August 20th, 2013 / 11:10 am

Which comics do you consider the most essential reading? (Comics = comic books, comix, comic strips, web comics, more?)


  1. kjtuyy

      krazy kat and gasoline alley

  2. Derik Badman

      Ok, I’ll bite. This was my top 10 list a couple years ago, hasn’t changed really:

      Love & Rockets: Locas Stories by Jaime Hernandez (as a whole series)
      Peanuts by Charles Schulz
      King-Cat Comics and Stories by John Porcellino
      Phoenix by Osamu Tezuka
      Fifty Days at Iliam by Cy Twombly
      How to Be Everywhere by Warren Craghead
      Krazy Kat by George Herriman
      The End by Anders Nilsen
      Journal III by Fabrice Neaud
      Par Les Sillons by Vincent Fortemps

      (Details )

  3. Timmy Reed

      Peanuts and Black Hole are both near and dear to my heart.

  4. Marc

      I’m a big fan of Dead Pool and The Walking Dead, though I don’t read issues regularly. I did get 700 free first editions from Comixology, and reading through them has been pretty awesome.

  5. deadgod

      For me, the greatest comic was Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes.

      Herriman, Walt Kelly, and, of course, Moebius are all “essential”, too.

      And Druillet, Spy vs. Spy, the Silver Surfer.

  6. cwinnette
  7. panoptican

      I haven’t actually read it yet, but what I’ve heard of Berserk has me super curious. Anyone give it a go?

  8. bemightee

      lot of good recommendations on here already: Love and Rockets, Black Hole, Calvin and Hobbes…
      i’d add Paul Chadwick’s – Concrete series (Dark Horse)
      Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children (Piranha Press)
      in the vein of classic comic strips i’d have to go with Gary Larson’s – the Far Side
      pretty much anything by Moebius
      Chris Claremont and Jim Lee’s run on the X-men
      the Elektra: Assassin mini-series (Epic comics)
      Grendel by Matt Wagner (Comico)

  9. Bryan Butcher

      Anything by Winsor McCay but specifically Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, Little Nemo, and Little Sammy Sneeze. Along with Herriman, he is a must read as both were early innovators and working on a different level within the medium.

  10. Daniel Bailey


  11. shaun gannon

      monster killers by j. chastain

  12. Brian Nicholson

      Chris Ware, Kevin Huizenga, Gary Panter’s Jimbo, Dash Shaw, David Mazzucchelli, Brian Chippendale, CF’s Powr Mastrs, Matthew Thurber’s 1-800-Mice, Michael Deforge, Ruppert And Mulot’s Barrel Of Monkeys, Peter Blegvad’s Book Of Leviathan, Daniel Clowes’ Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron, at least a few Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck comics, some of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World comics, Taiyo Matsumoto’s Tekkon Kinkreet, Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol and The Invisibles, Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Promethea, The Smithsonian Collection Of Newspaper Comics, Osamu Tezuka’s Phoenix, Krazy Kat, Peanuts, Calvin And Hobbes, Achewood, The Far Side, Mark Newgarden’s We All Die Alone.

      These are more “essential” to being familiar with comics as a medium (esp. as they exist right now) than they are to being a human being or something, but nothing is really essential reading to being a human being. Some stuff, like Promethea and The Invisibles, are sort of essential as being these occult primers to read as a teenager. Other things are essential as guides to sense of humor to read as a child.

  13. A D Jameson

      I was thinking less of moving images, more static ones. Though Miyazaki is also a manga artist.

  14. A D Jameson

      But of course!

  15. A D Jameson

      Yeah, I guess I was thinking more “essential to being familiar with comics as a medium.”

  16. Frank Rodriguez

      re: “essential to being familiar with comics as a medium.” The first thing I thought of was Maus. Peanuts is great too. I think you can read most any comics and get familiar with the medium as long as you read good stuff because my favorite part of reading comics is when the author does something new with it out of thin air and that newness is always tied to the words/pix combo. But I think it might be as wide a category as “fiction”.

  17. Frank Rodriguez

      Second Concrete.

  18. Quincy Rhoads

      Y’all ever read Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit? That’s some tough stuff, but man can I not give it up.

  19. Jeremy Hopkins

      Most [personally formative] comics [not counting newspaper strips, though some of those are great]: Jim Lee X-Men, Sin City, Bone, Deadpool, Blade of the Immortal, Hellboy.
      Generally, I was more interested in the pictures than the writing. If I wanted writing, I read regular books. If a comic turned out to also have good writing, it was a bonus. I didn’t even know about Clowes or Pekar or whatever more ‘serious’ stuff until I was pretty much over comics, and they didn’t get me back into them. If I were to start buying comics again, today, I would find used copies of the Blade of the Immortal trades and read the whole thing (or read until it turned bad, if it did).

