Not all heroes wear a cape

Paper Girls panel

Comics have never been more mainstream, but right now some of the best out there are aimed at adults and have nothing to do with superheroes. As Comic Con returns to Dubai we pick out some that are worth tracking down

Just as television is now enjoying a golden period for drama, so are non-superhero comics with crime, horror, fantasy, historic and sci-fi all being covered in the sequential-art medium. And that golden age of TV is in part being propelled by the comic world, with adaptations of The Walking Dead and Outcast and writers from the comic world contributing as writers on top TV dramas.

But despite the ascension of comics into the mainstream over the last three decades there’s still a strange stigma about them, largely because the majority of them are aimed at teens. The medium, however, is just another way of storytelling, a middle-ground between books and film/TV.

Originally, comics were written for all ages with horror, crime and even some saucy books pushing moral issues of the time. They were even seen as a threat to society and in the mid 1950s, following U.S. senate hearings, the Comics Code Authority (CCA) was set up. Use of the words “horror” or “terror” in titles was banned, as were depictions of vampires, cannibalism or “walking dead” and romance tales had to show the sanctity of marriage. It even stated that government officials and “respected institutions” couldn’t be depicted in a way that “create disrespect for established authority”.

So the superhero genre boomed as a result because with aliens  and superheroes you’re largely free from the CCA’s censorship.

By the 1970s underground comics started to reverse the trend and a decade later things relaxed with iconic titles like Watchmen. But by then governments really weren’t that bothered about comics as a threat to the fabric of society, with video games, video nasties and drugs being the authorities’ bête noires of the age.

Superhero comics still dominate today, however. Some of the latest figures show that 64 per cent of dollars spent on comics go to Marvel and DC, the two indisputable industry leaders, and superheroes and movie tie-ins – Star Wars being very popular here – still top the charts. Of the top 200 selling comics there are just a few that do not fall into those two categories, but it’s outside those two categories that you’ll find some of best storytelling and writing of any medium.

Here are ten recent comics to look out for.

Unfollow
A dying social media mogul leaves his billions to be split evenly between 140 random people – or however many of them are still alive at the moment of his death. Among their number are a thrill-seeking heiress, a Japanese artist, an Iranian reporter, a poor black youth, and many more, but  will the promise of increased riches will turn regular people into killers? Like a modern update of the film Battle Royale mixed with a deadly social experiment in fame and greed, this is as zeitgeist as it gets.

No Place Like Home
In a macabre modern-day retelling of The Wizard of Oz, a young girl returns from Los Angeles to Kansas after her parents were killed in a freak tornado. Her small hometown of Emeraldsville is as dull as ever, until strange unexplained murders begin, and creatures appear seemingly linked to the events of one night back in 1959. It reads IT-era Stephen King and it’s a great piece of American Gothic storytelling with a twist on an old classic tale.

The Fix
A modern story of crooked cops who work on the side as robbers, mobsters looking to settle scores and the corrupt politicians that run Los Angeles, but what sets this apart is it’s actually really funny. If you enjoyed recent film The Nice Guys then this mines the same dark humour amid the criminal underbelly of LA. The artwork looks great, with more than a hint of Grand Theft Auto about it and this would make a brilliant TV series. Volume one is out now.

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The Fix

The Fade Out
Noir tale of backlots and bars in late-‘40s Hollywood, where a starlet is found dead, McCarthyism is in force and a writer is weighed down with grim secrets. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are the gold standard of noir writing (the former also writes episodes for the TV series Westworld) and this wades though the dirt of tinsel town as well as anything in any medium. As a bonus, each book ends with articles about real life scandal in Golden Age Hollywood.

Postal
Eden, Wyoming is a haven for fugitive criminals awaiting new identities, a place with zero tolerance for any illegal activity that might draw attention to the town. Then they wake up to the first murder in 25 years and a young postal worker with Asperger’s investigates, but finds more than he wanted. Quentin Tarantino meets The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, with a brilliant premise, strong cast of characters we’d be surprised if this wasn’t a TV series in the near future.

Strange Attractors
In New York, an aging and disgraced mathematician believes he’s continually saving the city by applying chaos theory and the butterfly effect to carry out seemingly small acts that will eventually work huge changes and keep the city running. But now the city is due for a major adjustment to prevent societal collapse. Is he mad or a genius who can see how the world really works? A really original five-part story that asks interesting questions.

Lady Killer
Imagine if Betty Draper from Mad Men was a contract killer. A Fifties TV housewife with husband, two children and a life of baking and Tupperware parties is hiding a second career as an assassin from everyone but her employer. Then one day she’s asked to carry out a kill too far. The retro style artwork is brilliantly done in the style of a fashion magazine from that era and a sassy woman in a pastel pillbox hat and kitten heels taking out targets makes for really good fun.

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Lady Killer

Trees
Giant alien monoliths land on Earth and just stand there like trees, completely oblivious to any indigenous life, including us. This follows several storylines set ten years after the arrival of the Trees in different locations: an art student in China, a small-time gangster moll in Italy, a ruthless president in Mogadishu, and a research team in Spitsbergen. Each story reveals the effect the Trees are having on society, and that there may be more to them than it appears.

Outcast
From Robert Kirkman – the creator of The Walking Dead – this comic has just been made into a TV series but the original source is well worth reading. Kyle Barnes has been plagued by demonic possession all his life and when he and a priest search for answers he uncovers something that could bring about the end of life on Earth. A horror series that, because of the medium, can’t just rely on jump scares like modern films and TV does, instead it gets under your skin and inside your head.

Paper Girls
If you enjoyed the Netflix series Stranger Things, this bizarre story set just after Halloween of 1988 should be your thing, as four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls uncover otherworldly weirdness. The art has a faux-neon style perfectly invoking ‘80s nostalgia, while the writing from celebrated creator Brian K Vaughn has that Stand By Me feel of authenticity amid the strange happenings in a small suburban town in Reagan’s America.

Paper Girls panel2

Paper Girls

For Edgar magazine

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