How do you start reading comic books?

I’ve always enjoyed comic book related entertainment, movies, cartoons, artwork, but I didn’t start as a child reading comics, obsessively making sure not to miss a single issue, burning minor details into my brain certain they would be significant twenty years later, etc. etc. etc.

[li]Can a person just casually enjoy comic books? [/li][li]Do you have to run down to the comic shop every month (or however often new issues come out) to snatch up the newest issue?[/li][li]Are newer printings of older issues available so that someone could buy old stories without having to pay big bucks for vintage “collector’s” prices?[/li][li]If there’s a series I think I might like can I get an anthology that will fill me in on all the necessary background info I’ll need before starting the current issues?[/li][li]How do I know what’s canon? Aren’t there storylines that are sometimes just completely abandoned and no longer have to be adhered to?[/li][li]E.g. If I think Spiderman is cool do I have to start from Spiderman 1 and laboriously work my way up through the forty or fifty years since and try to figure out all that black costume nonsense?[/li][li]Should I just find a brand new comic that is putting out it’s first issue and stick with it?[/li][/ul]

Many children, at one time in the middle of the last century, casually enjoyed comics when comics were disposable cheap entertainment that consisted of a larger share of children’s entertainment choices. Now that that share is smaller. and dwindling still smaller, you tend to get more die-hard reader, collectors, fans, etc. Comics that enjoy more casual readership exists in newspapers, although syndicated comics have their share of obsessed fanatics, too.

Some people have the willpower to pick up their comics exactly once a month. I can do that during the school year but I typically go weekly during the summer. The lure is too strong.

The trade paperback market allows for some sought-after storylines by top creators to be collected in hardcover and softcover issues. There’s no plans for a Complete Peanuts-style reprinting of SUPERMAN or BATMAN or SPIDER-MAN titles at the moment, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens. Additionally, some vintage Golden Age and Silver Age DC and Marvel comics are online for you to read and print, although I will encourage you to find these on your own.

Comic book anthologies are a miserable failure in the American market and don’t give you much background on characters and series, anyway. If you want background on a particular recent series, there are some websites that can give you annotated material or reviews and other information you need for the more popular ones – whether they’re creator owned runs like Alan Moore’s TOP TEN or Dave Sims’ CEREBUS. DC and Marvel maintain sites that offer background material on certain characters.

You learn what’s canon by checking resurces like the ones I mentioned or simply following the various storylines, or ask smartasses like Fenris and CandidGamera or me, if I’m bored enough. Your local comic book dealer might be helpful. A fourth alternative is to pick up continuity changing events like this summer’s IDENTITY CRISIS, which helps fill in certain blanks. Superhero comics are a collaborative shared universe effort by many creators - many storylines are created and later forgotten. Just ask about Hypertime.

I have been reading comics for close to thirty years now. More often than not, as Warren Ellis has written, you come into comics alone, in the middle of a ongoing narrative that started before you got here and will continue on after you shuffle off this mortal coil. It’s not impossible to collect EVERYTHING and try to read the stories from the beginning… one DC collector has recently done that… but’s not exactly practical, either. It’s a riskier proposition to pluck down money for every new thing that cmes out – particularly for unknown, untested creative teams or new characters – but sometimes its well worth it to be there from the beginning.

That said, in all my years reading comics, I have read maybe two dozen quality comic book titles that I was lucky enough to collect from the very beginning-- most of these were PRE-internet and PRE-Previews discoveries, btw. More often than not, I’ll start reading in the middle of a storyline, then if I like it enough, I’ll scramble to buy back issues to read from the beginning.

I was a little kid in the 60s, and Batman on TV resonated pretty strongly with me. When I went to Catholic school, there was a comic book sold through the school system called Treasure Chest, an anthology title with usually four features, one religious, one action, one SF and one biographical. Never really heard of Marvel Comics until around 1973 [a few years after the Lee/Kirby heyday], but got heavily into those right around the time of Howard the Duck and Giant Size X-Men.

I only buy about four titles a week, but I plan aroiund getting them with a meticulousness thqt I don’t give to, say, my social life. Yep, I’m a geek.

