comics

So you want to read Spider-Man comics

We’re in the thick of the holiday season. Shopping is probably inevitable for a lot of us. If you or someone you know thinks Spider-Man is pretty cool but is clueless as to what to read first, I’ve put together a great big list as a checklist or reading order guide.

Marvel Comics has been publishing The Amazing Spider-Man since 1963, so being a little overwhelmed about what to get is understandable. Peter Parker (right) is pretty confused by it all too. And he’s lived through it.

So, here’s my Reader’s Guide to Amazing Spider-Man with every graphic novel that’s been published from that comic book series, what’s inside, and in what order you should read it. I’ve also included cover prices and if there are alternate ways to get the stories (soft cover, hard cover, etc.). After the list, I’ve also included a recommended reading list if you’re only interested in the most universally loved material instead of everything. Please feel free to join in the conversation if you have any favorites, questions, corrections or suggestions.

Just a note for those of you Spidey-savvy enough: this list only focuses on the Amazing Spider-Man comics series from 1963 to present, and for the most part does not include spin-offs like Web of Spider-Man or the relaunch series like Ultimate Spider-Man or Marvel Adventures Spider-Man (both of which are great ways to read Spider-Man too but they exist in their own universe apart from Amazing Spider-Man, and as such, they’re pretty streamlined, self-contained and easier to figure out where to start – although if you’re not sure, post a comment or email and I’ll be glad to help out).

I’ve also got similar Reader’s Guides to Uncanny X-Men and Fantastic Four. And I’ll be posting more here as time allows. Any requests for comic book series to cover?

LA Comics distributor warehouse closes

Despite the bustling comics scene here in Los Angeles, it’s not all sunshine and ponies.

Diamond Comic Distributors, by far the biggest and most powerful international distributor of comic books and associated products delivering to comic book stores and specialty shops, is closing its Los Angeles distributor center/warehouse this March. How does this effect us readers? Probably not much, at least directly. That is, as long as your local shop can still get their shipment of new comics. And afford it.

The final shipment from the LA center will be the first week of January. After that, the southern California area (and beyond) will instead be serviced by a Diamond distribution center almost 2,000 miles east, in Olive Branch, Mississippi. In their notice to effected comic shops, Diamond stated, “based on our quality control monitoring of shortages, damages, and overages, the Olive Branch facility consistently scores on par with Los Angeles”. Given the errors and frustrations some local stores have had with Diamond, that’s probably not very comforting. According to Bleeding Cool, this brings the count of Diamond’s warehouse facilities to 4, down from 24 at one time.

The same week the Olive Branch center takes over, Diamond begins it’s new Day-Early Delivery program for all of its customers, where instead of comics arriving to stores Wednesday morning to go on sale that same day, comics will be delivered Tuesday with a street date of the following day. This should help pad out any delivery delays during the transition. However comic shops must pay a fee to be included in the program, which apparently pays for “secret shoppers” to make sure stores are obeying street date rules. So if they don’t pay in, stores will instead receive their boxes of comics early Wednesday morning for a same-day scramble to get comics sorted, counted, displayed and pulled for subscribers.

Another factor is that some stores opt to drive themselves to the distribution center and pick up their orders, instead of paying for UPS to drive comics to their store. With the LA distribution gone, will stores be forced to pay for deliveries? Diamond says no, for now. A pick-up location will be determined for those stores, at no additional charge. While that’s great, I can’t imagine that’s something they’ll keep doing forever. What’s the point of closing a distribution center if you still pay the rent on a pick-up location?

Comic stores often operate on a slim profit margin, especially smaller stores. With shrinking sales, will these new fees force some stores to rethink doing business?

And what of Diamond’s Los Angeles employees? If they’re willing to relocate to Mississippi, some may still have a job. According to ICv2: “Long-time Diamond Regional Manager James Nash will relocate from Los Angeles to Olive Branch. Other staff has been encouraged to apply for positions in Olive Branch after their tenure in Los Angeles ends at the end of March.”

