The Best Comics You Should Be Reading (and are not) #1

Supergirl - Darwyn Cooke

I love comics. You love comics. We all love comics.


Ahem. Anyway, you go into the local comic-book store and are faced with a wall of dead trees containing writing, art and ideas that only a mother could love (‘cos that’s what mothers are for. To pat you on the head and say “Very nice dear”). So, to help you along and find better examples of comic-book reading that will make you look like the cool kid on the block and… nah, not really. Having loads of money and a suit of armour makes you the cool kid on the block. I mean, have you seen Tony Stark’s lifestyle?

But what knowing about the wider world of comics will help you with is – hopefully – to bring better ideas and writing to the medium; I mean, Jesus, have you looked at the Image output recently? If I lived in any of the worlds some of their comics presented, I would have happily slit my wrists ages ago – if only to get away from the invariably condescending protagonist and downright pessimism that seems to be soooooo beloved by writers today.*

Now, lets see what I can come up with:


Elissa Megan Powers

Empowered by writer/artist Adam Warren started as a series of commissions and comedic one-offs, featuring a super-heroine who is prone to being captured and put into bondage scenarios. From that somewhat risque beginning it has grown into one of the best social commentaries on super-powered life.

Elissa Megan Powers (EMP) wants nothing more than to be a good super-hero. Although she comes with no natural super-powers, she has a one piece suit that gives her them (the whys and wherefores of its properties is still, as of yet, unexplained). Unfortunately, the costume tears easily; the more it rips, the faster she loses her powers. She is also beset with a number of self-esteem issues, team-mates who give little or grudging respect and although saving them and the world many times she just cannot get beyond being the “Betty Page Award for Services to Rope Manufacturers”.

Empowered is also funny, I mean, really laugh-out loud funny. It is perfect for those readers raised on Spaced and hi-octane anime. You have not lived until you hear the voice of the ALL POWERFUL DEMONWOLF!! in your head as Brian Blessed. It’s also very violent with a lot of dark, sexual undertones. The hows and whys of much of the cast is frankly disturbing (alien STDs, living cancer, deals with demons, torture by your father/brother, etc.), but Hell, it is just so damn funny. Plus, you get to find out the answer to the big question concerning skin-tight superhero suits and pubic hair.

Mostly though, Empowered is about identity. Everybody (besides Elissa) has come from somewhere else to be who they are now. All have secrets, including EMPs suit – which is more powerful and sentient than she realises. EMP is constantly surprised by those who tell her they were a PoC before being turned into a mecha or gay before losing all semblance of human form.

Fast and furious, Empowered has taken an even darker turn of late in its latest volumes and the laughs are not as frequent. But that hasn’t stopped it from being one of the best super-hero comics you’ve probably never heard of. If you have, all you heard was bondage and that turned you off, try it again. You won’t regret it.



Let’s be honest. The 50 Shades of Grey books were crap. We all know that (charity shops especially know this. It’s the most handed-in set of books). But they sold, and in the end I cannot begrudge anyone who becomes a multi-millionaire out of writing poorly written slash fiction. There are many more examples of badly written books that have performed well, some are huge best-sellers and lets be even more honest; I have not written them. I’ve not gained the riches from them and all I can do is sit at my keyboard and criticise. I mean, Jesus, what kind of a job is that for a man? Some kind of masochism for beginners?
And with that we come to Sunstone (see what I did there? Eh? Eh?… Oh go away… Bloody critics).

What 50 Shades also proved is that there is a big, above ground market for BDSM. The sub-culture has always been around, but it has unfortunately been linked more to sex than its truer purpose: sensuality. Sunstone puts that sensation back in spades, so much so that the scent of talc and perfume mixed with perspiration almost oozes off the pages. The clothing designs look and probably would feel so good that you want authors Stjepan Šejić/Linda Lukšić Šejić to start a clothing company straight away, just so you could give them your money – though it must be said that some designs would not look out of place at a Dance of the Vampires convention.

