Choosing a comic to major in?
With comic books like “Watchmen,” “V for Vendetta” and “Red” being adapted for the big screen, one might think respect for comic books as an art form would have grown exponentially, but that isn’t the case. While comic book classes are growing in a number of colleges, many people still feel comic books are restricted to children and underdeveloped adults. I’ve tried to fix this problem in many ways, but no matter how many copies of “Watchmen” I lend my friends, it never seems to work. So, we here at The Daily decided to come up with a list of comics and graphic novels college students can read according to their majors in order to foster more interest in the medium.
African and African-American Studies
“Incognegro” written by Mat Johnson and art by Warren Pleece
“Incognegro” tells the story of Zane Pinchback, a 1930s light-skinned African-American journalist, specializing in gruesome crimes against blacks in the south. Due to his light skin, he is able to pass as a white man, but after his last investigation goes awry, he decides to call it quits. But his boss has a final assignment for him. The assignment calls for Zane to go to Tupelo, Miss., where his brother is charged with the murder of a white woman. Of course, Zane hurries to his brothers rescue and encounters everything from moonshine running to vicious lynchings. “Incognegro” is not only a great historical mystery book, but also a great exploration of race in 1930s America.
Other African-American studies comics: “Birth of a Nation” written by Reginald Hudlin, Aaron McGruder and art by Kyle Baker; “Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm” written by Percy Carey and art by Ronald Wimblery; “Aya” written by Marquerite Abouet and drawn by Clément Oubreire; “King” by Ho Che Anderson.
“The Walking Dead” written by Robert Kirkman and art by Tony Moore (#1-#6) and Charlie Adlard (7-)
With the amount of publicity this book and future television show has been getting, it seems almost redundant to go into the story. Rick Grimes, a small town cop, wakes up from a coma to find his town abandoned and the world overrun with zombies. After finding his wife and son with a group of other humans, they must wander looking for anything to help them survive while avoiding not only zombies but other survivors as well. It might be a little too easy to categorize this comic, but to label it a horror comic would be a misnomer. It’s not just about flesh-eating zombies, but human reaction to catastrophe. Rick and his gang have encountered everything from twisted megalomaniacs to child rapists and cannibals; people that were law-abiding citizens in organized society, but have turned into murderers in a world without structure. Kirkman pulls no punches and spares no one — supposed key characters are killed mercilessly in order to illustrate the ruthlessness and degradation of the society.
Other anthropology comics: “Finder” by Carla Speed McNeil; “Black Hole” by Charles Burns.
“Orbiter” by Warren Ellis
Ten years after leaving the Kennedy Space Center, the space ship Venture mysteriously returns with only one of its passengers in tow. A group of specialists are hired to find out what happened to the ship on its maiden voyage and how it mysteriously came back after 10 years. People familiar with Ellis’ work know that when it comes to any science, he does his research meticulously and it shows in his writing. Although Ellis knows his scientific facts, his explanations can be a bit tedious and boring, but it’s enough to foster interest in his subject matter.
Other astronomy comics: “Ministry of Space” written by Warren Ellis and art by Chris Weston
“The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck” written and drawn by Don Rosa
It’s really hard to convince anyone that a Disney comic will work well for any major, but what better Disney character than the greedy billionaire Scrooge McDuck? The comic follows Scrooge McDuck from his poor humble beginnings as a shoe shiner in Glasgow in 1877 to 1947 where he’s a lonely billionaire. It also shows us how Scrooge became the man (err ... duck) that he is with real historical figures like Teddy Roosevelt. The book might not discuss in-depth business theories, but it gives us the two things that are critical for success: hard work and persistence.
Other business comics: “The Invincible Iron Man” written by Matt Fraction and art by Salvador Larroca; “Lex Luthor: Man of Steel” written by Brian Azzarello and art by Lee Bermejo.
