If you’re thinking about starting a comic book collection, Ed provides you with some handy tips to keep your sanity.
Not to sound like I’m stating the obvious, but there’s an awful lot of comics out there, whether they’re one-offs or recurring series, or even a group of series set in a “multiverse.” It can be disorienting when you go into a comic shop and see how many different comics and graphic novels there are, knowing that the collection you see in front of you is but a small percentage of all the different comics created. Some of these series can, over a period of 70 plus years, have over 800 issues, not including any one-shots or alternate reality versions of the characters. All of these different series and collections make it difficult to know where to start, especially with the constant revision of the comic’s numbering, or if they decide to randomly change the status quo of the multiverse with a big event. The popular choices by the top brass seem to be either making the event change the timeline, or just stop a series in its tracks and start it again at a random point. That and cancelling a series before it’s come to any sort of conclusion, which apparently works in the minds of business executives. The occasional (or in some cases common) change of an artist or writer can also ruin the flow of a series, or leave you feeling confused as to what has happened when a secondary plot gets thrown in the bin.
So where should you start? I managed to catch the Marvel Universe at a change in the status quo, with Civil War being the beginning and end of many different series. As most of the series now focused on the events post-Civil War, I could easily follow what was happening. J. Michael Straczynski’s complete re-imagining of Thor also provided a good jumping off point, as what had happened in the past now made little difference in future storylines. Along with this, however, I also read as many Wikipedia articles on Marvel and DC characters as I could, as well as their past and current affiliations, powers and stories. I’m aware I skipped out on a good portion of classic storylines, but I also bypassed a lot of the drivel, and I now know which series I should go back and read. There’ll be some elitists among you who will assume that this is cheating, or that it doesn’t make me a proper fan, but bollocks to that I say. I love comics and the rich and vibrant stories they offer, and I’m not of the opinion that I shouldn’t be aware of what’s happened beforehand just because I’m unable to afford every collection of comics out there. If you’re seriously interested in comic collecting, you’re going to have to put some money aside.
I enjoy a multitude of comics, whether DC, Marvel or “independents,” but as you may be able to tell from my reviews, I do prefer Marvel comics, due to the greater amount of history these characters have. I’m a complete freak about continuity – it’s a lot easier to follow what has actually happened to the characters with any retconning being obvious, instead of being unsure about whether or not someone’s aunt or a character still exists in continuity or not. Although, admittedly, if you don’t mind starting again and are less bothered about continuity, then DC’s NEW 52 is probably a good way to go.
There are a lot of good independent comics out there, but I still find it hard to work out which ones I should begin with. My favourite solution is the bane of comic book shops out there: Go out, read the first volume or part of it, and if you’re hooked, buy it all. If not, don’t bother. This works for all comics, from an independent or big publishers, but now I have favourite characters, writers and artists at Marvel and DC, I do tend to gravitate to them first.
Another thing that seems to be a troublesome question for some is whether or not you should buy single issues or collected volumes. If you only get your comics from WH Smith, then your choice is limited on the issues, although they do tend to have good “starter” collections of series, by which I mean collected volumes which you can follow without having read other comics beforehand. If you frequent a comic shop, however, the amount of issues available is quite outstanding, making the probability of finding a comic which you feel you need to purchase a lot higher. My main problem is that I don’t want to wait what is potentially years for the conclusion to a story, when I can read the complete set in one go. I also dislike the adverts that break up the pages, occasionally ruining the flow of the story, as well as singular issues occasionally costing twice as much as the collected volumes despite the lack of advertising. That’s not to say they’re a bad thing, however, as if you go for the issues you’ll discover what’s happened a good three to six months before anyone else, so if you have any friends dying to find out what’s happened to Peter Parker this month, you can either ruin it for them or tease them incessantly.
Let’s not forget digital comics, too, with many companies now releasing the latest issues and collections online. You can even download apps for your smartphone that will let you read them wherever you want. It’s never been easier to get access to graphic novels.
I might not have helped the budding comic collectors among you in any way, as my solutions may seem quite simple, but these are some of the options available when it comes to finding a worthwhile series. It also reinforces the completely necessary role of the comic book shop. It’s just a pain that nine times out of ten, the Internet is cheaper, as it will be an utter shame when the last specialised shop disappears which, unless they diversify into other areas as Forbidden Planet has, they undoubtedly will do. It’s just a shame that, for the comic book shop to survive, you have to water the “comic” part down.