I read comic books. Irregularly.

I don't read just any old stuff. I wasn't raised on superhero comics. When I was a kid the comic books I read were the few dozen in my Grandma's attic that belonged to my oldest cousin Ronnie. I don't remember much except a Superman comic with some guy who could change himself into an ocean liner (with eyes!?), and a religious tract called God's Smuggler. There were probably some Archie comics in there as well. It's hard to remember; I only saw them a few times.

Nope, I started reading comics in college. My friend Dave was a collector, and he started giving me things he didn't want. He knew I wasn't interested in superheroes, so he gave me other stuff. A few took root and still bloom today.

[Amazing Heroes #144 cover by Matt Howarth] The chronology isn't clear. Sometime around 1988 (I think) he gave me a copy of the magazine Amazing Heroes. It's about the comics industry. This one had some very interesting material in it, some of which was to eventually change my life. But that's not what I want to talk about here.

The cover of the magazine depicted a woman, some aliens, and a 'wanted' poster with two men on it. It was done by a strange guy named Matt Howarth. There was a long interview with him. It seemed like interesting stuff, and I started looking for it.

Somewhere around the same time, Dave gave me two or three copies of a very odd comic book called Tales of the Beanworld. I was hooked. I started reading them, and going to comic book shops.

So here's what I enjoy today. Many of these series have ended or changed, but I still enjoy them.

The Beanworld

The one comic book for which I'd go without food for a day: Tales of the Beanworld.

[jump'n bean]

If you haven't seen this comic book, then your understanding of what comics books can be still has room to grow. Tales of the Beanworld is unlike any comic book in the past thirty years.

The story follows a tribe of animate bean-like beings (yes, beans) as they explore their small world. They discover music and art, defend against fearsome enemies, encounter the unexpected, and invent a culture. It's one man's personal vision and labor of love. Its simple style belies complex storytelling. It's a most peculiar comic book.

I like it so much I've built a rather large Web site devoted to it, the BeanWeb.

Comics That I'd Skip A Meal For

Matt Howarth

[Those Annoying Post Bros.] Matt Howarth's one of the most prolific of the independent comic book writer/artists. He's the author of one of the longest running independent series, Those Annoying Post Bros. He's spent two decades documenting a strange and dangerous place called Bugtown, where anarchy is the only rule and whose natives can shift to any alternate reality. Ron and Russell Post are two bad boys from the wrong side of Dog Tower. Ron throws babies into pirahna tanks; Russ is more interested in finding the profit in doing so, though he's been known to toss a baby when it suits him. Their book follows their exploits dealing with con men, rogue nuclear goddesses, bad cable reception, assassins, alternative music, chronovores, errant nuclear missiles, a bit of violence here and there, and a singular case of singultus.

[Savage Henry] There are a lot of other characters in Bugtown as well. Savage Henry has a book of his own, though it's currently on hiatus as of this writing (May 1997). Henry's the guitarist of The Bulldaggers, Bugtown's premiere insect rock group. Henry's a virtuoso guitarist, dangerous enemy, and can get lost in an empty room. The rest of the Bulldaggers are Caroline, a clone on alien woodwinds and Henry's girlfriend; Monsieur Boche, Samoan patchcord junkie, professional terrorist, synth virtuoso, and sleazeball; the Elder God C'thulu, recently awakened from R'lyeh by Bulldaggers music, on synth; Conrad Schnitzler, co-founder of Tangerine Dream and friend of the Big C; and the Unseen Girl on taped vocal fx. Guests musicians have included The Residents, David Myers, Hawkwind, David Borden, Clint Ruin a.k.a. Foetus, Moby, Richard Pinhas, Klaus Schulze, Wire, and many more. The focus is music here - though Bugtown weirdness often rears its mutated head.

[Keif Llama] [Particle Dreams] Matt's a busy guy. Aside from these folks, which would be more than enough for one person to handle, he also writes the tales of Keif Llama, xeno-tech. She has a knack for understanding alien cultures. In a galaxy administered by the bureaucracy of Confed, Keif tries to make sure that aliens don't commit xenocide because some(one) wore the wrong color (socks). Along the way she does her best to survive, help the good (beings), and get a weekend's vacation. Some more tales of Keif are in his six-issue series Particle Dreams, which has the only moebius strip comics I've ever seen - and they make sense, too.

This year I noticed the rather unnerving similarity between Keif and a member of the '70s bubblegum group Sweet. Be afraid!

[Konny and Czu] Heading farther into the galaxy we find Konny & Czu, a pair of con (beings). This series features no humans whatsoever; Konny looks more like a bunch of floating rocks, while Czu is a rather large centipede-like being. Their ability to turn loss into profit is nothing short of amazing. Don't play (cards) with these two.

The tales of Konny & Czu are done in collaboration with D.M. Kister. They also collaborated on The Mighty Virus - an alien superhero comic with no terrestrial languages whatsoever.

