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 1 of the Comics Casual, I gave you the rundown on the basic nature of comic books and gave you some reasons to get into them. This week, I’ll talk about how to actually get your hot little hands on a comic book. Please note that this part of the article, especially about stores and local options, may be very North American/Europe Centric, as I haven’t had experience with comic book sellers outside of these areas of the world.

Physical or Digital?

     Like every other form of art in our online age, comics are available as a physical copy, or a digital file. Both are great ways to get into comics, and most comics are available both ways. That means you can take your pick, or mix and match. Each format has its own set of foibles. Physical Copies are the first. Most comics are made with the physical format in mind, and the book is your property to do with as you see fit. However, physical copies take up space, and if you buy individual issues you will probably want to protect them with bags & boards(More information on this later). Physical copies are also less environmentally friendly. 

     Digital comics are great for people with smartphones and tablets who want to take their comics anywhere, or who have a storage limitation. But on the other hand, they come with all the problems that other digital copies face. Are they really yours, or are you just “renting” them? What happens if your provider shuts down? The biggest provider of digital comics, ComiXology, is owned by Amazon, and some people are uncomfortable with the power they wield over the publishing market. Digital comics are also hard to share with friends, unless you’re comfortable with letting someone else log into your private accounts.

     Whatever choice you make, you’re still choosing to support the comics industry, which is awesome. So with some knowledge of digital and physical, let’s talk about some ways to spend your filthy lucre on comics!

Types of Physical Formats

     The most common format for comics is the 28-page “Monthly Issue”. Ironically, it is not the most newbie-friendly or inexpensive format. It’s also the most delicate format. Most comics collectors will tell you that in order to properly preserve these comics, you’ll need to place them in mylar bags with acid free card stock backing, then placed in a comics box. This adds a decent amount of extra cost. While they aren’t necessary, monthly issues are somewhat delicate, and like newspapers or magazines will degrade over time.
     Most comics are now available in what is known as “Trade Paperback” format, which is a collection of 6-12 issues that comes out after the individual issues have been released. These are much sturdier than their individual counterparts, contain no advertisements, and are somewhat cheaper. (A trade paperback will run you $12-25 USD depending on the number of issues collected, while individual issues generally start at $2.99 and go higher from there, all the way up to $5.99) These formats are also more widely available, which I will discuss below.
     Some indie comics and individual stories only come in collected formats. They are, however, usually available wherever other collected formats are sold.
     For comics newbies, I would actually recommend picking up trade paperbacks to start, not only for the lower cost, but also because you will be able to get a full storyline and understand the comic you want to get into better.

Brick and Mortar Stores

     This is the way your parents and grandparents would have bought comics; you leave your house, you go to the store, and you put your hard-earned cash on the counter and say “One comics, please!” And then you walk back through the blinding snow, uphill both ways, praying the Commies won’t nuke us all before you get to find out if Spider-Man kissed Mary Jane.
     Seriously, it can be that simple. Comics are still available at a variety of locations, like grocery stores and bookstores. The quality of the service and selection at these stores leaves a lot to be desired, though. Often big box stores will only have trade paperbacks and collected editions. They don’t always have the single, monthly comic books. For a specific monthly title, you’re probably better off going to a specialty store or “Comic Shop”

“Worst Comic Shop Ever!”

     No doubt you have heard things about these “comic shops”; they are dank dungeons, poorly lit and filled with misogynistic nerds who will judge you for not being as hardcore a comic book fan as they are. I won’t deny they don’t exist. My advice: don’t support these places. There are ten thousand other ways to get comics that don’t involve being abused by a mouth breather. There are plenty of great comic book shops that do not suffer from this problem. They’re worth supporting. My own comic book shop is brightly lit, well stocked, and full of friendly and knowledgeable employees of all genders. That’s what make the brick and mortar experience great: a sense of community.