Of course! If you can locate a group of fellow fans who share your tastes, reading comics can be more fun, but it’s certainly not essential.

Heavens no. Contrary to the popular perception of comics, not all comics are endless series that require twenty years of continuity to enjoy. Many are published as finite stories. In other cases, discrete stories within a run are re-published in book form. You have lots of options to suit your reading needs.

Often older issues, especially particularly valuable issues, are reprinted. Those that aren’t are often pretty inexpensive. Remember: the values of most modern comics go down with time, not up. eBay is often a great source of older comics at rock bottom prices, far less than a comic shop would charge.

In comics, the term “anthology” generally means a group of unrelated stories by different writers and artists. In this case, it sounds like what you’re looking for is a primer to familiarize yourself with the story and characters. For the most part, that’s not something you’ll find, but increasingly, comics print recaps of the essential information in the front of the comic, so new readers have a fighting chance of understanding the story thus far. Depends greatly on the publisher and title in question.

Your best bet is not to worry about it. Seriously. If you’re enjoying a story, regardlesss of whether fanboys are screaming that it violates canon, just sit back and enjoy it. If not, dump it. Worrying about continuity will make your brain hurt.

For Spider-man specifically, I’d start with the Ultimate line of Spider-man comics, which is a reboot that started only a few years ago. There’s a huge, inexpensive collected edition coming out through Border’s or Barnes and Noble (can’t for the life of me recall which, but I’m sure someone here will remember). Will catch you right up.

In general, the answer is “It depends.” Some series rely on old continuity far more than others do. Reboots of series are pretty common, so you don’t often have to go back very far to catch up. In others, the stories are sufficiently self-contained that if you find the beginning of the story (usually four to six issues long), youll be fine. Ask existing comics fans where good “jumping on” points are. There are few things most comics people enjoy more than helping out new readers.

If you see a new or nearly new series that appeals, by all means try it. Personally I tend to prefer newer series started within the last decade or so far more interesting than the older series that have been dragged out for thirty, forty, or fifty years, but to each his own.

If you give us a general idea of your tastes in genres, and the names of books, movies, and the like you enjoy, I’m sure the comics fans on this board would be more than happy to recommend some specific new reader friendly titles to try.

Hi, another comic book newbie weighing in, and one thing I have to say is if you’re going for established titles, trade paperbacks are your friends.

Oh, and there’s a new comic series from Beckett that just kicked of on Free Comics day called The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty that looks pretty intense, and you can probably still find the free first issue at your local comic book store. Actually, at my current favorite store, there are still quite a few of the freebies sitting around. Grab everything you can, there are a few introductions/previews to new comic titles floating around,and some of them look really cool.

Another thing, the Internet is your friend. There are many websites devoted to particular comic book characters, and if you’re interested in, oh, say, the established DC titles, would be a good place to go. They’re giving plot synopses of all their titles for the next three months, plus all the trade paperbacks they’re putting out, so you can not have to worry about walking into the middle of a story arc and wondering what the hell is going on in the future. The present, however, is a problem, because they don’t summarize back issues. I haven’t checked out the Marvel site yet, but I imagine they do something similar.

Find 5 or 10 titles that you like.

Then ask the Comics Store owner about discounts. :slight_smile:

Many comics stores have discount clubs. Buy a certain # of titles, you get ca$h off the cover price. If they say they don’t give discounts, go elsewhere. I get 25% off.

Also, give small press/independent comics a whirl. Many are labors of love for their creators, & as such are much better than the mainline books.

I personally recommend Usagi Yojimbo. It’s available in trade paperback collections, too.

I had a terrible time learning how to read. When I was in the first or second grade my parents hired a tutor to help me. I remember spending hours trying to read that See Dick run. Run Dick run! book and I just couldn’t. It went on like that for a year or so and then one day I picked up a comic book (Hair Bear Bunch) and that was all it took. My mom who didn’t believe the bullshit that all comic books are bad had no qualms about buying me lots. When I was ten I got very sick and had to go into the hospital. When I came home my neighbors brought me a big grocery sack of comic books that their kids didn’t want any more, lotsa Gold Keys! Me and my friends spent many a summer afternoon sitting out at our picnic table reading them. Anyway, in High School I upgraded to science fiction and then later to fiction, I read pretty much across the board now but my favorites are historical fiction, big fan of the Aubrey Maturin novels. It sounds hokey to say it but comic books really saved me

This depends upon what you mean. Can you go into a comic book store, pick out a comic that looks interesting and enjoy that one issue? For the most part, no. Few modern comics have self contained stories.

