I wasn't sure when I was gonna have time to write this lil' article. But as it happens, I have to do the two things that this article is going to talk about how to do, so I might as well write out what I'm doing now!
The two things that I have to do right now are make up my order form for the comics that I want to pre-order, and make up a list of new releases that are coming out now so that I know what I'll be getting at the comics shop next week.
Before I begin, though, I want to say that a lot of the following information will seem overly technical to some readers, that pre-ordering comics looks like more of a chore than something fun to do. I don't mean to make it sound that way; I just wrote down all the info here so people who want the info can have it.
I also want to address the subject, before going any further, of WHY should anyone read comics. Why? Because the comics medium is theoretically just as good as any other artform in existence, and there are many, many talented writers and artists (and other creative talent) who have devoted their lives to making good comics. Their work is worth discovering.
There is a comic out there being done for every taste; it's just a matter of finding the right comic for you. That task can be difficult, but I believe that someone looking through the PREVIEWS catalog (more on that later) should be able to find something of interest for themselves. The very first comics that I ever ordered through the PREVIEWS catalog were issues of Totally Horses Magazine, a comic magazine devoted to horse stories!
For any new reader of comics, the best way to figure out what to buy is to go into a comics shop and look around at the comics being sold.
I would recommend sticking to the cheap boxes for a start, and also looking inside the comics (not just the cover on the outside) to figure out whether you like the art or not. For me, if I can't stand looking at the art, then I'm going to have a hard time enjoying the comic no matter how well written. (Whereas I will at least enjoy looking at nicely-drawn art regardless of whether the story is lousy or not.) If the comics are bagged and you are curious about what the comic is like, then ask the comicshop person if it's okay for you to take the comic out of the bag and look inside.
In fact, you may want to let the employee know that you are a brand-new reader of comics and trying to figure out what you'd like. The employee may have some suggestions or recommendations for you if you let him/her know some of your other interests, such as what kinds of novels/TV shows/movies/games/music you like.
And as I said before, if the price of a new comic (typically around 3 bucks) is intimidating (as it was for me when I first jumped back into buying new comics, in 1997), then dig around in the cheap boxes (if the store has such a section). Many shops will have boxes of comics over out of the way somewhere, for around 50-cents or $1.00 per issue (sometimes even cheaper). Usually these are ordinary comics from the past 20 years that nobody wants anymore, but sometimes you can find some cool stuff in such boxes. And plus, it's cheap, so you can get a few of those for the price of a brand-new comic. If the cheap issue turns out to be lousy, then at least you didn't spend much money on it.
Now, the main matter that this page will address is "What if my local comics shop doesn't carry the comics that I want to buy?" This was one of the main reasons that I stopped buying new comics around 1990. I was becoming more and more interested in independent comics that weren't on the shelves at my local shop.
Every time I went in there, I rarely saw the comics I had heard about and wanted to try. I'd heard good things about Harvey Pekar's American Splendor, for example, but I never saw a copy on the shelf so I'd be able to buy it. Issues would keep being published, but I'd never see them at my shop.
So, I was being prevented from buying comics that I wanted to buy because my shop didn't carry them. It wasn't until years later that I started buying items in advance (pre-ordering) through my local comics shop -- so that I'd be able to go to my local shop and buy something like American Splendor even if the shop didn't carry the comic on their shelves! Here's how this works.
I usually go to my local comics shop only once a month, but comics are shipped out every week. I try to time my monthly comicshop visits so that they happen either the last week of the month or the first week of the month. That's when the new issue of the PREVIEWS catalog comes out. The PREVIEWS catalog lists all the product scheduled to be released 3 months from now. (For example, I'm writing this on Friday, May 31, 2002. The new Previews catalog arrived in stores on Wednesday, May 29th, and contains the information for what product is scheduled to be released in August.)
The first thing I do when drawing up my order form for the items that I want to pre-order is go to the PREVIEWS website. The things that I want to see there are the pages titled "Premier," "Comics," "Magazines," and "Books," because those are the sections of the catalog that interest me the most. Those pages will show a few highlights from those four categories, so I can get a sense of whether I want to order them or not. After that, I'll want to view the "Order form" page on the site. Those five pages are basically all I need to look at on their site.
So, first thing I do is look at the section titled "Premier." The page shows 7 items, none of which look interesting enough to pre-order. So, I move on to "Comics." There are 8 items profiled there, and one of them I know immediately that I'll want to make sure I get, which means I better pre-order it. So, I make a mental note to make sure I remember the item when I look through the order form later. (Incidentally, you may wonder how I knew immediately what I wanted, just by looking at a brief description and a cover image. Well, the item in question was a reprint of Archie's The Shield from 1940, something you don't see every day, and I'm a fan of old comics like that. I can't imagine looking though the whole Previews catalog and not finding something to order...!)
