Comic books: Important stuff to know

From the February 7, 2013 edition

Comic books can be intimidating for various reasons, from judgmental fanboys to complicated backstories to continuity to simply not knowing where to start. In my experience, most comic book store owners are more approachable and helpful than given credit for, so don’t be shy about your noob status. We were all there once too (and, yes, some of us were further along in life than our teen years when we caught the bug).

Key comic book terms:

Graphic Novel — Comics bound in longer and more durable formats. The graphic novel can be made up of one large, original story meant to be read in one sitting or several installments of the monthly, individual issues (sometimes called “serials”) that have been collected in one place. Graphic novels are often called “trade paperbacks” too.

Manga — Comics from Japan, these stories are usually told from right to left, so readers must start at the back of the book and work their way forward.

Single-Issue — Smaller comics released in serialized form. Eventually, multiple issues are collected in a graphic novel, or trade paperback, format. A more expensive way to buy comics, but the wait time for new trade paperbacks is also longer. It’s essentially the same as binging on entire seasons of TV shows versus watching each episode as it airs.

Who makes a comic book:

Writer — The person who writes the words, makes up the characters and develops the story arc (thus, the person who usually gets top billing and credit for the story). Some comics have more than one writer, with one person writing the dialogue and the other handling the plot.

Artist/Penciler — The person who draws the comics. Sometimes he or she has a role in character development and plotting. Initial drawings are usually done in pencil so corrections can be made.

Inker — Once the drawings are completed, this person applies layers of ink to the artwork to provide depth and shading. This is sometimes the same person as the penciler.

Colorist — This person adds color to the artwork, either by hand or computer. The colorist is also typically charged with determining the color palette for the book.

Letterer — This person is charged with placing word balloons and other text in the comic’s panels.

Dates to remember:

Wednesdays — New comics come out. This is the day new graphic novels and serialized issues hit the comic book store.

Saturday, May 4 — Free Comic Book Day! Basically, a way to get free comics. Every comic book store in America participates and there are usually more than a dozen titles to sample. Fans often dress up too, so there will be an element of people watching involved. This year will feature a Star Wars theme (May the Fourth Be With You), but there’s not always a theme involved.