Getting into comic books can sometimes feel impossible. In a landscape dominated by superheroes with decades of backstory, where can a comic novice start? I recommend ignoring the big two (Marvel and DC) altogether and dip your toes into the inviting world of Image Comics. To guide you through this section of the comic world, here are five of the best current comics from Image.
Possible spoilers ahead.
Do you like period gangster tales and werewolves? If so, you must check out Moonshine (Brian Azzarello/ Eduardo Risso). Set in prohibition America, Moonshine tells the story of New York mobster Lou Pirlo sent to into the dark heart of West Virginia to negotiate a deal with moonshiner Hiram Holt. The city slicker soon discovers more hiding in the Appalachian mountains than the odd gin still. Brian Azzarello is at his best here, capturing the language and regional accent afflict to a tee without feeling hockey.
The action isn’t all situated in Appalachia, moving from Virginia to New York, New Orleans and Cleveland. Eduardo Risso’s artwork gives life to these distinct locations, tying a thread through this American journey into the underworld of the mafia and mystical beings. A word of warning: Due to the period, there are depictions and language that may offend, but this isn’t prevalent though the story. Moonshine mixes historical fact with popular fiction to a devastating effect, making the entire story binge-worthy.
Moonshine Volume 1 – 4 is available on Amazon.
4. Ice Cream Man
If esoteric musings on human misery are your thing, Ice Cream Man (W. Maxwell Prince/ Martin Morazzo/ Chris O’Halloran) needs to be on your pull list. The anthology comic feels like an organic living thing, constantly changing the art style and format, making for some of the most original stories I’ve read. These tales run the gambit from horror to nihilism and even the odd bittersweet (and I mean bitter) narratives that’ll both remind you of the overall pointlessness of life but also of the things that make it worth living.
All these stories are threaded by the central character of the Ice Cream Man, a malevolent figure that seemingly orchestrates the cruel events that befall the poor souls unlucky enough to cross his path. Is he the devil or a nightmarish monster like Freddy Kruger? It’s left up to the reader to decide. Regardless, each issue is captivating from both a writing and artistic perspective. Ice Cream Man is unlike anything you’ve ever read and I guarantee you’ll love every single page of it!
Ice Cream Man Volume 1- 6 is available on Amazon.
3. That Texas Blood
Crime comics are massively popular nowadays and continually produce some of the best stories and artwork out there. That Texas Blood (Chris Condon/Jacob Philips) is a must-read for modern noir fans. Set in the fictional Texas county of Ambrose patrolled by ageing sheriff Joe Bob, That Texas Blood is a growing anthology of tales of murder, scandal and everyday life. A meditation on the deplorable elements of society hide just underneath the surface of an otherwise placid desert county.
Chris Condon is new to the comic scene and is finding his voice with That Texas Blood. While his dialogue can be verbose at times, I’m sure his writing style will be fine-tuned over the comic’s lifespan. Jacob Philips is the son of Sean Philips (Criminal, Pulp) and has adopted his father’s abilities while carving out his place in the industry. The comic is early into its second run, and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough with a trade paperback already available.
That Texas Blood Volume 1 is available on Amazon.
2. Department Of Truth
Department of Truth (James Tynion IV/ Martin Simmonds) is a spiritual successor to the hit nineties show The X-files. Imagine that every conspiracy theory you’ve ever heard of or read about online was true, simply because enough people believed they were. Such altered realities could be devastating, and the Department of Truth is there to keep dangerous beliefs in check. James Tynion is at the height of his powers in this cleverly written piece of social commentary that chimes with the current state of ignorance and coping mechanisms of conspiratorial narratives in America.
Martin Simmonds brings the book together with his outstanding and frankly disturbing artwork. You’re never sure who’s the good guy, and Martin does a great job of getting that across. Faces are twisted into frightening caricatures, perhaps meant to show how conspiracies can warp the mind. This isn’t a comic for kids and deals with triggering topics like school shootings and current political conspiracies, so keep that in mind. If none of that stuff bothers you, then Department of Truth is a must-read.
Department of Truth Volume 1 is available on Amazon.
1. The Good Asian
The Chinese exclusion act is likely something you’ve never heard of, but for the best part of sixty-five years, this unjust law restricted the flow of Chinese immigration into the United States. The Good Asian (Pornsak Pichetshote/ Alexandre Tefenkgi) Takes place in San Francisco’s Chinatown at the tail end of the 1930s. Edison Hark is a Chinese-American detective on the trail of a killer in a world that seemingly wants nothing to do with him. It’s a controversial period in history rarely discussed, and Pornsak handles it with depth and pathos.
Noir is all about contrasting neutral shades, typically black and white. This style works excellently for films but not always for comics. Alexandre Tefenkgi’s artwork is a mix of cold colours that vividly highlights the greed, corruption and hostility that hides below the surface of the Bay City. The Good Asian is that perfect mix of historical authenticity and fictional noir. Every page drags you in, transfixing you until the last page leaving you craving the next issue. Without a doubt, this comic is my favourite of 2021 so far.
The Good Asian Volume 1 is available on Amazon.
Image Comics is knocking it out of the park with tones of great titles that deserve your attention. These five are heavy hitters and represent the best in creator-owned comic books. If superhero fatigue is getting to you, check these out. What are you reading at the moment? Let us know down in the comments.