Friday, July 07, 2006

The Nutrasweet of the comic world

In an article I found at Blog@Newsarama (Blogarama?) that looks at Paul O'Brien's breakdown of recent Marvel sales figures, Paul is quoted as saying:

Between the Other, the new costume, the Civil War prologue, and Civil War itself, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #525 to #538 will all be boosted to some extent by crossovers and stunts. Arguably, when it goes on for that long, it's no longer an artificial boost but simply a sign that the book is running a string of particularly popular stories. Can you really talk about a fourteen-month artificial boost?

Can you really talk about a fourteen-month artificial boost?

Well aside from the pedantic observation that you are doing so right there, I think that any time a comic includes inorganic elements to bring in readers who would not be there otherwise then it's an artificial boost regardless of how long it is done for.

After all, Superman/Batman is filled to overflowing with guest stars every issue, but that doesn't stop it being a gimmick. Every time you guest a character you will get some buyers who are only there for that character. Doing this every issue inflates the sales figures but it just means that lots of different people are buying different individual issues. The effect of the artificial element only becomes apparent when you stop adding it and you get to see how many comics you can shift without that boost.

Similarly making event comics that tell a single story over several different titles is going to bring in readers who are only there for that story. Running event/crossover comics continuously doesn't stop them being a gimmick unless it is the premise for the title. On a basic level team books like Avengers or JLA are gimmicks, because they will always get readers who are only there because a character they like from another comic is on the team. It's more acceptable than the short lived event comics because the whole premise is based around these characters getting together regularly, rather than being thrown together only for a specific storyline, but if Batman leaves the team, the Batman fan may stop reading the title.

Obviously the theory is that the casual reader brought in because a character they like makes an appearance, or because they wanted to read the whole of Secret Civil Crisis Outside Wars of M Hour will be so taken by the title that they will continue reading it even once the reason for their initially buying it has departed. The problem with these artificial sweeteners is that they often interrupt the flow of the title's own story. The ongoing storylines and characterisations are interrupted and put on hold for several issues to make room for someone else's epic, which may bring in a few new readers, but can be annoying to the readers already there who are not happy to find their story continually being pre-empted and having to wait for the event to go away before they can get back to it. Not to mention that they find themselves paying for comics they have little interest in reading and that won't even make any sense unless they buy a whole bunch of other comics, many of which may not even feature their character.

It's all so introverted, too. It's hard enough for a casual reader to pick up a random comic on impulse and enjoy it, but expecting them to not only by other issues of the same comic to make sense of the story, but to buy a whole lot of different comics, is about as welcoming as writing "fuck off, loser" in large unfriendly letters on the cover. These comics are all about getting the existing dwindling audience to buy more comics when what is desperately needed is to find a way to increase the size of that audience.

Having a guest star or an event can be icing on the cake; a fun change of pace in the ongoing story. But even hyperactive ten year olds get sick of a diet composed entirely of sticky buns eventually. Not everyone wants to read every comic put out by a publisher, and stuffing every comic with characters and storylines from all the other comics puts them off buying the ones they do read. That's why I rarely read Marvel anymore. And why Infinite Crisis and all its spinnoffs pushed me almost to breaking point. They were saved at the last minute by the best gimmick of all: good writing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And this is why the huge crossovers essentially burned themselves out in the 90s. DC waited four years before starting IC, and they're not doing any more in the near future - a good plan, IMHO.