Why My Standing Order Is Small pt 1

Now that the comic companies are starting to ship again, I thought I’d bring up an article I’ve been working on. I’m writing this in the form of an open letter to the comic companies, but I don’t know how those actually work (do I have to send it to the people in question?).

Dear comic companies,

I have a bizarre theory: If comics are monthly, and I’m away from my standing order for more than a month, shouldn’t I come back to one of every comic I buy? And yet, the last two times I went away for over a month, I came back to find two or three comics waiting for me in my two LCSs. That’s not two to three at each shop; that’s two-to-three total.

My standing order used to be huge; am I now really only buying four or five series (acknowledging that a couple don’t come out monthly)? This is just one fan’s reasons for not buying so many comics anymore; but can it be extrapolated to more? Can you learn from this why you aren’t reaching as wide an audience anymore?

First of all, let’s not blame video games or movies for driving your sales down. I watch movies and read comics, and I’m not a gamer. They might affect your sales, but there are still things you can do to bring me back.

What I will not do is say ‘new comics suck, old ones rule’. There will be a lot of comparisons about what drew me in to comics in the first place vs what’s pushing me away now, but I don’t think ‘new comics suck, everything in my time was great’. There’ve been a couple of times lately I’ve bought old and new comics together, and found all the new comics in my ‘most-anticipated’ pile and the older ones in my ‘least-anticipated’.

I’ll start with something that nobody can change, just to get it out of the way:

I come from an anti-materialistic faith, yet am very materialistic. So, I’m trying to buy less in general, just to keep consistent with my beliefs.

I’m also old enough to want to declutter.

Part 1: Reasons Why I Won’t Pick Up A New Series

Covers

The covers that got away

Covers are supposed to draw a reader in, give the reader a reason to pick up the comic (or book, or album, or anything) in the first place. There’s an old saying that ‘you can’t judge a book by the cover’; I argue that you have to. My very first judgement of anything will be ‘is this worth my time to consume?’. By definition, I can’t make that judgement by consuming it.

When I walk into a comic shop, I look across the shelves to see if there’s anything I want to try out. If I can only judge the book by the cover, please make a cover that will want me to read your comic.

Covers these days are often boringly uninformative. There are a lot of character shots and team shots that say nothing other than ‘these characters are in this story’ (which isn’t even always true, see below).

You mean the heroes are actually in their own comics? Absurd!
Oh, look. Starfire’s in this issue, and Spider-Man’s in that one. I must read them? (Actually, that Starfire series was pretty good.)

Compare this to the following:

Will Shaman be able to save both his daughter and Snowbird? Is Starfire really going to kill somebody?

Sometimes your covers are so generic, they not only don’t tell me anything about what’s inside, they straight up lie.

Jean and Banshee aren’t in this GN; Kitty is, but she isn’t on this cover.

Can’t you make covers that draw me in anymore? That make me wonder what will happen? That makes me want to read your work?

Your excuse is, ‘that cover is for the trade!’ First, writing for the trade is not a trend I’m fond of. Don’t try to use something I don’t like to sell me on something else I don’t like.

Second, if you’re going to print several covers a month per individual issue, then you can come up with a new cover for the trade!

IDW actually advertise their multiple covers-per-month inside the front page.

Reprints (including in trades) used to have different covers drawn especially for the reprint. Now, when everyone’s buying online, so your would-be readers can’t (on screen) see the thickness of whatever they’re ordering, how can anybody know what they’re buying? Is that the original? Is it a single issue? Is it a trade? How many people have been fooled by this, and got the wrong thing? This builds resentment, and doesn’t make people want to buy your comic or listen to what you have to tell them.

I’ve also seen covers that straight-up lie. Comic book company: ‘We’re having a Character anniversary this month, let’s put Character on all the covers’. A reader (potentially) sees the cover and thinks: ‘ooh, Character’s in this? I’ll have to buy it,’ then reads it and says, ‘what?!? Character isn’t in this comic! I feel so ripped off!’

This is one of the least offensive examples; it doesn’t show The Joker actually present (which he wasn’t).

I once saw a cover in an issue of CSN that showed Mulder, Scully, and the Scooby Gang together. For a few seconds there, I actually thought there’d be an X-Files / Scooby Doo crossover (I’ve seen weirder), but when I read the article, it turned out it was just talking about a month celebrating one of the groups, and said group showed up on every cover that month by that publisher. Even though they weren’t in the comics.

I’d be very annoyed if I’d found that out after buying the issue. It’s straight-up false advertising. You can’t expect a casual reader to walk into a comic shop (or however they get their issue) and just know what’s going on.

Please, even if you can’t bring yourselves to make the covers distinctive, or intriguing, or interesting, at least make them honest.

Bad art (or cartoonish art on a serious book) and dull colours also will not make me want to buy the comic. Sorry. If I see a shelf with hundreds of comics on it, and only two colours, none of them will stand out. I don’t hate the trend of dull, washed out colours in comics so much that I’ll stop reading a series I’m already into because of it, but it makes it a hard-sell to get me to start buying a new one.

Give us intriguing covers, ones that make us want to read your stories please.

Events™ / Crossovers / Whatever You Call Thems

Pariah, I feel ya, man.

A lot of people have covered Event Fatigue* before, and the problems with Events™: Event™ after Event™, on-and-on, until one Event™ hasn’t ended yet when the next begins (this has been known to literally happen.) A lot of us aren’t paying attention to Events™ now because of it.

I agree about most, if not all, of the problems people usually talk about about them; but I want to cover a knock-on effect of Events™ that I’ve never seen mentioned. Here’s how it goes:

You know that us fans tend to be an OCD lot; we’re completists, and hate gaps in our stories. So, you prey on our need for completion, and try to use it to grab as much of our money as you can; you cross over all your serieses with the latest Event™.

As a result, when I’m reading a comic that gets Events™ in it, I’ll have a choice. I can:

1. Buy the Event™. That means the Event™ mini-series, the sub-mini-series, and the sub-sub mini-series,

There’s X-Men; there’s the Second Coming Event™; there’s the Revelations sub-title for minis within the event; then there’s Blind Science. Gah!

and all the regular series that cross over with it. Basically, fork out for over fifty comics a month, just to read a 12-issue-per-year series.

This is what you want me to do (even if you disingenuously say you don’t expect me to do that; if I don’t, I won’t get the whole story, no matter what you lie say. You know some of us are going to try. You’re counting on it. Don’t say you’re not.)

2. Try to read the comic as-is, without buying the Event™. Yet again, I end up with an incomplete story. A bunch of stuff has happened to my character in Event™; issue 12 is a crucial tie-in to Event™: read that to find out the full story.

I bought this by accident. That Hydra logo was my only clue.

This builds resentment, not loyalty. I don’t want to listen to people who pull this kind of thing on me.

3. Drop the series altogether now that an Event™ has come out. When Marvel got Star Wars back, I read it; frankly, the first few issues were pretty bland; Star Wars‘ greatest hits, nothing new. I was wondering why I was reading this Star Wars comic series when I’d never been a regular Star Wars comic reader before, much as I love all three movies.

As soon as the first crossover infected the series, I dropped the title.

I don’t miss it.

Once you start down the crossover path, forever will it dominate your destiny.

4. Skip the title during the Event™ month. This is actually my usual reaction; but then I end up with holes in my collection, which I don’t like. More incompletion.

I didn’t buy this issue, or the one after.

I’ve also been known to accidentally buy the wrong issue – Wolverine And The X-Men 27au turned out to have absolutely nothing to do with Wolverine And The X-Men (except that Wolverine himself was in it).

I do have this one, and I feel ripped off.

I was apparently supposed to notice that little ‘au’ next to the issue number and magically know what it meant. I rarely look at the issue number in the store, let alone notice something like that.

I wasn’t happy. I felt lied to.

None of those options are good, so we get to option 5, the problem with Event™ comics that I never see mentioned:

5. I now pre-emptively refuse to buy certain series because of Events™. I won’t buy any Avengers, Batman, X-Men, Superman, etc… series, no matter how good I hear they are, because I already know they’ll get crossovers a few issues down the line.

I’ve never seen anybody talk about this as a problem, but I can’t be the only one who’s (not) doing this.

But this one isn’t an Event™, it only affected the Bat Family! It only affected the X-Titles!

I don’t care.

But ‘This Event™ was really, really good!’

I. Don’t. Care.

Not anymore.

I care that you, the companies, are using the pretext of events to steal my money. I care about your predatory publishing practices. I care about being expected to buy 52 titles a year to keep up with the one book I actually signed on for.

I’m not buying them anymore. There are too many of them.

If you, my dear company, expect me to buy more than 12 issues a year (17 if they come out twice a month in your summer + annual every single year; I’m about prepared to buy all those), just to read one series, I’m not going to keep wasting my time and money with you.

If you kept it under control, if you only had crossovers and Events™ occasionally, maybe twice a decade at most, if there were good reasons why they were crossovers and Events™ rather than just stories within one character’s books, maybe then I’d still pay you.

Until I notice that they’re starting to get just a little more frequent, just a little more common. And I’ll be on high alert for that.

Let your series tell their own stories; let your fans have one title to read.

No Boutique Titles; Too Many ‘Big’ Titles

There is no Alpha Flight title right now. I know that’s not something all readers care about, but hear me out.

This can be generalised: The Big Two have too many series. Too many. Marvel has apparently published just over a hundred comics in one month; and I thought 52 was too many. Thing is, out of all of those there are going to be about five Spider-Man, Batman, Avengers, Justice League, etc… titles per month, and very few of the little boutique ones.

https://comicvine.gamespot.com/profile/the_poet/lists/current-batman-series-list/20697/

No Infinity, Inc; no Power Pack; no Gotham Academy or Super Sons (which are both still technically under Batman’s aegis), no Squirrel Girl. That’s going to lose a lot of dedicated fans; and the ones going after the big titles are flooded, and ‘have to’ spend all their money on their own titles; they can’t afford to support the smaller titles when those do come out. They’re spreading themselves too thin.

One side effect of having five X-Men comics a month is, I won’t want to read any of them. I ain’t gonna read all of them, but I can’t choose. I’ll always feel lost, or like I’m missing out on whatever’s in the rest of the titles; but it’s too much to expect me to spend my money on the rest of the titles.

When I think I’ll buy one, I can’t even figure out which one that’s to going be. I’ve had people ask me what Avengers series they should read, and I couldn’t answer. I’ve been reading for *cough cough* years, and I don’t even know which Avengers title is THE Avengers title right now.

If, as I’ve said, I don’t want to read the ‘big’ titles, and you don’t print the ‘small’ titles for me – what am I gonna read by you, dear publisher?

The solution is simple: don’t put all your eggs in one omelette. If you must print 50+ titles a month, spread it out a bit; print 50+ different titles a month. Diversify! Diversify!

Edginess, especially done stupidly

Comic Shop News #1546 introduced Spencer & Locke with an interview with creator David Pepose. In it, he says he likes mash-ups, and created the series because “I thought the most unexpected kind of mash-up would be to take children’s properties and give them a mature-readers spin.” If by ‘unexpected’, he means ‘beyond a cliché’, ‘trite’, ‘hackneyed’, ‘you do actually know there are other ways to write, don’t you?’, ‘for the love of God, will somebody please stop writing this way?!?’, I’d be inclined to agree. If by ‘unexpected’, you mean that when you say you’re going to do a new take on an old property, you think that the very first thing to come into my head is not ‘this will be a mature-ages dark edgy take’… Yeah, no. Only somebody who hasn’t paid the slightest attention to comics for the last thirty years could come up with a statement like that.

The mature-ages spin on Nancy Drew & The Hardy Boys, for one thing, was written up in that very issue of CSN. Not to forget Lost Girls, American McGee’s Alice, Riverdale, etc…, etc…, etc…

This doesn’t just apply to new takes on old series. Saga decided to advertise itself with blood on the cover. I never gave it a chance. I’m just tired of it. If you wouldn’t show it to a child (losing your main new audience), don’t show it to me either.

Putting mature-ages spins on everything, was cool and interesting and new – in the 90s when it first came to the fore. Since then, it’s taken over everything, and gotten tiring. I was on board with it back then. Now I’m just bored with it.

Different problem, same solution: Diversify. Have other tones; if you must put out comics that you think are edgy, put out ones I’d happily show to a child.

Too Much Deconstruction, Not Enough Construction

Too much genre fiction over the last couple of decades was ashamed of its own genre (though that problem is clearing up, thank God). So we get fantasy for people who hate fantasy, superhero for people who hate superhero, etc… Can you not see the inherent problem there?

“Heroes” act in unheroic ways, none of them saving the world or helping people – in fact, they’re causing more damage than the villains, who’ve apparently retired to Cleveland. Those Events™ I just went on at length about are, more often than not, about “heroes” fighting “heroes”; they aren’t saving the world, they’re destroying it for the sake of their own squabbling.

Somebody lent me the first five issues each of the Nu 52 Teen Titans, Supergirl, and Superboy (and the first of Demon Knights). Between those 15-16 issues, the “heroes” tried to save people twice and succeeded once. And talked a lot about heroism.

We’re the Titans who don’t do anything!

This is also a decompressed storytelling / writing for trade issue (after issue after issue). It just doesn’t make me care about the characters or their stories or what they have to say.

Then you start swapping heroes and villains at random until it apparently doesn’t matter if characters are good or evil; Superior Spider-Man, Doctor Doom as Iron Man. The Sixis** Event™ was apparently all about that.

(Note: Kingdom Come parodied this idea in the 90s. Yeah, it’s been that big that long.)

If you spend all your time deconstructing the idea of heroism, and never constructing it, that’s not what I signed up for.

The same goes, by the way, for getting rid of the all the tags of the superhero genre. It may shock you, but I didn’t start reading comics because I hate powers and costumes and secret identities – I love all that stuff, and the gestalt it makes that’s a superhero comic.

Actually, I just wanted to say ‘gestalt’. Gestalt gestalt gestalt.

Celebrate superheroes, and the people who want to read about superheroes might come back to you.

Villains-as-Heroes

A lot of comics these days don’t even pretend to be about heroes; Darth Vader, Thanos, etc… No. Nope. Nah. I will not read comics where I’m supposed to identify with somebody who calls children younglings kills children and blows up planets. I will not read a story where I’m rooting for a guy who killed half the universe.

I don’t play games, but if I did, I wouldn’t touch GTA with a ten-metre cattle prod.

(This isn’t a call for censorship, it’s a call for self-reflection. If you want to spend all your time pushing villains as your ideals, I won’t stop you, but maybe you should be looking a little closer at your life choices. I’m certainly not interested in buying what you’re selling if that’s what you’re gonna do.)

This is who we’re supposed to identify with now. What does that say about us?

That said, this has been going on for a long time. If there’s a difference, it’s that I suspect stories under the Comics Code didn’t want us to identify with The Joker or Dr Doom (Marvel’s Super-Villain Team-Up); I do know that, under the Code, the bad guys couldn’t win. I don’t honestly know if they win in the current crop, either, but I’m not willing to read them to find out. I didn’t read them then, either (I have a couple of issues of SVTU in trade collections).

Whatever happened to the heroes? Please, bring them back.

From what I’ve seen, a lot of people seem to really like ‘dark, edgy’ stuff, though. Am I unique in being sick of it? Am I alone in wanting to read about heroic heroes? Or have comic book companies driven away so many people like me that there aren’t any left? Or, again, is it just me? (That isn’t sarcasm. It could really be just me.)

* Events™ are so annoying, we’ve made up our own jargon for how annoying they are

** I know they were going for Axis, but the logo really, really, looks like it says Sixis.

To Be Continued in part 2: ‘reasons I’ve dropped specific serieses‘.

10 Comments

  1. I assume comics covers are less interesting because publishers assume nobody buys anything for the cover. The audience is captive, they’ll buy Spider-Man regardless of the cover. But yes, covers are dull now.
    2)As someone who rereads a lot of my own comics, I find most events reread poorly (COIE is the biggest exception). Everything’s meant to be Big And Epic but rereading a few years later it’s all smoke and mirrors.
    The best example of a book incomprehensible without the tie-ins was Johns’ Green Lantern during Blackest Night/Brightest Day. I didn’t buy the crossovers (and don’t regret it) so that was a year in which reading Green Lantern didn’t give me a complete story.
    3)I have no problem with Saga being very not-for-kids. There’s a place for that in comics. But yeah, Dark Versions Of Childhood Favorites goes back at least to the 1970s. It’s never unexpected any more.
    4)There was an article by one comic-shop owner who said pushing out so many titles for the Big Properties really does turn off new readers. Someone who wants to pick up Avengers after seeing the movies doesn’t want to be told there’s three or four Avengers books they need to get to follow the story.

    1. Le Messor

      Then maybe the covers thing is one of the side-effects of the move from newsstands to specialty shops?

      I never read Blackest Day… but I’ve just read the main DC 1,000,000 story, and it was really, really bad that way.

      Most people don’t have a problem with things like Saga – and I said in this that we need to diversify – so, that one’s probably just me. I’ve heard it’s a great series.

