A Guide to Collecting Comic Books

When you decide to read a comic book, you’ll find as many types as you will novels. The comic book medium offers whimsical fun, epic adventure, gritty realism, and everything else you can think of. This article introduces readers to comic books and shows them what to expect when they go shopping for them. It also tells them how to store their comics to prevent wear and tear.

Entertainment—we all love it, and thankfully, there are plenty of ways to get it, from reading a great story to viewing a beautiful picture.  If you like to do either of these things or both, then you may want to try the medium that combines art and writing wonderfully: comic books.

They tell all kinds of stories, so if you’re new to them or want to try different types, it helps to know what’s out there and make the most of your hobby.  They can thrill you, scare you, make you laugh, or stimulate your mind.  No matter what your tastes are, you can find something you’ll like in the old and diverse comic book medium.  But first, a little introduction.

What Comic Books Are

Here’s what you probably already know.  They’re a popular form of visual communication that delivers messages through illustrations and words commonly as multi-page publications printed in monthly editions.  Of course, the number of pages and the frequency of new issues varies from release to release, but all comic books share their basic, unique storytelling style in common.  Each one is a collection of words and pictures presented in a sequential format to form a narrative.  Every page consists of a series of images called panels, and each panel contains an image of some kind and usually shapes like ovals, clouds, or rectangles with words inside.  The words typically depict the speaking or thoughts of characters in the images or the story’s narrator.  Images can be anything from paintings to computer-generated scenes, but they’re generally the hand-drawn artwork of an artist often called a penciller.  An inker enhances the lines of the penciller’s drawings by ink who’s either someone else or the same person who drew the pencils.

The average comic book is around 22 to 30-pages-long, more or less.  Longer ones are called graphic novels, often printed on thicker, glossier paper.  Graphic novels usually collect multiple issues of comic books that have already get published into one large volume.  Other times, they are their own original stories that never posted before.

Why Read Them?

There’s more variety to comic books than many think.  A lot of people hear the words “comic book” and think of good-looking fitness types who wear their underwear over their pants and use powers to fight crime.  They think of superheroes.  While this describes a significant portion of comic book stories, it’s by no means indicative of the whole industry.  Their stories can be poignant, socially relevant, dark, light, action-oriented, and everything in between.  You may be surprised at the following descriptions of some of the most lauded titles from recent times.

  • Maus: A Survivor’s Tale

It is a Pulitzer-Prize winning graphic novel, written and drawn by Art Spiegelman, recounting the author’s father’s efforts to survive the Holocaust as a Polish Jew.  It also tells the story of the author’s relationship with him.  Spiegelman cast different groups of people as species of animals.  He draws Jewish people as mice, French people as frogs, and Americans as dogs, to name a few.

  • Liberty Meadows

At the Liberty Meadows Animal Sanctuary, veterinarian Frank deals with his unrequited love for Brandy, an animal psychologist.  Frank is painfully shy, and Brandy is unaware of her beauty and how much she affects him.  Animal characters like the midget bear Ralph; Dean, a chauvinist pig (literally); and other wild personalities, animal and human alike surround these two.  They have many adventures, but diverse visual styles and references to artwork by famous artists like Michelangelo and well-known movies and commercials enhance the unique storylines.

  • Sandman

There are other comic book characters bearing this name, but arguably, the most famous one is the protagonist from the wildly popular Neil Gaiman stories.  Gaiman’s Sandman is also known as Dream or Morpheus (among other names), a member of the Endless, seven beings who personify areas of human experience.  They exist on other planes of reality but are influential in the lives of humans.  The others are Destiny, Death, Destruction, Desire, Despair and Delirium.  Sandman stories are seen by many as literary and engaging.  One of their recurring themes is how one can be affected by responsibility and apathy.  Stories have elements of horror, fantasy, and mythology.

  • Sin City

These gritty Frank Miller tales recently brought to life on the big screen, are darkly violent and sexual.  They capture the essence of film noir onto the printed page, but they use gunplay, fisticuffs, and sexuality in ways the old 1950s movies never dared to, at least not so graphically.  A typical Sin City story is reminiscent of a classic detective tale, but with more action and more exaggerated characters.

