The Triumph and The Tragedy of Recommending Comics

I have a bit of a reputation. It comes as no surprise to me that those close to me think I can be a bit… enthusiastic when it comes to things like comic books, movies, and music. When I find something I like, I will tell anyone and everyone about it. Sometimes ad nauseam. But I can’t help myself, I just can’t keep my mouth shut. Every now and then, I connect and am able to introduce someone to something they weren’t aware of, but more often than not, I swing and miss really badly and the recommendation just falls flat, and even sometimes things turn a bit hostile with my friends. I think it’s safe to assume that I have a decent batting average when it comes to recommending comics. I’d guess I’m batting about .215 when it comes to this (for anyone who doesn’t follow baseball, that’s a 21.5% success rate). So if that’s the case, and I fail more than I succeed, why do I keep doing it?

The better question is, what compels us to have to tell those around us, and convince them to try some for of media that we find value in? I know I’m not alone in this. Pretty much everyone in my life has some interest, or comic book title, or band, or artist or TV show that they can’t stop talking about and try to get me to check out. So why do we do it? Some may argue that it’s one of the most selfish things we can do; that by pushing our interests on others, we’re seeking validation of our own tastes in some perverse way to attack our own self doubt and insecurity. I think that psych 101 analysis could hold some truth, but I also think it’s the easy to dismiss this behavior without seeing the value in it. No, I think it’s something entirely different.

I’ve had some very public, epic failures when it comes to suggestion books, mainly for my brothers in arms, Josh and Conor here at iFanboy. Every year we exchange Christmas presents of comics. Sometimes it’s an attempt to give the other guy something we know they would like. Sometimes it’s a way to introduce them to a comic they would never try themselves. But more often than not, it’s a way to get a comic that we think is worth reading to the other person’s hands. Come look at my bookshelf. How did Gotham Central and all these Batman trades get here? Conor. This is one of my favorite moments of the year, hands down, mainly because I trust Josh and Conor to make fun and different recommendations for me. But it’s also because it’s my chance to turn them on to something new. But try as I might, I just can’t quite get them to see the majesty and perfection of Paul Grist’s work on Kane, which is amazing and just a damn shame that they can’t see it… but I digress.

Take another example of a friend of mine whom I have had tremendous success in suggesting music to. Seriously, like batting close to 1.000 on that one. Band after band connects and shows that not only do I know my music, but I know what kind of music would be enjoyed by others. Fantastic. So I get a little cocky and suggest some comics. I throw out my old mainstay of Terry Moore’s Strangers In Paradise. I was shocked to find out that Strangers was a strikeout. Total whiff. Shocking. So I tried to go a bit more edgy and suggest my most recent fave book, The Young Liars by Dave Lapham. Does anyone remember in the 1998 World Series when Ken Caminiti on the Padres struck out and fell over at home plate? Humiliating, right? Yeah that’s pretty much how The Young Liars went over. I quickly realized that if I were to have any dignity I should stop recommending comics, immediately. But I’m a glutton for punishment and went back up to the plate. I waited a few months, but I am positive that Empowered by Adam Warren will get me at least a single, if not a double. I haven’t heard back yet, but I’m hopeful.

So it seems that I really shouldn’t be recommending for comics for anyone, right? In fact I’m not quite sure I’m positive I can even pick out comic books for myself after all these swings and misses. But I did say that I felt that I was hitting a healthy .215, so surely I must have had some success. And I have. Sure it’s easy to suggest Invincible, Scott Pilgrim and The Walking Dead to anyone. Or Preacher or Y: The Last Man to anyone. They’re gimmes and don’t count. But there are several success stories that I am very proud of. One of my proudest moments was several years ago when I recommended The New Avengers to Josh. After the first few story arcs, I really felt strongly that Bendis was telling a story that was not only full of classic Marvel characters, but was something special. I don’t know why I was sure that it would resonate with Josh, but I was so sure that I sent him the money to go buy the trade, simply so he couldn’t argue with me or give me a reason why not to read it. He took the challenge and checked it out and not only agreed with me, but dove right in headfirst into the series (now with the recent meandering, whether or not that’s a good thing could be debated, but at the time it was a big deal, trust me).  Crack of the bat — home run!

