The cult section of the literary world

Top Eight Comic Books for the Bizarro Reader

BY JEFF BURK

It has come to my attention that there are quite a few bizarro fans that don’t yet know the weird and wonderful joy of comic books. I’m not talking about Batman and Spider-Man (though they are pretty awesome). I’m talking about strange stories that bend the laws of reality and comics. The type of stuff that you should be reading if you like authors such as Carlton Mellick III, Cameron Pierce, and Kevin L. Donihe.

So here’s my list of the top eight comics that a bizarro fan should check out. You’ll find no spandex here. Just beautiful story-telling and balls-to-the-wall insanity

After each entry on my list, I also have a list of a few other titles by that particular writer that are worth checking out.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.

1: Transmetropolitian by Warren Ellis

Take Hunter S. Thompson, put him in a future that’s equal parts Futurama and Philip K. Dick, and send him on a mission to bring down the president. That’s Transmetropolitan.

Warren Ellis created one of the most popular modern comic books characters with Spider Jerusalem. Everyone knows he’s just a renamed Thompson, but no one gives a shit. You’ll cheer him on his quest to bring back justice and democracy with his laptop and bowel-disruptor gun (Thompson had one of those, right?). He even has a chain-smoking cat for a pet. It’s awesome.

Fun Fact: A web-cartoon was in development at one point with Patrick Stewart voicing Spider.

Also check out: Planetary, Supergod, Doktor Sleepless

2: Howard the Duck by Steve Gerber

Forgot about the terrible movie. Please. Just forget it right now. It has NOTHING to do with the comic. OK? Good. Let’s move on.

The comic follows the adventures of Howard, who’s trapped in our universe. All he wants is to be left alone. He meets a kindred spirit in Beverley, an uncommonly beautiful woman. They just want a quiet life but multidimensional demons, wizards,  some guy called Dr. Bong, and poverty all keep getting in the way.

The comic is a masterpiece of satire. It takes on politics, pop culture, and the comic book industry. Nothing is safe from the quick wit and quack-fu of Howard. Imagine Lewis Black writing a comic book. It’s like that.

Fun Fact: In 1976 Marvel ran a Howard for President promotional campaign in which they made political buttons. He was running under the Up All Night Party.

Also check out: Howard the Duck ’02, Man-Thing, The Defenders

3: Preacher by Garth Ennis

An atheist minister from Texas inhabited by the spawn of an angel and demon, his hit-woman girlfriend, and his vampire best friend are on a cross-world trek to find God and make him pay for what he did to humanity.

No entry on this list is as gross, offensive, and violent as Preacher. Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon created an amazing world without morals. The main characters kill, torture, and cheat their way across the globe on their quest, but you cheer them on every step of the way

Part western, part supernatural thriller, and just completely fucked-up.

Fun Fact: HBO was going to develop this into a tv-series but got cold feet over the extreme sex and violence.

Also check out: The Boys, The Punisher, Crossed

4: The Invisibiles by Grant Morrison

Ah yes, The Invisibles. Grant Morrison’s hypersigil to infect you with his mentally transmitted disease of sex, drugs, and good times.

The story is deceptively simple. Two secret organizations have been at war since the beginning of mankind. One is dedicated towards order and control (the Outer Church), the other to freedom and chaos (the Invisibles). The end of the war is coming and one side will win.

It’s hard to sum up a book that includes John Lennon as the God of Psychedelics, the Great Old Ones, the Marquis de Sade as a character, cross-dressing, pulp fiction, and the quest for enlightenment.

This is the comic book world’s equivalent of Jodorowsky’s “The Holy Mountain.” It is a comic book that leaves its pages and will literally start appearing in your daily life. Think I’m joking? Read The Invisibles and then get back to me.

Fun Fact: When sales were slumping, Morrison told his fans to hold a wankathon, where they were suppose to masturbate while envisioning increased sales for the Invisibles. Sales did go up.

Also check out: Animal Man, The Filth, Flex Mentallo

5: Y the Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan

Suddenly every male mammal on Earth drops dead at the same moment-except for one man, Yorick, and his pet monkey. At the moment of the disaster, he was proposing to his girlfriend in the Australian outback from his apartment in New York City. So begins his cross-world trek to find his love through a world in chaos.

Like the best high concept bizarro, Vaughan creates a vivid and detailed world from a simple and engaging premiss. From the first issue, the story is thrilling, engaging, and fascinating until the last issue.

Fun Fact: Writer Vaughan was a head writer for the tv-series “Lost” for seasons 3 through 5.