  • Ghost World

It is a coming-of-age story about two high-school graduates got the selection into a feature-length film.  The main character, Enid, and her friend Rebecca are teenaged outcasts about to begin the next phase of their lives.  The narration is often detached, and the events understated, but the plot and characters are engaging, and the series of events in the girls’ lives build-up to a surreal ending.

As you can see, comic books are a diverse source of entertainment.  Aside from the wild action, they’re known for; they can encompass fiction and non-fiction with as much emotion, wit, and social relevance as a novel.  But unlike a book, they enhance their stories with jaw-dropping visuals that set a tone, please the eye, or both.  Their influence on other entertainment media is profound.  There are many movies, television shows, video games, and novels on comic book characters and their adventures.

Where to Find Them

The most obvious place is a comic book store, but you can also find the comic books on newsstands, in major bookstores, and in-game stores that sell role-playing board games, strategy board games, and die.  Bookstores are likely to carry more graphic novels than the thinner comics.  For the most excellent selection, your best bet is a comic book store.

Since most of the more popular comic books come out monthly, sometimes other consumers buy them from the store before you have a chance to purchase them.  It is a pretty annoying problem for many readers.  Fortunately, comic book store employees are very cooperative and offer to hold your favourite comic books for you if you ask.

The typical comic book store has new issues of comics displayed prominently on shelves along a wall.  Older comic books are stored vertically in long cardboard boxes.  They call these older comic books, back issues, and some of them are more expensive because of their age.  However, sometimes, when stores want to get rid of the load and free up some space, they will have back issue sales.  Ask an employee about these if you’re curious, but keep in mind, some older comic books will never be sold for lower prices because they’re too valuable.

If you like to have your comics shipped to you, you can subscribe to them or buy them directly from the publishers or the Internet.  Many comic books have subscription offers printed as advertisements in their pages.  Most publishers have websites from which you can subscribe or purchase directly.  You can also search for “comic books” or a specific publication or publisher on a search engine.  Internet auctions like eBay also have comic books for sale or bidding.

But Comic Books Are For Geeks…

Yeah, yeah, and Trix are for kids… but honestly, did that ever stop anyone from eating them?  If you’re interested in comic books, you should read them.  And who knows?  When you run into other readers when you buy your publications, you might make some new friends.  But now that you mention it, there are a few reasons why some people, even if they are curious about comic books, don’t purchase them.  The first reason is that they’re embarrassed because comics are supposed to be silly kid stuff.  The reality is, most American comic book readers are in their late teens or older and very proud of their hobby.

Another reason potential readers are discouraged is that they believe that comic books, with their numerous pretty pictures, aren’t intelligent reading.  That’s an unfair assumption.  As you already know, comic books can be quite sophisticated ways to pass the time.  And even when they are just about action and adventure, the plots can be involved with intensely developed characters.  Like there are some dumb movies and some smart ones, there are dumb and smart comics as well.  And even then, what’s smart and what’s not is always a matter of opinion.  No matter what you read, as long as you want to keep turning the page, you’re reading something worthwhile.

Know What You Want

The best way to approach comic book collecting is to know what your tastes are and what you’re in the mood.  And don’t be afraid to ask for help or opinions from store employees.  Most of them will be more than willing to share their thoughts on what’s available.

The Genres

In the American comic book market, comics generally come in two broad categories followed by numerous smaller ones.  The largest two are the superhero and the alternative, esoteric genres.  Other groups like horror, romance, fantasy, science fiction, and others get published in much smaller frequencies.  Comic books in any category can cross over into another category, so the barriers between different types of books are far from rock solid.  No matter their classification, comics of all kinds come in varying degrees of seriousness and lightheartedness.

DC Comics and Marvel Comics companies publish most superhero comic.  However, the Big Two (as many comic book readers think of them) to offer a broader selection of publications that may be gritty, kid-friendly, or more literate and existential.  Collectively, smaller independent publishers produce the majority of comic books that don’t involve superheroes, though some of them delve into that arena as well.

International comic books span a full breadth of subject matter, and literary or post-modern publications are more prominent in other countries, especially European ones than superhero comics are.  What follows is a brief rundown of different types of comic books, and what you can expect from them.