      1. Saga was great at the start but I think it was running out of steam when they took a year off. Hopefully that will help.
        I didn’t notice it with 1 million because I was reading the crossover as it came out, but I don’t doubt you’re right
        And yes, I do think the shift to comic book stores is a big part of the cover change. Back when they were on spinner racks they had to compete hard for attention.

  2. Peter

    I have noticed that my pull list has been shrinking lately, too – and it’s a pity, because I want to help keep my comic shop open through this pandemic and take a chance on some new stuff, but there are fewer and fewer ongoing series that motivate me to try them out on a monthly basis. I’d say the big things for me are:

    1) writing for the trade – I still read a lot of comics, to be sure, but I’m increasingly reading trade paperbacks. Part of this is for economical reasons – trades in general are cheaper and more durable, plus they are more likely to show up at my local library for the hard-to-beat price of $0 – but also, writers are making single issues less satisfying and trades more enjoyable. I wouldn’t say that overall quality of writing is necessarily worse today, but there are definitely fewer masters of issue-by-issue serialization where each issue is a satisfying chunk of story but also leaves you with a nice cliffhanger that makes a month-long wait for the next bit of the story seem painful. If anything, five- or six-issue arcs are themselves the new serialization unit. Interestingly, I feel like this is even more of a widespread tactic at Image and Dark Horse than DC or Marvel. I feel like I was mildly interested in picking up that new Robert Kirkman/Chris Samnee book, but I thought I’d wait – given Kirkman’s track record, it might take 45 issues or so to get into the REAL meat of the story.

    2) increased availability of older stuff – so much stuff is being reprinted every month nowadays and back issues are easier than ever to find online. A new comic doesn’t just have to compete with other new comics for my attention, it also has to compete with some of the best comics of the last fifty years becoming available/affordable. Sure, a Tom King/Evan Shaner Adam Strange miniseries is pretty cool, but I also just got an English translation of “The Eternaut” from Amazon for ~$20 and I’m more excited for the latter.

    3) misalignment of talent. I read an interview with Neal Adams a few years ago where he was talking about some stuff that he had in the pipeline for DC – he mentioned he was going to draw an issue of Harley Quinn or something, but told his interviewer that he was puzzled as to why DC wanted him to draw an issue of what was (at the time, at least) already one of their best-selling books instead of one of their worst-performing books. He noted that all of the books where he made his name – Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Deadman, even Batman at the time – were going through sales slumps when he took over. I’m certainly not arguing that Marvel and DC should only let neophytes work on Spider-Man and Batman and that Jonathan Hickman shouldn’t be given the chance to write X-Men if he wants, but I would like to see more “name” creators who are up for a challenge given the chance to actually make a minor character popular. Instead, I feel like we have a cycle where a popular creator is assigned a bestselling book and they feel the need to “make their mark” on the character by either “revamping” said character or taking the character “back to basics” – even if the prior, bestselling run was itself a revamp or reinvention. I’d rather see Brian Bendis brought into the fold to make The Bronze Tiger into a legit, sustainable main character and have an up-and-coming creator tell some good, self-contained Superman stories that build on but also evolve the current status quo than vice-versa. To DC’s credit, I think they are kind of doing this with their maxi-series strategy.

    I agree hugely on your comments about diversity of tone – I have nothing against grim and gritty stuff, but I do like multiple flavors of stories. I also agree big-time with your comments about cover art – I was just organizing some of my back issues and I looked at every Astro City issue that I had, and I couldn’t help but think of how I would have wanted to pick up those issues even if I didn’t already dig Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson. Every cover was an amazing illustration, but it also made me curious about what was going on inside the issue. As good as Alex Ross is, I feel like often his covers for other series tend to be really good paintings of characters in stoic poses, but he kills it on Astro City.

    1. Le Messor

      1) I didn’t go into it above, but I agree that writing for trade isn’t a great way to do it. (And encourages people to buy the trade, not the series.)

      2) I’ve been buying a lot of reprint collections lately; it’s a way to support the industry (and my LCS) and get the stories I like at the same time.

      3) I see your point; but I’ve also had cause to wonder why the companies weren’t bringing their A game to their flagship titles.

  3. dbutler69

    All great reasons to not buy new comics, and all are reasons (though not the only reasons) that I don’t buy new comics.

    By the way, Alpha Flight, under John Byrne, was a great title. It fell off a cliff after he left, though.

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