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!

As a fan of comic books (or graphic novels, if you like) I want more people to share my enthusiasm. But I understand that comic books are a bit of a niche medium, and can be very hard to understand. Many comic book series have been going on for over 50 years, and their huge cast of characters and years of backstory are hugely intimidating. People often make their first foray into comics with the wrong material – and comics is all the poorer for it. I’d like to remedy that by providing a short, simple set of tools to make comics more friendly to the new reader. So, faithful readers, we begin here, with Part 1 of the Comics Casual: An Introduction!

What Makes a Comic a Comic

A comic book is essentially a story told through a sequence of still images, usually scripted first, then drawn by an artist. Will Eisner, one of the big Grandaddies of comics, coined the term “Sequential Art”, which is about the most technically accurate definition out there. A story is told by reading the images in a specific order (Usually left to right, top to bottom) Ironically, the simplest definition is the least used. “Comic Book” still remains the most used among fans. “Graphic Novel”, also coined by Eisner, tends to be reserved for works of a more serious nature, as well as larger collected editions with a book-style spine, rather than the classic magazine-style issues most people think of. This is due to the stigma that comic books are a “childish” form of entertainment. An understandable, but hardly deserved stigma.

Not Just For Kids

Ironically, most comics these days are not aimed at children under 12. Even superhero books tend to be written for a more adult audience, though many of them are perfectly readable by Children. Comics and graphic novels cover an enormous range of genres. In his book Understanding Comics, artist/writer Scott McCloud notes that comics are often mistaken for a genre, when they’re just a medium associated with a specific genre. The most commonly recognized genre of Comic Books is the Superhero Genre. However, it’s not the only one – not by a long shot.

Big Storytelling on a Tiny Budget.

Superheroes originated in comic books because of the low cost. Unlike film and TV, which need whole crews to create, the only practical limits are the artist’s skill and the writer’s imagination. This is why superheroes work so well on comics – it costs no more ink and time to show Batman soaring over Gotham than it does to show Bruce Wayne writing a check. Plus, the visual But plenty of other, less epic genres are also represented in comics. Everything from slice-of-life family dramas to hard-boiled, gritty noir stories are available in comic form.

A Hybrid Experience

So why should you bother picking up a new medium when you can get the same genres you love through Books, TV and Film? Well, the first answer is there are some very unique and original stories told through comics, but that’s true of any medium you’re not into. The second is that comics are a hybrid, bridging the gap between the written word and the moving image. Comics take the literary depth of books and combine it with the visual immediacy of film. Reading a graphic novel is a unique experience, combining words and pictures into something new. So you got some real nice words and some real pretty pictures, all rolled in one – usually for the same price as a book or DVD.

I hope I’ve sold you on the idea of reading comics. Yes, you can call them graphic novels. If you’d still like to know more, check out The Comics Casual, Part 2: Where to Find Comic Books!