Help ‘Johnny The Lurker’

March 4, 2008

“A question for Graham, and other graphic novel aficionados. I’ve
always lurked on the outside looking in when it comes to graphic
novels, but I’ve never had a starting point to work my way in. Would
anyone like to recommend a top 3 or top 5 that I could pick up and
investigate, so I could take the plunge?”

Johnny says he is looking for comics that might ‘mess with his head’, but his list of likes and dislikes indicate he’d probably like anything as long as it’s good.

So here’s my starting three or five.

Frank by Jim Woodring (not a ‘novel’, though)
Ed the Happy Clown by Chester Brown! Not Himes! Dohhh!

Anything by Joe Sacco.
‘Eightball’ collections, Dan Pussey…most things by Daniel Clowes (although recent stuff is testing my patience)
Anything by Jason, but especially this
…and of course, Snake ‘n’ Bacon
Jimmy Corrigan
Hellboy , but only if the art is by Mignola
The Goon is often good fun.

I could go on but I should get back to work. Maybe y’all can help Johhny with some more.


  1. Oh, forgot to say; as you can see, comments are open.

  2. I highly recommend:
    Blankets by Craig Thompson (www.dootdootgarden.com)
    David Boring by Daniel Clowes
    The Poor Bastard by Joe Matt

  3. Damn, I was about to say “The Poor Bastard” too.

    Okay, so: “A Contract With God”, by Will Eisner.

  4. Good list of suggestions! You seem to like Fantagraphics’ output.

    I know you, Graham, find him a bit creepy, but I’ll put forward Dave Cooper.

    From the old guard, there’s Kim Deitch.

    Soon to be a motion picture, there’s Charles Burns’ Black Hole.

    And try to see Jim Woodring’s Visions of Frank dvd!:

  5. Sandman by Neil Gaiman
    Preacher by Garth Ennis
    Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis

    The art and stories are pure brilliance.

  6. “Here’s Buddy”, while being culled from comics by Peter Bagge has a strong & cohesive narrative, reads like a “novel” and contributes to a healthy nihilistic view of things while providing a laugh…also am I just being obvious to mention the Hernandez Brothers, in particular the Palomar stories? No? OK. I was right then. We all agree.

    Ultimately I say, “Why so hung up on novels?” A single Woodring as mentioned by G.L. (for instance the one where Manhog flays himself, or the stabbing a ray dream)is worth more than a lot of forced stuff. Mack White, The Jimmy Corrigan stories, Eichhorn, Aline Crumb, all good…

  7. Well, a great start for the occasional reader, specially if you just want to dip your feet into the medium and not commit to a 9 volume saga or 400 pages book would be “We3“, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely.
    Probably one of the best comics of the last 20 years.

  8. My favourite Daniel Clowes is ‘Caricature’. Also get the Hate volumes, best value for money. Bagge is my favourite by far. I enjoy Woodring’s artwork but I find it difficult to relate to.

  9. So far, I would only disagree with Blankets (a little too twee for me) and We3 (good stuff, but really just a series of action sequences).

  10. I love the Y: The Last Man series by Brian K Vaughan.

  11. The Love & Rockets series by Los Bros. Hernandez (parts by Jaime Hernandez are less “head messy” than others done by Gilbert Hernandez)
    I second the Preacher series
    and add
    Transmetropolitan. It’s great. So great it makes you want to shave your head and wear red & green specs about.
    I really love Evan Dorkin & Sarah Dyer’s stuff (http://www.houseoffun.com) Evan’s art is great IMHO.
    Umm- Stray Bullets I think will have to be the last series I recommend. There’s far too many that are great but it seems like I have less and less time/money to really get into something unless it’s in trade paperback.

  12. Adrian Tominne is kind, y’all

  13. BTW, it’s Chester BROWN who done Yummy Fur & Ed the Happy Clown:

    Chester HIMES, different kettle of fried fish.

