The Cliffs of Insanity: Should Monthly Comics Die?

Cliffs of Insanity Featured GeekMom
See why I love Jim Gordon? Image from Batman Eternal #52, copyright DC Comics
See why I love Jim Gordon? Image from Batman Eternal #52, copyright DC Comics

Welcome to the latest installment of my adventures in climbing the cliffs of insanity that is our pop culture.

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written this column, mostly because I’ve been busy being my fiction-writing self. Part of that may be to your benefit, as I’m part of a month-long Fools for Love celebration across numerous blogs celebrating science fiction romance. Grand Prize is a $75 certificate to your choice of iBooks, B&N, and Amazon. Other prizes and goodies are being given away at the individual blogs, which you’ll find listed at the linked post. (There’s also an exclusive except from my prose superhero novel.)

Image via SF Romance Station
Image via SF Romance Station

Onto comics…

Should I Start Reading Monthly Comics?


Let me explain that answer. (Unlike Inigo, I can’t sum up.)

One of the questions I get most from my fellow romance readers who are eager to read about the print adventures of Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne or Peggy Carter is: “How do I start reading comics?”

It’s a simple question with a complicated answer. There are so many different variations of their favorite characters, across so many years, by so many writers, and so many stories.

But what they’re asking boils down to “where can I read an awesome superhero story?”

Recommending monthly comics as a starting base will only drive them batty, so I never do.

Take Batman Eternal. Suppose I started raving about how good it was to my friends when the story began one year ago and one of them said “Great, how do I start reading it?”

Option One: 

1. Locate their local comic shop, if it exists. If not, send them to my online store, G-Mart.

2. Hope that comic shop has the previous issues of Eternal in stock. Chances are only 50-50.

3. They got lucky! All the back issues are available. Great. Next step: set up pre-orders at the local shop so all issues are pulled before they go on the shelves, thus ensuring possession of a copy each week. Careful, now, pre-orders have to be done three months in advance to ensure delivery.

So you’ll be picking out the comics you want to read three months from now and hoping that the creative team stays with the story you love for that long, instead of ending it abruptly.

4. Visit the comic store once a week to pick up your stash. It’s possible to visit less often but some stores will put a bestselling issue back on the shelf in a few weeks rather than taking the chance that the customer won’t pick it up.

5. Pay at least $155 for all 52 issues.

I could tell my friend that they download the app and have guaranteed access to Batman Eternal each week, even back issues. They’ll still pay $155 at $2.99 each or over $200 at $3.99 each for the entire story. And they aren’t even physical copies that can be passed around.

This is called creating barriers between your product and potential new customers. At least with digital, customers can be assured of reading the next chapter of their monthly comic, and sometimes there are sales.

Option Two: 

I say, “If you love Captain America, read the Ed Brubaker Omnibus that you can buy right now on Amazon. Or read Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, or the collected trade paperback of Captain Marvel or the first Gail Simone Birds of Prey story, Sensei and Student.”

The last thing I’m going to do is recommend they jump into the monthly comics scrum which features constant creator changes, universe reboots that wipe out beloved stories, and characters who can change personality at the drop of a hat. (Looking at you, Donna Troy.)

The frustrating element in all this is that if the monthly comic sales aren’t there for a quality title that’s low-selling, it may never be collected in trade. The sales of those monthly comics support their publishing costs. If it isn’t successful, the company may not chance publishing a collection that also won’t sell.

So in the current business model, if the comic is canceled, the collections may never exist.

I waited years for the trade paperback of Chase and the John Ostrander/Kim Yale Suicide Squad. I’d like to recommend to you the excellent Batman Family mini-series by John Francis Moore from some years back but it’s never been available as a collection. Marvel does a much better job with its collections, so it’s much easier to recommend their stories. And, of course, Image Comics collects everything in trade so, don’t worry, if you missed that issue of Walking Dead or you can’t find a physical copy of Bitch Planet, the collections are coming.

What’s the answer to all this?

Eventually, it might be just ending monthly comics altogether and instead commissioning full stories and collect them in original graphic novels. This would mean the price of the collections would increase. Currently, most of them run from $14.95 for paperbacks to hardcovers that are $24.95 to omnibus collections up to $100 and above. Original graphic novels might start at $40 and reach $100 or more.

But what’s the better deal? The awesome Absolute edition two-volume hardcover box-set of DC: The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke, currently selling for approximately $66 at Amazon, or $155 and up for a year’s worth of the monthly comic story, Batman Eternal?

Monthly comic publication is an old system that rests on predicting pre-orders and asking the customer to invest time and effort even before the comic appears in their hands. It’s a dinosaur and truly requires climbing the cliffs of insanity.

The only problem is that, thus far, no one has figured out how to replace the dinosaur.

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3 thoughts on “The Cliffs of Insanity: Should Monthly Comics Die?

  1. Or they can just continue doing both and people who want trades/omnis can just wait.

  2. Incorrect. Buy monthly comics. Support the stories or characters you love so that they continue. Individual issues support writers and artists that otherwise may not have work.

    I generally only buy Punisher issues now. And, since Ennis stopped writing him regularly, he has gone through some rough patches. (FrankenCastle, Chaykin art, etc)

    Yeah, when I first started collecting, took effort to track down back issues (and I started 30 years ago), but that was half the fun. And, I will buy any trade that comes out as well.

  3. I think the problem with replacing the dinosaur is that monthly comics are still significant enough that publishers need them to cover their production costs. I’ve mostly stopped with monthlies save for occasional purchases but it seems to persist due to the economics of the direct market.

    Also the problems you described with creative team changes, rebooting universes, and sudden personality changes in characters are more symptomatic of Marvel and DC’s superhero comics line which rely on such tricks to keep their decades-old IP going on an indefinite monthly publishing schedule.

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