How To: A Beginner’s Guide To Comic Books
Please welcome guest writer Andrew Baker! He has written a brilliant, comprehensive article for our “How To” series on getting started with comic books. Enjoy!
Getting into comic books can seem daunting. With many of the most popular franchises have been running for decades, and others have gone through so many reiterations that you aren’t sure where to start. Having recently gone through this myself (I used to collect Marvel in the late 80’s and early 90’s) I figured I would write up a handy little guide for those of you who want to get started but have no idea where to start.
Step 1: This is the most important thing I can tell you about getting started. You don’t have to start at issue number one! As an example we can use the ever popular X-Men. If you were to start at the first issue you would be going back to 1963, during which time people have died, been resurrected, died again, new villains, old villains, and plenty of now dead storylines. You may have even heard of things like “Days of Future Past” “The Dark Phoenix Saga” or “X-Tinction Agenda” which were major stories within the universe, all of which have ended and almost all of which have little to do with what is happening now, so no, you don’t need to start at issue #1. Also consider that if you’ve watched any Superhero movie be it Spiderman, The X-Men and Wolverine movies, and I’m pretty sure the entire planet has seen Guardians of the Galaxy and The Avengers, even the DC movies you probably have an idea at least of who the characters are and at least part of their origin stories.
Step 2: Now that you have some confidence that you don’t have several decades worth of reading to catch up on, it’s decision time. There are plenty of different comics out there. On the popular website Comixology there are fifty or more new issues of different books* being released every day. Now don’t let that overwhelm you, that covers everything from the big four publishers (Dark Horse, DC, Image, and Marvel) as well as smaller, independent publishers. So step two is pick a genre.
“But Andrew” you say “Aren’t all comic books either Super Heroes or Archie comics?”
Hell no! While super heroes still dominate the comic book landscape there are still plenty of alternatives. The ultra popular TV series “The Walking Dead” got it’s start as a comic book and Rick Grimes is no super hero. Star Wars just launched a new comic book, several popular video games have graphic novels on the shelves from Dragon Age to Tomb Raider, and even fairy tales have been warped into gritty graphic novels in the shape of Fables by Dark Horse comics. There is a lot out there so pick a genre and run with it. Also don’t think this is limiting, once you’ve gotten comfortable you can branch out to something new and different.
While writing this article Marvel has announced “The Secret Wars” and from what little is known about it at this time it appears to be a reset of the entire Marvel comic book universes and would be a great place to start if you think this is where your interests will be. There is a lot of speculation that this is a plan to bring the books closer in line with the cinematic universe perhaps adding to the comfort level of new readers. Anything is possible but with the tagline “Time Runs Out, Everything Ends” it is certainly a good guess that Marvel is leaning that way. The Secret Wars books (This will cross over into almost every Marvel title) come out in May so plenty of time to get your feet wet beforehand.
Step 2.5: This is an optional step but if you still aren’t entirely comfortable yet, keep reading. Go to your local library and browse their graphic novel section. Pick up some random books and start reading until you find something that works for you. Comixology also has free issues available (and the convenience of reading them on your phone or tablet), but not necessarily the selection that the library might have. Either option is a risk-free way to get started and up your comfort level.
Step 3: Now that you are confident and have an idea of what you want to read… Go to your local comic book store. This can be a frightening prospect as in most pop culture shows they are portrayed as dens of dirty virgin nerds, at least one Captain Sweatpants, and a nervous or angry owner but I assure you this is not the case Now every comic book store employee I have ever met is helpful, generally considerate and eager to get you started. When you go in do not be afraid to ask for help because there is little that these people love more than new customers. If you have figured out what genre you are looking for be it superhero, science fiction, horror, or even My Little Pony, they will guide you to the right location, the right issue, and even recommend different back issues if something may be mid-story. I went to my local store today for my pull list (all the new issues you want set aside for you) and my guy said this should be step one but hey, it can be scary out there.
Also don’t forget to return to your store, I have built a good relationship with some of the employees and we often discuss different things that are going on in geek and nerd culture, both locally and globally, also the more that they get to know you they can then recommend new books to you that you may never have thought of yourself. I won’t lie. Much of this step is coloured by my personal experience as a man in comics, and while the stores love new customers, women can sometimes have a more difficult time as there are gatekeepers even among staff whose sole job it is to help you and make what is a dying industry (physical comic book stores) profitable. Don’t be afraid, engage them–chances are they will back down as their preconceptions of why you are there quickly evaporate and if they continue to be unwelcoming there are plenty of other stores and digital options to enjoy the hobby.
Now you can end your journey here, you certainly have enough information to get started and make your own way. Congratulations you’ve taken your first steps into a much larger world. Or you can continue to some advanced steps. Never fear, this won’t lead to the dark side or anything like that. They are simply some other options that will be there when you’re ready to use them.
Step 4: Delving into the back catalogue. This can be daunting even for experienced comic book readers: The waiting, the ordering, and often the disappointment when the issue in question can’t be found. However–now in the digital age it has gotten a little easier. Websites like Comixology offer digital back issues for a low price so that you can catch up on or get deeper into the lore of many of your favourite series. Marvel also offers a subscription service called Marvel Unlimited, letting you access nearly the entire back catalogue of every Marvel title. While DC currently doesn’t offer a service like this, one can hope that they will soon. These services are quite useful once you’ve gotten into your groove of what comics to read. If making it to the store on Tuesday to get your pull list you can create a digital pull list and then download them to your tablet or e-reader. While convenient, it does take away from some of the community aspects of comic collecting, plus some people still like the feel of the paper in hand.
Step 5: This step is entirely optional but I highly recommend it. Get involved in the comic book community. This can be almost more frightening that getting into comic books themselves. Community sounds like more people. People are scary! Yes, they can be, but at the same time finding like-minded people (someone to talk about how you can’t believe X happened to Y in the latest issue of Z) can be fun, I’ve met more than a few friends over discussions on how the Mutant Registration Program could be a good thing if it is run properly and my best friend and I wept together over Marvel’s Civil War storyline. So, as frightening as it can be, hit the local comic gathering scene. Yes there will certainly be gatekeepers questioning your “cred” male or female (although women will see the worst of it) but remember–regardless of one person’s opinion, you are going to love what you love and not knowing who Madelyne Pryor is in relation to Scott Summers and Jean Grey makes you no less a fan of comic books than anyone else. For every gatekeeper you run into, there will be at least two people that shut them down and welcome you in.
Welcome to the world of comic books. It’s imperfect, but it is beautiful art and storytelling and if you ask me, is one of the greatest mediums for epic tales out there.
-Book, also Title. These are a series involving a character or groups of characters Deadpool has his own book, but can also be found in X-Men Books.
-Issue. A weekly or monthly release within a Book or Title. Avengers issue 25 is the 25th issue in the Avengers Book.
-Trade Paperback. Sometimes they come in hard covers too, but these are collections of back issues, usually large series that crossed over several Books over multiple Issues The Dark Phoenix Saga, and the Infinity War are both examples.
A former soldier in the Canadian Armed Forces, Andrew is also an avid gamer, nerd, and huge BioWare fan. He has previously written both game and movie reviews for The Droids You Are Looking For Canada and freelanced for over a year. On Twitter @ABakerN7