• A first-time comic reader primer.

I put together this little primer to help out those of you who might have happened upon this blog, have never really read comics, but are interested in seeking them out. This is basically what I went through with my search to get back into comics.

Step 1 – Realize that comics are a medium, not a genre.

Movies, Television, Books, Music, Comic Books – These are all mediums in which to tell stories.

Comedy, Action, Western, Drama, Sci-Fi, Superhero – These are all genre’s of stories which you can tell in a number of mediums. And yes, all of these genre’s can be found in comic books.

People have been telling sequential art stories since cavemen days. It’s just one more form of storytelling. If you like a certain genre of story, you can find a stellar representative of it in comics.

Step 2 – Do your research.

Get online. Read reviews. Find creators you connect with. Seek out comics with ideas or characters that reach out to you.

There are plenty of comic book websites and podcasts which provide reviews to help you figure out which books appeal to you and interviews with comic creators to help you get to know the personalities behind the creations. This will also give you a good idea who the “hotshots” are. Most comic creators have their own websites as well.

Don’t pay much attention to the sales charts. It’s generally all superhero books from Marvel or DC and hardly ever an indicator of quality.

Step 3 – Start with trades or graphic novels, skip the monthlies.

Monthly comic books are the lifeblood of the industry. And once you get a good idea of what’s going on with a series, it’s a great way to read comics. But, trying to pick up a random monthly comic book off the shelf is like trying to watch an episode of “Lost” halfway through the season.

Trade Paperbacks are collected issues of a serialized monthly comic series. Much like buying your favorite show on DVD. Try to find trades that collect starting with 1st issues to get the whole story.

Graphic Novels are written to be read as one large story, more like a movie.

Sometimes these terms are interchangable, but both of these formats will help you get a bigger picture for the story you’re interested in.

Step 4 – Avoid the “Big Two.”

The “Bit Two” being Marvel & DC. Marvel and DC do have some excellent comics out there. And if you get a chance, you should try to pick them up. The reason I say avoid them if you’re just starting out is that both companies have 50 years of history and continuity. And I don’t believe either company has figured out a way to bring new readers to their existing properties. I’ve tried to jump on a few titles and it’s a hellish experience to try and play catch up.

I would recommend looking for something by a smaller company such as Image, Dark Horse, Oni, or Top Shelf. These smaller companies concentrate on more than just superhero comics, so you’re more likely to find something to your liking. They also haven’t been around as long, so it’s easier to jump onto an existing property. Not to mention that these guys put out astounding stories every single week.

If you are only looking to read a “brand” name superhero book like Batman or Spider-man, I would suggest trying to look for a limited series or a timeless story out of continuity.

Step 5 – Avoid comic book stores.

This is the one that’s going to get me into trouble. I absolutely 100% support comic book retailers. I buy the majority of my books from a local comic book store. But, it is more likely that a first time comic reader will be more comfortable browsing the Graphic Novel section at the BN than stepping foot into your local comic shop.

If you do like what you find at the BN, you can usually find a greater selection at your local comic store, and you should hit that up. Also, most of the time, your local comic store is going to be the only place you can find monthly copies of the book that you’re into.

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2 comments
  1. Steve said:

    This issue of “where to start?” has kept me out of comic books. I’d really like to read comics of Batman or Iron Man, but which ones, where to start? Batman or the Dark Knight. Ultimate Iron Man? Seriously, this is confusing.

  2. Hudson Phillips said:

    I agree that it is confusing. The best place to start is on some comic book message boards. I am not well-read enough on either of these characters. So, I asked your question to some friends over at the ifanboy.com forums and came up with these answers:

    These are all graphic novels that you should be able to find on Amazon.

    IRON MAN:

    Iron Man Extremis – This is the more traditional Iron Man. It’s supposed to be a great jumping on point. Written by Warren Ellis. Art by Adi Granov, who did the character designs for the Iron Man movie.

    Ultimate Iron Man – This is a different take on Iron Man. It’s not the traditional origin story that you’ll see in the movie this summer. But it’s supposedly really good. And I believe that a “sequel” to this book is currently in issues and will be available soon. Written by Orson Scott Card, author of “Ender’s Game” and art by Andy Kubert.

    BATMAN:

    Batman: Year One. It’s written by Frank Miller (Sin City, 300) and tells the first year of Bruce Wayne as Batman. And it’s HIGHLY recommended.

    Batman: The Long Haloween.
    Batman: Dark Victory.
    These are two books that apparently follow up Year One. And these two are written by Jeph Loeb and drawn by Tim Sale, who are by far two of my favorite creators in comics. Everything they’ve done together I’ve LOVED.

    Also, if you’re looking for some quick reads, Batman: Black & White is an anthology series that has 3 volumes so far. It’s a great collection of short stories.

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