So, You Wanna Get Into Comics? – A Guidebook
So, you wanna get into comics? Whatever the reason may be, we’re just glad you’re here. We’ve put together a strategy to help brand new readers get acclimated to the world of comics. To be up front, this is not just a list of recommended comics. Think of this as a strategy guide for new readers. We’ll go over some vocab, do’s and don’ts, FAQ’s, places to buy comics, and, most importantly, tips about how to find comics you’ll like.
Before we dive in, let’s go over some phrases specific to the comic industry. These are just the ones we thought would be useful, and that we use here in this guide. So if you stumble across anything that confuses you, don’t be afraid to ask in the comments.
Creator: “The creators of Black Panther work together brilliantly.” Creator refers to artists, writers, letterers, inkers, colorists, and editors – basically anyone who had a hand in making said comic.
Issue: “Issue #7 of The Vision is heartbreaking.” An issue is probably what most people think of physically when they hear the word comic. They’re about 22 pages long, printed on shiny paper. If you subscribe to a comic month to month, you’ll typically purchase them as issues.
Run: “You should check out Scott Snyder’s run on Batman” or “How did you binge all of Chris Claremont’s run on X-Men in a month? Who even are you?” This is a term used to describe a span of time in a specific title, usually specified by creator, sometimes specified by name of the arc.
Trade (short for trade paperback, or TPB), volume, or arc: “Dude I picked up all the Hellboy trades on free comic book day at my local comic book store.” A volume, or a trade is a collection of a story arc, anywhere from 4 to 7 issues.
Indie: “Image and Fantagrafiks are two really popular indie publishers.” Indie basically refers to any comic that isn’t from DC or Marvel, although their genres can include superhero books- and it’s worth mentioning that not all Marvel and DC books are action superhero!
The Big Two: “I started off only reading Big Two comics, but I want to get into some indie books.” The Big Two is short for the two most well known comics publishers, DC and Marvel.
Pull List: “I just added Plastic Man to my pull list, I heard it’s dope!” A pull list is a fancy word for the comics you subscribe to. We’ll go into more depth with this when we talk about going to comic stores.
Ongoing: “Who’s writing the ongoing Squirrel Girl right now?” Ongoing refers to a comic that’s put simply, going on right now. It’s a title you can subscribe to, and is pushing out new comics just about every month.
Now that you’re acquainted with some of the common comic lingo, we can zoom in a little more and talk about where you can go to find comics. There are a few different ways of doing that, but we’ll cover three primarily; reading webcomics, reading digitally, and going to a comic shop. Where do I go to read comics?
Comics’ best kept secret is that some of the best art out there is available entirely free as long as you have an internet connection. Webcomics are independently owned, usually created by one to two people, and updated on a schedule as regular as the creators are able to put them out. They’re available in as many genres as you can possibly think of, I promise. If you came to comics for superhero stuff, know that Marvel and DC are not the only places to go for those stories. Plus, some of the best comics in history have absolutely nothing to do with suits and capes! Don’t be afraid to push your reading palette. With that in mind, here are a few webcomics with a wide range of genres.
The Red Hook by Dean Haspiel is a super fun, super interesting superhero story with a bonkers premise. Haspiel’s story takes place in a near future city called New Brooklyn, where society has transitioned away from traditional currency. Instead of paper money, transactions are made using art. Haspiel shows readers this world through the eyes of a costumed character named The Red Hook, and it’s through his eyes that we see the impact of what living in a world like this means. It combines superheroics with a wild take on capitalist society. Haspiel’s character work and art top this off to be a great comic for new readers.
Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill is an all ages story about friendship that will absolutely steal your heart. O’Neill’s story is wholesome, and her characters go through meaningful experiences that make us better off for reading it. Parents, especially will enjoy this if they’re looking for something to share with their kids. Tea Dragon Society takes place in a fantastical world where people (sometimes anthropomorphic) raise dragons to make tea. O’Neill introduces her main character, Greta, a young girl who stumbles upon this lost art. Over 5 short chapters, we watch Greta find out about herself, and what it means to be a friend.
