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On Judging a Comic Book Based upon Very Little

Picking a good comic is kind of hard. Sure, you can ask around the neighborhood about which comics are good, but like anything else tastes differ and what's good for the goose isn't always good for the gander. It's easy to hear about a book with a good story, but pick it up and you might find that the art isn't super, or that the panels move the story along slowly, or too quickly, or get confusing. I've been burned a few times by picking up a book with amazing art, buying it on the spot, and getting home only to find that the story is just terrible. I guess that's the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. 

Anyway, if you go by reputation a book might not strike your fancy the way it struck your friends', and that's a stone cold bummer. Then you have to go back to your friend and make that slight squealing sound before you give your vocal review of the book, saying, "eeeeeeeeeeeeee, it wasn't what I'd hoped....but I...I can see why YOU would like it." That's a tough moment, because nerds ought to stick together, or something, and it feels like a betrayal.

One of the best ways to find a good book is to head out to the comic book store, or library, or local comic book convention, start doing what comes naturally and totally judge every book by it's cover. (Maybe this isn't good advice, I've never been a good advice giver, but comics are not only a story-telling art, but also a visual art, so they better freaking look cool on first inspection.) I haven't had perfect results, but I've gotten pretty lucky with the books I've picked up which I've known nothing about. 

For instance, Monsters by Ken Dahl.  This book turned out to be not only entertaining, but extraordinarily didactic. I bought the book because I thought the guy was taking acid. (Spoiler: It's herpes.) The art inside is phenomenal. 

You could also buy a book based on the artsy, elusive title.

Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw is like, a million pages long (closer to 900). It's not for everybody, as the story really is a slow burn. The art is stylish, but the style is artsy. Catch my drift?

You can look for local authors/illustrators.

Black Hole by Charles Burns (local to me when I lived in Philly) is so good that I wish I had never read it so that I could read it again. I feel like I've said that about a book before, but's an inescapable feeling when I've found something amazing. Last week I found that Rupert Sanders made a short film based on the graphic novel.

 

You can keep up with "Best Of..." lists from reputable sources such as Publisher's Weekly. (Although, I understand that some people took issue with this particular example due to the lack of women on the list. Just FYI.) 

Stitches by David Small is something I picked up specifically because the cover looked eerie, and I saw that it was on the PW Best Books of 2009 list. It was heartbreaking, and yes, eerie.

 

You can learn a little bit about the people who write your favorite (if not weak-finaled) shows.

Y the Last Man was co-written by Brian K. Vaughan, one of the writers of LOST (though, I think he was out by the end...let's hope). The book is a must-read if you are able to read words and understand pictures. It's got quite a few volumes, but like it's length, the story is epic. 

(*Note: Yes, this is book two. Where is my book one? I borrowed it from a friend, and then ended up buying the rest of the series, never purchasing the first volume. So?)

Finally, you can expect to find good comics where you least expect them. 

The Best American Nonrequired Reading of 2004 contains therein one of the saddest and most moving stories I have ever come across in comic-form: Poor Sailor by Sammy Harkham, which is also self-contained in it's own book outside of BANR2004.

 

 

Seriously, you can fall in love with a comic anywhere. I found my first comic (Stray Bullets by the amazing, and totally awesome David Lapham) in the 1996 Gwen Stefani issue of SPIN Magazine when I was 13. Go ahead, click the link. Those few panels were all it took for me to understand how storytelling and art could be dangerous. Amazing.

Anyway, if any of these books look interesting, don't research them. Go to your local comic book store or library and investigate further, you detective of interesting art forms, you.

Courtney Davison is the Editorial Intern for Paper Darts. She loves getting mail, eating snacks and wants to be remembered as (a) part(y) animal. Feel free to stalk her, but never judge her.

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