Wed
Feb 16 2011 2:54pm

Gateway to Comics on Tor.com

Gateway to Comics pile

Even with so many comic-related TV shows and movies these days, getting into reading comics can be difficult. Many comic series have runs in the high triple digits and comic book shops and the medium in general can be intimidating to new readers who want to get into comics, but don’t know where to start. The intention of this new recurring Wednesday feature on Tor.com is to give new readers a clearer picture of what is available and, hopefully, point out a good place to start in a number of different comic book genres and franchises.

Despite the increase in the number of comic-related properties in different mediums, the general opinion of a random person on the street is that all comics are superhero comics. The other is that all comics are for children. Both of these are misconceptions that the industry has spent decades trying to shake. I understand why the first persists, because there are a lot of movies, TV shows, animated shows, computer games and merchandise based on, predominantly, Marvel and DC characters. These two companies cover roughly 70% of the monthly comics market in America, and some of their characters are iconic superheroes with over 70 years of history. They are so well known that their names have become general knowledge. Without ever having read a comic, the same random person on the street would be able to tell you something about a character like Batman, Spider-Man or Superman. Both of these companies have been publishing comics in a variety of genres for decades, but superheroes are their most popular.

There are a number of other publishers in the market that are focused on a particular genre, some produce mature comics, some all ages, some comics tied to popular franchises, and so on. For every genre you might see in a book shop, there is an equivalent comic.

In the Gateway to Comics feature, we’ll focus on reviewing/recapping a “gateway” trade or issue to a genre, series, or character. Meaning you will be able to pick it up without having read any other comic before, and with no prior knowledge of the characters. This is the golden rule. (A lot of these gateway picks will be first volumes of trades, but not always.) We’ll tackle a range of genres, such as western, sci-fi, slice of life, horror, adventure, biography, comedy, history, and many more.

There are a huge wealth of fascinating, exciting, thought-provoking, and award-winning comics out there and I (and perhaps some guest writers down the line) will try to show a little of what is available to new readers, and maybe introduce some new comics to current readers.

We’ve got a cool line-up ahead of us, but we’re just getting started, so feel free to list anything you’d like to see covered in the comments below!


Criminal volume 1: Coward

02/16/11 - Criminal Vol. 1: Coward by Stephen Aryan

Gateway to: Noir comics


Stephen Aryan is a lifelong fan of comics, science fiction and fantasy. He co-hosts the Comic Book Outsiders podcast and writes fantasy and comic book reviews at Walker of Worlds.

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15 comments
The Masked Blogger
1. The Masked Blogger
Looking forward to your weekly articles. I'm a fan of mostly Silver and Bronze age Marvel and DC comics as that is what I read the most of during my formative years, but I love just about any genre.
Allana Schneidmuller
2. blutnocheinmal
I remember feeling lost going into my local shop the first few times.

I was originally there looking for japanese comics and Spawn, being a big fan of Toonami and the Spawn HBO series.

For people sceptical about comics, I'd definitely recommend DC's Vertigo line.
The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman, and Alan Moore's run of Swamp Thing being personal favorites.
They're very literary works, the first priority being good storytelling.
Sandman is collected in 10 volumes, Swamp Thing (Alan Moore's run anyway) in 6.

I really enjoyed the 6-volume collection of Star Wars Tales, for fans of the Star Wars series, hardcore or casual (I'm definitely casual). Fan of extended universe or not (I'm not), the range of artists and writers, and the range from action to drama to comedy stories, it has something for everyone.

Hellboy by Mike Mignola
Excellent series for all ages. (Anyone reading this site anyway.) Excellent incorporation of global myths, gothic art and weird creatures. Lovecraftian in substance, but neo-noir action adventure at heart. It's ongoing, but any volume is worth picking up. The spinoffs I hear are good too. Abe Sapien, BPRD, Lobster Johnson, etc.

All Star Superman by Mark Morrison
Was really stellar. A great ending to a story that's never-ending. Lovely art, a great mix of old and new characters and ideas. Each part of the story was touching, humorous, and near note-perfect. Two volumes.

