When I think of comics, usually I immediately think of spandex clad men in tights flying across Metropolis, swing from building to building in New York, or stalking criminals in Gotham’s concrete jungle. Although comics these days are most commonly associated with superheroes, that was not always the case – and indeed it still isn’t.
If you ask Joe Public to name a comic book character, the chances are that they’ll give you Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, or any one of the characters from the recent Marvel Studios movies. Superheroes dominate the public thoughts when you ask them about comics, largely because for the last few decades superheroes have been the biggest sellers in the medium. Marvel and DC, both publishers primarily of superhero comics, are industry giants in part because of the spandex crowd – both the characters and the fans of them.
That wasn’t always the case. Before Shuster and Siegal wrote the world changing first issue of Superman, comics had very few superheroes in them; there were numerous romance comics, sci-fi, horror and crime comics.
Timely Comics, for a time on of the biggest publisher and distributors of comics only had a handful of superhero comics being published in the 40’s, of whom Captain America, Namor, and the original Human Torch are arguably the most well remembered today, but the bread and butter of Timely comics came from the previously mentioned non-superhero comics. It wasn’t until the early 60’s when Timely published the Fantastic Four did the superhero drive really begin for the company (now called Marvel Comics).
Horror comics publisher EC also primarily focused on non superhero comics (which may be part of the reason they’ve largely gone the way of the dinosaur).
Why the albeit brief and condensed history lesson?
To illustrate that the current crop of non-superhero comics isn’t any new (at this point, what is?), but in many ways it’s a return to the really old days. With the Walking Dead constantly atop the sales charts (of both floppies and trades), it’s an echo of the horror comics from days gone by. Science fiction comics have been around longer than everyone’s favourite zombie comic (albeit in the form of various licences – Star Wars and Star Trek spring to mind immediately), and Archie comics have been running for decades – and have recently launched Afterlife With Archie, a very successful book about (you guessed it) a light horror series with the Archie characters.
Some of the most highly praised comics are non-superhero comics such as the Eisner and Hugo award winning Saga has been described in solicitations as “Star Wars meets Game of Thrones,” and by critics as evocative of both science fiction and fantasy epics such as The Lord of the Rings and classic works like Romeo & Juliet. Others, such as Frank Miller’s Sin City have inspired multiple critically acclaimed movies (and some not so acclaimed movies). Mark Millar, has numerous comic to adaptations under his belt and on the way, and very few of them are the traditional superhero fare – Wanted, Kingsman, and to a lesser degree Kick Ass. Image publishes a large variety of non superhero comics and it is a genre that is as broad as broad can be, and one that by its very nature doesn’t get the love (and for many comics, the sales) that the quality deserves.
Superhero comics have dominated the shelves of comic shops for decades, and will continue to do so for many more. There are so many great superhero stories out there (and just as many terrible ones), don’t think this post is trying to steer you from them, but there are also some magical non superhero comics out there.
They may not get the shelf space superhero comics get, but they’re still just as deserving of your attention.