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The Five Worst “Gateway Comics”
posted January 28, 2006

I'm frequently asked about "gateway comics," meaning those comics to give people who have never read comics before, ideally so that they'll start reading comics with the passion of a longtime fan. This is a difficult question, because not only do I not care if my loved ones and potential loved ones ever read a comic book in their entire lives in the same way I don't plan on taking up kickboxing or collecting Longaberger baskets because someone in my immediate circle finds this edifying, I've found through years of observing people I know who do read comics that there's no accounting for what comic book will excite what person into a lifelong reading habit. For some people it's Maus, for others it's a Beast back-up in an issue of X-Men Unlimited. People are annoying like that.

However, after years of trial and error, I am reasonably certain I know which comics make really lousy gateway comic books, and I'm all too happy to share those with you here:

5. "When the Goddamn Jews Take Over America," Robert Crumb


I think this short and its n-word companion piece are fine satirical comics -- some people don't -- and, of course, both are beautifully drawn. But as a first comic, even a first Crumb comic, I'd say they are a big no-no for all the obvious reasons. Under a certain set of circumstances, giving these out could even be actionable. So unless you're into your life becoming an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm that ends with you jobless and possibly beat up, stay away from this selection. This is more like the 14,063rd comic you should show someone.

4. Any Comic From a DC Comics "Event" Crossover, 1990-1995


You know how you look at a high school yearbook from a certain number of years ago and everyone is so damn ugly you can barely stand to look at them? I mean everybody, from the cheerleaders to the geeks to the football players? That's what looking at early '90s mainstream American comics is like right now. They'll look okay in another ten years, trust me, but right now it's all shoulder pads and high collars and mouths full of stretched-out spit and ass floss and super mullets and sickly-looking colors. Plus the plots are such you can never figure out what the hell's going on, and, in the end, I'm pretty sure none of the "events" mattered. These are good comics to give people if there's some advantage to having them think you're a dumbass.

3. The Upside-Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo, Gustave Verbeck



This is a fine, old comic strip by the great Gustave Verbeck and a pretty amazing achievement if you think about the central concept: as seen above, Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo can be read right side up and upside down to different ends. However, with that title, there's no possible way to discuss the work without the risk that someone will overhear, drop what they're doing, run over and start punching the shit out of you.

2. Maggots, Brian Chippendale


This is a wonderful bunch of comics, seeping out in minis and in anthologies over the years, but Brian Chippendale's labyrinthian studies of movement and action come with a built-in quandary as anyone's first-comic-ever: On the one hand, 99.9995 percent of all people you might give them to aren't going to have any idea what the hell's going on -- I'm not sure I do, and I suspect most who claim to glean any meaning beyond "AIIEEE!!!" from this winding descent into madness are lying through their teeth. On the other hand, that rare person who would understand and enjoy them would be ruined for all other comics forever. What do you read after Maggots, Power Pack?

1. Crack Whore


No good would come of this. Ever. Really, if there's someone out there for whom this comic book would be the gateway to anything, you should spend less time giving them comics and more time physically getting the hell away from them.