Superhero

Superhero comics are primarily an American phenomenon, and you should try them if you like mystery and action.  Their larger-than-life adventures have left a permanent mark on the comic book industry and popular culture in general, and for a good reason.  If you look closely at them, superheroes are essentially modern mythological figures.  They represent our fantasies about having terrific powers and epic adventures.  Their books typically feature an individual hero or a team of heroes.  The pages have colourful, dynamic artwork to illustrate the action stories.

You may be surprised to find relatable themes in superhero comics because they’re often examples of art imitating life.  See if you can spot some social significance in these publication descriptions…

  • The X-Men are mutants who were born with powers that set them apart from everyone else.  Consequently, most of them grew up being persecuted by humans who hated them for being different.  Sound familiar?  Being punished for who you are is something most of us have experienced at one time or another.  You can draw parallels between the X-Men and ethnic groups, homosexuals, women, and others who get oppressed for how they were born.
  • In the 1940s, when America fought Nazis, Captain America burst onto the comic book scene in star-spangled glory as a living symbol of his country.  With top-notch fighting skills and calm resolve in the face of danger, he embodied everything patriotic readers wanted in a hero.  He was the comic book industry’s propagandistic symbol of American pride, so it only fits that he’s a prominent hero in American superhero comics.
  • They create Wonder Woman to be the premiere female superhero, and even to those who don’t read comic books, that’s who she is, if not the most well-known.  She was imbued with tremendous powers on an Amazonian island and ventured out into the world as an ambassador to help humanity.  Aside from being a powerful fighting dynamo, she espouses the virtues of peace, accepting others as they are, and compassion.  To many people, she is a feminist icon.
  • The Black Panther debuted in the 1960s around the time when the Black Panther movement had picked up steam.  He is an African king who is the near pinnacle of physical fighting perfection.  Not only king is brilliant, but he is also a competent ruler and shrewd businessman.  He is the first major black superhero and a role model for all readers, not just those of colour.
  • After a radioactive spider bit Peter Parker, he developed spider-like superpowers and decided that, since great power comes with great responsibility, he would use them to fight crime, but crime-fighting often encroaches on his personal and professional life.  He continually balances being a hero with being in a romantic relationship and putting food on the table.  His lifestyle could be a metaphor for anyone who juggles the stressful demands of work and personal desires.  His decision to be responsible is a moral lesson.

Alternative / Esoteric

It is a broad category of publications that is as more realistic than the one about people in bright outfits fighting crime.  However, comic books of this type don’t have to be realistic in the least.  What makes them different is that their stories, it is crafted for an audience that wants more literary, cerebral stimulation in their reading.  Some of them are fictional stories about real people and events.  Others are about history and are even educational.  But they can be almost about anything.  Many of the more critically acclaimed comic books come from this genre.  They exist outside the mainstream, but they add significant diversity to the medium with publications like Strangers In ParadiseAmerican SplendorSandmanGhost World, and countless others.

Manga

Manga is the Japanese word for comic book.  You can take it as a picture book, motionless picture entertainment, or random pictures.  To Westerners, the manga is Japanese comic books that get translated into English.  In Japan, the manga is incredibly popular, and this style of the comic book is evident in other countries as well.  Some stories are produced in the manga style by people who aren’t Japanese.

Fantasy

These involve sword and sorcery, fantastic creatures, and mythological figures.  Conan the Barbarian could be the most well-known star of a fantasy comic book, but there are others.  Some of the more famous stories are comic book versions of successful fantasy novels.

Science Fiction

This distinct category features wild technology, futuristic stories, and cosmic tales.  Like the fantasy genre, some science-fiction comic books are versions of characters featured in science-fiction novels, movies, and other media.

Most comic books could belong to this category, but many of them are so concentrated in specific areas that they have outgrown it and become categories of their own.  For example, most superhero comics fall into the science fiction realm because they involve people with special powers and weapons created by technological phenomena.  But because superhero comics are so numerous and widespread on their own, they are their category.

