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Thoughts on…Recommending Comics

Danielle’s piece sorta inspired this thought, which is “what comics would you recommend to people?” And what strikes me is this – all things being even, the odds are that the person you’re recommending comics to is not going to be a superhero fan.

That’s not a knock on superheroes. You all know I loves me my superhero comics, and most of the readers of this here blog dig them, too. But come on, superhero comics are a genre of comics, not comics themselves, and when recommending comics to a random person, odds are they’ll be more interested in non-superhero comic books.

Comic books are a broad market of styles and genres, and for whatever the person you’re recommending books is into, there will most likely be a good book to fit that style/genre. And for some of them, superhero books certainly WILL fit the bill, but most of them, not likely.

This may seem like a bit of a “Duh, Brian, that’s obvious,” but too often I see stuff like, “I am looking for comics to get my 13-year-old daughter/niece/cousin/daughter of a friend into comics, do you have any recommendations?” and the recommendations are, like, “Cable/Deadpool!” Okay, Cable/Deadpool was a joke, but the answers sometimes ARE stuff like, “Justice League of America, Hawkgirl, Birds of Prey, Rogue, Manhunter, etc.,” and while all those books might very well work fine for a 13-year-old, the odds are that they are not going to fit the median interest range of a 13-year-old girl.

It could be manga, it could be Archie, it could be Disney, it could be Vertigo, it could Persepolis, it could be Minx, it could be any number of other books. So when recommending comics, just keep in mind the interests of the person you’re recommending to – just like one size does not fit all, one comic genre does not fit all.

21 Comments

I would recommend Thieves and Kings to just about anyone at just about any age except for maybe a heavy Garth Ennis/Brian Wood fan. And even with the Brian Wood fan, I would be tempted.

‘Bone’ is another one of those comics that’s so utterly charming, I feel like I could recommend it to anyone. I usually recommend it to kids and let it hook the parents on its own, though.

Also, there aren’t many kids who wouldn’t like the ‘Marvel Adventures’ line. I bought my nephew the big hardcover for his birthday, and he’s apparently read it every day since. :)

But come on, superhero comics are a genre of comics, not comics themselves, and when recommending comics to a random person, odds are they’ll be more interested in non-superhero comic books.

The problem is that for most people, when you say “hey, I read this great comic,” they think you mean a superhero comic. This is not necessarily bad; it means having to work with their expectations. Most people think “superheroes” when they think comics, and I find the best way to go about introducing comics to a totally new reader is to give them one of each: a superhero comic and a non-superhero comic.

I recently did this with a friend of mine, a Kazakhstani immigrant to Canada in my law school class who asked me for some comics because he wanted to get familiar with “that aspect of North American culture.” I gave him Superman: Birthright and the first collection of Y: The Last Man, which is my go-to one-two punch for creating an instant comics fan.

And he liked both very much, but what he loved was the Superman. I just lent him Agents of Atlas last week alongside the second volume of Y. Curious to see how Gorilla Man and Human Robot go over.

I don’t often recommend superhero comics to people, unless they specifically ask for them, because if you tell someone to read, say, Birthright, it’s often hard to find a follow-up to that book, mostly because there are a ton of bad Superman comics out there.

Jay the 1 letter wonder

February 26, 2008 at 8:57 pm

Even though it is technically a superhero comic. I think there would be a lot of girls that would dig Spider-Man loves Mary Jane.It’s a good book,But then again I’ve always felt its kinda good to recommand books that maybe outside of someones comfort zone.I know when someone recommands I read something outside my comfort zone.Those usually end up as my favorite books.

I mentioned this elsewhere today, but the thing is, you’re never recommending comics to a random person. You’re recommending them to a specific person, and specific people have specific tastes. I can think of people I’ve known to whom I would certainly recommend Runaways over Persepolis, because I’m certain they would like the former and dislike the latter. (And yes, I’m referring to people over the legal drinking age.)