Classics and Letters
“Pax Romana” written and drawn by Jonathan Hickman
Of many Jonathan Hickman books to make it on this list, “Pax Romana” is my favorite. In the future, the Catholic Church discovers a way to go back in time and after a lot of consideration, a Cardinal, a group of military specialists and weapons are sent to Rome 312 AD to create a better future. Things don’t go as expected. No really — if you were expecting the apocalypse brought about by human greed and error, that doesn’t happen, but neither does the opposite. Hickman is able to take his knowledge of history and creativity for making great science fiction and create something very interesting and worth reading.
Other classics and letters comics: “Age of Bronze” written and drawn by Eric Shanower; “The Ring of Nibelung” by P. Craig Russell
“Fantastic Four Vol. 1 and 2” written by Jonathan Hickman and drawn by Dale Eaglesham
It’s hard to believe that at one time, “Fantastic Four” was one of the best selling comics of its day — especially after the last few years haven’t been kind to the series. But with Hickman’s writing and Eaglesham’s golden age style art, the series is being restored to its past glory. Hickman’s use of real scientific concepts in a “Fantastic Four” comic is pretty amazing, and unlike Ellis, his explanations aren’t boring or long-winded, but rather foster interest.
“The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 1 and 2” written by Alan Moore and drawn by Kevin O’Neill
It’s hard to find anything that hasn’t already been said about “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” Alan Moore’s usage of public domain literary characters from Victorian England is already a classic and a must-read for English majors and anyone that enjoys literature from that era. Both Moore and artist Kevin O’Neill put so much work into the comic that almost every panel references some other fictional story from that time period.
Other English comics: “The Unwritten” written by Mike Carey and art by Pete Gross; “Sandman Vol. 1” written by Neil Gaiman and Art by Sam Keith and Mike Dringenberg; “Tamara Drewe” written and drawn by Posy Simmonds
Film and Video Studies
“Signal to Noise” written by Neil Gaiman and art Dave McKean
This is the story of an old and dying film director who will never get to make the film he considers his magnum opus due to his disease. With the reality that he will never really make this film, he “makes” it in his head. The story switches between the film in the director’s head and the director’s real life as he struggles with his disease. The passion and love the old filmmaker uses to create a film with the only medium he can — his mind — is beautiful. David McKean’s dreamlike art also adds to the swan song-like feel of this great book that anyone interested in working in the film industry should read.
Other film and video studies comics: “Criminal” written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Sean Phillips; “100 Bullets” written by Brian Azzarello and drawn by Eduardo Risso
“Superman: Red Son” by Mark Millar and various artists
What if Superman had landed on a Ukrainian farm instead of one in Smallville, Kan.? What if the year was 1938? What you get according to Mark Millar is a communist Superman and it’s great; Millar uses real events that happened during the height of communism and remixes it with Superman history. The result is amazing, but despite his keen use of historical facts and Superman history, my favorite part of the book is Millar’s use of Justice League characters like Batman, Wonder Woman and the Green Lantern. It’s a great book and I consider it Millar’s best and most thorough work.
Other history comics: “Battlefields” written by Garth Ennis and art by various artists; “Northlanders” written by Brian Wood and art by various artists; “Berlin” by Jason Lutes; “Cuba: My Revolution” written by Inverna Lockpez and drawn by Dean Haspiel
International and Area Studies
“The Complete Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi
“Persepolis” is the account of Marajane Satrapi’s life growing up during the war between Iraq and Iran and later, her life in France and back in Iran. The first part of the book introduces us to the rebellious Marajane, raised by her parents and grandmother who instill a sense of national pride and interest in politics in their young daughter. Then the second part deals with her time in France, her return to Iran and how she copes with her new changes to her country. It’s a very easy read, but if you aren’t interested in reading a good book, you can watch the animated film of the same name.
Other international and area studies comics: “The Unknown Soldier Vol. 1: Haunted House” written by Joshua Dysart and art by Alberto Ponticelli; “Cuba: My Revolution” written by Inverna Lockpez and drawn by Dean Haspiel; “The Photographer: Intro to War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders” by Emmanuel Guibert
“The Nightly News” by Jonathan Hickman
In this critique of news agencies, a cult made up of people whose lives have been destroyed by various media organizations kill reporters in very violent ways. Hickman uses the book to show us how news reporting has declined over the past few decades with lots of real facts, which he cites at the back of the book. Hickman’s art style also gives him enough space to inject little blurbs of information about the news media. This well written book shouldn’t serve as a discouragement to journalism students but rather an encouragement to make their future source of employment better.
