Nobody can agree on anything within comics. Whether you prefer Alan Moore or Grant Morrison; reckon Archie loves Veronica and not Betty; or remain convinced that Wonder Man beats Wonder Woman (for some reason) - the one thing we can guarantee is that somebody disagrees with you.
But while it's fun to argue...some debates simply must be resolved.
And so to deal with the greatest controversies to ever hit the printed page, we've formally set up a Comic Book Court to finally reach a definitive verdict on the cases you've always wanted closure for. Each court session will see Christian Hoffer take on a case against Steve Morris, as they go back and forth over some of the biggest issues in the history of comics. Also...some silly ones.
With that in mind...
Will everyone please rise for the Curious Case of One Word Comic Book Titles AKA "Should Image Comics' plethora of one word titles continue?"
The Case For One Word Titles
There's a concept in fantasy and folklore that names have power. A person's name, their "true name", is the distillation of everything that makes that person: their personality, their thoughts, their motivations, their history, their desires. Knowing a person's true name means understanding EVERYTHING about that person, who and what they truly are, which gives you power over them. "True names" is a very cerebral and weird idea, which means they fit in perfectly with Image Comics, the industry's principal publisher for "high concept" science fiction and fantasy comics.
In recent years, it's become a bit of a recurring joke among certain circles of comics that Image creators love their one word comic titles. Saga, Birthright, Spread, Injection, Low, Throwaway, Snotgirl, Horizon, Mechanism, Chew, Ringside, Descender, Drifter, Island, Invincible, Lazarus, Nailbiter, Rumble, Sex, Symmetry, Revival, Shutter. And those are just the books solicited in July!
At the same time, a title is the most important marketing tool a creative team or company has. A good title acts as a hook to draw potentially readers in and as a reminder for fans to remember the comic when it's not in front of them. A title acts as a comic's default brand, its defining essence, the book's very core. It's the word or phrase we use to capture all the things a comic is made up of: ideas, pictures, designs, dialogue, themes, color, motivations, background, history. When used properly, a comic book's title is it's "true name", the distillation of the core idea of a comic.
Like the title of a book, a word can be more than just a word. Certain words are sparks that ignite imaginations, they're the starting line for a million different thoughts unique to each person that thinks them. When I say the word "gun", people might think of death, of violence, of war, of necessary evil, of protection, of fictional characters killing bad guys, or a pistol, a musket, a rifle, a cannon, or a machine gun. When a creator uses the right word as the title of their book, they harness all those possible ideas that come from that word and bind them to their comic, creating an extra level of intrigue that draws in readers.
Naming your comic after a single word also has the extra benefit of simple word association. Whenever anyone says the word "saga", I immediately think of the Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan comic, no matter what context the word is used. That's damn effective marketing.
Sometimes a comic needs more than one word for its title. The Walking Dead, for instance, is a better title than Zombies because the title refers to both the living and the undead in the series. But the more words you use in a title, the more that title becomes a description instead of a name. A name can be magical, a description are just words strung together.prevnext
The Case Against One Word Titles
Some words are better than others.
When it comes to one-word titles, Image Comics certainly do not Starve for items to choose from. From Symmetry to Low to Starve to Birthright, it seems as though half their current line is made up of single-word titles. And for me that spells one further word: confusion.
I'm the sort of person who doesn't use a pull-list: I walk into the shop every Wednesday and pick up whatever interests me at the time. To do that, I'm looking at covers, checking creative teams, and reading the titles. Titles are hugely important for that reason - they're branding. They're the very first words you read before picking a comic off the shelf. If that title isn't selling your comic, or doesn't make sense? It'll stay sat on the shelf.
There's a reason why Marvel and DC call their big event comics things like Original Sins, Final Crisis, and Avengers Vs X-Men. Those titles are obvious, interesting, and carry an immediate appeal for people. What is the original sin? Will the Avengers beat the X-Men? Questions are asked of the reader, and that makes them participants in the story, and sets them up to be invested even before they look inside the issue. When a comic explains itself in the title, like…. like Cave Carson Has A Cybenetic Eye, then you create a link between the product and the reader.
It also serves to make a comic distinct in the long-term as well as the immediate. Bitch Planet has a provocative title, and drives readers to pick up an issue. But once you start reading the comic and understand exactly what the creative team are up to, you start to understand that Bitch Planet shouldn't be read in the context you first thought it was designed for. The Walking Dead famously made its intentions clear after several years had passed: the walking dead were the survivors, not the zombies.
What is the reader expected to think when they see a comic called Postal, for example? This is a comic which features a sort-of murder mystery: it's set in a town where criminals lay low to get the heat off before they head back into the world, but is infiltrated by the FBI once the first-ever murder in recorded history takes place within the area. And it's a comic called Postal?!
Sometimes one word is all you need to establish what a comic is about. There's this comic, Batman, I think a lot of people have heard about, which proves that. Yet the caped crusader has the benefit of having been around for years - like Fables was, or Bone, or Hellboy. The current market is filled with short-titled comics, and when each comic is around for four issues max, it becomes increasingly difficult to pick out which one was which. Which was the one by Todd McFarlane, again? Was it Saints or was it Savior?
I didn't read either of them, because the covers and - crucially - titles didn't sell them to me. I was busy reading Six-Gun Gorilla and The Wicked and The Divine anyway.prevnext
For those unfamiliar with Comic Book Court, each side will get a brief chance to make a final closing statement to sway the jury (that's you!) to their side:
Christian's Closing Argument:
Steve argues that one word titles ultimately lead to lost sales, but I think that's Not every comic should have a one word title, but I think getting rid of them all together is an extreme step in the wrong direction. Ultimately, Image's plethora of one word titles is the result of creators' confidence in their comics, a result of Image's unique publishing model and attitude towards creative freedom. To use a baseball analogy, those one word titles seem to be a sign that creators are swinging for the fences with their comics, trying to make the best comic they possibly can. Sometimes they strike out, but occasionally those comics connect and become the hottest brand in the industry.
Steve's Closing Argument:
My colleague and I have lead you down the same path. However, while it is Mr Hoffer's belief that this path leads you to fictional fun, I'm convinced that it usually leads you out the comic shop. Words have meaning, but that meaning isn't always a clear, coherent, necessary one. Saga is an evocative title which describes a sense of the epic - although it's also the title of the quarterly magazine they sent my parents as of two years ago. It's taken the comic years to become the go-to word-association for 'Saga', and not every comic has the chance to live long enough to get that sense of meaning across.0comments
Sometimes a comic can hit everything that defines it within one word - but why bother with that risk? Some words are better than others, and for every comic called Rumble, which gives you everything you need, there's a comic called Low... and lord knows I still have no idea what that one's about.
So which side do you think made the better argument? Vote in the poll before to decide!prev