These are comics that inspired me as a comic artist/writer, and comics I just think are a blast to read for one reason or another.
Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai. A taste of samurai cinema in the form of a sword-slingin’ rabbit. This comic could get anyone interested in Japanese chanbara films and tv shows, which are awesome.
Hellboy by Mike Mignola. Not exactly obscure, this one. If you have a love of mythology, Hellboy is for you.
The Amazing Screw-On Head by Mike Mignola. Probably the funniest comic I ever read.
Punisher: War Zone. This iteration of the Punisher will always be the real Frank Castle to me, first published in 1992. The popcicle-blowtorch scene from the Thomas Jane Punisher was a key scene in Issue #1, and one of my favorite moments. Still trying to collect the series. However…
The Punisher: The Killing Streets (Punisher vol. II, no. 93, 1994) by Chuck Dixon is my all-time favorite Punisher tale, about a young kid who “hires” Castle to relieve his barrio of a growing street gang.
Batman – Spawn: War Devil by Dough Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, and Klaus Johnson. It really doesn’t take four people to make a better Batman-Spawn crossover than Frank Miller, but these guys did it anyway. And it’s far superior. Don’t read Miller’s, for god’s sake; read this one instead. You’ll thank me later.
Seven Block by Chuck Dixon and Jorge Zaffino. An obscure horror comic with some creepy visuals that would’ve made a neat movie…if anyone had ever heard of it, that is.
Bubblegum Crisis: Grand Mal by Adam Warren. I think he did Bubblegum Crisis better than Kenichi Sonoda. Certainly made it less sleazy…or at least made the sleaziness part of Neo-Tokyo culture rather than pure fan service…
House on the Borderland by Richard Corben and Simon Revelstroke. A comic adaptation of William Hope Hodgson’s novel of the same name, and one that would have made Classics Illustrated cry tears of jealousy. Which reminds me…
Classics Illustrated. Great way to get kids interested in classic lit, even if the art was sometimes hideous.
The Mask by John Arcudi and Doug Mankhe. Imagine if the Jim Carrey movie had been directed by Eli Roth and you’ll have some idea what the source material was like. Moviegoers really missed out, man (not saying Eli Roth is a good director, though, don’t get me wrong).
Valiant Comics’s Super Mario Bros Comic System. I ate these up as a kid: they were filled with odd humor that was unusual to find in a kid’s comic, and presented itself almost like a comic book variety show, with joke ads and PSA’s in-between episodes. Classic stuff.
Black Magic by Masamune Shirow. The William Gibson of the comic world takes his first foray into the world of sexy cyber-fantasy comics, and the manga world is forever changed. Brilliant little story about the death of life and society on Venus, and the birth of Earth as we know it.
Appleseed by Masamune Shirow. Unlike the rest of Shirow’s works, this one doesn’t get ultra-philosophical and features two protagonists who are approachable and truly likable. If you only read one comic by Shirow, make it this one.
Cerebus the Aardvark by Dave Sim. The granddaddy of independent comics (Elf Quest is the grandmammy). All the animal hero parodies started here, with this spoof of Conan.
Dick Tracy by Chester Gould. Also hardly obscure, but I feel Tracy is under-appreciated these days, overlooked in favor of the big bad bat who stole his gig and sullied it with a sillier costume. Unfortunately classic Tracy stories are tough to come by these days.
Bardic Press’s Mythography. A neat anthology comic that might have lasted only an issue or two (my memory’s hazy). Includes a really cute sci-fi story called Mystery Date, where a dumb college girl tries to sex up her teacher for a passing grade…and her teacher is an alien.
Excel Saga by Rikdo Koshi. Don’t bother with the anime, seriously. Completely different animal. Like the difference between The Big Lebowski and Dude, Where’s My Car? Worst of all, the anime omits a character so important to the cast’s dynamic it’s like making a Three Stooges short without Curly!
Urusei Yatsura and Ranma 1/2 by Rumiko Takahashi. Twice this wonderful, wonderful lady proves herself the Queen of the Tragic Protagonist. Nothing ever goes right for these characters, and it’s only their own fault half of the time; the other half it’s just cruel fate mocking them. All her characters are assholes and lunatics, but somehow you find yourself rooting for them anyway.
FLCL by Hajime Ueda. The ultimate puberty metaphor, minus the arbitrary J-pop soundtrack. It’s darker than the anime, too, and I think this version’s ending is more appropriate.
Hyper Dolls by Shimpei Itoh. Hilarious stories about a pair of OP’d super heroines who are often bored with their job. Like Excel Saga, the manga is a completely different animal than the anime — the Hyper Dolls themselves even have their personalities completely changed!
Tomie by Junji Ito. This author has a knack for frightening imagery, but his stories and concepts are pretty silly most of the time. Not with Tomie: this girl is an undying catalyst of envy and depravity, and wherever she goes, terrible shit follows.
Creature Tech by Doug Tennapel. The creator of Earthworm Jim spins an interesting and often humorous tale about alien parasites that bestow superhuman powers, with a nice “will science and faith stop fighting already?” message. Also, giant space eels.
Marvel’s Secret Wars. The first major comic universe crossover epic. Worth checking out if you’re into that sorta thing. Includes the introduction of Black Spider-Man via the Venom symbiote.
Maus by Art Spiegelman. Poignant and unsettling biographical comic about the holocaust. Just ‘cos they’re animal people doesn’t mean it’s Ninja Turtles — get ready for some heartbreaking stuff.
Shirahime-Syo by CLAMP. Speaking of heartbreaking, here’s a handful of Japanese folk tales that’ll make you cry rivers. Very sad, and very Japanese.
Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. More of a textbook than a comic, this masterpiece really kickstarted my serious foray into comics. It has two sequels: Reinventing Comics and Making Comics.
You Are Here by Kyle Baker. Amusing noir tale about an ex-thief whose past catches up with him in the form of a pissed off Robert Mitchum lookalike. Not for kids.
The Cowboy Wally Show by Kyle Baker. Brilliant mockumentary comic about the career of a fictional television star.
Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I loved the cartoon as a kid, but once I was exposed to the first TMNT film — and then the comics it was based on — I never went back. Original TMNT is as badass as it is silly, and better than that awful cartoon in every way.
Golgo 13 by Takao Saito. The James Bond of the manga world…sorta. Duke Togo is the ultimate badass, and don’t let anybody tell you different. Don’t watch the animes: they dumbed it down to idiotic “exploitation film” material. The live-action films, by contrast, were much truer to the source material.
Nightmares and Fairy Tales by Serena Valentino and FSc. Wonderful anthology of twisted modern fairy tales which seems to have gone horribly overlooked.
Arcane Comix’s Fly in my Eye. Horror lovers need to get their hands on this anthology comic, which features art by Clive Barker and a brilliant sci-fi story about a lady murdering her clones (created by her crazy ex-husband).