Ask the Comics Librarians: Weeding Superhero Comics

Weeding can be a satisfying process, but there’s no doubt weeding a consistently popular format like graphic novels can be a daunting task. Prompted by a reader question, we weigh in with our tips and tricks for the process.

Our two contributors introduce themselves and the collections they manage:

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Kacy

I’m a centralized collection development librarian in a 15-branch system. Day-to-day, I’m not weeding in my system, but I do train coworkers on weeding, occasionally weed collections when the need is dire, or I give the final word on what to keep/weed when branches are in need of a subject specialist or a second opinion. 

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Adam

I’m an adult services librarian purchasing graphic novels at a medium sized, suburban library. I maintain the collection and am responsible for weeding this and several of our non-fiction sections. Our library uses some standard time frames when running weeding reports, but I have the final say in what stays or goes.

What are your general rules for weeding your comics collections?

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Kacy

My system is most often weeding for shelf space. I have a healthy budget and I’m buying a lot of graphic novels and comics every month. We nearly always start with “dead item lists”. Most branches have comic collections defined as dead after 2 years with no circulation and our smallest busy locations are weeding after 18 months with no circulation. When looking at a dead list, I have the option to keep, transfer to another branch, or remove. I like to look at the whole series at that branch and across the system. I try not to get sentimental about characters I personally like, since I’m not in the branch handselling that comic. Because I’m buying a lot (I’ve purchased 4300 volumes so far in 2023), I’m usually advocating for removing a lot of titles. Our Main branch does have a large comics collection (11,600+ items across juvenile, YA, and adult) that gets weeded less rigorously than the branches, so it makes it easy to choose to remove things from smaller branches when Main has a copy, or to transfer to Main rather than remove a last copy.

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Adam

I’m at a mid-sized library that isn’t part of a branch system, so I only have to consider our immediate collection. I may refer to our consortium to see if we are the only library in the group that owns a particular title, but depending on how well it has circulated in the past that isn’t always a determining factor. Much like Kacy, I am weeding for shelf space and start with 2 years of inactivity for “dead items.” We’ve seen better circulation stats the last couple of years so our budget for graphic novels reflects this increase. The flip-side of that coin is now space is more precious as we’re ordering more, so there is no room for sentimentality. I try to visually inspect the collection every other month for condition (as much as possible anyway) as some spines simply don’t hold up well and some covers take a beating. I get a report every month for dead items and I try to keep a balance of how much we have incoming versus what I’m deleting. We’ll touch on it later, but books in a series are the only real complication to this process generally. 

In terms of weeding superhero series and collections, what is your advice? 

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Kacy

Often later volumes in a series are not circulating, but then I see volume 1 has gone missing or been withdrawn after many circulations (likely has fallen apart). So if a branch has Red Hood and the Outlaws vol. 3 on its dead list, my first 2 questions are, “do they have vols.1 & 2?” and “are those circulating?” If those items exist and are circulating, then volume 3 should soon circulate again and needs to be kept. Sometimes, I end up re-purchasing volume 1 instead of removing a large series. 

One big issue with superhero comics is they often go out of print before I can repurchase them. So if volumes 1-8 are out of print and I’ve only got volumes 3, 5, and 7, I’ll recommend weeding all of them. If I have volumes 1-3 and 7, and the first couple are circulating, I’ll recommend keeping at least 1-3 and if the branch is large, also the random 7, with the hopes that our patrons can interlibrary loan the rest. 

If series starters (volume 1s) and standalone superhero titles aren’t circulating, I may look up the hero’s name to see if there’s an upcoming adaptation or other reason to recommend keeping. In early 2023, a branch consulted me about a weeding list and Spider-man 2099 (2015) volumes 1-6 was on it. I recommended keeping them because I knew Miguel O’Hara would be featured in Across the Spider-Verse and now those titles are circulating again. For the most part, if a volume 1 isn’t circulating and you need the space, you can remove the whole series. (This also applies to manga.)

