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How to Read Comics

You'll never read the funnies the same way again.

Like all good folks, you liked The Avengers and loved The Dark Knight. But these characters didn't just emerge from some Hollywood bigwig's noggin. No, they've been around for decades in the pages and panels of comic books.

You may think that comics are for kids and weird old men who wear sweatpants a lot. Well, we hate to break it to you, but comics haven't been for kids in about 30 years (though the creepy old dudes still lurk about), so you have no excuse for missing out. Fortunately, Shmoop is here to help you—just in time for what many are calling "the graphic literature Renaissance."

In this course, we'll walk you through the basics of the medium: what are comics? how do they work? how do you read them effectively? and why oh why do people keep calling them graphic novels?

By the end of this course, you'll never call it child's play ever again.

Course Breakdown

Unit 1. Sequential Art a.k.a. Comix a.k.a. Graphic Novels a.k.a. Comics

In these 15 lessons, you'll learn some fancypants sequential art lingo, read a few long-form comics, and get to thinking about comics as literature.

Sample Lesson - Introduction

Lesson 1: Defining Your Terms

"I was reading comics when they were still socially stigmatized."

Imagine a man. He wears glasses, has a ponytail even though he's balding, smells a little bit like flat Mountain Dew, and is shaped like an egg.

Got it?

Now, what do you think that guy is into? Comic books, maybe? We figured. For decades, comics were the realm of the most despicable geeks, nerds, and other people of the dweeb variety.

And then came The Dark Knight.

Recent developments have eroded that old image of the sun-shy, salivating comic collector. Comics are blowing up in a big way and publications like Time Magazine and the New York Times have included comic reviews in their periodicals. Comics have finally arrived as serious literature... or art... or both. They even changed their name to graphic novels to appeal to the intellectual crowd. Yep, graphic novels are just comics that wear tweed.

It's safe to say comics aren't for social misfits anymore, and you should probably get to jumping on this bandwagon. Allow Shmoop to peer pressure you.

In this lesson, we'll start with your preconceived notions about the art form. We'll generate a list of words or phrases you think of when you hear the word "comics," and by the end of it all, we'll have a working definition of the term.