Next I look at the "Magazines" page, but none of the five items there interests me. So, then I look at the "Books" section (since sometimes comics are hiding in there). Four books are spotlighted, but nothing interesting, so finally it's time to get the last thing I need at the PREVIEWS website, which is the Order Form. (By the way, the site does also have pages highlighting other products, such as "Toys," "Apparel," "Trading Cards," and so on, but since those are generally not of interest to me, I skip those. But you may want to add those to your list of things to check out on the PREVIEWS website, depending on your tastes.)
So, I click the link on the page that says "Order Forms". That takes me to a page offering various ways for me to download the order form. I choose the simplest way for me, which is simply get the order form as a text page. Look for the one saying something like:
Consumer Order Form
Click it and it will take you to a page which lists all the items in the new
Previews catalog (i.e., all the stuff scheduled to be available in shops
three months from now). This list doesn't give you descriptions of the
items, however. It simply lists information like the title of the product,
how much it costs, what its item code number is, and what page of the
catalog it's located on. However, you'll need that information when you
write up your order form. The text page may take a long time to open up,
and in fact you will want to open it up in another window if you can,
because now we have to go find another list that will provide
descriptions for all the items listed. That will help you decide
what items you want to order.
So, we still have the PREVIEWS text order form open in one window, and now in another window we head over to Comicbookresources.com, who happen to have a webpage with descriptions of all the product in the new PREVIEWS catalog. When you click that link, you'll see a list of all the PREVIEWS Catalogs that they have. Right now, as I write this, the newest one is the June 2002 catalog (which came out May 29th) which contains items scheduled for August 2002. And sure enough, CBR has that catalog at the top of the list, so I click it where it tells me to download the text of that catalog. (You may want to open that in another window, too, just in case.)
So, we now have two versions of the PREVIEWS catalog in text form. In one window, we have all the bare info (titles, item code numbers, prices, etc.) and the other window gives us the descriptions of each item. Together from these two lists, we should be able to determine what items we want to pre-order. (On the other hand, if you have difficulty deciding without having the actual catalog in front of you, you should be able to obtain a copy from your local comics shop. Many shops have extra copies of the PREVIEWS catalog for customers to take for free as long as they intend to pre-order something out of it through the shop.)
If you are somebody who just HAS to have cover images of the items to find out whether you want to buy it (which is understandable), then click here for a footnote with some tips to help do that.
Here's what an order form is like:
At the top of the page, write something like "PREVIEWS Order Form for August 2002" (or whatever month the items are supposed to come out). Then, underneath that, in the top left, you write your name, address, phone number, and (if over 18) write down that you are over 18 just in case something you order turns out to be a "Mature Readers" title, then sign your name under that statement. Then, the rest of the piece of paper will list what titles you want to order, with each item getting its own line. Along the top of these lines, you'll want to write the words QUANTITY (or QTY for short, meaning how many copies you want, usually it's just always "1"), ITEM CODE #, TITLE/PRODUCT (make sure that has the biggest space, because you'll have to write the title(s) of the comic(s) in that column), PAGE #, PRICE, TOTAL (which will be same as the amount under PRICE for each line, unless you order more than one copy of an item).
So, I know that I want to pre-order CEREBUS, since my local comics shop doesn't carry that series. I don't really need to see the description for that one. The PREVIEWS text page with all the bare info is what I need here. And I also remembered that Archie's THE SHIELD comic I wanted to get, so I'll jot down the info on that item, too.
So, here's what my order form looks like so far:
QTY . ITEM CODE # . TITLE/PRODUCT . PAGE # .
PRICE . TOTAL
... 1 .. JUN02 1950 .... CEREBUS #281 ........208 ... $2.25 ... $2.25
... 1 .. JUN02 2015 ..SHIELD AMERICAS ...... 222 .. $12.95 .. $12.95
You don't need the periods in there, though. I only did that so the stuff might line up better on the screen. Incidentally, on the Previews "bare info" text list, the Page numbers are listed above the item. So, when I see CEREBUS #281 on the text list, the first PAGE number that I see above its entry is the page of the PREVIEWS catalog that the item is located on. This information will be helpful to the comicshop person when they take your order form and add the items on it to their own order form that they give to the distributor. (Diamond is the comics distributor that publishes the PREVIEWS catalog.) This makes it possible for you to order stuff the same way that your local comics shop does. So, even if they don't order the item for their shelves, most shops will order it for you if you turn in an order form like this on time (before the end of the first week of the month) as long as you buy it in their shop when it comes in three months later. (Note that items will sometimes arrive late.)