Horror

Current comic books that scare people frequently feature vampires, zombies, and other legendary monsters.  Because the subject matter is often severe and gruesome, these comics get accompanied by other graphic elements like profanity and nudity.

Action / Adventure

These comics are likely to feature non-powered or ordinary people in conflict, though there is some flexibility here.  Stories with main characters who are cops, detectives, and others that fight non-powered adversaries would typically be labelled action ones because they lack elements that would place them elsewhere.

Even though you could technically call most comics action and adventure publications, they typically have other qualities that define them better. For example, also though a superhero comic book has action and adventure since it’s about superheroes, it would be thought of like a superhero comic more than as an action one.  Still, if you want to call superhero stories action stories, you won’t be wrong.

Romance

Comic books about love and relationships exist but in smaller numbers than in the past.  Modern romance comic books often have more in common with realistic or literary ones and aren’t always thought of as strictly romantic publications.  Often, romance crosses over into other genres like superhero comics.  After all, most people, even heroes, have love lives, and romantic issues add conflict and drama to their stories.  Love, lust, and emotion are ubiquitous dramatic elements, so they filter into everything.

Humour

Ironically, most comic books aren’t that comical, but humour is out there.  If you want something that’s strictly a funny book, try a graphic novel that collects humorous comic strips or comic books.  Otherwise, most humour comics are in newspapers and magazines, though jocular elements abound in other genres.  Comic books about darker, more adult themes can often be quite humorous.  Like romance, humour is also a ubiquitous storytelling element, so you’ll find it all over the place.

Children

Comics for kids exist, but in smaller numbers, because most publishers focus on adults.  They’re often humorous and whimsical affairs, but they typically become more dangerous when they publish it for bigger kids.  The older the audience, the more mature the subject matter.

Pornographic

It is generally thought of like an underground section of comic book entertainment, though many obscene publications exist.  Some comic book shops won’t carry them, and mainstream bookstores don’t, so if you have trouble finding them, you can find a wealth of them on the Internet.  Some pornographic elements are in other books like horror or alternative ones.  Sometimes, pornographic stories contain features that make them more erotic and mainstream.

Storing Your Comic Books

You should appropriately store the comic books because printing fades over time, and paper wrinkles and tears easily.  The way you take care of your books is essential to their longevity if you want to sell them later or just reread them someday.  The difference between a comic book in mint condition and one in near-mint condition can be a single stain or crease, so handle your collectables with care.  Aside from physical damage, environmental damage from warm temperatures, bright light, and moisture are threats.  Here’s the safest way to store them.

  1. Place a cardboard backing behind a comic and insert them both into a clear cover called a sleeve or a bag.  The best covers are Mylar D sleeves.  There are also polyethene and polypropylene sleeves, but change them every few years or so because they aren’t ideal for permanent storage.  Always use acid-free cardboard backings.  You can find these products individually or in packs of about 100 in any comic book store.
  2. Seal your cover.  Most people tape them closed, but when you remove the tape to open them, be sure the tape doesn’t stick to the comic book.  If it does, the paper could tear as you pull it out.
  3. Place your sealed comics vertically in a long acid-free cardboard box with a lid.  They’re the same types of boxes comic book stores put back issues.
  4. Beware of atmospheric dangers.  Direct exposure to bright light, especially fluorescent light, is dangerous because of radiation.  Light damage isn’t sudden, but it can accelerate comic book deterioration over a long time because the ultraviolet radiation fades ink.  Avoid places where fungus and mould grow because moist, warm air isn’t good for your collection.  Automobile exhaust can turn comic book paper yellow.

Unfortunately, comic books will eventually wear on their own because of how they’re composed.  The ink used in their printing has acid that yellows the paper, which is often of lower quality, to begin.  Older comics will have yellow, brittle pages with faded ink and color.  Your goal is to prolong extreme deterioration for as long as possible, especially if you plan to sell your collection.

Now You’re Ready to Begin

You’ve received a nice overview of the comic book world, so now it’s time to get out there and start browsing.  The best way to learn is by doing, so take some time to pick up some comics and see what you find.  Entertainment is a way for us to let our imaginations soar, so your next great adventure could be a few pages away.  Get out there and have some fun.

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