Comics/Graphic Novels

The Book Recommendation Conundrum

Alex Baker

Staff Writer

Alex thinks it would be really rad if you checked out his turn-based strategy game, Derelict Zones.

Everyone has that certain nerd in their circle of friends: the one that reads more than you ever could in a year, the one who can speak to the work of numerous writers and artists you’ve never heard of, the one that keeps their thumb on the pulse of the comic book industry. I’m one of those people. I would imagine most Panelteers are those people, that’s why we write about these fantastic books.

Being one of these people, friends and strangers will often approach me asking for book recommendations. This is no simple request, no passing remark. My mind races with current favorites that I’m reading, the ones that jump to the top of my pull list. Then I silently run down the books that have coveted places on my shelf of graphic novels, trades, and deluxe editions. I could name off a myriad of titles that I think are brilliant, but then it hits me: What if I recommend a book and you HATE it? What will you think of me and my taste if my carefully curated recommendations backfire?

So I try not to look too pained at the question. I take a deep breath. I begin answering this one seemingly innocuous question with a litany of other questions. Sorry. It has to be done. Comic book recommendations are not one-size-fits-all.

No, Batman is NOT always angry and hyper-violent.

No, Batman is NOT always angry and hyper-violent.

So you’re into capes and tights? You like the Batman movies? Great! Which movies? Do you like your superheroes larger-than-life or dark and gritty? The Dark Knight liberally moves through these states depending upon writer, artist, and even title. Devin Grayson Batman is not the same as Brian Azzarello Batman. Dick Sprang Batman is not the same as Frank Miller Batman.

Oh, you like superheroes that fight in teams? Cool. Teams that get along or teams that have as much internal strife as external? Teams that are loved or hated by the world at large? Teams that don’t realize they’re a team? X-Men do not read the same as Teen Titans or Morning Glories. Hell, there’s little resemblance between the X-Men of now compared to the X-Men of the 1990’s.

You don’t like superheroes, you say? Okay, now Pandora’s box really opens. Do you like horror, sci-fi, anthropomorphic animals, political satire, high fantasy, urban fantasy, or people who freeze time when they have sex? Seriously, the world is your oyster when it comes to comic books that don’t neatly fall into the superhero genre. At this point, the comic book neophyte’s head explodes.

One of these things is not like the other.

One of these things is not like the other.

Then there are the children. THE CHILDREN! As most comic book fans know, comics are not just for kids. In fact, most comic books are aimed squarely at an adult demographic rather than children. There are imprints dedicated to youngsters, as Paul and Preeti discussed at length in the most recent Oh Comics! Podcast. While books like Vampirella and The Walking Dead may scream adults-only by just glancing at the covers, others may be harder to gauge. It’s important to talk to the wise sages running your local comic book shop to find out how appropriate each title (even each arc of a given title) is for children of different ages.

Ask me what I’m reading right now? Here’s the list. What are my favorite comic book stories of all time? That’s a great discussion. What are yours? But the terribly open-ended “what would you recommend I read?” This is not small talk, no way to casually pass a few minutes. Schedule some time. Buy me a coffee. Unless I’ve known you and your reading habits for the last decade, we’re about to have a soul-searching discussion before I recommend a title or two. Or six. Or fifteen.