Getting Started With Comic Books: A Handy Guide

Reading my Buffy comics in my local diner. Photo: Dinah McLean

This week, those of us who consider ourselves to be proud comic book readers celebrated Women Read Comics in Public Day on Aug. 28. As someone who takes her comics to the salon, the park, or anywhere else I might need a good read, I had plenty of options to peruse for my photo.

When rallying my friends to join the celebration, however, I heard a familiar response. “I’ve just never gotten into comics,” they said. “It’s not that I wouldn’t, I just don’t even know where to start.” The good news for them, and anyone else here who would like to get into comics, is that I know exactly where to start.

  1. Fables – This ongoing series by Bill Willingham is far and away my favorite “gateway drug” for new comic book readers. The first volume kicks off with a simple, but fantastical, premise: All of our favorite fairy tale characters are real and hiding in a secret, magically cloaked community in New York. The art is beautiful, the characters are both fresh and familiar, and the story arcs are epic.
  2. Daytripper – This graphic novel tells the life story of a man with a very unique perspective on life, death, and family. Writers Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon have created a book with a beating heart that stops from time to time, but only to make its overall rhythm that much sweeter. This poignant, insightful, and lovely read is especially cathartic for parents, and made my husband and I cry like babies. But in a good way.
  3. The Walking Dead – If you enjoy watching the AMC series but, like me, wish more would happen faster, then you have to pick up the books. Robert Kirkman rolls out stories much, much faster. Reading them can be an intense experience, as they are violent, gory, and not beholden to any actor contracts, so people die. A lot. I sometimes need to take breaks when I read these books, but I still think they’re worth it. If you believe as I do that zombies are a metaphor for our collective anxieties, then you’ll enjoy this ruthless examination of human interaction and behavior.
  4. Marvel’s Ultimate X-Men – This was my very first comic book series, the one that started it all. The X-Men can be particularly overwhelming just because there are so darn many mutants. What’s great about the Ultimate series is that it’s self-contained. There’s one universe, one timeline, one point of view on who the characters are, where they are in their lives, and what their relationships are like. The stories are fun, compelling superhero tales, and they provide a great foundation for getting to know the basic players. I also recommend the Ultimate Spider-man series for the same reason.
  5. Astro City – Have you ever wondered, “What would the world really be like if super heroes were real? Where would they live? Who would they date? How would that change the lives of those of us without super powers?” If so, then you might enjoy Kurt Busiek’s Astro City books.

All of these books are available in trade paperback form, which means that they’ve taken individual issues and packaged them into volumes. I consume nearly all of my comics this way and highly recommend it. Don’t worry about buying single issues until you’ve developed a full-fledged comic book addiction.

Also, I am a big fan of supporting my local comic book shop, but I have heard from some friends that they find these stores to be intimidating. Don’t sweat it. You can find all the books I’ve mentioned on Amazon, and they’ll probably be cheaper.

Finally, as you have probably gathered from the descriptions, most of these books are for Mom and Dad, not kids. My husband and I started a coed Comic Book Club, which is just like book club, complete with the people who didn’t read the book but show up to drink the wine. I highly recommend this activity, as it has become a great way to discover new comics and get some face time with our friends. (As every parent knows, this isn’t always easy.) If, however, you are looking for good comics for kids, this is a good starting point. Finally, for more ideas on what other GeekMoms are reading, check out our Comic Book Corner.

Now get reading! I look forward to seeing photos of all of you new readers celebrating Women Read Comics in Public 2013.