Poisoning the Well: How to Prevent New Readers

I’ve spent a lot of time over the course of the last few years thinking about someone who probably doesn't exist.

I don’t think I’ve seen him (or her) in years, except maybe a fleeting glimpse on Free Comic Book Day when I lived near an incredibly pedestrian-friendly shop in the college-y part of town a few years ago. From reading the comments around here, I don’t think any of you have seen him around either, although there are many times when I’m reading those comments and he seems like the most popular person on the site. For never having met him, he’s often all we can talk about, and we’re all self-proclaimed experts on his state of mind. I’m talking about That Guy Who’s Just Walking Into A Comic Shop For The Very First Time This Afternoon For Single Issues.

why does this exist?Actually, I have no intention of typing “That Guy Who’s Just Walking” etc. twenty more times. Let’s name him before we continue. In fact, let’s make him a her; let’s call her Hope.

Maybe Hope’s been seeing a lot about Kick-Ass for the last few weeks and thinking, “Wow, superhero comics sound like a lot more fun than I gave them credit for. I should pop into The Wizard’s Wagon on the way home tonight and sample a handful of issues for the dollar twenty-five that they must surely cost.” Maybe she just finished Netflixing the first season of Heroes and, with no idea of the horrors that await her in that next red envelope, wants more stories in a similar vein. Maybe she just caught Ghost Rider on FX and demands an explanation.

Whatever the catalyst was, Hope is headed into The Wizard’s Wagon without us. My sense is that she’ll be headed right back out again in about four minutes without anything in her hand. Possibly shaken like she just got mugged.

I’m not trying at all to say comics don’t have broad appeal or are impenetrable or anything like that. If Hope walked into my favorite shop, within a minute Scott the manager would ask her if he could help her find anything and then expertly guide her, most likely to a trade paperback with a complete, fairly linear story in it. I’d like to think most shopkeeps would do the same, although if online anecdotes are anything to go by I’m just being willfully naive. Everyone has a story about the time their friends tried to find out more about Iron Man and got sneered out of the nerd dungeon by the real-life version of the characters from High Fidelity. About half these stories seem to go out of their way to mention a smell.

But Hope didn’t venture into this shop because she wanted to be a trade reader. Hope’s not shopping for some volume she could have gotten at Borders. Hope is a specific kind of New Reader, someone who’s specifically curious about starting from scratch as a reader of single issues of what we laughably call “mainstream” superhero comics. (Nothing that is considered a blockbuster when it sells 100,000 copies ever should be thought of as “mainstream” anything. If that’s a mainstream, weep for the fringe.) Basically, Hope is a newbie who wants to become the kind of reader I am, and probably you are. Like I said, I’m not sure that person could exist today. If I were trying to get back into comics right now instead of ten years ago, I don’t think I’d have pulled it off. At best, I’d be reading a few paperbacks a year. As an observer, the people making these books are doing things that absolutely bewilder me, and I’ve had years to get used to it.

I’m thinking about Hope because this week I bought a book called Invincible Returns #1, which proclaims on its cover, "A BOLD NEW ERA BEGINS HERE!" There will be no Invincible Returns #2. This was a one-off, a special offshoot of the series Invincible to celebrate the fact that the main character started wearing his old pants again. It was written and drawn by the exact same people who draw every issue of Invincible, its story continues directly from Invincible #70, and its story is continued directly in Invincible #71. It is called Invincible Returns despite the fact that the title character hasn’t been anywhere… and at the end of the issue, he announces he’s leaving. It reminded me of my last computer's version of Windows, which asked the user to click “Start" to shut it down.

Why in the name of all Reason and Logic was this book, which if anything was less remarkable than usual, not just called Invincible #71? Because they’re selling it to people who read iFanboy.com and Newsarama and listen to author interviews and have pull lists, people who see this arbitrary plotline Whack-A-Mole coming and think it's a feature, not a bug. They didn’t make it for Hope, and apparently they’re not burning too many calories worrying about her. Someone will tell her to read it in trades. If they haven't abandoned the "floppy," they're pulling off one hell of a feint. What is the newbie to make of this nonsense? Does she need people looking at her like she’s an imbecile because she thought she could get away with looking at the numbers and title on the cover and expecting them to signify something? Imagine someone trying to get into Lost finding out that a pivotal episode was called All Turned Around: More Lost Than Usual and aired the previous Thursday. That’s the thing you cite by name when asked, “Why did you give up on Lost so quickly?”

I'm sure the theory was that people can easily jump on at #1, but "you just buy #1 and then hop on over to #71" is the kind of reasoning that only makes perfect sense after you've already been hooked for ten years. Explain it to your mom and see what kind of face she makes.

Hope is also on my mind because a friend of mine is trying desperately to be her right now, but she finds herself so intimidated by all this in-group codespeak nonsense that she’s too put off to even get to the “walk into the shop” stage. And she’s got me in her corner, for crying out loud. She saw that Second Coming checklist the other day and asked me “Where should I start with the X-Men?” and I almost started to cry. She’s got the Whedon hardcovers already! I’m powerless to help her!