[The Comix of Two Cities] [WeirdFall] Let's not overlook all the other work Matt has done: the Mad Empress tales in Particle Dreams, Scan, and Fixed; the silliness of two cultures in collision in The Comix of Two Cities (which is not part three of the Residents' Mole Trilogy); an earth with laws of physics gone variable in Weirdfall; and his current three issue series for DC, Star-Crossed, about a solar sailer and an intelligent asteroid caught in a war. He's done a comic biography of the alternative band Magnesium Arc. He illustrated 60% of The Dune Encyclopedia, as well as K.W. Jeter's classic SF novels Dr. Adder and The Glass Hammer, and several of the Philip K. Dick reprints. Throw in numerous indie music covers, assorted horror strips, part of the Resident's Freak Show graphic novel, Stalking Ralph, the original Post Bros. serial in Heavy Metal, and you have one serious body of work.

[WRAB] One of his best works is the one-shot WRAB, the tale of a pirate TV station that overrides everyone else's signals - and they're not above using subliminal messages to get what they want. Learn what 360 degrees really means. With Monsieur Boche, a Caroline or two, Ra Ba Bogie, and the Post Brothers.

One of the things I particularly enjoy about these comics, aside from Mr. Howarth's twisted sense of humor, is that the characters are so interesting. Caroline patiently copes with Henry and the Post Brothers, and proves to be their savior more than once; Keif Llama fights a galactic bureaucracy and doesn't always win. Small actions can have consequences months or years later. You might not want to live with these folks, but they're real.

Just before the end of 1997 I received a drawing I'd commisioned from Mr. Howarth. It's on the wall in front of me right now. Caroline, Keif and Stonehausen. It's great.

All this and tons of reviews of (really) alternative music.

"It may stop, but it never ends."

Matt Feazell

[The Amazing Cynicalman] In the back of later issues of Zot! were the short tales The Adventures of Zot in Dimension 10 1/2, where everyone was a stick figure. These very funny stories were the creation of the small press king, Matt Feazell. Matt is the creator of Cynicalman (motto: "It's a living"), Antisocialman, C.M.'s fanboys Spud & Ernie, and the evil Dr. Pweent (inventor of the Clichéd Existence Differentiator). Who would have ever thought stick figures could have so much fun? "Understanding Minicomics" is great! "The Death of Antisocialman" is also a lot of fun. Matt Feazell's work is another perfect marriage of word and line.

Matt's catalog is online. Go there now, slacker!

Lewis Trondheim

[The Nimrod]I picked up an issue of The Comics Journal because it had a very long interview with Larry Marder. Another article in that issue introduced me to the work of Lewis Trondheim. I hunted down his graphic novel Harum Scarum, and was completely taken with its wonderful sense of absurdity. His loose, self-taught drawing style -- think Tintin without the straight lines -- suits his scripts perfectly. I've idly speculated about learning French just so I can read more of his Trondheim's work. Fortunately, some of his work has been translated into English (including the series The Dungeon, The Nimrod, and Oddballz, along with several graphic novels). But there's a huge trove that's only available in French, including half a dozen Lapinot books. Arrrgh!

Phil Foglio

[Buck Godot, Zap Gun for Hire] [Girl Genius] More tales of everyone's favorite larger-than-life Hoffmanite, Buck Godot, Zap Gun for Hire. Full of Phil Foglio's great vaudeville humor, the current eight part series shows us more of the Gallimaufry. Learn why everyone comes to Humanity's parties. And just what is the Winslow?

I'm proud to say I've got three pages of the original artwork hanging on my wall.

Phil & Kaja Foglio also created the currently running steampunk Girl Genius, which is a delight. Even better: it's now available for free online. "Honk! You can do it!"

Other Foglio works to look for are What's New, Myth Adventures, and of course XXXenophiles. Don't forget to look for his previous two Buck Godot graphics novels, Buck Godot and PSmIth.

Love and Rockets

[Love and Rockets] I probably don't need to introduce this if you've ever heard of comics in the past decade. Los Bros Hernandez's Love and Rockets is the standard against which others are measured. The occasional rockets, hovercycles, robots, and aliens are just window dressing; the characters are what make these comics great. Maggie the mechanic, and her punk friend/lover Hopey are the center of Jaime's Locas stories. Brother Gilberto writes about the large cast of characters in Palomar, a remote Mexican town, in his series of tales Heartbreak Soup. And we get occasional short tales from Mario as well.

Since it's hard to find old back issues, look for the large-format collections.

Carol Kovinick appears often in this comic.

Jim Woodring

[Jim] Jim Woodring's dream journal Jim is now in its second series, and a new book (Frank) has started. Dreams are the key. Image leads to image, scenes change in the middle of a conversation. A frog converses with a beautiful woman about philosophy. Souls are physical objects. Much merchandise available. Go see for yourself. Wonder and terror for sale, mere pennies!

