I love comic books. There is no other way to say it. I love everything about comic books and if you get me talking about comic books, I might never shut up.
My one regret with comic books is that they are not more widely adopted by the public at large.
For every hack job of a Hollywood movie and lame procedural television series, there are great comic books that people would find more enjoyable if they knew how to get their hands on them.
The good news is that the act of reading comic books is being embraced by the mainstream in this country. It’s slow going. There’s still a long way to go. But it’s ramped up quite a bit in the past ten years.
If you had told me as a kid that I’d see comic books available in a Fry’s, I don’t know that I would have believed you.
What I hope to do in this blog post (and possibly a series of these type of posts) is to provide helpful tips on finding comic books that you might enjoy as well as specific recommendations for books I think every comic book reader should experience.
The Comic Book Reader DO and DO NOT List
- DO NOT let the volume scare you off. Like film and television, comic books are a medium that have been producing content weekly for over half a century. That’s a lot of comic books.
TIP: stick with comic books published within the last ten to fifteen years. Comic books, like any other medium, are products of their time and I have found that most readers prefer the modern writing and art styles of the past decade over comic books published prior.
ADDITIONAL TIP: I will post a blog in the future about the different eras of comic books and their styles. While not all comic books age gracefully, some readers enjoy those style of comics (the way some people like watching old Westerns or old television shows). For instance, Tom Katers does a hilarious podcast called “Tom Vs. Aquaman” where he deconstructs Golden/Silver Age Aquaman stories.
- DO NOT let “continuity” scare you off. Some of these comic books have been running since before we were born. Comic books have rich histories that can be appreciated if you know them, but are not a requirement by any means. Everyone started at some point not knowing continuity. Just like everyone watches a hockey game for the first time and doesn’t entirely get it. The best writers will explain continuity to new readers (as well as reminding old readers) in the story itself. One of the basic principles for writing comic books is the adage that every comic book is someone’s first.
TIP: Marvel by far has been the best at helping new readers. They provide a “recap” page in every book they publish. Some collected editions or first issues have reprints of older stories and they will often produce single issues (free or fairly cheap) with character biographies and background information on upcoming events. And worst case scenario, there’s always Wikipedia.
- DO start with trade paperback or hardcover editions. Comic books, for the most part, are periodicals that ship monthly in a “magazine” style format consisting of twenty two pages of story along with ads (also known as “floppies”). At the end of a major story-arc (or a mini-series), the publishers collect these issues into hardcover and trade paperback reprints. In television terms, think of it as a show like Mad Men that runs serialized (in this case weekkly) and then when it ends is collected in a box set. Trade paperback collections are the “box set” of comic books. Monthly comic books, in my opinion, are moving targets for new readers. It’s like asking someone to start watching Mad Men mid-season. Take the guess work completely out of “what issue do I start with?” and start with a collected edition and work your way to current and then either shift to reading the title monthly or stick with the collections. That said, for monthly books (think Batman or Captain America), starting with the most recent trade collection is usually fairly safe as per the helpful elements mentioned above.
TIP: a new writer and artist team taking over a title are usually a perfect jumping on point for new readers (in either packaging).
ADDITIONAL TIP: most trade paperback and hardcover collections are available online or in book stores if no comic book store is in your area (see note about comic book stores).
- DO NOT let the capes distract you. Most American comic books are in the super hero genre (DC and Marvel being the primary publishers). That said, some of the best writing and art being produced in the medium is being done with super heroes. Avoid judgement when possible. Film Threat magazine used to have a rule where they judged a movie based on its quality, not it’s budget. Mainstream movies could be great. Indies could suck. Some of the best comic books I have read had super heroes and some of the worst comic books I read were indies. And vice versa.
TIP: every genre is represented in comic books. Supernatural. Fantasy. Action/adventure. Mystery. Science-fiction. “Indie” (slice-of-life or biographical storytelling). Much like in book publishing, comic book publishers tend to have specific genres and types of titles they produce. Find a title you like and chances are that publisher is making similar books you might also enjoy.
ADDITIONAL TIP: I’m primarily focused on American comic books, but there is a whole genre of Japanese (manga) comic books along with European comic books that are translated for American readers.
- DO follow writers and artists. DO NOT follow characters. The average comic book is produced by a handful of individuals (and sometimes only one person). Over my thirty-plus years reading comic books, I have found that when I like a writer, I follow that person specifically. Regardless of what he or she is working on. The same with artists.
TIP: trust the artists you like to lead you to great books. The average comic book artist can only produce one comic book title per month, which means that they must choose their projects very carefully. The better the artist, the higher profile the jobs they are offered and the higher caliber the writers they will choose to work with are. A perfect example of is Criminal artist Sean Phillips. He worked on a book with a French writer whom I had never heard of. I trusted Phillips, and the book was quite good (7 Psychopaths).
ADDITIONAL TIP: listen to your favorite film or television creators. The chances are if they like comic books, they talk about the books they like that have influenced them.
- DO read what you like. This directly contradicts the previous statement, but that’s the point. These are tips. At the end of the day, you are the reader. Read what you like.
TIP: You’ll notice my tip about characters, but some people can not help themselves when it comes to licensed material. If you enjoy Star Trek in all of its forms. Then read the Star Trek comic book. Don’t let me stop you. There’s a ton of licensed stuff out there. Everything from Buffy, Star Trek, Conan and Star Wars to Mass Effect 2 and other video games.
ADDITIONAL TIP: branch out and experiment. I know that I said not to pick up single issues, but they are often best for trying something to see if you will enjoy it or not.
- DO try to find a comic book store in your area. There are a lot of comic book stores that still employ people like “Comic Store Guy” from the Simpsons. But plenty do not. In Austin, Austin Books is one of the best comic book stores in the country and everyone on the staff is highly knowledgable. Talk to them. Tell them about the type of films, video games, novels or television you enjoy and have them point you to things you might enjoy.
TIP: do not try to do this on a Wednesday, since that is the day that new comic books come out and the stores tend to be at their busiest (that’s when the “regulars” show up for their weekly books). Try going in on a Monday or Tuesday.
DO post comments or send me e-mails. I can recommend comic books tores in your area or titles (more to come on that)
Next up: I will start to write profiles of the best writers and artists, give you an idea of their writing (or art) styles and then provide you with a short list of the books I think are the best to read from them.