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Adam

Kacy summed it up perfectly. The toughest part is gauging what isn’t doing well because it’s not supported well, i.e. Vol 3 isn’t going out because there is no access to 1 or 2 and what books are genuinely falling out of favor. With all the TV shows and movies coming out, it is more important to keep an eye on what characters/teams might be about to pick up in popularity, but I also will try to see what new books are coming out about them. If there is a new Blue Beetle book coming out I won’t feel as bad weeding older ones that might not be popular anymore. I will sometimes check out digital resources (Hoopla, Libby, Comics Plus) to see if any series might be complete if you could read online a random volume 4 that might be missing. It is sometimes the only solution when you simply cannot purchase replacements and I will advertise those services right next to our physical books.  

if a branch has Red Hood and the Outlaws vol. 3 on its dead list, my first 2 questions are, “do they have vols.1 & 2?” and “are those circulating?”

Kacy

How do you keep track of which versions of superhero characters are doing well (in terms of circulation) and which can be let go?

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Kacy

I go through holds lists weekly to see all the titles with 3+ holds on them, to see if I need to buy more copies. When I’m buying the next volume in a series or a new title about a character I just look and see how the last few circulated. For what can be let go, dead item lists are the way to keep track. 

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Adam

I will check which books in a series are circulating well internally first and then check what availability looks like across our consortium. I also am friendly with our local comic shop and I’ll ask them what is really doing well or picking up steam locally. Blue Beetle might not be a character someone knows well, but with the movie coming out, readers are interested in it; it’s important to make sure you’re handing them a book with Jamie Reyes in the suit and not Ted Kord. Same thing with Spider-Man, do they want a Peter Parker book or, thanks to Across the Spider-Verse, are they looking for Miles Morales?

Do you have advice on how to identify which superhero series are “classic” or “must-have” series?

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KACY

Superhero fandom is huge and dedicated. Wikipedia or specific fandom wikis are great for this. If you look up a series and it has a very long, detailed entry in a fandom wiki, that’s a good sign. Just searching for “must read comics for [character name] fans” or “reading order for [character name]” will bring up multiple blog posts. Publisher marketing can be helpful for this too. DC’s Essentials Catalog gets updated often, tells you what DC consider to be their 25 essential titles, and they keep those books in print. Special collected editions and books that are reprinted are ones to consider too. 

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Adam

Sometimes it’s easiest to see what books the movie/tv studios chose to use when adapting a character for the screen. Those usually are good starting points for getting to know a character/team. What books are considered “must-haves” is sometimes dictated by the publishers, too. DC and Marvel might re-print certain runs based on what sells well every time, like X-Men: Days of Future Past or Superman: Red Son. That said, I also think tastes change and certain creative teams can alter how people think of a certain character. There are lots of “classic” Daredevil stories, but tonally they are very different and Mark Waid writes the character differently than Frank Miller. This is where the sheer volume of positive reviews can help steer you right.

Blue Beetle might not be a character someone knows well, but with the movie coming out, readers are interested in it; it’s important to make sure you’re handing them a book with Jamie Reyes in the suit and not Ted Kord.

Adam

Do you have any tips or tricks to share on how to keep track of which superhero comics are which, and how to tell which runs are which in order to weed?

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Kacy

Wikipedia & publishers’ websites, but also I am often just looking up the title of the book with the writer’s name and the publication year. Our cataloging staff is trying to add consistent series statements to all our comic bib records, but “title and author” searches have been my best bet.

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Adam

The larger publishers usually have decent Wikis you can use to keep things straight, but I will also use the Goodreads community and League of Comic Geeks website if I’m really lost. In terms of what to weed, I’m with Kacy—author/artist is usually the starting point and then double checking which issues are supposed to be included in each volume. Most of the time there will be a subtitle that can help you make sure you’re keeping books together like Captain America: Winter Soldier versus Captain America: Man Out of Time.