The Carpet Merchant by Reimena Yee is one of the most visually stunning webcomics out there, and was recently nominated for an Eisner this year, which is a pretty big deal! It’s worth mentioning that this is also the first Malaysian creator-owned comic book to be nominated for the award. What started out as a spin-off comic intended to add backstory for a character launches into a historical romance with magical realism. Yee describes the comic as a story of staying strong in the face of adversity and relying on God and loved ones.
One last place to note is the website, Panel Syndicate. This isn’t a single webcomic, but more of an online publisher. Here’s how the creators describe their site: “You can download each and every one of our oversized issues, for any price you think is fair. 100% of your payments go directly into the greedy mitts of the authors and will help fund the rest of these stories that we’re very proud to present, so thanks for reading…” Panel Syndicate is home to amazing creators like Brian K. Vaughan (who we’ll get to later), Marcos Martin, Ken Nimura, Muntsa Vicente, Albert Monteys, David López, Jay Faerber, and Michael Montmenat. They offer six different series on their site, and each one is some of the best that comics have to offer – and available for whatever price you think is fair.
As a final note, while these are technically free to you, you should always contribute if you can. All of these people mentioned here are working artists, and for them to continue producing things we love they need our money! When reading webcomics, look for Patreon or donation links anytime you can. Even if it’s a few bucks, it helps! And if you can’t swing that, you can always spread the word about a piece of art you love.
Buying online digitally
Just about every publisher offers digital purchases of their comics. You can go to their individual websites and pick a comic you want – or you can do it all on one site. Typically, if you’re going to do this, you’ll do it at ComiXology. This site is a subsidiary of Amazon, and offers just about every comic ever available for purchase. What you’ll be really interested in as a new reader, though, is ComiXology Unlimited and its free 30-day trial. This service gives access to loads of comics from Marvel and indie publishers like Image. DC has yet to make a deal with ComiXology, so there aren’t any of their books in the subscription service, but they’re still available for purchase, and put on sale pretty regularly. This is a good option for those who don’t want to deal with storing comics, or are just intimidated by going to a brick and mortar comic store. ComiXology allows you to set up subscriptions for series just like any other store, and charges a credit card as they become available.
I can’t recommend the Unlimited trial enough, though. It really has a bit of everything genre-wise, and can be a great resource for new comic readers. It’s best to cast a wide net and take note of creators or publishers you enjoyed. This will help you later on by providing hints of what to expect from those people and companies. Here are a few series, should you decide you want to try out Unlimited.
Saga Vol. 1 by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan is pretty solidly one of the best comics around. It’s a space opera filled with politics, religion, and family drama with absolutely gripping character work, on both writing and visuals. This series is about 50 issues in and still going, so if you enjoy the first volume there’s plenty more where that came from. Saga is great for anyone who’s interested in watching characters grow in a world eerily similar to ours. Each arc of the series is typically grounded in a relatable premise, so readers are always empathetic to the characters. It’s easy to see why this is one of the comics most people point to as the reason they became a fan of the medium.
Thor: God of Thunder by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic is an easy recommendation to make. Jason Aaron is one of Marvel’s superstars, and this is where it started. Thor fans, look no further than Jason Aaron’s work. He’s been lauded as one of the characters’ greatest writers, and his run is also a jumping on point for the ever-changing Marvel universe. ComiXology Unlimited has the first three volumes of this run available with the trial. If you like this, you’ll love what it spins off to! Thor: The Goddess of Thunder continues Aaron’s tenure with a hero of the same name, but arguably even more interesting as he applies a fresh take on what it means to be Thor. The first volume of this is available with Unlimited as well, so you’re obligated to read it.
