A Beginner’s Guide to Comic Books: The Basics

So, you want to start reading comic books, but you don’t know where to start? Well, don’t worry, I’ve got your back. Welcome to a new series where I try to break it all down for you.

How do comic books work?

Typically comic books are released every week, or every month, (or, every 300 years under a full moon if your currently reading Doomsday Clock) and you can look at each one like an episode of a TV show. You can keep up with the story on a regular bases as and when the issues are released. A lot of stores, like Forbidden Planet or your local comic book shop, will probably have a subscription service so you won’t miss a thing.

What’s the difference between a comic book and a trade paperback?

Essentially there are two ways you can read comic books. Episode by episode, or wait for the box set

Vol 1. Die Laughing vs. Issue #1 of Harley Quinn (DC Rebirth)

You can buy comic books issue by issue or (and you do have to have a lot of patience for this one) the publishers will collect usually around 5 or so issues (though there’s no hard and fast rule) and publish them as a trade paperback. This is the sort of thing you’d see in a bookshop. For instance Batman: The Court of Owls collects issues #1-7 of Batman.

How does storytelling work in a comic books?

Now, there are two types of stories for the most part. The first is the continuous run, which you’ll find with the most popular characters, take Wonder Woman for example. As I write this, issue #67 of Wonder Woman: Rebirth is on shelves. It’s the 67th episode, if you will. If we look at a smaller character, like… Bucky Barnes, then he has a new limited run out, which will have a total of #5 issues. So, you’ve got your soap operas and your limited series’.

Let’s talk about continuity for a second. To use our previous example issue #67 of Wonder Woman: Rebirth is, for lack of a better word cannon. It’s the official word on what’s going on with her. However there is another way to tell a story, and that’s through Elsewords, or Otherworlds, or Black Label, or whatever you want to call it. This means that a writer can go anywhere, do anything, and it’s outside of the official cannon story. Batman: White Knight is a Black Label story, so whoever dies, or whatever happens, it won’t affect Batman’s cannon. Essentially, it’s officially licensed fan fiction. These stories will always have a limited run.

What now?

Do you want to read comic books or trade paperbacks? That’s the first question you need to work out. And one is not better than the other, it’s a personal preference sort of thing. I find trade paperbacks easier because I’m not very good at keeping up with releases (which is why it takes me 100 years to finish a TV show) but if I’m really hyped, or the character means a lot to meI do buythe idividual issues. Or sometimes I have some spare cash, and I’m just a bit bored. It’s totally personal preference.

Next time…

We’re going to talk about where to start reading, in terms of continuity, both for comic books and trade paperbacks

When I first started out I had no idea what I was doing, or where to go for advice, so I hope this might be somewhat helpful! If you have any questions, or advice since I’m still pretty green, leave them down in the comments.

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