Do you weed individual volumes, story arcs, entire series runs, or some other way of weeding series?

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Kacy

I recommend weeding story arcs and entire series runs when the majority of the series (especially the first few volumes) are not circulating or have gone missing and cannot be replaced. I also find that tie-in comics for superhero shows and movies are not popular for long, unlike books that are the source material for adaptations. 

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Adam

Yeah, I basically stopped purchasing tie-in comics because they fade so quickly and I have to be space conscious. I try to start with story arcs when I can because there may be a reason that portion is less popular, maybe a change in author or artist, while the rest still circulate. Sometimes you just have to take the hint though and move on. Rat Queens had been popular at my library once, but in my July weeding report all except the very last volume were on the list, so the whole series is getting pulled. They are making more new comics every day, can’t lose sleep over what isn’t popular anymore.

Do you make any distinction between titles or series that appeal to dedicated superhero fans (i.e. have a lot of backstory/continuity) and those titles or series that work as introductions to characters/worlds?

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Kacy

When I’m ordering I do pay attention to that, but not when I’m weeding.

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Adam

Our Youth Services staff will sometimes hold on to books that serve as an introduction in both Teen and Juvenile graphic novels, but I don’t use it as criteria when weeding Adult GN. Again, in a pinch I’m okay referring people to our digital services where some of those classics/introductions are easy to find. 

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Must Have: Shazam

Introduction

When young orphan Billy Batson says the magic word, a bolt of magical lightning comes from the sky and transforms Billy into Shazam, the World’s Mightiest Mortal, an adult-looking, Superman-like hero that has at his disposal abilities like the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, etc. Billy Batson/Shazam looks like he’s cut from the same archetype as Superman, but his purview is the magical threats within the DC universe. He is also perhaps the most misunderstood. Though he has been portrayed as old-fashioned and hopelessly naive, even his nemesis Dr. Sivana refers to him as “The Big Red Cheese,” this is because he is a child in an adult body, which happens to be a popular power fantasy among children who have very little autonomy. Approaching the world with a childlike earnestness, Shazam also operates in a world where magic is real and dangerous, meaning there are plenty of opportunities for fantastical whimsy that’s perfect for kids of all ages. Librarians with fantasy fans and superhero readers will find plenty to love about the World’s Mightiest Mortal (or the Big Red Cheese).

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!: Family Affair

Mike Kunkel

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At least a spiritual successor to Jeff Smith’s take on Shazam, this all-ages comic doubles down on the whimsical fantasy, thanks mostly to the artwork and the subject matter. Billy is still an adult when transformed, while Mary transforms into the same girl whose superspeed reflects her own boundless energy. Even antihero Black Adam is portrayed as a boy Billy’s age until he discovers the secret word and then becomes his archenemy.

Appeals to

Librarians (and readers) looking for an all-ages book, fans of sibling dynamics.

Shazam and the Seven Magic Lands

Geoff Johns

Dale Eaglesham

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A continuation of Geoff Johns’s story, this book finds Shazam and his foster siblings fighting crime while keeping their superheroic activities a secret. Then the kids discover a train car that takes them to the aforementioned magical lands where they encounter everything from talking tigers to tin men. This also leaves their world at the mercy of villains like Dr. Sivana and Mr. Mind. Johns both creates a fun story with high stakes and expands the Shazam universe.

Appeals to

Fans of the movie and of Geoff Johns’s take on Shazam.

Shazam: A Celebration of 75 Years

Bill Parker

C. C. Beck

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One jam-packed book that introduces every era of Shazam, from his days at Fawcett to his current movie starring Zach Levi. A collection of some of his best-known stories, this volume has everyone from the Shazam/Marvel family to antihero Black Adam. And at a price point of about $35 dollars (depending on where your library buys graphic novels), it won’t break the budget.

Appeals to

Those who want an overall introduction to Captain Marvel/Shazam, librarians who want to save money.

