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A Batgirl fangirl's guide to starting a comic book collection

Society might tell you that comics are for children and emotionally stunted men who live in their mums' basements.

I am neither a child nor an emotionally stunted man, but I love comics. In fact, I collect Batgirl comics and it's one of my life goals to collect every single issue. Including the variant covers. I'm saving to buy my own flat right now and when I finally do have my own place I intend to display my collection in a way so that everyone who visits will be graced with Barbara Gordon's amazing wit and intellect. 

Maybe I am a nerd who needs to get out more. 

But if you thought this was a childhood obsession that got a bit out of hand once I was a grown-up with my own income, you would be wrong. I started reading comics at the age of 24. 

Yes, at the age of 24 I randomly decided that I wanted to become a comic reader. I didn't know specifically at that point that I'd end up collecting Batgirl comics but something about reading comics spoke to me. I had always been obsessed with pop culture and over the years began to gravitate towards superhero films and comics were a natural progression.

But it took me a long time to find out what comics appealed to me, and that I wanted to pursue a Batgirl collection. There are a lot of comic genres and creators out there, and even if you have a rough idea of what you want to read you still have to find out what issues to start on and where to buy said issues.

I have girls in my DMs every now and then asking for my advice on this very topic because it can be confusing knowing where to start. And a lot of the guides out there are male-centric. So I've pulled together my own guide to help anyone who might be struggling to find a starting point.

Know your comic book terms

First things first, know the lingo. Here's a fantastic reference sheet for you.

Start with graphic novels

Step away from the single issues! I only recommend you start collecting single issues when you've settled on a character or universe that you absolutely love (like me and Batgirl). Graphic novels are a great way to read a whole story run in one go and get to know different characters, universes, and locations. Many graphic novels are actually single issue comics brought together once a whole run has finished publication - it's like waiting to binge the entire box set rather than watching something episode by episode.

If it's DC you're looking to get into Batman: Year One, The Long Halloween, Batman: A Death in the Family, and Batman: The Killing Joke are generally considered the best of the best.

Look into the comics of your favourite film and TV shows

While I might be a big DC fangirl now, when I entered the world of comics I kept an open mind between DC and Marvel. I loved Rogue from X-Men and purchased a few graphic novels that focused on her, but then discovered that film Rogue and comic Rogue were very different. Batgirl hasn't been in that many film adaptations so I wasn't prepared for the idea that I'd fall in love with the character. But I've always loved Poison Ivy in the films, and I love her just as much in the comics.

While you might end up surprised by the differences between the source material and the Hollywood reincarnations, I'd still recommend picking up a graphic novel that focuses on a character that you're already familiar with.

Other films and TV shows that have comics as part of the shared universe includes Buffy, Transformers, Star Wars, Riverdale, Sabrina, and The Walking Dead.

Find characters that are similar to you

When I began dipping my toes into Marvel and DC I focused on the female characters. It's natural to favour characters who are similar to you and I know my fondness of Barabara Gordon is because I see parts of her in myself.

Here's a mini-guide the main DC ladies:
Poison Ivy - eco-warrior, sexy, redhead, scientist
Harley Quinn - giggly, gymnast, hyper
Catwoman - sexy, morally ambiguous
Batwoman - lesbian (since 2006 anyway) and strong as hell
Wonder Woman - a bit self-righteous, beautiful, strong
Black Canary - feisty but heart in the right place, and a rock chick

You don't need to start at Issue #1

Some comics and characters have been around for decades, so a few re-boots have been in order. Some characters have managed to die several times, then the whole thing is re-booted and they're back. Or they get paralysed, are in a wheelchair for years and become the brains of the organisation. Then the comic gets re-booted and they can walk again with no explanation. Just saying.

In the comic book world, series are called "runs" and what is more important is that you start at the beginning of run - but it doesn't matter which run that is. Here's a list of the 100 best runs to start your imagination.

Feel free to Wikipedia the character's backstory

I mean, if you insist on reading all of DC Comics from day one, be my guest. But if you start somewhere in the present day you can stop by Wikipedia to read up at some of the character canons.

Hobby Lark is also a great resource for filling in the blanks. As is Comicstorian.

Know which superheroes cross-over with each other

Even though X-Men comics and the Avengers are both Marvel, you won't find much cross over. In the world of DC, Batgirl is regularly joined by Black Canary, Dick Grayson, and Batman - but you probably won't find The Flash or Green Lantern popping up too often.

DC's publications, post-New 52 at least, are split up into the following 7 categories.

  • Justice League
  • Batman
  • Superman
  • Green Lantern
  • Young Justice
  • The Edge
  • The Dark

Personally, it's the Justice League and Batman categories that I read. Batman tends to focus on characters that are in the Bat-family (Batgirl, Robin, Alfred, etc ), their nemesis (Joker, Penguin etc) and other characters who canonically live in Gotham (e.g. Detective Jim Gordon). While The Justice League is made up of the big-name heroes who have shown up in the films, such as Aquaman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.

Comic cons are great for picking up back issues

When you've read a few graphic novels and have decided on the characters and story arcs you'd like to focus on, then I recommend attending a comic fair or con. Generally speaking, comic shops sell graphic novels and new single issues, so if you're wanting to collect back issues then it's either online shopping or comic con.

A few shops that sell back-issues include Plan 9 Comics in Aberdeen, Forbidden Planet in Manchester, and a random one-man comic shop in the Afflecks Centre in Manchester.

Some comic book shops are better than others

There is a little bit of truth to some of the negative nerd stereotypes. Some comic shops do smell bad and are looked after by people with questionable people skills. There was a comic shop in Dundee that barely had any lighting, was dusty af, and was owned by a guy with the social skills of a rabid hyena. Then another comic shop was opened in Dundee by a woman who painted the walls light blue and actually looked after the damn place. I think you know which one I preferred (and which one no longer exists).

My favourite Scottish comic shop is Plan 9 in Aberdeen. They sell a good mix of back issues, new issues, and graphic novels - as well as geek memorabilia and board games. I always make a point of stopping by when I'm visiting my family.

Forbidden Planet is a chain and is usually new issues and graphic novels. Though the one in Manchester sells single back issues.

Digital Comics are half the price

I still love the feel of a physical book or comic in my hands, so I've never got into the e-book craze. But there are a lot of comics on offer in digital form, and usually for a fraction of the price. Comixology is one of the best places to start looking for digital comics.

Libraries sometimes have free comics

Many government-owned libraries have a graphic novel section. It's worth stopping by your local library to see what they have.

Borrow comics from your friends

Admittedly I wouldn't lend out my single issues, but if we're IRL friends I'm more than happy to lend you a graphic novel (or three).

Free Comic Book Day

Admittedly, I don't make use of this as I usually have a list of issues I want to buy and don't want to clutter up my room with comics I won't read. But I know some long-term nerds who always head out on this day. It usually falls in late spring and early summer and a lot of comic shops will hand out free single issues to customers.

Some more resources

My guide only scratches the surface of the world of comics - and, uh, mainly focuses on DC and Batgirl. There are several guides out there that cover the medium more widely from people have been into comics since childhood. Here are some of muy favourites:

Comic Book Herald
Patrick (H) Willems
Nerd Sync
How To Love Comics
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