  14. Ghost World is Daniel Clowes’ masterpiece and a classic in any medium (I think The Onion might have said that first). It may be my favourite book of any type outside of The Best of Myles.

    It would be wrong to leave out Alan Moore’s classics just because they’re obvious: Watchmen and From Hell.

  15. Kyle Baker’s Plastic Man.

  16. For accessible “alternative” comics, I agree that most of Clowes is great. Chris Ware’s too. For the more alternative superhero-type stuff, Alan Moore’s Tom Strong is really fun, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Watchmen too.

    Proposal: Can we, as comics readers, stop using the term “Graphic Novel?” I understand the term was created by Will Eisner to sell comic books to adults.

  17. Bloody hell! Did I say Himes? Erase! Erase!

  18. I second the vote on ‘Ghost World’–how could I forget that!

  19. And the Hernandez Bros, though recently I just can’t follow what’s going on.

  20. What about The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen? I’m not a big graphic novels man but this blew my mind, particularly the Rupert the Bear and the War Of The Worlds stuff in Vol. II

  21. +1 on Watchmen. It really is that good.

    And speaking of the obvious-for-a-reason: Maus — some great head-messing there.

  22. The Incal by Moebius is lovely surreal sci fi. Chester Brown’s Yummy Fur for sure, and Love & ROckets. Still trying to wrap my head around the Invisibles by Morrison and work out if it is great or just a w*nk.

  23. Can I put a word in for an old American comic strip?
    The collected Gasoline Alley is brilliant, sad & sweet.
    Better than 99% of the stuff published now, in book or strip format. All new parents will be especially taken with it.
    And it does read like a slow human scale novel.
    Look for it under the title Walt & Skeezix.

  24. >And the Hernandez Bros, though recently I just can’t follow what’s going on.

    I think it’s mostly going into full blown art for art’s sake territory but the Maggie the Mechanic very early L&R stuff is where I jumped in back in collge.
    Gilbert has some very funky pornographic comics as well and was shocked that I was a female who liked them. Oh well.

  25. Come on, I mean… Alan Moore (before the breakdown)… Surely. I would feel duty-bound before all the waiting-at-bus-stops, we-get-old-and-die school to recommend to the uninitiated Alan Moore as the obvious starting point (gorgeous as that school’s output can be). Either Watchmen or V, although “Swamp Thing” remains my favourite.
    Then some early, pre-Jimmy-Corrigan Acme Novelty Library, with the little potatoey man whose eyes keep falling out. See how they take to that.
    Then “Stray Toasters” by Bill Sienkiwicz. The first volume of “Nemesis the Warlock”… in a way it’s kid’s stuff, but if the “kid’s stuff” angle isn’t understood, they’ll never get the appearance of the Creature from the Black Lagoon on page one of “Hey, Wait…”
    I mean Chris ware is a genius, and I’ve made all his models, but it’s surely still alright to like proper monsters, isn’t it?

  26. Preacher sucked me into the world of graphic novels, Watchmen kept me there. Right now I’m working my way through Transmetropolitan and loving it, currently reading vol. 8 Dirge.
    Also Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns.
    After Transmet I plan to get into Y: The Last Man after reading a sample on DC’s website (I recommend having a gander on there if you want to see what’s hot.)
    Slightly off topic but how do you think the Watchmen film is shaping up? Personally I would have thought a series on HBO would have been the perfect format given the sheer depth.

  27. The first non-superhero graphic novel I ever bought was Dan and Larry by Dave Cooper, I was expecting a friendship tale between a young duck and his wiser robot friend… that’s not what it is and it was quite a shock to the system as a starting point to the more serious graphic novel genre. I’ve never seen anything look so disgusting in a leotard before or since. Don’t know if anyone has mentioned this so far but Epileptic by David B is great.

  28. I guess I thought Alan Moore is an obvious one, so I didn’t mention him, but I do love him, for ‘V’, “League’ and ‘Top Ten’, more than anything else.

