So, my guide as to how to start reading comics has gotten a lot of feedback, and by “feedback” I mostly mean “why did you not mention this YOU ARE A BAD PERSON” or similar. (Okay, they never actually say that I am bad, but I think it’s totally implied and they should all feel very bad about themselves as people.)
There’s a lot of reasons why lots of comics didn’t make the list. Some of them aren’t on it because I wanted to cap it at twenty lest it become unmanageable (Astro City: Life In The Big City was one of my final cuts, as was the first Atomic Robo trade), and personal preference took over. Some of them aren’t on it because I could never figure out for myself where the best starting point is (Hellboy and Uncle Scrooge are the big ones in this regard). Some of them aren’t on it because I think they shoudn’t be on it. (I don’t like Daniel Clowes at all and it’s my list. Tough noogies.) Love and Rockets isn’t on it because I can never make up my mind between Heartbreak Soup and Locas.
Specific points worth addressing:
Anything by Chris Ware. Ware is a master draftsman who has yet to tell a story I find really compelling (Jimmy Corrigan gets way more hype than it deserves), and I think “holy shit look at this art” almost always gets trumped by story when you’re dealing with a new reader – appreciating really amazing art is something that I think comes at “stage two” of becoming a comics reader. (Sure, Jack Kirby is amazing, but he’s also really, really accessible and direct.) This is the same reason I disqualified Fantagraphics’ gorgeous Little Nemo In Slumberland collection. Out of my twenty, I count only one book that’s really art-driven (Big Guy and Rusty), and it has giant monsters and awesome battle scenes.
Fun Home. Got cut when I was dropping down to the twenty-five or so mark. A couple of people pointed out that there’s a dearth of female talent on my list, and… yeah, pretty much. But I didn’t feel comfortable including Fun Home. I love the book, but it has personally struck out for me four times when trying to hook new people for comics, and I am not going to protest that track record just on the basis of inclusivity. Persopolis lingered for the same reason, but got cut late because I already had a top-notch bio-comic (Blankets) and journo-comic (Pyongyang) on the list, and also because I really think the movie actually works better than the comic in telling Marjane’s story, and I don’t want to include works which can be easily dismissed by an inexperienced reader as inferior versions of the same work in a different medium.
The lack of manga. I read a reasonable amount of manga, but the problem with most of it is that it’s almost always a large multi-volume journey, usually in the 8-16 volume range, and thus most of it got DQed by my “no first volume” metric (since first volumes of a manga series are almost never standalone), so goodbye went Maison Ikkoku, Ranma 1/2, Monster, Death Note, Barefoot Gen, Phoenix, Buddha and Naruto. Oishinbo stayed on close to the end, but as much as I like it I know it tends to get repetitive and it’s a bit precious. I still haven’t read Ode to Kirihito, which probably could have otherwise qualified.
Understanding Comics. Works best after someone’s first half-dozen or so reads, not as an initial read. It’s great to see them suddenly think “ohhhhh…” and start going back to the first books they read and looking over them again to see if they “missed” anything.
The Groo Treasury. This only came out last month and I didn’t know about it and now I must own it because it is what I have always wanted: a big-ass Groo book that provides value for money. Had I known this existed, I would have gone to twenty-five items.
“A lot of the good superhero stuff from the ’80s onward – and I’d include Doom Patrol and All-Star Superman in this statement – is predicated on at least a passing familiarity with the genre. How to start reading comics without a single thing from the first four decades of superheroes? Not a very good start.” I’d respond by saying it’s not my fault that DC and Marvel have concsiously and affirmatively made themselves gradually more inaccessible to new readers. That having been said, Batman: Year One, Ultimate Spider-Man, Superman: Birthright, Superman: Secret Identity, Dr. Strange: The Oath and JLA: Earth 2 were all in consideration at various points. Runaways isn’t self-contained enough unless you can find the out-of-print hardcover first volume, Blue Beetle really just isn’t a good introductory comic at all (although Jaime is a great character), and Incredible Hercules relies a lot on Marvel continuity.