I could never get into soap operas. A couple weekday afternoons Iíd have nothing to do so I would sit down and flip though the channels. Usually Iíd land on the Discovery channel, or TLC, or if I wanted to turn my brain off, a little MTV. Once and a while I would land on a soap.
You know what? I didnít know any of the characters, nor any of the plot lines, nor anything else that was going on. Big surprise there, eh? The channels didn't make an effort of encapsulating the previous episodes, of what has gone before, for newbie viewers. Some of them had so much history that it would take a week of shows just to get the new viewer up to speed. Nor did I have anyone to coach me on what was happening. So I would give up and switch to one of my usual channels.
Soaps arenít the only television programs that rely on past episodes. I used to watch Friends in the first season, then I stopped. Now when I switch it on, I have no idea what is going on. Luckily all the Ďfriendsí are there so I know all of the characters, but other then that Iím lost. So once again I keep switching channels. Some other sitcoms rely on past history, as do some dramas, like ER and West Wing. The only episodic shows I watch are the ones that have either just started, ones that Iíve watched since the first show or ones that I have someone around to explain to me the showís history.
With television I get lucky. Everyone I know watches the teevee so there are always a few people that have seen a show I have questions about. Comics are different though. The comics fan base is just a bit smaller then the television viewing public. Just a bit smaller. Heh. So say I wanted to pick up an Ďepisodeí of Batman, how would I know what the hell is going on? I know a bit about the DC universe from reading other DC comics, but imagine what a new comic book reader would experience: it would be like jumping into a movie halfway though and expecting to understand and enjoy it. Impossible I say.
And even if they did pick up an issue and enjoyed it, could they wait another month for the next Ďepisodeí? The longest the television audience has to wait is a week. While the new comic reader enjoyed his episode of Batman, did he enjoy it enough to wait a month to get the new episode? And if he did enjoy it enough to wait, did he enjoy it enough to remember to pick up the next one?
I doubt it.
So the new comic reader doesnít come back for the next episode and they are lost to the other mass media that will give him the whole story in one sitting. But there is a solution: its name be trade paperback. Now we have the new comic reader scratching their head. They question, trade paperback?
Some pundits say to call trade paperbacks either collections or original graphic novels. Both sound fine to me, as long as the new comic reader can understand the lingo. Whatever you call them they are one big chunk of story altogether. The new reader isnít require to come back for the next episode; they have a whole story right in their hands.
Monthly comics werenít created with the new (adult) reader in mind, they were created (it appears to me) so that kids would buy them. Theyíve always been priced so that a kid can afford a couple on whatever their meager weekly allowance or minimum wage job pays them. Since the kid will use their weekly allowance to buy a couple comics, why not publish new comics every week?
While a kid might enjoy going to the comic book store every week to pick up new comics, do most adults have the time to make this errand? Not only do they have to stop at the store, they have to read new comics every week. Youíre probably saying right now, Ďbut I go to the comic store every week. Are you calling me childish?í No, Iím not. Most of us who collect comics have been doing so since weíve been kids. Weíve gotten used to the weekly routine. We make time in our schedule to stop at the comic store every week.
Well, most of us do. I donít make a trip to the comic store every week. In fact, I donít make one at all. I have my comics mailed to me on a monthly basis. By the time I read the new issue, however, Iíve forgotten what the previous issue was about. It isnít because I have the memory of a cat, it is because I have other stuff in my life to remember.
The only reason I havenít switched over to only collecting trades is twofold: I donít know if the comic series Iím reading will be collected and I canít wait. Iíll be the first one to admit Iím not perfect: part of me is still that fourteen year old girl who wants to see the new cover. Though if the series has been collected, I will buy that instead of back issues. So if you arenít willing to switch over from monthly issues to collections, you can still do your part to support them.
So Iím not suggesting that the monthly comic book needs to go the way of the 5 and a half inch floppy disk, eight track and other such outdated formats. Getting rid of the monthly episodic comic would be too drastic of a change. I am suggesting that the comic book industry needs to make an effort to collect more storylines (and mini-series) and to publish more original graphic novels. To ask questions of themselves like why canít that new mini-series be published as an original graphic instead? And more stores should focus on collections and graphic novels. Instead of buying thirty more issues of the latest #1 issue buy a couple collections from a self-publisher.
That way, when a new adult reader comes into the store, they can leave with a complete story. Only by changing the perception of the comic book medium away from the current industry standard of monthly superhero stories only for children to a medium for any story that wants to be published will the comic book medium gain new readers. By changing the normal format from monthly episodic issue to a complete story in one novel we are taking the first step on this path to mainstream acceptance.
From the Cerebus Fangirl Site found on the web at: http://www.cerebusfangirl.com contents maybe printed for later reading if you so desire, just don't copy it and say it's yours though.