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Comics for Existential Adults

Alain McAlister

Life can be heavy sometimes, and it’s been a rough month for me. I’ve been reaching for a lot of media that lets me sit in the messy gray areas of it all. The following comics have weight and love, but also a comforting quiet and space for their stories to echo through. They invite you in, and I find something about that space is comforting. So, without further ado, here are some of my recommendations for friends looking for a similar vibe.

Calvin and Hobbes book cover Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson (he/him)

This is the first collection of the classic comic strip that features Calvin, a rambunctious 6-year-old boy, and his stuffed tiger, Hobbes, who comes charmingly to life. Filled with a mix of Watterson’s standard and full-page Sunday strips, this collection is sure to please fans and newcomers alike.

Calvin and Hobbes was a large part of my comics rotation as a kid, in company with Zits, Foxtrot, Baby Blues, and Garfield. I still have my family’s copy of this book, with a cover held on by disintegrating tape and stained pages. I really enjoy the story and art of Calvin and Hobbes; it is accessible to everyone, and I find a mastery of storytelling of the strips. Limited panel comics take so much work to make and are so difficult for me, so I really enjoy seeing how people use them. Yes, the stories are about silly adventures and dozing off in school, but something about them speaks to being a sensitive and curious person, whether it’s about the world, people around us, or our emotions. 


Good Girl Laika book coverGood Girl Laika by J Marshall Smith (he/him)

Years after launch, intrepid space dog Laika is still up there and still trying to get home. This collection of comics follows the life of Laika, a dog who is only loosely connected to the real life Laika and more based on the artist’s real dog, Lily. Follow as Laika floats in space and navigates her abundance of time.

This collection of comics truly has a poetic beauty to it, which is unsurprising if you’ve read other works from J Marshall Smith. By exploring complex topics of grief, uncertainty, and loss of control with a lightness and sincerity, this comic is simultaneously the silliest and most heart touching series. Sure, Laika contemplates the beauty of the sunrise while being trapped forever in space, but she also hucks a GameBoy when it dies, ruining her game. We are simultaneously Laika and the people of Earth who care for her, unable to communicate with each other. It’s truly a collection you will read and ruminate on for weeks as it sinks in.


Are You Listening? book coverAre You Listening? by Tillie Walden (she/her)

Bea is on the run. And then, she runs into Lou. This chance encounter sends them on a journey through West Texas, where strange things follow them wherever they go. The landscape morphs into an unsettling world, a mysterious cat joins them, and they are haunted by a group of threatening men. To stay safe, Bea and Lou must trust each other as they are driven to confront buried truths. The two women share their stories of loss and heartbreak–and a startling revelation about sexual assault–culminating in an exquisite example of human connection.

Tillie Walden always creates such a distinct and unique voice in her comics. The characters suck you in, and the colors further the mood of the story. This story of escape, connection, and place always pulls me. As anyone who grew up in the midwest can share, most of us have memories of long road trips where time is nebulous. Walden uses this to her advantage, drawing on these shared experiences to explore what our connections to others mean and what vulnerability can look like. 

Cozy reading,