I’m killing comics (Part 1 in a series)

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By the end of this series, I’ll be wishing we used profanity here at Our Daily Read.  Mark my words.

Months ago, I switched to reading a great many comics in trade paperback (TPB) form in order to save some money. When you can get a 6-issue storyline for $15 instead of $18, you’d be a fool not to do that, right? Throw in Amazon.com’s discount, and that $18 can now be had for between ten and eleven dollars. Nifty, no?

Well, not according to more than a few online voices.  They point to the flagging sales of monthly issues and the declining profit margins of comic companies (or at least the publishing arm of Marvel Entertainment and Time Warner, DC’s parent company) and wring their hands over a future without our beloved monthlies.  Sometime soon, they surmise, it will no longer be profitable to sell monthlies and the industry will either stop publishing comics altogether (doubtful at best) or the companies will have to adapt and publish semi-regular graphic novels featuring our heroes.

The former will never happen, even if only because Marvel and DC need to protect their copyrights. And what exactly is wrong with option 2? Let’s explore all sides of this argument before coming to the inevitable conclusion that the rise of graphic novels (be they hardcover collections, TPBs, or original comic book stories in long form) isn’t the end of the world.  I’m hoping to read the ongoing discourse and add to the discussion here, but I have a feeling I might end up reiterating what others have said.

(Oh, and I’m fully aware a lot of people hate calling TPBs graphic novels.  I get that a graphic novel is an original story that didn’t appear in single issues and a TPB is a collection of monthly issues reprinted.  I don’t care.  Bother someone else with your neuroses.)

1. Comic authors today write their stories so they’ll be collected in the more lucrative (because these usually stay in print for a long, long time and therefore provide a constant trickle of income) TPB format.  Most seemingly have no idea how to tell a story in 2 or 3 issues.  Warren Ellis, an author whose work I quite like, is the most high profile example of this.Ultimate Cap clearly wants you off his damn lawn

In Ultimate Nightmare (the first miniseries in the Ultimate Galactus trilogy) the X-Men and the Ultimates a drawn to an old military base. There Ultimate Vision tells them to prepare for the coming of Galactus. This takes five issues, partly because issue 2 focuses on the two teams taking the drastic, heart wrenching, oh-no-I-can’t-believe-they’re-actually-going-to-do-it step of walking through a goddamn door.

In Thunderbolts 120, it takes Norman Osborn 5 or 6 pages to take an elevator down to the basement and put on his old Green Goblin costume.

In newuniversal: Shockfront #2, a new character talks non-stop for 2 pages, filling up the panels with word balloons that I wanted to skip, for no other reason than to let us know she believes she’s living in some kind of alternate reality.

Caveats: Like I said, I enjoy the man’s work.  He actually has shown he can write shorter stories as evidenced by Red, Tokyo Storm Warning, and a few other three-issue minis he’s produced.  Of course, the two I mentioned were collected in a single volume.

I should also mention that every single one of Garth Ennis’s arcs on the mature readers Punisher comic has been told in 5 or 6 parts.  My love for this series has not stopped me from noticing that each story was, at the very, very least, one issue too long.  Bad guys do bad stuff.  The Punisher finds out about it.  He hunts them down and kills them.  The end.  This takes 6 issues?  Every time?

This problem goes beyond comics, of course, and speaks to our need as people to have a resolution in sight.  We need to know that the story we’re reading has an endpoint and that the author isn’t flying by the seat of his or her pants (I’m looking at you, 24 writers).  The days of long story arcs that last years have been replaced with stories whose titles end with “Part 1 of 6.” 

That authors then feel the need to make sure their stories last the full 6 issues is simply a case of them bowing to the demands of their readership.  Straying outside of the tried and true 6 (or 5 or 4) issue arc brings attention and criticism. 

I’m thinking of Brian Michael Bendis’ Daredevil in particular here.  He told what amounted to a 2 year story and, even though a lot of people liked his run on the book (myself included), he was often dinged for his glacial pacing and story arcs that felt incomplete.  I felt that way myself while reading the single issues, and I have no doubt that if I sat down with all 13 volumes of Bendis’ Daredevil I’d come away with an increased appreciation of a story I already liked.  Why is this?What dark avenger doesn\'t love gargoyles?

Because I think thes author meant for that to be the case.  He wants you to read the story like a novel (i.e. without month-long breaks between chapters) so you can see the big picture without forgetting important details because of the forced hiatus.  And I don’t think he’s alone.

Of course, I can’t speak for any writer but myself and I’m not putting words in his blah, blah, blah.

So after almost 900 words where are we?  Trade paperbacks have been a good, nay, great thing for the comics industry.  They allow readers to get through a whole story in one sitting and reap the benefits that this entails (better comprehension and retention of the story, increased appreciation of writer/artist skill).  They’ve allowed comics to carve out bigger shelves in mainstream book stores.  They’ve provided a forum for the re-printing of older material (like the works of Jack Kirby).  And they’ve given new readers a better starting point than the flimsy monthly issue.

I’ll let you tell me why I’m right or wrong. 

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2 Responses to “I’m killing comics (Part 1 in a series)”

  1. Southpaw Says:

    I generally agree with the drawn out plots. TPBs, often, don’t seem to me to be cheap alternatives. Cheaper perhaps but not cheap. They often run at $20 — which hauntingly close to the cost of a brand new hardcover novel. I would rather have the novel in most cases. Now, I get that the graphic art required increases the cost but while cheaper, still not, for me anyways, cheap.

  2. Pseudonym Says:

    Amazon has been a real boon to the TPB market, and it’s my preferred way of buying the books. That $20 collection becomes $13.50, and everyone’s happy. In most cases, I’d prefer the comic to the novel, but that’s my geekiness shining through.

    My enjoyment of comics stories has increased quite a bit since I went to a TPB heavy reading cycle.

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