“Ohhh. Well…? Jeez. Whoof. Right now, there’s… two years ago, there was this crossover that’s just now… it went into this book called Cable, but you’re looking for more of… you know what? I’ll call you this fall.”

I want to foster her interest, but I cannot in good conscience throw her into the deep end of the Second Coming pool with its weekly commitment and half dozen different writers in half a dozen different titles. It’s like setting someone up on a blind date with a guy who picks his nose at the table, picks it with the hook I neglected to mention he has for a hand. You’re just setting yourself up to be embarrassed, hissing, “I vouched for you, Comics! I said you were cool, and you pull this $#^% when she introduces herself? What did Disney see in you?”

Digital doesn’t fix this kind of thinking, either. It might make the books infinitely easier to get, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re telling Hope, “The story you want has seven different titles; its first chapters are numbered 1, 523, 12, 235, 26, 204, then 524, 13, 236…” [stop, close, delete app]

When I stopped reading comics as a teenager, this stuff was explicitly why. I cannot imagine why Marvel or anyone else would return to this way of doing things. Did the nineties work out better than I remember?

Don't even get me started on the covers again.

Maybe I’m not giving people enough credit. Maybe I’m so emotionally invested in the future of these stories and the people who produce them that it’s made me paranoid and neurotic. Were you one of the people I’m thinking about, someone who recently came in a tabula rasa and now buys ten issues a week? I’d love to hear some real stories to know whether I have anything to worry about. Preferably stories that aren’t abruptly "to be continued" on other sites by completely different commenters.


Jim Mroczkowski read a 1981 issue of ROM this weekend that ended, “to be continued in Power Man and Iron Fist #73” and thought, “Oh, well, awesome, I’ll just hop on over to the inconvenience store and buy that thirty year old comic that is totally easy to find. Thanks for the curveball, Past Al Milgrom!” Luckily, like every seventies comic, one tenth of every ROM is spent re-telling the previous chapter.


  1. This is part of the reason why I usually only read trades too. Sometimes it feels like single issues should have a secret password you have to know before you can buy them.

  2. It’s definetly a tough thing to do. I casually read comics in the early 90’s as a teenager, but stopped because I just couldn’t stretch my allowance that far.

     I picked up comics again when I heard about Civil War. I don’t know where or who I heard it from, but I’ve been hooked ever since. I pretty much just bought a book and just started going forward. Didn’t worry about what happened before because I knew it was too much to get caught up on. It also helped that Marvel had a Civil War banner on every book so I just picked those up also.

  3. I’m Hope.

    I’ll come back later with my story. But the short is version is: Library.

  4. Fantastic article. If I recommend any titles to someone it’s likely to be a solo series with little involvement in the rest of their respective universe. And even then I’ll probably say, "Start with this trade here first…"

    Funny side note: my wife’s name actually is Hope. She doesn’t read comics usually, but every now and then she’ll ask for a trade to read and I’ll rush to grab a volume of Alias or whatever. A few days ago, completely out of the blue, she asked me about Umbrella Academy. I managed to hold my shit together long enough to direct her to our own bookshelf in the living room. I don’t know if they talked about it on NPR or something recently, but I wasn’t going to risk everything to ask.

  5. I don’t know what the solution is although I’m not sure just how different the situation is now than when we were kids – there’s been bewildering continuity for about 30 years, and there’s always been a reasonable amount of choice. I hate to say it but price is a factor, anyone on the outside looking in would say that they cost just too damn much for the time they take to read (Turf possibly excluded, there’s a fairly huge dollar to word ratio there).  I am at a complete loss as to how I would ever entice someone into this world like my wife, and I even know what other types of entertainment she already likes. I’m steadily trying to bring my son up in comics though – although his predilection is mainly focussed solely on Transformers as yet.

  6. I started reading comics in the late 80’s/early 90’s…  Classic X-Men was my best friend.   I read the issues out of order, piecing it together as I went.  I had to work to get the story and find out more and more about what had happened.  I’m not sure if I’m saying they should make it easier, or if perhaps the nature of the system is also a sort of weeding out process by which the people who aren’t really cut out for being a comics fanboy get cut away.

  7. If someone walked into a store, didn’t speak to anyone, and simply picked a book randomly, he/she would be as confused as you indicate.  However, in my experience, if someone is interested in comics (or anything else) they ask a friend about them, jump online to learn about them, or (at the very least) ask someone who works at the local shop.  Comics certainly aren’t universally new reader friendly, but with a little help they can be made less intimidating. 

    This is the method I use for new readers:
    Start them with stand alone stories.  Convince them to jump in on a new arc from a solid team.  Tell them that if they want to get some background they should make extensive use of their local library (and potentially its interlibrary loan program) so they don’t end up spending $2,000 to find out why Wolverine and Cyclops aren’t "chums".

  8. I love that you made her a girl named Hope. I like to think she has red hair and is obsessed with barettes.  (And that’s the kind of reference that is going to scare Hope away. . .)

