5 p.m., Fridays
35th Floor Reading Room, Cathedral of Learning
Events are posted to the the Comic Collective's FaceBook Events Page.
The Pitt Comic Collective (PCC) is a student-run group that reads and discusses comic books and graphic novels. Each week, we meet to discuss what we've read and attempt to tease out meaningful themes. These range from academic topics, such as the influence of society and social issues on comics, to the more aesthetic, such as the significance of a particualar author's graphic and written contributions to the genre.
As we read, we consider including it in our “Top 15 Texts” list of graphic novels and comic books based on how significant we feel the work is to the genre. Below you'll find the current top 15 selections and brief descriptions of the social themes present in each. We hope that this collection migh inspire others to start their own groups by providing them with a year's worth of reading materials.
Top 15 Texts
(in our recommended reading order)
Watchmen by Alan Moore
Alan Moore has been one of the major innovators of the graphic novel and movement beyond comics being regarded independently of literature. Watchmen takes place in 1985 as the U.S. and U.S.S.R. inch closer to nuclear armageddon, and features more realistic heroes (actual superpowers are a rarity) who have altered significant events in history. The title itself comes from Juvenal’s Latin phrase “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” (“Who watches the watchmen?”). When someone begins murdering old heroes and villains, Rorschach begins investigating the causes and rationale for the killings while discovering much larger plans underway. Watchmen features a grittier, bleaker vision of superheroes (many who have severe faults and terrible personalities), a small story within a story, and recurring symbolism of the Doomsday Clock. Created and maintained by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to predict the likelihood of a man made catastrophe from politics, weapons, climate change, and other factors, the Doomsday Clock’s distance to midnight (symbolic destruction) denotes the proximity to a catastrophic event. The blood-stained smiley-face button of the slain Comedian is the most enduring symbol of the series.
Maus by Art Spiegelman
Very few comics or graphic novels have had the impact of Maus. Art Spiegelman’s relationship and discussions with his father, a Holocaust survivor, is the basis for the story of Maus. Animal heads and tails are used to denote different peoples (Nazis are represented by cats, Jews as mice, and Poles as pigs) and the artwork is reminiscent of historical woodcut prints. When released in the 1980s, Maus was a huge success, but critics often found difficulty categorizing the story. From that confusion, Maus is considered to be one of the first works classified as a graphic novel. Additionally, Spiegelman was an important figure in the underground comix movement (which rejected the censorship of the Comics Code Authority) and remains an advocate of comics as a medium and its importance to culture.
March by John Lewis
March is the autobiography of Civil Rights leader and Congressman John Lewis. Done in three volumes, it tells his story and participation in the Civil Rights Movement from his origins in the movement through “Bloody Sunday” and the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Additionally, it focuses on the influential comic Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story (1957), which John Lewis read and was inspired in part by, as well as the potential for comics as a medium to spread change.
V for Vendetta by Alan Moore
V for Vendetta takes place in a fascist, England in the 1990s following. Inspired by the writings of George Orwell and Harlan Ellison, the plot details the exploits of the masked British anarchist "V" and his personal vendetta against the oppressive state. To break the control of the fascist government and create an anarchistic future, V coordinates systematic attacks on politicians, propagandists, and paedophiles. Alan Moore’s story expresses fear of a totalitarian, fascist United Kingdom, and is a condemnation of individuals no longer willing to defend their freedoms and beliefs. This graphic novel is also notable for its use of British cultural references and is responsible for the resurgence in popularity of the Guy Fawkes mask as a symbol for protesters and anarchists. V for Vendetta has also found use as a text for political science courses and was adapted as a movie in 2006.
Batman: Year One by Frank Miller
Batman: Year One marked the shift from the friendly-natured batman of Adam West to the character’s grittier origins. Frank Miller’s story retells the first year of Bruce Wayne as Batman, as well as the beginnings of Officer Jim Gordon, Harvey Dent, Selina Kyle, and other allies and villains of Batman. Their motives, struggles, and codes are revealed and their well-known futures foreshadowed. David Mazzucchelli did the art and blends old designs with modern detailing. Year One focuses on social issues of organized crime, corruption, prostitution, and police brutality, and was a partial basis for Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.
