Category Archives: Intro to Comics

Curious about comic books? Intrigued by graphic novels? Read on to ease into an art form that has something for everyone.

Comic Books for Beginners

Thanks to Navigate the Arts for sitting down and talking with us about comics.

Intro to Comics: Why?

Maus: A Survivor's Tale by art spiegelman

Why read comics?

There’s the Internet, there are video games, apps, TV shows, movies, music, books, theater, radio plays, museums, art galleries… There are bills to pay, jobs to get to and/or find, homework and chores to do, people to be with (or avoid)…

Finding a reason to do something else is real easy.

But once you stumble upon that first comic book or graphic novel or manga or web-comic that connects with you in a way like nothing else, it’s even easier to realize that comics can’t be ignored. They can be an exceptionally engrossing form of entertainment and a transcendent form of artistic expression.

The short version is – THEY’RE AWESOME!

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Sure, it’s a great way to spend some spare time. It’s a fun way to be entertained. Some light escapism is great. And if you’re looking for more, there’s plenty of that too. They have unbridled freedom for creativity and expression. They can be crazy, bizarre, unpredictable, adventurous, sublime, hilarious, romantic, informative, brazen, crass, gentle, healing, and so much more.

The longer version gets a little deep, so hold on.

Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz

We may think of comics as old newspaper strips, superheroes and funny animals, but the art form and language have pervaded our entire culture.

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli

Some in literary circles see the graphic novel as the young upstart to the established prose novel. But comics actually predate print and the written word. Pre-historic cave drawings used symbols, imagery and sequential storytelling like a primitive comic strip mural. The written language could even be said to be the evolution of these kind of devices. Just as our brains have been trained to understand that a big, lazy orange cat that eats lasagna and hates Mondays is Garfield, so too do we understand that a circle with the right side missing is the letter ‘C’ and that it makes certain sounds in our language. Taken further, we also understand that a red octagon means we should STOP. We understand that words over someone’s head means they are speaking those words. All of this representative symbology could be said to be related to the development of comics. They are a deeply engrained aspect of our basic visual communication.

Because of these fundamental building blocks, comics are arguably the most powerful, pervasive and instant form of communication. And whether you agree or not (it’s not really a contest, after all), comics have proved themselves to be just as capable forms of entertainment worthy of some time as any other. I hope you’ll give them a chance.

Garfield by Jim Davis

Keep checking back here at The Comics Observers for more Intro to Comics articles, where we’ll explore basic aspects of the big world of comics so it doesn’t seem so daunting and overwhelming to check something out. (And me we might touch more on theory from time to time.) If you’d like to see if you can find something you might like, check out What to Read. If you have a question or want to see something explained, post a comment below, or write through Facebook, Twitter or email.

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud

How to Find the Webcomic for You

Screen shot of inkOUTBREAK's reader

The internet is a big place. Discovering a webcomic can be next to impossible unless you’ve determined to comb the intertubes for an entire weekend, or you visit just the right sites. Fortunately, there’s a promising new alternative called inkOUTBREAK that doubles not only as a portal to discover new webcomics, but a way to bookmark your current favorites so you never miss an update.

Sure you could subscribe to an RSS feed, but what if you’re at a different computer? Or have no clue about RSS thingies? Or just don’t really like RSS feeds? inkOUTBREAK lets you follow webcomics you like and takes you to the specific website that houses the webcomic, so you get the entire experience. And every time your favorites update, they’re at the top of your screen. Plus, it does what RSS feeds can’t, it recommends new webcomics to discover. Through the use of customized tags, you can specify the kinds of webcomics you’re interested in. Combine that with the “bump” of a thumbs up you can give strips you enjoy, you also get a suggested stream of webcomics, somewhat similar to exploring music on Pandora Radio.

I’ve just never been a fan of RSS and my email inbox gets pretty cluttered, that I’m reluctant to subscribe to webcomics that way. So this is great news to me. Thanks to inkOUTBREAK, I’ve been able to find several webcomics I lost track of because I’d forgotten the title after some late night internet-wandering (notably Amazing Super Powers). And I’ve already discovered some new ones I’m liking (such as I am Arg!, this surreal Cat and Girl, and this visual treat on Ellie on Planet X). And I’m very happy to be able to read some of my favorites without having to remember their update schedule (like Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and The Abominable Charles Christopher).