    As somebody who just got into comics about 3 1/2 years ago, I think this is an interesting question though I’m not sure it’s a necessary one.  If collections are there and readily available — at libraries, borrowable from friends, the Borders cafe where they don’t care if you sit for 4 hours as long as you buy a muffin — I don’t know if anybody NEEDS to start on single issues.  I did all those other things before I got impatient enough to try the shop and get new issues every week.  And I think digital distribution of single issues will make this easier, too.

  9. Starting a newbie into X-Men comics should not be recommended for anyone. Seriously. You need to do extensive research just to figure out what the hell is going on in an issue. God forbid you take time off from the Universe (like 2-3 months) cause the entire team could drastically shift to a whole new direction.

    B-Titles are the best way to go for someone new in comics. Like Power Girl, Nova (well old issues of Nova), and even indie titles could work. Just don’t hand someone a random issue of a major title cause I think it’ll confuse them on what’s going on. For example: Tell me how I can convince someone to read Captain America when it’s branching off of storylines from the last 2-3 years.

  10. I feel like I should add that the whole communal oral history aspect of comics fandom has a lot to do with why I like the stuff.  It might be frustrating on an industry-wide level but interpersonally speaking it’s where a lot of the fun comes in.  If, you know, you are dealing with friends who are crazy in the same ways you are. 

  11. Hope was me a few years ago. Im 23 now and currently read comics on a weekly basis. I had tried since middle school to get into comics but was prevented from doing so for a number of reasons: (1) no idea where to start  (2) felt lost whenever I picked up a book and (3) the only shop near me had a limited and inconsistent selection so missing an issue was a regular occurrence.  

    How did I finally get on board? (1) picking the titles to read carefully, (2) doing a lot of on-line research (wikipedia and reviews sites), and (3) luckily moving to a new city for Law school that has a great comic shop with an unbelievable selection. The second two are self explanatory but the first factor needs further explanation. Its impossible for a reader to know whats going on in every book in every publisher’s Universe, so a new reader must choose wisely. What I did first was pick a book with critical acclaim that was in its own section of the Universe, not tied to a million different books, sounded interesting, and did not require reading a million back issues to get into: Green Lantern. I also picked up the main event book at the time Infinite Crisis to give me a flavor of what was going in the DC Universe. To be honest I had no idea what was going on in Infinite Crisis most of the time but it opened me up to new characters and stories. Once I got a handle on GL, I slowly began to branch out into the DC Universe based on what else Johns was writing: JSA and Action Comics. As time went on I began to read more and more DC books, until I got a pretty good handle on what was going on in the DC Universe. A key point for me was when I began to notice who was writing and drawing the books because this helped me decide what other books to pick up and not make my decision on characters alone. As time went on, I became more familiar with comics in general and began expanding my reading to other publishers. I believe it was essential that I limited myself to DC in the beginning because trying to read books from multiple publishers would have left me hopelessly lost. I first moved to Marvel where I entered the Universe by reading the main event book and picking a few titles in a corner of the Universe I could get a handle on, without having to read a ton of other books that tied into it: Invincible Iron man and Captain America. Now my reading habits are a even division between Marvel and DC. Image was easy because each series is fairly self contained so reading there is no need to understand the Universe in order to read a title. So the overall key for me was restricting and carefully choosing what to read.

     Jim, I agree that it is difficult to recommend second coming to a new reader b/c the history is immense and the number of titles is daunting. Maybe the Heroic Age will be a perfect time for her to jump on board. With Fraction taking over on Thor, Invincible Iron-man still being relatively new, and the Avenger titles relaunching: getting into Marvel may be easier with these titles. 

  12. I’ve gotta agree with Caroline that people shouldn’t jump onto single issues in this day and age. The trade system may not be a perfect one (waiting too long to release trades or hardcovers and then having them go out of print can be infuriating), but it’s a better system than single issues.

    Even in the best possible case where you know a comic is going to continue on in a linear fashion for the foreseeable future, I can’t recommend single issues. Imagine saying, "Did you like this? Well come back in 4 weeks when the next 22 pages come out. Actually, don’t use pen when you write that in your planner. Release dates are more of a guideline these days. Come back in 6 weeks, just to be on the safe side. But then, it may be sold out if you do that."

    Really, trades are the way to go. If ‘Hope’ finishes the trades and wants current stories then sure, switching to issues is a great choice. But I wouldn’t recommend it at first.

  13. @Jeff Well said, though I didn’t mean "shouldn’t" so much as "wouldn’t want to".  My reasons for starting to look at issues was to find out what happened next in a story I already knew I cared about.  Once I was already in the shop for that reason, I started finding my way into other things, but it was at least 4 or 5 months of intensive reading-things-in-trade before it even occurred to me to shop for single issues.

  14. In the future, comics will be transmitted directly into our brains so no more confusion about where to start; the whole catalog can be downloaded. But if you miss the feel of floppy issues , you can hold some glossy sheets of paper while you "read" your comics and drool uncontrollably, a minor side effect of the process.

  15. i had not read any comics up until about 2 years ago and then i went to the shop and bought some issues of batman and superman which eventually led to me buying multiple dc, marvel, and image books each month. I think you make too big a deal out of this.

