Tuesday, 5 January 2010

So You Think Comics Are FUN?!

Yes. Well. We've been there haven't we?
And yes, you are correct. Comics are fun!

Here's what I wanna do. I want to continue what I started on that How To Get Hooked On Comics from a while ago.
Shortly after my friend emailed me and he wanted something far more simpler than a history of comics. He wanted no-brainers, pure, relaxing fun.

Obviously, this is a hard question...

But, I shall pool my resources together and see what I can come up with...

In terms of laugh out loud comics my first memorable incursions were Asterix and Tintin. These are still great classics today and I think I will always read them and treasure them. They're a great way of getting into the comics lingo and the huge amounts of slapstick, of catch lines and twists of language are just a pleasure to revisit time and time again.
The same can be said of Calvin and Hobbes, Iznogoud, Léonard, Lucky Luke, Spirou (at least the earliest stuff) and so many others. In fact, in Portugal we are quite lucky because we can just about go to any bookshop and you'll find these titles there. All you need to do is to browse Méribérica- Liber or Edições Asa's catalogues and you'll see lots and lots of stuff.

I love recommending stuff but I also feel that it is very important to engage with what we are looking for. And, in comics, this is particularly easy. You just go and open the page. See if the drawings do something for you. Read a bit of it. It's simple and quick. If it grabs you, it's the right thing. If it doesn't... well, you may be missing out but you can always give it a go at a later date.

This was the first phase, where all the comical stuff came from Europe. There was also some stuff from Disney but, as I found out through the years, most of it actually came from Brasil rather than the USA.

In Marvel and DC Comics humour was never a big part of the strips. In fact, it became less and less so, in all those attempts to make super-heroes real...
But one title comes instantly to my mind.
Lobo was the complete opposite of what was happening with comics at the time. Lobo was pure, raucous fun. Impossibility after impossibility with this mean streaked guy that just liked to get himself into trouble. And, for those of us that loved super-heroes, it was the perfect, never serious deconstruction of the genre.

I don't really remember much else going on. There were the occasional super-heroes that would have some humour to them (Spiderman for instance) but never a truly comical book through and through.
These big companies were always so much more about the drama.

Even a series like Preacher (Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon) in which humour is so important, still has a great deal of drama to it as it is, fundamentally, a story about love and friendship. You can forget about the vampire, the killing, the secret societies, the politics, the religion. It's about people seeing the best and the worst in us and dealing with it, one way or another.

But things have changed in recent years. I guess the industry has started taking itself less seriously (at least part of it...) and we're all the better for it.

One of the great titles (short lasted unfortunately) was Brit, by the almighty Robert Kirkman. Another one of great magnitude was The Pro by Garth Ennis (but if you're afraid of mature content don't even go there...). And the same with the more recent Chronicles of Wormwood also by Ennis. These are two very politically (and religiously and sexually) incorrect books... but they're great fun. For those of us that love north american comics, these kind of settle the score. Too much fun to miss out! Intelligent and unapologetic. And I'll say no more...

I don't have a lot of humorous stuff in my collection. As I said, there isn't that much around. Perhaps because humour tends to be equated with a child-like attitude and that tends to be disassociated with being mature and a responsible adult...
(and to those people I say - read Calvin and Hobbes godsdammit!!!...)

The big surprise in terms of humour (and much more) has come from the east. Japan more specifically.

A while ago I decided to read a couple of manga titles. Serious stuff and etc. But, amidst my "what do you recommend?" explorations there was a title that I kept not having time to read.
GTO - Great Teacher Onizuka.
People raved about it. I didn't have time for the twenty more volumes...
But I did have a chance to read the first three volumes of it for one of the Graphic Novels Reading Group meeting.
And I loved it.
I mean this series is great in many levels.
It's not only a great piece of contemporary comics but humour wise it's as audacious as it is funny!
The plot gyrates around this former bike gang leader that could only find a job as a replacement teacher... so you have a tough, unpolished guy that did all the wrong things at school now becoming the reference for lots of kids... things could only go wrong, right?
Shouldered with that responsibility and being more able to see the kids for who they are and the difficulties that they go through, Onizuka meets headfirst the challenges coming his way.
It's a beautiful series about true compassion, innocence and the ability to go as far as one possibly can to do the right thing.
Add to this the fact that Onizuka is an alien in the school system and you have a series that is at the same time socially relevant and filled with humour and unexpectedness.
It rarely gets better than this...

More recently I dabbled with some more manga.
Hayate the Combat Buttler, Ouran High School Host Club, Qwan, Blazin' Barrels and King Of Hell.
In all of these the humour element is crucial! In fact, in some of these series, like Hayate or Kind Of Hell it seems to be the major driving force.
I didn't have time to read much of them but they all hooked me pretty easily.
Especially Hayate and King Of Hell.

You can read a brief review of them here.

Other titles that quickly come to mind are Fruits Basket, Love Hina and Oh My Goddess. All of these with a strong romantic aspect to them but still delicious to either read or watch as an anime!

In fact this was one of the things we talked about yesterday in our reading group meeting. How humour seems to be such an integral part of japanese manga, to my mind related to the astounding diversity of genres and themes present, perhaps itself a reflection of their nuclear holocaust (that demanded any mechanisms whatsoever of coping with it).
Something worthwhile discussing though not now and certainly not here.

I know what some of you might be thinking:
It sounds good but for most series you have to read it right to left - opposite to what we are used to."
It can be a bit confusing in the first book or so. But you'd be surprised at how quickly you catch the flow.
And trust me, it's well worth the small effort.

"Ok. But supposing that I manage to read it - there're just so many volumes of it!!"
Listen, the only reason you're telling me this is a disadvantage is because you still haven't started reading it.
When you do, you'll be GRATEFUL there's so much GOOD STUFF to read!!

Ok. I don't have much else to say (for now...)
(though I do have the feeling that I've forgotten a lot of great stuff... but it will come in due time...)

If you want you can browse at Tokyopop's catalogue or Viz's catalogue sections dedicated to humour...

I hope you all find the laughs you've been longing for...


PS - I didn't talk about The Exterminators or The Goon because I still haven't read them (even though I have them in my shelves...). I could've talked about Chris Ware but his humour is much too bleak for this post and, besides, his comics are tough to read...

PSS - I forgot JACK OF FABLES!!! How could I?! This is my favourite series at the moment!!
Anyway, click here for some reviews...

PSSS - Vimanarama is another great title! Grant Morrison. Bollywood meets super-heroes... 'nough said!

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