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Cartoonists rarely produce great work right out of the starting gate. It usually it takes lots of time and lots of effort for an artist to hone their style and storytelling abilities. Debut comics — even those made by the greats — rarely offer any indication of what type of treasures lie ahead. Even Chris Ware had to make Floyd Farland before he could produce Jimmy Corrigan.
Still, sometimes a cartoonist seems to spring out of the sea foam fully formed, producing a work that not only draws attention and great buzz, but also indicates exactly where they’re headed — what direction they plan to take as an artist and what you as a reader can expect from them.
Here then, are six debut comics that made people go “Who the heck is this guy? And why haven’t I heard of him before?” I’m sure I missed someone. I always do. Be a dear and let me know who I forgot in the comments section, won’t you?
1. Goodbye Chunky Rice by Craig Thompson. True, Thompson had done a few mini-comics before Chunky was published, but those weren’t seen by many until years later. Chunky was really the book that introduced readers to Thompson. The reaction to the book was swift and laudatory. I remember people buzzing about the book at SPX that year, wondering who this guy was and how could he produce so moving and assured a work at so young an age. With only three major books to his name so far (four if you count this year’s forthcoming Habibi), he’s remained one of the more beloved and significant creators in the alt-comix landscape.
2. Clumsy by Jeffrey Brown. Rare is the cartoonist who gets a glowing cover blurb from Chris Ware on their very first comic. Brown, however, was lucky enough to do so with his debut book, a cringe-tastic tale of awkward, and ultimately doomed, young love. He’s shown quite a bit of diversity since then, especially in humor books like Incredible Change-Bots, but I don’t know that he’s produced anything as emotionally affecting as this particular title yet.
3. Yummy Fur by Chester Brown. Looking back, it seems hard to believe that Yummy Fur was Brown’s first comic, that he was that good right out of the gate with so few missteps, but it’s true. That very first issue, with the start of the Ed the Happy Clown serial, stories about toilet paper that killed people and oddities like Walrus Blubber Sandwich let readers know from the get-go that there was something unique and potentially unsettling about this particular comic. I remember reading that first issue in my local comic store at the time and being profoundly unnerved by it. So much so that it actually scared me off of Brown’s subsequent work for several years afterward. That’s gotta be a mark of some kind of quality, no?
4. Bone by Jeff Smith. You could ostensibly argue that Smith’s first professional comics work was Bone’s precursor, Thorn, a comic strip he drew for his college newspaper while enrolled at Ohio State University. You could make that argument, but I’m not going to. For all intents and purposes, that first issue of Bone was Smith’s debut into the world of comics, a debut which proceeded to change the landscape for all-ages and alternative comics for years to come. Smith had obviously spent a inordinate amount of time thinking about and developing the series beforehand, since it’s so assured and fully formed from the first page. His craft and storytelling abilities are just as confident in that first issue as they are in the last.
5. Night Fisher by R Kikuo Johnson. As with Chunky Rice, there was quite a bit of hype and brouhaha over the publication of Johnson’s inaugural work. Publisher Gary Groth even compared its release to the arrival of the first issue of Love and Rockets, or words to that effect. It’s not that good, although this tale of disaffected adolescence and drug dealing in Hawaii is certainly compelling and suggests that Johnson is an artist capable of producing great work. Unfortunately, he has yet to follow up on that initial promise. But Night Fisher still marks him as an artist to watch out for.
6. Lose #1 by Michael DeForge. What planet is DeForge from that he is able to produce such stellar work with such seeming effortlessness? And how is he able to make comics so profoundly creepy? So far he’s produced three issues of Lose and a rather wide assortment of mini-comics and anthology contributions with next to no drop in quality. The confidence this guy exudes on the page, especially in that first issue, is rather shocking honestly. I say we can expect great things from him, but he’s already produced great things, starting with that very first issue of Lose.