I'm totally ignorant about comic books
May 22, 2008 6:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm totally ignorant about comic books.

My 4 yr old son is into superheroes, cowboys, samurais--anybody who can whip a bad guy's ass. I'd like to start reading comic books to him, but I know nothing about them. I'm a methodical/purist kind of person. When I get into something, be it reggae music, philosophy, or comic books, I like to go back to the roots, the beginning. Now I know that I can't just walk into Wal-Mart or my local library and pick up, say, the first batman comic book. I don't even know if comic books are re-issued, but I'm hoping to be able to find compilations/re-issues which start at the beginning of a series. What would it take to read, say, Batman from the first issue? If it's not possible to start at the beginning of batman, spiderman, superman, etc., then what sort of logical starting point do you suggest? School me about the world of comic books.
posted by keith0718 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
There are definitely Origins books that allow you to read the origin stories of several of the major Marvel characters, condensed into a single handy volume. I know because my friend lent me a bunch when I asked him this very question in high school. You and your son could probably read some origins books together and then decide together who you wanted to read about further. I suspect there are also books that bundle together the major story arcs of the most popular characters, because I've seen books that looked like they met that description at my local comics store.

This actually would be a great chance to support a local business because I bet if you went into any small independent comics shop you would find a proprietor who would be beyond delighted to help you out.
posted by crinklebat at 7:01 PM on May 22, 2008

The first thing you gotta learn is "the divide". There's DC and there's Marvel and there's everything else.

DC is Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, The Justice League, etc. Marvel is Fantastic Four, Spiderman, The Hulk, The Avengers, etc. Everyone else you can ignore for the moment.

As to Marvel, how about some of Stan Lee's books?

There were some printed a long time ago which each contained the #1 issue of several titles, but more recently he seems to have released books for individual titles which contained the first umpteen issues (e.g. for Spiderman).

Anyway, the magic search term is "graphic novel".
posted by Class Goat at 7:03 PM on May 22, 2008

One of the earliest and definitely still The Best comic ever remains George Herriman's "Krazy Kat." End of story, as it ever shall be, world without end Amen, etc.
posted by ifjuly at 7:09 PM on May 22, 2008

If you want an encyclopedic run-down of the super-heroic cavalcade that is DC Comics, you'll find nothing better (or more economical) than the DC Showcase Presents series of bound collections. For about $10 a pop, you get over 500 pages of Silver Age (1960's) daring-do centered around specific heroes. Superman, Batman, The Flash ... they're all collected.

And hey, it looks like somebody at Amazon has compiled a shopping list for you.
posted by grabbingsand at 7:12 PM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

... in the interest of equal time, Marvel Comics (X-Men, Spiderman, The Hulk) publishes a similarly priced and compiled series called Marvel Essentials.

And look, another Amazon shopping list!
posted by grabbingsand at 7:16 PM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Not superhero, but great comics, and excellent for kids: Jeff Smith's Bone.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:24 PM on May 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

If there are certain heroes or teams you want to get the low-down on before you go shopping for books, allow me to recommend Scott Tipton's excellent Comics 101. You'll learn everything about these characters you could ever hope to know.

It's kind of comics nerd-focused, but scan that page for, say, "Green Lantern", and you'll get the full illustrated history.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:32 PM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's worth emphasizing that the Marvel Essentials and DC Showcase collections remove the original color to save costs, and just reprint the comics in black and white. A 4-year-old might not enjoy that as much as color versions.

and excellent for kids: Jeff Smith's Bone

I really like the parts of Bone I've read; it's an atypical fantasy hero/humor comic that's been reissued by Scholastic in color trade paperbacks. There's a kick-ass grandma, a dragon, some really evil but also really clumsy and funny monsters and lots of twists and turns to the story. "The Great Cow Race" is a gem, your kid will probably love it.

BUT I think it's fair to say that as the story progresses it gets a bit dark for a 4-year-old. The first couple of trades are fine, but maybe preview the later stuff before you show it to him.
posted by mediareport at 7:56 PM on May 22, 2008

What would it take to read, say, Batman from the first issue?

Look, this isnt a scholarly pursuit, in fact I advise not learning the entire canon but going into the store and paging through the comics until you find something that catches your eye. Unless you really want to get into the history of these things, but then youll find how little comic authors respect continuity, basic logic, and the history of their characters.

The idea with comics is that there isnt a single unbroken line or vision from issue one to whatever issue is at the store right now. Every so often a new creative team takes control of the comic and makes it their own. When I was younger my friends and I were in love with the long X-men run by Chris Claremont. If you read issues 1-50 we would still have very little in common. Thats how different these runs are.

Once you start reading five or six different titles a month you might find something appopriate for you and your kid.

So just dive in. Most of the backstory you'll gather through osmosis, wikipedia, and random anthologies.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:16 PM on May 22, 2008

seconding & thirding Bone - i love that series

in the same not-superhero-but-still-great vein:

please check out Sardine - it's sorta like Pippi Longstocking in Outer Space - boys love it as much as the grrls

the same press puts out the delightful Little Vampire as well

lastly, the Flight series is pretty damn amazing - many of the stories are appropriate for any age

p.s. what damn dirty ape said
posted by jammy at 8:25 PM on May 22, 2008

I've gotta recommend Image/ Runemaster Studios' excellent Lions, Tigers, and Bears series, collected in two trade paperbacks. The first series was the best comic book I read last year.

