Culture War Correspondence: Getting Into Reading Comics

EVAN: I wanted to start this off by referring to you readers as “initiated and uninitiated”, but decided that that would be too creepy. The thing is, those words aren’t too far off the mark when it comes to those who are and aren’t in the know when it comes to one of my all-time favourite mediums.

This week Kat [a person who does not regularly read comics] and I [a person who does] will be discussing how to go about doing so, and why a lot of people don’t.

KAT: Oh, I’m glad you added in that last part, because I was just thinking about why I don’t read more comics.

EVAN: I would love to hear the reasons, though I somewhat doubt I’ll be surprised at what they are.

I tried to pick a relatively less scandalous Conan example

KAT: Well, I already mentioned to you when we first started discussing this topic that comics weren’t around the house much when I was a kid. This was probably because my mom wasn’t really a fan of the massive boobage that most female superheroes are designed to display. I came across some Conan at my brother’s house when I was a kid and thought it was pretty scandalous.

Otherwise, my main reason is money. We didn’t have a lot and I just didn’t see a lot of comics at the library. I realize now that there are lots of comics at the library, but they just weren’t in the section I was accessing growing up.

EVAN: Cheesecake art is probably something that will come up again later in this talk, but for now let’s focus on what you have read and what you might.

What sort of things have you picked up from the library? Follow-up question, what if you did have the cash to spend on this sort of thing?

KAT: Well, I’ve basically stopped taking books out from the library for leisure reading since I went back to school. It’s very sad. So most of the reading I have done for fun has been stealing the graphic novels from John that he has picked up at the library. So I’ve read Watchmen, some of The Walking Dead (I prefer it to the show cause I can skip over the gory stuff), and a few other superhero related ones, Wonder Woman books, Kick-Ass, etc.

I also read a really interesting graphic novel for one of my classes called Red. It’s probably my favorite so far. Really artistic.

If you cut out all the pages from Red it fits together to form this image.

As for buying them now… Yeah, if I had a long term place and the money to spend I would definitely buy comics.

EVAN: So let’s say that this you’re living a best case scenario life and, like you said, it’s something you definitely want to do. How do you go about doing so?

KAT: That’s a really good question. Tell me Evan, were I to navigate this (potentially treacherous) world of comic book buying, how would I even start?

You know, other than asking my brothers…

EVAN: Actually, that’s probably the best place to begin. Find someone you’re close to who’s already into it and have them walk you through things. The first thing they should ask you, which I kind of did earlier, is what you want to get into.

Let’s say you want to start on a single monthly title. What is it that you’re looking for?

KAT: Something I can identify with I guess… so maybe a female protagonist? Or something with excellent illustrations.

EVAN: Does superhero fare intimidate you at all? If not, I can think of two to three titles off the top of my head that fit what you’re looking for exactly.

KAT: Nope. I like the superhero deal.

EVAN: There’s obviously Ms. Marvel, which is all-around great as our readers probably know. If teenage stuff isn’t exactly for you, though, then I think Black Widow is the perfect book.

The art is gorgeous, first of all.

From Black Widow #1. Art by Phil Noto, written by Nathan Edmonson.

Secondly, it’s very easy to get into, and revolves around her atoning for sins past. It’s both in line with what people may be familiar with from the movies while staying very much in line with the comic universe.

KAT: I’ve actually been reading all your reviews of Ms. Marvel. They’re on my fun reading list for the summer. I also like the Black Widow idea.

What if I didn’t want to get into something that runs weekly? I have patience issues, so I prefer my reading to come in one package so I don’t have to wait around for the next installment.

EVAN: Reading trade paperbacks, which usually collect five to six issues, is a perfectly acceptable solution and is actually cheaper in the long run. In fact, asking your library to order in volumes as they come out would not only benefit you but others in your community as well.

As far as I know creators get royalties based on the amount of borrows, so you’d be supporting them in that small way too.

KAT: Cool!

So what about non-superhero related storylines? I feel like comics are generally associated with the superhero plot, but I imagine you would know some interesting alternatives too?

EVAN: Mara, by Brian Wood, is a six issue miniseries that surrounded a young woman in a future that revolves around war and sports. It sort of fits the stereotypical superhero genre as far as powers, but it’s free of a lot of the trappings of continuity.

Really, though, you’d have to ask more specific questions. Afterlife With Archie is a book that’s all about the undead attacking Riverdale and its teenage inhabitants. Comic books literally, I think, have something for practically everyone.

KAT: Good point. I’m sure their is just as much diversity in the comic book world as in other forms of text (like novels).

You mentioned the Avengers movie when you suggested the Black Widow comic. What do you think of the recent trend in super hero flicks? Is it irritating for a comic book lover? Or are you excited to see each new rendition?

EVAN: To very smoothly bring us back to the topic of getting into comic books, I am just as stoked to see my favourite characters on the big screen as I am disappointed that it doesn’t equal higher sales for the industry.

A big part of it is being apprehensive of and intimidated by the community and content, both of which have been unfriendly in the past. Another is simply not having a physical venue [digital is doing great] nearby to frequent. Still another is, and it pains me to say this, that people would just rather watch things than read them.

KAT: I’m ashamed to say even I fall into that camp right now. Watching a movie is a great break when I’ve been reading up for my exam all day.

I find it pretty crazy that movie versions wouldn’t increase sales for the comic book industry.