  16. Wait that 42 page oversized collection of expository dialog and recaps was not for the benefit of new readers?


    Man, I don’t know anything about comics!

  17. Excellent article again Jimski.  I agree, it’s difficult to jump in. 

    I usually only give out "A level quality" self contained, no continuity, easy to understand, exciting/fun graphic novels.  Cause anything less, and I know they’ll never read comics again.  Never. 

    "Kick-Ass" is probably the best graphic novel you could give out right now, based on my life.  "The Hood," "The Sentry," and "The Ultimates" seem to be the favorite books that I lend out.  Probably because they’re high on violence and easy to understand, continuity free.  As much as I love "Astonishing X-Men," "Ultimate X-Men" graphic novels are still fun and easy to give out.  And the Bendis and Vaughan runs get great responses.

  18. @Caroline – True. Saying someone "shouldn’t" do something is silly. After all, I’m not going to be policing anyone. Didn’t mean to put words in your mouth! 🙂

  19. I came back into comics with Grant Morrison’s New X-Men when I saw an article in a random Wizard mag that said X-Men and Uncanny X-Men were starting a whole new status quo and that it would be a great jumping on point. Virtually every title in my collection begins with the first issue of a crossover or story arc. Spider-Man: The Other, House of M, Civil War, One Year Later, stuff like that. I am a child of the late eighties/early nineties, so fortunately, I was already comfortable with the multi-title crossovers. Nowadays, I see the benefit of that being that I can test the waters of a book that I would otherwise not have tried.

     Having gotten more than a few people into comics myself, I’ve found that it’s off putting to show someone something and say "start with this". That makes it feel like homework. I really do believe that anyone can pick up any issue cold, and get the rest on wikipedia, but if there is one thing hindering that method, it’s the multi title crossover.

  20. I really didn’t start reading comics until maybe 2 or 3 years ago. I first started reading them regularly when I subscribed to Ultimate Spider-Man. After a while I decided to branch out and read other titles that featured heroes I knew. First thing I did was pick up some trades then try to jump into the single issues. It’s not possible to fully know what’s is going on in titles (take X-Men for example that has a long back history) so it helps to have sites like iFanboy and Wikipedia for that matter.  The more you read, the more you start aquiring knowledge and pick up things about the character’s history. Wasn’t til maybe a year ago or so ago though i felt deeply rooted in the comics. Somehow I am better rooted in the Marvel universe. I know some things from DC universe, but not as much as Marvel. Probably has something to do with those 52 earths.

  21. In 2005, one day after Marching Band Practice, I went home and my mom showed me that there was a new Comic book store openning. It was called Big Monkey Comics. A few days later, we went there. Me and my brother were always into comic books, we loved Batman and Superman, and we even had a few comics lying around, but mostly, we were fringe buyers, every vacation, we got a comic, and we read it over and over in the car. But that day when we went into the comic store, it was magical. The place didn’t look imposing, there were friendly faces, and familiar characters abound. The Place was a bright yellow, and the store owner was the nicest person I’ve ever met. He asked us what we liked, and me and my brother replied "Batman." We both bought a Heroclix pack, and a Batman Comic and left happy. Next week, we went again. I had looked online about stuff about different characters, and I remember one I loved from the JLA TV Series, Green Lantern. At the comic store, I talked about "what if Batman had a Green Lantern ring?" and the store owner said "Well, that’s actually what happens in this Months Green Lanter." That day, I bought Green Lantern #9 and since then, I’ve collected every issue of Green Lantern in either Trade or single format, and haven’t looked back.

    Today, I’m amazed how easily I went into comics, knowing that that same time, Infinite Crisis Just ended, "One Year later" was littlerally one Month away, and 52 was on the Horrizon.

    I fell through the cracks of a resting period of comics and eventually got caught up by 2007, in Two Years. 

    I could have very well been a person who read that single issue and never bought another, or read the next, and got the entire story, and never got more. I very well could have only had that now lost Batman Comic, but in some stroke of luck, I somehow survived all those who tried to stop me. I just hope that Hope has a better time with this, because even someone like me, who has somehow found out about Green Lantern and become "one of those guys" when it comes to the DC Event, I still long for an Issue of Spiderman and a good X-Men story. I guess the Cartoons will have to do, because I don’t think my jump into Marvel will be easy.

  22. Personally, I think much of the fun in comics is jumping in and then thinking "Boy, there sure was a lot going on there, it’ll be fun piecing together the crazy chapters that clearly led up to the current situation. Think about it this way, if 1990 is regarded as a time when people like Hope were just wondering in to comics by the boat loads, that naturally means people were picking up chapters 3, 8, and 13 by the boat load. As a wide eyed 2nd grader starting with part 3 of X-Cutioner’s Song, I had no idea who Stryfe or Cable were, but I could figure out enough to follow the story.

    Currently, I only read Uncanny X-Men, when it comes to X-books and found it to be fully comprehendable. Evidently Cyclops has authorized Wolverine and some other characters to kill some other characters for "the greater good," and Nightcrawler is not cool with that. Evidently that’s what X-Force is, though I had no idea it was anything but ugly artwork. Sure, crossovers are daunting, but so are some big scary prose books, sitting there being all thick and everything. Daunting doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable or not worth the effort.

