How to Buy (or Borrow, or Beg) Comics
So you want to start reading more comics. First of all, congratulations and welcome aboard! Second, you might be wondering how exactly to get your hands on these strange items, given how byzantine the comics business is. Well, look no further, because I’m here to explain just how to get your hands on these hot little numbers!
How to Buy Comics
Before we get into where to find different types of comics, let’s define some terms real quick:
- Single Issue/”Floppy”: This is a monthly issue of a comic book, usually somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 pages and $4–$5 (for now). It’s pretty much exactly what you think of when you imagine a traditional comic book!
- Trade/Trade Paperback/TPB: This is a bound book of the kind you find at a bookstore or library. It can be a collection of previously-published single issues (i.e. Ms. Marvel #1–6, collected as Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal), or original content (see below). Despite the name, there are fancy hardback trades too.
- Original Graphic Novel: A comic in trade format (i.e. it looks like a book) that has not been originally published elsewhere. Raina Telgemeier’s books are OGNs, as is The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe.
- Graphic Memoir/Graphic Nonfiction/Etc: Exactly what they sound like: memoirs or nonfiction or anything else told using the medium of comics. If you’re not sure, just call it a comic! It’s a catchall term for the medium and anyone who claims it’s lowbrow can stuff it.
Now that you know what they’re called, how do you buy them?
Trades/Graphic Novels/“You know, like books. But with pictures.”
You can find all of the formats above except for single issues at your regular books retailers. Barnes and Noble and other big chains will lean towards superheroes, Image, and manga, while indie stores are unsurprisingly more likely to offer indie comics, but either option is a great way to browse if you’re not sure what you’re looking for. And of course, online retailers offer the widest range of options.
If you’d like your browsing to be a bit more curated or are hoping for guidance from an employee, try a comic book store! They sell trades, they’re generally the most knowledgeable staffs around where comics are concerned, and they can order anything they don’t have in stock.
And yes, I’ll be honest with you: some comic book stores are trash. But there are way more welcoming, inclusive stores now than there were when I started reading comics lo these many years ago, and they’re much easier to find than they were! Hater Free Wednesdays has a great master list of awesome LCSes. You can also Google “[your identity]-friendly comic book stores in [your area]” for suggestions.
And of course, there’s always the library! Many libraries are rapidly expanding their comics collections, and anything you could theoretically buy at Barnes and Noble is fair game for library acquisition.
So you’ve gotten into a particular character or heard great things about a current series and want to try reading it in monthly installments. Single issues are sold through a single distributor called Diamond, and exclusively to comic book stores*, so it’s time to make use of that Hater Free Wednesdays link above![*Yes, True Believers, there are exceptions. They are probably not relevant to new readers. Be cool.]
You can just head to a comic book shop, browse the new releases and the back issue bins, and buy what you want. Honestly, that’s what I’ve always done and it’s never steered me wrong. There is no “wrong” way to buy comics, short of stuffing them in your pants and making a run for it. You do you!
But if you want to throw a little more support towards the creators of your favorite book(s) or your LCS employees, or if you’re worried about them running out of your favorite book before you can get to it, you can set up a pull list. Basically, this means asking the store to set aside the new issues of whichever series you request until you can come and fetch them. This helps the store approximate how many copies to order, and it ensures that the books you want will be waiting for you when you get there. You can read more about how to set up a pull list here.
With the exception of some indies, most comics are available in digital format these days. Like ebooks, you can’t beat digital comics for convenience. You can read them on most devices, in single issues or save some money buy buying the digital trade, subscribe or save money by buying up back issues. You can Google the order of issues in a mega-crossover instead of standing there trying to figure it out in the store, and you don’t have to put on pants. Plus, if you live in a tiny apartment like me, you don’t have to try to find a place to put them!
Comixology (owned by Amazon) is the biggest online retailer, but you can also get comics through other platforms like iBooks, and many publishers sell their own digital comics directly. Comixology also offers Comixology Unlimited, a Netflix-like service that offers unlimited access to certain swathes of reading material from various publishers for subscribers. Marvel also has their own subscription system which gives readers access to all of their digital comics (except for brand new issues). And many libraries lend out digital trades as well as print ones.
Now that you know the options, get out there and get reading! Remember, comics can seem intimidating, but the right way to purchase and read them is the way that works best for you, whether that’s a pull list or picking up a Ms. Marvel trade at the library every few months. Happy reading!
Looking for more comics tutorials? Check out 6 Gateway Comics for New Readers, Leveling Up with Comics, and all of our comics discussions.