Sunday, August 22, 2010

Getting Your Friends Into Graphic Novels

Recently, I was approached by a friend of mine who wanted to get into reading Batman graphic novels, but didn't know a good place to start. I immediately jumped on the opportunity to help my friend and here is what I discovered:
  1. Follow the time line from an early point
  2. Continuity matters
  3. Avoid cosmic stories
  4. Unless impossible, ignore stories that include characters outside the Bat-Family
  5. Seminal stories that mean a lot to the industry mean little to a new reader
  6. A new Batman reader is going to like anything that has Batman in it, so don't worry about giving something you might consider to be a little less quality than some of the cherished stories.
I'll break everything down.

Follow the time line is self explanatory. In order not to confuse the newbie, it's best not give books out of order. For instance, I gave my friend Batman & Son first, but later on my second lending, I gave him The Long Halloween. This was a mistake. The reader needs to follow a simple progression. It's not important to catch them up immediately with what's going on in the world of monthlies right away. It's better for them to get the impact of each story as it unfolds.

Continuity mattering really goes hand in hand with the time line. Avoid giving books like The Dark Knight Returns or Arkham Asylum until after all continuity books have been extinguished. This way, your new reader won't want to blow his or her brains out from trying to figure out what the hell is going on.

The Power Cosmic
Most Batman fans are Batman fans because they love the "realism," or more accurately, the "hyper-realism" of Batman. He exists in the realm of "possible." Therefore, avoid stories that feature Batman outside of his comfort zone. Gotham is "real," so the reader is therefore only comfortable there. No cosmic tales where Batman whips out a laser sword. Unless you're watching Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Then it's ok.

The Bat-Family
Along this line, Batman fans usually don't approve of other non-Bat family heroes alongside Batman. Unless impossible, ignore stories that include characters outside the Bat mythos i.e. The Justice League. I personally love Batman mixing it up with the JLA in space, but most Bat fans don't. Make sure to get approval from your reader before dishing out "Tower of Babel" to them.

Stories that have had a huge influence on the comics industry mean little to a new reader because they don't know the history that makes them important. To them, it's just another story. Don't try and give your reader something like The Dark Knight Returns and expect them to get anything out of it other than it's a damn good tale about how an older Batman kicks ass.

People Love Batman
Finally, a story you might not find appealing might be another person's favorite. Don't hesitate to give a story to someone. Let them decide if they like it or not.

Now, I have a lot of Batman trades (understatement of the century). I've been lucky as to give my friend a healthy (another understatement) load of books. I know not everyone has as many (or has more) books, but here is a rundown of what books to give off based on my list.

  1. Year One
  2. Batman: Venom
  3. Batman and the Monster Men
  4. Batman and the Mad Monk
  5. Batman: The Man Who Laughs
  6. Batman: The Long Halloween
  7. Catwoman: When in Rome
  8. Batman: Dark Victory
  9. The Killing Joke
  10. Batman: A Death in the Family
  11. Batman: Haunted Knight
  12. Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying
  13. Robin: A Hero Reborn
  14. Batman: Tales of the Demon
  15. Batman: Knightfall: Parts I, II, and III
  16. Batman: Contagion
  17. Batman: Legacy
  18. Batman: Catacylsm
  19. Batman: No Man's Land: I-V
  20. Batman: The Chalice
  21. Batman: Harley and Ivy
  22. Batman: Evolution
  23. Batman: Officer Down
  24. Batman: Bruce Wayne: Murderer?
  25. Batman: Bruce Wayne: Fugitive: I-III
  26. Batman: Hush
  27. Batman: Death and the Maidens
  28. Batman: As a Crow Flies
  29. Batman: War Drums
  30. Batman: War Games: I-III
  31. Batman: Under the Hood - I
  32. Batman: War Crimes
  33. Batman: Under the Hood - II
  34. Batman: Face to Face
  35. Batman: Detective
  36. Batman: Batman & Son
  37. Batman: Detective Comics: The Private Casebook
  38. Batman: The Black Glove
  39. Batman: Detective Comics: Heart of Hush
  40. Batman: R.I.P.
  41. Battle for the Cowl
  42. Batman: Long Shadows
  43. Batman & Robin: Batman Reborn
  44. Batman: Streets of Gotham: Hush Money
As you can see from this list, I avoided putting on most other Bat family books unless they had direct ties to Batman. Characters like Nightwing and solo Robin stories are best left out unless asked for. Then I would include them where you see fit.

You may have noticed I did not add the events like Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis. This goes back to what I was saying about "cosmic" books. Just leave them out unless ok'ed by your reader. And I think it's best to just explain Batman's "death" in Final Crisis. Hardcore readers were confused. Newbies have no chance.

After you've exhausted your supply of in-continuity books, it's time to dish out the Elseworlds or stand-alones. As far as these go, the choice is yours what you'd like to give. The skies the limit here.

And that, my friends, is how to get your friend into reading graphic novels. The real goal is for them to continue into monthlies. One can hope.

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