What I Look for in a Comic
My friend Dave Jones introduced me to comics a mere couple years ago. It’s not that I didn’t know about comics, or had never read a comic, but Dave introduced me to comics that do more to scratch my itches than those I had read previously. He opened my eyes to the plethora of comics that aren’t reboots of reboots of super heroes. These are comics I never saw working at a bookstore in high school (we only carried marquee super heroes), or digging through my dad’s forgotten, rotting collection. It has led to a fledgling collection of my own, and a blossoming love for the medium. That Dave Jones, man. He’s a good dude.
The other day, I was browsing a comic book store with my three-year-old daughter. She grabbed the latest in the series I Hate Fairyland, looked up at me, her eyes twinkling, and said, “Daddy, I want to buy this. Can we buy this?” It looked fun, funny. A little girl graced the cover, wearing a pink and yellow dress, with green hair decorated by a big, yellow bow. The giant, bloody battle axe indicated it might be too graphically violent to show my daughter, though. I distracted her with Spidey or something, and we eventually strolled out of the store with only what I went for. (Side question: what comics do I introduce to a non-reader? What comics do I introduce to an early reader?)
I asked Dave recently if he has read any of I Hate Fairyland. He said he flipped through it, but it didn’t capture him. Hmm, I thought. How does he evaluate comics? How even do I evaluate comics? And, to think about later, How does my daughter evaluate comics!?
It’s easy to answer the first question. Here’s what Dave said about evaluating comics (on a flip-through in the store, anyway):
“Art style, anything interesting, ratio of interesting to boring weighed against cost and desire to leave the shop with 4 or less books.”
As for me? I have come to conclude there are two primary traits I seek in a comic.
- Fantasy genre: Swords and sorcery. Fairies and magic. Adventurers and monsters. Love that stuff.
- Humor: Certainly, there’s a spectrum at play here. However, I perceive that I lean a bit more on humor than the average comic reader.
There are a couple things that I don’t particularly care about.
- Supers: Ah, man. Supers is the classic genre of comics. Hell, I all but didn’t know comic books didn’t equate to super hero books until recently. More than just a meh, it’s also the quickest turn off for me.
- Art: Welp, turns out I don’t care too much about 50% of the medium. To be fair, I have a hard time mustering opinions about art in general. I can get used to anything if the story works.
I nearly listed “story/writing” in “traits I seek”, but I suspect there aren’t many people who care nothing for the story, so it’d be redundant to include it. Perhaps people buy comics for only the art, as I buy for damn near only the story, but I have my doubts.
Back to I Hate Fairyland. I suspected I would like it. As soon as my daughter picked it up, I suspected I’d like it. I decided I’d buy the first issue to test my theory (via ComiXology). So, now I know it’s about a girl who, at age 6, gets her wish and is transported to Fairyland. She is told how to get back home, and that it will take maybe a day. Twenty-seven years later, she hasn’t found her way home, and she’s a bitter, homicidal psycho who appears to not have aged.
I bought the first 5-issue volume in trade paperback form immediately. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Neil Gaiman had a blurb on the front cover. I sat down to read it, and didn’t get back up until it was finished. I love it.
I’m not well-read enough, as far as comics go, to tell you what is great, or best, or even what is definitely good. I can tell you what comics hit my sweet spot, though. The two I’ve liked the most are The Rat Queens, current as of this post, and Skullkickers, a finished series. Of the comics I’ve read, those two are my favorite, and do the best job of combining fantasy (more like Dungeons and Dragons tropes) and humor.
One that doesn’t match my usual criteria, but that I still love, is The Autumnlands (formerly Tooth & Claw). It is the series that Dave Jones used to lure me into his dark web of comic and comic shop love. It is a much more serious series, but the story and world are great.
I have also read most of the Pathfinder comics (thanks, Humble Bundle), and enjoyed them. If you like D&D-style fantasy tropes, you’ll probably enjoy them, too.