You will find on this list a few names you might recognize, a few you might not, but all great stories and lessons from first-hand experiences ...
Continuing from “Manga 101”, we are doing a crash course on comic books from a reader since 2011! Don’t worry if you’ve never even stepped foot into a comics store, as I’ll be walking you through figuring out your tastes, digital reading options, and slang! If you’re uninterested in superheroes, we will also be discussing your options here! At any rate, feel free to grab a coffee before starting, as this is going to take some time! Confused parents/guardians, I will also discuss figuring out whether something is appropriate for your young reader. Sorry for snitching, kiddos!
I know DC and Marvel, but do I have some other options?
Most certainly, yes! The most famous publisher outside these two would be Image Comics, who are publishing Walking Dead comics. They handle a number of rather avant-garde comics as well, like Wicked + Divine (which is a personal favorite of mine, along with Snotgirl) and some family-friendly options like Moonstruck. I’m more likely to hand a kid something from Boom Comics, though, as their family-friendly selection is significantly larger. Notably, they were the ones that published Lumberjanes, which was one of Noelle Stephenson’s most famous pre-She-Ra works! They also have great adult options, like Eisner-nominated Something is Killing the Children. Additionally, there is IDW Entertainment, who you may know from Locke and Key (which you should read, as the Netflix version only barely approached its level of weirdness). In their family-friendly options, they have Disney’s licensed comics. Then there’s Dark Horse Comics, best known for Hellboy and high-quality video game artbooks (although they also publish licensed kids’ comics, like Avatar).
image via comixology.com
So, you mentioned options for people uninterested in superheroes?
There are plenty of them out there, like all series I’ve name-dropped so far (although you can argue Hellboy to be a superhero). Just like manga isn’t all “battle action” series, comic books cover a wide variety of subjects. I have read everything from memoirs along the lines of Persepolis to biting satires like Crowded, so there’s definitely room for anyone who’s got superhero fatigue.
What are my reading options?
I often use Hoopla for reading, as my library card gets me free access to a lot of publishers’ work (including DC/Marvel). The only caveats are that not all libraries use it, you only get so many borrows per month, and your selection will vary based on library system. Let’s suppose you don’t have a qualifying card and you don’t have a large system that works with your entire state (like NYPL for New York state), then.
Your most convenient “all you can read” option would be Comixology Unlimited, which has some DC/Marvel, Image, IDW, and Boom comics. However, they don’t always have the complete series (as seen in the case of Lumberjanes) and they don’t necessarily have the latest DC/Marvel reads. Still, if you would like to sample indie comics and figure out your taste in manga, they would be your best bet.
Let’s suppose you want to dive deep into superheroes, though. Your first option is Marvel Unlimited, which covers a pretty extensive amount of the books they published. DC Universe is the answer to that, with an attempt at producing exclusive TV bundled in (although HBO Max will be getting that in August).
image via comixology
That’s… a lot. Suppose I want to get into superheroes, then. How do I pick a series to follow?
There’s no shame in getting in through movie/gaming favorites and expanding from there! For example, I only decided to give Thor comics a try after watching Thor: Ragnarok because I liked Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows and Guardians of the Galaxy weren’t on my radar until I saw the first movie! Similarly, I wouldn’t have started comics if I hadn’t seen X-Men movies when I was younger. Also, the Batman games were partly why I decided to check out the comics.
At any rate, I pick based on favorite characters since I’m fairly casual. For example, if something involves Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel, Miles Morales/Spiderman, Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, Dick Grayson/Nightwing, I’m more likely to read at least the first volume (as a Hoopla user, I have plenty of flexibility here and I only collect the series that I know I will reread multiple times). The easiest method to find favorites would be to start reading from the large series, like how I found Scarlet Witch via X-Men and decided to read Harley Quinn after starting from Batman.
You might also eventually find some writers you like! For example, I loved Mariko Tamaki’s Laura Deen Keeps Breaking Up with Me and thus want to follow her Wonder Woman run. Similarly, I will read anything by Kieron Gillen after Wicked+Divine or Vita Ayala (since Submerged was just that good). Basically, just note down any writers whose style you loved while sampling around and you’re solid!
Also, a good place to find some recs would be Eisner Awards nominees. This year’s winners were announced recently, too! David F. Walker and Chuck Brown’s Bitter Root is definitely one of my new favorites, along with Mariko Tamaki’s aforementioned Laura Deen Keeps Breaking Up with Me. In the runner-ups, I’ve been a fan of Christopher Sebela’s Crowded since volume 1.
image via imagecomics.com
Don’t you need to keep track of a ton of continuity in superhero comics?
Hence the periodic reboots and relaunches, like DC’s New 52/Rebirth and Marvel’s recent Fresh Start! If you start from Volume 1 of one of those, you should get recaps for the protagonists’ backstories and they don’t usually start in the middle of the story (although they may follow some events, like how the current run of Nightwing picks up from Tim Seeley and Tom King’s Grayson, although you wouldn’t be too lost without that context). Additionally, the relaunches include short series that are readable by themselves, like Tom King’s Mister Miracle or Al Ewing’s Loki: Agent of Asgard.
