Ka-Pow 101: Intro to Comic Books (for Adults) Pt. 2

Last time, we went through some of the basics of comic books and their vocabulary. This time around I’m going to give you a few rules (…more like guidelines) to introducing a full-grown non-comic reader to the world of the funny book. I will also look at some personal suggestions for an introductory reading list.

So what kind of rules should you follow for introducing someone to comic books? And what kind of hints should you heed if you are going into this solo?

Respect the Reader

Just because you have convinced someone to read comic books, it does not mean they want to read about superheroes. Just like all forms of art there different forms, styles, and genres. One person may enjoy serialized horror books (Walking Dead) while another may enjoy fantastical anthology books (Flight). Even if they do want to get into superhero stuff, keep in mind the next rule.

Start Small

Now this may sound counter-intuitive to the wording, but start small means start with the bigger format: trades. Generally, trades are easier to read and digest. You can get a full story in a single trade as opposed to getting a portion in a monthly issue and having to wait. I always find watching a show on Netflix or saved up on my DVR is a lot easier than waiting week to week. (I know! I know! Another comparison to TV, but it’s so easy!) Also, trades are generally older stories which have a known quality.

Another thing to keep in mind about starting small. Use trades which are self-contained and not part of a series. (Sorry Sandman and Lucifer.) Anthology trades work too. Don’t necessarily expect the last read, but don’t anticipate continued reading. It might not happen.

Try Other Media

In introducing someone else to comics, don’t instantly jump in and say, “Here’s a comic book! READ IT!” There have been amazing strides in adapting graphic novels and comic books to both television and film. Walking Dead has been a cultural phenomenon that has lit up so many televisions on Sunday nights. Young Justice, while not identical to the source material, has been a thrill to watch. There also some really fantastic feature films to check out. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World does an amazing job of capturing the spirit and themes of the comic book. Marvel Studios has had amazing success with their properties (Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor) all leading up to the highly anticipated Avengers. DC Comics’ direct-to-DVD animation endeavors, like Justice League: The New Frontier, have adapted some of the most cherished storylines in DC’s long history without dragging in all of the continuity.

After taking the time to watch an adaptation, take a look at the source material. It’s an interesting comparison as you can see character moments that hit the cutting room floor, or find new scenes that never made it from page to screen.

Now let’s make the transition to ongoing series.

Start in the Present

If you want to get started on an ongoing series, the best way is to start with the current story arc. Make sure not to jump in mid-arc because you will get lost. If you enjoy what is happening and want to understand more of the back story, you can track down the relevant material. There is an exception to the rule: on-goings written by the creator (generally creator-owned books). Books like Fables, Walking Dead (Last time I use this as an example, I swear!), and Locke & Key are working toward an eventual end. It’s not always clear if such is the case, but a good sign of the series direction is the consistency of the creative team.

Utilize Reference

Wikipedia and sites like Comic Vine are your friend. The comic book articles on Wikipedia are surprisingly (or not, considering nerds run the interwebs) well-organized. Comic Vine runs its own dedicated wiki on characters, books, teams, and arcs. If you have the money to spend, DC and Marvel both have encyclopedias which catalog many of their characters with details such aliases, origins, history, and team affiliations.

Now that you have the guidelines/rules on getting someone or yourself started in reading comic books, what book do I suggest? Well let’s see.

Novice Level – You’re brand new and have never touched a comic book

300 by Frank Miller – This one is a great example of utilizing all the rules I just explained. It’s self-contained and collected in a trade. It is also available in another format: the 2007 adaptation by Zack Snyder. It is also a breath-taking story of honor and heroism.

Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughn and Nico Henrichon – This is a beautiful but tragic tale based on a true story of lions roaming the streets of Baghdad. This graphic novel stands on its own, and good for someone who isn’t necessarily interested in superheroes or war.

Joe the Barbarian by Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy – Released as an 8 issue miniseries in 2010, this story of friendship and imagination is a thrill ride. It actually gets better with multiple read-throughs, and I hope someday it gets made into a movie (…by me! … If only). It has since been collected into a single trade with some excellent extra content.

Wanted  by Mark Millar and JG Jones – Edging into the world of superheroes, this mini-series from 2005 tells a story of wish-fulfillment and responsibility with which Mark Millar excels ( see also Kick-Ass). This would be an interesting experiment for the alternate format rule due to the vast difference from source to adaptation.

Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale – This one pushes the limits of all the rules. It is a self-contained story, but it features characters from a long and storied history. Loeb does a fine job of making sure the reader does not get lost. This is also an exception to the rule of starting in the present.  With characters as engraved in the collective unconscious as Batman, many of Loeb and Sales books can also be included  in this list.

Advanced – Longer-form books to get into once you’re committed

Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore/Charlie Adlard – I know I said I wouldn’t use this again, but it’s so obvious. Get someone hooked on the amazing show from AMC, and then let them read the comic book. The great thing about the two is the separate path the show has taken from the comic. I would suggest starting in the beginning, especially if using the show as a jumping on point, but starting with current issues would be fine. Just remember the potential for spoilers.

Sandman by Neil Gaiman and various artists – A rich and intense epic, this long-form series will keep you on your toes. Curve balls will catch you off guard. The over-arcing story is also broken up by some very interesting vignettes.

Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez – A dark, yet fun series with a mystery/horror feel. It is a fairly new series, which will be easy to get caught up on.

That’s gonna be the end of Ka-Pow 101, for now. These suggestions are all based on books I am reading or have read. There are many more possibilities and amazing suggestions I could have added, but I’d love to hear from you!. Let me know other techniques you might have used to introduce new readers to comic books. Ask me anything you think I missed or forgot to mention. Let others know about comics you think they should start with. Leave a comment below.

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