So what do you need to know? The comic medium presents itself in two forms – the first is comic books. They’re usually between 20 to 30 pages long and could be best described as one chapter in a book per issue, as most comic issues form what’s called a story arc.
A story arc is one story told across a number of comic book issues and is sometimes given it’s own title within the series. E.g. Spider Island was a story arc that took place in Amazing Spider-man between issues #666 – #673. This allows a comic series to continue its numbering system instead of starting at #1 every time a particular story finishes.
An example – if Harry Potter was a comic book, each chapter in the novel would be a comic book issue and the first story arc would be called The Philosopher’s Stone. Then, when The Chamber of Secrets came out, it would be issue #18 as The Philosopher’s Stone was a 17 chapter long novel. It’s a way of cataloging the journey and adventures a character has experienced in their many stories, while offering a new set of stories to tell.
Some comic series are limited (e.g. to only 8 issues) and some are ongoing. Usually a comic will show under it’s issue number if it’s part of a limited series. This means that, like a book, it has a set story to tell, with a beginning, middle and end. If a limited series is popular enough and the writers feel it suits the story, an ongoing series can sometimes be born after a successful limited run.
Each comic has a specific picture drawn just for the cover, so you usually won’t find the same picture on the inside. Some comics also have what’s called a ‘variant cover’ or a ‘retail incentive cover.’ This means that, in addition to the standard issue, copies of that issue are also available with a different picture on the cover. They usually contain exactly the same content as the standard copy, they just differ on the cover. This can sometimes be because a guest artist has volunteered a cover for that particular issue. The best way of viewing these is as kind of collector’s editions, as they are usually rarer than the standard cover. Their rarity is generally determined through ratio, as publishers print these in, for example, one copy for every twenty five of the normal cover. Recent variants have been 1:10, 1:25, 1:50, 1:100 etc. to the standard cover.
Publishers don’t generally charge extra for these variant covers, but give them to stores that order enough to qualify – e.g. order 100 copies of Batman #1 and get the 1:100 variant of that issue. Collectors will pay more for these variants due to their rarity and therefore stores can charge what they like. An example would be when DC Comics rebooted all their ongoing series at the end of 2011 and 1:100 variants of issues #1s are being sold for well over £100. A standard cover price is usually around £2.20 so at over x45 the standard price you can see why they are called Retail Incentives.
It depends on the series, but you can usually tell if the cover is a variant by looking at the five digit sequence above the barcode. In this example, the 1 is the issue number (so it’s the first issue), the 2 means that it’s the second cover (variant cover) and the 1 shows it’s a first print, so this particular copy was part of the first batch to be printed. So, a standard issue would be 00121 and a second print 00112 . Other publishers may write ‘Cover B’ under the issue number though, as it all differs from publisher to publisher.
In general, everything you need to know about that issue can be found around the barcode. As you can see, there’s the issue number, printing, date of release and the content rating.
Using Batman Vol. 1 as an example, issue #1 was released 21/09/11 and issue #6, the final issue of the story arc, was 15/02/12. The release date of the graphic novel collecting issues 1-6 was 18/05/12, eight months after the first issue came out. The up side is, of course, that you don’t have to worry about missing an issue one month, you can just wait for the collection to come out and treat them like any other book series.
Graphic novels are a really great gateway into the comic world as, for the most part, they’re self contained, there are no advertisements and you sometimes get bonus introductions, concept art and other extras not included in the individual comic issues.
The best option for a newbie is to start with a graphic novel as they’re a good solid story that will give you enough pages to see if you like it. Individual comics issues only contain about 20 or so pages, so it can take a while to realise if they’re not really your thing.
Yes, there will be the token sweaty teenagers huddled together reading the new releases of the week, and no doubt also a lively discussion in the store about the latest movie adaptation to be released. However, there’s also a world of amazing comic book stories in there if you know where to look.
Start by explaining your knowledge (if any) of comics and help by mentioning particular book or movie genres you’re interested in. Maybe you liked a certain comic book film or have always liked fantasy novels – all this will help them narrow down a comic that’s right for you.
Do I need any prior knowledge to read this?
This is often the most overlooked aspect by staff, as they often forget that just because you’re in the store it doesn’t mean you understand it all! It’s probably the most important question of all, as often there are some truly amazing stories within a comic series but if you haven’t read the issues before it can be like coming into a movie half way through. If so, they can always direct you to an earlier editon that’s a better point to start reading.
What movie or book is this series most like?
