Who doesn't love relaxing in a bean bag with a great comic book in hand? You don't have to be a walking, talking basement-dwelling stereotype to enjoy these tomes; as ''American Splendor'' author Harvey Pekar was often heard to say, "Comics are words and pictures. You can do anything with words and pictures." Whether you're a hardcore reader or a casual one, there's no time like the present to start your own collection or to give some themed gifts.
Comic books have a longer history than just Spider-Man; by some standards, he's still a baby. Comics as a story telling format date back to the mid-1600's, the so-called '''Victorian Age''', but it wasn't until the late-1800's that comics assumed a more recognizable aesthetic in the form of comic strips in newspapers, which were later reprinted in album form. These were the early beginnings of the modern comic book.
Comic Book Companies
There is no shortage of masked men or a caped heroes saving the local populace from costumed menaces; the two major brands that compete for the top spot in this superhero world are DC and Marvel, with Image and Dark Horse competing for third. Fantagraphics, another major publisher, focuses more on older forms, with noir and horror genres and comprehensive collections of classics like ''Krazy Kat'' and ''Peanuts''. Below are some of the more popular or enduring titles from each company. Intimidated by the long, complicated histories of Batman or the X-Men? Consider DC's ''Showcase Presents'' or ''Marvel's Essentials'' series to get some of the basics for popular characters.
These are the shining stars of superhero comics, the ones fans and critics point to when dissenters say the medium has no merit. List below is just a few of the many the hero-centered tales; beyond that is a variety of worthy titles that explore the world beyond crime fighters and their rogue's galleries.
Don't Need Another Hero
But what if masked men in spandex aren't your deal? Fear not, there are tons of series out there that don't focus on traditional hero tales; these range from coming-of-age stories to the supernatural.
While there's nothing precluding any of the above from being well-written or deeply touching, the stories below have a much firmer grip on reality, pockmarks and all. Beautifully drawn, heartbreaking and sometimes bitterly funny, these books tell personal tales that will move even the most hardened of adults.
Comic Books as Gifts
You can't just pick up any old superhero story and expect your comic-loving friend to fall at your feet in awe. If you're trying to pick out a present for a superfan, there are a few pieces of advice you'll want to follow.
* '''Do your research'''! Find out what the recipient tends to read and what the particular type of comic that you want to buy is worth.
** Find out the person's level of interest in comics:
*** Does he or she like certain characters best?
*** Specific writers or artists?
*** See if he or she has a collection going and which titles are missing from it.
** If you are already into comic books yourself, finding a good read won't be difficult. You may already know some great Web sites where you can find advice on back issues, pricing, auctions, and more. You might even have a subscription to a comic book magazine, so consult that for more guidance.
** If you are a newbie, be sure to talk over your purchasing possibilities with a knowledgeable salesperson and do some research ahead of time, too. There's nothing wrong with being prepared to bargain for that one-of-a-kind comic that you just have to get your hands on.
** Keep it age appropriate. Kids probably shouldn't be reading ''The Dark Night Returns'' and an adult collector might be annoyed by something from the Little Archie collection.
Comic Books for Kids
Comic books are an excellent gift for kids, especially those that aren't big into reading--think of them as a gateway drug to greater literacy. Because the market is increasingly geared toward adult storytelling, finding fun and suitable stories for children can be a huge chore, but below are some of the top picks.
Don't forget international comics such as ''Asterix'' (France) and the ''Smurfs'' (Belgium). You can also find age-appropriate comics featuring superheroes from the Big Two, Marvel and DC, under their youth-comics imprints, Marvel Adventures and Johnny DC, respectively.
Collecting Comic Books
From a collector's perspective, titles from the Modern Age basically have no value. Collectors hoarding large numbers anticipating a big boom in the collecting industry, along with company-created lures like holograms covers and reboots to make issues with a No. 1 label, have created an artificially high demand and rendered issues from this time period virtually worthless. The most valuable books range from the introduction of the superhero theme (Golden Age) to the end of the Bronze Age (1979).
* Educate yourself on the industry. Research the titles, t-shirts, toys, posters or other items that you are looking for.
* Get smart with the ''Comic Buyer's Guide'' magazine or download Robert M. Overstreet's ''Comic Book Price Guide'' (not a free download).
* The best way to identify comics is through the '''indicia''': a small block of text on the inside front cover or on the first page that contains the issue number, publication date and exact title.
* Since heroes often cross platforms and have multiple titles, the indicia is one of the true ways you can match information.
* Remember that the most important element to collecting is the passion that you have for a particular series, character, time period, or storyline.
Comic Book Grading
When buying or selling comic books, the item's '''condition''' is the most important factor in determining price. Books in the best condition will have little signs of wear, retain good color, and possess sharp edges and few creases. Often the buyer and seller will disagree over the exact condition--it's personal bias to grade something higher if you're selling it, and if you're buying, it's often the opposite. This can cause problems since there needs to be some sort of mutual agreement before the transaction, but luckily there is a service that provides independent grading.
* Comics Guaranty is a third-party service specializing in comic book grading.
** CGC will examine any comic book you submit to them, check for restoration, and give an opinion on the item's condition.
** They also assign grades and place books in tamper-proof plastic.
** Look for sales that have been graded by this service.