Top Ten Comics to Share with Your Boyfriend and/or Girlfriend (That Aren't Sandman or Y: The Last Man)A column article, Top Ten by: Danny Djeljosevic & Nick Hanover
No, it's not Valentine's Day, but with all the craziness going on about how much comics should be able to appeal to either gender, we decided to put together a list of ten works we feel can be enjoyed by you and your significant other equally. Or significant others. We're open minded like that.
Nick Hanover: When it comes to romance, sometimes spontaneity is your best resource. Unless you're part of the cast of Young Liars, in which case spontaneity isn't even an option, it's a necessity. Following a group of twentysomethings who are all various degrees of crazy, Young Liars is an exploration of the spontaneous energy of youth, but it's also almost certainly David Lapham's most accessible work.
Danny Djeljosevic: Which doesn't say much, because Young Liars is still fucking crazy -- the sort of story where you can't trust your narrator, main characters or even the reality of the thing.
Nick: It's all right there in the promise of the title. Like an especially musical and drug fueled Memento, Young Liars is stylish and sleek but confounding in the best possible way. It's a vibrant book, with bright, bold colors influenced by '60s Marvel comics and enough weird ideas to make Takashi Miike and Quentin Tarantino make out with each other.
Danny: And every issue has a short playlist so you can listen to a couple awesome songs as you read each issue.
Nick: Or use them to compile a mixtape for your significant other if you're really lazy.
Nick: Before Brian Michael Bendis wrote 2/3 of everything Marvel releases each month, he had a little sleeper hit under the MAX imprint, called Alias. It did not feature Jennifer Garner or the really dickish guy from The Hangover, but it did feature Jessica Jones, a hardened but street wise private eye who was once a glamorous superhero.
Danny: Very much in line with Bendis' crime work, just set in the Marvel Universe. Shame that most of its infamy comes from it opening an issue with a sex scene between Luke Cage and Jessica Jones.
Nick: That issue is supposedly a large part of the reason why the MAX imprint even happened, as well as Marvel's decision to ditch the Comics Code. But with all of the issues surrounding DC at the moment, Alias is especially relevant, as it was a title that was extremely frank about sex and the every day mistreatment women have to go through. Jessica Jones didn't dress up in ultra revealing outfits, or make awkward poses tailor made for Penthouse issues. She was just a smart, tough woman doing what she had to do to get by.
Danny: Bendis' non-mainstream work is generally good for that sort of thing. Jinx and Scarlet in particular.
Nick: Plus Squirrel Girl in New Avengers. Why are you laughing?
Danny: Um, no reason. (chortle)
Danny: People generally assume manga's full of magical girls and romance or tentacle porn, but in Japan it's an incredibly broad medium, where pretty much any topic is fair game for the sequential art treatment. 20th Century Boys is a 22-volume series that's squarely in the realm of Lost-like mystery dramas.
Nick: So what you're saying is that just like Western comics, manga is wildly varied and has more to it than one would assume based off of tired cultural stereotypes?
Danny: Surprisingly, yes! 20th Century Boys has this insane story that spans the late '60s to nearly 20 years into the 21st century (when the title changes to 21st Century Boys, seriously), following this group of childhood friends as they investigate some weird cult tied to their childhood and, eventually, have to save the world from total destruction. And Jack and Kate took six seasons to get off a fucking island.
Nick: So basically it's like It with a fake Jesus instead of a demonic clown?
Danny: But better, probably.
Nick: I don't know. Tim Curry was pretty amazing in It. And there's a giant turtle.
Danny: 20th Century Boys has a guy who looks like this:
Nick: Tim Curry in a mummy costume?
Nick: Rather than attempt to cram all of Love & Rockets into this feature, we instead chose to focus on Palomar, which is kind of like what would happen if Gabriel Garcia Marquez decided to turn Chronicle of a Death Foretold into an epic, sprawling piece of sequential art.
Danny: An incredibly long comic book narrative that takes place in the small Mexican town of Palomar over at least a couple decades. It's one big epic composed of a bunch of tiny epics. "Human Diastrophism" is one of my favorite pieces within Palomar -- a whole lot of character interaction held together by the overarching plot of a serial killer loose in town.
