26 Comics that Affected Me
Spreading the word about excellent comic book series has always been a passion of mine. Typically I tend to focus on one or a small handful at a time, giving each a good amount of attention, hopefully sending some interested parties to them. For this, I’ll be picking a single title from each letter of the alphabet from my own collection. All titles will have been published as comic book series, not graphic novels. If they’re in print in some form currently, I’ll mention it.
- A: Arsenic Lullaby No comic book has ever come close to being as weird, gross, ugly or just plain mean as Arsenic Lullaby. The brainchild of Douglas Paszkiewicz and published under a number of company headings, the series can still be found in various forms of collected volumes. If you like terribly off-color jokes, you’ll love this book, which still has new product coming out on occasion. Arsenic Lullaby on the web!
- B: Baker Street With so much current interest in Sherlock Holmes, you might think that this series, originally published by Caliber Press back around 1990, would have more fans. While it ran only ten issues, it was a true force of creative genius. Set in an alternate history, with Holmes and Watson women, focused in the Punk subculture of London, it broke all sorts of new ground for American comic books. Caliber publisher Gary Reed wrote it, with an up-and-coming Guy Davis on art. Each issue is a true study in all things comic book, including the gradual shift of Davis’ art to what it resembles now.
- C: This letter is loaded with series that I want to give much credit to. I’ll do the fun thing and pick a series that sparks a lot of discussion. Crisis on Infinite Earths was a massive undertaking for DC Comics in 1985. It did a number of controversial things to the company and the industry that I don’t want to get into here. I was enraptured by the series, a 12 issue book that crossed over into most of DC’s other titles. It was ambitious, wild, incredibly drawn, and had me diving deep into comic book history to learn about many characters in the series I had no knowledge of prior. If Crisis did nothing else but find a new fan of comic book history, it did more than its job. It’s still easy to find in collected volumes. DC on the interwebz.
- D: DC claims another book starting with a letter that has many favorites, this time with The Doom Patrol. For me, the Doom Patrol will always be the Arnold Drake/Bruno Premiani series spun out of My Greatest Adventure in the 60’s. You can’t get much better than the original freaks of comics, which set the tone quite well for the popular re-imagining of the series by Grant Morrison and Richard Case and even later by Keith Giffen and Matt Clark. Still, if you’re going to read any of them, read from the beginning, which are still easy to find in collections.
- E: Ex Machina was published during the 2000’s by the Wildstorm imprint of DC Comics. It was a 50 issue series that straddled the line of costumed heroics and politics, all set in New York City. It was a notable hit when it came out but seems to be largely forgotten now. It’s smart, strange, good sci-fi and readily available.
- F: Forgotten Realms TSR, then publishers of the Dungeons and Dragons game, made a co-publishing deal with DC Comics in the late 80’s to run out a few titles based on some of their adventuring worlds. The best of the bunch was Forgotten Realms, which included some of Rags Morales’ earliest work. Besides having a horrible amount of my letters printed in the old letter columns, it was one of the first series where I got to know the creators outside of the printed page. Fond memories.
- G: Glamourpuss. The letter G is loaded with a bunch of series I recall with great affection, most of the superhero variety. It’s a hard call for this, but I’m going to pick Dave Sim’s vastly overlooked glamourpuss (no capitalization!) as a series that needs to be seen by comic’s fans, creators or historians. Sim went way off the beaten path with this series, which is part satire, part historical investigation and part self-interest publication. Love Sim or hate him, glamourpuss deserves more attention.
- H: The Hooded Horseman What, you thought I was going to list Hellblazer, the never-dull series from the Vertigo imprint of DC? Well, you’re right. As much as I’d love to tell you about the Golden Age book from ACG called The Hooded Horseman, it’s really tough to find. So, go out and find yourself some collections of the 300 issues of John Constantine. They’re so, so much better than any newer interpretation.
