Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How to read comics

Lately I've been inspiring a bit of nerd rage by commenting by being negative about some recent developments in D.C. comics.  I thought it would be nice to balance this with some positivity.  With that said, I fully expect this to inspire more rage in the comment section.

Just as an aside, a good way to express nerd rage is to click on advertisements or buy things after clicking on sponsored Amazon links.  Just saying.

Comics are not a genre but a medium.  Despite what you may see in comic book stores or on comic book sites around the internet, there are a huge variety of comics outside of the superhero books released by D.C. and Marvel.  Wading through this huge variety can be frustrating and is oftentimes unrewarding.  Like any medium, for every good comic there is a large number that range from mediocre to awful.

If you are new to comics, choosing a book is almost impossible.  This is partly to do with the variety of comics out there, but also has to do with how unfriendly comics are to new readers.  Because most comics have a serial narrative, it can be difficult to find a place to start.  I stopped reading X-Men when every issue seemed to be something like part 5 is a 13 part story.  Beyond this, many modern comics are written in a manner as to be incomprehensible to anyone who hasn't read comics since the 1980's.  The cause of this is likely economic, because fewer and fewer people are reading comics, writers are catering more and more to hardcore fans.  The result is usually a small bump in sales that comes with the alienation of any potential new readers.

Pretty much every comic book company has released books designed specifically for new fans.  Some of these, such as All Star Superman, are exemplary.  The problem with these books is not their quality, but their availability.  Whenever I go into Barnes and Noble or whatever, there are no new reader friendly books anywhere.

As far as picking a book, my advice would be to choose something based on what you enjoy in other media.  See a later post for my recommendations, but its really as simple as typing in your favorite genre + comics into Amazon and seeing what comes back.  With the recent glut of superhero movies, this is even easier.  If you really liked The Dark Knight just search for the comics section for "Batman"and check out the top rated results.  If a particular story appeals to you, pick it up.

From there, there are a million ways to go.  I usually employ the same strategy for comics that I do for prose.  If I like a particular comic, I look up other things written by the same person.  Most of the best known comic writers have worked in a variety of genres, so this can be a good way to check out a variety of titles.  Alternatively, you can also stick with the same genre or character and read through the best rated books.  This is a good way to discover new authors or artists.  Really there is no wrong way of doing any of this.  If you are new though, I strongly recommend sticking with collected editions.  These will (usually) contain a complete story and are a much better value compared to the single editions.

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