Breaking Through the History Comic Books

At Emerald City ComicCon a month ago, one of the most thoughtful questions asked was by a woman at the DC Nation Panel who wanted to know what comics she could start reading without having to know the background of every single character, team, and storyline since the 1940s. Dan DiDio did a pretty horrible job at answering it, especially considering how he is Mr. Slick, basically muttering Wonder Woman and deflecting the question to Gail Simone. (You know, the only woman on the panel…)

I think this is an important question for comics. This is an important question for the creative team and the marketing team. They market the hell out of crossover and big “events” like Infinite Crisis and Civil War, but they are only marketing to the established audience. Yes, they need to take care of their current readership, but they also need to invest in new readers. Comic readerships isn’t strong and any slight up is because there are, frankly, just more people in this world. New readers aren’t going to pick up these crossovers.

So what do new readers need to know about comics in order to break into the giant, loaming history of the big two, DC and Marvel. To jump in without reading an entire backlog.

Start at #1

Sure, some title like Uncanny X-Men are almost to #500, but there are new titles starting all the time and many of them are not involved in the big crossover events. Yes, they might feature B-level characters and they might be by new writers; but those writers might be better than you think. So pick up #1 and thumb through it. See if it catches your eye. That’s how I started reading Bendis’ New Avengers and BKV’s run on Mystique. Sometimes, they run a long time and other times they die off quickly. You take a chance, and you can always stop reading if it doesn’t work out.

Canon. Sm-anon.

Canon counts, but then it doesn’t. Big events come and they go. Characters always have major things in their lives that remain constant and major traits that stick with them. For instance, Batman will always see his parents murdered and Iron Man will always be an asshole playboy and an alcoholic. However, creative directions will change depending on who’s writing and who’s editing. Sometimes they change out of pet-peeves, such as how Slott hated that She-Hulk slept with Juggernaut so he made an alternative universe She-Hulk do it instead. And sometimes they change canon because it was sexist/racist/homophobic like how Lux Luthor tried to defeat Superman with pink Kryptonite which turned Superman gay. Don’t take canon too seriously.

Ask someone you know who reads comics or ask your local comic book shopkeeper

Comic book fan always want to talk about comics. Trust me, I was in Hot Topic a few weeks ago with a co-worker, looking at a jacket with Alex Ross’ new Captain America design, and had a major history of Captain America geek out. A good friend will recommend comics you’ll be interested in based on the things s/he knows you like. You can also scan comic boards appropriate to your interests and gather recommendations there. (I’ve spent plenty of time on the Girl-Wonder boards.) In addition, take a trip to the local comic store and ask the storekeeper. If the store’s any good, you’ll be able to find a book based on what you’re interested in. With the storekeeper, you’re going to have to be direct such as character-driven plots with 2 or more women with lots of kick ass action. (My recommendation’s Birds of Prey.)

There’s always Wikipedia

There’s always going to be a character or team you don’t know and thankfully there’s Wikipedia. Besides editing it at the command of Stephen Colbert, comic articles often get updated weekly after the Wednesday new comic drop. I love comics, but I’ll be the first to admit that I spent time time on Wikipedia because I have no clue who Bouncing Boy is and some guy at Comic Con asked about 5 questions about him.

What suggestions do you have? What do you tell new comic readers besides handing out your recommendations?

0 Replies to “Breaking Through the History Comic Books”

  1. I sure wish I had more counsel when I started to read comics again. I remember being a kid and reading some X-Men, way back when. Someone rec’d Birds of Prey a few years ago, and that got me hooked on comics again. Civil War was as confusing as heck for someone relatively new to comics, but Wikipedia and a number of the Marvel encyclopedia issues were so very helpful. I still made it through that marathon crossover event and found that a number of the titles involved felt like a “re-start” after CW finished — which was great for me (Avengers, both New and Mighty, in particular), because then I didn’t feel so lost.

    I rely on trade paperbacks to catch up on titles that I’ve become interested in.

    The other thing I’ve found as a recently returned comic reader is that if I find a writer I like, then generally I go out and look for his/her other titles if I’m looking for something new to read. I also read a lot of boards to find out what other readers are saying about titles I don’t know much about.

  2. I had a college prof who said that if you weren’t sure whether you would like a book, you should open to the middlemost chapter and start reading. If what you read made you WANT to go back and read some more, it was a good book. Otherwise, why waste your time?

    I’m not sure I really advocate that philosophy with books (though it kept me from trying to get into, say, “Snow Falling on Cedars.” But I think it’s sort of true with comics. Your tips are all good, but in order to use them, I think readers need to get over the idea that it’s important to know every bit of history of every character. A good writer will give you enough. One of the best points I’ve heard on this subject is that a lot of times a new reader will pick up a book and think they don’t get it because of continuity, and actually the book is just bad. A good arc or story will be self-contained enough that, while a new reader might not get all the jokes or recognize every character by name, they’ll be able to find something to hold onto.

    And if that was interesting, find a thread to pull on and look for more.

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