I love comics. Used to read a lot of the funnies in the newspaper when I was a kid. Unfortunately, most of them aren't even close to funny anymore (man I miss Calvin and Hobbes). In high school and college I got pretty deep into comic books. Not so much the superhero comics (although I did like Batman a lot), more like Cerebus and Kabuki.
A few years ago I read Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. He truly did give me a new understanding of comics - I suddenly realized how underrated comics are, and that they really do have the potential to be one of our greatest art-forms. We hold fine art - paintings, drawings, etc. - and literature to be two of culture's ultimate artistic, important expressions. Why do we have such a huge stigma against uniting the two? Once pictures and words come together at the same time, they suddenly become degraded to low-art or childrens literature. That makes no sense.
Granted, most people's opinion of comics come from Spiderman and other superheros. Not to say that Spiderman didn't have it's great moments (and it did), but having comics automatically equated to superheros (and, way back when, to horror and detective comics) has forever tainted many people's opinions in general - comics are for kids, comics can never really be fine art, serious stories can't be written into comics, etc.
And that simply isn't true (I give you Kabuki as a fine example).
The comic world has been through a lot of ups and downs. From the Comics Code of 1954 (and is still used today, unfortunately - could there BE a more obsolete organization?) nearly killing all creativity, to the shamefully bad slump of comics in the mid-90's (with a few exceptions), comics are a survivor. With the new century has come a new revolution in comics - the writing is better, the art is better, and comics are enjoying a big wave of mainstream popularity. Especially revolutionary is Marvel withdrawing from the Comics Code in 2001 - a totally awesome move that I think all comics should take (when will people learn that censorship - especially the unbelievably unrealistic type that the CCA puts out - sucks?).
Comics are doing pretty well these days. Readership is definitely up. Big production movies are being made with even relatively unknown comics (i.e. Hellboy). Toys based on comics are huge, and have "spawned" a whole industry on themselves (hehehe, get it?, that's definitely my dad's sense of humor coming through). Comics are finally getting at least a little bit of the respect they have deserved for so long. There's still a long way to go, but it's a start.
I'm going talk more about comics soon (especially web comics), but in the meantime I have a few great ones listed in my Books section (yes, there is a Books section, it's in the Archive). Any one of those would be a great place to start (though that list is very far from complete) if you want to see how artistic, well-written, and mature comics can be.
P.S. If you have the time, you should really read the Comics Code... It's a nostalgic reminder of how limited freedom in the U.S. can be. Could you even imagine if that same code was put to movies these days (and how much movies would utterly, utterly suck)? They never put those kind of standards to fine art or literature (though those have had more than their share of misguided idiots targeting them). Why does the Comic Code still exist!?! Two words: morons and money.