- I: Infinite Kung-Fu I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Kagan McCloud’s series hit every single button it could find when I discovered it. It’s readily available in completed form as a large tome from Top Shelf, so go there to get it. Thanks can be sent here in comment form, or by sharing this topic somewhere.
- J: Some series I enjoy do not originate in comics. Jonny Quest is one of my favorite televised programs of all time. When it was adapted to an ongoing comic series in the 80’s by Comico, who was more surprised than me that it was just as good as the 60’s cartoon and fully endorsed by its creator, Doug Wildey? It only ran for 31 issues and a few specials, but it was an excellent and faithful continuation of the original.
- K: Knights of the Dinner Table remains the best series I know that starts with ‘K’. It’s easy to obtain at the KenzerCo website, since it’s still running, some 230 issues strong. KenzerCo‘s home.
- L: Lucifer This is the book that made me a Mike Carey fan. A sequel of sorts to the massively popular, fellow Vertigo title Sandman, it could be argued that it’s even better than its predecessor. Those that read Sandman and passed on Lucifer because it wasn’t written by Neil Gaiman truly missed out on a masterpiece of fiction. Read it before you think the upcoming tv series has anything to do with it.
- M: Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds This old oddball title from Charlton Comics covered all sorts of strangeness, until the introduction of one of my favorite features: Son of Vulcan. The character is a simulacrum of Marvel’s Thor, with a wounded man taking the form of a virile, muscular demi-god, replete with weapons. And damn, did I love it. Someday, if we’re lucky, we’ll see all of Charlton’s books reprinted. Somehow.
- N: Nodwick is the only ‘N’ series that comes to the surface for me. Written and drawn by Aaron Williams and mostly self-published, it’s a comedic fantasy tale that gets superbly developed towards the end of its 36 issue run. Nodwick can still be found in strip form in a variety of game magazines, or at the Do-Gooder Press website, where another favorite, PS 238, resides.
- O: War comics just don’t have that flair any longer, probably due to the hideous amount of attention news media gives to current conflicts. Still, Our Army at War is among the best of the bunch, as well as one of the longest running. DC published it from 1952 to 1977, where it changed title to Rock and ran for another eleven years. With some of the greatest war-era creations making their first appearances in it, it’s invariably the best of the bunch.
- P: Charlton Comics rears up again with Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt. I mostly love this series for the art, but when it was written well it was a double strike of greatness. Pete Morisi laid down a striking line for his creation and it stuck with me as I hunted for his work wherever I could find it, usually in the Charlton books.
- Q: Nope, got nothing. Feel free to suggest something for me.
- R: Richie Rich Sure, it’s a poor white kids’ fantasy comic. Still, it had me wholly invested until I moved on to less kiddy fare. Richie at one time had six or eight titles running consistently, if bi-monthly, from Harvey Publications. I don’t think anyone knows who he is now.
- S: Two titles from ‘S’ as I didn’t have one for ‘Q’. To quote George Carlin, “My rules, I make ‘em up.” Both are from DC Comics, though one is from their Vertigo imprint. Sandman, the 75 issue series written by Neil Gaiman, is an obvious choice. With all of the great spin-offs, special issues and sequels, it’s a tale to behold. It’s easy to find in collected formats as the popularity is ever gaining. The other series is one near and dear to me. The Suicide Squad of the late 80’s impresses on so many levels I read it as regularly as Sandman. It’s currently being reprinted in new collections as back issue prices skyrocket due to a mostly unconnected movie coming out, and I cannot recommend it enough. John Ostrander and Kim Yale wrote compelling tales of equally compelling characters. Someday soon I’ll actually be able to commit to a re-read project I’ve had planned for over a year. Watch for it here.
- T: Thieves and Kings Mark Oakley, aka M’oak, wrote and drew this damned good book during the 90’s. It ran 48 issues before he moved onto other projects and it’s too bad, the book was perfect for all ages. I do hope more eventually come to print. Ibox Publishing, home to Thieves and Kings.
