With the sheer number of comic book properties coming to the forefront of pop culture through social media, television, Internet, and movies, it’s no wonder more and more people are running to their local Barnes and Noble or brick and mortar comic book shop to find out about their new favorite characters and long lost friends.
Every day I see people come through the doors of the shop I work in and stand near paralyzed in front of the wall that runs nearly the length of our store as they (excuse the pun) marvel at the sheer number of titles and characters before them. I admit, as a lifelong comic geek, it’s an exciting time for me to not only make a living selling comics but to see the growing number of people discovering what I’ve known all along: comics are not just for kids.
Of course, there is a secondary growing trend that is frustrating for new readers and shop owners/workers alike. More and more often I get asked what seems like a simple question with a simple answer… but like Admiral Akbar once said, “IT’S A TRAP!”
Perhaps you already know the question… perhaps you’ve even asked it yourself…
“I LOVE (insert character here)! Where shoud I start reading?”
If you’ve ever wondered what it looks like to see a human being have a brain fart, just ask that question to a person who is (generally) supposed to be an ‘expert’ on a subject. Like the proverbial horse between two haystacks… Houston we have a problem. See, it isn’t that the question isn’t logical or even direct, it’s that the obvious answer in this case may not be the right one… and there’s the rub.
The obvious answer is: From the Beginning, but that’s not always the right answer. In fact in the case of MANY characters that advice would be completely wrong! Today, most characters don’t even resemble their golden age or silver age counterparts. In fact, though the original versions of the characters may still be kicking around, the current versions may be their children or fans… or someone else completely thanks to a trick of the timeline or alternate universe. I ask you, is it any wonder most new readers get so confused?
So, tell you what I’m going to do… I’m going to take you through the same process I use to help customers in my store get to the bottom of the question, ‘Where do I start?’
How Attached Are You?
Today, I had a gentleman ask me for an Avengers comic for his son. So I took him over to the Marvel section and showed him the five current Avengers titles available, and he turned to me and said, “Who the heck are these guys?! I want the Avengers!”
This is not uncommon. Todays book’s aren’t always the same as what we see on the screen, and that’s not what many expect to be the case. Someone looking for Chris Hemsworth’s Thor isn’t always intrigued by the idea of the current Jane Foster incarnation. Fortunately, in that case, the inherent nobility of the character is built in and I can often get them to give it a try… but this isn’t always the case.
Many expect and want what they already know, so selling them on a new take is hard. What that means is…
What Kind of Reader Are You?
It’s an odd question I know, but this really is important in figuring out where to begin. In my experience, there are two types of comic readers: The Casual Reader and the Historian… the difference between the two is not exactly night and day, but it is significant enough to warrant asking the question.
The Casual Reader doesn’t mind not knowing anymore than what they’ve heard about the character and is willing to jump in at any point that makes sense, as long as the character is what they are expecting. On the other side of the spectrum is the Historian (I admit to falling WAY deep into this category), who loved the character as they were introduced, but now feels almost compelled to dive deep into the roots of the character’s beginings, history, continuities, and versions. Neither way is wrong (as my wife is fond of reminding me) just a different way of enjoying the genre.
Often what you’ll find is that the Historian has a harder time accepting things that drift away from the source material, whereas the Casual Reader is more easy going and able to accept the drift. The example I give often is the fact that I still can’t sit down and watch Smallville on TV… have a love/hate relationship with Arrow… and am REALLY pleased with 90% of The Flash. My wife on the other hand has no problem with any of it.
Event vs. Standalone (AKA What kind of commitment?)
The next thing to consider is how big of a commitment you are willing to make as a first step. Events make ideal jumping on points depending on the newness of the character and the origin of your love for them. For instance Captain America: The Winter Soldier was originally a multi-book event in the Marvel Universe as is the upcoming Civil War.
If you love Captain America, this is a great way to get everything you love about the character in one place. On the other hand, the Standalone story is often the source material for all the movies and films you see on the screen. An event is one story told by multiple voices… but a Standalone is one writer’s interpretation of the character that they often love.
Standalones also have the advantage of being a single tale either over a few issues or collected as a single book.
Have You Seen Our Trade Paperbacks?
This is the last question I ask, if it’s warranted. Not only are they cost effective, but oft times they are the anwer in many ways. Trades allow for multiple issues at a discounted price (a great way to get a running start), as well as the ability to read the character’s greatest hits all in one place with no effort at all! More importantly, you will have many choices on how to attack your prey: one shot stories, collections, or actually starting from the beginning.
The Big Two, DC Comics and Marvel Comics, actually have this down pat when it comes to helping a reader where to start. DC has a line called Showcase, and Marvel has a line called Essentials.
Both of these paperback or hardcover collections are what the companies’ editors believe to be the key stories for the featured characters, which usually means their origin story as well. Also in the trade paperback section you can often find the “important” stories or “must reads” that are considered the penultimate or defining stories for the characters and often the ones that inspired the TV shows or movies.
So now that you know about the four steps I use to guide new comic book readers, let’s put them together in an example shall we? (I am going to assume you said, “Yeah! Lets do it!”)
Paging Mr. Pool…
You are a HUGE fan of Deadpool, having somehow made it through X-Men Origins: Wolverine and are in love with the new movie. You must have more of the Merc with a Mouth but where should you begin!? Well, ask yourself the questions:
“How attached are you?”
VERY! It was Ryan Reynolds performance that made me want to find Deadpool now!
“What kind of reader are you?”
I want to know everything now that the new movie’s out… just as long as it’s not TOO different from what I’ve seen.
“So, what kind of commitment are you looking for?”
Umm… I dunno… I mean I want everything but I’m on a budget… so Y’know…
Now, at this point depending on the answers I’d give them two options… The current run of Deadpool isn’t too far in, and it’s going to give them exactly what they expect, but they won’t be fully prepared for a second viewing of the movie (which is what they asked for). Inherently, my gut tells me to bring them back to the trade paperbacks… to Deadpool Classics #1.
This TPB includes Deadpool’s 1st appearance in New Mutants #98, and his first two Standalone mini-series where most of the important characters from the movie were introduced like Vanessa (the woman he loves). Since they seem like a historian type, this is the answer to “Where do I start?”
My hope is that all made sense to you and has made the process less frightening. My wish is that you go guns a-blazing into your local comic shop and ask the questions.
Many of us have been reading comics for decades and if you’re interested in a character we love, you’ll get the benefit of our joy and passion. We all have hidden gems we think encapsulate the character perfectly that may be off the beaten path (As a Batman guy: ‘Elseworlds- Citizen Wayne’ is one of my favorites!). Just remember that fortune favors the bold, and that noone knows what you like more than you… so get out there and explore!