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
One of the greats. The deconstruction of the superhero in a dystopian past-future of the 1980s, if we'd won the Vietnam War with a super-man. One volume.

Marvels by Kurt Busiek and with gorgeous art by Alex Ross.
See the events of the Marvel universe through the eyes of an ordinary photographer. I loved the 'ants eye view' of superheroes, from the great, untouchable golden/silver age to the strange, feared mutants of later years. One volume.
Stephen Aryan
3. StephenAryan
There are some good choices there, but I think All Star Superman is not really a good example. As you said, it's the ending to a story. To really appreciate it, you have to know the character quite well, his history, all that he has accomplished and what he has meant to our world and beyond, and then this comes as a nice bookend.

A clean introduction to Superman would be Superman: Earth One by JMS which just came out last year. If you've only seen the films, or watched Smallville and wanted to get into reading Superman comics, then this is a good place to start. It requires no prior knowledge other than a vague awareness of the character.

Again, Watchmen is a classic and I think it's brilliant, but I don't think it's a good place to start to get into reading comics. It's very dense and it could put people off reading new comics if they think all comics are like that.

Hellboy is a great idea if you liked the films and want some mystical adventures and creepy weird stories.
The Masked Blogger
4. dasismith
Thanks for showing up such fabulous information. I like this post, keep writing and give informative post...!

Holistic Healing
Peta Banks
5. pippy1974
I'm looking forward to this series and thanks to blutnocheinmal for the informative comment. I started out with non-fiction like Maus, Persopolis & Guy Delisle's excellent travel books before dipping my toe into the water of "real" comics. Other than books mentioned above, I would heartily recommend Girl Genius, which can be read online, and Blankets by
Craig Thompson.
Lady Knight
6. LadyKnight.ca
oh!!! great idea!!! i've enjoyed the few comics/graphic novels i've read but have been intimidated by the sheer volume out there of other good stuff!! thanks for the 101!!! :)
Stephen Aryan
7. StephenAryan
@Pippy - Maus is an amazing, shocking and important story and I think it should be made compulsory reading in schools so that we never ever forget. It is also the only comic I know that has won a Pulitzer Prize Special Award. Persopolis and Blankets are both very interesting and very different personal stories about growing up.

@LadyKnight - Thanks, hopefully this feature will introduce you to some comics you've never heard about before that sound interesting. I'm going to cover comics from a wide range of genres, and some I might have to create new names for, as they mix together several genres!
The Masked Blogger
8. FreakingMuse
Oh I'm looking forward to your articles! I've been reading Graphic Novels like Sandman, Lucifer, Fables, Walking Dead and some other stuff (Alan Moore mostly) for some time. I've always wanted to try out Batman 'though.
For someone new to the Batman-verse it's pretty confusing. I've read a few Batman-Comics by now. While some are very good and understandable on their own (like Arkham Asylum, Year One or the Killing Joke), others are very confusing...
All the different Robins (some of which are dead but come back later or become other crime-fighters) and all the crossovers are a bit much for someone new in Batman's World. I tried reading Batman R.I.P. anand Final Crisis, because, you know, I wanted to know how *it* happens (trying not to spoiler ;).
I hardly understood anything and had to check Wikipedia again and again because there were so many characters I did not know and so many hints to things that already happened in previously published books. It was a reading-nightmare...
Maybe my own fault for jumping widly through the different books but really, where does one start with Batman anyway and in which order do you read the books?
If I understand correctly Frank Miller re-invented the Batman-myth in the 80s so everything from there in publishing order?
Ah, I'm still confused... It would be great if you could give Batman one article and tell people like me where to start and in which order to read to be able to understand the story of the Dark Knight.
The Masked Blogger
9. Calico Reaction
Great idea, but can I just say I really, really miss the weekly pull list? My local comic shop closed, so I have to tell someone else who lives elsewhere what I want, and the pull list was so helpful in learning about new series!
Stephen Aryan
10. StephenAryan
@FreakingMuse - Batman is one of those books that has an incredibly long, complex and sometimes confusing history. Just those few stories you outlined shows how much happens and how difficult it is to keep up. I would actually recommend waiting for DC to release their Batman: Earth One book. This will be a graphic novel that comes out every year or six months and it will be a Gateway comic. It will not be connected to any other Batman comic, and you will not have to know anything about Batman to pick it up. It's not starting from the beginning, but it will be it's own animal. Superman: Earth One has been incredibly popular with existing comic fans and new fans, and I expect Batman: Earth One will be too. Unravelling current continuity, eesh, that would be one monster post.

