So, apparently comics have only recently gotten cool: for years, comicphiles have viewed their favorite hobby as a liability in most social scenarios, including romantic interactions. (Don’t believe me? Check out Lilith Wood’s anecdote below.) But most of us have crossed that bridge, and once we have, we’ve passionately — and aggressively — lured our significant others into the wondrous, neglected medium of comics and graphic novels, like some sequential art Narnia hidden behind a wall of longboxes. The popularity of Marvel’s movies — or Chris Hemsworth’s sculpted ass — has aided our collective mission, but many of us have gone deeper down the rabbit hole and have gifted more obscure books to our loved ones. And guess what? They’ve (mostly) liked them. To celebrate Valentine’s Day, here are some of the books that hit our comic-agnostic lovers like a pulpy arrow from cupid’s bow.
Sean Edgar, Comics Editor: Sex Criminals
As an Ultrasonographer, my girlfriend has encountered countless genitalia in the course of her career. An almost unfathomable number of baby-making organs. But, as a consummate medical professional, she’s held an objective, professional outlook on humanity’s most private bits only matched by National Geographic and grade school biology textbooks. She’s just a classy lady out to help folks, no matter where their malady may lie. (She’s also super hot and intoxicatingly wonderful and subversively funny, but I diverge…).
So when I heard her laughing out loud in another room, exclaiming “His penis is glowing!” I knew something special was happening. That something happened to be the first volume of Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. I had lent Paste’s favorite comic of 2014 to her early in our relationship; it perfectly captured the whimsy and passion of discovering someone new, as well as the gauntlet of compromise and understanding necessary to make things work. It seemed appropriate. The misadventures of Suzie and Jon also served as a litmus test to see if even my non-comic-reading gf may not like the stuff I was into, at least she could appreciate it. Luckily, she found the title sexy, wonderful and funny, which doesn’t surprise me in the least.
Frannie Jackson, Books Editor: Black Science
I’ve always loved sharing my favorite books, so it was no surprise when my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a bookstore on only our second date last fall. We decided to choose a book for each other (cue the “awwwws” or eye-rolling, depending on your mood), and he soon placed a copy of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club in my hands. My choice for him? Volume One of Black Science, a comic series combining an adventure through parallel dimensions from the mind of Rick Remender and interstellar eye candy from Matteo Scalera. Toss in Dean White’s gorgeous colors, and you have a visual masterpiece.
Fast forward to the present, when my boyfriend and I both clamor for the monthly releases of new Black Science issues. While we’ve introduced each other to multiple books since then, Black Science will always be our first comic.
Jim Vorel, News Editor: Fables
You’d be hard-pressed to find a comic series from the 2000’s onward, outside of say, The Walking Dead, that has maintained such a strong level of quality and intrigue over so many issues as Fables, and it appeals to more audiences than a zombie drama ever could. Truth be told: Fables is my secret weapon for introducing women to comics, and it’s snared more than one first-time comics reader. I think it’s effective because there’s some element in it that just about anyone can appreciate. The story of fairy tale and folklore characters living a secret existence in New York City was ripped off in parts for both Once Upon a Time and Grimm on TV, but it works even better as a comic. At its best, Fables is a heady blend of nearly every storytelling genre imaginable. There’s action, mysteries, political intrigue, espionage, war stories, humor and yes, genuinely touching romance in spades. With the sprawling, magical series finally ending this spring after 13 years in publication, there’s no better time to gift a loved one with the series’ first trade paperback — just realize you may be making a commitment toward buying another 20 after that. But I assure you, it’s a great investment, from start to finish.
Robert Tutton, Contributing Writer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
My fiance Jillian isn’t much for comics. Yeah, she’s down with the newest X-Men series and I even got her to sit through the first Star Wars trilogy recently, but by and large, it’s not really her thing. When I recommend something she’s sure to dig, like Saga or Sex Criminals, she nods and it gets filed under “maybe one day but probably never.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer, however, is very much her thing. She loves Buffy the way I love Spider-Man. The Dark Horse Buffy omnibuses were always an easy go-to if I were at a loss for something to accompany chocolates on Valentine’s Day. Her interest remains piqued even now by the continuing story — three whole seasons more than she got on TV, plus Spike and Angel & Faith books. Though she has a ton of catching up to do, it’s nice to know that for the foreseeable future I’ll have a good stocking-stuffer up my sleeve.
Barry Thompson, Contributing Writer: Batgirl
Here’s an anecdote that’s kind of like The Gift of the Magi, in that my S.O. and I exchanged presents….although neither of us sacrificed anything, or even spent very much money.
About five months ago, I mostly panned Batgirl #35 — the first issue with Barbara Gordon rendered by the current creative team helmed by Cameron Stewart. The writing relied way too heavily on pseudo-zeitgiesty references to social media, but I didn’t dismiss the notion that the book might improve once it found its legs. My girlfriend noticed my promo copy sitting on my desk, and mentioned she had read a glowing review in a feminist media outlet I don’t recall. Wires crossed in my brain, and her saying, “I read something that said this is good,” turned into “I read this and think it’s good.” Jumping at the chance to encourage what I presumed to be my lady’s newfound interest in superheroes, I bought her Batgirl #36 the following month.
At this point, similar wires got crossed in her brain, and when I said “I got you a comic book!” the statement registered as, “I got a comic book!” She assumed Stewart and co. had converted me into an avid Batgirl reader, and tossed a copy of Batgirl #37 onto the pile of Christmas presents she procured for my enjoyment.
But here’s the kicker — by December, I had become a follower of the current Batgirl series, and #37 stands as my favorite out of the Cameron Stewart/Brenden Fletcher/Babs Tarr issues thus far for its hat-tips to semi-arcane Batman mythology and inspired twist ending. Almost as cool: in issue #38, a proxy of Boston’s South Street Diner gets leveled in a car chase sequence, meaning I got to see Batgirl demolish a building I’ve eaten fried banana bread at.
So in the end, I ended up with a new monthly to follow, and my girlfriend ended up with…um… well, with a dude reading even more superhero comics than he already was. At least that’s a happy ending for one of us, right? I guess?
Steve Foxe, Contributing Writer: Locke & Key
My boyfriend is among the comic industry’s most sought-after prey: a fan who loves the cartoons and merchandise, but hasn’t quite acclimated to monthly comic reading. If comics were narcotics, a drug dealer would view him as low-hanging fruit, one nudge from falling into the habit.
He cosplayed as Black Adam when I took him to his first New York Comic Con, so I gifted him a trade of Peter Tomasi and Doug Mahnke’s underrated Black Adam mini-series. He carries a torch for nineties anti-heroes like Spawn, so I also dropped David Hine and Jeremy Haun’s Darkness Reborn in his lap. Nothing stuck; he always felt like he was missing part of the story. I countered with Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’ Locke & Key, a fully contained story, nothing to miss. He tore through the first six issues and asked for more.
That was months ago. The second six issues are gathering dust in his closet. Some people just aren’t down with the monthly grind.
Shea Hennum, Contributing Writer: Akira
Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira is one of my all-time favorite comics. I’m ride or die for cyberpunk, and Otomo’s opus stands like the Burj Khalifa in that particular skyline. I met Nicole, my girlfriend, in an undergraduate criticism course — “Pop-Culture & Media” — the professor of which was a huge fan of cyberpunk, so our conversations inevitably turned to Otomo and Akira. Whenever the manga would come up, I’d lean into Nicole, whispering “Akira is the only comic that matters.”
After years of casually trying to foist comics onto girlfriends with little success, I was just grateful that Nicole didn’t dump me that day I couldn’t be bothered to do anything besides tweet about The Terminator, and I figured I shouldn’t push my luck. But one day I started getting these random texts from her — things like “Why are these children blue?” and “Why do they look so old?” I was confused at first, but then realized she had started reading Akira without my having to ask. She knew I liked it, and not only did she make a committed attempt to learn more about my interests, she did it without any prodding or pestering. She took the initiative and dove headfirst into something she had no experience with, all to have a more involved relationship and one more thing that we could share.
Much to her surprise and my delight, she fell deeply in love with it, and by the time she was halfway through I was getting random “Chiyoko is bae” texts. Unfortunately, when she was finally able to watch the 1988 animated film, she got to the big deviation from the comic and turned and looked deep into my eyes and said, I swear to god, “I wasn’t prepared for that. You ruined my life.”
Lilith Wood, Contributing Writer: Love Is Hell
When I was a very square and sheltered sixteen, in a time before the Internet as we know it, I lived in a small town in Alaska. When Valentine’s Day came around, a certain boy and I hadn’t gelled as a couple, but had been spiraling toward each other at school. He handed me a present and said, “Open this later.” I opened it as soon as he walked away. Two girlfriends flanked me, and as I tore away the wrapping paper, they started making sympathetic noises of surprise and dismay. “I can’t believe him,” said one. “Why are boys such idiots,” said the other. It was Matt Groening’s Love Is Hell. I barely heard them as I was already flipping through it. One friend later reported that I said “tiny androgynous lovemates” under my breath. “You guys,” I said with tears pricking my eyes, “I think this is going to be the real thing.”