For many people, comic books may conjure images of lonely adolescents and socially awkward adult men. However, comic books and their literary relative, graphic novels, often help their readers to connect with other fans of these works in forming fulfilling communities. Comics and community may seem one and the same for many contemporary consumers of comics culture, both in the United States and elsewhere.
In the United States, the evolution of speciality shops for comics historically led to people gathering in these spaces, whether for discussing favorite works, purchasing recent releases, or even playing games together. With the rise of graphic novels in the 1980's and 90's, these spaces evolved, drawing in a more diverse audience of readers, particularly older readers and young women. Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series, published by Vertigo Comics, is an important example, as the author, alongside innovative artists, managed to draw in record numbers of young, hip female readers.
More recently, with the development of the field of Comics Studies, scholars have begun to more clearly recognize how readers of comics and graphic novels build communities. From performing surveys of readers to visiting and documenting how people interact in shops and many other methods, contemporary researchers have shown that comic books and graphic novels provide narratives that bring communities together. Furthermore, librarians and other educators have also recognized the potent power of comic book culture, with comic book reading clubs, showings of comic book movies, and even comics creation events.
Internationally, as well, comics culture is important. France has been home to an especially healthy comics culture for what are called bande-dessinee, with a hard cover format called the album and stories in a multitude of genres easily available to one of the largest readerships in the world. Similarly, the manga of Japanese comics culture are read by a diverse, national readership, and fans regularly come together for conventions where independnet and corporate works are bought and traded. In India, although children's religious and educational comics were historically the most popular, graphic novels and especially autoiographical comics are becoming increasingly popular. These three, alongside the United States, represent only some of the most prolific comics cultures; these visual narratives have been important in many other places, including Russia and Mexico, as well as many countries in Europe, the Middle East, South America, and elsewhere.
For readers in the United States, though, the growth of the graphic novel publishing industry has made it ever easier to become part of comics culture and communities in particular towns or cities. The aforementioned events in local libraries, as well as others in book shops and annual events like Free Comic Book Day on the first Saturday in the month of May, attempt to open the door to comics and community for novices and fans alike. Yet, knowing where to start can feel overwhelming for the unfamiliar, and picking up some series from more mainstream publishers, such as Marvel or DC Comics, may feel like starting a movie halfway through, given years of previous issues. For novice readers, survey books like Graphic Novels: Everything You Need to Know by Paul Gravett (2005) may be a good place to start, although asking a librarian or clerk at your local library or bookstore would also work. The best advice? Find a few comic books or graphic novels in a genre of storytelling that you already know you like, and start from there. Soon, you may find yourself attending comics-related lectures, movies, and Free Comic Book Day festivities.