This Thanksgiving season, the Paste comics crew is taking a deep, inquisitive gaze into our bookshelves, iPads and souls to pay thanks to the books that set us upon a lifelong love affair with an art form that gives so much more than it takes. What makes this medium so much more addictive to us? It could be the near-endless modern mythologies, the rotating cast of hyper-talented storytellers and artists, the sterling optimism of mainstream super heroics or the branching literary epiphanies from the indie library. (Also: it’s smarter. Comic books singularly engage both the visual and symbolic dimensions of our brains, leading to a far more complex, and arguably gratifying, deciphering process.)
For the next two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, each member of the Paste Comics Team will be taking a reprieve from basting turkeys and hiding their parents’ Josh Groban holiday albums to dive into their favorite comics of all time. In this feature, Paste Comics assistant editor Tyler R. Kane unashamedly unveils his meat tofu-and-potatoes introduction to the comics medium.
Paste’s Favorite Comics of All Time
Hillary Brown, Contributor
Steve Foxe, Contributor
Jim Vorel, News Editor
Shea Hennum, Contributor
Barry Thompson, Contributor
Tobias Carroll, Contributor
Tini Howard, Contributor
1 of 9
Writer: Grant Morrison
Illustrator: Chas Truog
I already peeked at the list of Steve Foxe, Paste contributor and more well-read comic fan than I, but I figure we're both going to include this comic for a similar reason: we're veggie lovin', animal-snugglin' vegans. I haven't had a bite of meat in more than a decade, and animal rights have largely shaped who I am as a person. In comics form, that idea's displayed most shamelessly in Vertigo's Animal Man relaunch from a hip unknown named Grant Morrison. While Lemire's New 52 run focused on Buddy Baker's conflict as a family man, Morrison's early issues detailed a man who acted as the conflicted interpreter that animals deserved. I'm fully aware of the issue's divisive nature—and potentially how insufferable I sound, to a certain set of readers—but I do challenge any intelligent reader to make it through issue No. 5, "The Coyote Gospel," unimpressed.
2 of 9
Batman (The New 52)
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Greg Capullo
Publisher: DC Comics
My life was beyond tumultuous when DC announced it was set to relaunch 52 titles in 2011, and like many fans, I flocked to the comic store in hopes of reigniting that old sequential art flame. Grant Morrison's serviceable take on Action Comics was a fine stroll down memory lane and early issues of Aquaman were lauded for a reason, but the only series that grabbed me in a real way was Lemire's aforementioned Animal Man and the Batman-proper title written by Detective Comics scribe Scott Snyder. From the underground network of Gotham's terrifying Court of Owls to the freakiest Joker showdown ever, this tale has everything I look for in a Batman story. Snyder and Capullo's run has been one of the most pleasurable, long-term takes on the Dark Knight I've ever read.
3 of 9
Calvin and Hobbes
Writer/Artist: Bill Watterson
I had to shoot Paste Comics editor Sean Edgar an email to make sure Calvin and Hobbes was still fair game for this list, because we're however-many posts into this series and I haven't seen one mention of the title. I have so many great memories of being stuck inside with Calvin and Hobbes, and it seems like the world generally tends to agree. Among my friends, family, acquaintances and worst enemies, Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes is still considered an untouchable piece of art. It's one of those rare pieces that not only captures an audience of a certain age, but also shoves adults back into their much-smaller shoes. But at the risk of overthinking the series, maybe it's just best to say that Calvin and Hobbes is perfect.
4 of 9
Writer: Mark Millar
Much like my love of Marvel's Maximum Carnage (you'll see that explanation later), I remember Civil War fondly for similar reasons. For this one, I ingested the entire thing in real time—frustrating setbacks and all—only, with the help of my brother. Fresh into my freshman year of college, he pushed this Marvel event on me in a time when I really needed to remember how to be a kid, and what's a better way to do that than to watch Marvel heroes bashing each-others' heads in?
5 of 9
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Writer/Artist: Frank Miller (with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley)
Publisher: DC Comics
There's nothing unique about how I discovered Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns: I was a moody teenager who'd figured he'd outgrown superhero books, when I'd stumbled upon this take and was sucked in completely. It's not a hard story to find, among comic fans, which makes TDKR a tough experience to personalize. Alan Moore's Killing Joke was maybe freakier in the depths of my own mind, Morrison's Arkham was flat-out terrifying—all characteristics that make for a favorable review, with me. But it'd be hard to argue against Miller's vision crafting a more complete, nuanced Dark Knight. There's little to be said here that hasn't been said before, but on a lighter note, the book was a much-needed reprieve from the tractor-sized anatomy models that populated my collection in the '90s.
6 of 9
I'd been tasked with the duty of coming out to my Uncle at age six, when I no longer favored DC Comics over Marvel's brighter, more lighthearted characters. The year was 1994, and I was trading hand-me-down Batman tales for stories that detailed Maximum Carnage in the Spider-verse. And while he was disappointed about Marvel's new place in my life, he understood my position—Hell, maybe he muttered something about Marvel's creator-friendly editorial structure at the time. I don't know. I was six, and I liked Spider-man, and that's all there was to it. Maximum Carnage might not've been comics brilliance, but it did introduce me to a format that I'm pretty much addicted to on a deep, comforting level, which is the large-scale crossover event that happens in real time. Again, we're not talkin' Shakespeare here, but this was the right story at the right time of my life.
7 of 9
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Chip Zdarsky
Maybe it feels too soon to include Sex Criminals on my all-time list, but few comics have captured Tyler Kane: The Comic Fanboy much like Fraction and Zdarsky's brimptastic opus. I've collected variants, written fanmail and passed Image's first trade paperback off as a gift more than once—which has been received more enthusiastically by some people than others. But for a book that could amount to one series-long excuse to write boner jokes, Fraction and Zdarsky have created a cast of characters that are worthy of long-term commitments. Maybe Sex Criminals tells a tale filled with moves like The Chocolate McKitten, The Fleshy Lightswitch and, most importantly, brimping, but at its core Sex Criminals is the warts-and-all love story that comic readers need. Or, Hell, maybe it's just about boner jokes. But this book has very, very good boner jokes.
8 of 9
Okay, I understand that declaring my early love for Spawn is maybe a hair cooler than admitting that there was a time when I looped The Offspring's Smash during whatever year that was. But if you handed me a copy of The Dark Knight Returns in the early '90s, I'd have told you its artist couldn't draw; similarly, if I was gifted something like Pavement's Slanted and Enchanted, I'd have been bored out of my mind, and in that regard only some tastes evolve. Anyways, Spawn was an incredible introduction to the medium if only for its visual bells and whistles, along with action figures that, at that age, were one of the sole reasons I got into comic books. But damn, those figures ruled.
9 of 9
Saga of the Swamp Thing
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Stephen Bissette & John Totleben
This'll date me a bit, but some of my earliest comic memories come from watching the Swamp Thing animated series. It's a hilarious slice of comics nostalgia, "Wild Thing"-knockoff theme song and all, but I'd be a relieved child if you told me how well this character would age once I learned how to read. Alan Moore's reimagined vision of Swamp Thing gave way to some of the best, most imaginative pieces of serialized superhero comics ever, and that might've been the first time I wrapped my head around a character's script being completely flipped. With this kind of setup, it's no wonder that writers like Grant Morrison, Mark Millar and Brian K. Vaughan found the character to be a fertile playground in years to come.