Nick: Palomar is really defined by its characterization, with the town's mayor Luba and her family often acting as the center. The stories set in Palomar are a large part of why Love & Rockets became such an important work as they showed how the scope of novels could be applied to the medium.
Danny: One of the most curious things is that Gabriel Hernandez combines art and fetish. There's a lot of sex in these comics, and Beto's giant breast fetishism is rampant, but the women are never objects, and their actions almost always have a ton of consequences.
Nick: Love & Rockets as a whole is so sexual they actually spun it off into Fantagraphics' Eros Comix line with a book called Birdland. But the main characters are usually strong, independent women, which was pretty groundbreaking when they came out and...wow, look at that, they're still groundbreaking.
Danny: Oh, and Hernandez's art is fantastic.
Nick: I thought the gigantic breast fetishism comment established that.
Nick: Ultra usually gets described as "Sex and the City but with superheroes!" and as much as I hate that description, damn if it doesn't work. The series has a lot in common with the work of Los Bros Hernandez, with a confident Latina superhero in the lead and a lot of frank sexuality and ensuing consequences. While there is some superheroing that goes on, the book is mostly just about Pearl Penalosa, AKA Ultra, dealing with the single life and the uncertainty of her future thanks to a cryptic prophecy she receives from a fortune teller.
Danny: Didn't they make a (terrible) TV pilot out of that?
Nick: I'm not sure how terrible it actually was since it never aired, but yes, they did indeed make it into a pilot. The CW was going to buy it because, hey, why not? And they also turned Pearl into Penny to get rid of any diversity that might scare off white middle school girls.
Bonus trivia: Cersei from Game of Thrones was Penny/Pearl.
Danny: Yikes! The Luna Brothers are some serious writer-artists, though. Unlike Los Bros Hernandez, they work in tandem as opposed to separately.
Nick: That tends to make their work very unified. They're not as scattered as Los Bros Hernandez, instead honing in on a chosen style or genre and twisting it to match the subject they want to discuss. For Ultra it's a dissection of the lack of developed female characterization in superhero titles, which is why Ultra is flipped, with the action being secondary to the exploration of the personalities.
Danny: Also, less fetishism.
Nick: Unless your fetish is properly written female characters. MREOWWW
Danny: Well-rounded, dynamic characters are my weird kink.
Nick: Box Office Poison may seem intimidating with its 600 pages, but it's a deceptively entertaining read, like a comic amalgamation of peak-era Woody Allen, early Steven Soderbergh and especially clever sitcoms. With its well-rounded, multigenerational cast, Box Office Poison is easy to relate to and rich in details and references that reward rereading.
Danny: People have pitched it to me as a smart Kevin Smith comic.
Nick: That's...one way of putting it? It does concern people who are basically adrift in life, including a clerk, but he works in a bookstore. And there's also a lot of talk about comics, but it's about the business of comics and how the lack of proper credit in the Golden Age tarnishes that era. But the characters are much more interesting and don't make anywhere near enough poop jokes.
Danny: Like I said, smart Kevin Smith. What about dick jokes?
Nick: Oh, plenty of dick jokes.
Nick: In some ways, FLCL is very much like a superhero story. At the heart of it is Naota, a boy who's a bit of a loser at school and has a messed up homelife. But as it turns out Naota has a lot of power and a crazy destiny that he's unaware of, complete with aliens and robots.
Danny: And then it gets really crazy.
Nick: Because, you see, rather than having the proportionate strength and agility of a spider, Naota has alien robots coming out of his forehead. The FLCL manga proceeded the anime, but it ramps up the craziness and the darker aspects of the story, despite utilizing an art style that some have deemed "primitive." Hajime Ueda purposefully utilizes an extremely sparse, minimalist technique that contrasts the frenzied eclecticism of the anime as well as the events of the story itself.
Danny: Are there crazy stylistic experiments, like in the anime?
Nick: It would be more accurate to say the entire manga is a crazy stylistic experiment, but one that sticks to a specific aesthetic rather than leaping from style to style the way the show does. The manga is more like a decidedly Japanese version of I Kill Giants, which makes it a bit easier to handle in some ways. The mindblowing spectacle of the show is sacrificed in favor of a more linear examination of the way insanity and childhood imagination can blur.
Danny: Ha! I never thought of it that way.
Nick: This is why I get paid the big bucks.
