Friday, December 13, 2013

Another Post About How to Save the American Comics Industry

I will admit that I haven't bought pamphlet comics in a very long time, though I try to keep myself updated on the general goings-on in the American comics industry, particularly what's been happening with the Big Two. I've been reading some of the new X-Men titles as well.

Lately, I've been reading some blogposts about the sorry state of the comics industry, how it has failed to attract new buyers, how prices have become prohibitive, how the number of "good titles" have decreased, how film and television adaptations have not substantially improved comics sales, and how "big events" have begun to lose their novelty because of their regularity.

Sadly, it seems that the same mistakes are being made. (I recently heard that special effects covers were being considered for a comeback. Did that push through?)

One development that had been seen as a way to boost comics sales is the production of film adaptations, with the perception that audiences of the films would be curious enough to go to the source material. But that hasn't been happening--audiences become familiar with the characters, but they're not picking up the books.

Why? I think the reason is disconnection. When a person sees and likes an X-Men film, he can go out of his way to find an X-Men comic. But which X-Men comic? Is it Uncanny? All-New? And once he does read an X-Men comic, he'll find that the film he liked is nowhere near what's going on in the comics. If the film in question was X-Men 3, he can look out for the Phoenix saga, and then be overwhelmed by the number of characters and plotlines which are not in the film. The continuity between the Phoenix saga and the current issues of X-Men is also so disjointed, so distant, that there's no way he can catch up. Plus, in comics today, so little happens in one issue that it's hard to hook new readers.

Contrast that with film adaptations of a series of novels--Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Twilight, Percy Jackson, etc. The films are directly based on the books. People who loved the books would want to watch the films. But more importantly, people who like reading and are curious about or loved the films might pick up the books. The familiarity factor kicks in: audiences know exactly what the source material is, where they can go to buy, and they are confident that there are very few differences between the elements of the book's story and the film's story. They don't have to wrestle with long histories, and the stories neatly conclude.

Many have offered sound suggestions to improve the American comics industry--especially now that film and TV adaptations have become a norm--so here's a post where I give mine. Below is something of a business model broken down into steps. The main objective is to expand the audience base, and is roughly based on the publishing model for fiction novels.

Here it is.

STEP 1: Choose a character or group. Superman, X-Men, whatever.

STEP 2: Get a capable creative team to plan 10 major stories for this character or group. Each story should have a plot density equivalent to a standard novel, and can be told in six to eight issues. These stories will be self-contained, allowing the publisher to stop publishing new stories if sales prove not to be encouraging. But despite each story being self-contained, there should be a sense that the first nine stories will culminate in the tenth story. The first story to be released will always be an origin story with an adventure, which sets the tone and style of succeeding stories. (Note: For a new character or team, the publisher can have three to five major stories to start with, instead of ten.)

STEP 3: Produce and publish, in print and digital formats, the individual issues according to standard practice. With 10 major stories at six to eight issues each, released monthly, the title's run will last 60 to 80 issues, or between five and eight years. These issues are meant primarily for the comic book readers.

STEP 4: Six months after the each story is finished and released as individual issues, the story will then be released to bookstores as a high-quality trade. These trades will be treated like hard cover releases of a novel, with covers looking more like novels than comics, and will be marketed as such. Buyers who prefer a digital version have the privilege of buying all the individual issues of the story at a discounted price. Licensing for merchandise can begin.

STEP 5: Depending on the critical and/or commerical response to the issues or trades, a low-priced paperback version (i.e. cheaper than a movie ticket) will be released one year after the high-quality trade version. To lower the price, colors will be rendered in gray tones. (The success of manga and The Walking Dead shows that the reading public will readily buy a comic book even if it's not in color.) 

STEP 6: Based on the overall sales performance of the title, the publisher has the option of going back to step 1 with new, self-contained stories, or publish special books for fans.

1) At the end of this process, a comics company will have ten "novels" on the bookstore shelves. All complete stories. This is the ultimate saga, and canon, of the character or team. They can be republished with new covers every ten years.

2) Because this collection is the canon, any referencing to be done for film or television adaptation, live action or animated, will be easier for both producers and the viewing public.

3) More people will be able to buy because there is a low-priced paperback version.

4) The success of the novels can give a film or television adaptation a higher chance of success.

5) Lukewarm sales of the novels can be boosted if a film or television adaptation is well-received.

6) One main complaint comics readers have is that because a comics series stretches on for too long, stories start to lose originality. With only 60 to 80 issues to worry about, writers and editors focus on creating the best, original, and enduring stories.

What, then, about crossovers? Cross-over stories will be allowed only when all novels of the characters in question have been released. For instance, if the publisher wanted a crossover story involving Superman and Batman, then the canon novels of these characters should have been completed and released to the public. Plus, this crossover story should not, in any way, contribute or alter the characters' individual canons, and should not influence any future stories these characters might have on their own. This way, crossovers stand individually as special stories, purely for fan service.

1) I can't think of any. Comics fans will still get their individual issues. The market is expanded because of the low-priced paperbacks, and will welcome the idea of self-contained stories. If you can think of any disadvantages of this suggestion, please feel free to leave a comment.

- - - - - - - 

An easier alternative would be the following:

A: Release graphic novel-length adaptations of the films in paperback, hardcover, and digital. As in really good, robust adaptations, not those 48 to 64 pagers we've seen before. These adaptations will be the basis for new series.

B: Taking a cue from Mark Millar, whatever new film installment that's planned to be released should first be done as a six- to eight-issue limited series in print and digital. A few months before the films release, the limited series will be compiled.

C: If there are no more films to be released,  the comic book company can continue developing and releasing stories in four to six issue arcs, following the six-step scheme above. These continuing stories will be based on whatever is established in the films. That way, those who loved the films can easily get into the new series because they're already familiar with what went on. Also, this new series is in its own universe and will not, in any way, affect or be affected by the other titles. In short, create an "X-Men Movie" series based on the X-Men films, totally independent of Uncanny, All-New, etc. Since there are no more films to be released, this new comics series can be the basis for a television adaptation.

Just my two cents.

Thanks for reading.

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