  20. A D Jameson

      I think of the artistic potential of comics as being infinite. So if one is going to read, say, 50 comics, there is arguably some 50 (or certain sets of 50) that will display that potential more thoroughly than some other 50 (other sets). E.g., one might do better than reading Uncanny X-Men 251–300 (which I will confess I have read).

  21. A D Jameson

      Jim Lee’s work on Uncanny, or the 10 issues of the adjectiveless X-Men? I actually dreamt the other night about Omega Red, alas.

      I was always more of a Marc Silvestri fan, myself. Though later on I realized that a lot of what I liked about Silvestri’s work on Uncanny and Wolverine was probably attributable to his finisher, Dan Green. (And, yes, I adored Lee’s work when reading those books the first time through; Lee’s work on Uncanny remains dazzling.)

      When I lived in Bangkok, I (re-)read Uncanny X-Men straight through, issue 1 to around 300 (CBR copies on my computer). It was an enlightening experience for several reasons, including: 1.) I understood why Claremont & Byrne’s tenure is now considered the book’s best (in particular, watching Claremont evolve the title in the late 70s/early 80s is beautiful), and 2.) I came to realize that reading a serial narrative lacking in telos is a maddening experience.

  22. deadgod

      Yes, if all “moving images” count, then pretty much every movie would, right? I mean, how would you define ‘animation’ to keep out individual frames of photographs, which is what a ‘movie’ or ‘flick’ is?

      I guess you could eliminate ‘live-action’, where movement in front of the camera is photographed at 1/24th-second (or whatever) increments; “animation”, a ‘movie comic’, would be ‘a movie where each frame is photographed or otherwise made disconnectedly directly from each other’, or some definition like that. Then how would you exclude CGI (if you wanted to)? by eliminating movies where the basis (?) of each frame is live-action, which image is then manipulated frame-by-frame?

      By the way, I see below that I forgot Larson: The Far Side is surely a comic that illuminates what’s possible in the form.

      Not sure about its essentiality, but Reid Fleming, World’s Toughest Milkman is a great strip/book.

  23. deadgod

      Yes, aesthetically “essential” comics in the sense of ‘disclosive of more than was conventionally “possible” in the illustrated-panel form’.

      Of course, for people, eh, extensively ignorant of comics and comic history — start with me — , what seems essential might be more an index of mass reach than of what comic artists understand their forms to be defined, challenged, re-defined, and persistently de-defined (if that’s possible) by.

      For example, in my small knowledge, pretty much every comic-book maker who’s seen Moebius is impressed; from Stan Lee to Miyazaki, that seems to be a strong consensus. But maybe there are people–not just Metal Hurlant regulars and, say, Hernandez, but obscure artists–who had already gone where he went and ‘beyond’.

  24. Jeremy Hopkins

      Been a long time, but I think it was mainly the plain X-Men plus maybe a few stray back issues of the Uncanny. Lee was the reason I ever came to read any book with ‘X-Men’ in the title. I was always more attracted to weird/ancillary characters than the industry big guns, though not so attracted to the weirder comics themselves such as Preacher or what-have-you.

  25. A D Jameson

      The fundamental differences as I understand them between cinema and comics are:
      1.) in cinema, the images are projected (whereas they are not projected in comics);
      2.) in cinema, the author, and not the audience, controls the rate at which the images are viewed.

      Some exceptions/hybrids:
      1.) Webcomics are projected, or at least inscribed on video screens.
      2.) Video games are (I think) a form of cinema where the audience has some control over the rate/order in which the images are viewed.

      I still like McCloud’s fundamental definition of comics (“sequential art”), which defines them further away from cinema (which is a temporal art in which images replace one another, but are never viewed sequentially). Although to be sure no doubt hybrid cases exist, and McCloud’s basic definition excludes comics like The Far Side.

      (Along these lines, I have proposed, following McCloud, that cinema be thought of as “moving images”—understanding “images” to include the concept of projection; perhaps that should be spelled out…)

  26. Jackson Nieuwland


  27. A D Jameson

      A few examples. If one is familiar only with American comics, then I think it’s essential that one then see some work by, say, Mœbius, or Hergé, in order to see the “fine-line” illustration tradition so extensively practiced in European comics.

