Gamma Squad’s Ultimate Guide To Comics For Beginners Part Two: How To Pick Up An Ongoing Series

One of the biggest problem for new fans of comics is the question: Where do I start?

Well, simple, really. With Google.

One of the themes in our comments on Part One was that there is no “wrong” thing to buy, and this is absolutely correct. If a comic appeals to you because of the cover or the plot description, or the guy at the comics shop has listened to what you like in movies and TV shows and told you to try this book, then you should give it a shot.

But, not unreasonably, seeing a triple digit number on the cover, or even a double-digit one, can be a bit intimidating. Will you have the context you need?

Yes. Most comic book writers are vividly aware that much of their sales, and hooking regular readers, comes largely from people who grab a comic off the stands or buy it on a whim. They won’t include the entire, epic history of the character, but, for example, most Marvel books have an explanatory page that opens the book about what the series is, what’s going on, and where we’re at in the current story. DC tends to prefer to include plot relevant backstory written into the dialogue, and other publishers have their own editorial preferences… but they all want you to read, so they make sure new readers are up to speed pronto.

Here’s a good point to explain some slang: Most comic books these days are multi-part stories, generally referred to by fans and professionals alike as an “arc”. Most comics these days are written with discreet arcs in mind, usually three to six issues. Think of it as an episode in a TV series. This is for both easier reading (it’s a lot cheaper to buy a few back issues than all the back issues) and to put the books into discreet trade paperbacks, or trades. This both makes it easier and cheaper to pick up a book: Most comic publishers today make a lot more money selling trades than they do single issues.

Another sticking point, when you start reading the comic, is that characters may mention events in passing that take place in other books, usually marked with an asterisk and an accompanying caption laying out the book and issue this happened in. This happens a lot less often than it used to, believe it or not: Comics now are far more accessibly written than they were even ten years ago. So, you’re reading a comic, you’re smack in the middle of an arc, and it’s referring to other comics you haven’t bought or read. How do you get caught up?

To the wikis! Wikipedia, of course, can offer an overall view of a series, although specifics of each series will vary from company to company and book to book. For more detail, especially issue-by-issue plot summaries, major publishers like DC and Marvel will have their own fan wikis, with all the information you could possibly need.

Finally, it’s worth asking the guy behind the counter: If he’s read the book, and he probably has, since it’s his job, he’ll be able to offer you a quick summary.

Next, in Part Three, we’ll talk about where to find the genres you like, by breaking down each publisher and what they do.