Current Batman titles are a long way from Batman of old, and it is complicated and starts to sound like a daytime soap opera at times, because no one really dies with characters coming back from the dead all the time. A brief example of current stuff - Dick Greyson (the 1st Robin) is now Batman in Gotham with Batman (Bruce Wayne's) son, Damian. Everyone believed Bruce Wayne was dead, but he was in fact sent into the past and has since been travelling forward through time...for some reason. In the meantime, Tim Drake (3rd Robin) is now Red Robin, and he never believed Bruce was truly dead so he went around the world searching for clues with some help from Rhas al'Ghul, one of Bruce Wayne's greatest enemies, who is the also grandfather of Damian. However, the 2nd Robin (Jason Todd) died many years ago after being killed by the Joker, but then he came back to life as the Red Hood, a villain. Confused yet?
Rae Grimm
11. freakingmuse
@Stephen:Thanks for thesuggestion about "Batman: Earth One". I'm just so incredibly impatient when it comes to waiting for any kind of book...

I know the basic story behind all the Robins and the death of Bruce Wayne although only because I spent more time on Wikipedia and such re-reading everything than actually reading the comics...
Sad, I know. Still, I'm trying to catch on and will now read "The History of the Bat-Man".
I'm positive that I'll get everything and will be less confused some day...
The Masked Blogger
12. INCyr
@freakingmuse:

A GREAT place to start for Batman would be Long Halloween, by Loeb and Sale. Great introduction to the Batman mythos, without needing much back story. Self contained too, although you can continue on to Dark Victory and/or Catwoman: When in Rome, as both are related novels.

But that would be my suggestion as to a great, self contained Batman story.

That, and go watch the Batman Animated series. That's probably the best portrayal of Batman ever done. They nailed it so hard.
The Masked Blogger
13. mirana
Off the top of my head, things I have recommended to someone that didn't read comics:
Y: The Last Man (action, society turned on ear), Fables (literary, fantasy), Bone (fantasy, kid-appropriate), hellboy (fantasy, mythology), Death Note (thriller, crime, drama), EyeShield21 (sports), Vagabond (history, action), Castle Waiting (literary, fantasy), Finder (fantasy, world-building, society turned on ear). All have a volume #1 and (near) linear progression.

You have to tailor these things to the reader, though. I don't think I've recommended the same line-up to two different people, even though I love all those books. For example, I too would never, ever recommend Watchman to someone that is not aware of superheroes or the history of what was going on at the time Moore wrote it. I know about that stuff, and it still took me 3 tries to get through it. I hated it! :P

I agree with INCyr about Batman! BtAS is the best Batman ever, hands down! That's how I knew Batman, which made it easier when my first Batman or Superhero book was The Dark Knight! Yeesh! ;)
Stephen Aryan
14. StephenAryan
@Mirana - I agree, you really have to know the person you are talking to and what they like before recommending a comic. Telling everyone to read Watchmen or Sandman, just because they are classics, is in my opinion, a bad idea. They just won't be for everyone.

Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated shows are also a great introduction to characters, especially the latter, as it tended to rotate away from the main characters from time to time and focus on people like Green Arrow, or The Question or Huntress.
The Masked Blogger
15. MDominic
It's been recommended a number of times so far, but I'll add my vote for Neil Gaiman & Co's "Sandman", particularly issue #8, "The Sound of Her Wings". That's a particularly touching story that I've used to introduce several readers to comics.
For younger readers just discovering comics, I highly recommend Jeff Smith's "Bone".

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