A friend posted this on Facebook last month, I figured I’d post it here today because it’s Wednesday, the day new comic-books are released. And my answer was simple: I’d go back to making single-issue stories the norm, rather the rare exception that they are now.
That’s the way it was during my childhood, most comics had a single story, beginning, middle, and end, in it. There would sometimes be little subplots in the background that continue from issue to issue, but the main story was done-in-one, so you felt satisfied when it was over.
To me, one of the biggest obstacles to attracting new comic-book readers, in addition to availability (you have to go to comic-books stores to get printed comics now) is accessibility. Stories are commonly padded out now, with the average comic-book “Story Arc” being 4-6 issues. Then you add that to all of the company-wide crossovers that happen on a regular basis now, and it makes it difficult for a newbie to just jump right in and start reading.
Like, let’s take a character like Spider-Man. There’s a new movie coming out this Friday. Say I had a 7 year old kid (that’s the age I was when I started reading comic-books), whom I took to that movie and they loved it, and wanted to know more about Spidey. Well, theoretically, I should be able to take him to wherever the nearest comic-book store is, go along the racks and pick up the most recent issue of whatever Spider-Man comic-books are for sale (and that’s another problem, with popular characters like Spider-Man there are often multiple titles released at once, which takes away from the importance of any one series, and also makes it harder to follow them all), buy them, hand them to my kid and say here ya go! And they should be able to read each issue, easily get caught up with whatever’s going on and get a satisfying story out of it. But is that even possible today?
The most recent issue of the “main” Spider-Man ongoing series is Amazing Spider-Man vol. 4 #29, which says right on the cover that its a “Secret Empire Tie-in.” Great, what the heck is Secret Empire?!? It’s Marvel’s latest company-wide crossover, of course. So if my kid’s not familiar with that, will he or she get everything that they need to know about it in this issue? I doubt it.
And like I said that’s just the main title, I was trying to look through Comixology right now and I don’t even want to try to count how many Spider-Man and Spider-Man-related comics there are. And other than the special tie-in 2-part comic, Spider-Man: Homecoming Prelude, none of them feature a Spider-Man who even resembles how he is portrayed in the movie (which is another problem many comics have, in that mass media portrayals rarely stick to the comics), since Peter Parker is currently a single adult who runs a billion-dollar mega-corporation (unless you’re getting the Amazing Spider-Man: Renew You Vows series, where he’s married to Mary Jane, who appears to have superpowers too now), not a high school student.
Well, unless you got the Spider-Man series, but the “Spider-Man” in that book is the Black/Hispanic teenager Miles Morales who is originally from a parallel universe which was destroyed.
And, like I said, there’s a ton of adjacent Spidey titles, from Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider, to The Unbelievable Gwenpool. How am I supposed to sort through all that and know which ones are essential, or even appropriate for my kid? And that’s another major problem with today’s comics, being that they’re aimed primarily at adults. When I was growing up, comics were for all-ages. Not for kids or adults, but both. Can I trust that for my kids now? I see there’s a Spider-Man/Deadpool series. Well, the Deadpool movie was rated R, so is this series aimed at that audience too?
And this is all the crux of the problem. The industry is aimed at the current audience of adults who’ve been reading comics since they were kids. It’s putting all it’s efforts at maintaining them, the ones who are used to buying and reading multiple titles at once and following every crossover, etc., rather than trying to reach a newer wider audience. When you have millions of people going to the movies or watching TV shows of these characters, the comic-industry shouldn’t be satisfied when the biggest selling comic of May 2017 sold 157,517. That’s peanuts! I know people don’t read as much anymore in general, so films and TV always outsell books, but still, I don’t think, say, 1 million, would be too much to expect for top-selling comics these days? I think those extra fans are out there, the industry just needs to figure out how to reach them, and hook them (which is easiest to do if you get them while they’re young).
So there’s lots that need to change, but if I could just implement one major change, it’s making most individual comics accessible by writing them as single-issue stories. I wouldn’t ban longer arcs. I’d just make sure it was done when really necessary. If a writer has a story that just can’t be cut down to one issue, without sacrificing quality, then okay, let them a 2-part story, or 3 parts, or even 4. But that shouldn’t be done more than once a year in a single title. And anything longer than 4 issues I would have published separately as a miniseries, so it doesn’t interrupt the regular series. I think that’s a good start to changing the industry for the better.
Just my opinion.