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A Beginner’s Guide to Comics – How to Start Reading Comics?

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A massive tangle of universes…

Back in 1939, the very first DC comic strip in Action Comics that featured Batman ended with a crazy plot twist nobody in the audience had seen coming. In what was a dramatic reveal, it turned out that caped crusader was none other than Bruce Wayne, the mysterious millionaire! How crazy! Who could have expected that?

After this, of course, Batman went on to become one of the most famous figures in comic book history, so that nowadays even people who had never read a single comic strip know his most guarded secret.

This story goes to show what a great mythology comics had built up over the last few decades. Plot points that were supposed to be surprising are commonplace, and characters had switched secret identities; more than one person had employed monikers like Iron Man, Robin, and Venom. The world of comics now is such a multi-layered giant of several different timelines and universes that it might seem hard for beginners to go and try to immerse themselves into it.

… that is not as scary as it looks

It should not have to be that hard, though. You will find that comprehending this immense universe is more straightforward and more fun than you might have expected if you have a few basic terms in mind and approach comic strips, comic books, and graphic novels with a simple set of rules.

In this beginner’s guide, we will explain the different options you have and approaches you can take to get started with superhero comics, manga, and everything in-between as a new reader. So without further ado, let’s get started with this journey!

How to start reading comics? What kinds of comic books are out there?

What you have to understand as the very first step is the range of options you have when getting into the world of comics. There are many different marketplaces and buying opportunities, and you may find that you are more sympathetic to this or that approach.

1. Ongoing series

The most accessible, bread-and-butter-type comics that are available at most newsagents and every halfway decent comics store. Each comic book company is continuously coming out with new storylines that are usually spread over months or years.

These magazine-like collectible editions, each containing fragments of one or two more tremendous stories, usually hit the stores on Wednesdays. If you want to start collecting and reading comics this way, it is best to look up when a new series is beginning so that you can go from #1 throughout the entire story arc.

Some handy tricks at the comics store

Many local comic shops will also let you make a comic pull list for you. That is a list of different ongoing comics that the shop will order and prepare for you each week, and you only have to walk in, refer to your list, pay or prepay, and pick your order up each week.

To start with this method, go to Previews World to see which one among the new releases you want to begin with, and look up a local comic shop in your area for your weekly dose of Marvel comics, Superman stories, or anything that you like.

How to get started with ongoing?

If you decide to go in at the deep end and submerge yourself into some of the dozens of new releases of ongoing storylines, you will still have some handy tricks and options at your sleeve to make an order of the chaos.

Pick your heroes…

The most obvious way to go about this is to pick a character that you are the most interested in and keep a lookout for when a new story arc begins. It might be useful to have more than one hero or team to be on the lookout for since sometimes these periodicals tend to be somewhat lengthy. For example, the current Justice League ongoing series which started in 2018 is already at issue #46 (available on June 9, 2020).

If you want to put in the extra effort, you might settle on a series that had already started a few weeks ago and is currently on issue 3 or 4. In this case, you’ll need to hunt down the previous releases, but some comics stores might still have a few left of them.

X-Force

At this moment, it seems like the X-Force series which started in 2019 is just nice for you to start with. X-Force 2019 #9 was released on March 18 while the next issue will only be available in July due to Covid-19. Read our review on X-Force #1.

How to Start Reading Comics with X-Force #1
X-Force #1 Variant Cover
Dark Nights: Death Metal

If you want something shorter, try the mini-series. A mini-series refers to a comic book series with a clear beginning, middle, and end. While the ongoing series can go for months, the mini-series has a predetermined number of issues. In this case, The Dark Nights: Death Metal mini-series will run for six issues and the release of the first issue is on June 16, 2020.

I have added Dark Nights: Death Metal to my pull list. Will do a review on it when I get it.

…or pick your brand

Another handy way to find a comic book series that you can get hooked on is focusing on each brand’s style and approach to storytelling. Whether you are more into the Archie Comics’ teenage drama, can’t get enough of Star Wars, or are into the high-stakes superhero action of DC characters, a little research into what each company has to offer will serve as an excellent compass for starting. Some other publishers you want to be on the lookout for are Image Comics, Dark Horse, or some indie works offered by different book shops or retailers.

2. Trade paperbacks

Trade paperbacks, collected editions, or simply trades are all volumes of an older story republished in single issues. While buying ongoing comics will give you a better sense of what’s the talk of the comics town these days, TPBs tend to provide a more eclectic reading experience and better access to the very best comics of all time.

That being said, relying on trades can also help you keep up with new releases as well. Many hardcore fans do not even buy whatever’s new in the stores this Wednesday, opting to “wait for the trade” and snatch the full storyline when it comes out as one edition, usually about 3 or 4 months after the last number had run.

TPBs are also more widely available, with Amazon practically being the go-to marketplace for classics and new releases. So whether you want to put your hands on the legendary X-Men Dark Phoenix storyline, or pick up the latest Amazing Spider-Man, Hulk, or Captain America series, making use of trades can save you learning the usual local comics shop know-how and lets you get started from within the comfort of your home.

The X-Force TPB is already available at Amazon. The volume 1 is collecting X-Force #1 – #6

Are graphic novels trades?

Similarly to trade paperbacks, graphic novels can be gotten hold of in pretty much the same way. What makes a graphic novel different from a simple TPB, though, is the fact that the formers were never even meant to run as periodicals. These were originally published in longer formats and rely less on those cliffhangers that usually close different parts of storylines.

Graphic novels might be more appealing to readers who are not that familiar with the comics format and prefer their readings to be similar to traditional books. They are more frequently considered to be actual literature and usually ponder deeper issues than your average superhero periodical.

