11 Great Comics to Relax With
2020 has been the year to burn us out. If there was a dial to measure the ARGH levels, 2020 was the year to turn it up to 11. Recently, I created a reading nook with only the most relaxing books, comics, and music filled with the softest of plush toys on the plumpest of cushions. The pile getting the most use right now? My stack of relaxing comics. Come and check it out.
Astro City, Vol.1: Life in the Big City by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson (Illustrator)
During its initial publication in the 1990s, Astro City was the answer to all the dark-and-brooding superheroes from the 1980s. Busiek created a story filled with wonder and fresh ideas, designed to revitalise all the archetypes which had originally filled our dreams with hope and adventure.
This is truly a world of superheroes and all it entails. With each short story, we glimpse into alternate lives of superheroes and the lives of those around them. The nostalgic art also harkens to dreams of a better albeit alternative future and gives the whole book a relaxing optimistic vibe. If the world has been feeling a little too dystopian-future, take a breather and relax with this awesome series.
BTW: If you can’t get your hands on the earliest issues, check out former Book Rioter Marcy Cook and her review of Astro City #16 for its 2015 Eisner Award.
The Walking Man by Jirō Taniguchi
Former President Barack Obama recently shared a photo of his walk to and from the Oval Office to his family residence in the White House, noting the importance of the walk to ‘clear his mind’ before seeing the family. If you don’t have the same opportunity, the next best thing can be reading a book to simulate it. The Walking Man is perfect for this. It is a serene collection of little vignettes about a man walking around Japan. There are quiet little adventures along the way but mostly it is a very relaxing almost silent style. It takes only a chapter to transport you from the stress of real-life to this peaceful world and relax with the little things.
Herobear and the Kid by Mike Kunkel
I think every child with a plush toy has imagined it as a super-hero at some point (if you haven’t yet, there is nothing stopping you now). This is the story of this experience: an all-ages comic about a boy and his stuffed bear who becomes a superhero. It is a bit like Calvin & Hobbes, but with more ‘warm and fuzzies’. Straight out innocence. I especially love contrasting Herobear’s bright red cape against the black/white sketches. There is such a strong message of hope and emotion, you will want to cuddle up with this comic as if it were the soft plush toy instead.
Wotakoi by Fujita
Here is a feel-good romance, showing us there really could be someone out there who will love us for all our geeky quirks. It is the story of otaku; usually considered a derogatory term for someone obsessed with pop culture or a particular hobby. The focus starts with Narumi and Hirotaka, two geeks obsessed with manga, anime, and video games. The sweetness comes from how they navigate a relationship with their obsessions and their practical working lives. If it sounds familiar, it has recently been made into an animated series on Amazon Prime Video.
Afar by Leila del Duca, Kit Seaton (Illustrator)
This was a recent gift to the family and it has been a beautiful book for chilling out on the couch. Afar follows the story of Boetema and her brother Inotu, teenagers forced to grow up faster than anyone would wish. However, this is a list of relaxing comics, so I promise you there is nothing too stressful or violent. Instead, there is a sense of growth and resilience with all that life throws at you. The story is a bit slow at the beginning, which is actually a good thing for a relaxing read. The strength is in the character arcs and accompanying illustrations. I cannot express how beautiful the imagery is, in part due to the open creativeness when Boetema starts to astral travel afar. It definitely fits in the vibe of Afrofuturism and one of the best relaxing comics.
Avatar: the Last Airbender: The Promise by Gene Luen Yang (writer), Bryan Konietzko (writer), Michael Dante DiMartino (writer), Dave Marshall (editor), Gurihiru (illustrator)
There is a reason this is one of the most famous and popular animated series of all time. ALL. TIME. For those new to the series, the main character is Aang (the Avatar) who has a special ability to control all four Elements: Air, Water, Earth, and Fire. Others are able to control one element; some have no ability with the elements at all. I have no more to say on this because you should now go watch the series.
Once done there, come back and join the fan club while we read The Promise; a continuation from the end of the series with a story about Zuko and Earth King Kuei. Avatar has never shied from real-life serious issues but it addresses them with an emotional maturity missing from the last four years. The comic books are no different, especially with Gurihiru capturing the art so perfectly. The whole series of comics are brilliant but this one is worthy of our chill-out list.
BTW: if you are looking for more Avatar comics, keep an eye out for Avatar: The Last Airbender: Toph Beifong’s Metalbending Academy, scheduled for release in February 2021. Written by Faith Erin Hicks and Peter Wartman, and illustrated by Adele Matera, this new issue is prize Toph at her best.
