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WORDS & PICTURES: A crash course in adult comics

Five great adult books for people who “don’t read comics.”

By Joe Killian


Published: Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Updated: Monday, January 18, 2010

Oni Press

Oni Press

DC Vertigo

DC Vertigo

When I met my girlfriend she didn’t read comics. Oh, she had an old copy of “Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane” that she’d inherited from someone in her family – but she’d never been exposed to “adult comics.”

I thought this was a shame – but I proceeded carefully. I didn’t try to shove Superman, Green Lantern and Captain America down her throat. Instead I let her read – one by one – some of my favorite comics writers’ non-superhero work.

But now, when I talk about the latest Warren Ellis book about the CIA infiltrating the Department of Homeland Security or laugh at the idea of the brilliant Garth Ennis writing the “Ghost Rider” title for Marvel Comics she not only knows what I’m talking about – she actually enjoys it. I consider that a personal triumph, sure – but it also proves a larger point: give ’em a taste of the good stuff and they’ll love it every time.

The idea that comic books can give us anything more than over-muscled heroes stomping on colorfully costumed villains month in and month out is, to many, ridiculous. But I like to think this is more ignorance than willful bigotry. A lot of people have just never been exposed to really good, non-superhero comics created for adults rather than children.

So this week, to help all those comic nerds out there with clueless friends, family and lovers, I’m going to talk about the best comics they’ve never read – and what I’d give them to get them hooked. Here, in no particular order, are my top five”get ’em hooked” books…

1) PREACHER (DC/VERTIGO) This is a good place to start. This comic by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon is raunchy, funny, violent, poignant and, most importantly, there’s not a superhero in sight. Start with the first volume: “Gone to Texas.”

The plot: Texas preacher Jesse Custer gets sick of preaching to white trash who don’t give a damn about the Lord. Just when he’s ready to have a nervous breakdown he’s possessed by the spirit of a half angel/half demon child and finds he has the power to command anyone to do anything.

Soon he’s on a crazy cross-country trip to find God with an assassin ex-girlfriend and his new buddy, an Irish vampire.

Trust me, you’ll love it.

2) TRANSMETROPOLITAN (DC/VERTIGO) This sci-fi political graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson is one part Hunter S. Thompson, one part Philip K. Dick and five parts insane, drug-fueled future orgy. Start with the first volume: “Back on the Street”

The plot: In a far-flung future outlaw journalist Spider Jerusalem is called out of a blissfully drugged out retirement to return to “The City” and fulfill his book contract. Getting a column at a major transmetropolitan daily newspaper he takes us on a wild tour of the future – its culture, its sex, its politics and journalism.

Oh, and he also brings down a corrupt American president and helps to reignite democratic values and the spirit of civic responsibility in a future anaesthetized by cheap drugs and bad television.

3) COURTNEY CRUMRIN (ONI PRESS) I’m not much on fantasy comics – but this one by Ted Naifeh got me. His stark, black and white art is simple yet incredibly evocative. One moment you’re marvelling at how he captures the similicity and heartache of childhood and the next you’re trying to forget the terrible image of a forrest monster eating a young boy. Start with the first volume: “Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things.”

The plot: What’s worse than your greedy, yuppie parents making you move in with your weird old great uncle in a whole new town? When your great uncle turns out to be a warlock andthe town full of strange, magical danger.

4) QUEEN & COUNTRY (ONI PRESS) Real spies don’t drink martinis and dance till dawn. Their work is dangerous, frustrating and full of political landmines. This comic by Greg Rucka and Steve Rolston tells raw tales of British Intelligence in a cartoonish but surprisingly effective style. Start with the first volume, “Operation Broken Ground.”

The plot: Agent Tara Chace navigates the murky world of British Special Operations and, in the first volume, has to deal with the Russian mafia retaliating against her agency for an assassination she was ordered to commit.


Punk rockers have families too – and (surprise) they make a great comic. Think situation comedy meets family melodrama meets the Sex Pistols. This comic by Jen Van Meter, Christine Norrie, & Chynna Clugston-Major is proof-positive that superheroes don’t have a monopoly on strange adventures. Start with the first volume, “Hopeless Savages.”

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