One of the biggest hurdles faced by the comic book industry is how to attract new readers. With storylines where continuity can span nearly a century, it’s hard to convince people to get on board. “I won’t understand what’s happening,“ people say. “I like to start at the beginning.” Recently, DC made the decision to relaunch all of their titles and begin at the birth of the DC Universe in an attempt to attract new readers and old readers who’ve fallen off the wagon over the years.
But I’m going to testify that it’s not necessary to wait for a giant reboot to start reading comics. If you’ve ever turned on a TV show halfway through and been able to catch on to what’s happening (even if you‘ve never seen the show before), then you know what I mean. I know it can seem intimidating to try something you’ve never tried before, but here are some tips to get you going:
(Note: This guide is also applicable if you already read comics and want to get your kids/family members/significant other on board. Or, if you read comics but you want to expand what you’re into.)
1.) Go with what you already know you like. The first thing I ask someone who comes into the store asking me for suggestions is “What kind of movies/books do you like?” Like books and movies, there are genres of comics, from superhero, to horror, to romance, western, science fiction, fantasy, memoirs, humor and what have you. Thinking about what you already know you’re into can help narrow your search for the perfect book.
Also, a lot of comics and graphic novels are based on works in other mediums. So if you like Jane Austin, you might enjoy the graphic novel based on her famous work ‘Emma’. If you love video games, look for comic series based on your favorite games like Deus Ex, Mass Effect, Batman: Arkham City and Infamous (a game inspired by superhero comic books). If you liked Scott Pilgrim The Movie, you’ll probably love Scott Pilgrim The Series. Or if you just can’t get enough of Star Wars, there are literal shelves filled with graphic novels based on the movies, ranging from stuff that’s kid oriented to grown up stuff.
2.) Look for authors who’s work you’re familiar with. A lot of authors have dabbled in comic writing. Any why not? It’s got to be awesome to see your words brought to life through illustration. For example, Jodi Picoult has written for Wonder Woman and Kevin Smith is currently writing for Green Hornet and The Bionic Man. And Steven King’s son Joe Hill writes amazing horror comics like Locke and Key and The Cape.
3.) Follow your gut feeling. If something is appealing to you in anyway, check it out! Even if it’s something superficial like a character design or a bit if dialogue that attracting you, you might have just stumbled onto something good. This is the very unscientific way I discover new books. If something is calling to me from the shelf, I check it out and 9 times out of 10, I’m not disappointed.
4.) Don’t be afraid to jump in in the middle. This goes along with tip number 3. If a book looks interesting to you, even if it’s currently on issue 600, just check it out. You’ll probably be able to surmise what’s going on, and for every character who’s back-story you don’t know, there’s Wikipedia. Or you can just ask someone. Again, I do this all the time. If I tried to go back and start at number one every time I was interested in a book, I probably wouldn’t be reading anything right now. Not only is it impossible to read every X-men ever written, it’s improbable that I would enjoy all the stories anyway. So I just start reading where I feel like starting, and I go back and read older, collected works when a storyline intrigues me enough.
5.) Read trades. Trade paperbacks are collections of issues printed and bound together that tell a complete story. Trades are a great way to get into reading comic books with a long continuity. You’ll get a full story, and you can jump around and read the trades that highlight some of the best work done for the character you’re interested in. It’ll also help you feel out which writers are your favorites.
6.) Check out some web comics or go to the library. If you’re afraid to spend money on something you’re not sure you’re going to like, there are other opinions. Most libraries have a selection of trades and graphic novels. Checking a few out will help you get a feel for what you like. A web comic will offer you the same chance to get a feel for the medium, plus web comics tend to be tailored for really specific niche audiences, so you have a better chance to find exactly what tickles your fancy.
7.) Ask someone to help you. If you have a friend that reads comics, I’m sure she’d be happy to show you her favorite series and stories. If you don’t know anyone who reads, you can always ask for help at the comic book store. Just try and be somewhat prepared for the inevitable “What are you into?” question. This tip applies if you’re just looking for something new to read as well. Speaking as a comic store employee, I can say I’m happy to point out books that I’m enthusiastic about. Also, I’d never recommend anything that I didn’t genuinely enjoy.
That’s it, kids. It’s pretty simple. Thanks for reading and hopefully this helped.