Comic Books 101

A Brief History of Comic Books and an Overview of Comic Formats

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Comic Book 101. Wade Griffith / Getty Images

The comic book as we know it today is a softcover magazine of sequential artwork (a number of pictures in order) and words that when used together tell a story. The cover is usually a glossy paper with the interior of a higher quality paper with the consistency of newspaper. The spine is usually held together by staples.

Comic books today cover a variety of subjects. There are horror, fantasy, sci-fi, crime, real life, and many other subjects that comic books cover. The subject most comic books have become known for is superheroes.

The origin of the word Comic book comes from the comic strips that generally ran in newspapers. Some argue, however, that the comic in its purest form has been seen in early cultures, such as Egyptian wall art and prehistoric man cave paintings. The word, "Comics," is still associated with both comic books, comic strips, and even comedians.

Comic books were first introduced in America in 1896 when publishers started producing collected groups of comic strips from newspapers. The collections did very well and prompted the publishers to come up with new stories and characters in this format. The reused content from the newspapers eventually gave way to new and original content that became the American comic book.

Everything changed with Action Comics #1. This comic book introduced us to the character Superman in the year 1938. The character and comic was extremely successful and paved the way for future comic book publishers and new heroes such as we have today.


The term, “comic,” has been used for many different things and continues to evolve to this day. Here are a few of the different formats:

Comic Book – As described above, this is what the current term refers to in most circles.

Comic Strip – This is what you would find in a newspaper such as Garfield, or Dilbert and what was originally referred to with the term, “comic.”

Graphic Novel – This thicker, and glue bound book is seeing a great amount of success today. This format has been used by some publishers to help distinguish the content from comics with more mature subjects and content matter. Lately, the graphic novel has seen a large amount of success by collecting a comic series, allowing purchasers to read a whole comic story in one sitting. Although still not as popular as the regular comic book, the Graphic Novel has been outpacing comic books in terms of annual sales growth.

Webcomics – This term is being used to describe both comic strips and comic books that can be found on the Internet. Many are smaller endeavors by people who just want to find a creative outlet, but others have turned their webcomics into successful industries such as Player Vs. Player, Penny Arcade, Order Of The Stick, and Ctrl, Alt, Del.

The comic book world has its own slang and jargon just like any other hobby. Here are some must-know terms for getting into comic books. The links will take you to more information.

Grade – The condition that a comic book is in.

Graphic Novel – A thicker glue-bound comic book that is often a collection of other comic books or a stand alone story.

Mylar Bag – A protective plastic bag designed to protect a comic book.

Comic Book Board – A thin piece of cardboard that is slipped behind a comic book in a mylar bag to keep the comic book from bending.

Comic Box – A cardboard box designed to hold comic books.

Subscription – Publishers and comic book stores often offer monthly subscriptions to different comic books. Like a magazine subscription.

Price Guide – A resource used to determine the value of a comic book.

Indy – A term used for, “independent,” often referring to comic books not published by the mainstream press.

Collecting comic books is an inherent part of buying comic books. Once you start to buy comics and amass a certain amount, you have a collection. The depths of which you go to collect and protect that collection can be widely different. Collecting comic books can be a fun hobby and generally consists of buying, selling, and protecting your collection.


There are many ways to acquire comic books. The easiest comic book to find is going to be the newer ones. The most likely source of comics is to find a local comic book store and find what you like. You can also find new comics at large, “one-stop shopping,” stores, toy stores, bookstores, and some corner markets.

If you are looking for older comics, you also have many options. Most comic book stores carry some type of back issues. You can also find older comics on auction sites like Ebay, and Heritage Comics. Also look in newspaper ads or online posting sites like


Selling your own personal collection can be a difficult choice. If you get to that point, knowing when and where to sell your comics can be key. The first thing you must know is the grade (condition) of your comics. Once you do, you can be on your way.

Next, you need to decide on where to sell your collection. An obvious choice would be a comic book shop, but they will not be able to offer you what they are actually worth, as they need to make a profit as well. You can also try to sell them on auction sites, but be warned, you need to make sure you are very forthcoming about the condition know how to protect your comic books during shipment.

A great article about selling your comics:​ Selling a comic book collection.


There are generally two basic camps when it comes to protecting your comics. The entertainment collector and the investing collector are those two. The entertainment collector buys comics just for the stories and doesn’t really care about what happens to their comics afterward. The investing collector buys comic books just for their monetary value.

Most of us fall somewhere in the middle, buying comics for pleasure and wanting to protect their future value. The basic protection is putting them in mylar plastic bags with slim cardboard boards to keep them from bending. After this, they can be stored in a cardboard box designed just for comic books. All of these can be bought at your local comic book store.

Top Comics/Popular Comics

There have been many comic book characters since comic books first started to be printed. Some have lasted the test of time and still continue to be popular today. Listed are a group of popular comic books and characters according to genre.


Wonder Woman
The X-Men
The JLA (Justice League of America)
The Fantastic Four
Captain America
Green Lantern


Jonah Hex


The Waking Dead
Land of the Dead


Red Sonja


Y The Last Man
Star Wars


GI Joe


There have been many different publishers of comic books over the years, but two publishers have risen to the top in the comic book world, taking up almost 80-90% of the market. These two publishers are Marvel and DC Comics and are often referred to as, “The Big Two.” They also have some of the most widely known characters in all of comics. Recently, other publishers have started to make a strong presence and although they still only make up a small part of the market, they are continuing to grow and become a greater part of the comic book world and have helped push the boundaries of comic book content and creator owned content. There are basically four types of publishers.

1. Main Publishers

Definition of Main Publishers – These publishers have been around for quite some time and have developed a large following of fans due to their amount of popular characters.

Main Publishers
Marvel – X-Men, Spider-Man, The Hulk, Fantastic Four, Captain America, The Avengers
DC – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Green Lantern, The Flash, The JLA, Teen Titans

2. Small Publishers

Definition of Smaller Publishers – These publishers are smaller in nature but attract many creators due to the fact that they can have much more control over the characters they create. They won’t offer as many comics as the larger publishers, but that doesn’t mean the quality will be any less.

Smaller Publishers
Image – Godland, The Waking Dead, Invincible,
Dark Horse – Sin City, Hellboy, Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Conan
IDW – 30 Days of Night, Fallen Angel, Criminal Macabre
Archie Comics – Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica
Disney Comics – Mickey Mouse, Scrooge, Pluto

3. Independent Publishers

Definition of Independent Publishers – These publishers are usually on the fringe of popular culture. Almost all are creator owned (the creator keeps the rights to the characters and stories they create), and some of the topics may contain mature content.

Independent Publishers
Kitchen Sink Press
Top Shelf

4. Self-Publishers

Definition of Self-Publishers – These publishers are generally run by the people who make the comic books. They handle most if not all of the duties of making the comics, from writing, and art to publishing and press. The quality can vary drastically from publisher to publisher and the fan base is usually local. Due to the internet, however, many of these self-publishers have been able to market their comics to many others. Some have even found some success with self-publishing such as American Splendor (now with DC), Shi, and Cerebrus.

Self Publishers
Chibi Comics
Halloween Man
Altered Fates
Coffeegirl Productions
Prize Fighter Press
Crusade Fine Arts