Ideally you explained your interests at the beginning of the conversation, but sometimes they can be misunderstood. If you ask them to associate the comic with a popular film or book, it can put you both on common ground and help you better form an opinion.
How would you rate the content? Is it bloody? Violent? Are there any sex scenes or nudity?
Unlike books, comic books don’t just leave it to your imagination. So if you’re particularly squeamish or just don’t fancy turning the page and seeing explicit sex in your story, ask. In this respect they’re closer to movies than books, so if you wouldn’t watch a film with lots of violence, you won’t want to read a comic with it either.
So after this you should hopefully have narrowed down a series that might interest you – all you have to do is take the plunge. It’s like a book you’ve not read or movie you haven’t seen – you can get all the information in the world about it but you still have to take the leap and buy it to find out more.
Those familiar with eBay will know that you can set up your own virtual store and buy and sell items with the safety of PayPal. Many high street stores have done this as a quick and easy way to sell to those who aren’t able to come into store. If you know what you’re looking for already, this a quick and simple way to purchase your comics and have them delivered to your door, without having to brave the unknown kingdom of the comic book store!
As time goes on, it seems there isn’t anything Amazon doesn’t sell and they’re a great place to get a huge selection of graphic novels. There are customer reviews, synopses, user created top lists and its own recommendation function based on your purchases, so Amazon is great place to go for this format.
There are a lot of websites that specialise in comic books – you just have to look. Some will look more professional than others and prices will vary depending like everything else, so I recommend using a search engine and seeing what comes up.
For those living in the UK, I can recommend a couple of websites I think are fantastic. Firstly, Disposable Heroes Comics. They’re a fantastic Glasgow-based store and their site has the best selection of comics at the cheapest prices, all with free delivery. I use them frequently and all the comics come in a protective bag and board, so there’s no damage whatsoever in delivery. They also have a subscription service so you can get all the issues of a series delivered right to your door on the release date, without having to worry about finding and buying them all individually.
Forbidden Planet is also a great one. They have a few physical stores throughout the UK and their website is the place to go for comics, graphic novels, fantasy books, movie memorabilia and anything sci-fi. If there’s a particular graphic novel you’re trying to find, their site is good at tracking them down and ordering them in. Occasionally they also have signed editions of many great comics and graphic novels.
We live in the Apple generation and most of us have an iPhone or iPad and their apps. Much like with an Amazon Kindle, you can download a digital copy of comic books straight to your Apple device and view them in perfect clarity wherever you go.
Many publishers have individually set up their own app to purchase the ever growing catalogue of comics available, but the best in my opinion is Comixology. Both their app and website boast the biggest digital collection available across all publishers. Each week you can download the new releases the same day as the printed editions and at a cheaper price.
Both the app and site are set out brilliantly as you’re able to browse by series, publisher, rating, creator, genre and story arc. Once you’ve found a series and selected an issue, you can preview the first few pages which is great for deciding if it’s right for you. There are also some entire comics available for free, which is a great way to try out and see if digital is anption for you. If so, you can create an account and collect a digital catalogue of comics on their website, ready whenever you want it.
Comixology is a great resource and I would highly recommend anyone looking to get into comics to use the site, even if you decide to buy in print. It’s the most user friendly source of comic information out there and I regularly use it for previews and to check out upcoming releases and information.
I was surprised to find that my city’s library boasts a huge collection of graphic novels available to loan for that magical library price – free. It’s a source I use often for series I’m not sure about or can’t afford at the time, and for anyone new to comics it might be worth trying your local library and and seeing what you think.
They’re free so you’ve got nothing to lose. Grab a wide selection and see what you take to – you might be surprised at what you like or dislike while you’re building up a good knowledge of comics to help you when buying your own.
Looking after and storing your comics
‘Bagged and boarded’ is a term you may come across while buying off the Internet, especially eBay. It refers to the fact that the comic itself is stored in a protective plastic bag and there’s also a a thin piece of card behind it so that it can’t be accidentally bent or folded. This is especially good if you’re receiving your comics through the post, as we all know how ‘great’ our postal services are.
It’s also something I’d recommend for your own comic books – as geeky as it might sound, comics aren’t as durable as books and if you intend on keeping up a collection it’s nice to have them in as good condition as possible. You never know you might be collecting a future gold mine!
What I recommend is either a collection of magazine racks which would look great on a shelf, or you can purchase purpose made comic storage boxes which come in a range of sizes but are perfect for keeping them safe but in storage.