Hey, Sleepwalkers.We’ve got a very special post today. My ex-roommate, Tim, has moved to Colorado to pursue his education, and as a parting gift, he’s requested that I provide a list of recommended reading. Thus, I’ve provided the following catalog, a sort of “Comic Curriculum,” if you will. Note: the following list has no relation to any of the many courses being taught at universities around the country. This list is more concerned with the essential readings of the Western comic community, rather than some of the more experimental, daring, literary works (Read: depressing, autobiographical comics by Alison Bechdel and Craig Thompson).
101: The Fundamentals of the Genre
In this class, you’ll be introduced to comics that establish the conventions of the genre. You’ll read the original classics of the genre, the standout works that rattled cages, established comics as a towering art form, and changed the face of comics forever.
-The Amazing Spider-Man, Volume 1, by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko [[Students will note that Marvel's policy of not allowing trade paperbacks to stay in print means that certain volumes will be difficult to track down.]]
-The Adventures of Tintin, by Hergé
-Shazam! Volume 1, by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck
-The Best of Archie, by Various
-The Avengers, Volume 1, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
-X-Men, Volume 1, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
-Superman Chronicles, Volume 1, by Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster [[Currently out of print; a more expensive hardcover version is available, which is why this textbook was moved from "Required" to "Recommended." Curious students might consider All-Star Superman, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely.]]
201: The Turning Point
Now that you know where comics started, you can appreciate just why the following comics were so groundbreaking. These comics would not have existed would it not have been for the conventions established in 101–and, ironically enough, their influence has been the standard for every “mature” book since.
-Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
-Batman: Year One, by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
-The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller
-The Sandman, by Neil Gaiman and Various
-Preacher, by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon
-Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, by Jhonen Vasquez
-Batman: Arkham Asylum, by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean
305: Laughter: The Best Medicine
Every now and then, the sex and violence of modern comics can be stifling. When it all gets too much, it’s good to take a break with some of these stories. For the most part, they’re nothing but good, clean fun (with the exception of Secret Six. But the occasional brutality of that series is offset by humor and done in such a way that it never feel exploitative). All the same, the joy of these comics does not compromise their basic craftsmanship, which is why they are included here.
-Atomic Robo, by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener
-Batgirl, by Brian Q. Miller, Pere Perez, and Dustin Ngyuen
-Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen.
-Secret Six, by Gail Simone, Nicola Scott, and Jim Califiore
-Empowered, by Adam Warren
-Darkwing Duck, by Ian Brill and James Sylvani
-Cowboy Wally, by Kyle Baker
425: Special Topics–Brian K. Vaughan
Sometimes funny, sometimes brutal, always entertaining, Vaughan has earned a reputation as a master craftsman whose comics tackle everyday problems in a way that makes them both unrecognizable and universal. His long-form stories (Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina) are a clinic on world-building, and The Escapists is not only a fantastic companion to a fantastic novel, it’s a startling exploration of the comic medium.
-Y: The Last Man, by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
-Ex Machina, by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris
-The Escapists, by Brian K. Vaughan and Philip Bond
-Runaways, by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona
500: Senior Thesis
Screw your head on tight for this one. These are the metacomics, the comics about comics, and in one case, the comics about comics about comics (which is just ridiculous). Anyway, these books merit not one, not two, but often three, four, or five readings before you fully understand them–which is why they’re the end of the course.
-Flex Mentallo, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
-Seven Soldiers, by Grant Morrison and Various
-Planetary, by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday
-The Bulletproof Coffin, by David Hine and Shaky Kane
And that’s about it! Of course, this is only a smattering, and while my goal was to give as broad a look at Western comics as I could, this list is in no way comprehensive. There are three major omissions in this list: newspaper comics (such as the brilliant Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson), manga (about which I am woefully ignorant; what you need is some vast repository of information at your fingertips to tell you what to read, but good luck finding that), and the aforementioned depressing, black and white autobiographies. If you feel like you need to sound
smart pretentious in front of your friends, go ahead and read Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and Blankets by Craig Thompson. Then never shut up about how much they changed your life.
So there you go, Tim. Hopefully, this is a good start. Trust me, everybody has their own list like this, and I’m willing to bet that there’s quite a bit of overlap. Good luck in Colorado, and good luck with all this reading! And to all the rest of the Sleepwalkers out there–consider this list an endorsement. Take care, and thanks for allowing me the unscheduled update!