- U: Uncle Scrooge When I was a kid and just reading comics in the summer, when my parents would buy them for me, I picked out a Whitman issue of Uncle Scrooge that I never got rid of. The story was so intriguing I’d re-read it long after ‘funny animal’ stories had lost their flavor. The art was exceptionally good, detailed beyond the usual look of a cartoon title. Much later, I learned of the master himself, Carl Barks. Understanding the greatness of Barks, I readily picked up whatever reprints of his work came out through the variety of publishers Disney used at the time. Barks’ work has been collected in all sorts of tomes, the best of which are his Scrooge McDuck stories. That one I kept and never forgot? It was a search for the mythical Flying Dutchman and a treasure located on it.
- V: While I’m sure there are a few exceptionally fine series that start with the letter V, I don’t own any that move me to write about them here. Instead, I’ll go back to the letter A. Amelia Rules, originally published by Renaissance Press, is the story of an adolescent girl living with her divorced mother and counterculture aunt. It’s gut-wrenching, inspiring, thought-provoking and accessible to all ages. Written and drawn by Jimmy Gownley, it’s available in collections from Atheneum/Simon and Schuster, where it continued for a time in graphic novel form. Hollywood producers? This is the property you should develop. Get on that.
- W: World’s Finest While I don’t own any of this series any longer, it was the frequent reprints and coverless copies traded between family members that have me knowledgeable. For a young me, you couldn’t get any better than Superman and Batman teaming up to fight crime, going to other worlds, learning of their future Superman II and Batman II sons, etc., etc. There are some perfectly bizarre tales in World’s Finest, drawn by artists that came to be forevermore associated with the characters. Don’t know who I’m talking about? Reprints are available. Things are good like that at DC.
- X: Also has no books that inspire me to mention them. As you can tell from this list, Marvel Comics rarely crossed the door of our home and no matter what era, I’ve never found an attachment to the X-Men. So, moving on to C, as B didn’t have much to mention either, there’s Dave Sim’s magnum opus, Cerebus. Sim did what no one else has yet to do, self-publish 300 issues of a serial comic book. Cerebus is an often surreal tale of the title character, an anthropomorphic aardvark, in a subtly high-fantasy setting, and the situations that arise around him. Regardless of the character, this book is not for the kiddies. Often controversial, always well done, Cerebus is still available in the classic “phone book” reprints and soon to be collected in a more expensive format from IDW.
- Y: I almost wanted to put Don Simpson’s Yarn Man here, just for ha-ha’s, but I won’t. There are no Y’s for you to read here. I’ll dig into the D’s for another bit of greatness. Jack Kirby is a creator with few peers, which is certain. His early Marvel work never struck me as a kid, but by the time he struck out at DC and went on an experimental bent, even I couldn’t disavow his ability. The Demon, his short-lived series about an immortal man sharing a body with a bright yellow creature of foul magic, was heads above some of his other work and yet, largely overlooked. The character has held court over a handful of solo series and has even appeared in animated form from time to time, proving that I’m not alone in my appreciation for him.
- Z: Zatanna? No. Zombies? No. Zzaxx? Pfft, not a chance. Moving deeper into the alphabet, Z is replaced by J and that brings me to Jhonen Vasquez’ Hot Topic favorite, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. Published in comic form in the mid-90’s by Slave Labor Graphics, this was the biggest black-and-white comic that I sold in my own retail store at the time. It’s also a damned funny book that opened comics to a whole different customer, of which I’ll never forget. Johnny is still in print from SLG in collected form, as are the follow up series, Squee, I Feel Sick and so on. If Johnny opens the doors to all the other fine SLG productions for you, more the better.
That’s it, 26 comic titles that rattled my cage, all for the better. If you love the form as I do, go for back issue hunts at your Friendly Local Comic Store or on the interwebs, as needed. And before you Marvel readers complain, one of these days I mean to write a long winded love of the West Coast Avengers.