The Non-Geek’s Guide to Getting into Comic Books & Graphic Novels
Love comic movies and TV shows but never read a comic book in your life? Perhaps you always wanted to but a few main factors stopped you from diving in. Well, this article helps navigate you through the most common problems stopping you from reading comic books and leads you into beautiful Geeky pastures. Like a Geek horse.
Here’s something you already know: Superheroes and other comic book characters are everywhere these days, so it’s kind of surprising to me that very few have actually ever read a comic book in their lives. I started asking people who love comic movies and television why they don’t also read comics and received all sorts of answers. Most were valid, some were dumb, but basically every answer involved things that could easily be alleviated by a few basic tips and explanations. So, why hasn’t anyone ever done that? I mean, you’ve got plenty of people who are interested, so why hasn’t someone educated people on how to get into comics? It’s gotta be someone within The Geekdom smart enough, funny enough, and knowledgeable enough to explain how comics work in an understandable, interesting, and hilarious way to the un-Geek masses! But who could it be?! Well, my Geeklings, I think I might know the perfect guy. *Does finger guns for an alarmingly long time* It’s me. I’m talking about me, I’ll do it.
First things first, I am baffled, baffled I say, at the amount of people who do not know the difference between a comic book and a graphic novel. Some of you reading this right now are saying, “Hey, Matt! I didn’t even know there was a difference between Comics and Graphic Novels!” And to you I say, “Buckle up ya sonuva b*itch, ‘cause we gon’ educate ya!” The difference is very simple: Comic Books are ongoing while Graphic Novels are a contained story. Think of it this way: a comic book is basically a TV show in book form. They’re released in what we in the biz call “issues”, a monthly booklet of 20ish pages worth of story, not unlike an episode of your favorite television show.
Confused? Don’t be. 1 issue = 1 TV episode. And much like TV shows, Comic Books can go on for as long as they want. 30 issues, 300 issues, doesn’t really matter. However long the creators think it will take to tell the story. The thing that trips people up is when they hear how some superhero comics have been around for generations an are currently on issue #400+ and still going. Don’t be alarmed. Think of comics from places such as Marvel and DC like soap-operas. Often times, I’ll get this line, “Eh. I’ve thought about getting into comics, but superheroes just really aren’t my thing.” And that’s okay! Wanna know why? Because comics can be about anything and usually are! The superhero genre is just one chunk of the comics world that just so happens to be the most popular! Imagine if you asked someone if they listened to podcasts and they said, “eh, I’ve thought about it, but I don’t really like Joe Rogan.”
If you don’t know what to read next or just want a recommendation, your local comic shop employee will gladly help guide you on your newly found path through the Geekdom.
What a shame it would be if people who loved podcasts let you go on thinking that all podcasts involved a problematic meat-head talking about MMA and aliens while stoned with Mike Tyson.
I promise you, there are so many different types of comics out there, no matter what you fancy, and they’re all begging to be read! “But Maaaaatt!” I hear you shouting at the physical or digital pages of this magazine, “If I don’t know where to start and I think all comics are based on superheroes, how will I know what to read?!” Okay, first of all, stop yelling.
Second, I gotchoo, my Geeklings. What I’ve done, because I’m great, is I’ve compiled a list of my favorite Comic Book series’ and Graphic Novels (of which you now know the difference) that having nothing to do with superheroes and that are all easy stories to pick up on. You’re welcome. Here’s the list:
by Craig Thompson (Graphic Novel)
This graphic novel is usually the first thing I tell people to read if they are unsure about comic books because it is so beautiful, entertaining, and human. No superheroes and machismo here, folks, just a beautiful slice of life story that punches your heart in the stomach in the best way possible. An autobiographical tale of a young Craig Thompson’s journey through faith, family, his first love, and finding his passion for art, Blankets gives you all the feels while being absolutely stunning visually. It’s hard for me to play down my enthusiasm for this graphic novel, so I’ll be completely honest with you:
This is one of the most beautiful pieces of media I’ve ever experienced. I make people from all ages and walks of life read this and I am happy to say that it has also impacted them in the deepest of ways. Even a teenager I used to babysit said that even though he knew he was too young to relate to the actual events, he looked forward to when he could reread this and connect with it on a personal level. A TEENAGER SAID THIS! The story is as beautiful as it gets with each panel feeling like its own art piece, so it’s no wonder why most people who have this as their introduction to comics develop a brand-new outlook on what the genre can be. Pick this title up and get ready for the feels.
by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky (Comic Series
This one is pretty ridiculous, but a whole lotta fun. After Suzie, a librarian, and Jon, an actor, meet at a party and sleep together, they discover that they share the ability to freeze time when they orgasm. Yup. As their relationship develops and their sexual histories are explored, they decide to rob the bank where Jon works in order to save Suzie’s endangered library. Now, I’m gonna take a wild guess and say that when you saw a list of comic recommendations, you didn’t expect there to be orgasming time-freezing bank robbers, now did you? Or maybe you did, I don’t know your life. As bonkers as this concept is, it’s surprisingly heart-warming, human, hilarious, and the art is beautiful.
