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Clark Kent reads comic books, and you can too! (Stephanie Ngo / McGill Tribune)

Comic books 101: How to start reading (and loving) comic books

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As comic-cons become more popular and geek culture merges with pop culture, comic books are attracting more and more attention. With movie franchises and television series, characters previously restricted to ink and paper are attracting new fans through digital media. However, comics remain intimidating to newcomers, since most characters have multiple series, and every series has a multitude of volumes. Whether you’re interested in superheroes, zombies, or some of the more serious stories told graphically, here are some tips for new comic enthusiasts. 

1. Take advantage of compendiums 

Classics are classics for a reason, so long-running comics are often a great place for newcomers to start, especially superhero classics from Marvel or DC. It can be intimidating to jump into the middle of established story lines, so new readers may feel more comfortable seeking out collected publications. These are series of smaller comics bound together in chronological order, usually across numerous volumes for a certain series or character. Both Marvel and DC have compiled collections for most of their most popular series, usually stretching back to their very beginnings—as early as the 1950s. For classic superheros from the Marvel universe (Iron Man, Captain America, etc.) check out the Marvel MasterWorks series. On the DC side, storylines from iconic characters such as Batman, Superman or the Green Lantern are published together in hardcover.

2. Buy local

Yes, it’s good to support your local economy, but shopping at the comic shop down the street has other important benefits. No one that works in a comic store is going to be clueless about the art form, and they’re usually more than willing to help you dive in. Don’t hesitate to ask for help, your local comic book store owner might be able to suggest the best place to begin with a certain series or a certain character. Or, if you’re not sure who to start with, they might have some suggestions to ease the transition from novels to comics.

3. Begin with familiar stories and characters

Many beloved television series have started as comic series or have been continued after their cancellation in comic book form. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and Avatar are just a selection of shows that live on in comic books. The Walking Dead is based off of a comic series of the same name. Check out Dark Horse Comics for many television series turned to the page, including all of director Joss Whedon’s classics. There are also the obvious comic-based movies, such as Guardians of the Galaxy, that can make a good starting point and whose comics are usually easier to get your hands on after the movie versions have premiered. If you, like many others, found your interest in comic books through such movies, identify what characters you liked the most and start with their comics. Chances are if you liked their on-screen persona, you’ll come to love them even more in written form.

4. Put more emphasis on the book

There is no need to jump immediately into episodic comic book series. There are many graphic novels that serve as a great bridge between traditional novels and comics. The best is Watchmen, which runs over 400 pages and combines classic comic panels with written sections between each chapter. Outside of the superhero world, there are light hearted options like Scott Pilgrim or graphic novels that deal with heavier themes, like Persepolis or Blue is the Warmest Colour. These options rely more on images than Watchmen, but still provide a longer reading experience for those adjusting to comics.  

5. Don’t limit yourself to one genre 

Comic books aren’t just superheroes, sci-fi and zombies. Some comic series, such as Sandman by Neil Gaiman, combine enthralling dark stories with haunting imagery for an enchanting and at times chilling reading experience. Others can appeal to the angsty, cynical teenager that lives on in us all, such as Ghost World. No matter what you’re looking for in a story, chances are there’s a comic that’s right for you. You just might have to put in a little research to find it.  

 6. Just start somewhere

There really is no right or wrong way to approach comic books. Head to a bookstore, pick one up, and start reading! It may be intimidating to jump into the middle of a series, but comics are written with their serial nature in mind. Catching up is usually easy, and gaps in the story line are often explained right in the dialogue or text. If you still feel you’re missing something important, never be afraid to make use of Google. Comic book fans have created many online resources to help new and old fans alike stay  up to date.

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