    Though it doesn’t make sense to people of our ilk, there are folks out there who do watch random episodes of Lost or Mad Men without starting from the beginning or even making it a priority to watch sequentially.

    That’s not to say Jeff isn’t right only money by recommending trades first, just that picking up part 3 to a crossover because the cover caught your attention doesn’t necessarily lead to weeping and gnashing teeth.

  23. I find it strange that in the 90’s as a kid reading comics in the U.K I was shunned in my school for doing so. It was seen by pretty much everybody as the nerdiest hobby possible despite the huge sales. I quit comics about 2 thirds into the Clone Saga. Throughout my teen years I still had a casual interest but never felt compelled to buy. Then came a time when I no longer had any idea what was going on and found comics completely inaccessable. Two things changed that for me, New X-men and Kevin Smith’s Daredevil. Kevin Smith’s Clerks and Jay and Silent Bob comics got me back into the store. I remember being able to dive right in and half the fun was finding out what I’d missed in the years I was away. These days I shout to anybody who’ll listen about how much I love comics and as a consequence of that the majority of the important people in my life are now readers. The most popular titles amongst this group that includes my missus, brothers, friends and colleagues include:-1.The Walking Dead 2.Y the Last Man 3.Scott Pilgrim 4.Locke and Key 5.Fear Agent 6.Scalped  8.Kick-ass 9. Watchmen. All these people will read and enjoy any indie I put in front of them mostly, but none of them are in any danger of buying single issues. There’s no point anymore from a new readers perspective. It takes too much commitment/monetary investment for anyone curious. Nobody’s starting sweet-tooth or Echo 8 or 20 issues into it’s run. Marvel and DC have decent trade programs. So I think, I would actually deter anybody curious from jumping into issues. Because even once they’re in the store with issues in hand the battle isn’t won. They have two choices, commit to a store pull-list or blindly keep visiting the store hoping they don’t miss issues they need. Missing an issue or suffering a sell-out is frustrating for us but crippling for a newbie who’s already finding things tricky. I would recommend that ‘Hope’ reads a shedload of trades and buys the Marvel and DC encyclopedia. I wish I had the will to give up my expensive, frustrating (i.e event checklists) and time-consuming lust for single issues when reader friendly and reletively inexpensive trades are readily available for most titles.


  24. I started out with trades only, but eventually the addiction just overtook me to the point where I couldn’t wait 6 months or more between fixes.  Now I have a massive weekly habit and 6 longboxes. 

  25. What about a new iFanboy column on Mondays? Call it Your First Comic (s). Every week the column talks about new starts of runs and #1 (or #0) issues. Books that could be picked up by anybody. I used to do it on a message board every week and it seemed pretty effective. 

  26. NawidA, Thats a really good idea. 

  27. @bansidhewail – You sound like me 5 years ago. Now I’m up to 24 longboxes. Best of luck!

  28. I once had the idea of maybe comics should just split their arcs up into miniseries. Everytime an arc started you would have a #1 and you would have a clear way to identity which trade contains what.

    The it turns out Hellboy and B.P.R.D had been doing this for years.

    Why dont mainstream superhero comics give this a go?

  29. I started reading issues a few years ago, but i have stayed mostly on the creator owned side of comics. 

    any attempt to venture onto the marvel/dc side has always ended badly. I stay way the hell away from that bullshit


  30. It’s so expensive and so scattered in mainstream superhero comics that I have a real hard time catching up. I tend to, these days, wait for trades of stuff like Walking Dead, Y (oh how I miss you last man) or Fables. Contained, fairly linear and easily digestible wallet wise. ultimates was liek that for a bit though the third series didn’t work for me.

    I keep wanting to jump in, but i always feel completely left behind and it frustrates me back out again. Could I spend hours putting together why Batman is dead and who the new Robin is or which Xman is dead this week? Sure. But I don’t HAVE the time. 


    Until I do, it’s always goign to make it hard for me to jump back into mainstream stuff.

  31. Many/most DC & Marvel comics are not produced with the intention of bringing new readers in. They are made for hardcore fans. I mean, how big is the potential audience for "X-Men/Spider-Man Dark Reign: The List (issue 2 out of 3)? Books with 6 issue arcs? What new reader is going to buy #3 out of 6? Especially when books take 10 minutes to read and cost 3 or 4 dollars. "Events" especially are made only for hardcore readers and not people trying comics out.

  32. I was hope a couple of years ago, accept i had a little bit of knowledge to help me find the books i wanted and when to start them.  Honestly, with the aid of Wikipedia, it was not that hard.  If i had a major question, like what Extremis was in Iron Man, i just looked it up online or asked in a forum, or asked in my LCS.  

     now, maybe she should skip Second Coming, but i don’t think so; all she needs to know is that Hope is a child who may or may not be the savior of the mutants and that some people want to kill her and the X-men want to save her.  Granted, it’s a big story and she may not be ready for it yet, but long story lines are something she will have to deal with if she really wants to read comics.  I would say that at any other time in the last couple of years, X-men has been incredibly accessible.  

    accept for Blackest Night or maybe Second Coming, i really don’t think it’s that hard to jump into comics.  it can be a little bewildering, but thats half the fun.   

