How Long is Too Long?

In the course of running this site, and talking comics almost constantly, I’ve learned of a certain phenomena where a reader tries a new series, and is told to hold on. Hold on as long as you can. If you wait for it, it will gel, and you too will find the enjoyment that others have found.

The title I’ve heard this most often about is Fables, but there are others in the standard stable of iFanboy recommendations, such as Invincible or Checkmate.

So, how long should you wait? When should you give up? What if you blow it and miss out on the greatest thing ever?

People complain when television networks snuff out a great TV show before it has time to find its audience. When Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip couldn’t find an audience, many of us were sad that the network was so shortsighted as that. But, as my own programming director, a new series better grab me quickly, or I pass it by. So, I’m just passing up on spending another $3 or ten minutes, where at least network executives are doing it because it’s losing them millions of dollars. In both cases, it’s the audience’s fault, either because something’s not very good, or it’s just not for them. This is sad because, especially in comics, something doesn’t get made without a lot of sweat and love. It’s all the more heartbreaking when you don’t like something, because someone behind that really wants you to. But you can’t support everything, can you?

But sometimes, it just doesn’t click. I did a post about this a little while ago, and I ended up dropping a bunch of books. In the aftermath of the subscription bloodbath, I feel almost no regret or remorse. I don’t miss reading Countdown one whit. But that book is going to go on, regardless of what I do. While it is a labor of love I’m sure to the people creating it, it’s not like someone’s life’s work, or their heart and soul on a page. Maybe, it just wasn’t for me.

But then, let’s go back to the example of Fables. I dropped the hell out of that book. In fact, I stopped after issue 6 or 7, and then kept buying it for my wife, through the late teens, and I didn’t even read it. I’m saying I actually paid for it, but didn’t bother to read the thing, and it was sitting right there. I must have hated it! But then, years later, I hear people fawning over this book, and I went back, and re-read what I had, didn’t really love it any more than I did before, but I kept going. At that point, things came together. When seen in context of the whole, there was just a long build up for me, and the payoff was worth it. However, had this been a low selling series, if a lot of people had acted like me, the book wouldn’t have ever reached that point where it came together. It just would have ceased to be. But the thing is, I hear over and over from people that this book doesn’t really get good until 3 trades in. That’s a lot to ask in terms of investment and time before a payoff. I can testify that it is indeed worth it, but in terms of reading this in issues, new readers would have had to endure for nearly two years before the book really grabbed them. That was certainly my experience. As the book is still around, it’s clear that not everyone felt this way, but anecdotally, hearing from folks on the site, many had the same experience I did. Bill Willingham is a lucky dude, because Vertigo gave him time to build it, which clearly paid off ultimately.

Such was not the case with an early Ed Brubaker series from Vertigo called Deadenders, where apparently just myself and four others bought and loved this book, and it was canceled, and the story never finished. Who’s to blame for that? Is it the audience, who just didn’t get it? Did the writer fail to connect, or was it just that it wasn’t meant to be? This is a fate I’ve consigned to Checkmate, because I fear that it’s just not meant to be, despite the fact that it’s a quality book. Were I a better blogger, I would institute the Checkmate deathwatch, because Rucka’s under-appreciated title is, in fact, the comic book world’s Abe Vigoda.

So, as posed in the headline, how long is too long to hold on? I suppose it depends largely on the type of reader you are, and what type of book you’re talking about. With indie books, I try to give them a few issues if I think something is OK, but I can usually tell if something isn’t going to click with me right off. There are some books that I just know, right away, are not going to appeal to me. Cassanova is probably most evinced by this, as recorded by our “Totebag” and “Follow-Up” episodes. I could tell right off that it was not a book from me, and a further examination, and going back only certified that I’d made the right call previously.

But, I’ve made the wrong call much more often than the right one. I dropped a ton of books that became masterpieces (oddly enough mostly from Vertigo, such as Scalped, the aforementioned Fables, and even one of my most cherished series, Lucifer. I think most of the time with books like that I was either strapped for cash or time, and just cut without mercy.

And that seems to be my continual downfall. There have been many times when I’ve passed up on something good, because I just didn’t want to add one more thing to give my attention. Of course, that attitude meant that I’d almost missed The Wire on HBO. So now, when I think about dropping a book, I have to think about why I’m really doing it. Of course, there’s always later, with trades and collections, but there really is something special about being there while something’s happening.


  1. If Checkmate was a Marvel book, I’d be reading it right now. I read the first issue and it was decent, but it wasn’t for me because it felt too DC-centric.

    Casanova also didn’t do it for me, cause it just wasn’t my bag. You can judge some books by their covers.

    I’m not actually sure I understand the idea of “waiting for something to get good.” I’m pretty much either on-board with a book from the start or not.

