People like to read lists with a round number like five for some reason. So here are four books you can proudly read on Read Comics in Public Day (this year, next year, whenever!) – and one that might be a bit embarrassing. (I’m taking a cue from Underwire and going to be artsy in my choices with a sprinkle of something mainstream.)
ESSEX COUNTRY TRILOGY (Top Shelf Productions)
w/a – Jeff Lemire
What it’s about: Where does a young boy turn when his whole world suddenly disappears? What could change two brothers from an unstoppable team into a pair of bitterly estranged loners? How does the work of one middle-aged nurse reveal the scars of an entire community, and can anything heal the wounds caused by a century of deception?
“Essex County is a tremendous achievement” – Darwyn Cooke
Comics at its best. A heartbreaking series of stories about loneliness and loss. Lemire’s sense of pacing and ability to tell a story cannot be overstated.
IT’S A BIRD (Vertigo)
written by Steven T. Seagle
art by Teddy Kristiansen
What it’s about: A stunning semi-autobiographical story that tells one of the most realistic Superman tales ever — without featuring Superman. Steve’s given the assignment every writer dreams of: to write Superman. Only Steve can’t relate to a Man of Steel — not when his own fears of death haunt him.
“Terrifically wry. . . deep thinking. . . this is something truly different” – ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, Editor’s Choice
A poignant story. Stumbled upon completely by accident at a used book store. (Is there any better way to discover a book?) Ironically, I read most of this book sitting in a hospital waiting room.
FANTASTIC FOUR: UNSTABLE MOLECULES (Marvel)
What it’s about: In 1961, the first issue of FANTASTIC FOUR was drawn and written by the brilliant team of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, and set a new standard for heroic adventure comics. Few people realize that the Fantastic Four – a family of sci-fi adventurers gifted with amazing powers – was actually based on the lives of real people. As often is the case, real life was as astonishing as fiction. UNSTABLE MOLECULES is a biography that revisits the Fantastic Four’s beginnings with a historian’s eye.
Winner of the 2004 Eisner Award for best limited series.
A post-modern tale (comic or otherwise) at its best. If ever a series deserved an award, this is it. Another discovery from the “reduced” bin, and yet such a brilliant book.
Be forewarned: there are no super powers in this story. But, like the Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four comics, this is still very much about family. Each of the characters remain true to their name – Sue, the invisible housewife; Johnny, the fiery teenager; Ben, the emotional rock – except maybe for Reed who is a cold, genius and much sought-after scientist but far from fantastic when it comes the people closest in his life. This book could be dissected in an English class, or on this blog, but it’s more fun if you discover the gems hidden within on your own. (Then post your thoughts. We’d love to hear them.)
CLYDE FANS (D+Q)
What it’s about: After one more disastrous attempt at selling their father’s fan manufacturing company, Simon returns defeated and unsure of what he’ll do next. Even after studying manuals on the art of selling, he still can’t seem to clinch that final deal. In the eyes of his brother Abraham, he is a failure. Seth brilliantly explores the complex and fascinating relationship of the two brothers behind Clyde Fans.
Aggregated ratings on Good Read give Clyde Fans a 3.7 stars. Personally, I think it deserves more.
A sad story of a lonely man. Clyde Fans is a contemporary version of Death of a Salesman. A brilliantly tale told in two time periods. The story examines the burden of maintaing a father’s legacy and the cruel march of progress. You’ll squirm following the exploits of Abraham, possibly the world’s worst salesman.
NEW X-MEN (Marvel)
What it’s about: Sixteen million mutants dead… and that was just the beginning! In one bold stroke, writer Grant Morrison propelled the X-Men into the 21st century – masterminding a challenging new direction for Marvel’s mutant heroes that began with the destruction of Genosha and never let up. Regarded as the most innovative thinker of the current comic-book renaissance, Morrison proceeded to turn the mutant-hero genre on its ear.
Too many accolades to list here. But if you want a good review, check out this article from Pop Matters.
When I got back into comics a few years ago, comic publishers were just catching on to the omnibus format, and this is probably the first one I read: the entire Grant Morrison run on X-Men. Well, needless to say it was (and is) mind-blowing. I’ve always enjoyed Morrison’s work. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but he introduces really interesting new characters in his books, and give characters proper motivation (which I desperately crave in stories) for their actions via solid plot or emotional developments. In short, he actually writes good comics.