  33. This may be why though I am a version of Hope about a year on (though male) I basically don’t with very rare exceptions buy anything from Marvel or DC’s main imprints (I did buy the Wednesday Comics run this summer from DC and just last week I picked up the first issue of S.H.I.E.L.D. – which is both steampunk and so far at least fairly disconnected from the rest of Marval)

    Instead I have been far more drawn to easier to get into single (or only two) title series from other imprints – titles such as The Unwritten, Joe the Barbarian, Chew, Irredeemable/Incorruptible, The Guild, Captain Swing (Warren Ellis’ 4 issue steampunk series), Last Days of American Crime,  IDW’s Dr. Who ongoing series and special issues and the like. All great (and in many cases Eisner award nominated series) but also outside of the mess of continuity or multiple overlapping tales across different titles.

    However I do have a broad issue with a current trend in comics which impacts even a non-DC/Marvel buyer such as myself.

    Variant Covers. 

    Okay, a special cover for a convention or to celebrate a milestone edition (or perhaps a first issue) but every single week? That gets old really fast – and is highly confusing for a new comic book buyer such as myself – I find myself staring at last week’s comics and wondering – did I miss an issue? Or did I just pick up a different cover?

    In fact imprints such as Avatar seem to be the worst when it comes to variants – at Wondercon I counted one more variant of Captain Swing than even the person from Avatar manning the booth realized they had printed (and brought with them)!

    As a fan I’d actually prefer that all the energy that went into making so many variants – however cool – went instead towards making a slightly larger book – or (and I’m looking at Radical Press here especially) just getting books out on time….

    Having been a subscriber to all the various forms of iFanboy for about a year now I am occasionally interested in something from DC or Marvel but then as I dig into it further I realize just how hard it would be to jump into any of the series – and just how much of a commitment it would entail. I’d rather support cool artists & writers building their own, selfcontained worlds. (though I am tempted to catch up with Paul Cornell’s work – I have some back issues of Captain Britain I picked up in a $.50 bin and they were indeed really fun) 

  34. @TNC – Captain America 34 got quite a handful of my friends into Cap as a character and a series. Two of them (female teenagers) love comics, but steal mostly from me because they barely have enough money to cover rent. I guess for some people, it just works. Idk. I’m not expert.

  35. I agree with just about everyone. I’ve found that half the fun of comics is finding a shop that fits your personality. Reading different types of books and having to figure out what characters you like and dislike. Its an adventure and to figure out your comic book identity.

    The fun part for me has been that many of my friends have now started to read comic books with me as well. So, instead of having to figure out events and character histories alone its a group discussion! 

  36. I tried. I thought "hey i’ll get back into comics with the titles i remember…lets try Action Comics…well no Superman…how bought Detective….batman is dead and there is some goth chick in it. How bout Green Lantern?…..the middle of a year long zombie war that ties in with every other DC book…and then another year long story arc after that. So maybe in a year or three i can try getting a DC book? Single issues are complex and tough to get into. Every other book i pick up is in the middle of a huge story arc continued in other titles. Its too complex for someone with interest but not at the pull list level. 

    This is the EXACT reason why i don’t think i’ll ever get into single issues again. I don’t have the time to go to a comic shop every week nor the patience to keep up with a year long story arc across a dozen titles…not to mention $4 a pop for an incomplete story is way too much to justify. 

     I wish they did more one shot type books. I always liked Brave and the Bold because you could just grab an issue whenever and get a cool story. Its too bad they don’t have more titles in that mold.  

     I just buy trades and get a complete story. Its really intimidating walking into a comic shop knowing you’ll be judged by the kid at the front if you buy anything that came out over 6 months ago. I try asking for help, and they show me 20 books that are outside of my interest area and then i feel like a douche when I don’t buy any of them. I won’t even go near one on a Wedensday…not that brave yet.  

  37. I’m surprised that there’s so much hand wringing about what can be done for new readers; it seems very simple to me: let each book tell its own story in its own title. No game changing crossovers that happen elsewhere, no "specials" like the one you mention.

    As an example: this weekend I bought the omnibus of Fraction’s Iron Man. Now, I’m enjoying it, it’s a good book. Having said that, there’s a huge status quo change between the first and second arcs of that book. Between issues (or chapters, if you’re reading the story collected, as I am) Tony goes from head of SHIELD to wanted fugitive. That’s fine, if (like me) you have a reasonable working knowledge of what happened in Secret Invasion. If I was buying these as seperate trades, and without the insider knowledge of what’s happening, then I’d be missing an important plot point of the book. How could that not put you off? If you went into a bookstore and bought a book, took it home and found out that chapter three isn’t included, and not only that, but that it actually happens in completely different book that you didn’t buy and don’t partuclularly want to… well, you’d be p****d off. And rightly so.

