Graphic Novels and Comic Books are getting bigger every day. Plenty of summer blockbusters feature spandex-clad heroes, and even lesser known properties are getting snapped up and turned into films. There’s never been a better time to get into comics. Unfortunately, with all the material out there, a lot of people just don’t know where to start. The Comics Casual is a 6-part series that will give you the basics on getting into comics without getting lost between the pages!
In Part 2 of The Comics Casual, I gave you an overview of the various formats you could get comics in. Now, let’s move on to the really intimidating part: What comics should you read first? The simple answer would be: Whatever you already enjoy. For a more complex answer, see below:
What to Avoid
The biggest mistake most people make trying to get into comics is grabbing the first thing they see off the shelf. Nine times out of ten, it’s a superhero book, it’s in the middle of a story arc, and it’s full of confusing references to previous issues and continuity. No wonder a lot of people give up after that. If you’re not already familiar with the hero on the cover, I’d suggest you skip it for now.
Avoiding ongoing series is a good idea. Try to start with a limited or mini-series. These are stories told over a set number of issues. Lots of comics companies do them, especially with new properties they’re taking more of a chance on. It’s a nice way to dip your toes in – it usually only involves 4 to 12 issues. However, if an ongoing series piques your interest, go for it! Just try to avoid jumping into the middle of a story arc – that is, a story told over multiple issues. There’s no clear sign for this, but if you do end up picking up a comic in the middle of an arc, feel free to go back and buy the previous couple issues.
My last recommendation would be to avoid single issues – buy a Trade Paperback or stand-alone graphic novel so you can get a little more bang for your buck that way! Trade Paperbacks are often numbered as well, so avoid one that reads “2” or “18” on the spine.
So now you know what to avoid. But what should you go with? How do you find a comic you’ll like?
Superheroes may dominate the rack, but they’re not the only thing on the rack.. Comics cover all kinds of genres, from Horror to Romance. Genres that are more action-oriented tend are more common, because still images are more interesting when they’re dynamic. I’d suggest finding some titles in a genre you enjoy and giving them a read through. Like Noir and Crime Drama? 100 Bullets, Sin City, or Chew. Slice of Life? Check out Love and Rockets, Questionable Content, or American Splendor. For something a little more family friendly, check out Bone, Atomic Robo, or Adventure Time. There are choices for every genre. ComiXology has a whole page to search by Genre. If you’re not buying on ComiXology, feel free to check out Wikipedia or ComicsResearch.org.
Plenty of stories in other mediums have comic book versions. Huge TV properties like 24, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Star Trek have all been adapted into comic format. So have famous authors like Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe and Shakespeare. Think of 5 of your favourite TV shows, films, novels and video games, then search them with the word “comic” attached. Chances are at least one of them has a comic book adaptation. ComiXology has sections for TV & Movies, Literature and Video Games. Keep in mind that this is no guarantee of quality; just because you liked the TV show or book doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy the comic adaptation. If you don’t like it, don’t give up!
The internet is a playground. One can find anything and everything if you know where to look… Uh, please put your pants back on. Let’s stick to comic books here. “Webcomic” is a very nebulous term. Webcomics inhabit a space closer to the classic newspaper comic strips than comic books, but there are plenty of both. Like regular printed comics, webcomics are diverse in content – sometimes even more so, since they have no need to go through the traditional publishing process. There’s also a higher representation of minorities, body types, and LBGTQ characters than traditional comics – some great examples are Girls with Slingshots, TJ and Amal, and Questionable Content. Webcomics often have their own unique subgenres, like Video Game Comics such as Penny Arcade and PVP. If you’re looking for a little more traditional comic format, there are still great comic book style ones like Girl Genius or Minor Acts of Heroism. Most webcomics are free to read online, but you can also buy printed versions in collected editions directly from their websites, or digital collections from ComiXology. This is a great low-cost option with little barrier to entry aside from an internet connection.
I Just Wanna Start Reading!
If you’re finding all of this advice still to vague or complex, don’t worry! I’ll just hit you with this lead pipe until – uh, wait, the editor reads this – I’ll bring you some very specific comic titles to try in the next few installments. If that piques your interest, come back for The Comics Casual Part 4: 10 Non-Superhero Comics to Start Reading