n00b’s Guide: Comics – Part 1

So… you want to get into comics.

Oh, what’s that? They didn’t catch that reference?
No? What about the one I made just now?
NO?! Well okay then, starting from the bottom it is. *un-epically clicks knuckles*
This article is the first in a three-part series: it focuses on getting started with comics. We’ll then move on to buying comics for someone else and, finally, comics as collectibles.

Comics for n00bs, enjoy.

The world of comics and comic book collecting can be… let’s just say it can be a bit daunting.

Walking into a comic book store in this day and age (in any day and age, really) you would be greeted by all manner of paraphernalia; everything from one-inch figurines to life-size Iron Man statues, Funko Pops to 30cm tall ceramic statues that cost almost as much as your first car (some cost more). Then, of course, you have the comics.

Boxes and boxes and boxes of comics. Shelves packed full of them, entire countertops resting on the stacked boxes – you have no idea where to start.

Well, my dear reader, you have to start somewhere.

When first walking into a comic book store, you’ll notice that the comics are generally segmented somehow and this segmentation (usually) starts with the publisher. In comics, there are two ‘mainstream’ publishers, Marvel and DC; there are other publishers, such as Vertigo (currently owned by DC), Dark Horse, Boom!, Image and IDW, but they deserve articles to themselves, so I won’t really touch on them here. But who knows, maybe I’ll do a Part 4 covering ‘non-mainstream’ publishers and their titles.

Pick the one comic that stands out to you. It could be the title. It could be the cover art, or the style of the art, whatever the reason, pick it up and take a look.

You see that there are a few names written on the cover? These mean nothing to you – for now. You see that the barcode has an extra section with a few digits that you wouldn’t normally see outside of a comic book store. Don’t worry too much about those either – I’ll cover them in Part Three. If you’re allowed to, check with the staff first, open it up and take a quick peak inside (don’t read the whole thing, just carefully flip through and get a feel for it – and for goodness sake make sure your hands are clean! – Ed.).

Welcome to the world of comics (we’ve been expecting you – Ed.).

 

 

Now let’s say that first comic piqued your interest a little more, but you’re not sure exactly what you would like – well, there are a few good ways to find out: when picking your first comic (as in the one you think you’d be interested in following), one of the first things to do is ask yourself who your favourite superhero is. You don’t have to know much about them, maybe you saw like ten minutes of The Avengers at a friend’s house and you thought Thor was too stuck up and maybe Captain America didn’t catch your fancy as much as Iron Man. Maybe you took a chance and watched Deadpool on Valentines Day with your partner back in 2016. Maybe you just like the idea of a particular hero, their name caught your attention, whatever it may be. The second thing to do is to ask the staff what their favourites are and why. Most of them are incredibly friendly (they were n00bs too once upon a time) and will happily break down recent events and happenings in comics within a few minutes and in a digestible manner (or not, not everyone is a fantastic storyteller, or salesman). Pretty much any comic book store employee worth their salt is definitely going to tell you who their favourites are as well as what’s hot on the shelves. They can help give you an idea of what you might like to get into.

For a start, assuming the only exposure you’ve had to superheroes is in film, stay well away from anything with the word ‘X-Men’ in the title – believe me, that is not a rabbit hole you want to jump down on a whim. I mean it. They have a lot going on and it can be very difficult to keep things straight when they have three main series (Red, Gold and Astonishing) and quite the number of side-series: Cable, Cloak and Dagger, Deadpool, Domino, Mr. & Mrs. X, Old Man Logan, Weapon X, X23, Iceman, Return of Wolverine, Shatterstar and Weapon H. That last one technically doesn’t count but it ties in heavily with Weapon X, so I’m including it. Add five X-Men Black one shots to that; it’s a lot of reading. Now, that list of names is a little terrifying, being that you probably don’t know half of the characters in the titles (or maybe you do, Smartypants), but the biggest issue with X-Men-related titles is that they are all interlinked.

You’re probably thinking, ‘But Jonathan, they’re in the same universe, they should interlink’. No. Sometimes they just shouldn’t. And the X-Men is a perfect example of that. Once upon a time, Marvel just threw random ideas at the X-Men. They were weird, and their stories were weirder. If you want to keep track of the long and complicated histories which factor into every single interaction amongst them (I kid you not, they will regularly reference stuff that happened in an obscure X-title in the eighties without even flinching), you are on your own. By the way, they used to have a lot more going on than they do now, way back when they had far more titles than they currently do. Scary thought.

So no, stay away. These last two paragraphs have been your warning. Take it to heart, heed it.

Moving on.

Possibly the best way to get a feel for a lot of characters at once is to pick up and read a team book. The Avengers, Justice League, etc. (anything other than X-men, obviously). Through these books, you can get to know quite a few characters in a short space of time and without too much effort.

But there is a little more to it than just figuring out what you like – where to start is often also an issue.

There are over one thousand issues of Action Comics, almost as many issues of Detective Comics, Mighty Thor hit issue #700 and Amazing Spider-Man reached #800 earlier this year, Wonder Woman is currently on issue #59 (at the time of writing), Old Man Logan is sitting on #50 and Avengers is on #10 (or #700, depending on how you count the issues – more on that in Part Three). So where the heck does one start?

Simple: at the start of a story arc.