Shazam!: Origins

Geoff Johns

Gary Frank

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The origin story that inspired the movie. Writer Geoff Johns, responsible for most of the current DC Universe, imagines Billy Batson as a brash teenager who still has a good heart, which is why he’s chosen to be the wizard Shazam’s champion. Of course, as he discovers his powers, he also uses the fact that he looks like an adult to buy beer while also doing good deeds. This story also introduces a different kind of Shazam family, featuring sidekick Freddy Freeman and older sister/voice of reason Mary Marvel.

Appeals to

Teens who love magic and protagonists who aren’t squeaky clean.

Content Notes

Appears in the final part of Shazam!: A Celebration of 75 Years. Also reprinted as Shazam!: Vol. 1 (The New 52).

Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil

Jeff Smith

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Jeff Smith, writer of Bone, offers a retelling of Billy Batson becoming the champion of magic. This series is notable because it presents Billy Batson and Shazam as two distinct personalities who switch places when one utters the magic word. It also offers some charming dynamics between Billy and Shazam, as well as Billy and his younger superpowered sister Mary, while also offering some retro thrills that might remind readers of rollicking adventure comics like The Adventures of Tin-Tin and The Rocketeer.

Appeals to

Kids (and adults) who like adventure comics, superhero comics, and Jeff Smith

Content Notes

Issue #2 is contained in Shazam!: A Celebration of 75 Years

Superman/Shazam!: First Thunder

Judd Winick

Joshua Middleton

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Judd Winick, writer of Batman: Under the Red Hood and Hilo, tells the story of the first meeting between the World’s Mightiest Mortal and the Man of Steel. This book features the oft-repeated ritual of two heroes bonding over battling giant monsters and maniacal supervillains, but Winick, who also wrote the powerful biographical book Pedro and Me, knows how to give the reader an emotional gut punch that makes the meeting between these two heroes all the more sincere.

Appeals to

Fans of Superman, Shazam, and of comic team-ups in general. Fans of emotional depth in superhero stories.

These titles showcase Shazam’s appeal across different age groups while also keeping the basics of the character intact. Readers might see a lot of themselves in Billy Batson, and they should feel the tiniest bit of electricity when he says his magic word.

Constantine: Distorted Illusions

It is said that a little knowledge is a most dangerous thing, and one defiant magician from the pages of Alan Moore’s classic Swamp Thing inevitably maneuvers past perils standing in his path to sneer in the face of danger. A wise-cracking, double-dealing supernatural detective who escaped the jaws of hell, he is known as none other than the enigmatic and self-proclaimed John Constantine. In DC Comics’s trend of reimagining classic iconic characters, Kami Garcia (Teen Titans: Raven, Beautiful Creatures) and Isaac Goodhart (Victor and Nora: A Gotham Love Story) conjure forth a younger version of the notorious laughing magician venturing into adulthood in Constantine: Distorted Illusions.

The story starts off in London with an 18-year-old Constantine who, at the beckoning of his stepfather, secretly exploits an opportunity to hone his magic powers from the Lady Maguerite Delphine—a high-ranking sorceress of an elite magician’s society—as an excuse to take a trip to the U.S. Instead of serving as a magician’s apprentice, he would prefer to hook up with his best friend Monica and jam with a punk band dubbed the Mucous Membrane. While hanging out in Washington D.C., he pays a visit to Lady Delphine only to be booted out of her mansion for his reckless curiosity, but not before swiping a book of spells from her arcane collection, thus triggering a series of dangerous misadventures. Constantine teams up with a ragtag group of friends and dabbles with trick illusions to amplify the visual effects for their punk band gig. One spell leads to another until a vengeance spell is unwittingly cast, summoning forth an unspeakable evil that threatens to consume the very soul of one his friends.

