I have been up front about this from the beginning. I read a few comics as a kid, but I didn’t really start reading comics (or graphic novels – click here for a brief glossary of terms if you’re not an avid comic reader) until last fall when the idea of writing one really struck.
Why I Didn’t Read Comics Before:
I read them really quickly. Too quickly. I can tear through a 300 page novel in an afternoon. Do you know how quickly I can devour a 66 page trade paperback? So, I get fewer hours of enjoyment out of a 66 page full-color trade paperback that also costs $2-4 more than the 300 page novel.
I was a little intimidated. I like to start at book one. I don’t want to pick up episode #44. I don’t want to pick up episode #3 of a 6-book arc. How can I know where to start? Who will tell me what to pick up first?
I wasn’t interested. I know enough superhero lore to understand the basic concepts of most of the capes and great-responsibility types. I knew there was great storytelling being done in the genre (why else would it spawn so many fun movies?) but I just didn’t care enough about those characters to seek them out. I’m a book snob with feminist leanings, why on earth would I bother with Batman? (Whew! Look at all of those assumptions!)
Why I Do Read Comics Now:
They are bite-sized. It’s actually been quite nice this year, because I haven’t felt up to reading many novels. I’ve been reading short stories and comics, and it’s been keeping me topped off quite nicely.
I discovered trade paperbacks. This was a huge one for me. They are numbered volumes. In a row. On the shelf. I can start at the very beginning. I can read them in sequence. They are easier to find, easier to ensure I’m reading everything in the right order. Often, they are even sold at the bookstore instead of at the comic store. Instead of 15-30 minutes of reading, they last a whole 2 hours.
I found stories that I love. Before delving in, I assumed (a) most comics were about superheroes, (b) that I wouldn’t be interested in the stories (c) and that I’d be put off by the overabundance of male characters and writers, and sexism. Instead, I’ve discovered a non-superhero set of comics (described in the prologue for Unwritten by the Fables author Bill Willingham as “LAF comics” Literary – Animal – Fairy Tale – comics.) I stumbled into the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section of sequential art and fiction.
Comics I Recommend to Readers Who Don’t Like Comics
I’m explaining all of my assumptions and preferences at the onset, because I want you to understand where I’m coming from with this list. This list is for people who love to read, but are put off by the format.
- The Unwritten – The magic of books translates into real-world magic for Tommy Taylor. “Stories are the only things worth dying for”…. This requires the reader to be very well-read and literate, as well as elastic, imaginative and attentive to details. I’d classify this as Literary Fantasy.
- Fables – What happens when fairy tales have to live in the real world? If you dig the idea of seeing the Big Bad Wolf as a Noir detective, by all means, dig in. It’s a lighter romp than the others, but engaging and fun.
- Saga – Still early in this one’s development, Volume 1 of the trade just came out fairly recently. This is pure science fiction. There’s a romantic space-opera vibe to it, but it’s so intricate and involved. I wait eagerly for the next issue of Saga.
- The Sandman – Like Fables, this is a classic. I picked this up because I love Neil Gaiman‘s novels. His comics don’t disappoint. Intricate, imaginative, smart, funny, terrifying and sad. He’s started writing them again, so I’m still woefully behind in reading this series.
If you read like every word matters, then the above books will appeal to you. I like the detail. The imagery, the tone. I like noticing strange things in the background that matter chapters later. I like that these books are smarter than I am, and assume I’m going to catch up.
I’ll also admit, on my most recent trip to the comic shop, I did pick up a couple of superhero books….