Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Reboot versus Paradigm Shift: The Logic of Comic Book Companies

Newsarama posted an article that posits a change in the overall logic of comic book numbering here.  In it, they propose that if comic book companies think that higher numbers scare away people looking for a "jumping on" point, perhaps each "volume" or year of a comic book's run should start the numbering process over again.  I've got problems with that, but it brings to mind something I posted on my old blog a few years back.

There are several problems that modern comic book publishers cite often:

1.  Numbering causing issues with figuring out when to jump onto a series.

2.  Continuity issues.

3.  Strong series dropping off in readers over time.

What I posited a few years back, and what I'm reminded of upon thinking of DC talking about making dramatic moves, is to honestly change how business is done in the comic book industry.  Dark Horse has already moved in this direction with many of their Star Wars series, i.e. the Legacy series not running past 50 issues, then continuing with that set of characters in a shorter mini-series format.

What I posited then, and I'm bringing up now, is, why have monthly comics at all at this point?  By monthly, I don't mean not having comic books come out every month in sequential order.  What I mean is, why put out comics that come out every month, theoretically in perpetuity, thus creating the driving factor of finding something to put in that comic every month?

In other words, no monthly Batman comic, where you have a really strong comic arc, some filler issues, a so-so arc, then a horrific arc, and a dramatic shift in creative team to keep sales up because of a drop off in interest.

Instead, you publish by the story.  Someone comes to you with a great storyline.  You figure how many issues it would take to publish said storyline, then you publish it.  So writer X comes to you with what seems like a 12 issue arc, and you start publishing "Batman:  Edge of the Coin," a year long epic with Two-Face at its heart.

If no one has another great Batman arc ready to go by the end of this arc, no new Batman story.  Batman is just an example, but the point is, you have a good story, you publish that story.  Someone else gets you a good idea for another story, you publish that.

Someone gets you a good Wonder Woman arc, but no one knows what to do with her after that awesome story arc?  Guess what?  You don't have to worry about it, because she doesn't have to have a ongoing monthly format.  Six months later, if the same writer has a great idea for a follow up, there you go!

So how does this address the above?

1.  The mini series renumbers at each story arc, thus providing a natural jumping on point with clear delineations.

2.  Continuity issues are alleviated because the story arcs are naturally self contained.  If you have a Justice League arc that you start while you have a Superman and Batman arc going on, you should have the ability to very clearly figure out where the arc fits in terms of your other story arcs, instead of juggling several monthly series that are all ostensibly going on simultaneously.

3.  Some of that drop off of readers is due to the feeling that a series has reached a crescendo, a peak, and once a story arc ends, going back to the shorter arcs is a bit of a let down, almost like an acceptable time to move one.  If every arc is self contained, you have more investment in that particular limited series.

I could be way off base here, and indeed, there are great one shot stories, and this paradigm does make it harder to present those.  My solution to that would be to have an ongoing comic like DC Showcase or similar comics where you can do good single issue stories. 

This could be a horrible idea.  I could be foolish to even conjecture to go this direction, but I do think it might cut down on what seems to be the biggest culprit of both cluttered continuity and reader burnout . . . the filler issues that are born of needed to produce product on a monthly basis.


  1. I know my wife would be all over your suggestion. I think, coupled with a yearly annual that detailed that year's chronology to keep the purist fans happy,this could be a real success.

    I would also be fond of this way of distributing comics. It would certainly weed out a lot of filler/chaff, and provide a nice way to ignore stuff that is just not your thing; e.g. Byrne's Superman killing, etc.

    The number one thing I'd like to see comics do, and I'm sure this comes from the roleplayer in me, would be a regular atlas, perhaps as a companion to each major arc. E.g. An atlas of Gotham for No Man's Land, an atlas of the world during Flashpoint, etc. Each book could be filled with facts, maps and references to the wider continuity, perhaps even reprinting older comics or parts of, important to the events in the atlas. I'd be happy if these were single issue size, or anything up to 200 page hardbacks.

    Probably not going to happen, though. :(

  2. You know, you comment reminds me of something. Back when "events" were fewer and far between, you could have more background material to support that event.

    Then again, I miss my Who's Who/Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe/G.I. Joe Order of Battle style books.

  3. I had that Marvel book too. Mine came with free Marvel Top Trumps! :D