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Saturday, June 13, 2015 

Tech Times claims they know how to fix big problems in the industry, but do they really?

Tech Times says they know how to fix a few of the big problems in modern comicdom. But looking at what they bring up, I'm not so sure they do:
Comic book publishers are always looking for ways to bring in new readers. The artform has at last gained legitimacy, thanks to the incredible popularity of superhero movies, but comics themselves haven't benefited much from this surge.
Doesn't that last line contradict the claim of legitimacy? All they've gained is acceptance from Hollywood as the perfect source for moviemaking. The comics haven't gained any legitimacy.
After boiling down the various issues, the answer became obvious: Continuity. New readers are intimidated by years and years -- in some cases, decades -- of unending, ongoing stories. There's simply too much history built into most of the major comic book characters for new readers to feel like they can get a handle on it.
Gee, I never read any complaints about Dick Tracy, Rex Morgan and Mark Trail being bogged down by decades and decades of continuity, so I'm not sure what they're driving at. Even today, new readers could be coming in for newspaper strips, and they don't feel scared by whatever's in store, so why should they complain about decades of continuity for superheroes? More importantly, why shouldn't new readers want to check out older stories from the Golden/Silver/Bronze Ages? All the site's doing is furthering the misperception new readers don't care about history. I guess that means nobody should search for the Celestial Madonna tale from the Avengers either?
But maybe we can take our answer a step further. Might there be a symbol of this overwhelming continuity and history? A single point of focus on the cover of a comic book that's a lighthouse beacon, calling attention to just how far behind you are and how you will never, ever get caught up. What is this monolith that causes a prospective new reader's enthusiasm to evaporate in an instant?

Numbering.

It's those blasted issue numbers. This basic convention of comic books has existed since comics began. It's how publishers let readers know the sequence in which the story is being told. We take comic book numbering for granted today, much like chapters in a book or tracks on an album. It's just part of the medium and its culture.

"Numbering is often a barrier for new readers," said Benn Ray, co-owner of Baltimore's popular Atomic Books comic store. When we asked Ray about this issue, he verified our suspicions based on his experiences. "When you want to pick up a comic and start reading, you just have to dive right in. But that's not how most people want to follow episodic stories. They want to start from the beginning because they don't want to miss anything."
I don't buy into this at all. There's long been planetloads of trade paperback and hardcover archives coming out reprinting famous past stories from number one, and you could order them easily enough from various bookstores, so what's the worry? What's really bringing down comics is the quality of storytelling.
The problem is, the higher the issue number, the more intimidating it is to new readers and the less likely they are to purchase it. This is why Marvel and DC are constantly renumbering comics, starting over with new #1s. It works. It comes down to business issues — for more than just the publishers.

"Comics have to be ordered so many months in advance," Ray explained. "I place orders for issues #2 and #3 before #1 even arrives in stores. So traditionally, the decreases begin with #2 because you know more people will buy #1s. If the series is good or popular, it should regain its footing by the fourth issue. If not, it'll continue to slide."
Nuh-uh. He's only hinted that collectors are the people buying specific books. Most smaller publishers have kept printing their ongoing creations past 100 or 200 issues, like Image/Top Cow, and nobody's fretting about those no matter the sales level, so why should they have an issue with books that run past 100 issues in numbering? The real question should be where a storyline begins, in what issue. And even that has drawbacks: for many years now, we've had a giant problem with written-for-trades storylines, and the editors require in many cases that the story be no less than 6 issues or more per story. As a result, there's been only so many tales that end up padded, and less memorable than the done-in-one stories that had a better chance of drawing in newer readers.
"Most new readers want to start at #1, so the reboots make economic sense," Ray told us. "But it's a short-sighted, short-term economic gain. It's like the comics companies just need a cash infusion to make their quarterly numbers. It sends the same signal as a Groupon — the business is in need of a quick and gimmicky economic fix."
Do most readers really want to start at numero uno? I thought they wanted an entertaining story, a question largely absent from this poorly informed piece.
No matter how you look at it, it's the story arc that matters most. Or maybe a specific writer's run on a title. We want to know if the comic we're picking up is the beginning of a story arc or a certain writer's first issue, or how many back issues we need to seek out to find that starting point. Traditional numbering doesn't convey this.
Or maybe whether the story is written well and worth spending time reading? Again, they avoid the more challenging issues. How come they don't suggest buying trade paperbacks if and when they turn up, or publishers making the switch to paperback collections altogether? If the latter idea were adopted by publishers, it'd save a lot of money and make things much easier for everyone. But it would also force DC and Marvel to change their whole approach and refrain from gimmicks and crossovers, and it's clear the people in charge today don't want that. So they can't be surprised sales are so incredibly low. Tech Times doesn't know how to solve the medium's problems at all.

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Writing down what you think are problems/solutions to the industry is one thing, actually putting them into practice is another matter entirely.

High issue numbers intimidating potential new fans are the least of the industry's problems.

In the Silver Age and earlier, publishers would actually avoid numbering an issue at #1 if they could. They would change the title of an already-existing comic, then continue the same numbering sequence. So Silver Streak Comics became Crime Does Not Pay with issue #22, Crime Patrol became The Crypt of Terror (#17-19) an then Tales From the Crypt (#20-46), and so on. The Silver Age Flash continued the numbering from the 1940's comic. And when Marvel's anthologies or "split books" were replaced by solo, self-titled super-hero comics, Captain America inherited its numbering from Tales of Suspense, Hulk continued the numbering from Tales to Astonish, etc.

Supposedly, first issues of new titles did not sell well, because they were an unknown quantity. The theory was that if a kid saw Flash #105 or Thor #126 on sale, he would assume it must be a good comic, since it had evidently lasted over 100 issues.

In 1966, the Batman TV series served as a sort of gateway drug, and comic book sales increased, at least for a while. And a lot of kids started buying comics with, say, Batman #182 or Detective Comics #354.

Issue numbers are less of a problem than long, complicated serials and story arcs, crossovers and tie-ins, line-wide events, and overly complex continuity.

Here's an explanation on why publishers do what they do nowadays:http://shawnsjames.blogspot.com/2015/06/dc-you-all-new-all-different-marvel-new.html

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