Since the comic book medium was born, mainstream comics have been delivered once a month to fans. Originally they came on newsstands and grocery store spinner racks, and nowadays they’re almost entirely relegated to comic book specialty stores, but while the distribution model may have changed over the years, the rate of publication has remained largely the same. There have been exceptions, of course, but the average rate of publication for comics has remained once a month for as long as the modern market as existed.
Buy why? One one hand, this feels like a habit learned from the magazine business. On the other, a comic book artist is hard pressed to produce even one page a day, making a month necessary for quality work if only a single artist is working on the title. Maybe it's time to rethink that strategy.
When it comes down to it, asking a reader to follow a story that is parceled out in 20-page increments every 30 days isn’t very reasonable. That’s like consuming only one act of a television episode, just the portion that comes between two commercials, every month, and that analogy becomes more apt the more decompressed the storytelling style is. This is one common reason cited for why some readers prefer to wait and pick up a trade paperback collection from a bookstore rather than visit a comic shop to pick up a new issue.
It's time that the comics industry began modeling itself less on magazines, and more on television. Rather than a single artist and writer working on a monthly title, comics should organize with multiple writers, possible with one designated the head writer, and a rotating crew of artists to publish weekly issues. This model imitates the structure of a television show, with the head writer acting as the executive producer, writing team acting as the writer’s room, and the artists acting like a show’s directors.
Elements of this model have been used in various forms in comics before. When Joss Whedon brought Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 to Dark Horse Comics, he acted as executive producer and different writers worked on single story arcs as if they writing an individual episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer the television show. Primary artist Georges Jeanty was supplemented by occasional, planned fill-in artists. Subsequent seasons have used a more traditional comic book publishing model and have arguably lacked the excitement that came with getting to hear a different writer’s voice on each arc.
DC Comics published the weekly comic 52 for one year to fill in the gap between the events of Infinite Crisis and the One Year Later relaunch. To pull this off the publisher assembled a team of writers to each handle different threads of the story, and had multiple artists working to expedite the art process.
During the “Brand New Day” era, Marvel Comics published The Amazing Spider-Man at a rate of thrice monthly, with a different writer/artist team rotating in to tell a month’s story.
More recently, Marvel and DC have been nudging their overall publishing plan in this direction already. Marvel has been publishing many of its titles every three weeks ever since the original Marvel NOW! Publishing initiative took off, and DC Comics has begun publishing many of its core titles bi-weekly ever since the DC Rebirth launch.
Publishing comics more consistently and more frequently helps keep the story fresh in the reader's mind for a better-serialized reading experience. It also gives new readers who may only be reading one or two titles in total a reason to visit a comic shop or open a digital comics app every week. Sometimes veteran comics readers take being one of the "Wednesday faithful" for granted since so many are already invested in dozens of comic book titles being published, but most fans don’t start off that way and forcing them to wait a month for the next installment of their first comic book series is a good way to have them forget why they were coming in the first place. Readers and retailers both win when every reader has a reason to think about whatever comics they read, be it one series or 100, every single week.
Obviously, not every single comic book on the stands should use this model, just as not every single television show uses this model. HBO and Netflix are producing commercial free, prestige television with relatively small numbers of creators involved, and so should some comics remain the passion of only one or two creators and come out only when those creators believe them ready. Frank Quitely should not have been removed from All-Star Superman to give it a weekly schedule, for example, and no one should mess with what Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples have going on with Saga.
But for the comics that make up the bulk of the mainstream market, why make things more challenging for readers than they need to be? For many fans, instinct tells us that this kind of process leads to a creative death by committee, but there’s too much good television made through this process today, good television that is based on comic book source material no less, to hold onto that belief. Let’s see that process work its magic in comic book form as well as it does on television.
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