    I was enjoying ‘Last Man’ until the ‘Safeword’ plotline! Haven’t returned to it since.

    I liked ‘Dark Knight’, but ‘Sin City’ was such a load of steaming shit, it made me reassess it, and now I dunno. How could anything by the man who wrote ‘Sin City’ be good?

  29. One of the best stories I’ve read in comic form is Cerebus by Dave Sim (the first book is weak but funny, and it gets bloody amazing after that). After that, definitely Maus, One Bad Rat, The collected Flaming Carrot books, The Tick books, Akira, NG Evangelion…damn, I gotta dig out my books again.

  30. I’m glad someone else disliked Sin City. I could never cope with the Graphic Novels and wondered what was great about them. Does it work as a Movie? I had a similar problem with 300.

  31. In answer to the question about Frank Miller… Maybe because it’s Batman? So there’s a history there that colours in the political nihilism.
    Comics are a very good medium for fascists. A safe medium. Violent but disposable (and I’m a big fan of comics’ disposability, by which I obviously mean their keepability. The release of Sandman in hardback coincided with a serious drought of ideas in comics, that can’t be a coincidence). I think Pat Mills (co creator of 200AD) is probably a fascist as well, but still puts out extraordinary work. About fascism.
    Comics are also of course perfect for stillness, something my selection has slightly overlooked, but we’re talking about an “introduction” to graphic novels and I sort of feel you have to get used to the bangy stuff first to fully appreciate the timing of, say, Jimmy Corrigan.
    Oh and I would also unreservedly recommend anything written by Peter Milligan, a prolific, hilarious existentialist pervert full of beautiful, sweary puns.

  32. I went to the cinema to see Sin City and loved it, there were some great lough-out-loud moments, completely over-the-top and stylish.
    However I bought A Dame to Kill For and it just bored me. So I’d say it works better as a film.
    Still, can’t beat Preacher. A sweary, drunken ‘man of God’, his gun-toting girl and his Irish vampire buddy go on the most thrilling, violent and funny road trip to find God and hold him accountable for his neglect. Plus it’s got a character called Arseface in it. Brilliant.

  33. recomended comics? …ummm, mine?

    But seriously:

    Apart from the usual suspects like the “holy trinity” of Transmet, Preacher and Sandman, how about: Whiteout by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber, The Nightly News by Jonathan Hickman, Leviathan by Ian Edgington and D’Israeli, and bloody anything by Paul Grist.

    Simon Kane: Pat Mills is a well documented socialist/anarchist (much like the rest of 2000AD’s writers of that era). Although besides that, your point stands- the comics industry has a long history of highly talented people going right wing mental- Chester Gould, Steve Ditko, Dave Sim, and now Frank… it must be something in the ink…

  34. You folks have made a fine list for someone to jump into the graphic novel realm. I would like to highly recommend Neil Gaiman’s “Murder Mysteries.” It is something I found to be very beautiful in both the prose and the art that anyone who is a fan of Gaiman’s can really love. Also, there are some gem’s you can find in the standard books put out my Marvel and DC. “Silver Surfer: Requiem” is something that was so beautiful it really makes you stop and think. On the DC side, check out “Identity Crisis” by Brad Meltzer. He has a way with writing the characters that makes you really care about the tragedies that befall them.

  35. […] Mr Linehan has a suggested reading list. Go buy. > The University of Minnesota has bought $100,000 worth of […]

  36. As ever, graphic novel is too vague a field in my eyes…I think anything by Chris Ware should be getting far more attention, he’s the only one really utilising the form at the moment. On the other end of the scale, I’m a fan of Jeffrey Brown’s Clumsy and Any Easy Intimacy, which I find fantastically honest.
    You should feel free to dip into mini-comics, too! Tom Gauld is ace, not just in terms of content but in presentation.
    I enjoyed the reworking of City of Glass, too. Forget who it’s by, sorry!

