Modern American comic books are born and bred on the idea of their releases being ongoing series, continuing a long line of history with no end in sight — unless sales fall. This open-ended promise has turned into a legacy that’s hard for publishers to live up to, with low sales forcing cancellations to what fans thought would be an endless ride. Likewise, publishers have seen a monotonous march towards higher and higher numbers to be at odds with the tendency for fans and retailers to pay more attention to new #1s, leading publishers to frequently relaunch series with new #1s, sometimes purely for marketing reasons while keeping the same creative team and story direction in the book. And in terms of creators being able to consistently deliver quality work on a monthly basis, it’s become a rarity for comic artists to be able to do it month-in and month-out.
That’s where doing seasons in comics, a la television, could be a revolutionary concept in comics.
And although I throw the word ‘revolutionary’ out there, it’s not like it hasn’t been done before. Mike Mignola’s nearly patented the idea of doing a series of short-form miniseries that keeps interest high, keeps #1s flowing, and succinctly realizes that the comics market, thanks to collections, has turned into a format of readers wanting clearly collectable story-arcs. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips took this idea even further in the early 2000s when they had their DC/Wildstorm series Sleeper published as a series of 12-issue miniseries, delivering 12 months of uninterrupted Brubaker/Phillips superhero crime noir then allowing for a break to re-charge and work in advance to deliver another 12 months down the road. It’s a formula they took when they left for Marvel, delivering bursts of Criminal and Incognito as a series of miniseries rather than an un-ending ongoing built up for delays or artistic substitutions.
But unfortunately, this way of thinking hasn’t been able to permeate into the larger comics industry. For the Big Two it’s hard not to deliver comics month-in, month-out (especially when you actively employ a rotating menagerie of artists on a single book), but it creates a disjointed reading experience for those reading the single issues. Is it a deal-breaker for readers? Obviously not, but it has severely diminished the artistic continuity of books and minimized the importance of a single continuous artistic vision for comics. Instead we get three issues of Artist A, four issues of Artist B, and then a juicy one-off by Artist X. They’re all great in their own right, but imagine if the scheduling were there to allow Artist A, Artist B and Artist X their own space to deliver a larger vision.
This could even play out well on the independent creator-owned front. How many ongoing creator-owned series are announced that actually make it past the twelve issue mark, and do it without severe delays? I’d challenge you to name five in the past two years that did it without sacrificing schedule or creative shifts. What if instead of ongoings being the status quo and the expected format, for more creator-owned series being a series of miniseries. It gives a more rational, reasonable and realistic expectation for the reader, and also some clear beginnings and endings for the writer, artist and the rest of the creative team. Plus, if it goes well and you do go back for a sequel, there’s always a new juicy #1 waiting for without any cancellation/relaunch shenanigans.