      For instance, part of what made Frank Miller such a powerful comics artist in the 1980s (and beyond) was the fact that he was conversant with that European tradition, as well as with manga, and was then able to draw upon all three traditions (American, European, Japanese) to produce comics ranging from Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (which bears heavy Japanese influences) to Elektra Lives Again (which bears heavy European influences). … I wrote about this to some extent here. (I never get tired of discussing Frank Miller’s countless innovations.)

  28. A D Jameson

      I was recently looking through some issues of Wolverine (after seeing the new movie), and I was struck anew by the cover of Wolverine #24 (May 1990), which Lee drew (I don’t know if someone else inked/finished it)—see the attached image.

      There was definitely a time (c.1990) when the man’s work was a breath of fresh air.

  29. A D Jameson

      …though, looking at that image, one can also see in it the seeds of that style’s eventual destruction.

      (Destruction of the comics industry, I mean.)

  30. deadgod

      “a serial narrative lacking in telos”

      Yes, narrative frustration often seems like a cheap trick–and more devious: making of a necessity into a fake virtue.

      But Airtight Garage!

      I mean that if the panel art and squirrelly humor (or sex or violence or whatever) pay off at the page level, maybe rudderlessness is a defect that can be transformed by and as, what, ‘vision’.

  31. Jeremy Hopkins

      I’m reminded of Mark Texeira.

  32. deadgod

      Well, the distinction between author(s) and audience control of temporal horizon seems relevant. Of course, a moviegoer can move back and forth and, clumsily, jump around in the narrative; what a tv remote (and episode-segmented dvd) provide has always been implicit, inherent, in the physical technology of moving pictures. But basically, the ordinary way of watching shows and movies–the way I almost always watch them–is to yield arrangement in time to the author(s) in a way not analogous to how reading is done (I’m an inveterate page-flipper, and everybody puts things down to answer the phone or whatever).

      That the images move irresistibly (without the viewer stopping the technology from humming along) in movies and the viewer does the movie (of eyes) in strips/books — that seems a valid distinction to me.

      But I’m not sure what you mean by “projection”. Looking at a strip of images in a newspaper OR looking at those same images thrown on a bedsheet or cast electronically from behind or within onto a screen… what’s the difference?

      As I understand it at first sight, McCloud’s distinction seems reasonable: in comics, you see the preceding and following panels while you’re reading each, while in film, the past and future (as you watch the ‘present’) are only available in memory and anticipation.

      Ruling out single-frame comics raises a further taxonomic problem: comic or illustration? or does Larson do a subset of what, say, Hogarth or Norman Rockwell are masters of? Or is Hogarth–and Botticelli, whose “drawings” illustrate the Everyman’s Library Divine Comedy–a painterly precursor to comic books? The latter seems certain, at least!

  33. A D Jameson

      Well, the distinction between author(s) and audience control of temporal horizon seems relevant. Of course, a moviegoer can move back and forth and, clumsily, jump around in the narrative; what a tv remote (and episode-segmented dvd) provide has always been implicit, inherent, in the physical technology of moving pictures. But basically, the ordinary way of watching shows and movies–the way I almost always watch them–is to yield arrangement in time to the author(s) in a way not analogous to how reading is done (I’m an inveterate page-flipper, and everybody puts things down to answer the phone or whatever).

      Your word “yielding” provides the key, as I see it: we’ve returned to the question of authorial intent. When I recently watched Joe Wright’s Hanna (2011) on my laptop, I could pause it whenever I wanted to, split it over two nights, change the size of the image on the screen—but none of those maneuvers on my part could be mistaken for Wright’s design for the film (which was, presumably, most meant to be seen in a movie theater). Thus, although I was affecting my perception of the film, I wasn’t doing so in any authorial capacity (unless one disagrees with the argument of authorial intent, and considers all audiences authors—but there’s a real theoretical argument to be made there).

      As far as the issue of projection goes, it seems to me a fundamental issue of cinema, in that all cinema (as I understand it) is projected. (The only exception I can think of is flipbooks, which are also a hybrid case). So it doesn’t matter, I don’t think, in terms of comics whether the sequential art occurs on a page or on a screen, but it is relevant in terms of whether the artform is cinematic or not. (That’s all I was trying to say—pointing to places where cinema and comics overlap and blur into one another, re: the original issue of whether a Miyazaki film should count as a comic. I do think that if one laid out all the cels and viewed them that way, one does have a comic—but, returning to the start of this comment, Miyazaki didn’t intend Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) to be viewed that way. Which is to say that the film version of Nausicaä is substantially different than the manga version of it, and that this post/comments thread is interested in the manga version, but not the cinematic version.) (I think.)






