There’s a common misconception that all comics are superhero stories and aimed at children. Of course there are adult oriented books like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns that are clearly not for kids, but still fall right smack into the superhero genre. And that’s all it is, a genre. Comics, my friends, is a MEDIUM. And like all mediums,there’s everything under the rainbow if you look for it. What follows are 5 comics from the “independent” world (think along the lines of “indie” movies) that are not only great, but are highly accessible for new readers, and aren’t as alienating as some of the most experimental books in the genre.
Concrete by Paul Chadwick
Concrete follows the journey of political speech writer and “everyman” Ron Lithgow, whose brain in transplanted by aliens into a hulking body made of stone. With its sci-fi trappings, the various Concrete books have wide appeal. However, the book is far from being a superhero tale. Ron uses his many newfound abilities not to fight crime in the traditional sense, but to explore the world through new senses, and understand the origins of his alien abductors. The character is also deeply introspective, with beautiful narrative descriptions and dialog. Chadwick’s art is also spectacular. Influenced by Silver Age and Bronze Age comic art, it’s traditional but detailed black and white penciling that is sorely missed these days. You can purchase Concrete books here.
My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
My Friend Dahmer is Backderf’s personal account of his friendship/acquaintance with notorious serial killer Jeffery Dahmer during his childhood. But the book is not your typical true crime narrative (it does appeal to fans of that now popular genre, though). Dahmer mainly tells a coming of age tale about Backderf and his friends in the 1970s. The infamous murderer is really on the periphery, yet the writer/artist still finds ways to humanize him through the eyes of others. It doesn’t defend Dahmer though, as the book pulls no punches on his strange behavior and eventual turn into monstrosity. The art by Backderf is cartoony but expressive; its thick lined, clear and impactful. You can buy it here.
Minimum Wage by Bob Fingerman
Minimum Wage has had quite a history. Originally published Fantagraphics, it now has a home at mainstream publisher Image Comics. Bob Fingerman’s hysterical book is great for fans of idiosyncratic shows like Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, as main character Rob (a cartoonist) gets himself in and out of awkward situations while navigating life in New York City. The art is reminiscent of the best of Mad Magazine, with visual jokes and caricatures mixed in with the funny dialog and narrative. It’s a great book that is finding new life after all these years. You can buy the book here.
Ghost World by Daniel Clowes
Perhaps the best-known work on this list, Ghost World had success as a feature film in the early 2000s. But the book is where it all started, and it’s just as good, if not better. Clowes was a pioneer in comics with his groundbreaking series Eightball, and this is arguably his best work. With so many young girls and women finally discovering, embracing, and creating their own comics, Ghost World’s story of best friends Enid and Becky going through the growing pains of adolescence is identifiable to any teenager, regardless of gender. The book is also a prototype to “hipster” culture, featuring a love of vintage clothing, vinyl records, and other obsessions. The book is kept in constant publication by Fantagraphics and can be purchased here.
Optic Nerve by Adrian Tomine
Readers of The New Yorker magazine are probably familiar with Tomine’s art whether they know it or not. His clean, design-oriented art has graced many of its covers and interior pages. But Tomine got his start in comics, first self-publishing Optic Nerve and then putting out through Drawn & Quarterly. The book has always told “slice-of-life” vignettes and longer pieces with a varied focus. Tomine has done stories about rebellious youth, hipster punks, alienated immigrants, lonely elderly folks, and humorous autobiographical moments from his own life. The art is always meticulous, and the books are gorgeously packaged and printed. You can buy single issues and collected works here.