Collecting Guide: Know Your Comic Publishers, Part 1

So you're all geared up for your first trip to your local comic shop. We're proud of you for making the big decision to get started with a new hobby. But there are a lot of ways for your outing to go. If you've never read comics before, how do you even know where to start?

A good option is to ask friends for recommendations or to check in with the staff on location, but you can also learn trends that can point you in the right direction. Comic publishers have focuses that dictate which titles they will and won't publish, and most people will find favorite labels to read. You may find that Dark Horse is a little too dark, or DC is a little too expansive, but that Boom! titles sit right in the sweet spot.

As you start to define and better understand your taste, the safest way to keep your wallet from emptying out is to pick a publisher or two from the list below that sounds up your alley, and to pick one or two series that they're currently working on. Give them a read, and even if you don't enjoy them, treat it as a learning experience. Comic readers are always trying new things, but with our guide, you can do so with better odds of success.

Image credit to Archie Comics

Everyone is familiar with the Archie Comics line. Whether you grew up on Archie Digests or you only gave the universe of Archie Andrews a shot after watching the CW series Riverdale, the company is one of the oldest publishers of comics, with a cadre of characters solidly embedded in the cultural zeitgeist. Founded in the late 1930s and shifted to focus on the Riverdale crew in the 1940s, the brand has always focused on humor, with a trademark style that hasn’t changed. Even offshoot titles like Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Josie and the Pussycats remain consistent with the Archie Digests.

In 2015 though, the entire line was aged up and relaunched with a new art style and a new direction. The main series, simply titled Archie, began to delve into more complex issues, like politics, sexuality, and grief. Following the success of Afterlife with Archie, which spawned a horror universe based on the same characters, the company also began to dabble in darker retellings like The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which found Netflix success, Vampironica, and Jughead: The Hunger.

Older Archie comics may be a good choice as a reader if you like things kept light, and you aren’t too worried about a canon and an ongoing story, but new Archie manages to be more mature without sacrificing enjoyment. The added benefit of a set start date only a few years into the past makes the idea of owning all the new Archie publications more workable than any other label.

Image credit to Boom! Studios

As Image Comics moves from being a deep indie publisher to the third face of major comic books, Boom! Studios and their imprints, KaBoom! and Boom! Box seem well positioned to slot into the space Image once held. A lot of their titles are self-contained stories, not focused on expanding into a greater canon. Though they have a handful of series that focus on more adult themes, KaBoom! and Boom! Box excel at responsibly told, inclusive stories for middle grade and young adult readers.

Boom! also holds the rights to a number of animated TV shows directed at younger viewers, such as Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and Bee and Puppycat. Their adaptations tend towards light-hearted, with their most action-packed adaptation being Escape From New York.

Boom! is a perfect label to focus on if you like stories with hope and charm, or if you’ve enjoyed reading middle grade or young adult novels. Series like Lumberjanes which will soon appear on TV, Giant Days, and Slam! are good places to start, but James Tynion IV’s The Woods, and his newer release, Something is Killing the Children also deserve strong commendation.

Image credit to Dark Horse Comics

Best known for the iconic character, Hellboy, and their adaptations of popular properties like the Alien vs. Predator universe, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and even a stint publishing Star Wars comics, Dark Horse has always enjoyed a reputation as a powerhouse in indie comics. Their style, unsurprisingly, tends towards edgier, darker stories, making them especially popular among adult readers.

Another famous original work that came out of Dark Horse was Frank Miller’s 300, the miniseries that spawned the famously bloody film franchise. More recently, they’re received recognition for their publishing of Gerard Way’s Umbrella Academy, which went on to be a popular TV series, and for Black Hammer by Jeff Lemire.

Dark Horse tells stories that are more mature, so they make a good starting point if you’re fond of gritty worlds like AVP. Aside from Black Hammer, which expanded into a greater universe, and a handful of crossovers between popular characters that verge on dubiously canon anyhow, you can assume most stories are self-contained and won’t trigger a collection that can get out of hand.

Image credit to DC Comics

DC is a stand-by in the world of comics. One of the Big Two, they’re best known for characters like Superman and Batman, but they’ve expanded to include a great deal more depth in their universe. More than most publishers, you can find almost any kind of story in a DC book, so the real key here is deciding what you’re looking for.

Before diving into DC, consider a list of the most popular characters and decide which ones you like, and which you don’t. Their tendency is to have a set of ongoing series that focus on the very biggest names, with mini and maxi series that tell shorter stories, so if your hero of choice isn’t a Justice League heavy hitter, you can often still find something that includes them.

Starting to read DC comics can be a huge undertaking, but there is one big advantage here. In 2011, the company rebooted their entire line of comics, meaning you have a much clearer starting point if you want to hop in as a new reader. Even so, it's worth giving our upcoming Guide to DC Comics a peruse before you get started.

Image credit to Dynamite Entertainment

More so than any other publisher, Dynamite Entertainment stands on the shoulders of giants. Most of their properties are based on licensed characters like Red Sonja, James Bond, and Vampirella, with a handful of public domain characters like Sherlock Holmes, John Carter of Mars, and Zorro. They’ve even dug deep into heroes of radio before, writing comics based on the Green Hornet and the Lone Ranger.

Dynamite plays on nostalgia and enthusiasm for expanding universes, but they also tend to publish more variant covers than any other publisher, which can make it difficult to decide what you need to subscribe to. New collectors should be cautious here unless they hold a character or franchise you absolutely adore.

That being said, Dynamite has been doing their best to rethink known characters in ways that make reading these stories worth your time, and if you enjoy adaptations, you might want to give them a shot.

Image credit to IDW Publishing

IDW likes to tug at the heartstrings of nostalgia. Though one of their earliest projects, 30 Days of Night actually preceded the movie franchise, many of their more successful titles since then have been adaptations of 80’s TV shows like Hasbro’s Transformers, G.I. Joe, and Rom the Space Knight.

Of the indie labels, IDW has proven most prone to creating a universe with cross-promotion within titles, as evidenced by the Revolution crossover event that launched other titles like Micronauts and M.A.S.K. This can make it a little more daunting to move into collecting IDW than other labels. Don’t let it scare you off, though. IDW hosts a handful of standalones as well, most notably the Joe Hill series Locke and Key, recently adapted for Netflix.

IDW makes a good choice for readers who grew up on 80’s television, as you’ll see a wide variety of familiar faces. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by the crossover events, and you should be fine.

Image credit to Image Comics

Image Comics is a company with many faces. Founded in the ’90s by a collection of creators who wanted to maintain ownership of their characters and series, and carried by the success of titles such as Spawn, Savage Dragon, Youngblood, and WildC.A.T.S., Image has grown and grown, and may now be one of the best companies to look into if you’ve never read comics before and want to get started.

Most of Image’s biggest publications are standalone stories. Some of the more prolific creators can still conjure up an impressive list that will take time to put together into a collection, but it’s easier here to pick your favorites and ignore the rest. Although the biggest notable is The Walking Dead, Broomstick’s top recommendations are Saga, The Wicked + The Divine, Descender, Motor Crush, and Monstress. You’ll start to see though, everyone you ask will have a different favorite.

More than anything, Image is a company you can often judge based on the cover. We know, it’s usually not encouraged, but because Image creators work in teams that they put together themselves instead of being paired by the head honchos, the art style alone will tell you a lot about what you’re getting into. The Image Firsts series makes it easy to try out the first issue, and if you don’t like it, switch to another. If you need recommendations, give our upcoming Guide to Image Comics a read.