Navigating the Wide World of Comics

Ian Leonard

Comic books are such a monumental part of my life. They happen to be one of my favorite mediums of storytelling, and not just because of the pretty pictures either. You see, comic books effectively combine two art forms that for a long time had remained separated, storytelling and illustration. Of course there are examples of these mediums interacting prior to the age of comics, however comic books were the first and most widespread use of these two in the same format consistently. Honestly, comics get a bad rap. They’re often looked down upon as childish and unprofessional, when in reality, some of the most brutal and mature stories I’ve ever experienced have been in the form of these thin color filled pages.

I’ll start by saying I completely understand how these generalizations were formed. Since children start out relying on pictures to grasp the full scope of a story, we naturally have to try and encourage them to read more words and look at less pictures. This is necessary of course. In the real world, most text in the real world aren’t accompanied by pictures. Even though we use them in text books to more clearly illustrate our point, so why is it taboo to do the same in a narrative? I think it’s easy for us to forget that we were encouraged to embrace words over pictures out of necessity, not because they’re meaningless. Obviously it’s easier for an author to communicate a story if they use pictures as well as words. It allows for an interesting dynamic to play out, as illustrations can convey so much information, they can take more liberties with their dialogue. Unlike traditional books, characters in comics spend little to no time establishing context or describing their surroundings because the reader can see it for themselves. Writers can spend more time on things like dialogue and intricate storylines.

The medium has evolved a lot since its humble 1930 beginnings. What started off as short episodic tales, that rarely carried over from one week to the next, has turned into long sprawling storylines and deep lore that has shaped the industry in a multitude of ways. This has become somewhat of a double edged sword however. While the immense amount of background available for each hero may be appealing to those who have been reading these comics all of their lives, I’ve found many people who want to begin reading, find it intimidating, confusing, and often times just downright frustrating. Fortunately for me, I began reading these tales since about as long as I could read, so I naturally feel at home among the colossal backstory of many comics, thought I can somewhat understand how newcomers can feel sometimes.

As many people know, there are currently two titans in the comic industry; Marvel and DC. I grew up on the Marvel side of the tracks, so I have, at minimum, a loose grasp on the backstory of most of the characters. However when I decided to start reading stories from DC’s selection, I had some trouble adjusting to my new narrative surroundings. It took me a while to regain my bearings in this new universe. Luckily for us, we live in the age of information. You see in the past, when you didn’t understand what was going on, you had two choices: move on and try to fill in the gaps on your own, or toil through seemingly endless backlogs of physical books, to regain the context you’re missing. This could be expensive, time consuming, and sometimes just plain unsuccessful, if your local shop didn’t have the issues you needed. Fortunately today that’s not a problem we need face. Both of the major publishers have nearly every issue of their comics available for purchase online, and your local store will often be staffed with knowledgeable and helpful comic enthusiast who would be more than happy to help guide you in the right direction. Even if you don’t have, or just don’t want to go to a local shop, you can scour the internet for the information you may be missing. While I personally don’t condone this method, I can understand that some people simply don’t have the time or desire to going back and read every single past publication in a hero’s collection.

Comics have had a profound impact on my life. While I can recognize that these sotries are fictional, not to mention far-fetched there are still a plethora of lessons you can learn and apply to your real life. When new issues of my favorite publication are released the joy I feel is almost unmatched. There are simply so many characters and so many universes, you’re bound to find the one or two that are right for you. For those of you who are still looking for a little help getting started, consult the bubbles in the image slider above to see some good starting points for some popular heroes.