If you've noticed, for the most part this list is devoid of such names as Bryan Lee O'Malley, Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, etc. that was a conscious choice, as the aforementioned folks all have fairly well-established fanbases and are probably already familiar to you. The same is probably true of Chris Ware, but his ongoing Rusty Brown strip is such a cautionary tale for nerds that it demands mentioning here. Published sporadically in his Acme Novelty Library anthology, Rusty Brown tells the story of the titular manchild. Not so much caught up in a state of arrested development as having never developed much in the first place, Brown spends his life obsessing over things like Supergirl Megos and Kermit the Frog. As the story has progressed, readers have gotten some insight into why Rusty is so fucked up (mainly bad parenting and poor socialization). These reasons don't forgive his increasingly pervy behavior, but at least they illustrate how he isn't purely to blame for his actions. The main lesson that the story Ware is trying to convey is how debilitating nostalgia can be. As a grown man who collects action figures and writes about the very things Ware is commenting on, my initial reaction is to dismiss him as a misguided elitist and run off to play with my Hugo, Man of a Thousand Faces doll. But I don't think Ware is decrying being a collector in and of itself, but instead warning those with geeky tendencies that their interests can spiral out of control and consume their lives. Brown's experiences in the strip demonstrate this firsthand. The Eels song "Whatever Happened to Soy Bomb?" is about a guy who spends his days collecting Josie and the Pussycats lunchboxes and wondering about pop culture has-beens. Eventually, he realizes that life is short and he's been wasting his life on meaningless bullshit. This is essentially the story of Rusty Brown, and of countless others like him (hell, maybe even myself). Apart from being ironic and meta, raising these sorts of issues in a comic like Ware does is an inspired way to get across a message that is worth pondering.
4) Action Figure
Literally drawing from his own experiences as an illustrator for Hasbro (where he created box art for the Transformers and G.I. Joe toy lines), Richard Marcej created the comic Action Figure for his Baboon Books imprint in 2006. The book presents a somewhat fictionalized look back at his days working for the toy giant, all the while walking the tightrope between commerce and artistic integrity. Packed with insights on what it is like to work for a toy giant, Action Figure is a bit tough to track down. But like discovering a short-packed figure after months of hunting, it is well worth any effort you might expend to find it.
3) Bad Asses
Mark Todd's zine/graphic novel hybrid Bad Asses bills itself as "a ton of drawings of bad ass guys and girls and rides." Which basically means that readers are treated to hilarious caricatures of Robocop, Debbie Harry, Scooby-Doo's Mystery Machine and every other pop culture bad ass from the past 30 years. Todd's cartoony visuals are the main selling point here, although his brief insights on each of the book's 65 entries are where the humor really shines through (before reading this it never even occurred to me that Kermit the Frog is a victim of domestic violence). And I don't know about you, but there aren't nearly enough tomes in my personal library whose pages feature everyone from Dolemite to the Kraken from the original Clash of the Titans.
Anyone who has ever blown off real world responsibilities in favor of spending hours in front of the Xbox can relate to Arlo, a recovering videogame junkie whose experiences are chronicled in Robin Enrico's Controller. The mini-comic is a funny (and at times pensive) rumination on how gaming can easily overtake your life and drain your wallet. By no means is this a bleak affair like the aforementioned Rusty Brown. Enrico wisely makes Arlo a lovable character who is well-adjusted, has had sex and generally knows that moderation is the key to a happy life. Well, that and the occasional game of Ms. Pac-Man. In a move worthy of an "Impressive Acts of Nerdiness" tag, Controller was designed to look like an old Nintendo cartridge, complete with a black and red slipcover. Such attention to nerd detail is worth applauding.
1) Incredible Change Bots
Jeffrey Brown honed his skills with a series of autobiographical comics that painfully detailed several failed relationships. The gentle humor on display in those largely pathos-driven books is replaced with huge laughs, along with plenty of nostalgia, in his 2007 Transformers spoof Incredible Change Bots. Unlike its inspiration there is nothing more than meets the eye with these robots because they keep their ineptitude front and center. The book details the battle between the good Awesomebots and the malevolent Fantasticons that ensues when they bring their fight to Earth. When not squaring off against each other, both groups of robots spend plenty of time bickering amongst themselves. In lieu of Optimus Prime style heroics, the best you'll get out of Awesomebot leader Big Rig is a lecture and some pouting (so I suppose he's more like Rodimus Prime then). The above trailer is a primer on the world of the Incredible Change Bots. A sequel is set for release early next year. However, at this point there are no plans for an animated series -- which seems like the next likely step for the robot mayhem-infused saga. Adult Swim, take note.