Also check out: Runaways, Ex Machina, Pride of Baghdad

6: Swamp Thing by Alan Moore

A conscious plant that thinks it’s a man falls in love with a human woman. Also various supernatural forces are after the Swamp Thing. And hallucinogenic drugs grow from its body. And it beats up Batman. It’s fucking crazy.

While the character Swamp Thing is rather well known, few (or not nearly enough) have read Alan Moore’s classic run on the comic. Moore took a DC character that had been languishing in obscurity and completely reinvented it into one of the most celebrated and beautiful (in art and story) comic titles ever published.

The series ranges from adventure, to fantasy, to horror, to science fiction, but at the heart of the entire epic is the forbidden love between a human and a sentient chemically mutated plant god.

Fuck Romeo and Juliet. I’ll take Swamp Thing

Fun Fact: Moore’s run on Swamp Thing introduced the British occult detective John Constantine, star of the comic series Hellblazer and played by Keanu Reeves in Constantine.

Also check out: V for Vendetta, Promethea, From Hell

7: We3 by Grant Morrison

The government has petnapped a dog, a cat, and a rabbit and turned them into super-killing cyborgs of war. One day the three animals escape and go on a quest to find something they know they miss but don’t really know what it is. Someplace called “home.’

Grant Morrison stretches his writing muscles and moves away from epic psychedelic comics to a miniseries dealing with man’s relationship to animals and how powerful the need to belong and be loved is. It’s short but powerful. I’ve had more than one friend break down in tears after reading this.

“Homeward Bound” as directed by David Cronenberg. Really, that’s all you need to know.

Fun Fact: Supposedly, there is a movie of this in development with Morrison writing the script.

Also check out: Kill Your Boyfriend, Arkham Asylum, Seaguy

8: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore

Once again, ignore the terrible movie (why do so many of these great stories get made into such shitty movies?). Moore takes heroes from the world of literature and ensembles them into a kind of super-team. They then travel the world battling the villains from other classic works of literature.

Each volume of the series takes place in a different era and the characters and background reflect that and reference popular literature of the time period. It’s an English graduate student’s wet dream.

Unlike most of the other entries on this list, this series is still ongoing but the last book is due to come out next year.

Fun Fact: The comics are so densely packed with literary references that books have been written trying to account for them all.

Also check out: Lost Girls, Neonomicon, 1963

26 responses

  1. AWESOME choices! Preacher and Transmetropolitan are two of the best series in history (at least to my knucklehead-mind), and anything Mr. Goldfarb does is essential.

    Also, I’d recommend “CHEW” by John Layman. Pretty odd stuff going on there: psychic eating abilities, underground chicken smugglers, alien fruit, cannibalism, ‘Fricken’ and a cyborg partner. Great stuff.

    July 21, 2011 at 7:26 am

  2. Nobody ever mentions Ralph Snart in these lists. Weirder than half the stuff mentioned.

    I voted for Howard the Duck in my first presidential election. His campaign slogan was “Get Down, America!” I dutifully sent in my dollar for a Howard the Duck pin, but I never got it. Marvel, you owe me!

    Also mostly ignored by this generation – the original underground comics like Fritz the Cat, Wonder Warthog, Zippy the Pinhead, etc. They went everywhere Bizarro is going now, and they did it 50 years ago.

    July 21, 2011 at 7:49 am

    • I loved Fritz the Cat. It definitely was ahead of its time when it comes to being bizarro-esque.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:04 am

      • That God is faithful to turn our mironung into gladness. He can take this tragic experience and make beauty out of it by giving me understanding and compassion for others and teaching me to cherish my family on earth even more.

        March 31, 2013 at 1:24 am

      • YZ7j4p ehokftmlmqji

        April 1, 2013 at 3:31 pm

  3. necaros

    Oh, man I loved Ralph Snart growing up. I would also suggest The Flaming Carrot, that is truly tales of the strange and bizarre. Fun With Milk and Cheese is absolutely fantastic. Scud the Dispossible Assasin in pretty good. The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Eastman and Laird deserves some credit. And Heavy Metal magazine!! My mom did me in when she started buying that for me as early a seven years old, no wonder I like this stuff..

    July 21, 2011 at 10:04 am

    • Cool to see somebody else remembers Ralph Snart!

      July 27, 2011 at 6:37 am

  4. A couple newer ones you guys really should be checking out are Jeff Lemire’s SWEET TOOTH and Joe Hill’s LOCKE & KEY.

    July 27, 2011 at 6:20 am

  5. And speaking of Philip K. Dick, the DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP series is pretty good.

    July 27, 2011 at 6:23 am

  6. You have to throw in the “Ignore the shitty movie” clause with that one, too.

    I guess Blade Runner was good, though.