  2. I can relate as I JUST discovered Veronica Mars. I knew about it and it’s praise but it never hit me that it would high school noir. Shame on me. I feel like I’m going to hell.

  3. i think u should give it at least 4 or 5 issues. I mean u normally give TV shows a couple of weeks or at least i try. So i’d say at least 5,3 at the least.

  4. Yeah, tried the first episode of V. Mars and it really did very little for me. I suppose I should have given it a fair shake, but if I think something’s bad/boring right from the outset, it takes a lot to keep me watching it. A friend has threatened to tie me down in front of Battlestar Galactica…

    With comics, I don’t consciously “drop” the book, I just don’t think about it when it comes out. I have, however, recently restarted Fables and am realizing that it gets waaaaaay better after vol. 2, so what do I know?

  5. I can wait a few trades, I don’t mind. If Josh says is good, it is good. It took me a bit to enjoy Fables but like fine wine, it is a case of “educating your palate”. This happens in all art forms. Some things do require a “healthy knowledge” of the form in order to be properly enjoyed. Sure, some books/art are great and are enjoyed as served and that’s good too, but like jazz or classical music or (yadda, yadda)others are enhanced by the historical/technical/__/ background knowledge that you may be aware of.

    Something like it… gotta work!

  6. I give every comic 6 issues to hook me. There’s been a few rare turds that after two I had to walk away, but everyone who works in comics is a professional, so I tend to think they know what they’re doing.

    Checkmate is great. I think I called the show once and stated this (or submitted an e-mailed question). I tend to think that the only “problem” with it is that people aren’t reading it. It has nothing to do with its cast list (which is big) or its creative team (since it started, at least 5 different artists with other co-writers coming in). Its problem lies in that folks aren’t willing to risk taking a chance. There are guys that are willing to read something they hate out of some arcane sense of loyalty, but they wont drop that p.o.s. and pick up something else that’s good.

  7. If the first issue of a series or the first issue of a new writer on an established book doesn’t do anything immediately then I choose not to go on. However if I am on the fence about whether I liked it or not, I will give it a whole arc. I like to give the writer a chance to finish the story, unless it is completely uninteresting to me.

    The Boys I dropped after the first issue, because it just didn’t seem like something I would get into. The Order I am giving one more issue, because I like the concept and I like Matt Fraction. Unfortunately, the Order just isn’t impressing me. I am about to drop Justice League, because I gave it an arc and it just didn’t capture my interest. Finally, last week was my last issue of Countdown. In the thirty plus issue I’ve bought, I have only enjoyed a hand full of them. And I keep telling myself things are going to start happening any issue now, but its past ther half way mark and those nothing to my satisfaction has happened. I should have dropped it ten issues ago.

    I have been reading a lot of stuff from my local library. Doing that has let me continue on books that I had dropped in single issues. If I hear something was good after I dropped it, I make a note to check it out when it comes to the library. It has worked with Invincible. I bought the first trade, it didn’t impress me all that much, but I have taken the rest of the trades out of the library and I’ve enjoyed them. Not enough to make me want to own the series, but enough to be willing spend an hour every couple of months reading the newest trade.

  8. How long I stick with a title depends on why I was interested in it in the first place. If I am intrigued by the concept, such as Fables or Y, I’d stick with it for 10-12 issues. If it is by a writer I like, I’d give it about 5-6 issues and decide if I could do without it. If it is just a character I like (such as a Spider-man mini series or a new ongoing), it’s much shorter, like 1-3 issues. Gotham Central is the only series that I feel I missed out on after buying some of the early issues and then not following through. I’ve since found almost the entire series at used book stores for about a dollar each, so it all worked out in the end.

  9. It’s a good question. I don’t think there’s one answer.

    I’ve known people who have instituted rules like “4 issues” or “six issues.”

    At this point, I have sort of sliding scale that goes issue by issue. There are cases where I don’t love the first issue, but I’m intrigued enough to give it a shot. Such was the case with The Order, and that book has slowly become a really enjoyable read in the last couple issues.

    Another case for me is Exterminators. A lot of people have raved about it. I read the first trade, and it felt a little odd and disjointed. But everyone raved, so I bought the second one. Halfway through, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue. But by the end of the second volume, I was ready for the third.

    So there’s a case where it took me a trade and a half. I think the trades help this because they forces you to give a series a chance in larger chunks. This works best with cheaper trades, $9.99-$12.99, preferably. $14.99 tops. Hard to take chances on multiple trades when they’re $17.99 and up.

    Economics and familiarity have also been factors in dropping books. Sometimes, even if a book is good, I drop it because I’ve read enough stories about the specific character (Spider-man, Batman, et al) and if I have to cut something, that actually becomes a reason. It may be BETTER written than something new and original, but I’m more intrigued by where the new and original thing is going, so I make my decision that way. But that’s not exactly the “how long” question as much as it is — “what makes the cut?”