Sandman by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is one of the most accomplished writers of the fantasy genre. He is well known for his books Coraline (also adapted into a movie), American Gods (now a tv series), Good Omens (a collaboration with Terry Pratchett) and his comic Sandman, which was published by Vertigo (the adult branch of DC Comics, who also published much of Alan Moore’s work as well). Sandman focuses on Dream of the Endless (often referred to as Morpheus), the ageless, ancient personification of dream as well as other members of the Endless such as Death, Despair, Desire, and others. In the series, Dream escapes his prison at the hands of occultists and returns to his realm. Sandman is at the intersection of mythology, folklore, dark fantasy, and horror and contains many allusions and appearances from DC characters such as Scarecrow and Martian Manhunter to ancient Greek figures the Furies to William Shakespeare himself. Sandman was the first and only comic to win a World Fantasy Award for Best Short story in 1991 for its rendition of A Midsummer Night's Dream. The guidelines were clarified after Gaiman’s win to rule comics and graphic novels ineligible for entry under that category. Sandman remains one of the most-acclaimed and read series and is one of Neil Gaiman’s finest works.
Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo
Katsuhiro Ōtomo’s manga, Akira, depicts Neo-Tokyo after atomic warfare and the aftermath of World War III. Kaneda, a member of a youth gang of motorcycle riders, becomes involved with terrorist organizations, military cover-ups, super-powered individuals, and an unknown weapon of mass destruction known only as “Akira.” Hailed as a milestone for storytelling and the manga artform, this work was one of the first mangas to be fully translated and published in English. Akira was also adapted in an anime of the same name in 1988.
DC: New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke
New Frontier bridges the gap between the Golden Age (1930s-1940s) and Silver Age (1956-1970) of comics while telling an original story. Darwyn Cooke examines the nature of superheroes during the 1950s (often overlooked in comic books), as well as aesthetic designs of the time, the Korean War and its veterans, the fear of the Soviet Union, groundbreaking atomic testing, and racism in America. The story focuses DC’s well-known heroes (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and retells the origins of Martian Manhunter, The Flash (Barry Allen), and Green Lantern (Hal Jordan). When an alien threat faces Earth, heroes from the Golden Age and Silver Age must band together with a U.S. government skeptic of supers to defend the planet itself. The artwork is a combination of minimalistic designs of the 1930s and 1940s with Kirby-esque details and designs similar to Bruce Timm’s work from Batman: The Animated Series. DC: New Frontier was adapted in 2008 into an animated film.
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Jim Steranko
Jim Steranko is a Pennsylvanian comic book artist, writer, and historian, as well as a magician and designer of album covers and movie storyboards (including Raiders of the Lost Ark). While he only did 29 comics, he pioneered and created storytelling devices that continue to impact the medium to this day. Steranko’s art combines surrealism, op art, psychedelic designs of the 1960s, photomontage, and Ian Fleming’s James Bond to depict the superspy Nick Fury. Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. pits Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. against Baron von Strucker and Hydra, as they continue their struggles from World War II (when Sgt. Fury lead his Howling Commandos against von Strucker’s Blitzkrieg Squad). Now in the 1960s, S.H.I.E.L.D. faces increased threats from the technologically-advanced terrorist group Hydra and only Fury and his allies can stop their plans of destruction and world domination.
Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Black Panther was introduced in Fantastic Four #52 in July, 1966. One of Jack Kirby’s and Stan Lee’s most socially-conscious and important characters, the Black Panther T’Challa rules over the African nation of Wakanda, the most technologically-advanced place on Earth. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ story A Nation Under Our Feet displays the disconnect between an advanced, progressive society that maintains a monarchy. Politics, terrorism, and the battle between tradition and modernity are central to this take on the character. Ta-Nehisi Coates focuses on social issues facing African-Americans, is a writer for the Atlantic, and is credited in the Black Panther movie.