Limited Availability

     Sadly, due to the small size of the comics market, as well as the availability of online options, not all towns have a brick and mortar stores. The actual number of physical comic book stores has been declining since the 90s, and while it’s not as bad as it once was, often smaller towns and cities will be lucky to have a single store dedicated to comic books. If that’s the case, Chapters, Barnes & Noble, or your local bookstore might be your only merchant option. If that doesn’t appeal to you, you can always turn to the internet.

Online

     Did you know you can buy things online and have them delivered right to your door? No walking, outdoors, or human interaction required? What an age we live in!
     So, yes, you can buy physical copies of comics from the internet. The biggest seller of comic books online is, of course, Amazon. Amazon is an enormous multi-national online corporation with all of the trappings that come with that status. However, even Amazon doesn’t cover what most brick and mortar stores do. Like big box bookstores, they mostly carry trade paperbacks, and individual issues are practically nonexistent. Even their selection can be limited in regards to collected editions; bigger companies like Marvel and DC generally tend to stock better than smaller indie comics.

Digital Formats – Get it Right Now.

     Let’s take a look at digital comics. The best part about digital comics is, unlike physical copies, they are available pretty much all the time; scarcity isn’t ever an issue because they are easily duplicated. Collected editions or individual issues are available at the touch of a button. And you can read them from the moment you buy them. Of course, to read digital comics you’ll need, at minimum, a computer and an internet connection. A smart phone or tablet also helps; but neither is required.

ComiXology: The Big One

     The biggest dedicated provider of Digital Comics is ComiXology. They have a website, an App for Smartphones and Tablets, and pretty much offer any comic available in print form as digital, plus many digital exclusives. Most Company-Exclusive Comic Apps like Marvel and DC still use ComiXology’s platform. Calling them the Comics equivalent of Amazon is accurate, especially considering they were recently bought by Amazon. This created a bit of a stir, as it meant that all iOS ComiXology Apps went the way of Kindle, no longer allowing users to make in-app purchases. I won’t get into the details here, but suffice to say if you are an Apple device user, you won’t be able to buy any comics off the ComiXology App; you’ll have to go to their website.
     Full disclosure: I have an iPhone and I use ComiXology. It’s my method of digital comics reading. I don’t particularly like not being able to make in-app purchases, but it’s probably been better for my budget since impulse buys are harder to make.
     
What else is there?
     
     Many comic book companies have their own separate digital comics App, but again, most of these are based off the ComiXology platform. They also limit you to only that company’s titles, while the ComiXology App itself doesn’t. The only exception to this is Dark Horse Comics, who are not on ComiXology at all, and have their own app which is still very similar to Comixology. There is also Graphic.ly, but they recently transitioned to cover more than just comics. Still, it is a viable alternative to ComiXology. They also boast a very active social community – which is great if you’d like to engage with a community of both readers and artists. 
     Marvel Comics also offers its Marvel Unlimited, which is very different from most other services. It allows you access to a large number of Marvel Comic Books for a flat fee. While I haven’t tried it, it seems like a great way to get into Marvel Comics and be able to read what you like, but the cost of $10/Month (Cheaper if you subscribe annually) is probably better if you’re going to spend a lot of time specifically reading Marvel Comics.

Crossing the Streams

     I myself get both Digital and Physical Comic books. Marvel Comics offers a free digital download with most of their physical titles. It’s good for people who want to have a physical copy but are intrigued by digital, or who will share the physical copy with friends – something you can’t do easily with digital. Another way is to buy the individual issue as a digital copy, then buy the collected edition when it comes out. Obviously that means you’re spending money twice for the same comic, but then you have both. Some comics are digital-only too, and a few physical indie comics aren’t yet available digitally. Whatever you decide, you now have plenty of options to head out and buy comics! So go forth, nerds, and SPEND!

     If you’re now ready to go out and buy, but not sure what you want to buy yet, stay tuned for Part 3 of the Comics Casual: Where You Should Start.