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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.

21 Comments

I agree with this so much. Today’s comic creators do in 6 issues what used to be done in one or 2 issues. I can’t read monthly comics anymore. I have to wait for the trade to get a complete story. Comics are more expensive than ever and they have less story and content than ever before. The first issue of a comic today is like watching the beginning of a TV episode up to the first commercial break. Then you have to wait 30 days for the next 10 minutes of the episode. No one who doesn’t already loves comics would want to start reading such decompressed stories. It wouldn’t be so bad if comics were weekly, but they’re monthly.

I remember loving Ultimate Spider-Man in trade, but when I caught up to the series and started buying single issues I hated it. I got so little story and had to wait a month for the next tiny chunk of story. I gave up on the series after that. I’ve completely given up on monthly comics, except for TMNT. Waiting for trades is much cheaper and more enjoyable.

Yes, wait for the trade. Content-wise in many comics monthly issues have become obsolete, accept it.

There are exceptions but chances are you won’t find Marvel or DC logo in their covers.

I’ve been screaming this (to whoever wants to listen) for years.

Whenever I read all of these “new” concepts and ideas from either Marvel & DC, ideas and concepts that are supposed to somehow drive back readers to their books, whether it’s this whole line reboot at DC or Marvel’s many cross line events, they NEVER address the actual problem with the modern day monthly comic.

All they are, are CHAPTERS for a novel. That’s it. That’s all you get, you lucky comic book buyer, for your $2.99 or $3.99 (or more) per month. You don’t get a story with a beginning or a middle or an end. You just get a chapter from a larger story.

Why the hell would anyone be stupid enough to pay that much for an incomplete piece? For just a bit from a larger story?

And DC and Marvel aren’t the only ones’ guilty of this tactic. Sim did it for years with Cerebus and the bros. Hernandez did it back in the day of their monthly Love & Rockets comics.

sandwich eater –

I can’t swear this is accurate . . . but I once saw a rumor to the effect that when Brian Michael Bendis was first selected to write the new “Ultimate Spider-Man” title, the editorial plan was that he should do it much the same way Spidey had originally been handled after he debuted in the early 1960s.

The idea seems to have been that after Ultimate Peter’s origin story had been retold and he started getting a feel for his powers, the title would supposedly settle down into a situation where “each issue is one complete story” as the default — with rare exceptions. There would be ongoing humorous subplots and so forth to provide a sense of “continuity” from one issue to the next, but a typical villain would appear, scuffle with Peter, and ultimately get defeated, all within the pages of the same monthly issue! The same way Stan Lee and Steve Ditko did it in the first few years of “The Amazing Spider-Man”!

Obviously, that wasn’t even remotely close to Bendis’s preferred storytelling style — and according to the rumor, by the time the editors realized that he had no intention of ever doing it that way, they didn’t feel like fighting him about it (nor firing him). I’m guessing that the sales on the first few issues of “Ultimate Spidey” were good enough to make them reconsider their strategy?

Which meant, as I understand it, that they were just shrugging and throwing away part of the original game plan for making the new Spidey title more “accessible” and “user-friendly” for any new reader who just happened to pick up, let’s say, #10 in a store without knowing anything about what had happened in the previous nine issues!

If you could marry the density of comics of the silver age with the sophistication of modern comics it would change the game completely.

Unfortunately, you have lazy writers at Marvel and DC (for the most part) who like getting six checks for a story instead of two to five checks.

Indeed; I’ve been saying this for years, but in particular it’s come up recently in conversations with people who defend certain books in the DC relaunch with the “Stick around, they’re building up to something” argument.

If they can’t hook me in issue #1, that’s not my fault, and I’m certainly not OBLIGATED to spend $3 on #2, or #3, or #4, on the hopes of some payoff someday.

Batman’s origin story was 2 pages. Hulk’s was 13, plus a splash page, leaving 10 more pages for his first supervillain fight. And the idea that that kind of density wouldn’t fly in this era of “widescreen” storytelling — well, there are probably dozens of 8-page Hellboy stories that say otherwise. And while I haven’t picked up Perez’s Superman #1, the reviews indicate that’s exactly the kind of book it is, 20 pages of Perez cramming as much detail into as many panels as he can.

I like the big, splashy Bryan Hitch style. But good God, it’s not the ONLY way to tell a story!

Neither, not to put too fine a point on it, is 20 pages leading up to a big cliffhanger splash page, building toward a 6-issue arc for a trade.

My favorite books right now are Dark Horse Presents and Sergio Aragones Funnies. I would like to see more books like them.

Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin

October 12, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Eh, I don’t care how long the story is, as long as the authors get to tell it the way they want to.

Be it ten pages, single issues, two-parters, six-parters, twelve-parters or whole runs.