Hellboy by Mike Mignola
Mike Mignola’s Hellboy was introduced in 1993 for Dark Horse Comics and has remained a pop-culture mainstay since then. Summoned from Hell during World War II by Rasputin and Nazi occultists but intercepted and raised by Americans paranormal researchers, Hellboy acts as a force for good against monsters, demons, and men who would see the world burn. Hellboy fights Nazis, vampires, werewolves, homunculi, demons, witches, space wurms, and gods in his travels on Earth and in Hell. A mixture of Jack Kirby’s Etrigan the Demon, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu, gothic horror stories, and ancient mythologies and folk stories from Russia, Greece, Africa, the British Isles, and beyond, Mignola blends literary masterpieces with his unique dark humor to create the character Hellboy. Hellboy has been adapted into paperbacks, two animated films, two live-action movies (with a third in production as of this writing), and has created several spin-off characters and comics.
Planetary by Warren Ellis
Warren Ellis is an English comic book writer known for his work for Marvel and for the Red (which was adapted into two movies in 2010 and 2013) as well as his sociocultural writings. Planetary focuses on the superhero genre, not necessarily the heroes, and explores the influences on comics from other literature and pop cultures. Planetary is an organization dedicated to discovering the secret history of the world. Funded by a figure known only as the “Fourth Man,” the field operatives The Drummer, Jakita Wagner, and Elijah Snow, face a rival group known as The Four as they race to uncover secrets of the past. Cultural references include Sherlock Holmes, Gojira (Godzilla), and theories of a multiverse amongst the many inclusions in the story.
Guardian Devil by Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith is a pop culture and comic book enthusiast known for his films Clerks, Mallrats, and Dogma and has directed episodes of Supergirl and The Flash on CW. The storyline for Daredevil: Guardian Devil deconstructed the titular character, his purpose, and his code. Kevin Smith, like the Daredevil character, was raised Catholic and that system of beliefs has shaped them both as person and superhero, respectively. Guardian Devil describes the Catholic core and morality of Matt Murdock (Daredevil) and how one villain from his past exploits his moral compass and complicated history to undermine and destroy his friendships, relationships, and his very belief in his mission as a superhero. As Daredevil is increasingly driven mad through the tests on his faith, he seeks allies and friends (notably the Black Widow and Dr. Strange) in an attempt to reason with his beliefs and investigate what may or may not be the antiChrist.
Alison Bechdel's Fun Home
Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic chronicles her childhood in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania growing up with access to her family’s funeral home. Bechdel is widely known as the creator of the “Bechdel Test” that seeks to assess if women in works of fiction are treated as important and fully-realized characters (accomplished by examining if a story features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man.) With a maturity that is only earned through hindsight, Bechdel explores themes in Fun Home including family dysfunction, gender roles, sexual orientation, and abuse through the lens of her complex relationship with her father. What emerges is a darkly humorous and painful, yet compelling, story that provides opportunities for hearty discussions of sexual identity and its importance, and relationship to, society. (Note: Fun Home was also adapted into a Broadway Musical which won the Tony for 'Best Musical' in 2015)
Marvels by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross
Kurt Busiek is a writer known for his work on this miniseries and his own title, Astro City. Alex Ross is unique among comic book artists in that he uses paints instead of pencils and ink for his work. Marvels is a history of the Marvel universe from 1939 to the 1970s through the eyes of photographer-writer Phil Sheldon. The story details major heroes, villains, and events in Golden and Silver Age comics including: World War II; the formation of the Fantastic Four and the Avengers; the perceived threat of mutants; the coming of Galactus; and the death of Gwen Stacy. Both the story and artwork are a refreshing take on the history of the publisher, and Marvels is an excellent read for those acquainted with the comics and those exploring beyond the movies alike.