    I stopped reading JMS’s Spider-man after he joined the Avengers… I had no interest in that story, I was enjoying the story I’d been following up to that point. I was avidly following Johns’ run on GL, and really psyched for Blackest Night until I realised that when Blackest Night actually arrived it wasn’t so much a GL story as a story featuring everyone in the DCU, none of whom had actually appeared in the book previously. I’d been devouring those trades up until that realisation… I haven’t bought one in months and there’s no fire under me to follow up where I left off.

    These events are fan pandering nonsense, rarely worth the build-up and never engaging to new readers, or any reader who isn’t on a site like this following every detail and discussing them ad nauseaum. The only conclusion I can come to looking at the nonsensical and self-defeating way the comics industry is run is that no one involved is interested in telling a good story, they’re just interested in empty fan service and transparent marketing ploys. Why invest your time, money and energies in something as hollow and disposable as that?

    This is a rant, I understand that it is and I apologise. But I believe every word I’ve written is correct. I love superheroes and I’d like to see them be the best they can be, and the industry as it is currently being run doesn’t allow for that.

  38. I was a new comic reader only in was maybe late 2007, early 2008. I found out there is only one good Comic store in my town went in, and was completely lost and had no idea where the new releases rack was. Eventually the owner helped me out and I found out new comics were released on wednesday….I felt dumb.  It really wasn’t that hard for me to jump in to comics though, my first foray into buying issues started with final crisis and I thought I understood most of it.

  39. Why was final crisis: rage of the red lanterns not called green lantern 36? because they want to sell more books. and i bought it and i love gl now. this happens all the time. why did clint "ronin" barton get rescued by the girls in an annual and not in the main book? because. why were the supreme books followed by supreme the return and continued the same story? because.

  40. Well, I was pretty much "Hope" a few years ago, I even have the red hair hehe. 

    I was running an online RPG site with some friends based around the X-Men and all my knowledge came from the old school cartoon so I asked a friend to help me get into comics, which he did. I started out with X-Factor and Runaways, both pretty light on the continuity stuff because, fortunately for me, they were both pretty close to the beginning of their runs so all I had to do was buy a couple of back issues to be current with the story.

    After that it was just a case of poking around at the comic store at things I found interesting, or other characters that popped into the books I was already reading. I’d always liked Superman so I asked my LCS owner which title would be a good one and he helped me out. For there it was all downhill into a giant pile of longboxes that reside in my wardrobe. My strategy as a new reader was just to wait until the beginning of an arc then jump on a book and hit the ground running. Sometimes I fell flat on my face and just couldn’t get into something, but most of the time when I hit a speed bump (references to the past, other people, events etc) I could just look up the character on wikipedia or a similar site and then it was right back to reading. And most of the book I couldn’t get engaged in at the beginning are books I still can’t now.

    I can see how the industry doesn’t really make it easy for people to jump in, especially with all the crossovers and such, but if they are like me and genuinely want into this world then I think the only way to do it, if their heart is set on reading issues and not trades that is, is to throw yourself in the deep end and keep a tight grip on your keyboard as your lifejacket. 

  41. @Matrix: I’d argue it’s a pretty short-sighted way to "sell more books." They may be selling more comics to the shrinking group of people who already buy comics, but the strategy actively makes it harder for people who don’t already buy comics to follow them.

  42. I was hope about 2 years ago. I got a voucher for a free comic when I saw dark knight got a book (a random detective I think it was by azzerello) and enjoyed it. I subscried to some comics online, then one day called an lcs to see if they had an issue I wanted (one of my scrips started a few issues in) I then bounced around the three lcs’s here in Allentown. One was just an unpleasant experience. The other was really nice clean and the staff was great! The other looked like a bunch of stoners opened a shop, but the guys were really nice and quick with a rec for a good book. I bounced between the two and one day the guys at the “stoner” shop mentioned the 25% discount on pull lists and that has been my shop ever since!

  43. @Jimski – Oh yeah, I don’t disagree with you, but i’m just saying, for whatever reason, i can’t fault them for doing it. I can’t really fathom the virgin comic shop person walking into a store and picking up comics without the original impetus that drew them there in the first place. "Wow that Iron man movie was sweet. It’s from a comic, so which comics of his were good?" Do those people even know about invincible? Of course Invincible returns or rage of the red lanterns isn’t just designed for new readers, but it could be said that it’s designed for people like us and for us to push people like them in that direction. I don’t know, maybe that’s crap but i kinda like it. I jumped onto Buffy in the last five minutes of the second last episode of the 2nd season. I jumped onto babylon 5 the third last episode of the 2nd season. Okay maybe they weren’t sequential stories like lost (at that point) but it was fantastic trying to figure out what was going on!

  44. Hi, I’m Hope (sort of).

    I started reading comics about a year and a half ago after meeting a girl who reads comics. When I was younger I’d read some 2000AD and a few manga but I’d never followed anything else from the west. So when I came to comics recently it was with almost completely virgin eyes. My first step was a recommendation from this girl. She recommended Y: The Last Man as a finite story and I read it and loved it. After saying I didn’t like superhero comics, she recommended The Authority. I read that and loved it too.