Danny: Phonogram is one of my favorite comics, and the first major work from Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. It's technically about young people who use music to do their magic, but that's mostly just a platform for the pair to explore youth culture, identity and the effect music has on us.
Nick: It's also about the difficulties of letting go of youth, particularly when it comes to the pop culture that affected you as you came of age, which is what should make it so fascinating to anyone who's loved music OR comics.
Danny: Volume 1, "Rue Britannia" uses the '90s Britpop era as platform for exploring the evils of nostalgia. Then comes Volume 2, "The Singles Club," where Gillen and McKelvie totally step up their game and deliver this series of self-contained stories that form a fractured narrative surrounding this one night at a club.
Nick: Gillen and McKelvie really create a wholly unique experience with Phonogram, where the passion of their obsessive knowledge functions as a gateway drug of its own rather than as an obstacle standing in the way of enjoyment. It's fandom turned towards unbridled creativity rather than towards destructive obstinance and possession.
Danny: You can completely enjoy it without knowing every single music reference, but each volume comes with a glossary full of album recommendations and other good-to-know tidbits.
Nick: It's like David Foster Wallace's footnotes, except not as depressing or pretentious.
Nick: Back before Brian K. Vaughan left the mainstream comic worlds to pursue a little thing called Lost, he developed one of the few completely new ideas Marvel has had in years. How, you ask? By creating fun, never before seen characters who had real depth and real emotion to them. Runaways was a series that, under the direction of Vaughan, felt like a bold, new vision for Marvel, starring the rebellious children of a secret collective of villains who have sold out humanity to some Elder God-like creatures.
Danny: Runaways had such a great hook -- what if your parents were supervillains? There was a real sense of danger to Vaughan's stories. The parents controlled pretty much everything on the west coast, and Vaughan wasn't afraid to drop some seriously major twists.
Nick: It's no wonder BKV wound up with a gig writing for Lost, since Runaways ably proved that he knew how to juggle an ensemble cast and keep the forward momentum going at all times without it feeling cluttered. Vaughan also wasn't afraid to make difficult choices in terms of the fate of his characters and that allowed the series to stay above the kind of cheap tactics that other superhero books so often resort to.
Danny: He was really daring with that book -- so much so, in fact, that the writers that followed in his footsteps seemed to handle the book with kid gloves, so to speak.
Nick: While Joss Whedon's run immediately after Vaughan left the title had its moments, it also found Whedon losing sight of a lot of what made the book special in favor of not so well thought out gimmickry. And the less said about the sad state the book descended into after Whedon, the better.
Danny: Kathryn Immonen helped resuscitate the book a bit, but that was right as it as cancelled.
Nick: Now that BKV is returning to comics, maybe we'll see the series come back. At least Runaways has been left in better shape than the Hood.
Danny: Yeah, Marvel's been pretty hands-off with Runaways, presumably waiting until the movie's in production before bringing it back.
Nick: I already saw that movie. Kristin Stewart was really terrible in it. That is not at all how I remember Nico being.
Nick: If Bone doesn't warm your heart than you are likely a cadaver. Jeff Smith's magnum opus is a comic full of cute creatures and furry woodland mammals, that also happens to be a proper fantasy epic with dragons and creepy rat creatures and insect men. It is the embodiment of accessible comics, a work that can be enjoyed on multiple levels by multiple generations and groups.
Danny: It starts off simply enough, with three Bone cousins getting kicked out of Boneville, but it soon gets amazingly huge, going from cute, fun cartoon thing to large-scale fantasy. And it feels totally organic, without sacrificing mood or character.
Nick: It's also simply gorgeous, a truly masterful example of the medium that shows what comics are capable of. Bone runs the full range of emotional connection, with plenty of humor, sadness, awe and excitement to make its massive page count go by in no time at all. When we talk about what comics should aspire to be, Bone is right up there with any of the other classics, and yet being much more accessible than most.
Danny: And you can read it all in one giant volume.
Nick: Or spend $500 on the special edition. Or send me $500 to spend on the special edition. Really. My e-mail is on here. Don't hesitate to drop me a line.
Danny: I, too, would like $500. But I probably won't spend it on another copy of Bone.
Nick: He'll just spend it on whiskey.
Danny: I got a lot of demons to quell, man.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter as @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his newest comic, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics.
When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon.