One of the challenges with comics is seeing an interesting book, but not knowing if you should buy it. When is the best time to jump on? The next challenge is deciding when to stop buying a title. When is the best time to jump off?
Jumping into a story that is already underway can be difficult for new readers. A lot of books attempt to ease the pain by creating a plot summary page. The story thus far page is a reminder for longtime readers and an introduction for new ones. A summary can help you jump into a book, but it can be equally confusing. With unfamiliar characters and a complicated plot, the amount of background might be overwhelming. Plot summaries range from a single sentence to a full page of background. Sometimes the reader is given a set of mugshots illustrating the major characters in a cast of thousands.
Other books make use of references mid-story. Characters are introduced by name and alias when they appear. Plot points are clarified in reference boxes. These text boxes advise — or remind — the reader about events which occurred in a much earlier issue or in another title altogether. While this may be helpful to readers familiar with the general plot and characters, it doesn’t help the new reader at all. A note to see ASM #26 is only useful if you have access to The Amazing Spider-Man #26 or can figure out in which trade paperback it was reprinted. If there are too many references to the back story, it might be difficult to get on board with the current one.
So how do you jump on a new comic title recommended by a friend or the helpful staff of your local comic shop? Rather than waiting for a cover that announces a new story arc, or attempting to find the last 3 issues on the shelf and catch up, a lot of people are gravitating to trade paperback collections. Each book reprints a full story arc. All of the parts are there without having to search bins of back issues to find the one you are missing. You can read the whole story at once — like bingeing a Netflix show — instead of one issue at a time, appearing as if it were a current television show airing monthly instead of weekly.
Trade paperbacks are great, but they can never replace the excitement of visiting the comic shop and seeing what is new. Every week (on Wednesdays!) new issues arrive. Some stories are not something you want to wait for. Once a month, twice a month, sometimes weekly, these are the stories you want to read right now. The trade paperback is months away. And if it is an independent title (not Marvel or DC), then the whole story might not exist if the individual issues don’t find a market. Somewhere in our hoard is a 6-part story that had issues #5 and #6 cancelled. It’s unfortunate, but it can happen.
When do you jump on board a new comic? How do you give a new title a try, especially if your budget is limited? Here’s my suggestion. If it catches your eye and looks like something you might like, then buy it. Don’t worry about the number on the cover. Sure, the first page or two might be awkward as you get to know the characters and story. But if a comic is good and you like what you are reading, it won’t take long to get sucked right into the new world before your eyes. We take a chance on TV shows all the time. Think of new viewers of long running soap operas. No one carefully decides when to jump into watching Coronation Street. You happen to watch it one day and, before you know it, you are interested in the goings on of people who were completely unknown before you sat down. Let comics do the same thing. Read whatever catches your eye. Don’t be afraid to enter mid-story.
For the more cautious amongst you, go ahead and jump on when those new story arcs start. (If you aren’t sure when that is, ask the staff at your local comic shop or ask the all-knowing Google.) Don’t worry about starting at issue #1. There are lots of #1 titles out there, but that doesn’t have to be your guide when buying comics. A story arc typically runs 5-6 issues. You might only have to go back one for a more comfortable starting point.
If you truly are a fan of starting at the beginning, don’t fret completely. Beyond the well-known universes of Marvel and DC, lies a land full of many comic gems and the opportunity to try a few titles without spending all of your gold. Image Comics reprints the first issues of their more popular ongoing titles under the Image Firsts banner. They are priced to take the risk away from trying a new comic — only $1. From there, you can jump on board at the current issue or pick up any of the pricier trade paperbacks in the series. Or if you are really keen, you can dive into the comic bins and start collecting the back issues.
Jump on. Enjoy the ride.
We’ll talk about jumping off later…