Comic Books: Change The Damn Model

Comics Alliance: ‘Wired’ Magazine Forecasts the Death of the Printed Monthly Comic

There’s a bit of a ComicsAlliance teamup over at Wired, where CA contributor Douglas Wolk forecasts a bleak future for the printed monthly comic book in an increasingly digital world, in a piece that includes typically astonishing illustration by occasional CA artist Ulises Farinas. Wolk calls the weekly pull list of pamphlet comics a “dying tradition” whose customers have been “trickling away for years,” but adds that the comics audience has been supplemented by graphic novel readers who buy their books in collections (often at bookstores) and digital readers who want to download their comics either through legal or illegal means.

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.

Bleeding Cool: Marvel To Change The Face Of Newsstand Comics

Bleeding Cool has been the first to bring you news as to how both Hastings and Barnes & Noble have been massively increasing the amount of comic book material they carry.

Well, Marvel seems to have sat up and noticed. I understand that they are launching a massive amount of new ongoing titles for this market, that will anthologise existing material and flood the growing market.

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.

The entire model of comic book publishing has been based on the monthly issue.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a self-contained story or a continuing saga, it must come out monthly.

That must now change.

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I used to buy comics but stopped quite some time ago. And while there are comics I’d like to buy today, I won’t buy print and I won’t pay their current asking price for digital.

Also: I don’t want to be bothered every damn month and try to follow a long, involved story. That’s like buying a book by the chapter. Who wants to do that?

I think comic book publishing has to face the realization that the monthly issue is dead. Its time has passed. It was based on a different distribution era, a different machine era, and a different society and culture.

What will save them are graphic novels.

I bought Watchmen, for example, as an all-in-one book. I think that’s how most people encountered it too. The same for Frank Miller’s two Batman books. And even though Spiegelman’s Maus began as a serial, most people only heard of it when it was a book.

I think that’s what comic book publishing needs to move towards now: Big stories, book-length stories, not trivial and annoying monthly serials.

How many people would follow a once-a-month TV series?

Writer Warren Ellis understood how things are changing when he did FreakAngels. It was digital first and it was weekly, not monthly. (And while that was an interesting experiment, maybe Ellis would prefer the luxury of more writing time instead of the challenge of a weekly deadline.)

All of DC’s planning, unveiling everything with new number one issues, that’s a desperate last gasp to adhere to an obsolete model.

Issue numbers don’t matter to adults. Story continuity does, but not to the anal extent it has been worshiped in comic books (I think we can blame Stan Lee and Marvel for that).

An adult isn’t afraid to pick up a novel by, say, a crime fiction writer and then find out it’s part of a series (crime fiction is smarter than SF in this regard; they don’t do stupid things like labeling books as part of a “trilogy” or “series”). I’ve never encountered any novel with a footnote, “See title X in this series,” as you would with a comic book!

There are really only four markets for comic books:

1) The hardcore who don’t mind going to those ghastly stores. Hey, I was once of those people. I stopped going. So will this hardcore. People change. A business that expects its customer base to be frozen in amber is delusional.

2) Found money via nostalgic e-reprints. I’d pay to get in e some of the comics I once owned in the 1970s. But I want them as cheap bundles. You can’t convince me to pay $2 for something that had a cover price of twenty or twenty-five cents when I originally bought it.

3) Expanding the market to adults who, you know, actually read and want stories with length and depth and adult sensibilities. Many in comic book publishing have whined over the years about how comics are taken more seriously in Europe and Japan than they are in the U.S.. Well, this is the time to make the changes to reach for that.

4) Children. Very, very young children. Who are more likely to read things from Disney. Because you know what the older children — the ones who are my age when I bought comics — are doing? They’re playing video games. Comic books just don’t exist to them at all.

So, if I was in comic book publishing, I would start to throttle back on that monthly model that’s dying and start ramping up the book-length material.

This means really raising the bar for the entire industry in terms of quality. It means growing up.

Refuse to do that and you’re all just out of your jobs.

3 Comments

Filed under Digital Overthrow, Digital Periodicals, Marketing

3 responses to “Comic Books: Change The Damn Model

  1. Good read. I would wonder how much the politics of the manufacturing process are playing into the perpetuation of the monthly format. I mean, the paper industry and comics go back nearly 80 years now – how much pressure is being applied? I just don’t understand why they keep hanging on to this albatross of a format.

  2. All good points, but I think you’re giving the monthly model too much weight. Between the endless crossovers and star characters with multiple titles, monthly storylines are almost in the minority. The Superman comics were basically a single weekly series for years, and following the X-Men was nearly impossible if you didn’t buy every X-title released. Even without out huge crossovers, there are overlapping storylines between titles with the same writer or editor. The “Dixonverse” of Nightwing, Robin and Birds of Prey was one of my favorites (though I never collected any Batman titles). Also, most serious fans follow multiple series, which gives them a new comic fix every week. I see your point on the monthly model, but the big guys don’t follow it very strictly.

    • mikecane

      You reiterate what I wrote:
      >>>Story continuity does, but not to the anal extent it has been worshiped in comic books (I think we can blame Stan Lee and Marvel for that).

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