Although I’ve always been under this impression (and I was wrong for quite a few years), mainly because of blockbuster Hollywood motion pictures, comic books are cool! Despite this fact, however, and the fact that July 2014 was the best month ever for comic book sales, I know there are still plenty of folks out there who would just love to get into the hobby of reading comic books, but for some reason or another they are either turned off by some stereotypical misconception associated with the hobby, or simply aren’t sure how to get into something with such a robust and storied history. Well, let not your heart be troubled, wannabe comic book readers, because I’m here to clear up all of your negative misconceptions, and give you some tips on the best way to get your comic book on.
Everything You Think You Know Is Probably Wrong
There are a ton of things associated with comic books and people who read, sell, and talk about comic books that turn non-comic book readers off before they ever even think about picking up the hobby, and all of those things are totally wrong. Sure, there are exceptions with every case, but for the most part, these “hurdles” for new readers don’t even come into the equation.
If You Don’t Start at the Start You’ve Already Missed Out
Wrong! So very wrong! For the most part, comic books are not like your traditional novels where you have to start at chapter one to enjoy chapter 2 or any other chapter that comes after. Sure, comic books DO have a starting number, but this is really just an arbitrary thing and has little to nothing to do with the tales actually being told within the pages of a single title. Action Comics is a prime example. Issue 1, Volume 1 of Action Comics was released way back in June 1938 and a recent copy sold for over 3 million bucks on eBay, but the last issue, issue #904, debuted in only October 2011, and can be found for about 3 bucks. In the same way that it’s logical to assume that you’d have to read 903+ comics in order to enjoy issue #904, the same can be applied to just about each and every comic book ever released.
Comic Book Characters’ Back-stories are Too Convoluted
This is true, actually. I cannot deny that the majority of characters from Marvel and DC have had a ton of life-experience up to this point that has shaped them into what readers will see on comic book pages today. With 70+ years of history for some characters, it’s going to happen. But this is a cyclical phenomenon, and the large majority of characters are still inherently the same sort of character they have always been, and the learning curve is nowhere near as steep as most people assume. While there’s still a curve, there are terrific resources out there to get all the knowledge you need to enjoy a character being written right now, and places like Wikipedia and Facebook groups are going to be your best friends. And they are very friendly!
Worst. Comic. Ever.
I won’t blame the Simpsons for creating the stereotype, but the show definitely didn’t help matters, however I’ve been in a whole lot of comic book shops over the years and I’ve experienced a bad clerk fewer times than I ever have at Wal-Mart. Now, maybe that’s just a bash on Wal-Mart, but comic book shop owners, in almost every case, are small business owners who by necessity must have a positive and outgoing retailer attitude. Additionally, because many comic book shops are also game stores and game retailers, meaning they host open-to-the-public game tournaments of all kinds, they’re actually really social individuals, and, because they are geeks-at-heart, love answering questions. ComicShopLocator is a great resource to find a local comic shop, and although you could go the online route for buying your comics, I strongly suggest you take part in the awesomeness that is your local comic book shop. There’s a club atmosphere (like the Elks’ Club, not a bar), and while the feeling of “belonging” that used to be such a big part of mom and pop businesses may be quickly going away, it’s on full-board at your local comic shop.
It’s Not Just Capes and Tights
Although I’m presuming the success of comic book films is bringing in would-be comic book readers, there’s literally a comic book out there for anyone. The medium spans age, gender, and every literary taste you can imagine, and even some you’d never imagine. Image Comics is certainly THE place to go for comic book fare that stays away from the preconceived traditional, but there are a slew of Independent comic publishers selling atypical comics, sans capes and tights. Even Marvel and DC have their own separate comic book lines that stay away from the superhero flare.
So, now you you know! And knowing is half the battle! The other half is actually deciphering the shelves, considering the options, and knowing when to say “enough is enough”. Here’s some tips to get you through it!
Classics Are Classics for a Reason
New comics are definitely where you’re going to find the stories that make the news, like the new Thor and Captain America coming to Marvel, but you can’t go wrong with buying a book you know is great. It’s an easy way to even see if sequential art is something you’d be into, but it’s also a great way to find creators that you like, and that is key to enjoying a comic book.
The best way to find a classic you’ll like is to first choose a character you like, and it does not matter how you were exposed to the character or why you like him/her. Maybe you watched Guardians of the Galaxy or another Marvel film; maybe you saw Nolan’s Batman Trilogy and want more; maybe you just watched a few episodes of Batman Beyond on Netflix. It doesn’t matter, as long as you have some starting point for choosing your classic. Once you have a character in mind it’s easy to find the best stories starring that particular character. If you enjoy those stories, either the writing or the art, you’ve identified a creator (a writer or artist) that you like. Going on from there, you find a book written or drawn by this creator starring a character that you’re not necessarily fond of or, better yet, that you absolutely hate. There are no bad characters, just bad creators. If you like that book, you’ve now found a character that you can at least tolerate, and you find a book starring that character that is considered a classic. Rinse. Wash. Repeat. If at any time you don’t like what you read, simply move on and try something different. There’s so many books out there considered “classics” that you’ll never run out of great back issues to read, but many of these creators are STILL creating books, giving you the easiest of avenues to enter into the realm of new comic books. But, there’s still the matter of finding comic books.
Find Free. Buy Cheap. Ask Questions. Get Involved.
While easing into comic books is a trial and error process that could wind up becoming a heavy financial investment just to start, it by no means has to be. Websites like Comixcology have lots of free (yeah, free!) comics available to readers, and the big publishers Marvel and DC have digital services and retailing of their own. These sites also have regular deals on comics that offer a lot of bang for the buck, and Amazon always has the deals. Yes, I know I said you should avoid online in favor of a real-world comic shop, but early in the process, it’s okay to cheat, and you should by no means ignore the local comic shop at all. Comic shop owners own comic book shops because they are passionate about comic books. They have all the knowledge you need to get started with comics, they know who the creators are, and they can lead you in the right direction when you need it. It’s also a great idea to get involved at your local comic shop as much as possible, as well as with websites like this, and other resources such as Facebook groups. In my experience, the entire community is very gracious to newcomers, and welcomes their questions for no other reason than to want to share their hobby. That and to hopefully spark debate with their fellow longtime readers, which is, of course, the genesis of the stereotypical comic book nerd. But really we’re just a really passionate and opinionated group of geeks, and we want you to join us so you can agree with us.
Seriously, comic books have never been more popular than they are right now, and whether it’s because special effects have finally caught up to artists’ imaginations or they’ve put kryptonite in the water supply or whatever, there’s is simply no denying it. I strongly believe we’re in a New Golden Age of Comics, and the popularity of the genre is only going to get bigger and bigger. There are all kinds of good reasons to read comic books, and most of the bad reasons you had you were just wrong about. Check out your local comic shop, start reading, and I’ll see you on Wednesday.