Committed: More Content, Please
It’s not enough. I want more. If I’m going to buy a monthly comic book, instead of waiting for a trade paperback compilation, then I want creators to pack in as much story and development as possible. It isn’t enough to just meander delightfully through 20-24 pages without anything much happening, I’m not buying these comics just for a relaxing atmosphere change, I want escapism, story development, progress. I want more.
There weren’t any special shops to buy comics in when I was a little girl, so it was rare for me to be able to read a continuous run of any comic book. At the time that didn’t matter too much, because stories were usually complete in one issue. If there was anything you needed to know from previous stories, there’d be a little editors note in the bottom corner of the pertinent panel and (f you wanted to bother) you could look for that back issue. Most of the time this wasn’t necessary though, because the stories usually wrapped up in that one issue.
Now I understand that comic books are more sophisticated today and I applaud the longer, more elaborate stories that are we have come to expect. However, the fact that it is now considered the norm to stretch a story over multiple issues, can mean that writers are sometimes expected to use unnecessarily languorous storytelling. Dragging out plots which could be better suited to a single issue, capped with a decent cliffhanger to keep us coming back would be a welcome change. If a story does stretch out over months of comic books, writers need to be considerate of their readers, and pace the books accordingly, packing in enough content to keep each individual issue interesting. Writers cannot simply write for the compilation, assuming that no one will mind if nothing happens in a given month.
Lately I’ve been very happy with Hellblazer and I think a lot of that is to do with Peter Milligan’s marvelous return to form. While the elaborate storylines continue over months, each issue is satisfyingly packed with individual character development, storyline progression, action and tension. He is good at it, he’s been doing it for a long time and back when he started, people only bought monthly comic books (for the most part), so writers never wrote for the compilation. Milligan, and other writers of with his experience, don’t seem to shy away from complications and intricacies in their plots. They understand that these are actually essential elements of any ongoing story.
Another thing that comic books used to do when they were harder to find, was cater to first time readers, just in case they didn’t know the back story. Now in an ideal world, the first issue of an ongoing comic book ought to tell enough of a story to be a satisfying and complete introduction to the characters, their world, and their struggles. Unfortunately most of the comic books which have so far been released as part of DC’s “new 52″, are just randomly started mid-story, hardly any of them have been a decent introduction to new readers. This is a shame, since many new readers and readers who haven’t read comics for years are expressing an interest. However, they find themselves reading a confusing mixture of disconnected individuals behaving inexplicably, which is hardly a #1 by anyone’s definition.
Out of all of the new DC #1’s that have been coming out over the last few weeks only Animal Man had a true introduction page. Notably, it has been widely lauded as one of the best of the new 52. Perhaps these things aren’t disconnected. Unfortunately, that recap was a text block, making poor use of the medium, so although clearly people appreciated this recap, it could have been pushed a little further by being an actual comic book and using appropriate sequential art to tell the story. The only recent new #1 which has had a classic-style comic page of intro/recap has been Marvel’s new Daredevil #1, and as I’ve mentioned in previous columns, this is a book which would actually be extremely appropriate for new readers.
Generally, as mainstream publishers seek to draw in new readers to monthly comic books, more attention has to be paid to creating satisfying single issues. It isn’t enough to complain that people don’t read them, then create single issues that just don’t work outside of a compilation. If there are concerns about the viability of this industry in the future, then the onus is on the publishers and the creators to work with the restrictions of the medium instead of fighting it.