Oscar & Hoo by Theo, Michael Dudok de Wit (Illustrator)
Not every children’s book is relaxing, and not all relaxing comics are aimed at kids. However, Oscar & Hoo is primarily a kids book that also happens to hit many adults in the feels (in a good way). Oscar is a young child, often caught up in his daydreams. Hoo is a small cloud who finds Oscar after the young child loses his parents on a holiday in the desert. It’s a sweet and easy-reading story about friendship, and how we can give and take. Being a kids book, it is not a long read. It is enough to quiet the storm in your head (and heart) when the world is asking so much of us. The illustrations are innocent and simplistic, bringing forth the comfort we need to relax. You will gain so much more than you think
Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay and Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland by Eric Shanower (writer), Gabriel Rodríguez (Illustrator)
These are two separate books, separated by 100 years yet connected by the same dreamy imagery to help you relax. The original book, Little Nemo in Slumberland was written as a full-page weekly strip by Winsor McCay in 1905. Each strip shared the adventures of young Nemo having fantastical dreams and travelling through Slumberland to meet the princess. The first episode introduced King Morpheus calling on Nemo to be the new playmate for his daughter. It then took many months and constant battles with the mischievous clown Flip before Nemo even makes it to the palace, let alone meet the Princess. These adventures share glorious imagery in their storytelling, with Art Nouveau influenced illustrations. I have heard of a massive mural in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio, featuring panels from Little Nemo in Slumberland (on my Literary Travels Wishlist).
McCay was lauded as a comic genius for his time. He loved to experiment with visual layouts. He was also well respected for his understanding of psychedelic dream experiences. However, McCay also featured many ethnic stereotypes throughout his storytelling. Certain characters do not transfer well into modern settings. This is where the recent inspiration proves to be a better read.
In 2014, Shanower and Rodríguez returned to Slumberland with a new playmate: a boy with the middle name of Nemo. Except this Nemo is not interested in being the Princess’s playmate and has no idea what is going on with his ‘dream travelling’. Shanower does a great job of capturing McCay’s storytelling techniques and reviving original characters from the weekly strips. But it is Rodríguez’s illustrations which will fill your dreams. The same whimsical fantastical imagery creates artwork I want to tear out and plaster all over my walls. This is a delightful read, and definitely worth relaxing with before the upcoming Netflix series Slumberland (release date yet to be announced).
Aria: The Masterpiece, Volume 1 by Kozue Amano
It’s essentially the best travel guide you will ever read for Neo-Venezia, a futuristic city on the planet Aqua (formerly known as Mars) and modelled on some ancient city named Venice. The storyline is a very easy read with no stand-out features or characters. It is more a slice of everyday life set in a future based on space travel. What makes this book is the absolutely gorgeous visual storytelling as the reader is guided around Neo-Venezia. Full-page spreads of intricate architecture draw you in like chalk-art from a Mary Poppins movie. As I said, it is essentially a travel book for a city that doesn’t exist yet. That in itself can be a little disappointing but this book is the next best thing.
Castle Waiting, Vol.1 by Linda Medley
Abandoned by the princess riding off into the sunset with her charming prince, the remaining residents of the castle are left…well, waiting. This is the fairytale when you really have no “fairytales” left to give. No more dragons to slay or witch curses to work around. Just put your feet up and relax with a comic about a castle after the happily ever after. The castle is now a refuge for misfits, outcasts, and anyone seeking sanctuary. It is like reading an enjoyable soap drama in comic book form. The book is lovely to hold and the illustrations are clean and simple. But we are here for the characters. When you sit down with this book, you are going to be laughing at the pictures of friends and stories in the best way possible. It is like a cup of tea for your soul
On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden
Wilden always said the goal was to create a ‘space story’ that genuinely felt like it is set in space. The whole drifting, exploring, amazing wonder of space. NAILED IT! The idea of civilisations and cultures floating along, filled with people trying to hold it all together is just perfect. I can read this and feel like I’m out there, where I can finally relax. Of course, the story is not limited to the great space-void; it is also built on the diverse relationships amongst the crew. The story becomes an overlap from the crew’s mission to rebuild structures from the past while the main character is drawn to rebuilding her long-lost love.
Everyone will have their ‘go-to’ comic for chilling out and relaxing. For some of my friends, they love horror. Others will crawl into volumes of manga. My goal is to always have something to lift me up rather than kick me while I’m down. Each of these suggestions fit the bill.
Now it’s time to put my feet up and grab more comics to relax with.