With regards to comic books, the belief used to be that collecting was for pale nerds who spent their weekends playing Dungeons & Dragons in their parents’ basement. Here’s the thing, though – most people I know that read or collect comic books are pretty cool! And if you thought role-playing games were just for losers, think about this: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jon Favreau, Curt Schilling, Drew Barrymore, and Blindspot‘s Ashley Johnson all have played, or currently play, D&D.
There is even a YouTube channel where celebrities get together and broadcast their involvement in D&D and other role-playing games.
Whether your interest in comics was sparked by Marvel’s success at the box office over the last 10 years, or if friends (in my case, my ex, years ago) talk about origin stories, zines, and floppies and you want to know what it all means, you’ve come to the right place.
Why Comic Books Are Actually Pretty Rad
The great thing about comic books, especially if you’re mildly obsessed with the influx of superhero and other comic-based films, is that they tell stories that the films often don’t. Especially in the case of Marvel, there are back stories, origin stories, and supplemental characters that the films can’t or don’t include. There can be years of stories told over a series of comics for which movies don’t have the time and TV shows don’t have the budget.
And, even though – and for example – a comic like Spider-Man has been around for something like 50 years, it doesn’t mean that you have to read all of those comics. You can literally start anywhere at any time.
If you have kids, comics are a great way to bond! There aren’t just violent superhero comics; my daughter loves My Little Pony so now, every Wednesday night before she goes to her dad’s, we go check out the new comic books. (Wednesday is the day for new comics) Any kind of film you can imagine – romantic comedies, LGBTQ, mystery, crime – you can find a comic to satisfy.
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Let’s Talk Comic Book Covers
When I first started reading comics, I noticed that as I was looking for issues or series suggested to me had different cover art, which confused me. They also had words like “Variant” and I had no idea what any of it meant. So here is some basic comic book lingo that might help as you peruse the stacks.
Variant Cover. A variant cover is an alternative cover of a single issue. It includes the art of a different artist and is often more difficult to find because they print fewer of them. There are also Incentive Covers; these mostly apply to retailers. Each retailer must sell a set amount of a certain cover in order to have the opportunity to carry the variant cover. If you’re collecting variant covers, this is when it really pays to get to know the people that work at your favorite comic shop!
There is usually the standard “stamp” in the upper left-hand corner or across the top where you’ll find the issue number, issue month/date, and cover price. Often publishers will put a logo there, as well, that helps the reader easily identify the publishing company. You might also find on the cover the title, a miniseries name if it’s part of one, whether the book is for a more mature audience, the author/artist name(s), and other similar information that identifies that comic.
Comic Book Formats
Single Issue is likely the most common. It’s a serial magazine-style format of a comic. They’re usually 20-32 pages but can be up to as many as 100 pages. Single issues are generally numbered in chronological order, such as “Issue #3”. Prestige Edition comics are sometimes confused with graphic novels. These are comics that are generally 48-64 pages long and have a thin spine and are typically original stories often printed on better quality paper and cardstock-type covers. Graphic Novels are longer comics are bound with a thicker spine. Sometimes they tell a single, continuous narrative from the first page to last; sometimes they are collections of shorter stories or individual comic strips. Graphic novels are always months behind the single issues, but you get 5-6 issues in one.
Digital Comics, which are increasingly more popular, are comics that can be viewed on computer screens, tablets or mobile phones. These are a great option if you’d like the option to subscribe to a series but don’t have the room to collect hard copies. Among digital comics are Digital Firsts which is when a comic is released in a digital format first then later in print – a great option if you just can’t wait until the next time you get to the nearest comic book store. Then there are Collected Edition comics; this is where multiple single issues are collected to create a whole story or set of stories, often collecting 5-6 single issues.
How To Start Collecting Comic Books
First, locate a few choice comic book stores that are near you. Get to know the people that work there; they can help you find what you need and suggest new comics or a series or two that you might enjoy. It might be a good idea to start with what you know. Did you enjoy Marvel’s Avengers movies? Who is your favorite Avenger? Do you prefer DC comics? Talk to the folks at the comic stores and let them know what you like and that you’re new to collecting or reading. They can point you in the right direction to find your favorite characters or even new characters or stories!
You might also find that you love Wonder Woman but that you hated the series they suggested. Let them know that! They can help you find a different origin story or series that you might enjoy more.
Decide which formats you prefer, whether it be digital, single issue, or graphic novels. Definitely decide on a budget, as well. Once you really get into reading or collecting, you’ll be surprised how much money you’ll spend. The average cost of each ranges from $2.99 to nearly $6. I also like to peruse well-rated shops on eBay which, if you can find ones whose shipping is relatively cheap and you can get it for a good price, is a great way to save money and boost your collection! You can even buy lots (small or large collections) of comics.
You can purchase digital comic books from comiXology (an Amazon company), Marvel Unlimited, and DC Comics. If you’re not ready to purchase and just want to read comics, check out your local library where they’re likely to have a small collection.
Find a way to organize and store your collection. I’ve seen people keep spreadsheets of the titles and issues they have. You might decide to keep them on a shelf, or carefully bagged or hard-shelled and stored in boxes or durable plastic containers. Protect them as you would any investment.
There’s so much more to learn about comic books, especially if you’re going to be a lifelong collector. But this bit of information will definitely get you started on the right track!