OK, so I keep going through both PREVIEWS lists, figuring out from the descriptions page which items I really want to pre-order. So, when I'm all done, here's what my order form looks like:
QTY . ITEM CODE # ......... TITLE/PRODUCT..... .
PAGE # . PRICE . TOTAL
... 1 .. JUN02 1950 .... ........CEREBUS #281..... ........208 ... $2.25 ... $2.25
... 1 .. JUN02 1978 .PEANUTBUTTER & JEREMY.. 213 ... $2.95 ... $2.95
... 1 .. JUN02 2015 ..........SHIELD AMERICAS..... .... 222 .. $12.95 .. $12.95
... 1 .. JUN02 2027 ..ARCHIE'S WEIRD MYST#3 .... 223 .. $1.99 .. .$1.99
... 1 .. JUN02 2028 ..ARCHIE'S WEIRD MYST#14..... 224 .. $1.99 .. .$1.99
... 1 .. JUN02 2304 .....LOVE & ROCKETS V.2#5...... 294 .. $3.95 .. .$3.95
... 1 .. JUN02 2593 ..COMIC BOOK MARKET #96.... 346 .. $5.95 .. .$5.95
... 1 .. JUN02 2611 .I'VE GOTTA LIVE WITH THIS .. 348 .. $19.95 .. .$19.95
... 1 .. JUN02 2612 ..JK KIRBY COLLECTOR #36.... 348 .. $9.95 .. .$9.95
Voila, my order form is done. Now all I have to do is turn it in to the person who runs my local comics shop and 3 months from now (or longer, if they arrive late) I can buy these items from the shop. When the items come in, the shop will hold them for me (for a short time, that is) and I buy the items that I pre-ordered from the shop as they come in.
I also have a "pull list" at my local shop. That means that some titles I simply get every issue of and that way I don't have to fill out an order form each month to get them. (Well, theoretically. My local shop only does this for Marvel & DC titles. For an indie series like Cerebus, I have to specifically order it every month.) For example, I buy "Wonder Woman" and "Avengers" every month, since they are on my "pull list" at the shop, so I didn't need to put them on my order form. When the new shipment of comics arrive at his store every Wednesday, the comicshop person looks on a list to see who has what comics in pull. So, instead of putting all of his "Wonder Woman" titles on the shelf, he knows to put one copy of "Wonder Woman" in a bag behind the counter with my name written on it, so that I'll be able to buy it when I come in. That way, even if the issue is so popular that he sells every last one on the shelf, I'll be sure to have a copy because it was held for me.
But it's best to know when these new titles are arriving each week, so you can plan your shop visits accordingly, and know how much money to bring with you, and what you can expect to find in your bag or on the shelves each week. That's the "second thing" I mentioned at the start of this article -- keeping track of what comics are coming in each week. Fortunately, there are websites for that info as well!
My favorite website for keeping track of new releases is The New Comic Book Releases List Website. (The weekly list of new releases is called NCRL for short.) On this page you can see not only what comics were shipped to comicshops this week, but also what ones are expected to ship next week, and which ones are late (and which ones have been given a new release date or which ones have been cancelled prior to publication because they didn't get enough pre-orders to justify publishing it). They also have an archive section so you can view which comics were released in previous weeks, going all the way back to 1995! (Note that there are other websites that also provide the list of new releases each week and so on: Diamond's Shipping Lists page and CBR's New Comics List page. I sometimes use their lists as well. I think Diamond's page has the list online first, every Monday at 5pm Eastern time.)
So, here's what I have to do: I haven't been to my local comics shop since I turned in my previous order form at the beginning of last month. That means there's probably a bunch of comics waiting for me at the shop when I go there in a few days to turn in my new order form. I want to know what comics I should expect to find there (either ones I pre-order, ones on my pull list, or ones I think I may want to buy right off the shelf if the store has it), which will let me know how much money I ought to bring with me. I usually write this info on a little piece of paper and take it with me to the store. When I look through my pull bag, I check off each item on the little piece of paper. Occasionally the comicshop person may forget to put something in my pull bag, so if I see something on my little piece of paper that's left unchecked, I'll make sure to look and see if it's on the shelf. That way I don't have to find out about it when I get all the way home and look through my stack and find that he forgot to pull the latest issue of "Avengers" for me like he's supposed to.
