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Melanie Woods

How to start reading and enjoying comic books

By Melanie Woods, March 1, 2016 —

There was only one small, sweaty, cramped comic shop in the town where I grew up. I remember going there once when I was in high school, encountering two scary-looking dudes and leaving without saying a single word. As a young woman, I was consciously aware of the stereotype of comic shops being the safe-haven of nerdy dudes looking at spandex-clad cartoon women. I thought they were all like that.

Thankfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Calgary has a flourishing comics community, rich with creators, academics and fans alike. But getting into comics for the first time can be intimidating.

I sat down with University of Calgary comics scholar Dr. Bart Beaty to put together four tips for getting into comics.

1. Realize how much is out there

Comics are a lot more than Superman and the Avengers.

“Comics are increasingly less and less superheroes,” Beaty says. “The biggest things in comics right now, very few of them have anything to do with superheroes.”

If you love Canadian history, check out Chester Brown’s graphic novel biography of Louis Riel. If you love Buffy The Vampire Slayer, there are three more seasons made entirely of comics. And if you want to go local, Calgary-native Fiona Staples is illustrating the all-new Archie. There’s a comic for everyone, whether you’re into Star Wars, journalism about the Bosnian War or lesbian coming-of-age memoirs. The day you decide you want to read comics, throw everything you think you know about the medium out the door and go into it with an open mind. You’ll be amazed at what you encounter.

2. Know how comics work

“Don’t be overwhelmed,” Beaty says. “There’s a mass of stuff. Hundreds of comic books come out every week, so you’re looking at 5,000, 8,000 comics coming out a year.”

You’re likely familiar with the individual issues that come out periodically, which are great for keeping up with ongoing series. But if you want to jump right into something that’s been out for a while, publishers usually package eight or so issues together into paperback editions and even larger hardbound library editions after that. So if you want to start reading Saga, don’t worry about buying 34 individual comic books — there’s usually an easier way to do it.

3. Check out your local comic shop

So you’ve fearlessly thrown out your comics misconceptions and are ready to start reading. Where do you buy comics?

“Comics are a medium that’s meant to be flipped through in a store,” Beaty says. “The shop culture is really important.”

Calgary is home to lots of different shops, all with their own unique spirit and style. Another Dimension, conveniently located in Kensington next to the Sunnyside LRT station, is equal parts accessible and welcoming. The staff are friendly, the layout is spacious and everything is bright and easy to find.

“I always go to Another Dimension — it’s a well-organized shop,” Beaty says. “My son is also young and loves the huge Hulk statue.”

Local chain Phoenix Comics has three locations across the city, and Redd Skull, while a little on the cramped side, is right in the heart of bustling Bridgeland. If actual comic shops still intimidate you, stop by Chapters and scan the graphic novels and comics section. You’ll be surprised at the wide variety of material you can pick up in the same store as Hillary Clinton’s biography. Even used book shops like Fair’s Fair hold some great reads you may not have found otherwise.

4. Ask questions

No matter how accessible a comic shop is, walking into one for the first time can be overwhelming. With thousands of titles to choose from, you’ll inevitably have more than a few questions. You want to get into Captain America, but don’t know where to start? Are you wondering why those Sex Criminals issues are wrapped in opaque plastic with content warnings? You want to know what this Watchmen thing is? Ask someone — be it a friend, your friendly neighbourhood comic shop worker or even just the Internet.

“If you decide ‘oh, I’m going to become interested in music now,’ you have no idea whether to start in polka music or hip-hop. And comics are like that. They have this width of genre and it can be overwhelming,” Beaty says. “Your best bet is to ask people, get recommendations and flip through works.”
More people than ever are reading comics, which means there are more people than ever to help you find a gateway into the comics world and navigate its kaleidoscopic depths. And once you’re in, you’ll discover how weird and wonderful the world of comics can be.

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