  35. A D Jameson

      What I found so depressing about reading Uncanny X-Men straight through was that it never went anywhere, and it could never end. It was like an ancient Greek curse—Prometheus or Sisyphus. Its makers were doomed to keep making it forever, and its readers were doomed to simply keep reading it forever.

      Another way of putting it: nothing mattered. The order that narrative elements happened in was completely arbitrary—they occurred in the order the author dreamt them up, but there was no larger design whatsoever. (Thus it was like life, and therefore was horrible in the way that life can be so horrible. It reminded me of nothing so much as Hegel’s vision of history as the slaughter bench.)

      I keep meaning to write more about this experience…

  36. lipstreams

      Sandman – Brief Lives, Dream Country, Season of Mists

  37. William VanDenBerg
  38. Ty

      Krazy Kat, Peanuts, Calvin & Hobbes, Tintin, Love & Rockets(mostly PALOMAR) are endless classics to me.

      Newer things I don’t think anybody has mentioned:
      GANGES – Kevin Huizenga
      THE MAN WHO GREW HIS BEARD – Olivier Schrauwen
      THE WRONG PLACE – Brecht Evens
      DUNCAN THE WONDER DOG – Adam Hines
      PERSEPOLIS – Marjane Satrapi
      Also most things by Joe Sacco and plenty of things by Lynda Barry and Jason.

  39. sam salvador

      dinosaur comics

  40. E.A. Beeson

      The complete works of both E.C. Segar and George Herriman, Achewood, The Far Side, Nemo in Slumberland, and whatever Tijuana Bibles you can find online.

      Also: come to New Orleans and hear proof that Herriman had the greatest ear for accents ever.

  41. E.A. Beeson

      Addendum: Fabulous Furry Freak Bros.

  42. deadgod
  43. Jeremy Hopkins

      I guess one could look at a serial narrative which lacks an ‘overarching’ yet internal goal as rather meeting and achieving lots of small goals. The ‘overarching’ goal would, in fact, be a meta-goal external to the test itself.

  44. Jeremy Hopkins

      *text itself*

  45. Quincy Rhoads

      BOTI was super influential on my teenage years, too!

  46. Jeremy Hopkins

      Great art. I can still picture some of those full-page drawings. It made me want to check out more Japanese stuff, but most carried by my local shops were pretty weak.

  47. Quincy Rhoads

      Yeah, Samura’ s art is pretty singular. Those death splash pages!

  48. A D Jameson


  49. A D Jameson

      There were definitely shorter goals, or short-term payoffs to small storylines. But even those ended up not mattering after a while. E.g., the Brood would invade Earth and be defeated. Then they’d invade Earth again, and be defeated. Then they’d invade Earth again, and be defeated, and so on. Or, characters would die, then come back, die, come back, etc.

      I think part of the problem was that I was reading the issues on the wrong time frame or scale. They were written to be read on a monthly basis, over the course of decades, But when I read them in 2–3 months, they acquired this nihilistic quality that I found very depressing.

  50. A D Jameson

      The garbage can is very Texiera.

  51. Jeremy Hopkins

      Makes sense. If the uber-goal is simply to keep issuing stories using mostly the same characters and settings, things are bound to get redundant at some point.

  52. bemightee

      yeah my thanks as well. and the comments thread was hilarious my favorite part was when someone said ‘yeah and he was great as Bane in Batman’

      that said i haven’t actually seen the movie yet. do you recommend it?

  53. A D Jameson

      I highly recommend it, fwiw.

  54. deadgod

      I do. It’s an intensely concentrated portrait; you could impose psychological, sociological, and such analyses on the text, but I don’t think Refn was interested in much of all that (Bronson’s rage as a matter of class and a matter for political-economic critique, say, or an ongoing explosion of repressed (or not so repressed) sexuality). I think the actor and director wanted to present the fury of this compelling incarceral agent pinned and wriggling in and by his compulsions with only suggestions of forensically useful context. It’s quite well done, and something to set beside Gandhi, Chaplin, Malcolm X, Lincoln and other such more conventional portraits in the bio-pic genre.

      My favorite of Refn’s movies is Valhalla Rising.

  55. A D Jameson

      deadgod, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Valhalla Rising. It’s the Refn film I’ve been least interested in to date, but I’m planning to revisit it.

      I really need to see Fear X.

