Reading Comics with Stephen Aryan: Guest Post
When someone wants to get into comics it’s a challenge without knowing what kind of stories they enjoy.
It’s the equivalent of saying I’d like to read a book, where should I start? Comics are a broad medium, not a genre. Many people make this mistake because American comics are dominated by Marvel and DC, who are mostly known for their superhero comics, and now the movies and TV shows. The other issue is most Marvel and DC comics are ongoing. There is no definitive end in sight so they will keep printing titles like Batman and Spider-Man for as long as it’s profitable. Also there are a lot of crossovers titles and they reset the numbering every few years so it can be difficult and intimidating for new readers to know where to jump onboard.
However, there are many other publishers who produce comic books that are complete stories in every single genre you can imagine. They can also be one volume, half a dozen or more, but they are finished. So, with all of that in mind, below are three comic book recommendations in different genres. They may not be to your taste, but they will give you an idea of what is out there in the comic book medium.
Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
The title might be familiar because of the Netflix show but the comic series it’s based on is much darker. If you know Joe Hill, and you know who his dad is, then you know this story is going to be dark, twisted and it could give you nightmares.
It’s about a woman and her 3 kids who return to their ancestral home which they inherit after the father in the family is murdered. They move to Lovecraft, Massachusetts to start over and try to put the past behind them. But of course the past isn’t done with them and the house is not an ordinary one. It harbours a lot of secrets and a lot of history. It’s a tiny spoiler but the title gives it away somewhat. The house has a lot of peculiar keys, all of which do very different, unusual and often supernatural things. The thing is, you need to know how to use them, where to find the right door, and when to leave them alone. Some doors should not be opened. Some keys are too dangerous to be used. The story sheds light on many secrets from the past, things the family didn’t know and things better left buried. Like all Hill and Stephen King books, it’s really a story about humanity. It’s about ordinary people, in peculiar and often dangerous situations, rising to the challenge. Bursting with imagination, and with amazing art from Gabriel Rodriguez, it’s 6 volumes long.
Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire
The title is the same as the Netflix show. The first season just finished but there are many differences between the comic series and the TV show which is why it says inspired by. It’s not a story just being retold on TV. The comic book is written and drawn by Canadian, Jeff Lemire. It’s about a young boy with antlers called Gus. He lives in the woods with his dad away from humans after the world is ravaged by a pandemic. Yeah, timing-wise, you can understand why the TV show was held back until now when it started filming in 2019. Anyway, the series is about a pandemic that leaves the world in a sort of post-apocalyptic setting, where society has collapsed and either because of the disease, or around the same time, hybrid babies were being born. Babies with animal features. Gus is one of them. He has lived a quiet and peaceful life until his eight or tenth birthday. Something happens and he has to leave his home and venture out into the world. There he meets a man called Tommy Jeppard, a seasoned and tough man. Gus is full of optimism, hope and is an innocent. Jepperd sees the world as it is. He was alive before the fall and yet he finds himself travelling with and protecting the boy.
Gus and Jepperd journey across America and while both the TV show and the comic share a certain level of optimism and hope, the comic is much darker and more brutal at times. It’s about family, love, hope, humanity and what we are willing to do, or refuse to do, in order to hold onto it. When the world around you falls apart, do you do whatever you need to in order to survive? Or do you hold on to what makes you a decent person? Gus and Jepperd are two sides of the same coin and each asks himself that question many times during the adventure. The story is 6 volumes long.
Motor Girl by Terry Moore
This 2 volume series is written and drawn by Terry Moore. It’s about Sam, a former soldier who is suffering from PTSD. Since coming home from her war she lives alone and runs a junkyard in the desert. Her only companion is Mike, a gorilla who wears clothes and talks to her. Oh and he’s imaginary.
One day something crashes nearby in the desert and it turns out to be a flying saucer full of these weird little alien dudes. The story is humorous but there is a dark undertone to it as it explores Sam’s war, why Mike is there, where he came from and also what she did during the war. There’s also the story in the present as someone in an official suit from a no-name government agency wants to do, probably horrible things, to the aliens in the name of science and protecting humanity.
Sam must battle the physical threats in the present and try to find a way to deal with the demons in her past that continue to haunt her. She’s troubled but as a former soldier she is also someone can take good care of herself. Terry Moore is an exceptional artist and one of his storytelling strengths is his characters. All of them are unique, interesting and layered. It’s a nice bite-size story as a taster before delving in to some of his other, longer comic book series.
There’s also a bit of connective tissue between my latest novel, The Coward, and Motor Girl. It was one of the stories that helped develop my main character, Kell Kressia, because he too is suffering from PTSD.
Thank you so much Stephen for joining us today!
Stephen’s latest novel, The Coward, is currently available from Angry Robot Books.
Stephen Aryan was born in 1977 and was raised by the sea in northeast England. A keen podcaster, lapsed gamer and budding archer, when not extolling the virtues of Babylon 5, he can be found drinking real ale and reading comics.
He lives in a village in Yorkshire with his partner and two cats.