  10. –Of course, there’s always later, with trades and collections, but there really is something special about being there while something’s happening.–

    Very true, Josh. This is what I’m struggling with right now in terms of my comics buying habit. I’m finding it very difficult to keep up with 15-20 different storylines (for each title I faitfully buy), so I’m considering dropping a few and waiting for trades. To me, this flies directly in the face of the initial draw of comics for me–the serialized storytelling. I love having to wait for the next installment, knowing that it is only four weeks away. But when you’re doing this for 10 different books…

    So what do I do? I continue to buy books that I don’t read, and then read them either a) when you guys review it and explain how awesome it is, or b) wait until I have a whole story arc and then read the arc in one shot. Does it work for me? Actually, it kind of does work. If I don’t go back to a book once its story arc is complete, I know that I must not care enough about it, and then drop it altogether.

  11. I’m about to do some slashing on my list as well. For the most part, it’s series that I’ve given a very healthy chance to do somethng for me – average being between 15 and 20 issues. Supergirl, Shadowpact, Moon Knight, Superman – while I can enjoy the craft behind them and for the most part enjoy the creators’ other work, these titles just aren’t doing it for me.

    A new writer will get me to check out a few more issues of a book I’m thinking of dropping. A new, more established writer (Ellis on Thunderbolts) whose work I’ve liked before will get me to pick up a book in the middle of a run. It’s all about the story for me – I’ve never dropped a book because I couldn’t stand the art.

    When I sit down to read my books, I put them into three categories – from least anticipated to most anticipated. If a book floats up to that least anticipated top of the pile more often than not, it’s a good candidate to get whacked.

    I do suffer a lot of that “maybe it will get good” syndrome. I’ve got 20-some odd issues of Supergirl and I haven’t really, really enjoyed that since Loeb left (although there were some so-so issues in there somewhere). Busiek’s Superman should be stellar, but it’s just not working for me – this could be the first time in about 4 or 5 years I don’t have Superman on my list – and there have been a lot of rough spots in there, but there would eventually be an issue or arc that renewed my faith in the title. I think it all comes down to if what happened in the previous issue left enough of an impression on you that you at least remember what’s going on in the story by the time the next issue comes out.

    And if something you do drop does get good, you can always go back to the trades or into the back issue bins. For the most part, it will always be there for you if you want it.

  12. I decided to pick up checkmate’s next issue due to all the praise. I will pick up the trades as well.

  13. When I was younger, once I started a series I stuck with it. I think this was back in the days when my comic OCD was in full tilt. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to let go of titles, and now that I’m a fullfledged adult, I don’t find that emotional attachment to keep going with a series. If it’s bad, I’ll drop it.

    Usually, I give a series about 2-3 issues if I find it to be just ok. Sometimes, if it’s a mini, I’ll buy the whole thing to see if the story develops, but otherwise, I’ll let it go. I feel like with today’s technology and access to info, it’s going to be hard for me to miss out on a series that is in issues…especially if it’s kind of a big deal. That said, I don’t mind if I have to pick something up in trade because, well, sometimes I just can’t afford another monthly book.

    Oh, and everyone’s right, Checkmate is so very badass.

  14. I don’t really have a standard time I stay on something before dropping it. If I really like the creative team that gets onto a book but their work is feeling subpar, I will stick with it a while to see how it goes. I do have my limits though as the lack of Flash in my stack suggests.

    I think I generally wait until I reach the point where I pick a book up, sit down the read it and mainly just think about how I was reading title X instead and should put thsi one at the bottom of my stack.

    Letting a series or creative team gel is a good point though. To continue the television comparison. Babylon 5 is one series like that. It has this hugely rewarding plot structure that doesn’t really begin until the second season. The third and fourht seasons are among the most addictive, awesome television shows I’ve ever seen, but I can’t say the same for the first.

    I actually dropped Invincible when it came out in issues. Then someone showed me the Guardians of the Globe stuff and I thought, “well…I’ll see where this goes”. I’m glad I did.

    Ultimately I think dropping a boook is less important than keeping an ear out to what is said about it. Knowing when to get on, or back on, a title is the real question.

  15. I’ve decided not to go down this road with She Hulk. I picked up the first two issues, because I always give anything Peter David writes a chance. The first two issues were okay. The story went in unexpected directions, but I wasn’t all that impressed. If I hear it is good then I’ll come back to it.

  16. Superman and Batman is one I keep dropping and coming back to. After the review on this weeks podcast, I picked up issue 44 and loved it.

    Looks like I’m going to collect it again !