However, if you’re asking if there is casual way to buy and enjoy comics, the answer is a resounding YES. Trade paperbacks and hardcovers are your friend. Barnes and Noble and Borders both usually have a good selection of these.

There are two kinds; anthologies and collected editions. Anthologies are collections of stories related to a theme. These usually collect older single issue stories, and are a good bet for someone not familiar with comics in general. Batman in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told, The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told, etc. are examples.

Collected editions collect a series of issues in order, usually one or two complete story lines. Older collections will collecte a certain number of issues, usually 10 issues or about a year of stories at one time. These are good for learning about the history of the characters.

Only if you are obsessed with getting the latest issues the day they come out. New comics come out once a week, on Wednesday, or Thursday if Monday is a holiday. Most comics shops will set aside issues for you if you pre-order; in fact they like this a lot as it gives them a better idea of how many copies to order.

You can sometimes get a discount if you use a comic shop as a subscription service or preorder through them. I use an internet subscription service that gives me a 35% discount. I do tend to get my comics about a week after they’re in stores, but the convenience and savings are well worth it.

There sure are. Most popular series are reprinted in trade paperback collections regularly. For example, if you like the JLA, you can buy TPB collections going all the way back to the very first issue from the mid 90’s. If you decide you really like it and want to read the stories from the 60’s, DC has Archive editions for the first five or six years. They list for $50, but you can usually get them on E-bay or Amazon for about $30-$35. The paper is very high quality and the reproduction of the artwork and color is excellent.

Marvel does the same thing, but theirs are called Masterpieces. They’ve recently started rereleasing the early X-Men and Spider-Man stories in trade paperback, 10 issues for $12.95. They look fantastic and are a bargain.

If you want more bang for your buck, Marvel offers Essential collections. These reprint early stories in groups of 20 issues in a single volume, printed in black and white on newsprint. They don’t look anywhere near as good as the Masterpiece books, but they’re cheap and offer a way to accumulate an enormous library of stores. The Spider-Man books will take you from issue 1 up to about 140.

There are tons of other trade paperback collections available. Tell us what characters you’re interested in, and there are plenty of people available here who can suggest specific books.

There are books that offer exaclty what you need in terms of background information. Dorling Kindersly publishes beginner guides for new fans for the major characters for both DC and Marvel, called Ultimate Guides. They serve both as an introduction and as a reference, and will get you caught up on the essential background you need to know to get into the characters.

DC also publishes special issues calle Secret Files and Origins, which has the history of the character, and profiles of the important characters in their current storylines. The good ones do this really well (Batgirl, Nightwing), while others sometimes get off track (the latest Superman issue isn’t so good).

I wouldn’t worry about it. Canon is whatever the current creative team of a book decides it is. The Ultimate Guides I refer to above are a good help, though.

You could do this easily by buying either the Marvel Masterpiece editions or the Essential Spider-Man books, and really it’s not a bad idea, as Stan Lee and artists Steve Ditko and John Romita Sr. told some of the best superhero stories in those issues.

But it really isn’t necessary. You need to find a good jumping on point. If you’re just buying new issues, look for the beginning of a new storyline. Story titles and chapters are usually printed on the cover (something like “Sins Past, part One”, from Amazing Spider-Man #509).

Another way to ask here. If you want to know where to start reading Spider-Man to get into the current stories, you’d want to start with the first issue of the current writer, Straczynski. Fortunately, Marvel has made this easy for you, as there is a series of Trade paperbacks starting with the Straczynski run and coming right up to nearly the current issue.

Theres also the Ultimate line. At Barnes and Noble you can currently pick up a very nice hardback book that reprints the first 39 issues of Ultimate Spider-Man and a crapload of extra materials. Online it’s $40, which is a bargain, and a lot cheaper than buying the six trade paperbacks it contains.