  37. If you really want something to mess with your heads check out Mr Amperduke by one-man comics revolution, Bob Byrne. Future generations of comics geeks will be doing PhD’s on his stuff in years to come. http://clamnuts.com/comics/amperduke.php

    He’s a total genius, everything he does is fantastic. I’m sure lorcan will back me up if he sees this.

    Also, no one’s recommended American Splendor yet, so I will.

  38. >‘Sin City’ was such a load of steaming shit

    Thank you, Graham. Thank you. Hardly anyone is willing to admit this (artistically it’s beautiful, but the writing is dreadful adolescent misogynistic testosterone-fuelled bullshit), but you’ve almost made up for not liking We3 there. Almost.

    There’s not much else listed above that I wouldn’t recommend, though I’d hesitate to pile it all upon a newcomer at once. For example, when it comes to Alan Moore – yes, Watchmen is the greatest comic ever written, but it’s so much more rewarding if you have a better understanding of the traditions of comic book storytelling. Likewise, when it comes to long-form stuff like Sandman, Preacher (or James Robinson’s Starman, easily the best long-running superhero series of the past couple of decades) etc., they require such a commitment to get into that I’d wait until someone had read a bit more stuff (and was willing to spend the money on all the books) first.

    So for that reason, considering that the ideal recommendation would be something quite short, easy to get into with little knowledge of comics, and by Alan Moore… the answer has to be “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”. Both volumes, plus the Black Dossier if you’re feeling adventurous.

  39. Fuck. How did I forget Splendor. The film is fucking great, too

  40. ‘Epileptic’ by David B was my favourite graphic novel of the last few years, narrowly pipping ‘Louis Riel’ by Chester Brown (a history of Canada that looks and sounds terribly monotonous – but is incredibly accessible and captivating), Richard Sala is excellent (particularly ‘The Chuckling Whatsit’ and ‘Peculia’); but for a newcomer to graphic novels, surely, surely Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley or Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma!

  41. I would pay good money to read Chester Himes’ version of Ed The Happy Clown, not to mention Chester Brown’s version of Blind Man With A Pistol…

  42. Preacher, Preacher, Preacher. Probably the best thing ever and a great little gateway drug into the world of decent comics.

  43. “Hellboy , but only if the art is by Mignola.”

    WHAAAAT??? While I do think his minimalist style is utterly breathtaking, some of the guest artists have done a damn fine job.

    And BPRD is just so frigging fantastic, especially the way the death of a major character is handled. And who can forget THE BLACK FLAME. Especially him begging for forgiveness at the end.

  44. Blimey!,

    Thanks GL and every one of you for putting fingertips to keyboards with your recommendations – this has been seriously excellent. I’ve had a good read through and tried to narrow the 40+ favourites down to 3, failed and settled at 7.
    Will follow up in a few weeks with how I get on, but here’s my trolleyload, and it’s too late to change my mind!:

    Palestine – Joe Sacco
    Hey Wait – Jason
    Jimmy Corrigan – Chris Ware
    Hellboy vol. 1 – Mike Mignola
    Preacher: Gone to Texas – Garth Ennis
    Watchmen – Alan Moore
    The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Alan Moore


  45. Liam… You probably already have but – have you tried THE BOYS yet? Not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you dug the Preacher (and don’t mind a sharp dip in originality), enjoy humour that Chris Morris would probably find offensive, then you’ll get a kick out of it.

    And for geeky nostalgia freaks who love to live in the past and still has his He-Man duvet cover… try the new Transformers Infiltraion/Stormbringer/Spotlight series. For hardcore sci-fi geeks only as the science fiction concepts get heavier than an Alistair Reynolds novel. Not for Micheal Bay fans.

  46. Ooo, it’s turned into the Frank Miller Is Crap Support Group. Thank you.

    My name is The Beer Nut, I bought The Dark Knight Returns because I heard it was one of the best graphic novels ever written, and I thought it was rubbish.

