“I’m thinking of starting to read comics. Where do you think that I should start?”
That question (and various iterations of it) holds the dubious honor of being both my favorite and my least favorite question to be asked. I simultaneously manage to be excited at the prospect of sharing something that I love with another person and full of dread at the idea of how exactly I am supposed to answer. I’m also pretty certain that I am not alone in experiencing that mixed bag of emotions. Or maybe I am, in which case thanks for reading my navel gazing.
Making these sorts of recommendations is not an easy task. My first instinct is to suggest comics that I love, to force my current likes and dislikes on this new person regardless of how they feel. A dark little part of me sees this as an opportunity to create a comic fan who will take my sides on everything. Who only knows what I tell them and who can I shape into a perfect ally. Which might be perfect I was some sort of super villain, but kind of fails given that I’m not. Mostly I try to cater my recommendations towards good starting points that I know they’ll already like.
Below are a few points that I like to consider when coming up with recommendations. If you have anything to add, then by all means share! This isn’t meant to be a hard and fast set of rules, but rather part of the mental process that I go through whenever someone asks for advice. Call me a giant nerd, but I kind of love this sort of thing (or hearing how others figure it out).
Ask questions. It might seem kind of jerky to return someone’s question with a question, but that is absolutely the best way to start. Depending on how well you know the tastes of the person asking, you could be asking a lot fewer questions than if they are a relative stranger, but asking questions is critical. It gives a general idea of what not to suggest, narrowing the possibilities down from “anywhere you feel like, dude” to something a little more concrete and less asshatty. Plus it’s a good way to avoid suggesting something totally off the mark from the get go and then getting into an argument about it. Often the person asking has a vague idea of what type of comic they want to start reading (either specifically tied to some other pop culture phenomena or something they have read about in passing). If that’s the case, then they’re looking for easy access to the massive world of Spider-Man or the best run on Wonder Woman. Other times they like the idea of comics, but hate traditional caped crusader types and want something a little more off the beaten path. Asking questions is really the only way to get a little clarity, though I’ll admit that sometimes it seems like I’m fishing when I ask them in return. That’s because I am.
Are there any easy starting off points? Some books are tailor made for new readers. Either they’ve just had a universe-wide reboot (ala DC’s New 52) or they’ve just launched and have even the most familiar characters reintroducing themselves. Books that start just after big events are also a good way to go since they usually have a quick synopsis of all that happened before at the start of the book. Titles that tie into well-known media (such as the tie in for Man of Steel or Thor movies, or Adventure Time) are also great places to look.
What’s readily available? If the person asking is a coworker/friend/lives within walking distance and you’re not super protective of your collection, then perhaps letting someone borrow a book that you already own might be the best solution. That way you can discuss it with them when they’ve finished PLUS it comes to them for the low, low price of free (or close to). Libraries are also great places for getting started as most have at least a few TPBs on hand. Or you could scout out the free or 99 cent issues that turn up on ComiXology every now and then. Comics are more readily available than ever, but knowing where to look for them is part of making recommendations easier.
Be okay with them hating what you suggest. Not everyone loves the same things. It’s a fact that the internet is built upon. The new reader could love Smallville but hate Superman: Year One after you suggested it. It might be a little hard to hear, especially if you recc’d a book that you love, but it’s perfectly within their right to hate it. Just as long term comic fans have a wide variety of opinions, so do new readers. It’s all part of the process. If this person absolute hates your suggestion, do not give up! Merely ask what they didn’t like about it and go back to the drawing board. I firmly believe that there is a comic/graphic novel/webcomic for everyone. It is just a matter of finding the sweet spot and going with it.
Have fun with it. Don’t let it overwhelm you! Reading comics is fun and so should sharing them with new people.
Now it’s your turn: how do you help people find their footing in comics? Or do you want help figuring out what new thing to read next? Drop us a line in the comments or on twitter!