Steve Willis

[Morty the Dog] Steve Willis is an odd guy who's spent years drawing minicomics. Fortunately, a lot are available through Starhead Comics. Most of the time he's spent trying to kill off Morty the Dog, who's just too tenacious. Along the way is bowling, a dissipated angel named Arnie, right-wing paranoids, and God. Fun.


[Zot!] Scott McCloud did the superhero genre right with the series Zot!. It's often impossible to take the villains seriously - after all, this is a comic book. The hero does his best to change the world. It's a series that started with silliness, but progressed to some emotional depth (such as in the 9-Jack-9 storyline). The last sequence of stories, set back on Earth, devoted an issue to each of Zot's friends. This series of portraits of brought hidden depths out of each - from a girl who's had to become head of the family, to a guy wondering what his parents will think of his white girlfriend. The best was "Normal", the story of Terry, a young woman who begins to realize that she is lesbian. It was very well done.

This series is currently being reprinted in collections. Book 1 has issues 1-10. While there are some good moments, he definitely matured as a storyteller along the way.

Mr. McCloud has also written a great book called Understanding Comics. It investigates the technical aspects of comics: layout, perception of time, conventions, etc. It broadens into an entire theory of art. Highly recommended.


[Hepcats] Martin Wagner's ongoing now defunct tales of four college friends, Hepcats evolved from a humorous daily strip in the UT Texan to a tale which got deeper and stronger. This too-infrequent series was in the middle of the eighteen chapter serial Snowblind, dealing with Erica's past and how it's coming back into her life, when it died. Wagner had the skill to write about serious events, while managing to fit some humor in. The characters grew before our eyes. What was done was a very good read, if you could stand long waits between issues.

Unfortunately, after being re-issued in 1997 and 1998, the series was cancelled by its creator. I can't say I'm surprised, but it's sad. Yet on the other hand I don't have to wonder when a new issue is going to come out anymore. By now, that's something of a mixed blessing. One can only take so much!

Illustrated Novels I Strongly Recommend

  • Maus by Art Spiegelman
    One man's biographical tale of his parents' and family's experiences as Jews in Poland and Germany during the second World War. Very strong, it does not opt for easy answers.

  • Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse
    A biographical novel of a young man in the southern U.S.A. in the early 60s. Interwoven is the civil rights movement and the protagonist's growing realization of his homosexuality. A novel about choices made and unmade.

  • Why I Hate Saturn by Kyle Baker
    Is it possible to find happiness in the Manhattan club and magazine scene? Does one have to fit in to find love? Are all women dumb, ugly or demented? How can one person be right and yet be in opposition to the whole world? You can find the answers to these questions in this hip novel which is a witty take on relationships, conformity, and the color black.

Comics I Regularly Pick(ed) Up

  • Jeff Smith's Bone
    Some engaging characters with a touch of Walt Kelly, but a plot that seems to move sooo slowly. Each issue is rarely more than two scenes.

  • Tony Millionaire's Sock Monkey
    Lovingly drawn, this comic is a unique mix of wistfulness and morbidness.

  • Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentleman
    Something of a guilty pleasure, but the writing more than makes up for the mediocre art.

  • Michael Cherkas's The Silent Invasion, Suburban Nightmares, The New Frontier, Secret Messages
    The U.S.A. in the 1950s, seen through a glass darkly.


Popular comics I got something from, and might someday buy.

  • Watchmen
    A determined and arguably successful attempt to further the genre of superhero comics, marred by a weak framing plot. Structurally dazzling; follow the "Watchmaker" sequence, admire the interconnectedness.

  • Sandman
    A steaming mulligatawny of dreams, horror, and mythology. Many memorable scenes, great characters and very good writing. The art sometimes leaves something to be desired, though, and the first half dozen issues are pretty shaky.

  • Transmetropolitan
    File under "crusading misanthropic journalist vs. the establishment". Of course, the journalist isn't a true misanthrope; he's just extremely frustrated because people settle for being so much less than they can be. Transmetropolitan is the rare comic that espouses the position "the future is inherently a good thing." It may be different, and in some ways depraved (bowel disruptor gun, anyone?), but on balance it will be better than ours. Now that's a different attitude. [And the main character looks great with long hair and a beard, too. Unfortunately, it doesn't last.]

  • The Dark Knight
    An interesting take on authoritarianism/vigilantism, using comic book icons to exemplify each position. Unfortunately, it's written for superhero fans, which leaves entire subplots opaque to a wider audience. What a pity.

Here's an incomplete list of my comic collection.

Then there's Nancy.

Last updated 27 May 2005
All contents ©1997-2002 Mark L. Irons except images, which are © their respective owners/creators, and believed to be a fair use.