This inventive take on the hellblazing magus presents a daring, self-assured Constantine whose heedless actions catapult him into a heap of trouble with deadly consequences, and drags his friends into messy predicaments. Along the way, he falls for a brunette named Luna at a night club, oblivious that she harbors a secret of her own. The plot unravels rapidly across different locales with panels shaded in dark purple and midnight blue, casting a mystical aura. As the action escalates, panel borders twist and bend, creating a supernatural, psychedelic ambience, throwing the characters into pandemonium. Garcia highlights a youthful rendition of Constantine whose impetuous boldness casts him into a whirlpool of misfortunes.

Packed with thrills, intrigue, romance, and deadly magic of supernatural proportions, this chapter in the Constantine saga navigates the delicate terrain of relationships, trust, dangers and consequences of taking risks, and assuming responsibility for one’s actions. Longtime fans will also witness a more down-to-earth and inexperienced Constantine whose moral compass steers him on a path towards redemption. Constantine: Distorted Illusion will add a lively dose of supernatural horror and edginess to young adult graphic novel collections.

Constantine: Distorted Illusions
By Kami Garcia
Art by Isaac Goodhart
DC, 2022
ISBN: 9781779507730

Publisher Age Rating: 13-17
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)

Getting Dizzy

Fifteen year-old Desideria “Dizzy” Olsen just knows she’s destined for greatness. One day, anyway. But so far, it seems like everything she tries—from ballet to trumpet—just ends in total disaster. So when a portal opens up right in front of her when she’s about to toss her roller skates into the donation bin along with the rest of the accouterments from her abandoned hobby attempts, it suddenly seems like everything is falling into place after all!

It turns out that fate (and new mentor Chipper) has a new mission for her: take on the mantle of ‘Burb Defender and use her newfound powers (plus super cool gadgets like the Helmet of Helping and the Blaster Bracelet) to save her hometown from evil monsters known as Negatrixes and their bad vibes. 

As the pressure mounts and Negatrixes multiply, Dizzy starts to realize that there might be more to being a Chosen One than potential fame and cool superpowers. With her own personal Negatrix looming, will the ‘Burb Defender and her new friends the Rollers be enough to defend Ruseberg from the biggest threat yet?

A sweet, silly, and action-packed romp that touches on Chosen One tropes, new friendships, and figuring out who you are, Getting Dizzy is a delightful and enjoyable read for teens and tweens. Refreshingly, the core cast of characters is diverse without being didactic about it: Dizzy is Latine-coded, Scarlett seems to be East Asian (unspecified), Payton is disabled (born without a left hand), and Av is Black and non-binary. This cast is a reflection of the world teens are currently living in, and it’s nice to see them just exist, and not have their identities pointed out in any specific way. Specific traits of each member of the friend group come into play in a vital way later on, and are things unrelated to their race, gender identity, or ability. Instead, what’s important about each friend are qualities like always seeing the beauty in everyone or being incredibly smart. 

With the story opening on a younger Dizzy’s dream of ballet stardom clashing with the reality of name-calling at school, the tone is set right from the start. Fiercely independent (just like her mom), Dizzy isn’t afraid to rise to a new challenge. At least, not at first. Like many young people, she’s a big dreamer who probably wishes life was more like a movie montage, especially when learning to fight the Negatrixes means re-learning how to roller skate (and falling. A LOT — an experience writer Shea Fontana is quite familiar with as a former roller derby player).

No stranger to the superhero genre herself thanks to her experience writing for the DC Super Hero Girls series, Fontana infuses the graphic novel with a solid mix of one-liners, goofy idioms, and moments of seriousness. From quick-witted dialogue like Payton’s quip about leaving the rest of her left arm behind when she moved from Seattle to Chipper’s speech about participation trophies and why sometimes it’s the people who aren’t good at something who get chosen, the dialogue helps Dizzy and her friends feel grounded in reality, even when they’re blasting Negatrixes back into portals with colorful magic. While the superhero antics are fun, teens and tweens will likely find themselves drawn to the themes of friendship, perseverance, and figuring out how to fight against our own anxiety and negative emotions, even when it feels easier to just give in.

