How to Fix the Comic Industry: The TV Approach

It’s very bold and presumptuous of me to say, “This will fix the comic industry.” Let’s clarify from the beginning that this is just one possibility that could help ensure the longevity of the industry before it completely subsides to movies, TV and video games. For a while now comics have tried to follow the movie formula with its huge crossover events that span a company’s entire line of books. Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking this is limited to just DC and Marvel either; Image has attempted a couple of crossovers and in most recent years Zenescope and Aspen have also had big crossovers. These "big enents" work of course and the sales back it up; just look at Marvel’s Avengers Vs. X-men. Our entire staff checked out after reading the first issue and yet it’s still dominated the sales chart. The problem that all companies face is that after the crossover the sales dip and so does the interest, sending the companies back to the drawing board for another big event. Even with DC’s reboot, they’re already talking about an event spanning their 52 books. The problem is that comics by nature are formatted closer to TV shows. The biggest framework example I have of this is the Cliffhanger. There are several comics each month that end on a cliffhanger scene that it’s used to entice you back for the next issue; now ask yourself how many movies end on a cliffhanger? Okay I’m sure you’ve thought of a few, but how many were actually good? Therein lies the problem with Comics mimicking Movies, the storytelling framework is very different. Additionally we could all name a few writers that have gone on to write TV after comics.

The “solution” I’m presenting came to me as I’ve been watching more and more Anime actually which has a Fall and Spring season of shows; and I thought that would be perfect for comics. Even Holloywood has adapted to this with summer TV shows to keep the viewers interest with something other than reruns and reality TV. Now I know the charm of comics is that they arrive monthly and basically never take a break ; you can go in each month and get a new issue of Spider-man, Walking Dead or Green Lantern. I completely understand the charm of that, but I think I can change your mind about the season format.

Better Storylines and Art

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Obviously the biggest advantage is going to be bigger and better storylines and due to the current scheduling that comic company’s follow this would mean six months on and six months off for books. In that time writers could pour everything into six to eight issues of story rather than creating the inevitable “filler” issue or stretching out a storyline to make it easier to put into a trade. Rather they’re could be multiple storylines running in the six issues making the scope of the story wider and fuller.

The other plus is better art work as you could actually tie one superstar artist to a book and give them enough time to deliver a great product. This would lengthen the career of the artist as they wouldn't burn themselves out doing monthly work. Sure they probably would work just as much, but the stress of deadlines wouldn’t be as bad considering they’d be six months ahead. Personally, I think this would raise the bar on the quality and expectations and we wouldn't be forced to settle for mundane art bringing down a great story.

There are a lot of great comics that have a closed number run and really the industry should have realized this and found a way to apply it to the business long ago. The only difference now is that after six fantastic issues there are six more... and then six more and so on.

More Pages…and Possibly More Money

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It would be complete bullshit if companies continued to deliver only 22 pages a month at the current pricing, but if they gave you six to eight issues with a 38-40 page count then that $3.99 price tag wouldn’t be so bad. Honestly they’d probably raise it to $4.99, but I'll get to how to counter that later. With more pages though stories wouldn’t need to rely on cliffhangers as much and frankly the pacing and structure of issues could drastically change opening new challenges and opportunities for creators.

The Return of Ads

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I know everyone in the world hates ads, but they are the only reason the entertainment industry survives. Eventually we’ll have an Ad break in the middle of our video games because the publishers want the extra money. With the season format the interest in comics would be much higher as fans would have months to wait for the next issue and the hype would help the comic each time; meaning that advertisers would have a reason to return to comics with their money. Granted this wouldn’t happen overnight since the formula and sales history would need to back it up, but the potential is there and if it happened then it could subsidize the cost of production for the publishers and they in return could pass on the savings to us... hopefully.

What About The Digital Age?

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The season format only helps the digital side of the business as well. You could buy a season pass or even a two season pass and then your digital reader of choice would just ping you when the next chapter arrived. You could even fend off the day and date digital by releasing the print version a month ahead, but in all actuality they’d probably just release the books in print and digitally until someone develops cheap technology that prevents people from scanning comic books. An additional benefit is that the casual reader is more likely to continue reading a comic that is released less often because they won’t take it for granted for always being there. The other effect is that the casual reader will find something else to fill that void while waiting for their favorite book to return. One comic book is like a gateway drug, you read one and then suddenly you’re reading more and more.

Who’s Close?

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Probably the closet company to the season format is Image Comics, there is no denying it. The problem is there is no consistency to their scheduling. You cannot currently count on the return of any one mini-series that you’re enjoying and frankly it could be over a year before you see the next chapter. Another company that dabbles with this is IDW, but mostly with their support mini-series rather than main titles. With so many licensed franchises that are based off of cartoon and TV shows it should actually be a very natural switch for them.

The companies that will struggle, but benefit the most are Marvel and DC. The thing is they have the perfect opportunity to switch with so many spin-offs of main series already. For instance they could run X-Men for six months and then switch off with Uncanny X-Men; the same goes for DC by having Green Lantern and then trading off with Green Lantern Corps. These other less successful spin off’s could actually benefit a lot from this structure as one writer could take over both books or the at least the partnership on franchises would be greater. As long as they didn’t abuse the system and actually delivered two different series it would work. I could potentially see them just continuing the story from one series into the next and calling it two different things to fool people with the marketing; which would be disguising the monthly format within the season format thus breaking the system for everyone.

Start Small Think Big

The beauty of this system is that new comic companies could easily adapt to it and make real head way in the industry. It’s a system that benefits both large and small companies as even the “Big Two” could slowly switch over after a title is cancelled. The possibility and the potential are there. I know that a lot of others have said, “Do what TV does”, but I doubt many have thought through how to make it work with the scheduling and business end of everything. The industry is always talking about the aging fan base buying fewer books at a higher price and that’s because the industry hasn’t changed how it presents the material on a retail level. The industry can adapt to the digital age and add bells and whistles all it wants, but it’s the scheduling and marketing that needs to adapt as well.

Currently Dustin is watching 90% Anime and 10% American TV and that 10% is Wipeout/The Glass House.