Holy Continuity Batman!
How I learned to stop worrying and start reading comics.
I started collecting comics when DC rebooted their entire lineup in 2011 with The New 52. Until that point, I’ve always had a borderline interest in reading comics, but a few things have always scared me off of actually diving into them. With The New 52, I was under the impression that DC was getting rid of everything and starting over with the core idea of each hero, meaning I wouldn’t have to worry about continuity.
It didn’t exactly happen that way, but it was the final push I needed to just start reading something. With Hollywood releasing so many superhero movies lately such as Thor, The Avengers, The Dark Knight, The Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man, I was itching more than ever to read more about these heroes. There are years of great stories to be experienced and I knew I had to be missing out. I wasn’t going to wait on Hollywood, so I knew it was time to jump into the source material.
Once I started reading, I realized comics aren’t so scary. I didn’t have to spend a lot of money trying to keep up collecting issues each month. There’s nothing wrong with doing so, but it’s intimidating for a new reader. If you’ve never read comics before, I can show you the back-door; the easy way into the very rewarding world of comics.
Read Trade Paperbacks
Comics aren’t just magazine-style issues (some people simply call them floppies). Often, a series will be collected into six to twelve (sometimes more) issue compilation books with all the ads removed. These are called trade paperbacks (trades). This is great because you get an entire chunk of story all at once and it will read more like a book with chapters instead of feeling somewhat like a magazine. With the ads removed, it’s much easier to get into the story and focus, much like you would when reading a book.
You may also hear the term “graphic novel” used interchangeably with “trade paperback”, but they’re not exactly the same thing. A graphic novel is loosely defined as a story or collection of stories released all at once in a single book. This differs from a trade paperback because it’s material was previously released in a magazine-style format.
Trades and graphic novels may also differ in how the story arcs function. Since trades are a collection of single issues, they were meant to have big reveals or stopping points every issue to ensure a reader would buy next month’s issue and continue the story. A graphic novel is not necessarily under that same restriction. Since the entire story is released at one time, the author can allow the plot to flow as he pleases.
I personally don’t find one format better than the other, but some readers will pick a style and stick to it. You can determine if a book is a trade or graphic novel by reading the credits at the beginning. A trade will always tell you what issues the book consists of. Keep track of this when you read comic books and see if you have a preference.
Trades and graphic novels are also much easier to find than runs of single issues. Major book retailers will carry them as well as most stores online. Most libraries will have a collection you can read from as well. For a new comic reader, this is definitely the way to start.
Where To Start
Comics have been coming out for a very long time, so finding a place to start reading can seem daunting. Unlike a book series, you don’t have to start reading at the very beginning. Comics can be divided into four categories or ages as they’re called.
- Golden Age – ~1938 – 1950’s
- Silver Age – 1956 – 1970
- Bronze Age – 1970 – 1985
- Modern Age – 1985 – Present Day (2013 at time of writing)
The general rule of thumb I was given when trying to figure out where to start was not to read anything before you were born, or before you can remember life. For me, I started (and have stayed) reading comics that have come out after 1984 or so. There isn’t anything wrong with reading comics released before then, but those comics were appealing to a different generation. It’s generally easier to get into something you can relate to more closely.
Now that you know a general idea where to start, what should you start with? You probably have a favorite hero you are interested in, so start there. Look up articles online like “What are the best INSERT HERO comics or stories”. You’ll find plenty of top ten or twenty lists containing some of the best titles for a particular hero. Pick one that sounds interesting to you and dive right in.
For example, I really enjoy Batman and was given The Long Halloween as a starter comic. It is frequently hailed as being one of the best Batman comics ever released; a truly fantastic read. I became hooked after that and started to look up other Batman stories that were also interesting, no longer really worried about “will I understand this or that”. I just wanted to see Batman do his detective work and knock some skulls in.
But I don’t like superheroes…
Not everyone likes superheroes and their crazy powers and crossovers. There are plenty of independent comics and non-superhero stuff to be found. Non-superhero comics are more likely to have a full plot cycle instead of a huge ongoing series, but this also can make them tougher to find. Poking around online with the “non-superhero” or “indie” keywords can help you stumble across some books. The best method I’ve found is by getting out of your shell and talking to people at a comic shop. I’m not talking about Barnes & Noble, but a shop that specializes in comic books. If there isn’t a comic shop in your area, there are many forums and other avenues online to help you find books.
Some non-superhero comics that the team and I recommend:
- The Walking Dead
- 30 Days of Night (Vols 1 – 3)
- Mouse Guard
- American Vampire
- The Nightly News
- 7 Psychopaths
- Queen & Country
Find a favorite writer
When you follow a writer you like, you’re almost guaranteed to enjoy the comics they put out. Writers will create comics of all different types. Looking through their body of work is a surefire way to find new series. You may even find yourself reading and enjoying comics you would have never thought to glance at before!
Since comics are a visual medium, you would think that following a favorite artist is the way to go. You can still do that, but you’re far more likely to run into poorly written comics. It doesn’t matter how good a comic looks, if the writer isn’t good, the comic won’t hold your interest. Think of it like a writer being a movie director. He tells the artist what he wants the reader to see and the artist makes that vision happen. A movie can have the best set design you’ve ever seen, but if the story is terrible, it’s just not worth it. The same can be said of a badly written comic book. Why waste your time? There’s too much out there you could be reading!
Comics can be expensive. This is one of the main reasons, I advocate reading trade paperbacks over single issues. When buying a trade, you save a number of dollars as opposed to if you tried to find all the issues a trade is comprised of. This savings can be greatly increased if you know where to look. I personally like to shop for comics at Amazon or InstockTrades.com. Both sites can net you between 30% and 50% off trade paperbacks. I will save up until I have enough to place an order that earns free shipping and buy seven to ten books at a time. That will hold me over until I’ve saved up for another order.
Some will argue that you should always buy from your local comic shop. While I understand that doing so is helping to keep a niche business alive, I really want to get the most for my money. Currently, that is online. Of course, you should sign up for any newsletters for comic shops in the area in case they have sales of their own.
In summation, don’t be afraid to check out some comics such as The Long Halloween or Mouse Guard. Let your guard down and pick a book that features your favorite hero or subject matter. I’ll leave you with a list of comics I personally enjoy.
- The Long Halloween
- Wolverine: Old Man Logan
- The Walking Dead
- Batman: The Black Mirror
- Hellboy Vol 1 Seeds of Destruction
- Batman: Broken City
- A Flight of Angels
- Blackest Night
- Mouse Guard
- 7 Psychopaths
What are some comics or characters you are interested in? What is holding you back from starting?
“Punch fear in the face. Just START.”
– Jon Acuff