Superheroes may be the main draw to the comic book medium, but they’re not the only genre out there. Long-time and new readers might be looking for something that doesn’t involve capes or vigilantism. That’s where I’m going to try and step in. I’m a devoted comic book reader and even I get sick of the superhero fanfare at Marvel and DC sometimes. It’s not that the characters or books are bad, far from it. In fact there’s a great line-up of creators at both publishers. But the comic book medium deserves to spread its wings and so do the readers.
This is basically going to be the first of many “Alternative Comics Beat” articles I’ll be writing for Cosmic Book News discussing alternatives for long-time readers and people new to comic books. I’ll be approaching it from both long-time and new readers perspectives.
Many new readers aren’t interested in superhero comics. It’s strange, but true. I’ve found that I can get way more people into comics through different genres that have limited runs than through a trade of X-Men. It’s what I call the “TV approach” to comics. Many readers see the daunting universes of superheroes to be too big to get into. There’s too many issues, too many characters, and they feel like they can’t just jump in.
But most independent and separate series seem to draw new comic book readers in like gangbusters. Not so much that it shows in sales, but it does attract people to the genre that they were brainwashed into thinking was only for capes and tights. Usually they have to be introduced by a friend, but I’ve seen men and women devour 60 issue comics series like TV seasons on Netflix. Which brings me to my main point – they’re more digestible.
When you introduce someone to a TV show and they’re really excited about it, you can expect them to go through every episode until they’re caught up. Despite it taking a huge amount of time, the viewer eats up the episodes on disc, on demand, or streaming until there’s nothing left. It’s becoming more frequent as time passes, especially since so many shows are readily available.
But the big two publishers don’t have each series in nice, separated chunks like TV seasons do. They’re stories that have been going for 600 or more issues. Even if they’ve renumbered them, the idea is still there. But smaller series that have a definitive ending tend to scare people less.
That’s why I’ve decided to start writing these recommendations. Not reviews, just discussions about series that I think people will enjoy. It’s a medium unlike any other and I love to share with people. I’ve turned a group of seven people (my book club) into comic book lovers through this same method.
So let’s let the conversion process begin!
But I haven’t forgotten about the draw to long-time readers either.
The bottom line here is that you just need to spread your wings, people. Superheroes are not going to go away anytime soon. I hope they never do. They’re important to our culture and the American comics art form. But there are those moments when long-time readers drop off because they feel like comics are just repeating themselves over and over again with story points and character arcs.
That’s where other genres can come in handy. I dropped off for the same reasons and ended up coming back when I discovered a book called Not Simple by Natsume Ono. It’s manga, but that’s just the Japanese word for comics. That slice-of-life drama changed my mind about the medium and made me realize that any story could be told through panels on a page.
If you feel like the big two books are wearing you out, don’t give up hope, there’s more the medium has to offer.
My first recommendation
It wasn’t easy trying to pick a comic book series to promote on here as the first “get your friends who don’t like superheroes into comics” recommendation. But I had to let data speak for itself. The only series on my shelf that has brought people over to the world of comics without fail is a Vertigo title from 2002 done by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra . . .
Y: The Last Man
After a plague kills every species member with a Y chromosome, Yorick Brown and his monkey Ampersand are the last living males on the planet. The young amateur escape artist and his Capuchin primate travel across the world looking for his girlfriend Beth. But the women of the world have charged Yorick with saving the human race, and he’s not sure he’s up for the challenge.
The series ran for 60 issues and has been collected in both trade paperback and deluxe hardcover editions. It’s been given endless critical acclaim and still snags dedicated readers after the first issue.
Why it’s a great alternative
This series is a good-old fashioned combination of apocalypse, road trips, and a study of the human condition. Superhero comics can give us action on a fantastic scale, but Y: The Last Man delivers action and adventure in a realistic science fiction setting. The stakes are always high and the situations vary with every issue.
There are also multiple plot lines, characters, and surprises that come with every arc. Superhero comics tend to return to the status quo by the end of an issue or story arc, but this series always progresses and evolves after every story point. It’s something that alternative stories can give that the capes and tights can’t always provide.
You can pick up the trades at any book retailer, or order them online. Comixology also has the entire library of issues on their digital comics app, so there’s really no reason not to try this series as soon as your reading schedule opens up a little. Although I bet if you start reading it you’ll push the other books aside until you’ve reached the very last issue.
Ken Porter also writes comic books with his latest being "Ink Ribbon" from Visionary Comics.