by Roger Ash
So, I’m at a party Friday night at which I don’t know most of the people. I strike up a conversation with a friendly couple and we’re soon joined by another couple and have a fun conversation about TV and movies (apparently I’m missing out by never having seen The Wire. Guess I’ll check that out.). In the course of talking with one of the guys, it comes out that I work for Westfield and he asked me what sounds like a simple question: “Are there any comics you’d recommend?” This, or variations on it, is the most common question I get about comics and it’s a more difficult question than it appears. The quick reaction would be to start listing comics I like, but that’s not necessarily helpful. Let me explain.
If I just start blurting out my favorite titles, that doesn’t take into account the tastes of the person who asked the question. An example of this that I see on the web quite often is the guy who wants to get his girlfriend/wife into comics and asks for suggestions. Strangers in Paradise and Sandman are offered up quickly, but it’s rare that anyone asks “What kind of books does she like to read?” While I think that Sandman and Strangers in Paradise are wonderful books and I know they have a large number of female fans, that doesn’t mean that every woman will like them. What if said girlfriend/wife doesn’t care for fantasy novels or dramas, but loves mysteries? In that case, something like 100 Bullets, Criminal, Unknown, or Fell would be much better suggestions. If they’re fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, steering them towards the Dark Horse Buffy series would be a natural. Knowing what a person already likes can help you point them to a comic they might also like.
Getting back to the party, since I had been talking with the guy for a while and we had been discussing movies and TV, I already had an idea of what he liked. I also learned that he had been reading the 100 Bullets and DMZ collections from the library and enjoyed them. This made me much more comfortable suggesting books likes Fables (which he already reads and likes), Hellboy, and other books by Brian Azzarello and Brian Wood like Filthy Rich and Demo.
He followed up with an even more difficult question, “Can you suggest something for my 10-year-old daughter?” This is very difficult for two reasons: 1) different parents find different things acceptable for their kids and 2) kids mature at different rates so what may be fine for one 10-year-old might not be for another. I told him my niece, who’s around the same age, really likes Owly, so he might want to try that. I also suggested Bone as I worked at a Children’s Expo here in Madison a while back and learned that a lot of kids really like that. Finally, I threw in the classic Carl Barks Disney Ducks stories because they’re just so good. I described all of these as much as I could so he could determine if these would be things his daughter would enjoy. Apparently he did as he wrote down the titles. I also threw in the disclaimer that if he had any questions on if something was appropriate for his daughter, he should read it first.
On the surface, “Can you recommend a comic?” seems like an easy question, but to answer it well you need to learn more about the person asking it. So the next time you’re asked, and it seems liked comic fans are asked this question a lot, respond with something like “What do you like to read?” That way you can answer the question more knowledgeably and by finding out more about them, you could make a new friend in the process.
Now, go read a comic!