As the former book groups coordinator for two bookstores, current moderator for a mystery book group, member of two graphic novel/comics groups, and organizer of the Read Harder Book Groups, it is safe to say I spend A LOT OF TIME thinking about how reading groups work. I have been asked before what the secret to a good comics book club is, and while there really is no secret there are definitely several key elements. Here they are — go forth and organize!
1. What kind of group you want to have?
Do you need a reason to make your friends read the same comics as you, or are you interested in meeting other folks in the area? Both are valid! Friends-only groups can be great; you can meet at each others’ houses, live-text as you read, and not be nervous about voicing an opinion during meetings. Open groups are great for different reasons — you might make some new friends, and you’ll definitely get to hear new opinions and takes, and read things you might not otherwise have read.
2. How often are you going to meet, and on what kind of schedule?
Of course, your choice of venue may affect this schedule, but it’s good to have a plan going in.
3. Where will you meet?
Are you a regular (or maybe an employee) at your local comics shop or comics-friendly bookstore? Ask if they might want to host — some will be happy to. But don’t be offended if the answer is no; many small businesses have set schedules to help with staffing, and it just might not be a good fit. Cafés, bars, libraries, and community centers are all good options too. In all cases, I recommend talking to the management if only to give them a heads-up. If you’re a small group you might not need a reservation or have to worry about space, but you want to feel welcome and not worry about getting kicked out. Off-peak hours are great if you can manage them, since then you’ll be bringing in potential business as well. So Friday at 9pm might not work for your favorite brewpub, but 6pm on a Tuesday could be perfect. And speaking of brewpubs! If you want teens to have the option of joining, make sure to pick a teen-friendly meeting place.
Living rooms and backyards (during nice weather anyway) are also a good option, although I recommend this only for friend-based groups.
4. How will you communicate?
There a bunch of platforms that lend themselves to this. If you have a public group and you want people to be able to easily search for and find it, Meetup works (however, you should know going in that it costs money to run a group, and you can only create and run up to three different groups). If you’re a Facebook fan, you can post events and/or a dedicated group, public or private. My friends-only group uses Google Groups, and has been for years; that way, an email to the group address goes out to everyone, but you can still tell who is saying what. Goodreads also has a groups option, and some digital book groups just meet that way.
5. What formats will you read?
Do you want to only read trade collections or graphic novels? Maybe you want to have one comic the group reads issue by issue? Or perhaps you are focusing on digital-only comics, or you never want to read hardcovers. You don’t have to have hard rules for this, but it’s good to think about it a bit at the beginning. For instance, if you’re going to talk about issues, there might not be enough in a single one to sustain a good conversation, so you might have to double up series.
6. How will you pick what you read?
One of the best parts! (Maybe the best part? Snacks are also great, I am just saying.) There are lots of ways to do this, and you should definitely feel free to invent your own system, but I’ve narrowed it down to four common methods:
1. Benevolent dictator: One person picks the books for the group, all the time. This is most common in groups that meet in bookstores or comics shops — you’ve got a person who knows the industry and is a good curator, and they guide the group to solid choices.
2. Group rotation: Members take turns choosing the books for each month, within the rules of the club (no hardcovers, only recently published issues, whatever).
3. Group vote: In this model, members will submit titles and then the comic with the most votes from the group is the next pick. Variation: members write titles down and put them in a hat, and one is chosen at random. No voting necessary!
4. “Any book” book club: What if you don’t all want to read the same book, you just want to hear about what everyone else is reading? This model is for you! In this scenario, members take turns talking about what they’re currently reading; it’s great if you want to really build your TBR list. (See the Read Harder groups for an example.)
7. Who will be the discussion moderator or, as I like to call it, Meeting Captain?
Groups don’t necessarily have to have a leader, but it’s very useful to have one person in charge of keeping the discussion on track and making sure everyone gets a chance to talk. It’s easy for louder, more excitable members to dominate the conversation without even realizing it; if there’s someone there to check in with quieter members, it creates a much friendlier atmosphere. This person can also make sure that everyone stays focused, and maybe have a couple ideas for topics to get the discussion going. It can be the same person every time, or members can take turns!
8. What will your group be called?
Your group doesn’t have to have a fancy name, but you are comics readers! Why not??
9. What kind of snacks will you bring?
The all-important question! (Assuming, of course, that your venue is snack-friendly.) In one of my groups, we try to bring snacks related to the comic at hand. For the record, I would just like to state that Swedish fish go with EVERYTHING.
10. Do you have a goal for the group’s development?
This is kind of nebulous, but bear with me. If a great discussion is your number one priority, then it doesn’t matter how many people show up — I’ve had excellent discussions with just one or two other people, just as much as with 12 others. No reason to get discouraged! But if your goal is world-domination, you’ll need to make sure you’re adding new members regularly, promoting the group, and working with a time/venue that lend itself to a large number of attendees. All very doable! It just looks different in execution. My rule of thumb is to commit to six meetings — enough time for word to spread and people to get their schedules in order to attend, but not a lifetime commitment. If after that many your group isn’t accomplishing what you want it to, you can say farewell knowing that you tried.
And there you have it! For those of you who are already in groups, I’d love to hear your tips and stories in the comments.