Having said that, it’s not perfect. It’s still in beta after all. Some of the navigation to work out your settings, like tags and favorites, isn’t the most intuitive to me. You definitely have to be willing to tinker around with it a little bit. Because of just how many webcomics are out there, even a site like this can’t be expected to have everything, especially right out of the gate. But there are a few surprising omissions, as well as some of my favorites that are missing. No Hark! A Vagrant, no Max Overreacts, no Sheldon, no Destructor, none of Kevin Church’s Agreeable Comics, no Now It Can Be Told (or any of Act-I-Vate, for that matter). You get the idea. And unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be a way to suggest webcomics to be added to the service. (It looks like that option used to exist but now the creator of the webcomic has to do it themselves.) Friends with Boys is there but something in the code seems messed up. I’m sure a lot of this will be fixed in the near future.

But it’s a promising start and a fantastic idea. For more on the site, check out this walk-through.

Parents: Get your Kid-Friendly Comics on iPhone and iPad

So maybe you get it by now. Librarians, teachers, and other smart people that you trust tell you that comics are a great way to develop and strengthen your child’s reading skills. They also capture their imagination and work visual recognition skills and they do tons of other good things for the brain, in addition to being fun and entertaining. But maybe you’ve also heard that there are some comics that aren’t really appropriate for everyone. So what’s safe? If you’ve got an iPhone or iPad, now there’s a simple way to get great comics for your kids and teens.

Digital comics provider comiXology officially launched their newest app, Comics4Kids, yesterday. And it’s exactly what it sounds like. Almost 175 comic books from 15 comic book publishers like Archie Comics, Image Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, Red 5 Comics, NBM Publishing, and more. I’m sure more will be added every week just like comiXology’s other apps. And hopefully Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, IDW, Boom! Studios, along with other publishers, will join in since they all have comic books that would fit right in.

One of my initial thoughts was similar to JK Parkin: will kids want to read something that’s so blatantly targeted to them? Most kids want to get the real thing, not the kiddie version, and one red flag is something with “kids” in the title. But seeing this targeted to parents as something they can feel comfortable handing to their children, the branding makes more sense. Time will tell, I guess. I certainly appreciate the effort, and I’m sure parents will too.

For more information, read click through for their press release: Read the rest of this entry

So you want to read Spider-Man comics

We’re in the thick of the holiday season. Shopping is probably inevitable for a lot of us. If you or someone you know thinks Spider-Man is pretty cool but is clueless as to what to read first, I’ve put together a great big list as a checklist or reading order guide.

Marvel Comics has been publishing The Amazing Spider-Man since 1963, so being a little overwhelmed about what to get is understandable. Peter Parker (right) is pretty confused by it all too. And he’s lived through it.

So, here’s my Reader’s Guide to Amazing Spider-Man with every graphic novel that’s been published from that comic book series, what’s inside, and in what order you should read it. I’ve also included cover prices and if there are alternate ways to get the stories (soft cover, hard cover, etc.). After the list, I’ve also included a recommended reading list if you’re only interested in the most universally loved material instead of everything. Please feel free to join in the conversation if you have any favorites, questions, corrections or suggestions.

Just a note for those of you Spidey-savvy enough: this list only focuses on the Amazing Spider-Man comics series from 1963 to present, and for the most part does not include spin-offs like Web of Spider-Man or the relaunch series like Ultimate Spider-Man or Marvel Adventures Spider-Man (both of which are great ways to read Spider-Man too but they exist in their own universe apart from Amazing Spider-Man, and as such, they’re pretty streamlined, self-contained and easier to figure out where to start – although if you’re not sure, post a comment or email and I’ll be glad to help out).

I’ve also got similar Reader’s Guides to Uncanny X-Men and Fantastic Four. And I’ll be posting more here as time allows. Any requests for comic book series to cover?