13% of comics made by women

There are likely more women making comics in North America today than ever in the history of the industry. Never has there been a greater variety of creative voices and material. It’s a great time to discover comic books.

But just because it’s better than ever…

Comics material produced by women creators only makes up 13.2% of comics released to retailers and book stores in November so far, according to Ladies Making Comics. This excludes manga imported to North America and web-comics, which would no doubt boost that number significantly.

The comic book world is still very much a boys’ club. The industry was started by men, most of the material was created to appeal to boys and men, most of the businesses have been run by men. Of course there have been exceptions, but they were just that: exceptions to the rule. So the fact that the percentage is in the double digits should be celebrated. Just 10 years ago, I suspect that number would be half that number.

And more of the good news is that more and more female creators are no doubt inspiring new female creators that are growing up on some excellent material, so a mushrooming effect will take place. It’s frustratingly slow and there are still a lot of maddening obstacles, but I believe it’s happening. Nowhere more so than with web-comics, it seems. This is an amazingly fertile ground for fostering imaginative talents and they don’t have to break into a male dominated corporate structure to be seen. They just have to be good, produce material on a regular basis, and have some savviness with social media. And then you get things like Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton, Girls with Slingshots by Danielle Corsetto, Stop Paying Attention by Lucy Knisley, Fart Party by Julia Wertz, Templar, Arizona by Spike, Octopus Pie by Meredith Gran, KinokoFry: A Collection of Comics by Rebecca Clements, DAR: A Super Girly Top Secret Diary by Erika Moen (which has sadly come to an end but is still a fantastic read), and many more. Have any favorites?

Kids Comics: still a struggle but worth the fight

The general consensus among mainstream comic book publishers is that comics aimed at kids, or all-ages comics, don’t sell. And sadly, they’re usually right.

Take for example the apparent cancellation of the endlessly charming Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee. Even an impending big Hollywood movie of Thor couldn’t generate enough interest to sustain the series past eight issues. Why? Maybe it’s because there are also about four other comics starring Thor or some Thor-like character and who can keep them straight? Maybe it’s because too many comic book stores cater to their established audience base of young-ish to older adults who aren’t interested in an all-ages comic book no matter how much praise and acclaim it gets.

So kids comics are doomed, right?

Not quite. Fortunately a growing number of comics stores actually do have enough business savvy to diversify their customer base. In support of this, Diamond Comics, the primary distributor for comics shops, has been amping up their KidsComics.com website, now with a handy-dandy order form kids and parents can print out to make sure their local store orders what they want.

And more effectively, and unlike ten or more years ago, there are now other ways for comics to find their audience. As examples, walk into a book store and see how long it takes you to stumble over a display of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. Granted, they technically aren’t comic books (or graphic novels), but often not far from away are copies of Bone by Jeff Smith, Owly by Andy Runton, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz adaptation by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young, The Muppet Show Comic Book by Langridge himself, and lots more. And they’ve all been selling very well. Yes even the Twilight graphic novel adaptation by Young Kim. And tons of manga too, plenty of it age appropriate (see Manga4Kids for recommendations – I’ve still got a lot to learn myself). The School Library Journal has a great blog to help find Good Comics For Kids.

There are also great web-comics for kids online. Two of my favorites are the whimsical Abominable Charles Christopher by Karl Kerschl and the delightfully absurd Axe Cop by Ethan Nicolle and Malachai Nicolle (age 5!). LunchboxFunnies.com is a good place to start, although they sadly haven’t updated for several months now. Hopefully it’s just temporary. There have been a few sites attempting to track age appropriate web-comics but sadly most are over a year old now, basically ancient artifacts in internet time.

Plenty of the above mentioned comics have been released as digital comics on mobile devices and online through services like ComiXology. Although they have yet to parse out kids comics to make shopping easier, they do have age ratings, which helps a great deal. Much of Atomic Robo by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener is recommended for kids 9 and up, and it is regularly among the most downloaded.

So kids comics do sell. You just have to know how to get them to kids.