If you’re an adult who’s interested in reading all those well-written comic books you’ve heard all your nerdier friends/the fun IT guy at work talk about, it’s hard to know where to start, given that, to the untrained eye, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between the “graphic novel” and something that you would be ashamed to be caught reading on the subway by an ex, coworker, or anyone eager to write you off as an overgrown child/moron. Comics are especially impossible to judge by their covers, but there are some reliable authors. One of the best ones is Brian K. Vaughan.
Vaughan has done work on standard superhero titles (X-Men and Captain America at Marvel, Batman and Green Lantern at DC, etc.), and crossed over into television a bit (Lost), but the series he himself created, Y: The Last Man, is a truly unique, and universally appealing, work. Y isn’t a conventional comic in that it isn’t a potentially-endless serial created around an interesting character, but a finite series describing an interesting situation, namely: the mass extinction of all men on earth, except for one. That makes Y: The Last Man, available in ten short paperback volumes, more of a novel told in installments than your average collected series.
Y is so well-written, you can forget you’re reading a comic altogether; the story has so many layers going on at once. It has such a surprising number of literary references and funny moments you can understand why Vaughan is one of Joss Whedon’s favorites (and why he picked him to contribute to his own Buffy comic series, which is as wordy as they come). Our hero, Yorick, a.k.a. Y, and his sister, Hero, are not the only references to Shakespeare. At the same time, the story isn’t above including a monkey sidekick in a pivotal role.
Vaughan’s latest series, Saga, which has a more sci-fi feel, is off to a great start, but Y: The Last Man, with it’s more earth-based characters and plots (and without any wait for the next volume, since the series wrapped up in 2008), is a better place to start in terms of both Vaughan’s work and smart comics in general.