Dipping Into Comics: The Story of a Newb

I'm a comic newbie*. Until the last few months, I found comics--and, by extension, graphic novels--a completely foreign entity, something I either wasn't interested in or wasn't capable of understanding. The comics world seemed tight-knit, exclusionary, full of insider baseball, and to an outsider like me, it was impossible to tell where to start. Or why I'd even want to.

That's not to say I'd never read a comic before coming to this conclusion: I read (and adored) Bill Willingham's stunningly imaginative Fables series years ago. Someone along the line had also pressed Watchmen, that much-loved classic of comics, into my hands, and I devoured it in just a few days. I even volunteered at the Titan Books booth at New York Comic Con and got to a) go to NYCC and b) meet Dave Gibbons (and have him sign my copy of Watchmen). 

But somehow, those felt like exceptions to a rule rather than the start of something new.

Over the last year, though, comics have started to issue a siren song I've found impossible to ignore. I discovered that my local library carries the Saga series, and I moved from the first three trade volumes of that to Brian K. Vaughan's other two series: Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina. I tried Rat Queens (which I didn't love as much as the rest of the internet) and read all six volumes of Sweet Tooth in one morning (I cried at the end).

What this new-to-me dive into comics has taught me, though, is not just that there are some epically wonderful series in the comics world. It's that my entire concept of comics was wrong:

The Comics Culture

Comics people are not exclusionary. With very few exceptions, I have found that what I once took to be clique-like and full of insider baseball is actually just a series of rare and enviable instances of a community of people finding "their people." And this community is always looking for--and willing to help indoctrinate--new members.

The staff at my local comics, for example: pretty freaking awesome. Awesome and willing to spend 15 minutes walking you (me) through the store to find just the right new series based on the limited experience you've had so far. They know their stuff, but they don't lord their knowledge over you: that knowledge is there for the sharing.

Comics Change the Way You Read

You have to learn to read the pictures. I've gotten better at this, though I admit I still finding myself reading only the dialogue in a desperate attempt to find out what happens, and thereby realize I've missed the incredible artwork on the page. Reading comics has taught me to read more slowly, and to savor the page. I've also found the urge to re-read--something I do occasionally with my most favorite of novels and non-fiction books, but not often--is ten times more prominent in my comics reading: once I know what happens, I want to go back and revel in the beauty of each page. 

You have to learn to appreciate a story in small episodes. Whether you read individual issues or trade volumes, comics come in episodes. I'm used to reading multiple books at one time, so the idea of enjoying multiple series--and therefore multiple storylines--in one time period, albeit over the course of several weeks or months, is not foreign to me. It’s still not easy, but learning to appreciate this style of reading is enjoyable in and of itself.

It’s OK to Admit What You Don’t Know

I don’t know all the most famous, most iconic, most important comic series in history.

I don’t know how to set up a pull list. I only vaguely know what a pull list is.

I don’t know if I like reading individual issues, or if I will continue to read all trade editions.

I don’t know what other series I should be reading.

I don’t even know what else I don’t know.

And that’s ok. Because comics (and reading in general, I’d argue), are about more than being an expert in something. They’re about being an expert in trying new things, experimenting with new ideas and formats and approaches and styles and art and beauty and what-have-you, and going into it all with an open mind.


*Newbie as in new-to-something, not to be confused with noob/n00b/noobie, which I've learned has a slightly different meaning (and definitely different connotation). 


Fables | Created by Bill Willingham | 2002 - present | Vertigo

Watchmen | Written by Alan Moore, Illustrated by Dave Gibbons | 1986-1987 | DC Comics

Saga | Created by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples | 2012 - present | Image Comics

Y: The Last Man | Written by Brian K. Vaughan | 2002 - 2008 | Vertigo

Ex Machina | Written by Brian K. Vaughan | 2004 - 2010 | DC Comics

Rat Queens | Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe | 2013 - present | Image Comics

Sweet Tooth | Created by Jeff Lemire | 2009 - 2013 | Vertigo


  1. I'm doing this too! I already crossed of a couple categories too 😃 Challenges are just a lot of fun, even if you fail them.

  2. Oooo yes, a Panels challenge! I want this.

  3. I've started getting into comics, too! I love Saga, but haven't gotten as into Y: The Last Man. Marvel's Runaways (the earlier years) is a great series if you like Brian K. Vaughan. I haven't checked out Sweet Tooth but I will add it to my (growing list). You might want to check out Lumberjanes, Ms. Marvel (the new one with Kamala!), and The Wicked + The Divine...possibly Planetary and Manhattan Projects, though my experience with those is somewhat limited!

  4. I love this post. Until about a year ago, my understanding of comics was that "comics are about superheroes and meant for adolescent boys." It's been pretty exciting to see people I know, whose opinions I trust, talk about comics in ways I didn't expect. I never thought I would be interested in comics, but I've slowly been dipping my toes in the water and really enjoying it! I loved Sex Criminals (vol. 1) and want to read Ms. Marvel and Lumberjanes.

    I don't like reading single issues. There just isn't enough in one issue for me to get really excited; I need more story in order to feel invested. I think trades work better for me, but I'm excited to keep exploring!

  5. Writing for Panels has been such a new and amazing experience. In fact, now I'm thinking I might need to do a post on this. My first post for them was about coming to comics via academia as an older reader (in my 20s at the time...but still older than many comics fans). It can definitely be intimidating to enter such a tight knit community, but I've also found out how ENTHUSIASTIC comics readers are about sharing their passion. Glad you'd finding more in this realm that interests you!

  6. It's so awesome when you're able to start feeling some ownership over comics as a medium! I hope you keep on reading amazing comics so you can tell me about them. I've read some brilliant ones, but am always on the lookout for more.

  7. I'll certainly keep writing about those I find! So far Saga and Fables have been my favorites, but I haven't gone much past those. I've heard good things about Ms. Marvel, and gotten a few other recommendations via Twitter, so I expect to read more in the coming weeks and months!

  8. Yes! ENTHUSIASTIC, all caps, is absolutely 100% the correct way to describe it. I'm loving it!

  9. Yes! I knew of a few exceptions to that assumption (Fables, mostly), but I always thought those were exceptions, not the norm--now I realize they are more the norm, with superheroes for adolescent boys being the exception. I really want to read Sex Criminals, but my library doesn't have them in circ and I'm trying (not necessarily succeeding...) not to buy more books...

  10. I have the new Ms. Marvel and can't wait to start it. Haven't heard of any of the others, but I'm adding them to my (also growing) list!

  11. Love Saga, can't wait to read the fourth volume that came out in December. I find comics really exciting. When you're first introduced to them it's like tapping into a world full of stories that most people unfortunately don't get to experience, and as long as you can get comfortable with the medium, there's something for everyone.

  12. Love this post. My very first comic was Watchmen and I just loved it. Maus was my second and it was even better. Since then I've fallen for Persepolis, French Milk, and so many others. You're right though, it's a different form of storytelling and it takes some getting use to.

  13. Great post! I only started reading comics a few years ago after the first batch of Marvel movies came out. Read a lot from Marvel (Thor: God of Thunder, Hawkeye under Matt Fraction), some DC (thanks to my brother), and more recently Fables. I also checked out the first volume of Saga and absolutely enjoyed it! I'd love to read more series outside of the familiar superhero titles, there's a lot of wonderful stories and titles out there...


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