Comix for grown-ups

By Chris Carolan

Try walking up to a random person in MacEwan Hall and ask them what the last good comic they read was. Nine times out of 10, you’ll probably hear something along the lines of “Comics are for kids. Beat it, geek!” Of course, there was a time when comics were just for kids, but those days are long forgotten–like 3-D Man. Like alot of us, comics have grown up.

These days, most companies in the comic industry publish at least a few “Mature Readers” titles. You won’t find this stuff on the rack at Co-Op, but most comic shops today have whole sections devoted to these titles.

There’s a myth the label “Suggested for Mature Readers” means a comic is full of nothing but excessive violence and gratuitous T&A. While some comics geared towards mature audiences can be more violent and sexually explicit than the “all ages” titles, rarely is that all there is to the book. With the exception of companies like Penthouse Comics, most of the companies publishing “Mature Readers” comics are not pushing slaughterhouse porn. What they are pushing are simply quality mature stories told in the comic medium.

Industry giant DC Comics was one of the first major companies to start its own line of comics for mature readers. Largely based on the success of titles like Neil Gaiman’s Black Orchid and his critically acclaimed Sandman series, DC created the Vertigo imprint as a separate entity from their standard superhero line. Today, the Vertigo line of titles is probably the best selling line of comics bearing the “Suggested for Mature Readers” label, publishing such surprise hits as Preacher, Vamps and Transmetropolitan. Sandman, by the way, is the only comic book ever to have won a World Fantasy Award. It won “Best Short Story of 1990,” at the 1991 World Fantasy Convention for the single issue story, “The Mid-Summer Night’s Dream.” By the following year, the rules of the category had been changed to ensure no comic would win the award again.

Dark Horse Comics also built their reputation largely on the success of “Mature Readers” titles. The success of comics like Frank Miller’s Sin City and Mike Mignola’s Hellboy helped prove that mature themed comics which were not backed by a major publisher could sell. Of course, it helps that Dark Horse’s creator-friendly publishing practices help them attract the top creative talent in the industry.

Other smaller independent companies also have great success with their mature themed comics. Slave Labor Graphics unleashed Jhonen Vasquez’s Johnny the Homicidal Maniac on an unsuspecting public in August 1995. The book sold so well it had to go to a second printing in December of the same year, and almost six years later the first issue is still in print.

Keeping single issues of a series perpetually in print was almost unheard of before JTHM, even in
the more successful traditional superhero lines. Only Archie Comics, who seem to recycle the same comics endlessly for decades, keep stories in print longer.

Where the success of a superhero comic is most often a result of the art, the most successful mature titles rely on strong writing for their sales. Truth be told, the majority of DC’s Vertigo comics are ugly as sin. The art in most issues of Vertigo’s Sandman series, considered to be the most successful “Mature Readers” title in history, was simply wretched. The title was a best seller for 75 issues thanks mostly to Gaiman’s award-winning writing.

If you haven’t read comics since you were a kid, go to your local comic shop and ask the friendly bloke behind the counter for the “Mature Readers” section. Vertigo’s Sandman or Preacher are a good place to start. Both are great reads and are available in handy and affordable collected editions, and have been known to draw non-comic readers into comic shops. You don’t need to be a comic reader to enjoy a “Mature Readers” title–all you need is a love of great stories.

Leave a comment