Jennifer Anne-Hill champions the cause of the graphic novelSo you want to read comics, do you? Well, you’re going to need lots of storage space. Flat boxes, acid-free polythene bags. I can recommend a good website.Let’s debunk a few stereotypes here. I don’t deny that there are people who go in for all that geeky stuff but for most, the fun lies in reading them, not preserving them. In the interests of breaking down preconceptions and providing a comprehensive introduction to the novice, I’ve read the best and the worst comic book offerings, so you won’t have to and lined up a little something for everyone. And while we’re debunking stereotypes, I’m a 21 year-old young woman in a Topshop t-shirt who is planning to show you that comics aren’t just for slightly strange men or monosyllabic teenagers – in fact, most parents would be shocked to see their precious little darlings reading a few of the titles I’ve listed here.So why should you read comics? For one thing they’re intellectually fascinating, often capable of subjecting the reader to the most rigorous literary and psychoanalytic theory. The variety and range that is available means that whether you’re after horror, crime, or romance there’ll be something to satisfy your tastes; comics may be well-known for their costumed superheroes but there’s not a genre that this medium hasn’t touched.In the 1930s and ‘40s, an American publisher called DC Comics launched a line of superhero characters which included the debuts of Batman (1939) and Superman (1938). This has come to be known as the golden age of comics, and purists maintain that standards have been slipping ever since. The silver age began in the 1960s when the American company Marvel Comics, headed by legend Stan Lee, created a completely new line of superheroes including the Fantastic Four (1961), Spiderman (1962), and X-Men (1963). The third age of comics started somewhere in the ‘80s when comic books had fewer problems with censorship, and also began to display a propensity to question the genre itself. Alan Moore’s Watchmen (1986) told the story of a superhero team over two different generations which tackled adult themes and psychologically profiled its ‘heroes.’ After all, what exactly does motivate a man to put on tights and a cape and start hanging around looking sinister on rooftops at night? All of these titles were published as separate monthly or weekly comics, telling a story over a period of months or years. Story arcs that sell well will almost certainly be collected into larger volumes and published as graphic novels, even if writers struggle to keep their heroes relevant to new decades. The nature of the graphic novel itself is a complicated issue – some would say that it is just a pretentious term for a longer comic book, rather than anything more unique, and they’re probably right. However, for non-US residents, graphic novels are incredibly important, since it’s really difficult to get hold of comics, and unless you live near a decent comic shop you invariably miss some issues. Waiting until the collected edition is available in Waterstones is, frankly, much easier, and you end up with an attractive tome to adorn your shelves.Transmetropolitan: Back On The Street Warren Ellis Foul-mouthed, gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem makes the leftie press look cool in this rip-roaring, paranoid ride through an urban dystopian sprawl merely referred to as ‘The City.’ Spider takes on corrupt politicians, his editor and an apathetic and ignorant populace of thousands in a city where a new religion is invented every 35 minutes and a new cable channel every 20. It’s like Hunter S. Thompson. But in the future.Like this? You’ll never find anything as good and you’ll cry into your alcoholic beverage of choice every night wishing that you could just go back and read it with new eyes. And if Ellis’s predictions about the future come true, one day you possibly might.The Complete ‘Maus’ Art SpiegelmanIn an intensely biographical and autobiographical work, the writer records interviews with his aged father who survived the Nazi concentration camps. We switch between the narrative which takes place during WWII and the narrative during the present day, in which Spiegalman attempts to relate to his father in the aftermath of his mother’s suicide. We see the writer and budding cartoonist decide on the best way to tell his story, deciding on a very simplistic, detached style in which the Germans are portrayed as cats and the Jews as mice. This amazing work has won a Pulizter prize, and is often and justifiably compared to Schlinder’s List.Like this? Try Palestine by Joe Sacco or Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan. The Astonishing X-Men: Gifted Joss WhedonJoss Whedon (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) takes on Cyclops, Wolverine and the team in a way that invites new readers of the comic to enjoy them alongside the old readers, using his trademark witty dialogue and showing what happens when a brilliant writer who grew up with these long-running characters is handed the series and let loose.Like this? Try the next instalment; it’s even better. (I won’t tell you what they do to Wolverine, but it’s wonderful and humiliating and worth waiting for.) Alternatively, Buffy fans should try Joss Whedon’s Season Eight, the official continuation to the TV series in comic format.Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes Neil GaimanThis title introduces the Endless; near-immortal beings who embody essential parts of humanity and the universe. Desire is everything that you have ever wanted, with eyes as tawny and sharp as yellow wine. Dream, the Sandman, is the prince of stories, the muse of many. Death is a goth girl wearing lots of eyeliner. The first in a ten part series, these graphic novels begin slowly but end superbly. Each book is enjoyable by itself but the true power of the series only becomes apparent once you have finished the entire story, so only begin these books if you have lots of money and time. Like this? Try: Fables or Death: The High Cost of LivingBatman: The Dark Knight Returns Frank MillarThe mini-series that made Batman cool again. Released in the same year as Watchmen and projecting much the same mood, this series did away with the camp image projected by the Batman and Robin seen on TV and re-introduced readers to the brooding and lonely detective figure employing dubious methods of justice in order to keep crime-ridden Gotham City safe. Millar also introduces us to the first girl Robin.Like this? Try Moore’s Watchmen or the noir feel of Millar’s Sin City.Fables: Legends in ExileBill WillinghamAnother one for English students and anyone else who enjoys a new take on an old genre, Fables crafts the characters of Eastern and European fairy tales into creatures living in our modern world, their survival dependant on their continued presence in storytelling. (Note – if they ever make a movie of this, Bigby Wolf – get it? – would clearly be played by Colin Firth and a wet shirt scene would be mandatory.) It’s a romance, but it’s intelligent. Spotting minor characters from obscure folk tales provides plenty of fun too.Like this? Try Gaiman’s Sandman or Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.