Ahoy! This week the gang talks about the shape of stories AND chats with fellow MAL contributor, Emily Finke, about comics! Look below to find extensive notes from Emily on the titles she mentions during the recording.
Also mentioned during the ‘cast:
The Bowery Boys podcast on the history on New York City.
The Shapes of Stories, by Kurt Vonnegut
MIT study on the emotional arcs of story-telling
Emily’s note 1: I’m linking to Amazon because it can be really hard to figure out exactly *which* “volume 1” of a particular book you’re looking for, and for better or worse, Amazon is a good way to pinpoint a specific starting point. You can also find many of these at your local library, so check them out! I know more comics-reading librarians than I can count, and they’re downright gleeful about getting comics into their collections.
Emily’s Note 2: If you do decide to look for these in a brick and mortar store, know that comics aren’t shelved alphabetically, they’re shelved by company, which is why I’ve put the company in parentheses. Marvel and DC will be separate. In general bookstores, Marvel and DC will be separated and then the rest of the companies will usually be shelved together by title and/or author, depending on the store. Larger comic shops will separate out each of the companies. Don’t be afraid to ask a store employee where to find a book! Comic runs are conventionally referred to as “(series title: volume) by (author), (artist)”, so that’s what I’ve gone with here. But know that there are many artists involved in every book, so look a little deeper at the title pages than you would for other books. You’ll discover some fabulously talented folks there.
On to the recs!
Superheroes for people who have never read superheroes:
Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat (Marvel)
You might have met Patsy in Jessica Jones, but this Patsy lives in a very different world than the Netflix shadows. This Patsy Walker fights supervillains while also creating a temp agency for unemployed superheroes. She is sweet, delightful, and besties with She-Hulk. (Oh yeah. You should totally read She-Hulk once you fall in love with her here.)
Recommended starting point: vol. 1: Hooked on a Feline by Kate Leth and Brittney Williams.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (Marvel)
Squirrel Girl has all the power of squirrel and girl. Probably the most powerful character in the Marvel universe.. She’s also a first year computer science student, undercover as a perfectly normal human. She kicks butts and eats nuts.
Starting point: vol. 1: Squirrel Power by Ryan North and Erica Henderson (there are at two first volumes for this comic. Because comics. Start with this one!)
Ms. Marvel (Marvel)
This is one of the breakout stars of the current comics world. Kamala Khan is a Muslim teenager in New Jersey who gets superpowers and has to balance being a teenager, a student, a daughter, and a superhero.
Starting point: vol. 1 No Normal
Black Panther (Marvel)
So, you saw the all-too-brief moments of Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War and needed more, right? Yeah, me too. Luckily Ta-Nehisi Coates is on it. This is one of the few books I would recommend picking up issue by issue. It’s so good. While T’Challa is the title character, it’s the women of the book who have been the breakout stars for me.
Starting point: issue 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze. The first volume will be out in September. Unlike the other starting links, this is just the first issue of the series.
Captain Marvel (Marvel)
Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel has become one of the rallying points of Marvel fandom. This book will show you why. This character has forty years of history, but you can pick this volume up and know all you need to know about her.
Starting point: vol 1: In Pursuit of Flight by Kelly Sue DeConnick (There are three first volumes for Captain Marvel. Yeah. Comics. Again, start with this one.)
Three comics not mentioned in the episode, but which should have been on the list:
What do Avengers do when they’re not Avenging? Well, if they’re Hawkeye (Clint Barton), they make the same sorts of messes of their lives that the rest of us do. Luckily he has Hawkeye (Kate Bishop) and Pizza Dog to back him up. This is my favorite comic book. Period.
Starting point: vol 1: My Life as a Weapon by Matt Fraction and David Aja.
This is the most subversively feminist superhero book in Marvel’s current lineup, with humor that often makes me laugh out loud. Plus, it has a corgi.
Starting point: vol. 1: Can Explain by Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk.
All of DC’s superheroines, in a romp of espionage, crime-fighting, and fantastic 40s fashion. I only recently started reading this book, and I fell head over heels in love. Everything else Marguerite Bennett writes is wonderful as well. She always tells the lady-centric queer stories that I want to read.
Starting point: vol 1: Enlisted by Marguerite Bennett
March (Top Shelf)
This series, written by Rep. John Lewis, chronicling his history in the Civil Rights movement should be a must-read for everyone. If that weren’t enough, he cosplays as himself at conventions to give talks.
Starting point March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
Bitch Planet (Image)
This is DeConnick and De Landro’s take on the women’s prison exploitation film tropes. That shouldn’t work, but in the hands of a careful author and a careful artist, it really does. CN: This deals with pretty heavy ideas of violence against women, both physically and culturally. But it does so in a way that’s cathartic. (Probably similar to Jessica Jones.)
Starting Point: vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro.
Pretty Deadly (Image)
This is a dreamlike supernatural western based on story telling and myth-making. It’s an absolutely stunning work visually. It’s also a great example of how comic visuals can take what would be a fairly straightforward story and make it deeply resonant and symbolic.
Starting point: vol 1: The Shrike by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios
I don’t really know how to describe this book. It’s about women and fear and healing and some of the most beautiful artwork I have ever seen in a book. (Once you’ve fallen in love with the art here, check out the run that Marjorie Liu did on X-23 for Marvel. You won’t be familiar with the character to start with, but the art will carry you through the rough start. Promise.)
Starting point: vol 1: Awakening by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda.
This is the story of a journalist chronicling a thoroughly corrupt election season. CN: This comic is crass, it’s frequently inappropriate, the main character is both a horrible person and a hero. Basically, it’s Warren Ellis at his Warren Ellis-est Know that, going into the book. I love it, but it’s not for everyone.
Starting point: vol 1: Back on the Street by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson
This was one of the first serious comic books I read. It’s about Dream, the lord of the dreamworld. It’s basically a coming of age story for an ageless immortal god. CN: Graphic violence. The first volume is the worst, both in violence and, honestly, in the storytelling. But you can’t really start anywhere else and have it make sense.
vol 1: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman and Sam Keith
This is an ongoing series about a family finding their way in a universe that hates them, and in following the power of stories.
vol 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Lumberjanes (Boom! Studios)
This is a cabin of girls at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types. It’s LGBTQIA-inclusive. It also has merit badges such as “Pun-geon Master”. If that isn’t a selling point, I don’t know what is. (kid-friendly!) vol 1: Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson and Shannon Watters
Featured image from Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson and Shannon Watters