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So You Want to Start a Comic Book Collection: A Guide for Beginners

Photo credit: DC Comics

While 2016 has apparently graduated from the George R.R. Martin school of brutality, leaving fans and entertainers in a leery state of shock— inspiring a GoFundMe page to protect the internet’s Golden Girl, Betty White— it’s also been a year of constant creativity for the comic book industry and the people who love it. From DC’s Rebirth triumph to Marvel’s dominating Star Wars line; even smaller publishers like Alterna were able to wow this year with gems like The Chair and their annual anthology. Not to mention the various comic book movies out this year— and whether you loved or hated the films, there’s never been a more opportune time to jump into reading comic books than now. 2016 was a cacophony of disaster, but there’s no reason to stop yourself from devouring comics in 2017. We know, it can be a little daunting to start off with— there are so many terms and a bunch of different formats. It can be overwhelming to find what works best for you, but fear not! The following is a (hopefully) streamlined guide for beginners who just want to get reading.

TERMS:

Run: When people enthusiastically argue the merits of one run versus another in the comic book world, they’re usually talking about a series penned by a specific author (ie: Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run. The start of a run is usually a good jumping-on point for new readers).

LCS: Local comic shop.

OOP: Out-of-print.

Variant: Single issues are reprinted with unique covers by different artists. If this sounds familiar, it’s because variant cover controversy has been in mainstream media before. Issues with variant covers are also considered collector’s items.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Single issue/floppy: These are the books that probably come to mind when you think comics. They usually only contain one story (22-30 pages) and are serialized, typically monthly. They are the cheapest form upfront ($2-$5.00) and the most valuable as time goes on. They consume a lot of space (not ideal for apartment living) and should be handled with care (the pages are delicate. Not to mention, you will have to buy bags, boards, and boxes to store them properly. Also, if you’re catching up late in the game, you will have to actively hunt for the issues you need, and because they’re older, the price may be unfairly inflated. Even though the single issues are the most inexpensive at first, if you’re into a lot of series at once, it adds up.

The Good:
+ Less expensive upfront
+ Keeps you current, so you can talk to other fans about what’s going on with the current story arc. It enhances the sense of community, whether you’re chatting in the comic book shop or opining online.
+ Single issues may become more valuable later on, if you fancy yourself a collector or want to sell them.
+ By reading the books as they come out, you’re voting with your wallet and telling the publisher you want the title to continue on.

The Bad:
– If you’re reading a lot of books at once, each title quickly adds up, and before you know it, you’ve spent a decent chunk of change keeping up with your favourite characters.
– You’ll need to take the time to store your issues properly with bags, boards, and boxes in order to preserve them; if you don’t have the time to maintain them in the proper conditions, they could be exposed to wear/tear and moulding.
– If a series gets cancelled, or there’s a massive delay between issues on a constant basis (see: Afterlife with Archie), it can be frustrating, especially if you’re someone who wants to read a whole story at once, or you expect a story to have a proper beginning, middle, and end.
– These days, it’s doubtful you’ll strike it rich if you’re planning on turning your comics into your future child’s college fund. It’s always best to collect for the love of something, not because you’re expecting to profit from it.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Trade paperbacks/Graphic novels: People refer to “trades,” and “graphic novels” interchangeably, but there is a difference.  Trade paperbacks are usually five or six single issues (occasionally more) bound together with no ads and a cohesive story (see: DareDevil Vol. 1, Batman Vol 1: The Court Of Owls, Invincible Vol 1: Family Matters)   These are $15-20. They are honestly a better choice if you are trying to be fiscally-conscious and you can put them on a shelf without worrying about damaging them. Trades usually contain cool extras, like preliminary sketches, variant covers, etc. (Depending on which series you’re after, those same six single issues could cost double or more). Graphic novels are published as a complete body of work, rather than publishing a new part monthly (see: The Sculptor, Seconds, Teen Titans: Earth One). Trades (and graphic novels that are part of a series) are typically numbered (like Batman Vol 1: The Court of Owls). But not always (Grant Morrison’s Batman is not numbered, and each collected edition could be mistaken for a standalone/independent story if you don’t read that series). If you’re not sure, Google is your friend. Hardcover trades are usually released first, but they are more expensive than a paperback, much like regular novels.