The story is of Lisa and Ally, a sub and dom, who start to find that they want more out of their relationship than master and servant. The ups and downs of their burgeoning romance is a tad on the manga slowness scale, but it reads and comes across as real and it’s nice to see a same-sex couple not having their sexuality defined by their gender. The world of BDSM is explored and explained in great detail and the perhaps the only downside is that everyone is drop-dead gorgeous. I’d probably have sex with some of the men in the book if they existed in real-life.

On a sidenote, if you like the world of Sunstone and wish to read something similar, you could do no worse than find a translation of the Japanese manga Nana To Kaoru. Beware though, being a manga and an even more in-depth look at the world of BDSM, it has the usual epic slowness in emotional feelings that accompanies most of the genre, but it is a great read if you persevere.


Bakuman manga

Right. Listen up class.

You’re all here because you want to be an artist, designer, coder – anything to do with the creative industry.

Give up…


Chances are, you won’t make it. Only one of you in this class is going to get any type of a paying gig in the field you are specialising in – and I know what you are all thinking right now: “That’s going to be me you bitter and twisted old fart”.

Still here? Good, you’ve passed the first test of being a creative: have belief in yourself.

You’ll also have hopefully noticed the one important word in what I said – “Paying”. The internet has practically destroyed the paying gig. Everyone can be a writer, everyone can be an interviewer or journalist/artist/modeler/musician/photographer/coder, etc. What 95% of people on the internet are not getting, is paid for their work and no, the “privilege” or “exposure” of working for a big media outlet is not enough. Always remember that the romantic fiction of an artist doing it “just for the love”, is just that – fiction. No creative today needs to be dying of consumption in a damp attic, bitterly muttering under their breath that they’ll prove all the critics wrong when dead. If you have ever gotten paid for your work, you can consider yourself a professional and expect to be kept on being paid for more work.

So what, as a freshly-minted hot-to-trot creative student, to do.
Well, if you can – find an agent. Trust me when I say that you won’t. Not straight away. You’re still too young, untested and not professional enough to be taken on by an agency; but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Hit those lists of agents and keep at it. If you know that any are coming to your end of year show, have some calling cards to press into their palms. Show that you have a professional-looking portfolio and keep updating it. Keep pushing, most agencies already have a full rota of artists so they are not going to come looking for you.

Do not do any work for family, or neighbours or friends. I MEAN IT. JUST DON’T!!

Keep working on your portfolio.

Don’t be disappointed when you finally get a meeting with an art director, that they will flip through your portfolio like The Flash and say:- “Sorry. Nothing I can use here” (though think yourself lucky to get even a sorry).

Take the part-time shelf-stacking or burger jobs. You won’t become a professional if you die of starvation (whilst bitterly mumbling under your breath that you will prove all the critics wrong). Take the unpaid intern jobs at design studios. This may clash with the former, but the experience of working in a creative environment and the chance to network is all important.

Keep working on your portfolio.

No matter what part of the creative industry you are in; take a look around it and see what is not currently popular or languishing in the depths of obscurity. Find it, use it, make it your own and have a distinctive voice.

Keep working on your portfolio.

And that’s it. There was meant to be more bile and bitterness in this little speech, but I just couldn’t find it in my heart to disabuse you anymore. The artistic world is a thing of beauty and wonder and we’d all be lesser for its absence (except for conceptual art. Nobody needs that).

What? Oh. Oh yeah. Bakuman is a manga about an artist and writer team trying (and succeeding) to make a living in the world of manga creation/publishing. All those wanting to be in a part of the creative sector should read it.

Class dismissed.

Empowered Vols 1-9 is by Adam Warren. Published by Dark Horse Comics and available from all good comic-book stores.
Sunstone Vols 1-4 is by Stjepan Šejić and Linda Lukšić Šejić. Published by Image Comics and available from all good comic-book stores.
Bakuman Vols 1-20 is by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. Published by Viz and available from all good comic-book stores.

*Seriously writers; what is wrong with you? Did you gorge down too much Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen when a kid? Even Moore and Miller admit they were just one-offs, not meant to turn a whole industry into a teenage version of Joy Division. Hey, you know what? Next time you’re stuck for something different, how about writing the Bat-Man doing some actual forensic detective work or not making the future some crappy, dystopian nightmare.

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