This series is still on-going, which means you have the chance to read it and catch up before it reaches its completion. Heh. Sure, this title isn’t exactly the easiest one to explain to friends and family when questioned about your recent interest in comics, but that’s just something you’ll have to get used to. Some of the best non-superhero comics/graphic novels are totally bonkers, and push the limits of what storytelling can be. Which is a perfect segue into the next titles…
“Y: the Last Man”
by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra (Comic Series)
Set in a world where every living mammal with a Y chromosome (humans, animals, even embryos and sperm) dies simultaneously except for an amateur escape artist named Yorick Brown and his pet capuchin monkey named Ampersand, this title is one of my absolute favorites. It takes the concept of “what if there was only one man on a planet full of women” and spins it into a hyper real, hilarious, heart-punching, and incredibly personal high-speed chase. And if you’re worried that the story is about women from all over the planet just fawning over this guy, fear not, most of them think he’s an idiot. It’s great.
With nothing but badass female lead characters, great writing, strong LGBTQ characters/storylines, and shining a light on the government’s views (or lack thereof) on gender equality, it’s kinda baffling that this title wasn’t one of the first comic adaptations made into a TV show.
You’ve got HBO greenlighting Stephen King novels into limited series before he even finishes the damn things, why not pick somethi g ripe for the times? Concluding back in 2008, this title is a quick read of only 60 issues (though sold in a set of 5 books). It’s one of the few titles you will want to own, as I find myself needing to reread it every year or so as it is just that good. Now go see what happens to Yorick Brown and his monkey!
My Favorite Thing is Monsters
by Emil Ferris (Graphic Novel)
This graphic novel has the perfect amount of weird, dark, beautiful, and heart. Definitely one of the more serious titles on this list, the story and art are some of the best you’ll find within any graphic novel. What makes this piece special is the personal journey the writer endured leading up to writing this. Emil Farris, who was already a working illustrator and toy designer, contracted West Nile virus at the age of 40 which paralyzed her from the waist down and made her lose the use of her right hand, preventing her from drawing. After going back to school for her M.F.A. in creative writing, Emil started My Favorite Thing is Monsters as a way to help her recover physically and emotionally.
The graphic novel took her six years to complete, averaging one page every 2 days, using only a Bic ballpoint pen for the pictures and a Paper Mate felt tip pen for the text. And on that note, I want to say to our editor, Galaxy, that I promise to never complain about anything ever again. The story itself is set in 196 s Chicago and is the fictional spiral-bound diary of 10-year-old, horror-loving Karen, who draws herself as a werewolf-like monster as she attempts to solve the mysterious death of her upstairs neighbor, Anka, a holocaust survivor. As heavy and weird as this sounds, this story does something to your heart and imagination that few graphic novels and comic books are able to duplicate. This is a must for all up-coming Geeks in the comic world and definitely a step into the world of weird, but does so with so much heart.
by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Comic Series)
The only reason this whole article isn’t just me yelling at you to read Saga is because I get paid not to. But the other reason is because as amazing as this comic is, it’s also weird. Like, even for comic fans it’s weird, though surprisingly easy to get into. Somehow mixing two very different genres seamlessly, Saga is what happens when Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings have a baby but with a lot more naked bodies, murder, and people not complaining about the prequels. The comic tells the tale of husband and wife, Alana and Marko, both from longwarring extraterrestrial races who flee authorities from both sides of a galactic war as they struggle to care for their daughter, Hazel, who occasionally narrates the series as an unseen adult.
Currently on hiatus, the two creators recently told fans that said hiatus indicates that they are halfway done with their story and gathering their energy to finish the story right. So, jump on this kooky little bandwagon now, future-Geeks, and join the rest of us in seeing where this award-winning crowd favorite ends! Now, if none of these titles tickle your fancy, then have no fear, as this brings me to my final point for getting into comics… don’t be afraid of your local comic-shop Geeks! If you don’t know what to read next or just want a recommendation, your local comic shop employee will gladly help guide you on you newly found path through the Geekdom.
A lot of people feel intimidated when approaching these lovely pillars of Geek-knowledge, but don’t be! What every Geek loves more than Geeky things is talking about Geeky things with others. Pick their brains, ask them questions, and be completely honest that you might not have any clue where to start! You can mention to them all of the suggestions I listed above, and they may completely agree or steer you towards titles more suited to your individual needs! Point is, they’re there to help.
If your worst fears come to fruition and you find your local Geekspert being rude or looking down on you for not knowing Comic Books and Graphic Novels, fear not! Those types of Geeks are what we in the biz call, “assholes.” They occur in every field of employment and do not reflect the Geekdom as a whole! Just recognize that they’re an ass hole and go find someone else more friendly!
And there you have it! You’ve taken your first baby steps into the Geekdom! Now, please take all of this newfound knowledge, apply it at your leisure, and know that we here at Comic Con Magazine welcome you into the Geekdom with open arms.
We’re here to help you grow into the most beautiful Geek you could possibly be and look forward to hearing about your journey and the exciting comics you discover along the way! Now get out there and get reading, you beautiful Geeklings!