So, first of all, I look at the page listing all of the items that shipped to comicshops THIS WEEK. (In most cases, that means they arrived in the shop on Wednesday.) So, I jot down a list of the titles I expect to get at the shop next time I go there:
AMAZE INK (SLAVE LABOR GRAPHICS)
Comic Book Heaven Vol 2 #6, $2.25
Wonder Woman #181, $2.25
DRAWN & QUARTERLY
Louis Riel #2 (AA), $2.95
Comics Journal Library Vol 1 Jack Kirby TPB, $18.95
[I'm not sure if I'll be getting this but wrote it down anyway]
Comic Book Marketplace Cvr A Craig Zombie Cvr #91, $5.95
Comic Book Marketplace Cvr B Craig Meat Cleaver #91, $5.95
[issued with 2 different covers, not sure which one I ordered]
OK, that's all I expect to get from this week's releases. Now let's see what stuff I expect to get from the stuff that arrived in comicshops LAST WEEK.
Cerebus #278, $2.25
Xal-Kor The Human Cat TPB, $9.95
[darn, I think I forgot to pre-order this & it's likely not at my shop]
OK, so that takes care of this week and last week. But since I haven't been to the comics shop in like 3 or 4 weeks, that means I have to go to their ARCHIVES PAGE to view the older NCRL lists.
So, I add the following items to my little piece of paper after going through the NCRLs for the past few weeks:
NCRL for 5/15/2002:
Lab Rats #2, $2.50
Power Company #4, $2.50
Midnight Nation #11 (resolicited), $2.50
[not sure if I ordered this or not]
NCRL for 5/8/2002:
Bone #47, $2.95
Colonia #7, $2.95
[not sure if I ordered this or not]
Order #4, $2.25
(As you can see from my notes where I state that I'm not sure if I pre-ordered an item or not, it may be a good idea to keep a list of what items you placed on your order form, so you know for sure what you pre-ordered and what you didn't. But I've been turning in an order form to my shop every month for 5 years, so I've gotten kinda sloppy now with keeping track of it.)
So, that's that. That looks to be all the titles of interest to me for the whole month. I expect to find 9 of the above listed comics waiting for me in my pull bag at the shop. Together their cost comes to $25.85, but I get a 30% discount off new releases at my shop, so that makes it around $18.10 instead. There were 4 items that I wasn't sure I'd ordered which total $24.05 (after the 30% discount) so I should probably take around $40 or $50 with me to the shop just in case, even though I doubt I'll have to spend all of it. I'll turn in my new order form for August to the shop, buy the month's worth of comics that are already waiting for me there, and maybe check out their discount boxes to see if they've got anything cheap for sale. (My shop often puts releases that are only a half-dozen months old, or even more recent, in the 50-cent boxes if they bought too many copies of it and want to get rid of it while it's still new-ish.)
Hopefully this page will help you see how you can obtain the comics of your choice through your local shop (provided, of course, that your shop allows you to pre-order items as I have just described). I hope that you look through the PREVIEWS catalog to see the plethora of material (perhaps too much!) available today and take advantage of the opportunity to buy, support, and read it.
If you want to view cover images of upcoming comics like what are in the PREVIEWS catalog, probably the most complete online version is available at WORLDS OF WESTFIELD, an online ordering service, where you can order the items right off the internet instead of having to go to a comics shop. Basically it's like an internet version of a comics shop: you send them your order form for upcoming releases and then you buy them when they become available, and the items are mailed to you. Anyway, their catalog is online and it's basically the same as the PREVIEWS catalog, including having pictures of the item. The reason that I tend not to use their catalog is that I try to get my order form to my shop ASAP (since they send in their advance orders earlier than some other shops) and the WESTFIELD online catalog usually doesn't get updated until around a week or so after the new issue of PREVIEWS has arrived in shops. I like to have my order form done before then. Still, it may prove helpful to figuring out what you want, particularly for new fans or people who are wanting to try some new titles, so check it out.
DC's website has a section called DIRECT CURRENTS which lists everything they are releasing from now until three months from now. So if you want to see what DC titles are coming out each week this month, or next month, or even the month after that, then you can find that info there. Each title listed leads to a link where you can read a description of the item (including the price) and often a picture of the cover. Marvel Comics also has a list of what titles they are coming out with each month, but the page doesn't have cover images for each item like DC has for their comics. (By the way, sometimes both sites will list an item coming out a particular week without reflecting later information that can be found at the NCRL page. So, even though DC's own "Direct Currents" page may say that a comic is coming out that week, if the NCRL page says that it's been delayed and will be coming out 2 weeks from now, then trust the NCRL page instead since it's updated more often.)
Additionally, you can find out what items the various companies are going to be soliciting in the PREVIEWS catalog each month (often before the catalog is available in text form online) or what titles they are coming out with each week at websites such as Comicbookresources.com (CBR) or Comics Continuum. Sometimes they will have a link with a title like "DC Comics Solicitations for August" (or similar wording) which means this is the upcoming stuff that you can pre-order. Or they may have a "Sneak Peak" of a new comic that has just arrived in shops, where you can view the cover and perhaps the first few pages right there on the website.