I was a big buyer of comic series in the late 70’s, 80’s, and up until the mid 90’s. Now I pretty much just buy only trades. After reading these current DCNU books it made me certain that I was right to stick to trades. All these people were crowing about Animal Man #2 being so amazing but it did seem to be rather thin for the price point. A good story is a good thing but paying a premium for it is not good.

Sonia, I’ve been saying the same thing for years.

I’m sick of reading comics where pages and pages go by and nothing happens. This whole “Fear Itself” storyline could have been told better in just two or three issues. The current Justice League reboot appears to be stretching its origin out over six issues, when it would have been more effective done-in-one.

Compare a couple pages of Ditko’s Spider-Man to whoever Marvel has drawing him this week. You’ll quickly see that these days we pay 25 times as much and meanwhile we get one-tenth the story content.

How much “bang for the buck” do we get in modern comics? A mere whimper!

That’s why Casanova is still relatively awesome.

Richard, in the early 20th century sci-fi stories were serialized in magazines. They had a chapter come out each month in a magazine. They also collected them in novels after they finished the stories in the magazines. I guess everyone realized that reading them all at once was way better, and now all sci-fi books come out as novels. I wouldn’t shed any tears if comics scrapped the monthly format. A company could have 2 or 3 trades come out every week with 3 to 6 months between trades for a series. The only downside would be that a person couldn’t get a weekly fix of their favorite character.

@Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin “Eh, I don’t care how long the story is, as long as the authors get to tell it the way they want to.”

Hey, I agree. So why don’t these authors do what all other authors have to do. Tell their story in ONE book. You know, like writers have been doing for centuries. If they want to tell a long story, fine. Just don’t expect myself or many others to file into a comic shop once a month like some brain dead sheep, and shell out $4 or more for just one chapter.

I can’t really afford to buy many issues a month so when I don’t get any story in the issue, I’m not inclined to continue buying. This is why I love Essentials so much.

As a new comics reader focused on analyzing specifically DC’s New 52 relaunch in the name of new readers everywhere, I have to agree 100% that the single issues have to be satisfying. I’ve been (slowly) grading them out on my new blog for new reader approachability and there have been just as many flat-out misses as hits on any level.

I’m enjoying the single issues so far because I like knowing I’m getting the story as its (hopefully) intended to be read as well as as soon as the issues are available (rather than waiting multiple dry months for something I’m excited for), and I like blogging and chose a pretty niche topic, so it’d be lame to just decide to go for trades and say “Later!” to the few people that happen to follow the blog, but I assume I’m in the minority of new readers who feel like this is an efficient way to tell a story. In fact, I believe it’s pretty archaic in a time when people don’t have a lot of patience for the sort of unique old-fashioned storytelling comics provide.

@Richard Marcej

That’s what bothers me, that people like Mr. Akaky are getting used to stories going as long as they can, instead of as long as they should. Us old timers are told to ‘wait, it gets better’ or ‘let the writers tell their stories how they want to’, and we have no choice.

But I think the problem is the stories themselves. I know I won’t complain if that 12-issue miniseries was a good story that couldn’t have been told any shorter.

I’m in your corner on this. Issues should be a little more dense and have a conflict and resolution – it’s episodic storytelling, not a chapter divided into six parts.

“Eh, I don’t care how long the story is, as long as the authors get to tell it the way they want to.”

Agreed, but the way it is published should correlate to the length of story and not be chopped in smaller pieces in an artificial way. If the story takes 120 pages, it should be published in 120 pages and not six 20-page installments which do not stand on their own.

- Bendis?? Decompressed? Yeah, right.
– Right?
– Right.
– uh, right.

I just read Snarked #1, by Roger Langridge, and it was an excellent book. Fun read, great for kids, well-written characters and world, and took longer than five minutes to read.

Y’all are more negative than Greg Burgas!

Just kidding. Actually, I agree with you. Death to decompressed comics!

I hope Marvel and DC go broke publishing this type of comics. Someone else can return to publishing books that are worth the cover price. Then I’ll start buying them again.

Well. I agree, but I don’t think it always has to be story development.

Tucker Stone made a good observation about the latest Action Comics #2 (and I really did like it a lot more than #1): there’s not really a lick of “development” in the story, but it is a bunch of content. There’s more chances for us to chuckle, or startle, or raise our eyebrows – there’s enough to engage us in what we’re seeing in front of us that it’s notably more entertaining than a lot of comics, superhero or otherwise.

Similarly, Aquaman #1 was the first Johns-written comic I’ve liked in a long time. Putting aside Reis’s great art, if we can for a second, the issue had almost none of the saga storytelling that has built Johns’s career over the last few years. We get some horror scenes with monsters and that’s it for the plot, but it’s not the content. What made it powerful was how Johns’s dialogue/monologue structure delivered the money shot: Aquaman’s a joke, and wouldn’t it suck to be a joke when you can take a bullet to the dome, no problem?

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