Point being: There is no one comic that’s universally better or best to recommend to a non-comics reader. That requires creating a hypothetical situation that doesn’t really exist.

Yeah, Mike, that would be why I didn’t say “there is one comic that is universally better or best to recommend to a non-comics reader.”

Only that folks shouldn’t recommend just superhero comics. Just how we wouldn’t automatically recommend mysteries or romance novels to people before learning what they’re interested in, we shouldn’t automatically recommend any particular genre of comic book, and yet quite often, that is all people will recommend.

I think WWMWR – What would my wife read? So far it’s just Identity Crisis (much panned here, yes, but it works as a thriller to the casual reader) and Y (which my dad has also read), and I’m thinking of slipping her The Killing Joke now that she’s read a little.

It is difficult to find books to recommend to others, period. Recommending superhero comics to new readers would seem to reinforce the notion that collectors are geeks. My younger brother is into comics (got me started on collecting), but I don’t think he’d really be into Fables or Ex Machina, two of my favorites, although maybe I’m underestimating him.

I’ve hooked SO many friends on comic with the tandem duo of Preacher and 100 Bullets. If they come back asking for more (as most do), I spread out to things like The Invisibles and Transmetropolitan. Vertigo is the gateway drug for non-comics folk, lol.

Vertigo is great for most non-superhero fans, and it’s helped me get recruits. A bit of Preacher or Transmet usually works well. But, again, it depends on the person. I wouldn’t give Preacher to my girlfriend, but American Virgin worked for her.
Quantum and Woody is quite a good one if you’re gonna try superheroes but want to steer clear of the typical stuff.
More literary folks would dig stuff like Sandman and From Hell.

Gateway comics:
Sandman, Swamp Thing, Preacher, Bone, Love & Rockets, Sin City, Elfquest, and maybe…
MAYBE
Ultimate Spider-Man if you actually wanna throw some superheroics at them.

Arnold Normalpants

February 27, 2008 at 9:27 am

I certainly don’t mean to offend anyone here, but doesn’t this debate strike you as a little… pointless?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for encouraging new readers to pick up comics and I think the industry should be rightly proud of the way it is attempting to diversify and provide a wide range of content beyond the superhero monthlies it has traditionally relied on.

It’s just that the points made here seem rather obvious.

“Your thirteen year old daughter isn’t going to be interested in JLA!” Really?

“Remember, kids, different people like different things!” Yes. I’m well aware.

“Hey! Comics aren’t just about superheroes anymore!” Thanks for the info.

Like I say, I don’t mean to cause offence and I’m not trying to be snarky. It’s just that opinions like these seem a little… tired. Is there anything here you didn’t already know?

Sorry.

““I am looking for comics to get my 13-year-old daughter/niece/cousin/daughter of a friend into comics, do you have any recommendations?” and the recommendations are, like, “Cable/Deadpool!” Okay, Cable/Deadpool was a joke…”

I have especially enjoyed Cable/Deadpool the past year or so…. Having worked at 2 different comic book stores, I certainly might recommend it depending on who’s asking, but I get your point about the 13-year-old girl.

I’ve started people with 100 Bullets and Kabuki when they said they liked the film Sin City. I just loaned Hellboy, Batman Year One, and Ultimates and Fell to a guy who liked Batman Begins and Hellboy.

It just depends on what their gateway to comics originally was. If it’s one of the superhero movies, give ‘em a good superhero comic. If it’s something else, try to find a comic then try some other type of comic.

It just depends on what their gateway to comics originally was. If it’s one of the superhero movies, give ‘em a good superhero comic. If it’s something else, try to find a comic then try some other type of comic.

Yeah, exactly.

I have especially enjoyed Cable/Deadpool the past year or so…. Having worked at 2 different comic book stores, I certainly might recommend it depending on who’s asking, but I get your point about the 13-year-old girl.

Yeah, to clarify, the joke wasn’t meant as a shot at Cable/Deadpool.