  56. A D Jameson


  57. James Embry

      This actually takes me back to a conversation I had with my ex-roommate (now an editor at Marvel) about the demands of “continuity” in an ongoing series.

      Basically, my opinion was that the need for consistency of character and setting often resulted in a sort of “soap opera”-style serialized narrative, where “huge” revelations and cliffhangers are the primary storytelling devices, and are used almost indiscriminately to provide a (mostly illusory) sense of plot momentum, then glossed over, or even “retconned” (a narrative device that, I’m sure, has its origins elsewhere, but I think its fair to say serialized comics popularized before it spread to other storytelling mediums in the last decade or so) just as easily. The problem, as I saw it then, I could only articulate as a lack of “gravity” apparent in a fictive universe where events of such magnitude could be hand-waved away only a few issues later. Of course, Adam’s formulation, “a serial narrative lacking in telos” sounds much better, and will probably be my new go-to description for this type of narrative.

      One of the storytelling trends which I saw, at the time, as a positive trend, offsetting the blandness of the cliffhanger-revelation-reset cycle, was the emergence of single-author “maxi-arcs” within ongoing comics series. I am thinking that Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil might be one of the earlier examples, though I had really gotten into the format via Grant Morrison’s New X-men. Usually, these would be loosely sketched out years in advance, with earlier stories beginning to skew the status-quo slightly, middle sub-arcs establishing tangible character and universe stakes and the final arcs raining down catastrophic changes which actually felt earned–even final, at least as long for as the gap between the final issue of the maxi-arc, and the fill-in story from a lesser-known creator which would inevitably follow, mostly to tidy up loose ends and set the table for the next big creator to jump on board.

      Since that time, however, the reboot phenomenon has struck hard, with subsequent arcs, along with “what-ifs”, parallel universes, and dream stories essentially all repeating the “prime narrative” of a given series (i.e. “Mutants are discovered living among us, persecuted by humanity, and subsequently fractured along ideological lines” or “Child is exposed to psychological trauma – and, potentially, radiation – develops powers and an agenda against evil”) with subtle variations which reflect either our modern world, or the creator’s individual take on the story’s underlying themes. While this means that, now, a series can “end” with finality, unlike the beginning, there is no one ending proscribed. It’s sort of as if Shakespeare only left the first three acts of Hamlet, and the last two were re-written for every production. Though the scheduling of serial comics and the attendant financial concerns (creators whose runs are popular will likely be persuaded to extend their runs, even past the point where they might feel an ending is natural) will make this difficult, at the very least, it seems to be driving more comics creators to think in terms of “whole” narratives.

  58. Jeremy Hopkins

      I think you describe a viable compromise between the writers and businessmen. For the most popular titles and characters, the real-world circumstances basically insist upon the potential for perpetuity. There can always be mini-/maxi-series, but the foundations for the most popular ongoing series are there, so it wouldn’t make good business sense to end them merely to satisfy a few readers’ narrative expectations, especially when other readers don’t mind it.
      Sort of like TV shows: limiting the run VS running it until well after people have stopped watching. There’s room for both.

  59. A D Jameson

      Definitely a lot to think about there. I agree with you—comics would be a lot better if authors were allowed to do mini-runs (or longer runs) and do whatever they wanted to do, then bow out, and let some other creative team come in and do whatever they wanted to do. I’d rather it be like mythology, where there are lots of different stories about, say, Atalanta, and no one worries about whether they all make sense in regards to one another. In one story, she’s bested by Hippomenes (and his golden apples) in a footrace; in another, she loves Meleager and follows him when he goes off with Jason and the Argonauts. Similarly, in one storyline, Cyclops loves Jean Grey; in another, he dates the White Queen. What sucks is having to reconcile the one with another.

  60. Trey

      jeff lemire’s creator owned stuff is very good (I say this because he writes for DC now and some of his stuff is good for sure, his work on Animal Man has been consistently praised, but it’s not the same as the stuff he does on DC’s Vertigo imprint). it’s all good, but the Essex County trilogy stands above the rest, and it’s my go-to recommendation for people who want to “try out” graphic novels, especially for the (maybe oddly specific) category of people who want to try graphic novels because they keep hearing people talk about them, but secretly they still think it’s all superheros and post-apocalyptica (only slightly weakened by the existence of lemire’s own post-apocalyptic series, Sweet Tooth, which is really good too). so in that long-winded way I’d call it essential.

      also peanuts. if anyone doesn’t like at least early peanuts then FUCK YOU.

      and finally I’d call attention to Preacher because it is very fun, and fun is a big part of comics to me.