Navigating early adulthood seems a more difficult journey than ever. A hundred years ago, all anyone was expected to accomplish was to get a job, marry, have kids, and then die. Our current, collective adulthood is proving a little more complicated than that, what with astronomical student debt, a wobbly housing market, a generation disillusioned with monogamy and marriage, and the internet. We don’t even have our forefathers’ short life expectancy to rely on when things get super tough. With that in mind, here’s a few comics every modern adult can relate to.
John Allison’s original webcomic spun-off to its new home at Boom! Studios, and turned from what was originally a 6-issue miniseries into a regular monthly comic. Illustrated by Lissa Treiman and Max Sarin, Giant Days stars Esther De Groot, Susan Ptolemy, and Daisy Wooton, as three college girls navigating the jungles of higher education, love, and life. Giant Days is such an earnestly endearing book, filled with humor and heart. More than that, the way it navigates the importantly silly drama necessary for anyone to come out of college a messy adult person makes Giant Days a fantastic read for anyone whose college years are still fresh and raw.
Lucky Penny is a web original turned graphic novel from the duo of Yuko Ota and Ananath Hirsh. Penny Brighton is decidedly unlucky in life, money, and love. Having lost her apartment and her job, she moves into her best friend’s storage unit and begins work at a laundromat. Typical modern day lifestyle. Then one day, she meets a cute guy at the YMCA and all the rom-com adventures start.
Lucky Penny is filled with these little quirks that build up the bright and colorful characters within it. From Penny’s collection of fantasy romance novels, to her potential beau’s proclivity for naming his possessions, Lucky Penny is a fun ride start to finish, and a close look at our nights eating cup noodles three meals a day.
Meredith Gran’s New York slice-of-life webcomic, Octopus Pie is being collected into volumes — published by Image — this year. I strongly recommend anyone who hasn’t already to pick them up, because Octopus Pie is a fascinating, almost real-time look at modern adulthood.
Failed relationships, failed job opportunities, failure in general: Octopus Pie almost sugarcoats the depressing missteps each of the main characters encounter on a regular basis with an absurdly fun plot full of misadventures. Of course, the comic would be no fun if it only dealt with losing, and so when the main characters do find the little victories in their lives, it’s an incredibly rewarding experience.
In many ways Seconds, by Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley, feels like a more mature work than his previous graphic novels. Following the story of an ambitious chef named Katie, Seconds quickly becomes a Murakami-esque journey into the life of an overwhelmed, aging youth whose past mistakes are beginning to affect her present state-of-mind.
Regret is a huge theme in Seconds and the promise of a magic mushroom that allows Katie to travel back in time and change some of those transgressions is probably an ability many of us want. Unfortunately we have to live with who we are, and that includes all of our missteps.
Hawkeye vol. 4
Writer Matt Fraction and David Aja, along with other amazing artists like Javier Pulido, Steve Lieber, Jesse Hamm, Francesco Francavilla, and Annie Wu delivered what might be one of the most popular comics this decade, and certainly one of the best Hawkeye comics ever. The reason a superhero comic made it on this list is because, as opposed to someone like Captain America, Clint Barton is a regular guy, and Fraction and Aja decision to really focus on the normality of this character yielded surprising results.
By digging into the banality of an archer among superheroes, Fraction unearthed the sort of crippling self-doubt a character like Clint Barton could have, but also the capacity to overcome these doubts by wanting to do right by others. It’s these flourishes of real, grounded humanity that makes this run of Hawkeye less a superhero story than a tale of navigating oneself in today’s modern world…but with superheroes.
The Superior Foes of Spider-Man
On the other side of that spectrum is the 2013 series, The Superior Foes of Spider-Man by Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber. Whereas Hawkeye frames a pseudo-crisis of faith as a superhero story, Spencer and Lieber frame a midlife crisis as a villain’s story. What happens when five B-list Spider-Man villains become restless with their mediocrity? Well, a lot of humor and action for one, but also a surprising character study on how ambition shapes the decisions we make.
It’s also one of the funniest stories out there, and Spencer’s current run of Ant-Man should also be given a look.
See You Next Tuesday
Jane Mai’s See You Next Tuesday might be the most mature book on this list. Pseudo-autobiographical, and mostly presented in a non-chronological order of one-off mini comics, See You Next Tuesday explores Mai’s relationship with her friends, work, lovers, and herself. Deeply entertaining, a little manic, irregularly relatable, See You Next Tuesday is a fantastic book about the anxieties of adulthood.