You might also try DC's Tiny Titans, a very low-reading, kid-friendly version of the much more adult Teen Titans series. If your kid likes it, you could pick up the DVDs of Cartoon Network's Teen Titans series. Cartoon Network also has the excellent Ben 10 cartoon, which is superhero action too. (Full disclosure: friends of mine worked on both shows.)

Also, Andy Runton's Owly. Almost no reading, but adorable as hell. Not much superhero to it, but it's a very sweet picture book, and perfectly kid-friendly.

There are also digest-sized versions of various titles that are kid-friendly, like the Hellboy Animated series and the Marvel Adventures books-- he might like those, although Hellboy can be a little intense for kids.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:26 PM on May 22, 2008

I would recommend a couple of the Batman Adventures comics- they're based off the Batman animated series, and they'd be perfect for his level- they're intelligent and funny without being too dark. There are Superman Adventures and JLA Adventures, if you want more in the same vein- all are fantastic.
posted by Tamanna at 8:43 PM on May 22, 2008

If you want to think about comics and graphic novels from a (lightly) theoretical perspective, I would recommend "Understanding Comics" by Scott McCloud - it may help you appreciate the complex way stories can be told through the graphic medium. It's an easy read, and really interesting. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of how the simplicity or complexity of the way a character's face is rendered can affect the level of empathy we feel with the character, or situation (ie. Charlie Brown's face, lacking much distinguishing detail looks like any face - the accessibility this affords to the reader may have a lot to do wwith how enduring and popular the strip is.)


For the future: While you're reading, it might be cool to (eventually) discuss with your son why he understands certain things about the story or character to be true. Why did one panel communicate a certain thing? A good start in thinking about/discussing art in general? I will be doing this with my little boy when he's old enough.
posted by lottie at 8:58 PM on May 22, 2008

Pshaw - go Euro-style. Asterix, Tintin, Lucky Luke (ok, that's really hard to find in English but I always read it in French even though I never understood it) and Herge's 'Jo, Zette and Jocko' series (maybe even les Schtroumpfs). If your local library doesn't have at least one volume of one of these series then you need a new library! Or a new local! Or you'll have to go and buy them, which is OK because my wife & I still have the Asterix books we got as kids and now are kids are reading them.

Which is not to say that you shouldn't read Batman but Tintin is really awesome too.
posted by GuyZero at 10:27 PM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

There are a lot of good suggestions in this thread but I wanted to throw some more attention toward middleclasstool's referral to Tipton's Comics 101. You should definitely check that out.

I would also recommend The Comic Book Heroes by Jacobs and Jones for an overview of the genre.
posted by jtron at 10:34 PM on May 22, 2008

The classic samurai epic Lone Wolf and Cub, which ran in the seventies, is available in its entirety.
posted by ignignokt at 10:40 PM on May 22, 2008

Lone Wolf and Cub is good, but a bit bloody for a four year old.

I'd go with Usagi Yojimbo.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:53 PM on May 22, 2008

If you're interested in Marvel comics, you don't mind reading them on the computer, and don't mind paying a monthly subscription, you can sign up for Marvel's Digital Comics service. I haven't used it myself, but it appears to have the early runs of at least some of the popular superheroes (such as X-Men and Spider-Man). They have free samples so you can try it out to see if you like it. I couldn't find anything similar for DC comics. I've also seen DVD-Roms that collect a bunch of comics for sale in bookstores and the like (e.g., for Spider-Man. Either of those two options is cheaper than buying up graphic novels or trade paperback collections.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 12:40 AM on May 23, 2008

"A History of Comic Art" is a pretty sweet book (I own it). However, it approaches the history of comics and graphic novels from an artistic perspective, and doesnt go in depth explaining the history of individual characters or comic "families". I still highly recommend it though, because it does a great job of "schooling" you on the origins of comic art, and how it developed over the decades. Through each decades history, it mentions all the important characters, so you get a good sense of what was popular.

Also nothing wrong with hitting Wikipedia and searching on your (soon to be) favorite Comic hero. Wikipedia has pretty good background on each character. Might give you a good idea of which compilations you'd be willing to spend money on. (you might want to make a deal with your son and say: "This month lets read about cowboy heros, or samurai heros or superman,etc".. and spend a day researching that angle specifically so you find the best of that specific topic)

The problem with wanting a quick education on Comix is the same as saying you want a quick education in music. There's SO MUCH variety and history behind it, its a momentous task. I've been collecting comics for years and have over $3000 worth in my closet, and just this month discovered the joys of Sandman (Neil Gaiman).
posted by jmnugent at 4:27 AM on May 23, 2008

I know that *some* comics (mostly independent) have been legitimately released in .cbz or .cbr format, which you can view in pretty much every os, and even some mobile devices (I have a cbr viewer for my modded PSP). I know if you look around, lots of other classic comics have been scanned in as well. Can be found via the typical places. Demonoid has a great comic section, and the program DC++ is awesome for comics as well.
posted by JonnyRotten at 6:26 AM on May 23, 2008

Also there are TONS of web resources for learning about comic books.
Check out:
The Comic Book DB
Comic Vine
and I often will read up on comic characters on Wikipedia too.
posted by JonnyRotten at 6:30 AM on May 23, 2008

With DC comics, there are (color!) collections of heroes by decade: Batman in the '30s, Batman in the '40s, etc., that allow you to get the "greatest hits" of any given decade. That'll help with the canon for Golden Age stuff (like Batman with a rope, killin' gangsters left and right).
posted by klangklangston at 4:46 PM on May 23, 2008

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