Monday, August 12, 2013

How To Pick Your First Graphic Novel

I have noticed that every time I write on Rivera Runs Through It about a great graphic novel I just read, the comments fill up with a bunch of "I've been meaning to read graphic novels"-type of sentiments. I understand that jumping into this may be an overwhelming idea, so I wanted to share my advice on how one might get started on such an adventure since it is something I think more readers need to do.

What is a Graphic Novel?

Let's just begin with a basic definition of what a graphic novel is. According to Wikipedia, graphic novels are defined in the following way:
A graphic novel is a book made up of comics content. Although the word "novel" normally refers to long fictional works, the term "graphic novel" is applied broadly, and includes fiction, non-fiction, and anthologized work. It is distinguished from the term "comic book", which is used for comics periodicals.
 Now that we got that out of the way, let's get to my step-by-step plan to get you reading graphic novels!

Step 1: 

Decide what genre of graphic novels you would like to start reading.

Honestly, this is possibly the most important step on the list. You need to understand that the "graphic novel" is not a genre, it is a medium. Just as film can be thought of as a separate medium that delivers stories, so, too, are graphic novels. Within the graphic novel medium you will find fiction and nonfiction books. You will find memoirs, superhero books, scifi, horror, paranormal and... well... just about every genre of book you will find in your ordinary book store. Understanding this fact is pivotal to you understanding that there is definitely a graphic novel in the world that you will likely love to read!

Step 2: 

Find a good comic book shop near you to explore.

I recommend that you explore a comic book shop rather than a bookstore or a library for a number of reasons. First of all, a comic book shop will have a much larger collection of books for you to look through. Secondly, unlike a bookstore or library where (most of the time) graphic novels are all bundled together in one section of the store, comic book shops are more likely to have their books organized by genre, or will at least be able to direct you to your genre of choice. The final, and perhaps most important reason for you to go to a comic book shop is for the important role its employees play in step 3.

Step 3:

Ask for recommendations.

Bookstore employees are among the best-read people on the planet. This remains true of comic shop employees. They read books by the box-fulls nearly every week. For the most part, if you have found yourself a very good comic book shop, you will find that most of the books on the shelves have been read by at least one person who works there. If you can find the person who is interested in the same genre as you, then you have found someone who can probably build you a reading list for life!

Step 4:

Get your first graphic novel.

Notice I didn't say "buy." While I absolutely want you to fully support the awesome comic book shop that has helped you out thus far, I can understand the trepidation that comes from entering into this brand new world of reading with pictures. So, if you are feeling nervous about your first steps into the graphic novel world, you'll be happy to find out that libraries have been growing their graphic novel collections every year - they *might* have the book you are ready to check out. Of course, once you fall in book love, I implore you to get back to your shop and BUY THAT BOOK!

Step 5:

Read your first graphic novel.

Remember that when you read a book your eye travels from left to right and then down the page. In graphic novels, like in comic books, your story will be told in panels containing pictures, dialogue, narration, and, sometimes even sound effects. For people who are used to reading only words on a page, this may be overwhelming or confusing. A well written and designed graphic novel will flow in a way that flows naturally with the movement of your eye. However, as a graphic novel newbie, you might want a little more instruction on how to do this, check out the How to Read a Comic Book eHow for a quick 5 step list that'll help you out.

Step 6: 


At this point, you either fell in love with graphic novels, you are still undecided, or you had a horrible experience.  If you fell in love, take note of the writer, the artist, the genre and even the publishing company. These are all things that will lead you to your next graphic novel love and will help your comic shop buddies recommend a new title for you. Take all of this information and begin the process again now more informed about your own preferences as a graphic novel reader.

For the rest of you: DO NOT GIVE UP YET! I am sure you have read plenty books that you don't like, this does not mean that you do not like books. The same goes for graphic novels. If you didn't love your first graphic novel, head back to the top of the list and begin again. Just like those who fell in love with their first graphic novel, you too are now more informed about your preferences as a graphic novel reader. Think about what bothered you about this book, or, at the very least, didn't hook you. Was it the art, the writing, the tone, or the story itself? When you get back to your comic book shop, let them know you didn't like the book and why you think you didn't like it (they didn't write it, so they won't be offended), this will help them recommend something new to you.

Further Reading

Here are a couple of other posts that I found that may be of interest to you as you start your journey:
  • A Guide To Start Reading Comic Books Noah Kuttler has a fantastic "Comic Book Reader Do and DO NOT list" that includes so many awesome tips that I almost plagiarized the whole post to include here. Instead, it inspired this "further reading" section of the post, just so you could get it from the source!
  • 50 Best of the Best Graphic Novels Forbidden Planet, a virtual and brick and mortar comic book shop gives you a virtual recommendation list to get started with. I've only read five on the list so far, but this list includes a whole bunch of my "must-reads" on it.
  • The Top 100 Graphic Novels This website is a work in progress, so the writer hasn't reached number one yet, but (as of this writing) it has from #100 all the way through #15 which should give you a lot of great stuff to read before you reach the best of the best according to the site's author.
  • Picturebooks Anonymous Picturebooks Anonymous is the name of the graphic novel book club I am a member of in my local comic book shop, Comic Book Jones. Here on Rivera Runs Through It, I have listed the books the club has read so far (including the ones I haven't even read yet), to give you an idea of all of the stuff we have read together. 
That's it for now. I wish you, as always, happy reading. I look forward to hearing about your experiences and your great graphic novel finds!

Have you already fell in graphic novel love? 
What graphic novel do you recommend?
Is there a particular genre of graphic novels you are most curious about?
Tell us about your favorite comic book shop!


  1. I read a graphic novel once, but it was awhile back. Thanks for the short, but informatic post about getting to read them.

  2. No problem. :)
    You're leaving me hanging here, on the edge of my seat, wondering WHICH graphic novel it was that you read!!