didn’t. Gaiman’s Death worked, Signal To Noise worked, Sandman didn’t. It’s all about not overwhelming the new reader with something to dependent upon a long term commitment or with  complicated plot/art.

Which leads us to the inevitable question: what would YOU recommend & who to?

(You know, this was meant to be a quick link piece. But these things always make me want to write about stuff. Make it worth my while by sticking a few suggestions and maybe anecdotes in the comments!)

Like this Article? Share it!

About The Author

Joe Gordon
Joe Gordon is ForbiddenPlanet.co.uk's chief blogger, which he set up in 2005. Previously, he was professional bookseller for over 12 years as well as a lifelong reader and reviewer, especially of comics and science fiction works.

5 Responses to Here’s an idea – what would you recommend?

  1. Matt Badham says:

    For your completely non-comics adult, Ethel and Ernest: A Memoir by Raymond Briggs. For kids, yes, Bone is a good bet. But it’s also good for adults (one of the best comics ever, IMHO). Maus has got to be on the list as well. Tom Gauld’s mini-comics for arty types, they’re beautiful objects as well as beautiful comics.

    I could go on and on…

    …thankfully, I won’t.

  2. Kenny says:

    Someone wanting a good well crafted read – almost any of the Nabiel Kanan books – my fave is Birthday Riots, Grant Morrison’s St Swithin’s Day, Clowes Ghost World or Inio’s Solanin – if they want a bit more fun with their drama We Can Still be Friends – or for the spiteful girlfriend hidden in all our girlfriends Roberta Gregory’s Bitchy Bitch. Hard to look past both the Calvin and Hobbes books or the Peanuts reprints from Fanta – maybe best with the 60′s strips – for adults and kids alike.

  3. Richard says:

    Nabiel Kanan – oh yes. And does anyone know when Exit will be coming out. Last I heard it was going to be early 2009. Except it’s now mid to late 2009 and no sign yet!

  4. Kenny says:

    I noticed from his web page it’s a major reworking of Exit – so I guess almost a new book. I always felt it was the weakest one (relatively speaking) as he clearly hadn’t got his art fully sorted yet and the dialogue whilst still pretty good hadn’t quite got that very natural spoken tone of the later books. I’ll snap a reworking up instantly. No idea when it’s coming tho’ – he hasn’t updated his website this year, shame as his web strip was great. We need more NK.

  5. Joe says:

    As with recommending any reading, prose or graphic, depends on what the person is into. Travel Literature is popular in mainstream bookstores, so I’d suggest Guy Deslisle’s work like Pyongyang or the Burma Chronicles as very accessible reads if they enjoy Travel Lit. If they like crime maybe Brubaker & Philips’ Criminal or the amazing looking new Parker adaptation by Cooke.