    Ironically, though, my real "in" to reading current stuff was through a means I’m sure the comics industry won’t like. I’ll admit it, I downloaded scans… complete runs on Torrents and catch up issues of series I was interested in. After I established what I liked, without the pain of spending money catching up on decades of comics in back issues or trades only to learn I don’t like what I bought, I naturally started buying. I have a pull list at my LCS and every two or three weeks I go down there and collect my comics.

    At the same time, I’m also buying other older series in trade and my shelf is groaning under the weight of Preacher, Powers, Scalped, Y: The Last Man, Fables, Nova, and I’m adding more all the time (I average three TPBs each time I visit).

    I’m not endorsing comic book piracy, don’t get me wrong. But scans gave me the opportunity to find out what I really like and what I want to support and I ALWAYS buy what I downloaded if I can find it, I just haven’t found all of it yet. Scans, though, gave me a chance to get into reading comics that I wouldn’t have had otherwise and without those pirated scans the comics industry wouldn’t have me as a regular reader at all because as, as has been said, it’s a baffling world out there and I wouldn’t have known where the eff to start.

    So yes, I’m Hope. I’m just not Hope in the way the comics industry would have wanted it. Maybe I would have been, though, if they’d made it easier!

  45. I have been reading issues for less than a year. What I did was look up on comic book sites (the internet was a huge help), then I just pop into threads just to read.

    It’s never easy. And then sometimes you find out that their kind of books are not your type of books.

    The key is research. Took me about two months to get into the mix. Because once you get exposed to single issues you cannot fully understand, you should dig deeper into that, and presto, you’re hooked.

    I don’t recommend Hope going to cons, though.

  46. If someone asked me where to start with the X-Men, I’d toss ’em the trade that starts with X-Men 500 and tell ’em to go from there.

    That said, WE ALL STARTED SOMEWHERE. It feels like we’re always assuming that anyone just getting into comics is an idiot and yet, somehow, the vast majority of us got into comics without the benefit of a mentor. Can we give people just a LITTLE bit of credit that, between their own intelligence and your help, new readers can figure this shit out? It’s not rocket surgery, y’know.

  47. Best bet with comics is the old stock market advice: start with what you know. Many of us started with a licensed property like G.I. Joe or Transformers, neither of which was the same in comics form as it was in any other form. But at least we knew the characters. If “Hope” is curious enough to try an issue of something, start her with a character or characters she knows pretty well and she’ll at least have an anchor. If she actually is curious, she’ll find a way to pick up the backstory and be ready to move forward. She’ll WANT to learn the backstory. Maybe it’s a wikipedia summary for now, eventually trades or backissues to fill the gaps. But true unwavering curiosity is the key.

  48. Sorry, I always come back to the same mantra–just start anywhere. These stories are endless and there is no perfect place to start, which means any place to start is as good as any other. Want to start on the Xmen? Pick up second coming #1 and wing it. SO WHAT if you don’t know who everyone is…if you’ve seen the movies, you know most of the cast. When did we all contract story OCD that we feel we can’t enjoy something unless we know absolutely every bit of minutiae about the story? To be afraid to pick up something and try reading it is really a case of having too much time on your hands if that kind of thing worries you.

  49. @AlexG: It’s a decent rule of thumb, but I would counter that expecting someone to jump in fresh to what is basically a weekly series in which each chapter is continued in a different randomly numbered book with a different writer and artist is, even if possible, a pretty bad idea. Even if she likes Fraction and Dodson, they’re not doing the next chapter, which by the way focuses on completely different characters. It’s like daring the new reader to stay.

  50. I certainly think it’s true that anybody who is determined enough to find stories to read will find them, but do we really want to limit access to people who come in pre-enthused?  If anything, I think that tells the more ambivalent "Hope"-s that, "You’re not fanatical enough, this isn’t for you." 

  51. I think I was also Hope until last fall, or her more attractive male cousin. I kind of wandered around the periphery of the comics world for years, occasionally picking up a trade until I picked up Johns’ Green Lantern out of curiuosity for the character. At about this time I discovered a podcast called iFanboy and while I listened solely for entertainment purposes at first, the guys’ boundless enthusiasm for the medium pushed me enough to dare leap across the chasm of continuity and mind-boggling business practices into the muscular yet gentle embrace of comics. This was also around the time the of Batman family relaunch and another semester at school. After a quick online search, I found a shop a few blocks down the street from my dorm. With the jumping on point Batman Reborn provided, I eased into other (mainly DC) books and voraciously sampled the many other recommendations of the iFanboys. Having a resource like iFanboy (and wikipedia) made this experience infinitely more pleasant than it could’ve been.

  52. After encountering comics here and there for a few years, the first comic i picked up off the shelf for myself was FF 173. The third part of a 5 part story. I had a passing familiarity with the FF, but this was steeped in continuity with references to counter earth, the high evolutionary, galactus’ heralds, the thing was even depowered and wearing an exo skeleton. I read it and enjoyed it even if i didnt understand it. I got the next, and the next and slowly got the previous ones. This in the days long before comic shops were as common as they are today. No trades either and no internet to answer questions. If the book is engaging and the information well presented, many people will seek out the info they need. If an 8 year old can do it