The Good:
+ This format is better for fans who are more interested in reading for themselves rather than collecting for resale. Trades are more durable than single issues.
+ Overall, trades are less expensive if you’re into lots of things at once.
+ If you’re pressed for space but still want to display your collection, trades and graphic novels are more viable than single issues.
+ They are sold in regular bookstores as well as comic book shops, which makes them more readily available. Especially if you don’t have a comic book store near you, or if you’re disabled and your LCS isn’t accessible.
+ Aesthetically, trades look better lined up on a shelf than single issues.

The Bad:
– It takes awhile for TPBs to get published, and you won’t be right up-to-date with events or story arcs.
– If you are collecting them for resale, it’s unlikely that their value will skyrocket (with the exception of out-of-print material, particularly first editions).

Credit: DC Comics

Omnibus: An omnibus is an entire run collected in one (sometimes more than one) giant volume. These are the most expensive to purchase upfront, however, they are the best bang for your buck in the long run (even if you complete a series of trades, they’ll most likely run you over the cost of one omnibus). Trades sometimes skip filler issues (not necessarily a bad thing), omnibi generally collect everything (but there are exceptions to the rule). Also, they’re usually pretty large (Robert Kirkman’s Marvel Zombies omnibus weighs in at 5.8 pounds). 

The Good:
+ The price might make you do a double-take at first, but when you calculate the cost of all single issues or all trades versus the omnibus, the latter is the better deal.
+ Subjectively, omnibi look better on a shelf.
+ Typically contains the entire run, or the vast majority of it, maybe leaving out some filler issues or the crossover material from other books.

The Bad:
– Most expensive format upfront
– Takes up shelf space
– Depending on which company you get it from, the binding situation can sometimes be tricky (please check reviews and also trust your gut and previous experiences with the company. For example: Geoff Johns’ Flash omnibus has weak binding, and the pages are supposedly mixed-up/placed in the wrong order. However, this collection is being reprinted in the form of smaller, updated paperbacks.
– You have to be careful when handling omnibi. Because they are so large, there’s a proper way to open and close them to protect the binding.
– Longest wait time (typically singles, trades, and other formats will be released prior to an omnibus).

Credit: ComiXology

Digital Comics: You can buy these via apps on your phone or through the Internet. There are a few digital services: Marvel Unlimited (Marvel comics only), ComiXology (a large selection from all major and most minor publishers), etc. There isn’t really much of a price change between physical and digital books, you can load these on your phone, e-reader, tablet, etc. and take them with you wherever you go.

The Good:
+ You can get old back-issues for their regular price, rather than the highly-inflated, astronomical prices you’d find them for otherwise.
+ This method of purchase will save you the most physical space because everything is done digitally.
+ Great for checking out a series if you’re not 100% sure you want to commit to buying a physical copy.
ComiXology has a lot of awesome sales
+ ComiXology (I’m pimping them out so much because they’re unique) offers a wide variety of comics from a wide variety of publishers (Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image, Vertigo, First Second, BOOM!, IDW, Archie Comics, etc.)
+ ComiXology also has a feature where independent creators can showcase their comics, giving you access to independent titles before big publishers take notice.
+ If you really enjoy a series, you can subscribe to it, and new issues are automatically sent to your device.

The Bad:
– When you buy these issues, you do not own them. Essentially you are paying to rent or view the comic material, and if the site pulls it, there’s no guarantee it will stay on your device or that you are entitled to a physical replacement. On ComiXology, some companies offer PDF backups of their comics, but that isn’t a guarantee.
– You need an internet connection to purchase and download the books, so if you’re in the middle of nowhere with no internet capability, catching up on your favourites may be impossible.

OTHER FORMATS: Often put out by different companies when a series is popular (Ultimate Spider-Man: Ultimate Collection), or an author has wrapped up their run (The Fade-Out: Deluxe Edition), if you’re not sure which format is right for you, check online reviews, or ask the people at your LCS.

Whether you choose to turn comic book reading into a weekly hobby or patiently wait for collected editions, we hope you’re able to find stories and characters that resonate with you.

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