My Year in Comics

So this is the story where I come out and admit I am a comic book nerd. Not just any comic book nerd — one that started (for real) when he was 36 years old. 36 YEARS OLD. You read that right.

It was the Fall of 2012 and I decided I need an escape. Nothing crazy, just something that could take my mind away from the stress of every day life for a few minutes. As anyone who is a parent/spouse/employee knows, life can get overwhelming. If you let that feeling take hold and define you — become the thing that makes decisions for you — it can take you places you never thought you’d go. I can attest to that, which is why I needed something to give my mind a break. I was pretty bad at doing that, prior — much to my detriment.

At the time, I was (and am) really into Merlin Mann’s podcast, Back to Work, which basically focuses on becoming a better human being. (It’s great — check it out!) At some point prior, Merlin started talking about comics during an episode. And then it didn’t stop. Having followed Merlin for many years (43 Folders, etc.), I knew Merlin had great taste in music, so it got me interested.

Having turned 36 in May of 2012, I was hesitant. Comics. Really? Sure, I bought a bunch of Batman and Archie comics when I was like 12, but it never really stuck. Mainly because I spent most of my money on sports cards, so collecting something else didn’t really fit into my limited budget.

Thinking back to my childhood, it’s pretty amazing I didn’t get more into comics. I loved Batman (I remember watching the classic TV series a lot as a kid, as well as the movies from the early and mid 90s). I also loved Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (the early 80s TV show) and I also remember watching re-runs of the animated Spider-Man show from the late 60s. Then you have Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk live action TV series and the Superman movies of the late 70s and 80s — all of which I watched many times. Throw on top of that a love of sci-fi, like Star Wars, Star Trek, Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century, and many more I won’t bore you with… I was a natural for the medium.

Anyway, back to Merlin. The one book he talked about over and over was Astonishing X-Men, by Joss Whedon. So I took the plunge… and it was awesome. Partly Joss Whedon’s awesome talent at building characters and a story, partly the amazing art work of John Cassaday, partly the serialized nature of the story, and partly the relatable nature of the X-Men. It was such an amazing experience. Highly recommended.

That book got my hooked. From there I turned to more Marvel. Avengers vs. X-Men was the big event of 2012 and I immediately dove head first into that, without knowing much of anything about the writers, artists, or any of the characters beyond the ‘stars’. Avengers vs. X-Men is what got me to my local shops — looking for the next issue or those back issues I missed before I jumped on the train.

Holding the books in my hand, reading them cover to cover, and making those weekly trips became a ritual. One that became calming AND frantic all at the same time. On one hand, I got engrossed in the escapism of the stories. Living the fantasy of the characters lives, relationships, and choices in my mind. On the other hand, I NEEDED to read the next issue. Like now. Like I couldn’t wait until next month. So, what does one in that situation naturally do? Add to my reading list, of course!

Fast forward until now, where you see boxes upon boxes of comics from Marvel, Image, and occasionally DC. Many issues of the various X-Men titles, Avengers, Hawkeye, and Spider-man. I’ve even branched out into the non-superhero world of Image, which has been eye opening. There is such great writing, art, and story telling going on outside the big two of Marvel and DC.

Sometimes I feel like I have a problem. I haven’t really collected anything since stopping sports cards in the mid/late 90s. I tell myself I could stop. I have dropped a bunch of series and I am more picky about what I continue reading, though sometimes I feel like I could read almost anything. (Well, almost… I honestly can’t get into anything DC, beyond Scott Snyder’s Batman.) It just feels so great to hold a visual story in your hand and get immersed into the pages.

With that, I want to share with you my favorite books from this year, in no particular order. If I can convince even just one other person to give the medium a shot, I’ll be happy. It’s such a misunderstood art form and so much deeper (and different) than most people would expect.

Anyway, here we go:

  1. Saga by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples, from Image Comics (aliens, star-crossed lovers, and a super talent creative team. I’ve seen this described as Star Wars crossed with Romeo and Juliet, which is pretty accurate.)
  2. Zero by Ales Kot, from Image Comics (spies, espionage, great story and art)
  3. Lazarus by Greg Rucka, from Image Comics (dystopian future where powerful families fight for control of the resources, human and otherwise.)
  4. Velvet by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, from Image Comics (another spy book with a super great story and art.)
  5. Avengers by Jonathan Hickman, from Marvel (you know the Avengers from the movies, but how about a super complex and detailed story from a great writer?)
  6. New Avengers by Jonathan Hickman, from Marvel (another from Hickman, this time with some of the smartest and most interesting heroes: Black Bolt, Captain America, Doctor Strange, Iron Man, Mister Fantastic, Namor, Black Panther, and the Beast as the Illuminati.)
  7. Hawkeye by Matt Fraction, from Marvel (the least superhero book about a superhero… and it’s amazing. David Aja is probably my favorite comic book artist too.)
  8. Superior Spider-Man by Dan Slott, from Marvel (Amazing Spider-man was in the 600s when I jumped into reading comics, so it was VERY intimidating. This book was a chance to start fresh with a book and beloved character, so I climbed on… and was glad I did. Slott made some controversial choices in the Spider-man universe, but one thing is for sure — he knows how to right a great story.)
  9. Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction, from Image (hilarious, raunchy, and a great story.)
  10. Trillium by Jeff Lemire, from Vertigo (a pretty amazing mini-series involving time travel, aliens, and a star (and time)-crossed couple. I love Jeff Lemire’s unique style.)
  11. The Wake by Scott Snyder, from Vertigo (a gripping, horror mini-series form one of the best story tellers in the medium.)

Note: If 5 and 6 interest you, check out Infinity by Jonathan Hickman, from Marvel. It’s his big cross-over event that ties his two books to a battle with the super villain Thanos. The book linked below collects: Infinity 1-6, New Avengers 7-12, and Avengers 14-23.

And a bonus older book, which I read this year: The Collected Essex County by Jeff Lemire (a story that weaves being a dad, relationships, growing up, hockey, and Canada will win me over every time.)

Convenient Shopping Links

(All, though I highly recommend supporting your local shop. There’s also Comixology, if you prefer digital and have a device that supports their store. I do really enjoy reading comics on the iPad, for what it’s worth.)

Unfortunately, I didn’t see trade paperbacks listed for Velvet, The Wake, and Trillium yet. I highly recommend keeping an eye out for them, though.

So, what’s your origin story?