From Jeff Lemire’s Essex County.

Now, before I get into this, I want to make a major disclaimer: 

If you are looking for accurate, detailed and educated tips on how to get into reading comics and graphic novels, I am NO expert. This post is solely based on my own experience and in no way am I trying to say that this is the best way to approach reading a new genre. But it worked for me!

Also, traditionally, comics are associated with super heroes, but there is so much more to them than that. I do love myself a good Batman or Wonder Woman comic, but for the purpose of this post, I am going to stick to what I read the most of! But if you do want to hear about a great super hero comic, I did a video review of Batman Noel, which I read around Christmas and loved!

Let’s start with some basics first.

Gooooood question! Listening to coworkers and friends who read comics and graphic novels, I always wondered if the two terms were interchangeable, and depending on who you ask, they can be (or not). However, I prefer to distinguish them in a way I read about online:
Graphic novels are complete stories bound up in a book. (Examples: The Complete Persepolis, Essex County, Maus)
Comics are stories that continue over a period of time. (Saga, Locke and Key, Sandman)
These may be vague descriptions, but most graphic novels or comics you read will weigh heavily on one side or the other, so you can be the judge!

To be honest, I am still learning about this myself, but based on what I know thus far:
Issue: This is how comics traditionally begin. Issues are about 20-30 pages, give or take. They come out at different intervals depending on the creators (some monthly, bimonthly, etc).
Volumes or Trades: Volumes or trades are bindups of issues which are what ends up in most commercial bookstores. For example, the first volume of Saga consists of the first 6 issues. Often the first volume of a series is cheap, to get you hooked, and prices tend to raise in subsequent volumes. Often if the comic is popular enough, special edition hardcovers come out, often with extra content.

To get comic issues, you usually have to go to your local comic book store. If you are new to comics, it is quite the experience! I now make a monthly trip to my favourite comic book store and love chatting with the people who work there, getting recommendations and browsing the stunning comic artwork you can find all over the store. Once volumes or trades are out, you can usually find them at your local bookstore, though it really depends on the size of their graphic novel/comic sections. Check online first, call ahead or just go and browse!

Another very good question, and the answer: wherever you want! Here are a few suggestions :).

If you think you would prefer graphic novels, here are some wonderful ones. If you love literary fiction, fear not! There are tons of literary graphic novels!

The Complete Perseopolis: The memoir of Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian woman who grew up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. Her art is simple, black and white, and lovely. The story follows her from her childhood through to adulthood, during her rebellious years, and her attempt to create herself on her own terms during a demanding and terrifying time.

Essex County: Jeff Lemire is a Canadian Prince when it comes to graphic novels and comics, and Essex County is a fabulous introduction to his work. This book will prove to you that graphic novels CAN make you cry. Three stories tied into one, this is a tragic and beautiful look at life in a small Ontario farming town.

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth: This absolutely beautiful book is not actually an encyclopedia at all, but rather Isabel Greenberg’s imagined myths and stories of Early Earth, the civilization that reigned before ours. This book tells the story of a man from Nord who travels from his land to the South Pole in search of something special (you’ll need to read to find out) and finds more than he ever imagined on his journey there, and also, when he arrives. The book is a collection of a tales and stunning artwork reminiscent of Kate Beaton. I can’t recommend it enough :).

If you are up for some comic series, here are three of my favourites!

Locke and Key: This series is where it all began for me. I had read graphic novels before, but this was my first real comic book. I fell in love. A horror tale written by the notorious Joe Hill (Stephen King’s son) and illustrated by the talented Gabriel Rodriguez, Locke and Key is the story of the Locke family who moves from their home into their father’s childhood home, Key House, after he is brutally killed by a former student. All over the house, the family finds keys, each one doing something different. Something magical. Something dangerous. This series came to a close in December and I am bummed :(.

Saga: Rising to the top of comic book popularity, Saga is the story of a married couple who are from two worlds at war with one another, who have run away together with their newborn daughter. Running  from the armies of both of their homelands, Alana and Marko have it rough, but their snarky dialogue (thanks to the masterful Brian K. Vaughan), the amazing people they meet along the way make it worth while. (And the artwork, by Canadian Fiona Staples, is to die for. ) This series is Game of Thrones meets Romeo and Juliet in space. Give it a few pages and you will be HOOKED.  (Not to mention, it’s pretty sexy.)  Saga is still running and the newest trade (Volume 3) releases at the end of this month!

Revival: This one is not as popular as the other two, but near and dear to my heart. A rural noir comic series taking place in Central Wisconsin, Revival tells the story of a town, whom for a brief moment, experience the revival of their recently deceased residents. The “revivers” are not zombies, but they are most definitely not their regular selves. Our main character is Officer Dana Cypress, a reformed bad girl who is trying to turn her life around for her and her young son. The series explores why these people came back to life, and what is to be done with their increasingly suspicious behaviour.

Warning: If you start with trades/volumes of series that are continuing, you may end up becoming a comic book store regular. It takes a good few months for volumes to be released, but the issues are usually all available already. For instance, a lot of Saga fans have already read Volume 3 because they’ve gone to pick up the issues that are contained in it. What can I say, sometimes it’s hard to wait!


Okay, I was just putting in my images for this post and running some YouTube videos in the background when I saw that Ronnie, one of the coolest people on the internet (and in person!) just did a version of this post as a YouTube video and it is infinitely more educational than this!  Please watch :)!

And that’s it! I hope you enjoyed this miniature introduction to comics! Let me know if there were any questions you have that I did not cover in this (though I can’t promise to have the answers!). And to finish this off, here is a really neat inforgraphic all about comics! I’m curious to see what the gender breakdown will be even just a year from now. Saga has brought so many women into the comic book world! I love it :).



One thought on “Comics 101

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