When I taught a class on superheroes last semester, my students were often in awe of how much I knew about superheroes. I could rattle of minutiae of Superman’s history at a moment’s notice, leaving my students absolutely stunned at the level of detail my knowledge contained.
One day during my office hours, one of my students approached me and asked how in the world do you get into comics?
I knew exactly what she meant. It’s overwhelming, and there simply isn’t another word for it.
Since then, a few other of my friends and followers have asked me for advice about getting into comics, so I decided that maybe it was time to compile a list of ways that I’ve used to break into the comic world…
- Ignore the people who will shame you for only watching the movies or TV shows and haven’t read the comics.
You can be a fan of superheroes without having read the comics. I’m not entirely sure why it’s the norm to look down on people who don’t read the comics (or even, don’t read the books). The simple fact is, even the most devoted comic fan, especially if they are young, probably has not read every issue in existence. They might have read a solid amount of one hero’s canon, but, man is even that a commitment. Accept that there will be haters. There will be people who will want to question your knowledge.
Know that you owe them nothing.
Do what brings you joy.
- Decide what you want to read/ask for suggestions.
Comics and graphic novels are as diverse in content as novels are. It’s really easy to misjudge them and say they’re only about superheroes, since honestly, that’s the implication when we say “comic” in America. When you start deciding what you want to read, ask yourself some questions: what kind of novels do you like? If you like historical fiction or memoirs, you might enjoy a graphic novel like March, which details civil rights activist, John Lewis’ life. If you like sci-fi, but you’re looking to avoid the DC/Marvel superhero craze, maybe Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman might be a better fit for you.
If you think you might want to try and break into the world of superheroes, ask yourself similar questions. Do you like fantasy and the unexplained and don’t care how unrealistic the story is? Superman’s your guy. If you prefer logic puzzles and detective mysteries, maybe Batman is more your speed. Ask yourself what kind of tone you’re looking to engage in. If you’re not into darkness and psychodrama, you might want to avoid the Gotham, for example. Want to read about one hero, or ensemble pieces where you get more bang for your buck, so to speak?
If that still is overwhelming, ask a friend who likes comics to suggest something for you. More than likely they’ll know you well enough to point you in the direction of something you like.
Just remember, reading comics can be a literary, historical, political, or artistic experience, if you let it be. They’re not all about butt-kicking.
- Decide how you want to read.
Comic collecting is an expensive hobby. I only buy a few crucial volumes, like The Killing Joke or Superman: Red Son, and I buy volumes of runs that I follow, like the new 52 Wonder Woman and Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr’s Batgirl. That said, do what you want, but I don’t recommend investing money in buying until you know what you like.
Then ask yourself, do you like physical books or digital media? If you like digital, there are plenty of platforms to buy digital copies of comics, my preferred being comixology.com. The best part about these platforms is that you can also explore its archives, and comixology even has a free comics section for download. That by itself is a great way to explore comics without the investment. Download a few different issues and take note of which ones you enjoyed! If you like the physical book…
- Utilize your public library!
This was really how I got into comics. A friend that I used to hang out with all the time, told me he had to stop by the library to pick up another Constantine comic. Confused, I followed him into the library and discovered with glee that, yes, the public library has comics!
The pickings might be slim depending on where you live, but it’s definitely a way to get started! With the full volumes there in the library for you, you can skim to your hearts content before you decide which ones are gonna get to go home with you.
*(Plus, once you really get into them, you can even ask your library to order and reserve your favorite comics, or ask them to borrow books you don’t have from a library near by. The library system is a beautiful thing.)
- Get an “Ultimate Guide,” visual history or background book of your favorite hero.
These are amazing.
Literary critics, scholars of cultural studies, historians, artists and authors a like love writing about their favorite heroes as much as we want to hear about them. It is very likely that someone, somewhere has written a comprehensive overview book of the superhero-in-question’s history in comics, film and other media. I HIGHLY suggest reading these. They’re usually full of information but extremely readable, and often pretty! They usually take you through the character’s entire development since their inception. My favorite so far has got to be Investigating Lois Lane, Tim Hanley’s quest to put all things Lois Lane in a book. (So, trust me, if there’s a book on Lois Lane, there’s probably a book on your favorite.)
Ultimate guides, or encyclopedias, are fun because they tell you about anyone or anything that has to do with the hero in question. However, ultimate guides tend to be written in encyclopedia format so just take a look before buying to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. I have a Wonder Woman Encyclopedia that’s a little tough to get through, a Superman ultimate guide that I love (it’s extremely visual), and a Batman visual history that is probably one of God’s greatest gifts to man.
All of them reference specific issues or comic runs, so while you’re reading, you can keep track of the issues that sound interesting then go find them on comixology!
- Read technical books to help you figure out exactly what you’re looking at on a page.
If you’ve never even picked up a comic before, you might be confused as to how to even begin to read them. If that’s you, I’d recommend reading something like Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. It’s a comic book about how to read comics. It breaks down what’s on a page for you, how different artistic styles and techniques are just as effective at communicating thought and feeling as the right word, and goes over things we don’t even think about, like how time is portrayed in comics. It’s a great read, super informative, and will probably be instrumental in changing how you think about comics.
- Read blogs/tumblrs about your favorite characters.
Most of my knowledge about comics comes from following fan blogs on tumblr. Every manner of comic fan can be found on blog sites: you got your DC specific blogs, your Captain America-only blogs, your Aquaman and Green Arrow blogs, your Mary Jane Watson blogs, your Gotham blogs, your POC comic blogs, your feminist comic blogs…you name it, you can find it on the internet.
For example, I followed tons of DC specific blogs, Superman blogs, and a select few Lois Lane blogs, like marodi08.tumblr.com. Because I like select Marvel comics, I didn’t really follow general Marvel blogs, but I would follow X-Men blogs and Spider-Man blogs.
Engage with the bloggers. Read their stuff. Ask them what their favorite issues are and I guarantee, they’d be more than willing to help you find your way. They spend their time creating those blogs for a reason.
A lot of times, just reading gives you enough information. They often post cool panels from their favorite issues, talk about what they’re excited to read next, history, summaries, reviews…
Also, if you find one blog you really like, pay attention to who they reblog. Those blogs are likely to be right up your alley as well.
- Read comic inspired novels and watch comic inspired TV shows and films.
I love watching shows and films because they’re based on the comics. It gives you a general idea about that world is about. Also, shows are great because they’re self contained. For example, watching DC TV shows is so much less stressful than reading the comics because you don’t have to worry about what happened before, whether or not it’s pre- or post-crisis. Within the show, they will tell you what you need to know to be able to follow.
Comic inspired novels like Gwenda Bond’s Lois Lane series are great because it helps you ease into the world in a medium you might be more comfortable with, and gives you the same comfort of a show, in that the world is self-contained. What you need to know to follow is within those pages.
- Don’t limit yourself.
As I mentioned at the beginning, comics come in all manner of types. Some of my favorite are written by Ivorian, Syrian and Iranian authors about political unrest and engage in important social commentary. (I was a French major, y’all.) You can find comics on anything. Sometimes, your favorite novel series might even have a graphic novel counter part! Graphic Classics for examples, produces graphic novel adaptations of your favorite classic novels, like Emma or the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe. Explore everything this medium has to offer, because it has so much!
- Have fun and jump right in!
Shut out the noise. Go to your local library. Pick up a comic, any comic. Check it out. Read.