How to get started with trade paperbacks and graphic novels?

Arguably, if you decide to start with TPBs and graphic novels, you will have more space for maneuvering the scene and finding the right stuff for you than if you wanted to go with whatever’s new on the shelves this week.

It also makes it easier for us to give you more specific suggestions! For this very reason, while the landscape of fresh releases is ever-changing, wild, and beautiful, relying on collected editions and long-form comics makes it possible to single out some true classics of the genre. Any serious fan will at some have to read these evergreens, so why don’t just simply start out with them?

Go by the most beginner-friendly titles

Not quite being the definitive all-time classics, but some characters and storylines lend themselves better to readers who might have just started out with the genre. These are mostly fairly recent releases that might rhyme with your other pop culture obsessions or center on highly relatable characters – or just have a style and sense of humor that newbies may find extremely appealing.

Gotham Academy

A more light-hearted title from the DC universe, this comic book series focuses on a group of students going on different adventures in Gotham City. Some story elements might ring a bell from Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, but Gothan Academy stands on its own as a superb teen thrill-ride.

Hawkeye
A Beginner's Guide to Comics - How to Start Reading Comics? 1

While he may not be the greatest badass in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (his recent transformation into Ronin was quite something though), the original Hawkeye comics are famously entertaining, wild, and perfectly suited for beginners due to the unique humor and art style.

Saga

This Hugo Award-winning standalone series is famous for blending high octane science fiction with solid fantasy storytelling. It resulted in an 18-part story that became a smash hit with both critics and audiences.

Ms. Marvel
A Beginner's Guide to Comics - How to Start Reading Comics? 2

Ms. Marvel quickly became one of the most popular modern superheroes of the Marvel universe. The character combines the feel and thrills of the earlier Spider-Man comics while being a standalone, fully formed tour-de-force geared towards modern audiences while containing hints of such classics as Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel.

Start with the best collections of all time

Some comics that started as serials did not end up finishing their reign on the shelves of hardcore comics fans and proved so popular that multiple prints and collections had to be released. Most of these classics are widely available still and could be a perfect start for your comics fandom. So here are some of the greatest hits of the entire genre:

The Sandman

You might know Neil Gaiman’s name from such acclaimed novels as American Gods or Stardust, but he is also considered one of the most versatile comics storytellers. His long-running Sandman-series that centers on the misadventures of Death himself is a cornerstone of the genre.

You might know Neil Gaiman’s name from such acclaimed novels as American Gods or Stardust, but he is also considered one of the most versatile comics storytellers. His long-running Sandman-series that centers on the misadventures of Death himself is a cornerstone of the genre.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
A Beginner's Guide to Comics - How to Start Reading Comics? 3

Before Christopher Nolan’s grimy take on Batman, one comics author had a hand in popularizing a darker, more serious image of the World’s Greatest Detective. Frank Miller’s ’80s Batman series is considered as a turning point for the character that most adaptations still rely on to this day.

Watchmen

Alan Moore’s ruthless deconstruction of the superhero genre is one heck of a reading experience. You might have come across Zack Snyder’s movie or the HBO-series based on the original masterpiece, but none of those measures up to just how essential and thrilling the original 12-part series is.

Discover a new kind of literature with graphic novels

With one foot in high literature and one foot in classic comics storytelling, graphic novels are getting increasingly popular – so much so that sometimes even more high-profile trade paperbacks are labeled ‘graphic novels.’ Below, we have collected a few of them that formed the sub-genre and are still standing the test of time.

Maus
A Beginner's Guide to Comics - How to Start Reading Comics? 4

Art Spiegelman raised some eyebrows when he decided to tell the story of his family through the Holocaust in comics form, substituting the human characters for mice. Still, this autobiographical story became so well-rounded and impactful that Spiegelman became the first author to win a Pulitzer Prize for a graphic novel.

Persepolis

While it’s technically a trade paperback published initially between 2000 and 2003, Marjane Satrapi’s controversial take on middle eastern conflicts and growing up during the Islamic Revolution in Iran made this work so hard-hitting that it is widely considered as a bona fide piece of literature.

3. Digital comics

Increasingly, online and digital comics have been chopping off a greater and greater section from the market. With much of the entertainment industry looking at the Internet for increased appeal, comic subscription services also started popping up. Many ongoing series and storylines are accessible through web services, which method grants you more ease when buying and is more friendly towards newbies.

Although we put this last in our How to Start Reading Comics article, if you have any doubts, try digital comics first.

Amazon’s Comixology is one of the most popular and up to date platforms for buying comics online, and it even comes with handy guides and suggestions for beginners. And if you want to get to the bottom of what the digital world means for storytelling in comics, you will find that some companies have even been experimenting with interactive, animated comic strips or longer stories that play half as a traditional comic and half as a video game – screendiver.com is an excellent site for these.

Here’s an example of Black Eyed Peas Masters of the Sun

Whatever type of comics you are into, it is for sure worth exploring your digital options before you settle on a preferred type of reading experience – and if you decide to go with it, you may consider investing in a Kindle.

By the way, you may also want to read our review on The Best Tablet For Reading Comics.

2 Comments
  1. JacQ says

    Thanks Azwan for this post. It helps a lot to get me started as I’m a returning comic book fan and gamer. I stopped reading comic books for decades and have just started picking it up again. This is very helpful. Love this blog. Keep up the good work and spread the joy of comic books reading and everything else that’s pretty fun!

    1. Azwan says

      Thanks Jacq, really appreciate your comment. If you are looking for comics in KL, read my other blog post on where to buy comics in malaysia. I hv to rewrite it since it is not valid anymore. Still a wip though 😀

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