How to Start Reading Comics

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I have great news for you: if you’re reading this, you have everything you need to be a passionate fan of comics. All that is required is your desire to find out more about this awesome medium which encompasses an infinite variety of stories, moods, styles, and subjects.

But here are some more concrete steps you can take to let comics into your life:

STEP 1: Don’t Panic!

These words are, of course, famously written in “large, friendly letters” on that miraculous work, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but they are also excellent advice to the new or nervous comics fan. There’s a ton out there to know and find, but that’s a good thing! Imagine living your whole life only dimly aware that music exists, and the world that would open up to you when you discovered it. Where do you start: Beethoven? The Beatles? Beyonce? The answer is “there’s no wrong answer!”

But that doesn’t mean you have to go in blind!

STEP 2: No One Is Alone

A wonderful way to begin with comics is with the buddy system. If you have a friend who loves comics, they are your best resource, both because they’ll probably let you borrow things and–more importantly–they know you. Your particular taste is the most important consideration when you’re starting out, and when you’re ready to seek outside help, that’s what you’ll want to think about when you approach your local comic shop employee or librarian.

STEP 3: Your Friendly Local Comic Book Store (or Closest Equivalent)

First of all, see Step 1. A good, friendly comic book store (or LCS: Local Comic Shop) is the backbone of the reading experience for many fans, but comic book stores have a bad reputation, and not without reason. The great news is that a lot has changed and is still changing, and there are more good, welcoming ones than ever. You can look for a shop using the Comic Shop Locator, or using tools like the list at “Hater Free Wednesdays”. I am also a proud member of an organization of female comic book store employees called The Valkyries, and we (as well as our male colleagues) share a deep commitment to making comic shops the welcoming, exciting spaces they should be.

In addition to your LCS, most bookstores now carry graphic novels, and your local library is another fantastic resource. Many libraries have impressive graphic novel selections and can be especially helpful for finding all-ages content. Some even participate in digital comics lending programs like Hoopla, which make it incredibly easy to get books into your hands!

And finally, of course, there’s the internet! In addition to what you can acquire via Amazon and online retailers like Mile-High and Midtown Comics, the internet is chock-full of comics: webcomics like Hark! A Vagrant and Questionable Content, all-you-can-read services like Marvel Unlimited, and the enormous library of offerings at Comixology, where new release comics from most major publishers can be found for same-day digital purchase.

You’ll also find great recommendations on sites like Goodreads and Panels, or via folks like me, Hector Navarro, and Whitney Moore, when we talk about comic book recommendations every week on Drama Club Heroes!

STEP 4: Read Read Read!

Now comes the fun part: let’s start reading!

New comics are coming out all the time, usually in monthly installments (or “single issues”), but most new fans will want to start with collected editions (known as “trade paperbacks”) and graphic novels (these are overlapping terms; don’t let them worry you!). These are big chunks of story that look great on your bookshelf and give you good bang for your buck.

Where to start? That’s where your taste comes in; it could be with superhero stories (a classic like Batman: The Long Halloween or a brilliant new hero like Ms. Marvel) or slice-of-life drama ( Blankets will break your heart, and Daytripper, by twin Brazilian writer/artists Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá, is a life-changer).

It could be something that got the screen adaptation treatment, like Scott Pilgrim (video-game-inflected coming-of-age story), Persepolis (autobiography by Iranian expatriate Marjane Satrapi) or Jessica Jones (dark superhero mystery series with one of my favorite heroines). There are classics like Maus (Pulitzer Prize-winning true story of the author’s father in WWII) and Sandman (the epic horror/fantasy tale written by Neil Gaiman) that are taught in classrooms for their storytelling achievements, and new, exciting works like Rat Queens (worst Dungeons & Dragons party ever) and Saga (addictive and gorgeous scifi epic of starcrossed lovers). The Japanese and European publishing scenes are forces to be reckoned with; comics in Japan are known as manga, in French as bandes dessinées. From Astro Boy to One-Punch Man, and  Asterix to The Incal, there are many new worlds and works to discover.

For a list of more recommendations for first-time readers, and a ridiculous chart I made about getting into comics, you can check out one of my first Geek & Sundry videos.

STEP 5: One of Us!

The key thing you need to know is that no matter what you’re into, there are, beyond a doubt, comics out there that you will love and comic book fans who can’t wait to talk to you about them. If you’re not already one of us, you will be soon; the only thing as fun as discovering your new favorite book is telling other people about it. Once you catch yourself doing that, you know you’ve really got the bug.

Welcome to the family!

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