There’s also the Marvel Age books, which has new artists retelling the classic stories. I don’t care for them myself, preferring the reprints of the originals.

Tell us what characters you’re interested in, and someone here will be able to tell you what a good jumping on point is.

This sounds like a good strategy, but unfortunately it isn’t always a good idea. The publishers know that people do this, so they have been known to restart titles at number 1 just to get new readers. Marvel did this with all their books back in 1996, and it was a disaster. A few years later, when they realized that their core books would have been approaching #500, they went back to the original numbering.

Readers who pick up Invaders #0 or Doom Patrol #1 will find that, even though these seem to be new books, each of them actually starts in the middle of a story that began in another title (Invaders in Avengers, Doom Patrol in JLA).

New titles also are often spinoffs of popular titles that assume the reader knows something abou the character already. Half the X-Men have their own solo titles.

Sometimes you’ll get in on the ground floor, sometimes you’re starting in the middle of a bunch or other stories with a #1.

E-bay is a good place to pick up long runs for relatively cheap for most mainstream titles. A lot of the time, you can get a long run for about $1 an issue. Certain “hot” books go for a premium (Walking Dead, Y: The Last Man, Birds of Prey, etc.), but if you’re interested in the stories rather than collecting the issues, there are usually trade paperbacks available.

A little more detail about which characters or books you’re interested in would be helpful.

Lots of really helpful responses! Thanks folks!

Everyone keeps asking me to specify comics that I’m interested in and, I guess, I really don’t know. I really haven’t even dipped a toe into the comic book swimmin’ pool.

Let’s see, can we start with movies that I like???
I thought League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was cool. I also really like Tank Girl. American Splendor. I really did love the X-Men movies, and about ten or fifteen years ago I read the Wolverine and Havoc Meltdown Series, which I thought was awesome (mostly because of the artwork, any suggestions of series with similar artwork would be appreciated!).

I’ve also been really interested in checking out some of the Batman-as-dark-tormented-soul kind of stuff.

Oh, and Alan Cumming made me really interested in getting to know Nightcrawler.

Can we start with that?

Ah, so many choices then … !

First things first. One of the best places for a new comics reader to find interesting titles to explore is Artbomb . I recommend starting there.

Now, as for the movies you listed. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen books are quite a bit different than the movie. Fortunately, they’re better. The author, Alan Moore, is a god amongst comic writers, and almost anything with his name on it is worth a look. If you like grim 'n gritty superheros, by all means read Watchmen, which ushered in the trend - and which might just happen to be the single greatest achievement in the medium. It’s that good. Other books of his that are well worth starting with are V for Vendetta, and his six volumes of Swamp Thing (jettison all ideas you might have about a campy rubber suit - under Alan Moore’s pen, Swamp Thing was a cracking good horror title).

For more tormented, dark, grim 'n gritty superhero stuff, by all means read Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: The Long Halloween, Catwoman: Dark End of the Street, Catwoman: Crooked Little Town, and Daredevil: Born Again. The more recent Daredvil work by Brian Michael Bendis would probably be worth your consideration as well. If it doesn’t have to be superheroes, do check out the Hellblazer series, especially the earlier volumes in the series (with special nods for Original Sins and Dangerous Habits).

American Splendor comics are readily available. Excellent, but depressing. Consider yourself warned. Other slice-of-life and biographical works (both fiction and non) to check out include Persepolis, Box Office Poison, Epileptic, Why I Hate Saturn, You Are Here, Blankets, and the Pulitzer Prize winning Maus I and II.

I also loved the X-men movies, and have been almost universally disappointed with the comics they’re based on. Consider yourself warned. You might try the Essential X-men vol. 2 and 3, if only because that’s where most of the plot material for the movies was heavily drawn from, as well as most of the interesting Nightcrawler material.

As for the Jon J. Muth art you enjoyed in Wolverine and Havoc, all I can say is this: excellent taste. Check out The Compleat Moonshadow. Swamp Thing: Roots. He also did some of the art in the last volume of The Sandman (a series I am, by comic fan law, required to recommend anyway), and for a quick search on Amazon, he’s done quite a bit of work on The Crow.