Lumberjanes is another all ages series by Grace Ellies, Noelle Stevenson, and Brooke A. Allen. With Adventure Time vibes (thanks to veteran of the series, Noelle Stevenson), Lumberjanes is a girl-centric story about friendship and monster fighting. It’s another series parents will love to share with their kids. It’s funny and heartwarming with a nostalgic art-style that evokes saturday morning cartoons, and has earned its fair share of praise! Lumberjanes is a widely agreed to be a consistently brilliant series, and, like Saga, is about 50 issues into the series now. More appealing, though, is that this series has six entire volumes available with Unlimited.
Extraordinary X-Men by Jeff Lemire and Humberto Ramos is an entry point into a great X-Men run. The team primarily consists of Iceman, Jean Grey, Colossus, and Magik, so there’s a good mix- and more familiar faces come in later! What makes this run good for new readers is the fact that the familiar feelings of X-Men are all there. Triumph against all odds, drama between friends, and, of course, finding yourself in a world where you don’t fit in. If you love the X-Men, and want to meet a few you don’t usually see, this is a solid place to start, as the first two volumes are available with Unlimited.
Going to a store
As comics become more and more mainstream, they’re available at more and more places, like Barnes and Noble or Books a Million. If you have a comic store near you, though, your best option will always be to go there. The people who work at comic stores will be able to help you out with recommendations, and in my experience are only ever psyched as hell to tell you about the coolest thing they just read. If you don’t know where to find a comic store, check out this site to find the nearest one to you.
Remember talking about pull lists? This is where you go to start one if you want to buy physical copies of your comics every month. So, if you go into a comic shop and want to buy issues monthly, walk up to the kind person at the register and say, “Hello friend! I would like to set up a pull list!” They’ll ask what you want to be subscribed to and set those issues aside when they come out. That way, they’ll be ready for you next time you visit the store. Keep in mind that the store is ordering extra product specifically for you. Setting up a pull means it’s imperative that you pick up your comics regularly. If you don’t come in and pay for your comics at least once a month, that store is losing money. Common pull list etiquette also means letting the store know if you’ll be away for awhile.
While there are some pitfalls to keep in mind, setting up a pull list is a gateway to the comics community. Interacting with the people who work at comic shops means talking about something you’re both excited about; often sharing recommendations and fun experiences. Walking into a store on a Wednesday when new comics arrive is like a tiny Christmas with all your nerdiest friends.
What should I buy?
So now we know the lingo, and we know where to go to read or buy comics. Figuring out your first purchase is the next step. In this next section, we’ll cover tips about what to look for, as well as provide some recommendations.
Trades are always a good place to start, as they’re a contained story for not a lot of money. What you’ll want to look for is Volume 1’s or mini-series. In a comic shop, you’ll probably find them lining shelves, and usually organized by publisher. That’s not always the case, though, so don’t be afraid to ask where you can find specific books. Trades will either start off a longer run, or be totally self-contained stories. Meaning you won’t need any prior knowledge to understand what the hell is going on. If you have a specific character in mind that you want to read, there are heaps of resources online. You can check out How to Love Comics, take a look at the Eisner Nominees for this year, or find some reviews here on All-Comic! If we don’t have what you’re looking for, you’ll want to head to ComicBookRoundup.com, a site that aggregates reviews from all across the web and averages out their scores.
Typically a search of “best character of choice comics” will point you in the right direction, but if you want some more pointed help, have no fear! Next we’re taking a really quick look at some popular origin stories, and a few indie comics. These are all trades, so you can ask for them at your local comic book store, or buy them online. We’ve put together a short list, alphabetized by publisher, then by title.