    July 27, 2011 at 9:07 am

  7. necaros

    I gave We3 a quick read because of this list. It was fantastic! A little too short, but very good.

    July 27, 2011 at 9:22 am

  8. Sgt. D. Armfield

    I think Fables fits this category

    July 27, 2011 at 10:10 am

  9. dwbarbee

    Those are all good picks. To the growing list here, I’d add Poison Elves and Cerebus.

    July 27, 2011 at 11:24 am

  10. What I’ve read of Stray Toasters by Bill Sienkewicz was weird and pretty damn impressive. Good choices, Jeff. All of these are favorites of mine.

    July 27, 2011 at 11:39 am

  11. Must… Read….These… Comics!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks for the list Jeff, it all looks so awesome!

    July 27, 2011 at 2:11 pm

  12. Did anyone add Promethia? (not sure if I even spelled that right) But it was a somewhat surrealistic comic by Moore.

    BTW Jeff is recommending some REALLY good comics. Everything on this list that I have read I back 100%. Read it.

    July 27, 2011 at 5:14 pm

  13. I feel “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” is the best comic on that list.

    July 27, 2011 at 5:15 pm

  14. Transmet. is a close second.

    July 27, 2011 at 5:16 pm

  15. Jeff Burk

    necaros – glad you liked it! make sure to check out some more Grant Morrison stuff. He’s my favorite comic writer.

    ash – thanks! glad you like the list. I have Promeathea as an “also check out” under Swamp Thing. Promeathea and Lost Girls are actually my two favorite Moore comics but I didn’t want to put them on this list because they’re a little difficult for people new to the medium.

    July 27, 2011 at 5:24 pm

  16. Pingback: New Article at Bizarro Central « Jeff Burk – Bizarro Author and Editor

  17. Great list. I also love Ralph Snart.

    July 27, 2011 at 8:19 pm

  18. I’m glad to hear some high praise for some of Moore’s work that I’m less familiar with. I’ve never really been a big comic book reader (I’ve never really been into superheroes, I suppose), but I’ve recently started checking them out, and among my first graphic novel experiences were V for Vendetta and Watchmen. I’m definitely going to look into some of his other stuff now. Probably the strangest “heading into bizarro territory” type comics I’ve read have been the Akira series (especially toward the end with Tetsuo’s fleshy mutations and the birdman and their whole gang), and Uzumaki (well, I’ve read the first book).

    Hell, all these titles look totally nuts. One thing I’ve enjoyed about reading manga is the whole lack of generic superhero stories in favour of some more creative concepts. I’ve started reading Battle Royale, Fullmetal Alchemist, xxxHolic and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and while (for the most part) they’re not as weird as some of the other stuff I’ve come across they just seem so diverse.

    I’m definitely going to have to check some of these titles out. It’ll be good to read some strange/creative American comics. That frame from We3 looks insane!

    July 28, 2011 at 5:08 am

  19. Jeff Burk

    S. T. – There’s lots of amazing non-superhero stuff in western comics, the list only scratches the surface.

    If you’re in Manga, I can’t recommend We3 enough. It’s Grant Morrison’s (my favorite comic writer) attempt to combine western comics and manga. It really shows and the art is mind-blowing.

    July 28, 2011 at 1:59 pm

  20. V. Weather

    Wonderful list, but I’d disagree about Spider being a Thompson clone. It’s more like Ellis used Thompson as a starting point and the crazy misanthropic Spider was born from there.

    S. T. – Uzumaki is amazing and gets even more fucked as it goes.

    July 28, 2011 at 8:27 pm

  21. Thanks Jeff, that’s pretty much what I’m looking for.

    July 29, 2011 at 12:46 am

  22. Bugaboo

    Honestly this list doesn’t scream “Bizarro” to me — these are great comics, but not really all that weird. Transmet and Invisibles probably embrace the Bizarro vibe the most, and Swamp Thing has a lot of creepy bio-horror, but that’s about it. Mostly this just seems like an ad for popular Vertigo titles.

    I’m not an authority on the subject, but PRISON PIT, PROPHET, BLACK HOLE, TWELVE GEMS, SQUIRREL MACHINE, AXE COP and Jim Woodring’s FRANK are all insanely weird by comparison, and readily available. Props also for RALPH SNART and especially UZUMAKI.

    January 23, 2015 at 8:07 pm

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