EVAN: It’s a very different form of entertainment from almost anything else out there. Paying $3-$4 for twenty-something pages of art and word bubbles just doesn’t seem worth it to people. On top of that there’s the fact that stories are told in monthly installments.

This of course doesn’t have an effect on the actual stories themselves, but it does create a barrier for those unfamiliar with the medium and its publication.

KAT: Do you think comic books are a threatened medium? I always got the vibe that they were pretty embedded in our culture. In fact I thought for sure the industry was growing, what with shows like The Big Bang Theory making it cool.

EVAN: If the films aren’t going to increase readership I highly doubt a CBS sitcom will do much for it. While you’re entirely correct that they’ve helped bring the subculture to the forefront, the problem is that they continue portraying it as niche entertainment.

Ideally if a show wanted to help wash away the stigma they would portray slightly more regular people [ie. those without extreme social anxiety and who aren’t theoretical physicists] enjoying the books. They had a whole episode where the women of the cast entred a comic book shop, and while it was alright it certainly could’ve been better.

KAT: Good point. I don’t know why I would expect The Big Bang Theory to be more successful than the Iron Man cult (by cult I mostly refer to the people obsessed with Robert Downey Jr.).

Speaking of women, do you think the “niche” of comic book culture can seem uninviting to them?

EVAN: Absolutely. While we’re getting better, we still have a few decades of dreadful cheesecake art that’s sure to alienate a lot of potential female readers, and even that doesn’t take into account the general way they have been, and are in a lot of cases, portrayed.

Sites like tumblr are fantastic in that they’re creating an online haven for female fans to gush about the comic books they like without having to interact with a lot of the old guard who refuse to take them seriously. Ultimately what’s most important is that women realize that they can be into this stuff as well.

I’m not saying that an increase of female customers in comic book stores is going to wash away years of sexism, but a single woman looking through back issues is going to make others that much more comfortable.

KAT: Can you define cheesecake art for me?

From my personal experience as a woman who is interested in comics, but has only read a few graphic novels here and there, I find it hugely intimidating. It’s like entering the biggest fandom ever, and when you feel like you have little to no knowledge you automatically feel like a poser. It’s hard to know how to show interest in comics without thinking you’re about to be called out as a Fake Geek Girl.

EVAN: A picture is worth a thousand words, so:

 

Dictionary.com defines “cheesecake” as “photographs featuring scantily clothed attractive women,” to add six words to the thousand.

KAT: That’s pretty much what I had imagined.

EVAN: Ideally, and this should probably be one of our closing statements, finding a community is important. Talking to friends who will take the time to explain things to you is ideal, but the next big step is finding the right store.

The best kind of comic book store will have employees who are friendly to anyone, regardless of gender, and who will do everything they can to make sure you get the help you need to navigate the imposing world you mentioned.

KAT: Good point.

Also, while you were writing that I came across some cheesecake art I really like.

Thanks for sharing your comic world wisdom with me. Once I have more time to do fun reading I will definitely be coming to you for more suggestions.

EVAN: I really look forward to that. And not just because you will have more time and money to spend on other things besides school.

Thanks for tuning in, everyone, and in all seriousness please feel free to leave a comment asking me any questions if comics are something you’d like to get into. You can also find an email to write to under our Contact page.

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5 responses to “Culture War Correspondence: Getting Into Reading Comics

  1. One think I didn’t think was touched on was the sheer size and scope of comics. Using DC as an example, there are tons of different universes for each character hundreds upon hundreds of installments for each one of *those*. I think dealing with all that can just be bewildering (heck, it’s one of the reasons I don’t usually touch anything except stand-alone comics)- it’s not exactly a friendly environment for new readers, eh?

    • DC’s 2011 reboot, aka “The New 52!” was supposed to put an end to the decades of continuity and provide a clean starting point for new readers. They ultimately failed in this regard, but even that doesn’t mean that every title requires copious research on backstories, etc.

      Their “Wonder Woman” can actually be read as its own slice of the universe, and doesn’t crossover with any other books. The same goes for a great many of Marvel’s present titles. What’s most important is knowing which ones are reader-friendly, because they certainly do exist.

  2. Pingback: I Shouldn’t Have To Say This, But Community Should Be Good [Or At Least Better] | Culture War Reporters

  3. Ice Cream! Yay!

    Here’s a different perspective from a non comic reader. I just don’t get it.

    I was never interested in comics. But recently one of my friends almost demanded that I read the Sandman. I did, until I just got bored. I remember thinking: “seriously. Is this it?” There’s just nothing in it that appeals to me. It’s not the story, or the characters, or the artwork that bothers me. I just find it empty. Some OK looking pictures with a few words on them. I don’t even consider it “reading”.

    I looked at some other stuff as well, and they all look pretty much the same. I don’t understand the appeal. But hey, we’re all different.

    • As the post probably communicates pretty clearly, I’m a person with a true love for the medium. That being said, it’s incredibly embarrassing for me to admit that I only read halfway through the first part of Sandman.

      So the high point of a certain genre [which that series is certainly considered as being] won’t appeal to everyone; I’m sure there are people who absolutely hate Citizen Kane. In general, though, I continue to stand by the opinion that it’s the stories that are being told and not the medium used to tell them.

      Then again, some people just don’t like reading or [and this is exceedingly rare] watching movies. We are all different, but I think just maybe you haven’t quite found what’s really engaging for you personally.

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