And how do I pick something that isn’t superhero comics?
Pretty much in the same way that you would pick a book. Start browsing by genre and blurb, maybe see if you like any covers? It’s significantly simpler than with superhero comics, as you don’t have to factor in crossovers here. My usual method is browsing by writer, but that’s like with book picks. You build up a favorites list over time.
Some writers are strictly indie, like Bryan Lee O’Malley (of Scott Pilgrim fame, currently on Snotgirl), while others dabble in superheroes as well. For example, the aforementioned Mariko Tamaki (who won the “Best Writer” Eisner and “Best Publication for Teens” via Laura Deen this year) has done everything from grounded discussions on toxic relationships to my favorite She-Hulk run. Similarly, while I picked up Kieron Gillen for his indie work, he is also known for his Young Avengers run around 2013.
I’m a parent/guardian and my kid wants to get into comics. How do I know what’s appropriate for them?
To any kids reading this: Once again, sorry for ruining the time-honored tradition of trying to get your parents to buy you that shrink-wrapped volume of Watchmen or whatever else that you’re way too young for. I used to be just like you, if it’s any comfort!
To the parents: If you’re looking through Comixology, they have age ratings in the listings. You should still most definitely read the descriptions beforehand, though, as some ratings seem like a poor match. For example, Tom King’s Grayson series is along the lines of James Bond, and is most definitely not suitable for 12-year-olds (maybe 15 at the very youngest). Additionally, let’s do a quick chat on how some of the previously-covered publishers do these age advisories!
As previously discussed, Boom Studios has a lot of minor-appropriate comics, but also offers adult options. Luckily, if you’re browsing their site, you can just filter by age! In general, their Boom Box imprint has a lot of comics both you and your kid will enjoy.
With Image, there’s an “All-ages” section on their site (which somehow doesn’t feature Moonstruck, even though I’d argue it’s perfectly minor-appropriate). In general, I would advise waiting until your kid is somewhere around high school age with this publisher, though. Definitely a great publisher for anything you would like to read, though. One of their marque series, Saga, is about a pair of new parents, for example. Oh, and keep your minor away from Top Cow, their partner studio, as they are pretty hard-R-rated.
With DC, you should know about Black Label. That’s the “mature, sophisticated audiences” imprint. Before this, the company had Vertigo, which targeted a similar audience. Neil Gaiman actually published Sandman under that, coming to think of it! There was also that Young Animal imprint, which was curated by Gerard Way (of the Umbrella Academy/My Chemical Romance fame). It wasn’t technically under Vertigo, but also had some gems for older readers (personally fond of his run on Doom Patrol).
In general, if it stars minors, it will be appropriate for them with both DC and Marvel, though, so don’t be afraid to get your kids volumes of Young Justice/Naomi. Additionally, DC Ink is an imprint that is explicitly intended for young adults (and Mariko Tamaki actually wrote an Eisner-nominated Harley Quinn story for it).
For Marvel, there is a more standard age rating system. If you look up a title (preferably with identifying info, like writer and year) through the Marvel Comics App, its page will display the age rating to the right of the cover. You can also look up titles via marvel.com, but it’s more cumbersome than the app! Also, while teenagers love Deadpool, the violence and darker-than-a-doctor’s sense of humor makes most of the character’s outings rather inappropriate for minors.
Additionally, the company recently partnered with Scholastic for some middle-grade graphic novels about its kid heroes, but that will be out in Spring 2021. The announced protagonists included Miles Morales, Kamala Khan, and Shuri, who already had their own series. As already covered under “The Big Two keep kid hero series minor-appropriate”, you can safely hand your kid their comics without a problem (and maybe join them for some reading discussions)!
image via marvel.com
Should I wait for a volume/trade or buy by issue?
Depends on how impatient you’re feeling. Let’s look at the math, though, with cited prices from Comixology.com. Suppose you’re a giant fan of X-Men and want to read the 2019 run ASAP! For this series, the new issues are $3.99, and back-issues are $1.99 (let’s assume you’re buying at new-issue price consistently here and no discounts are involved). The first volume collects the first 6 issues and costs $10.99 digitally (which is actually comparatively cheap, given the $20 paperbacks I’ve run into). If you were buying them as they were released… 3.99 X 6 = $23.94. In short, I prefer to wait for volumes. Also, these collected editions often come with interesting behind-the-scenes materials, like character designs.
So, how do I get recommendations?
I’m friends with several people who have been reading comics for quite a while, so we swap recs sometimes. But if you don’t know any comic fans, I would say the Women Write About Comics site is a great starting point, as they have actually won this year’s “Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism” category in Eisners. Reddit’s r/comicbooks community is a great place for super-personalized recommendations and is always happy to see newcomers. On a final note, Comics Twitter is often toxic towards minority creators, so I wouldn’t advise using it for recs.
I believe this covered the basics for the most part, hopefully. As such, you should hopefully now be able to figure out what else to read in this long quarantine! And remember, there is no wrong way to be a comics fan! Now, go forth and find some new favorites!
featured image collage: Ms marvel via marvel.com, bitter root via imagecomics.com, batgirl via comixology.com