Even more recently I had another friend who hasn’t been a regular comic for quite some time, like almost 20 years. But having a slight interest in comics, he asked me to make some recommendations for him to check out. Such pressure! My selections had to connect or I could turn him back off to comics! So I took a step back and analyzed my subject. He has great reverence for the comics of his youth, which consisted of Captain America and black and white indie books. This would pose a challenge, but I got a burst of inspiration. Knowing that he missed the 1990s, I grabbed the trade paperback of Marvels that would scratch that nostalgic itch for the comics he read as a kid. But I wanted to address the indie side of him as well, so I decided to go with Jonathan Hickman’s The Nightly News, a modern day indie book with an aggressive message and a unique approach to art/design and storytelling. It was a risk, but I had a good feeling and sometimes a good feeling is all you need. Back to back home runs!  Both books went over exactly as I hoped they would, with Marvels stirring up the loyal Marvel Zombie that laid dormant for years, and The Nightly News shook what his mental image of comics was and showed that innovation could still exist within the medium. And what’s even better that he came back asking for more. We may get him back into comics full time just yet.

These two stories of success bring me back to my thought as to why we do this. Why we try to recommend and convince others that they need to try this new comic book we like. Because when we do, and when it connects, it’s a moment of pure shared joy. Even now I struggle with finding the proper words to describe the look on someone’s face, or the excitement in their voice as they come back to me raving about the comic book I put in their hands. Maybe it is validation, but that’s not what I’m looking at. It reminds me of the story I’ve heard about Walt Disney and how he would simply stand in the Main Street area of Disneyland and watch the people to see the joy on their faces that being in Disneyland brought them. It’s one of those rare joys in life when you have the ability to move someone with something as seemingly harmless as a comic book. But these comic books have power. We all know it, or we wouldn’t be here day in and day out discussing them and not working at our jobs or schoolwork or whatever we should be doing. They are an outlet for our passion and shared passion can be one of the best things ever.

I may strike out a lot, but the moment a recommendation sails over the fence for a home run is more than enough for me to give it a try as many more times as I have to until I connect again.



  1. I think another reason we try to share our books with others is that comics is a bit esoteric. John Q. Public has never heard of "Empowered" or "Preacher," but goddamn it, they need to.

    The baseball similies went completely over my head, but I really enjoyed this article. 

  2. <3 The Nightly News.  What a great book.

  3. Music recommendations open up more possibilities than comics, as it can be directly enjoyed with friends (listening together, singing the lyrics or making parodies of them, going to shows).  Even there, though, unsolicited recommendation feels like it’s seeking validation and also to make friends more like oneself.  It’s cultural colonization.  How much of your mind can I take over with things that I like?  The more me-like my friends are, the better they seem as friends.  One soul in two bodies, right? 

    This seems even shallower than seeking validation, but perhaps these cultural objects are substiting for something deeper.  If not colonizing my friend’s brain, then looking for those parts of my friend that resemble mine the most and trying to highlight them.   

  4. I remember emailing ron thanking him for young liars. Yeah i want that email back Ron.

  5. Not that young liars sucks, i dont at this point any more. but the book got really out there for me and i just couldnt follow it anymore.

  6. I do this a lot with my favorite movies, and more often than not I’m sucessful, but there have been a few that blew up in my face that I still can’t get over.  Between my girlfriend and a couple of my friends, I’ve gotten things from "eh" to "I can’t stand that movie" for things like Magnolia, The Usual Suspects, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and LA Confidential.  I always think I’ll wait a couple of years and try again, as if they forgot they saw it and hated it.

  7. .215?!? That’s a very specific figure. How did you come up that battling average? I picture you with a ledger, keeping track of your hits and misses. Somewhere there’s an announcer giving play-by-play of your recommendations. "Ron Richards up to bat again. He’s had trouble with left-handed pierced metalheads lately. Let’s see how he does today."


  8. I’ve tried recommending things to people, even going so far as to buy them as Christmas gifts, but so far, I haven’t really had any successes.  I’m ok with that though because someday I will have children and that blank slate will be nothing but a string of successes. 🙂

  9. @neb, oh yeah, recommend any comic to children & they’ll eat it up.  Last Christmas, I bought my nephews (a 7 & 5-year-olds at the time) Essential Spider-man Vol. 1.  They both loved it so much & my sister had to go out & get Vol. 2.  They youngest is now obsessed with Spider-man, even w/o watching the new cartoon.