Illustrator Celia Moscote, known for their gorgeous work on the graphic adaptation of Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath, succeeds again here in bringing Fontana’s cast and this imaginative setting to brilliant life on the page. The Negatrixes feel scary in a Pokémon-esque, cartoonish sort of way, keeping the terror lower stakes and accessible for both younger and older readers. Emotions are rendered in great facial expressions, and the visual pratfalls are hilarious. The colors are bold and vivid, especially the magic: that sparkles and swirls give off a magical girl element perfect for our resident ‘Burb Defender. 

A welcome addition to tween and teen collections, Getting Dizzy is a lighthearted but meaningful compilation of an initial run of four comic issues that leaves readers on a cliffhanger and hoping for a potential sequel. Hand it to fans of graphic novels like Sebastian Kadlecik’s Quince, Sam Humphries’ Jonesy, and anyone who enjoys stories featuring magical girls, superheroes, and the power of friendship.

Getting Dizzy
By Shea Fontana
Art by Celia Moscote
BOOM! Box, 2022
ISBN: 9781684158386

Publisher Age Rating: 12+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation:  Latine,  Nonbinary ,  Character Representation: Assumed Hispanic or Latine,

DC Horror Presents The Conjuring: The Lover

People of a certain age might remember sitting in front of their televisions or going to their local cinemas and watching some horror anthology series. Rather than one complete narrative, these series usually featured a collection of stories that all ended with some kind of gory or terrifying twist. They might be connected by one overarching story, but the stories themselves could vary in tone and even quality. DC’s new foray into horror utilizes this format while connecting itself to the latest movie in The Conjuring franchise. However, DC Horror Presents The Conjuring: The Lover can claim itself a prequel to the movie The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, but it owes way more to those classic horror anthology series of the past.

The main story, written by David L. Johnson-McGoldrick and Rex Ogle, focuses on young Jessica who is having a tough time adjusting to college life. Not only does Jessica miss her best friend, she feels a supernatural presence following her, one that is making her paranoid as well as isolating her from friends and family with terrifying results. Along with the main story, there are small stories focused on the artifacts found in the artifact room of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the protagonists of The Conjuring series. These stories, written by popular comic writers like Scott Snyder and Tim Seeley, range from tales of cursed music boxes to a wedding dress with a dark history.

One problem with anthology series featuring different writers and creators is the quality of each story typically ends up uneven; there might be some good stories sprinkled among the lackluster ones. However, the stories, both the main tale and the multiple artifact stories, are all pretty solid. Johnson-McGoldrick and Ogle’s story is a textbook example of slow burn that comes dangerously close to too slow for many readers, but the writers give Jessica enough layers and create enough of a sense of tragedy that she garners the readers’ sympathies. The other stories make use of their limited space and tell complete, forceful narratives that deliver sickeningly satisfying twists.

Garry Brown’s artwork in the main story feels very familiar to fans of the Conjuring movie series, with long panoramic views of rooms where Jessica is in one corner and something sinister is hiding in the other corner, which is draped in shadow. The artwork in the Artifact stories, though done by varying artists like Denys Cowen and Kelley Jones, all rely on slight variations of a realistic, painted style that makes the book almost feel like a Vertigo comic from the 1980’s. But what really plunges this book into bloody nostalgia are the spoof ads scattered throughout, all of them presenting the dark humor of many of those shows the overall book draws from.

Though this book says it connected to the Conjuring, serving as a prequel of sorts, it is in the most tangential way. Many of the stories in this book could simply stand alone in a horror anthology.This book is not only for adult horror fans, but for horror fans that fondly remember anthology series (or are younger and just now discovering them). If they are checking out DVDs of Creepshow and Tales from the Darkside, this would be a great recommended read.

DC Horror Presents: The Conjuring: The Lover
By Katie Kubert, Editor
Art by  Steve Cook, Design Editor
DC, 2022
ISBN: 9781779515087Related media:  Comic to Movie

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)