4 Kids Walk Into a Bank by Tyler Boss and Matthew Rosenberg
BLACK Volume 1 by Kwana Osajyefo, Jamal Igle, Robin Riggs, Derwin Roberson, and Tim Smith III
Eternal by Ryan K Lindsay, Dee Cunniffe, and Eric Zawadzki
Angel Catbird Volume 1 by Margaret Atwood, Johnnie Christmas, and Tamra Bonvillain
Hellboy in Hell Volume 1: The Descent by Mike Mignola
All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
Batman Volume 1: The Court of Owls Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
Batgirl Volume 1: The Darkest Reflection by Gail Simone and Adrian Syaf
Eternity Girl by Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew
Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross
Wonder Woman: Rebirth Volume 1 by Greg Rucka, Matthew Clark, and Liam Sharp
Extremity by Daniel Warren Johnson (who also drew our incredible logo) and Mike Spicer
Monstress Volume 1 by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
Rock Candy Mountain by Kyle Starks
Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, and Adrian Alphona
Spider-Man: Blue by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
Doctor Strange Volume 1: The Way of the Weird by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo
Black Panther Volume 1: A Nation Under Our Feet by Ta-Nehesi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze
Faith Volume 1: Hollywood & Vine by Jody Houser, Francis Portella, and Marguerite Sauvage
Secret Weapons by Eric Heisserer, Patricia Martin, and Raul Allen
Okay, so let’s assume you’ve read a few comics now, but you don’t know where to look next, and you don’t feel ready to jump into monthly subscriptions. What you should do, is look back at what you’ve read and pay attention to the creators. If you liked the artstyle in a particular issue, look at who did the colors, inks, or pencils. If you liked the writing, look at the writer. Once you know who in the comics industry you like, you can easily find more material that you want to read. It’s rare that a creator has only ever worked for one publisher, so immediately you open up possibilities that you’re more likely going to enjoy. For instance, if you like Scott Snyder’s writing in Batman, you can follow him to one of his indie comics, WYTCHES. So now you’ve even expanded your tastes from just Big Two to another publisher, Image.
Similarly, you should follow your favorite comics creators on social media. Seeing them talk about their favorite comics coming out from other people and their latest work is a perfect way for you to find more awesome stuff to read. More than that, it helps if you want to try and stay up to date with what’s going on in the continuity, or any major events.
You’re almost ready to fly away and begin your journey! Before you go, Let’s cover some things not to do.
Don’t be afraid of continuity.
If you ever find yourself wondering why a character is or isn’t doing what you’d expect, or why another one isn’t around, the answer is that there is sometimes no good answer. The Big Two have gone through numerous resets in their universes, meaning what we’ve come to know as established truths are sometimes unestablished. Typically if you have questions, there are great resources out there, but know that you’ll have to do some digging, and that you might not always find a satisfying answer. Wikipedia is always a good place to look for continuity answers – but beware of spoilers!
Don’t jump in immediately with a bunch of monthly subscriptions.
If you start investing in a series without any real knowledge of what’s going on, what the art and writing styles are, odds are that you’ll be left dissatisfied and confused. Jumping onto an ongoing series is fun, but delicate. It’s important to know at what point in an arc a series is, before spending money on it. If you buy a Spider-Man comic and the current issue is 3 out of a 5 issue arc, you’ll spend too much time trying to figure out what’s going on, and all the payoffs will miss. Again, though, subscribing to monthly comics is one of the most rewarding parts of the hobby.
Don’t buy a huge omnibus just because it’s a character you liked in the movies.
Not all trades are created equal! If you happen to dislike a writer, artist, or colorist’s style, that could turn you off from the book, and now you spent a bunch of money on something you didn’t enjoy. Do your research first; if you’re in a comic book store, see if anyone knows anything about the run. If you’re shopping online, see what info you can dig up. A lot of times, comics will have preview pages posted online, so you can get a taste of what you’re investing in before you buy.
That’s all the tips we have for now! You’re ready to jump into comics and discover all the ones that you’ll get the most out of. Whether you want to jump into webcomics, digital comics, or get to know your local comic shop, you’ve got the tools you need to do any of them! Don’t forget to come back to this guide when you get lost, either. Our last resource for you is a list of creators we love, so no matter what you’ll always have a place to come back to. We hope you found something useful in here, whether you’re a new fan or old, and if you have any questions, or even suggestions, don’t be afraid to use the comments!
Brian K. Vaughan
G. Willow Wilson