I have a general complaint about a lot of modern comics (I’m looking at you Walking Dead) where they need to be read in chunks, that not every issue can be read on its own. If each issue isn’t necessarily satisfying on its own, why are people going to come back month in and month out? In an era when younger people (the obvious market if we really are trying to get new readers) are so into singles and digital and a “get it to me now so I can be done with it now and move on to the next thing” attitude, this seems a poor choice at best. The shorter attention spans mean that the idea of waiting six months or more for a complete story is extremely off putting to new readers. There are many times that a single issue can be exciting, satisfying AND leave you wanting more and salivating for the next issue while being part of a larger story. It’s interesting how things come back.
It was decided at some point that comic readers wanted more complex and engaging stories. Someone figured that meant longer story arcs and the trend went to (in general) six issue story arcs that could easily be collected in Trade Paperback form to cater to the growing bookstore market. So began the “writing for the trade” era, which became the “waiting for the trade” era. Stories became “decompressed”, which basically meant if Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did it in one issue back in the day, it would take AT LEAST six issues to tell that story today. Some writers got good at building a cliffhanger, or even better a conclusion with a cliffhanger, on each issue so the reader became engaged enough to keep coming back. However some (I’m sorry to pick on you Walking Dead, I do enjoy you but this is true) just cut off at the end of the issue. It was insultingly obvious that the faithful, monthly reader who was keeping the industry going was being underserved. It felt like, “We’ll take your money, but we’re not going to give you what you paid for”. What we pay for is a story, not part of a story. There are books that I love that I felt forced to “wait for the trade” because that was how they were written and reading them any other way was making me not like the book. Some days it’s hard to justify buying the monthlies…but I gotta get my fix man!!
I noticed an interesting thing at Marvel. With their Avengers Versus X-Men event they are going bi-weekly and running a twelve issue series in six months. They also tend to ship more than once a month on some of their books. Now I know a lot of people just see that as a “cash grab”, but come on, just because we treat comic books like scripture doesn’t mean they are not businesses. Get over it folks, there is no sanctity here. They have adjusted the way they approach ongoings and events to be more in tune with the realities of the market and the customer. As the dust clears from the explosion of the “nu-52” at DC, Marvel seems to be moving back to the top of their industry. Speaking of DC, or as I will be referring to them: nuDC, they’ve gone another way. They gave themselves a huge opportunity for a fresh start, and claimed that digital was an integral part of this direction. However, the short attention span of your average digital consumer seems to be furthest from their minds.
I love Scott Snyder’s Batman, but we are on issue eight and the first story is not only still going, it’s expanding into EVERY Batman related book for a month. That’s twenty issues, and who knows if the story finishes there. Green Lantern-New Guardians is getting better than it was, but it’s also still on the same initial story and the earlier issues felt like six pagers stretched out to a full book. DC has announced a new initiative where they will be creating exclusively digital content, like the current Smallville Season 11, so let’s see if they can turn this around. I know it seems as if I’m a bit of a Marvel Zombie, and at the moment maybe I am, but I dig any good material no matter where it comes from. If you’ve read my recent reviews of indie books, you know that I am only a recent resident of the indie comics’ fandom. I go where the quality is, and there’s a lot of it out there that in the past I’d cut myself off from. I also understand, as a writer, that sometimes the story needs to be longer. Often, they take you places you never planned on going. Hell, this article has changed direction on me at least three times!
Now here in the new, modern, birth of digital age the opportunity has arisen for a new kind of comic book creating and marketing. You Indie and creator-owned types should pay attention here. The way that the digital single has changed music, digital comics could be creating a big opportunity for everyone. It costs too much to publish physically. The big companies will ALWAYS get the counter/shelf space, you’ll be lucky to sit anywhere in a comic shop. However, many bands have been built off the success of a good single that they carried around with them and put into people’s hands. Maybe it’s time comic book creators took the same tactic. Produce the best possible work you can in anywhere from 10-24 pages. Make it available digitally and pimp the hell out of it. Send it to online reviewers, sell it yourself or get a local store to place it in their digital storefront if they have one. Go to conventions, when you meet other creators, or better yet: editors, e-mail them a free copy. Hand them a disc or thumb drive, print a small run and hand it to folks as well. Some people need something physical in their hands. Get the word out and most importantly, don’t give up.
Sean Stoltey, writer, raconteur and retired rabble rouser, hails originally from California’s Central Coast but currently resides in Southern California’s BEAUTIFUL–San Fernando Valley. Screenwriter, Comic Book author, these are things he does because he’s too poor to be a Producer or Publisher.
Sean has been reading comics, watching movies, reading books and selling his soul (or at least his hearing) to Rock’n’Roll for as long as he can remember. He has been discussing and arguing about these things for almost as long.
So now he has come here to throw his opinions in your face as well and hope that, even if you don’t agree, hopefully you will enjoy them. For the record: Kirk was the greatest Enterprise Captain, Han was the only one that shot, Led Zeppelin was the greatest Rock band to walk the Earth and Keith Richards is the coolest undead person to walk the Earth. Coolest living people are my sons and my Mom and Dad. My Dad F—in’ rocks, and my Mom can kick your ass.
You can ask Sean anything at http://www.formspring.me/WWest3001 follow him via twitter @WWest3001 or boring old e-mail at SeanStoltey@yahoo.com