As part of running How to Love Comics I noticed that many people have the assumption that in order to get into comics you need to have read everything that has come before – whether that be from issue #1 or 50+ years of history. With shared universes and characters that have been around for decades, it can be a bit confusing on the surface as to where to start. I think binge-watching TV shows like Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad has a part in it too. Shows like this have trained people that to get the most out of entertainment you need to start from the very start and be deeply invested in order to be a fan.
Well, I’m here to tell you that is not the case.
While some comics you might get more out of reading from the very start, most comics you can jump in anywhere. Nowadays there’s all kind of aides which can bring you up to speed with what’s happening – whether it be what happened in a previous story or even what’s happening in a current storyline. With summary pages, you get a brief overview of what has happened previously in the comic series/story in a few brief paragraphs. Some, for example, Marvel also gives a brief overview of the character or team as well so you can get up to speed with what they are all about. Some editors will also give notes if stories or events are referenced. These point you in the right direction, if you’re curious, as to where to go if you want to find out what went on without reading everything. Finally, there’s plenty of online resources where you can read up on if you just want a quick overview. Resources such as Wikipedia, Comic Vine and a variety of guides all over the internet (including from your’s truly) make this so easy.
If all else fails, a good writer will give readers everything they need to know in order to understand the comic. If they haven’t given you the broad strokes then they haven’t done their job properly. Through dialogue or narration, the writer has the power to give the reader any information they need to move forward. This could be in the form of what has been happening in a story, explaining what happened in a previous story or summarising a character. The writer has the power to take the reader on a journey and good writers will make sure that journey isn’t one of confusion.
Not only do you not have started from the start, you’re not required to read absolutely everything that has come before. This applies to both character (some have multiple series) and comic series. I have a saying which comes in handy when people ask me about stories of characters, teams or comic series:
“Read the best, then read the rest.”
Think of it this way. There are thousands of issues of Superman comics, spread over a multiple series and more than 75 years. Not all of them are good. Some are absolutely terrible. Why read the bad and boring stories when you can read the best ones? Once you’ve read the best then check out the mediocre, boring and, if you’re feeling curious enough, the bad ones. Comics are too good to be wasted on bad stories purely based on the sake of reading everything. Go out and read the best stories first!
Where do you find the best stories? The internet or your local comic book store are great places to start. Whether it be based on a character, genre or theme, both have enthusiastic people which will recommend you comics which you should read.
There’s even this website! I’ve put together hundreds of recommendations articles, from reviews, lists and previews for great comics you should read. Each of them is an entry point to some of the best comics there are. A quick browse should reveal comics you will love without diving into everything that has come before.
I’m always looking for ways to add more recommendations – especially lists. If there’s a particular subject, whether it be based on a theme or character, you would like to see please let me know!
While TV has trained people to start at the very start with entertainment, comics are not the case. With a plethora or resources made by fans and publishers, it’s never been easier to dive into a comic without feeling lost and confused. Further to that, you don’t need to read everything that has come before it. Very few people have read everything and you wouldn’t want to. Not every comic is good, some of them are terrible. You’re better off reading the best then reading the rest. You’ll have a much more rewarding read because of it.
Have your say!
Thank you for this. I’ve just recently started and very helpful along with what I already know from movies about Batman and Superman.
Well the problem with your approach is that I most often seem to have another taste than those people reviewing stuff. There are movies I like when nearly everyone else critizes them (Green Lantern, for example) and it’s the same with music books…and comics. Which means that I have to learn for myself what I like and whatnot.
Which is why I’d rather start reading from the beginning whatever I choose to read and which is why I also tend to read storylines or events considered subpar by others just for continuity reasons (and often find by reading them that they are not nearly as awful as others make them out to be).
What I do though is to make mental marks when I come across a writer whose writing I fall in love with and then just start reading other things he also wrote. This mostly guarantees that I’m not wasting my time with stuff I find boring.