1. It takes practice
This isn’t a joke, seriously it isn’t. It all depends where you are starting from. If you are avid reader, it’s not likely to be an issue, however if all you ever read is the web, its highly likely you don’t pay much attention to what you are reading and its short-form, and no; Buzzfeed doesn’t aid recall and concentration. It’s passive, reading comic books is an active form of reading, navigating and combining images and words. Whilst it might appear child-like from the outside, it’s quite the opposite with a visual language and complexity all its own. Ask Scott McCloud.
2. It’s complicated, bewildering and vast (at times)
There are lots of characters, publishers, story arcs, artists, writers and universes. My advice, ignore it all. Follow your gut instinct. Ever heard the adage don’t judge a book by its cover? Screw that, go to a bookstore, look at the covers, read the back. Open the pages, and read a few. Don’t like it? put it back.
Don’t like it and it’s Watchmen? and it’s considered a classic? Put it back on the shelf
Hopefully one day you might read it and love it, right now its important you start reading comics. Don’t be swayed by public opinion, if it speaks to you, read it. Think of it like a wormhole … start with a single book and see where it takes you. If you fall for comics the complexity will start to unfold like a road-map in front on you, where one will lead to the next the naturally inquisitive will find their own route. Go your own way. If you really can’t find anything you like, buy Calvin and Hobbes.
You CANNOT go wrong.
3. Physical copy is infinitely better than digital. Fact.
It’s 2016. I know there is a need for portability, accessibility and depth. I know comic books can be heavy, cumbersome and frankly inconvenient. Hate to tell you this. Deal with it. I can see the point, a whole library in your phone or tablet, something you can read anywhere you are. Makes it nice and easy.
Again bad news, whoever said this was going to be easy?
It’s more that a personal preference, comics were made to be read as the artist intended, from a page with the narrative tools, the gutters, the feel of the page that immediately gives you a sense of the tone of the page at a glance, the suspense built over two pages before you turn to the next, the impact of a double page spread highlighting a single piece of action, or a key turning point in the narrative or epic vista. Want me to continue?
If an artist intended it to be viewed digitally I am ok with that, if not you’re doing yourself and the creator a disservice. Digital copy can have its place, but I’d argue that mechanisms like Comixologys Guided View fundamentally change the delivery of the content and thereby deliver a completely different experience. Having said that, if it gets you into comics, ignore the old man polemic above.
4. Ignore Fan-boys, Comic Snobs and Self Proclaimed experts
In 2011, I wrote a post about the pluses and minuses of the web, across 2015 I saw this again in the comic book community online. It’s repeated below:
The web has stratified into two groups. Let’s call them the pluses and minuses.
In the simplest terms pluses are the ones who contribute, who add value, who share their voice and the intelligence they are gifted with. The best example I can think of are TED lectures. An egalitarian way to spread knowledge, incredible insight gained over years often decades shared for the common good. Then there are the minuses, the trolls, the off topic forum posters, the racists on YouTube comments, those who lurk and collect information for personal gain. These are the people using the web in a 1.0 way. They take , they don’t add value. The internet has given birth to magpies, who steal, repeat and ride the coat tails of others. It’s also given birth to intellectual philanthropists. Typified by the actions of Tim Berners Lee.
As children we are taught to share, but as some of us get older the information we have amassed becomes the foundation for the exertion power, a desire for supremacy and a way to illustrate they have the upper hand.
I stand by my younger wiser self … so wise. Like a miniature Buddha, covered in hair.
Important side note: If you find a comic shop owner or employee who gives you regular unbiased and reliable advice, build that relationship and mine it for all its worth.
5. Very quickly you will hear of Will Eisner. Once you do, prepare to fall in love
You are likely to hear about Will Eisner in a couple of ways:
- You’ll be stood in a comic book store and on the front of the book that you are holding it will mention it was a winner or nominated for an Eisner award
- Alternatively, you will likely stumble over an effusive article online that cascades plaudits over Eisner like a torrential waterfall.
Believe everything you read, its all true. Eisner is frankly amazing, and his work is better than many writers and artists working today. Not to be dismissive of current teams, there is some amazing work happening right now, it’s just to emphasise how important he is.
There’s another thing that you might notice about Eisner’s signature, first time you see it you’ll be confused at its similarity to the Disney logo:
Pretty uncanny huh? There’s discussion about which came first but it seems that Eisner’s signature was first exposed in 1930 and its believed that an artist was ‘influenced’ to create the Disney corporate logo after that date. Examples of Disney’s actual signature seem to back up this theory. I’m no Poirot, so feel free to refute as your leisure.
6. Be prepared to talk to strangers
This really was an unexpected side effect of reading comics. I didn’t solicit it, in any way. It first happened early on, I was on the tube reading Batman: Earth One (a great read which I’d chosen at random using the methodology outline in point 2) and the guy opposite nodded and smiled at me. So far, so normal. Then he started to talk to me, I took my headphones off and half expected him to be a lunatic
“Great choice” He said
“Err, thanks” I said, not quite what sure what to say but sadly and secretly feeling quite proud.
“Read much Geoff Johns?” he said. Ok, a one-off comment was unusual enough, but this was absolutely someone starting a conversation with me. As it happened I hadn’t (and i really should have) we then spent the next ten minutes chatting until he got off. It was good, an interesting valuable conversation with a complete stranger. You should try it, its liberating.
Since then it’s happened on numerous occasions, people asking me what I’m reading (in one case I turned someone onto the Brian K. Vaughn Dr Strange run) and every time I stand in a bookstore there’s a conversation that breaks out. Comic readers are a sociable and passionate bunch, I like that.
7. Some comic books are harder than others. Give them time.
Not all comic books are the same. An obvious statement, but one that’s especially relevant when you get to reading them. Some are ‘difficult’ either because the narrative is complex, there are lots of characters or you’re just not feeling it. Calvin and Hobbes is easier to read than Final Crisis, but both are equally worthy of your time. This is the exact issue that I besmirched in point 2, and its at this point that you might have to defer to common opinion.
A headline example is Watchmen (Spoiler Alert: It’s amazing) which everyone says it great but it’s not an easy read, not many things by Alan Moore are. It’s highly likely it will take you a third of the book to get into it, and you might have given up by that point. Put it back on the shelf, move onto another and come back later.
I struggled with Top 10 (Alan Moore and Gene Ha), I mean really struggled, I started four or five times and just wasn’t feeling it. The plot is confusing, there are a multitude of characters and they seem to drop in and out of the story, in hugely confusing ways. I finally set a couple of hours aside and went at it, and it clicked and it was done in two more sittings, it’s not one of my absolute favorites without a doubt, and I’m often reminded of it when reading, its phenomenal you should read it!.
Full disclosure: I’m still not sure what happened in Final Crisis (deserves a re-read)