I routinely review what I read on my LJ blog. After a recent comic review, one friend asked for a dummies’ guide to comics. It’s not the first time I’ve come across someone interested who doesn’t really know where to start. I thought I might write a sequence of short pieces suggesting where to look for great material in various areas (styles, genres, eras). Bear in mind that libraries often have good selections of comic collections these days, and you can generally order things for very low charges from other local libraries. I’ll also try to indicate when there are cheap editions available. Anyway, I thought I’d start with what has long been by stanard answer if an intelligent, literate person is interested in knowing what might be worth reading…
Jaime & Gilbert Hernandez

Two Mexican-American brothers (there is a third, but he’s not any good) who deserve a solid place among the all-time greats of comics. These are particularly good recommendations for women, who are not well served by the vast majority of comics. They both centre most of their stories around female characters, and they write them superbly.

Gilbert may be the stronger writer of the two (though there isn’t much in it). He sets his stories in a small jungle town called Palomar, and the obvious and irresistible reference point is Garcia Marquez’s A Hundred Years Of Solitude. We get long and short stories around many characters, with occasional anti-realistic elements: this is a genuine and rare example of magic realism in comics. There aren’t so many comic writers who have created a lot of characters that I can care deeply about, but Gilbert does it almost every time. More on this by me.

Jaime’s art is the more beautiful (which isn’t to say Gilbert isn’t a great comic artist too). His stories are set among Latinos in the US, mostly LA. His characters are young and edgy, into hardcore punk. There’s a whole generation of comic fans who fell more or less in love with Maggie and/or her girlfriend Hopey. He’s more focussed on a smaller set of characters, and it took him a couple of episodes to really find his style (lots of SF in Maggie’s first appearance). More on this by me.

These are the kind of comics to suggest in particular to smart young people who look with suspicion on giant muscles and lycra, people who read modern literature. If I were selecting ten books for a desert island, I think the mammoth hardback collections of their work – Palomar by Gilbert, Locas by Jaime – would be on the list. If that’s too much of an investment, try one of the smaller collections: maybe Jaime’s The Death of Speedy or Gilbert’s Duck Feet.