Actually, I have a thirteen-year-old daughter, and Cable/Deadpool is one of her favorite comics. :) She’s a big fan of Hydra Bob.

Ha!

Thanks for that info, Brainfreeze! By the by, I dig your blog. Good stuff there.

I don’t think I’ve ever recommended a superhero book to anyone (apart from old school X-Men, and then mainly for the cheesy dialogue), but then I don’t read that many myself. I’ve been recommending Brian K Vaughan a lot, and as people have said there are a lot of good Vertigo titles to get people hooked.

My wife got herself hooked on Ultimate Spider Man after picking up one or two from my nightstand and taking a peek- it plays well to the reader as Bendis’ stuff works for the “TV dialogue” minded- that’s not a put down, at the top of his game he can do wonders with dialogue and character that are very accessible to the new reader, and frankly work just fine for me, being an old-time reader that appreciates taking a break from the Biff and Pow style for a bit (Mighty Avengers excepted). Then after a reading burst of 30 or so issues, she just let it be- more out of the fact that she doesn’t have a lot of time to read.

I’m trying to get her to crack Y: The Last Man now (used Vaughan’s work on “Lost” as a hook, as she and I are addicted to the show)- but time is a factor- she’s very receptive to my reccomendations but her job overtakes her leisure reading (she’s a lawyer so after a week of wading through dry documents, its hard to look at another page of anything, and even harder to find the time to look at anything other than dry documents). But at least she’s receptive.

I’ve had far less success with recommendations to other non-comic readers, even with best intentions- frankly its hard to find people who even want to read comics at all, much less hear which one they should read.

Case in point: my wife’s cousin loaned my wife a book of some short stories dealing with fairy tale characters dealing with the modern world, which having enjoyed very much, she recommended to my wife.

I said to the cousin, “Hey, if you like that kind of stuff, you’ll love this”, and gave her the first three trades of “Fables”- they sat untouched in her home for two or three months until her two brothers, home for vacation from College (and both regular comic readers of X-men, Spidey, Ultimate titles, so on so forth) found them and proceeded to devour them, begging me for the rest of the trades- no surprise there- but our cousin pretty much took them, thanked me politely, and then set ‘em aside with no intention of cracking them. A shame, as I really can’t see anyone not liking “Fables”, but there’s a stigma attached to reading comics I guess- people have to really want to read them to get them interested. And to be fair, I did sort of force them on her, an act of kindless, but let’s face it, she didn’t ask for them, just thougth I’d be nice in the spirit of her kind recommendation.

sorry for the long post, just thought I’d contribute a bit- you can lead a horse to water and all that…

I certainly don’t mean to offend anyone here, but doesn’t this debate strike you as a little… pointless?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for encouraging new readers to pick up comics and I think the industry should be rightly proud of the way it is attempting to diversify and provide a wide range of content beyond the superhero monthlies it has traditionally relied on.

It’s just that the points made here seem rather obvious.

“Your thirteen year old daughter isn’t going to be interested in JLA!” Really?

“Remember, kids, different people like different things!” Yes. I’m well aware.

“Hey! Comics aren’t just about superheroes anymore!” Thanks for the info.

Like I say, I don’t mean to cause offence and I’m not trying to be snarky. It’s just that opinions like these seem a little… tired. Is there anything here you didn’t already know?

Sorry.

I dunno, that seems a rather odd point when the entry included the following:

This may seem like a bit of a “Duh, Brian, that’s obvious,” but too often I see stuff like, “I am looking for comics to get my 13-year-old daughter/niece/cousin/daughter of a friend into comics, do you have any recommendations?” and the recommendations are, like, “Cable/Deadpool!” Okay, Cable/Deadpool was a joke, but the answers sometimes ARE stuff like, “Justice League of America, Hawkgirl, Birds of Prey, Rogue, Manhunter, etc.,” and while all those books might very well work fine for a 13-year-old, the odds are that they are not going to fit the median interest range of a 13-year-old girl.

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