Other journalism comics: “Transmetropolitan” written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Darick Robertson
“xkcd Volume 0” by Randall Munroe
Every semester, whenever I’m pulling an all-nighter with some of my “science” major friends, one of them calls me over to his computer and shows me an xkcd comic about a math equation or something. Of course, I don’t get the joke, but I smile like I do, awkwardly laugh and walk away while feeling stupid for not getting the strip. Not all xkcd strips are like this, but most of them are aimed at math or science majors and can be hard for us normal people to understand. After all, it’s written by a physics major that worked for NASA. If you don’t want to splurge on the collected volume, you can read it free at xkcd.com.
Other mathematics comics: “Logicomix” written by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou and art by Alecos Papadatos
“Blacksad” written by Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido and art by Juanjo Guarnido
This might be a little bit of a cop-out, but the best way to learn a language is complete immersion and what better way than to read a book in the language you want to learn? There are many comic books you can read that have been translated in numerous languages out there, but this is my favorite. “Blacksad” is a noir comic in a ’50s America populated with only anthropomorphic characters that follows private detective John Blacksad — a black cat with a white muzzle — on his many adventures. One thing that sticks out from this book is the wonderful art by Juanjo Guarnido who, as you’ll be able to tell, was a Disney animator. Although it’s pretty fun to see very Disney-like characters engaging in sexual acts or shoving guns down people’s throats, the writing and overly noir influences are what keep me rereading this book.
Other modern language comics: “Lone Wolf and Cub” written by Kazuo Koike and drawn by Goseki Kojima; “The Adventures of Tintin” by Hergé
“Asterios Polyp” by David Mazzucchelli
Asterios Polyp is a brilliant, yet arrogant architecture professor who has ruined his life by driving the woman he loves out of his life with his pride. After his building is burned down after being struck by lightning, he randomly moves to Apogee, N.Y., as and works as a mechanic while thinking about his past life. Polyp looks through his entire life, even his parents, as he tries to find out what he did to end up in his current situation — going through everything from philosophical theories to Greek literary concepts. David Mazzucchelli uses his different art techniques to illustrate Polyp’s more introspective moments as he tries to figure out what went wrong. While the book covers a wide variety of concepts and topics; one thing I got from it is the danger of not paying attention to the things we take for granted.
Other philosophy comics: “Logicomix” written by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou; “The Wild Kingdom” by Kevin Huizenga
“Ministry of Space” written by Warren Elllis and drawn by Chris Weston
In this alternate history book, the British have created an illustrious and growing space industry by the year 2001, but it holds a dark secret dating back to World War II. Much like “Orbiter,” which I read immediately after this, Ellis does his research and uses a lot of real space travel concepts. But unlike “Orbiter,” he has a strong social message and a very strong final panel that leaves a lasting impression on readers.
“Ex Machina Vol. 1: The First Hundred Days” written by Brian K. Vaughn and drawn by Tony Harris
The story follows the world’s first superhero, Mitchell Hundred aka The Great Machine, as he serves his term as mayor of New York. It also is told in flashback from how he got his powers to his “glory” days of saving New York from itself. Now as the mayor of New York, his job is slowed down by bureaucracy and politics, which at times can be frustrating, but Hundred navigates the political landscape in his crude, yet very New Yorker way.
“Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth” written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Dave McKean
One of the most famous Batman books and inspiration for the video game, “Arkham Asylum” has Batman hunted in the Asylum by his enemies after they take the establishment over. Morrison uses many symbols and motifs to make allusions to mental illness with not only the various villains at Arkham but with the Dark Knight himself. In the book, Batman talks to himself and kind of stabs himself with a shard of glass. Ouch.