Any well-read comic book store employee should know at least some of what starts when (or at least, someone in the store will), so ask them what’s currently happening in Wonder Woman (or whatever it is you’re interested in) and they’ll tell you. Discerning when an arc starts or ends usually isn’t too difficult (in the case of DC, at least, Marvel can make things confusing sometimes). DC usually has a “Part [insert number here]” to let you know where a particular issue fits into a story arc, their arcs also have official titles – Marvel generally only assigns titles to certain stories or to events; so you kind of just have to dive in and hope for the best.
A quick note: a story arc is generally six issues and most comics release either once-monthly or bi-monthly (every two weeks) and cost on average anywhere between R60 and R80 each. While that may not seem too expensive, remember that if you wish to turn comics into a habit, it can very easily become very expensive if you aren’t careful with your comics budget.

Sidenote: Prices may vary depending on the store and region, and, obviously, the exchange rate, among other factors; but for now, the price range I mentioned is about what you’d expect for your average comic book. Most stores also have a little something called a ‘call-order’ where, similar to a subscription, the comics you ask for will be set aside for you, that way you don’t run the risk of not being able to pick up the latest issue of your favourite title just because you couldn’t make it to the store for a few weeks; but try not to keep the store waiting too long.

But if you had to ask me?

Pick up Mighty Thor from #700 (it’s a monthly comic, so stores should still have it); they’ve taken the theme and idea back to the Jack Kirby days, so the comic feels a little more like it did back when Thor was introduced in Journey Into Mystery #83 (if you liked Thor: Ragnarok, you’ll love where this comic is now). Just jump in anywhere, it doesn’t make much sense to most anyway, but believe me, it is epic – this is one of those which will really make you think; and it’s a good way to subtly introduce yourself to the cosmic landscape of the Marvel Universe.

Each story arc of Old Man Logan is generally fairly self-contained; the writers usually find a way to explain any references to Logan’s earlier days in the story, usually through dialogue (for the uninformed; Logan is an older, grumpier version of Wolverine, with a savage sense of humour; “What do they call you? Wheels?”).

Avengers has just done a massive retcon to the origins of Earth 616 (there are a lot of universes in the comics, 616 is the main Marvel universe, which is where most the current stories are taking place). A retcon that massive can confuse you when you start hearing how things used to be, but just know that this is the way things are now and it’s a fairly good place to jump on and get reading.

Some of the earlier story arcs from the current run of Wonder Woman were absolutely fantastic, but the writing quality has taken something of a dip lately. Regardless, the current run has taken Diana and stretched her to her limits, not physically, but mentally – her emotions have been toyed with and her weaknesses played, but she has come out of it all far stronger than before. If you’re looking for Wonder Woman as we’ve never seen her before, look for the start of an arc (or grab a graphic novel; which is either a collection of stories or a singular story-arc jam-packed into a book, either hard or soft-cover; I’ll go into them more in Part 2) and get reading.

If you’re looking for some classic comics, there are two ways to go about it; either hunt down the originals (which will either be in terrible condition or really expensive) or ask the staff for any reprints; graphic novels are also a good alternative. Marvel and DC have a tendency to reprint iconic issues every once in a while. For DC this seemingly happens at random, and they call their reprint series DC Essentials. Marvel’s reprints generally have a rhyme and reason to them and are of older comics (much older, golden age and earlier; I’ll explain that in Part Three). They are called True Believers – which is the nickname Stan Lee gave to all Marvel fans, regularly referring to us as ‘True Believers’ during interviews or in the occasional vlog on his Twitter account. These reprints, fortunately, generally sell for anywhere between R20 and R40 in SA and are also a great way to get into the older comics, helping you find new titles to read.

Whenever a Marvel movie is about to hit theatres, Marvel capitalizes on the opportunity, reprinting older, iconic issues with the characters in question. When Spider-Man Homecoming was not even a month away from release, comic book stores were flooded with an influx of Spider-Man True Believers: some were reprints of early to mid-2000s Spider-Man comics, others were from the 70s and 80s. So when Captain Marvel hits theatres and you’re looking for some recommended reading to do with the character, head to your nearest comic book store and ask for any Captain Marvel-related True Believers.

Now that you’ve figured out what you want to buy, let’s say its been a few months since you bought your first few comics, you know what you like and don’t like, which characters you adore and which you despise. Now is the perfect time to take a good look at those names on the cover. At the start of each comic, generally on the first page, you’ll see some information about who did the writing, who did the line-work, the shading, etc. Those names correspond to the ones on the cover. Take a good look at all your comics. See any recurring names on issues that you enjoyed? Those are the ones you should start looking for when you buy comics. Like Brian Michael Bendis’ writing? I’m gonna take a guess and say you’re currently reading Action Comics. Or maybe you’ve been reading lots of Champions because you like the art style – that is the work of none other than our very own Sean Izaakse (a South African artist working for Marvel).

When buying comics, ask the staff if they know who is working on what and if they’re going to be working on anything cool in the future – and if the staff don’t know, ask them for a copy of the Previews, you can find out in there (and if they don’t have a copy of that then you’re just gonna have to do it the old-fashioned way and find out for yourself by staring at each and every comic with villainous intent, until you find what you are searching for (or do the millennial thing and just Google it – Ed.).

(But what if they’re not millennials, Ed? – Jonathan) touché – Ed.

And that concludes my lecture; please see Stan Lee – In Memoriam for more on Stan ‘The Man’ Lee and do remember to come back for Parts 2 and 3.

Go ahead, share the awesomeness:

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