  10. Does it matter if they’re people who don’t already read comics? I find that steepens the curve. I don’t know anyone in the flesh who reads comics, but I’m always buying people gateway books. Anyone who watched Buffy used to get Astonishing X-Men from me; today, obviously, they’d get Season 8. If they didn’t make a face every time I brought them a book.

    You know what has been a home run gateway comic to everyone I’ve given it to?: one Mr. Scott Pilgrim. Like Colt 45, it works every time. 

  11. I gave a few recommendations to a friend of mine who is getting into Graphic Novels and isn’t really into the whole superhero thing. I let her borrow Black Hole, by Charles Burns, which she wasn’t a big fan of. She was a big fan of Kavalier and Clay so I also let her borrow the Escapists which was a home run.

    I’m havind a trade swap with another friend. I’m borrowing Preacher (AWESOME) and he’s borrowing Walking Dead (I gave it to him on Saturday night, and as of yesterday he was in the middle of Volume 7. He is loving it).

    It seems I have the opposite problem though. I’m great at recommending comics to friends, but horrible with music. I always strike out with my brother.

  12. First of all thanks for trying to hel expand our hobbie.  I also like to pass along "reading copies" of trades or regift trades that I have no extra space for.  The one thing to keep in mind is know your audience.  I passed along The Steranko Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD TPB and Fraction’s Five Fists of Science along to my old roommate Russ.  He loved them and dabbles on his own in the TBP section when he is at the local bookstore.  He would have probably been bored with Y or befuddled with Strangers In Paradise (he doesn’t have the attension span for it).  So, keep spreading the love.  I too am surprised to the reaction to Kane, but you can never tell…  I could go on and on about my own hits and misses, but will spare you all.

    Keep up the good work.  Lend or give away your extra trades.



  13. Ron, you’ve gotta keep taking the plunge, dude! If it wasn’t for you guys recomending books because you think someone else might like them I’d have missed an ALMIGHTY TON of amazing books. In fact, if it wasn’t for you in particular, Ron, making Young Liars a POW and talking it up so much I’d never have started reading it. And that, my friend, would be a travesty.

    I think Jimski’s hit a six here (if you can use Baseball terms, I’m having Cricket!), Scott Pilgrim never fails to hook someone. Whether they’re a casual comic reader, only read prose, don’t read at all, or laugh out loud at the very notion of comics, I have never had anyone I loaned that book to think it was anything but fantastic.

    The first Y: The Last Man trade has a pretty high average on overs as well (more Cricket!) for people who think comics are just tights ‘n’ capes, as does DMZ.

    The tricky thing now is, with Watchmen less than a year away, I’ve had a lot of non-comic people who loved the trailer ask to borrow the book. Which is fine, in fact it’s fantastic! Lots of friends, who’ve never read a comic in their lives, asking me with excitement if they can borrow Watchmen??? That’s amazing!

    Except the couple who’ve borrowed it so far didn’t like it. They "didn’t get it" and thought it was "stupid". That’s their opinion and fair enough. But it saddens me a little, as maybe if they’d waited and seen the film first they’d have had a different, entry point into the world and possibly wanted to read the book after, in which case it might have had a better grip on it. I hope this isn’t making me sounds elitist or snobbish? I genuinely just wanted them to love it as much as I do, which I suppose goes back to what Ron was saying about validation when it shouldn’t be. Them not liking it doesn’t make me like it any less, so each to their own.

    I say keep at it, Ron! You’ve recommended stuff on here that I’ve loved and have since loaned it other people, and some of those people loved it too. Maybe they’ll spread the word as well.

    Great piece 🙂 

  14. @jimski – It totally matters if they’re not comic people. I’m not gonna throw someone in the Superhero deep end as my first recommendation. Like you said Scott Pilgrim is probably the most perfect starter comic you’ll find.

    I lent my buddy Scott Pilgrim and he loved it. From there I lent him Blankets to give him a bit of a more serious tone and it still had the early 20’s/teen quality. Another homerun. The next risk was the first Runaways hadrcover. After he loved that I felt more comfortable giving him Invincible. And then Ed B’s CAP books and so on. There’s always a progression. You gotta put them somewhere theyll feel comfortable and slowly start taking them in different directions. final note: if it’s a risky suggestion try to keep they’re expectations low. Just because you’re 10 volumes into Fables and LOVING IT doesn’t mean that the first 2 volumes are gonna enthrall them.

