We’ve gotten enough requests for a “beginner’s guide” from commenters and via direct messages that we’re going to pull the trigger and put one together. And for some of it, I’m going to need the help of you, the comics fans of Gamma Squad. But we’ll get to that part. First… how do you figure out what comics you like?
First and foremost, you should visit your local comics shop, if you have a local comics shop, and say hello. Talk to the clerk and tell him you’re new to comics, tell him what you like, and ask what he’d recommend. The days of comics shops being tiny nerdy enclaves that only a select few hang out at are effectively dead, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that all of those guys went out of business around 1999.
The nice thing for new readers is that there are vast numbers of collections out there right now, and comic book publishing is incredibly diverse thanks to cheaper publishing technologies and a “long tail”. If you don’t care about superheroes, there’s plenty out there for you to read.
Take a flip through a trade or two and, this is important, buy something. This both sets you off on the right foot with your FLCS, and it gets you a comic to read. Don’t be shy about pulling something off the shelf because it catches your eye: Comic books are often as much about appreciating well-rendered art as they are about enjoying a well-written story.
What comics to read really depends both on your story tastes and your style. But, if you’re just starting out and want to get a taste for the genre, I recommend starting where a lot of comics really began: With Will Eisner, and his newspaper strip The Spirit.
Who Is This Eisner Guy?
The name Will Eisner comes up a lot among comics geeks because in many ways, he was the defining force of comics for decades. Kind of like any appreciation of jazz starts with greats like Duke Ellington or Charlie Parker, or an understanding of film starts with Citizen Kane, Eisner is where it all began.
And The Spirit shows it. A lot of the reason comics were viewed as entertainment for children and man-children for decades is because, honestly, while comics from the early days of the medium can have their charms, they were… well, a lot of them were juvenile crap. Seriously, they’re interesting for historical value, but few if any of them hold up as art.
Quite a lot of Eisner’s work in The Spirit is still vital even today. His strips range from light-hearted pokes at social mores of the time to allegories about finding beauty in unexpected places to psychological studies of sociopaths, all of them crammed into seven pages. Eisner experimented relentlessly with storytelling and artistic technique, and got away with it because he was technically writing a newspaper strip and was working for himself.
And yes, Frank Miller made it into a godawful movie. But the less said of that, the better.
So, that’s a starting point. For current comics fans, weigh in below; give us some of your favorite books and books you’d recommend to people just starting out. We’ll collect all that in Part Two, coming Monday, where we talk about publishers, what they do, and how they work.