    Are there any biscuits?

  47. Seeing as a can of whoop-ass has already been opened on Sin City, can I take that as a cue to get on my high horse about Preacher?

    Contrived, middlebrow pap, in my opinion.

    It’s good to get these things off your chest isn’t it? Even if it’s too late to stop Johnny buying the damn thing…

  48. In a more positive-reinforcement vein, I’m 100% behind the selection of ‘Palestine’. Just heartbreaking.

  49. What about The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen? I’m not a big graphic novels man but this blew my mind, particularly the Rupert the Bear and the War Of The Worlds stuff in Vol. II

    Oh man, that Dr Moreau stuff is right up there among the most extremely disturbing stuff I’ve ever read. “No, Tim, don’t lap, drink like man!” Urrrrrrgh, so horrible. And the same issue also featured Hyde’s hideous revenge on the invisible man. I’ve actually never re-read the Volume II comics because I don’t want to read that issue.

    The Black Dossier is absolutely amazing, by the way, but probably not recommended to anyone who hasn’t read the first two volumes. Still, I think it’s the best of the three, and that’s not just because one of the book’s constant major references is to a now vaguely obscure writer with whom my sisters and I were totally obsessed as kids.

    I read the first two volumes of Y recently and was kind of underwhelmed – it was fine, it just didn’t blow me away. And I expected more because so many people have raved about it.

    Anyway, I’ll reiterate what others have said – Love and Rockets is a collective work of genius, the first few years’ worth of Hate is absolutely hilarious, and Ghostworld is one of the best novels ever, graphic or otherwise. I think Preacher is hugely overrated, though.

    And it’s more heartbreaking than head-wrecking, but Pat Mills’s Charlie/s War, the story of a teenage solider in World War I, is fantastic.

  50. I’m afraid I’m not so sure about ‘Preacher’ either, and ‘Sandman’ is not my favourite thing by Neil Gaiman (a little too gothy for me, although I like Gaiman a lot–especially his novel children’s novel ‘Coraline’). Transmet…well, I was put off by the 2000ad-ness of the central character…I was a fan of 2000ad when I was a kid but now, guns, bald heads and cool shades just make me wince.

    Johnny, you might want to hold off on Jimmy Corrigan. It’s VERY big, and so sophisticated that you might want to get a grounding in the simpler stuff first, as Mr.Kane suggests (nice comment, SK, by the way).

  51. By the way, do get in touch, Johnny, and let us know how you got on with your selection.

  52. >Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley

    Oh, God, yes, of course. If you like Spaced, there is absolutely no excuse for not trying, and falling in love with, Scott Pilgrim.

  53. Not a graphic novel as such but the R. Crumb Handbook is a nice collection of his major work without you going crazy trying to track them all down in other collections.

    And just because no one else has mentioned it, Kyle Baker’s ‘Why I Hate Saturn’ (recommended by your good self Graham in Hot Press a long, long time ago) is still good for laughs like when Anne says ‘I reread “Catcher in the Rye” recently. It still holds up. I had forgotten about the line where Holden says the immortal line, “Kill John Lennon”‘

    One last thing…Gilbert has now easily surpassed Jaime in the Hernandez stable. The Maggie/Hopey storyline has become one long mess but Gibo’s characters like Fritz and Venus are as good as anything I’ve ever read in comics.

  54. 100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello has great artwork and writing, conspiracies, violence and melodrama.
    Also, Hellblazer:Original Sins is pretty cool.

  55. I would highly recommend Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. It is a comic about comics that really pushes your understanding of art history and sequential art as a mode of storytelling.
    If you are a fan of comics or not it is a great read.

    I’m sure these have been mentioned, but here are some of my favorites.
    Watchmen, Maus, Batman: The Long Halloween, and I hear 100 Bullets is amazing.

  56. ‘Understanding Comics’ is a great place to leave it. Thanks everyone for taking part!

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