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How To Get Into Comics

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With The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers posting record performances at cinemaplexes, it can be easy to forget that not everyone can rattle off the names of Bruce Wayne’s parents or the address of the X-Men’s school off the tops of their heads.

[This post originally ran on 07/31/12.]

Comics’ reach through pop culture seems to get bigger every day, meaning that more and more people are having to wade through the medium’s wild jungles without so much as an Adamantium machete. Well, Kotaku wants you to explore all that comics has to offer and has come up with a plethora of starting-out tips that should help out even the most inexperienced of sequential storytelling neophytes. Let’s get started!


Where to Get Comics

  • Support your local comic shop. Don’t let the Simpsons character scare you off; most comics shops have friendly staff ready to steer you towards great material that you’ll probably love.
  • Back issue boxes are your friends. Almost every comics shop has a cache of recent and older comics—single issues, mostly, but sometimes trade paperback collections as well. Older copies of a single issue can be had for as cheap as a dollar, or even a quarter. Back issues can let you explore various titles and talents at a lower price point, which is great for anyone trying to figure out what they like.
  • You’d also do well to check out online subscription services like DCBS. Their sister site, in-stock trades boasts RIDICULOUS prices on trade paperbacks. Other sites like Khepri specialize in exclusives that come directly from creators.
  • If you don’t have a comics shop nearby or don’t have the square footage to stockpile loads of printed material in your home, then think about digital comics. Most of the major publishers have digital storefronts where new comics are available on the same day as they arrive in stores. You’ll also find selections from their back catalogs, usually at a big discount, in digital comics stores.
  • If you really, really like something, buy it in print. It’s been noted in several examinations of the relatively new digital comics market that you may not own those digital comics you get through a website or an app store. At least, not in the traditional sense of physical ownership. Devices break or become outdated and web services mutate and fracture. (Look at how cable TV providers are feuding with various channels for an example of how wrong things can go.) But you’ll always be able to dig out a paper version of a comic you love. Besides, most comics are designed for the printed page. The way writers and artists use layout, color and other storytelling techniques are generally going to be best experienced that way.
  • For those interested in digital comics, the main thing you want to check is Comixology, an app for iOS, Android and other devices that sells comics from most of the big and medium-sized publishers, with the notable exception of Dark Horse Update 09/28/2015: Dark Horse is on Comixology now. (those folks publish Star Wars, Buffy, Sin City and other cool comics; so check their app out, too). Comixology ties your purchases to your account, so while they don’t let you outright download a file for the comics you buy, they do let you download them to any app they support. You can also read them through their website. Comixology sells most new comics from major publishers, day and date with release, so that’s around noon ET on Wednesdays. They usually add about 100 issues of older comics to their back catalog at the same time. One of the nice things about their service is that they run a lot of sales and drop the price on most new comics after about a month (they usually go down a dollar). Sales run throughout the week, but the big ones consist of 99-cent-per-issue Marvel sales on Mondays and Fridays and frequent weekend sales, including a 101 or 201 (that’s 101 or 201 comics for 99 cents each) from DC about once a month. Dark Horse and Comxology also have lots of free comics, so check their free sections, too.
  • Ask friends for recommendations and loaners. Seriously. The people you know who read comics are REALLY into their comics. They are unfulfilled prophets and will happily lend you anything worth reading that they think will convert you to the tiny tribe of comics-readers.

What Kinds of Comics to Get

  • You don’t have to read superheroes. Seriously. If you think that comics are just home to the big bruisers and babes that make it onto the screen, you should know the capes-and-cowls set isn’t all the medium has to offer. Memoir, historical non-fiction and beautifully allegorical creativity all thrive in comics. Comics remain a relatively cheap field to produce work in, which means that there’s a plethora of styles, voices and viewpoints to experience.
  • Don’t ever buy anything because it’ll be “worth something.” Anything touted as a collector’s edition is most likely going to be so mass-produced that it won’t actually ever be rare enough to fetch an astronomical price at auction. There will probably plenty of copies of the Get-It-Now-Edition of the “Death of Captain ZOMG” twenty years from now.
  • If you want a true collectible, get a commissioned sketch or page of original art by an artist you like.
  • Read some webcomics. The best part about comics work designed for the internet is how it can use pacing and technology differently than paper comics.
  • Buy trade paperbacks, or TPBs, for short. Sorry, monthlies lovers, but there are no ads and you get a story all at once, making them a much better way to read a comic.
  • If you’re reading this guide, don’t go jumping into continuing superhero storylines without guidance. They’re a tangled mess of canon and backstory that will just confuse you. Aim for classic, standalone pieces. So, don’t just pick up Superman. But Superman: Red Son? Pick it up.
  • Follow your favorite writers and artists, not favorite series or characters. More specifically, follow writers and writer-artists as opposed to artists. Everyone likes cool illustrations, but it’s a far worse experience to read a badly-written comic with good art than it is to read a well-written one with bad art. So learn which writers you like; most of the best have excellent runs on a surprising array of creator-owned and company-owned work. Maybe you’re a Garth Ennis person. Maybe you’re a Brian Michael Bendis person. Or maybe Warren Ellis is more your speed.
  • Don’t worry about starting in the middle. Publishers of serialized super-hero comics sometimes advertise that such-and-such issue is a great jumping on point for new readers. Non-readers, meanwhile, fret that most ongoing comics will be too impenetrable for them to understand. Forget about all of this. Jump into the middle of something. See if there’s anything you like about it and then, if you’re intrigued, load up on back issues.The longest-running arcs in comics right now are things like Brian Michael Bendis’ 8-year run on an array of Avengers comics and Grant Morrison’s 6-year run on a batch of Batman books (both concluding in the next 12 months by the way). Even those massive runs are chopped up into 4 or 6-issue arcs, so you’re never more than a few issues from being at the start of something. You can always go back and fill in from the way beginning if need be.
  • Size up your wish list and plan to fulfill it accordingly. Many of the books people will rave to you about—Watchmen, Maus, Ice Haven, We3, to name a few—can be read in an afternoon with time left to read a second. These comics are no bigger a risk to your time and budget than a dinner at a restaurant you’ve never tried before. Longer, iconic series such as Sandman, Preacher, Transmetropolitan, Y The Last Man or The Walking Dead run 60-100 issues (and still going, in the last one’s case). These longer runs take much more time to read can cost more than $100 to obtain in print. This may drive you toward piracy. Avoid temptation!; comics creators get paid crap money as it is. Consider either getting the trade-paperbacks, which is still pricey or doing legit digital downloads, which, if you catch a sale, is way cheaper. But, remember, you probably have a friend who can lend you a collection of one of these longer runs so that you can see if it’s your thing.
  • Read some modern comics, and then read some Will Eisner’s The Spirit (look for a best-of collection; skip the early part of the run) or Jack-Kirby-drawn Fantastic Four (sampling the first few issues of that is fine). These two guys are seen as the pioneers of the field and probably the two greatest artists in its history, but both did work that’s an acquired taste. The same holds true for alt-comics godfather R. Crumb. Trust us. It may seem backwards, you should try to attain your literacy in modern comics before going back to try to appreciate the masters. But, when you do, you’ll be in for a treat.