  15. @Eyun – I love comic books and I still didn’t grasp Watchmen (or the Dark Knight Returns for that matter) the way others have. Most people just want an engaging story. A lot of what Watchmen is about is stretching the medium and methods of storytelling within the medium. It’s a good story but to someone who doesn’t understand the previous mentioned things it’s just gonna feel like some random superhero story

  16. @TopGun – You make a good point which I hadn’t thought about enough. Regardless of which media it is, you can’t give them the most dense, complex example of that media and expect it to have the same impact as on someone who’s slightly (in my case, only slightly) more versed in it.

    Having said that, they asked to borrow it, based on the trailer. And they didn’t understand the trailer either, but I’m sure anyone not familiar with the book didn’t understand it. At least it peaked their interest in something new, which is half the battle I suppose. 🙂

  17. Man, The Nightly news was sooooooo good!

     Is Hickman’s column coming back?

  18. Same here Ron. Immediately after i fall in love with something (comics, movies, music, etc.).  I start thinking about who would appreciate it too so i could share it with them.  I think it has alot to do with seeking validation for the way I feel about the media i connect with, and also if the people i am close to share some of the some qualities that made me love that work in the first place.

  19. The only reason I have started reading as many comics as I have is because of reccommendations. the only problems are that now i have a humongous pull list and an assload of trades. its ridicullous but i enjoy it. Keep reccommending things to me and we will see where it goes. i know i just picked up Proof. So thanks a lot everyone (no sarcasm meant)

  20. I feel your pain. I told a friend in college to read Usagi and they hated it. But, after dusting myself off and tooling with my stance I introduced my girlfriend to Y: The Last Man! That, my self-doubting friend, is a grand slam. I don’t care if I become the Ryan Howard of comic book recomending as long as I have literate friends and a decent enough collection I’ll step in the batter’s box and see what comes of it.

     Keep your recs and the baseball metaphors coming, I’m enjoying all of it!

     P.S. You got me into Young Liars after I had picked it up twice and thought "nah, not for me."

  21. Ron’s unbridled enthusiasm (yes, Kramer’s line) for comics was one of the first things I noticed when I first watched the iFanboy show, and kept me watching. Don’t change it, Ron, it’s awesome.

  22. Ron, it’s not the BA that matters, its On Base Percentage and Bases/Plate Appearance. Now, that are those?

    I’ve had similar success rates with recommendations, both as a giver and reciever. About one out of four, is my guess. Now, some books that came recommeded to me had to be give time to gro on me, so the percentage may be higher – god help me, I dismissed Transmetropolitan one time. Now it’s an al time favorite.

    And about Empowered. Can we get a mini on this series? Or an Episode on Adam Warren? The man deserves some love and attention. Empowered is frickken GREAT. And his runs on Gen13, Livewires, Iron Man Hypervelocity, and Fantastic Four are fine, fine comics too. Sadly, I think he goes largely unnoticed in the mainstream comics world. I don’t remember Empowered comin up in any prior posdcast, for example (not saying it didn’t, but I missed it if it did, and I get all fanboy whenever Emp comes up, so I think I’d remember.)

    Thanks, Ron

  23. Next time: Hockey metaphors!

  24. "Next time: Hockey metaphors!"

    I scored what I considering a rather shocking hat trick this past week with a girl I work with.  As I recall the conversation went something like this….

    me – What did you do last night?

    her – Not much, just rented a movie.  It kind of sucked.

    me – Oh yeah?  What movie? 

    her – Oh, it’s kind of dumb, but I rented Diary of the Dead.  It wasn’t any good.  Most zombie movies never are.  I kind of really like zombie movies… I know you probably think I’m stupid or something now. 

    me – glurg.  …  Have you ever read a comic book before…?

    The answer was no, but I brought in the first HC of Walking Dead the next day and she read it that night.  The next two followed and she loved them all and wanted to get more (new HC this fall I think/hope?) .  So, that’s a) a hat trick – 3 books!  and b) one of the boldest recommendations I’ve ever made before.. and it worked! 

    Ron, you say Walking Dead is a gimmie, but is it still an empty-netter (ooh there’s another hockey metaphor!) if the person has never even read a comic book before?  I think it totally counts.