"Cancel Every Existing Superhero Comic"

Long term, sure. Short to medium term, the market is dominated by adults buying for their own consumption. So, you have to sacrifice short to medium term sales for potential long term returns - like a decade or more down the road. That’s a tough call.

It’s also a lot easier said than done to make stories and art that will appeal to both adults and children.

And, again, DC and Marvel have tried this, repeatedly, with a number of all-ages lines. What they haven’t done, so far, is go the “full Conway”, and just cancel everything, and only publish all-ages, self-contained stories. Maybe that’s what it will take. But that’s a horrifically tough call.

It hasn’t been mentioned in this thread yet, but another consideration is that most comic book writers, artists, and editors, are trying to create works that they would want to read. And the most popular writers, the super-stars that can sell books just by having their names on the cover are often precisely those writers who are intentionally aiming an old audience.

Brian Michael Bendis and Gail Simone write some stuff that’s all-ages or nearly so, but they also write a lot of stuff that’s definitely adult. And Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, Allan Moore, etc. - their stuff is not kid friendly, and is never going to be.

something else that bothered me … the article smacks of the "comic books are for kids dammit! " premise that it took comic books almost 40 years to get over after the CCA netured everything …

That’s already how books are typically done these days, albeit not entirely intentionally. They days when Chris Claremont had a 20-year run on Uncanny X-Men are looong gone. Shorter story arcs by a creative team, plotted to be exactly long enough to fit into a trade paperback, before a different creative team takes over and takes the book in a new direction, are common. A lot of readers wait until the trade paperbacks come out, rather than buying monthly issues.

But then you get into the opposite problem, which a couple of folks have mentioned in this thread. Books lose continuity, and just when the readers get used to one creative team and their takes on the characters, they get switched out. Personalities change, character development is reversed, plotlines get dropped, and so on.

Also, the model of short, self-contained stories destroys the unique nature of comic book storytelling. Decades-long continuities get horribly convoluted, deter new readers, and confuse even the writers, artists, and editors. But they’re also the one truly unique thing about comic book storytelling, and that continuity is uniquely compelling. If you throw that out…I don’t know. Maybe the day of that form of storytelling is done. I’ll be saddened to see it go, but nothing lasts forever. Not even immortal heroes.

[quote=“gdave, post:23, topic:921513, full:true”]

I don’t consider this a problem at all. It’s the heart of creative storytelling.

And what’s “uniquely compelling” about the medium is that it is a visual storytelling form with some optional support from text. There’s nothing about the medium that makes decades-long continuities an actual element of the form. Comic books might or might not have it, as well as, say text, or audiovisual works. That’s just a storytelling option.

And it’s interesting that every time it’s brought up as a virtue of the medium, it also needs to be mentioned that it has never successfully adhered to it. Decades-long continuity is not only apparently impossible to maintain, it’s a nonsensical hampering of the artists’ craft.

Look at how other media work.

Every time there’s a new production of a play or a live show, it gets remade by the new artists involved.

Jane Austen stories are regularly remade from scratch and often changed.

Sherlock Holmes gets regularly remade and usually is wildly different from one arc to the next.

TV shows are “re-imagined.” Movie series are “re-booted.”

Artistic expression demands this kind of freedom. There’s no good reason to deny it to comic books.

Agree to disagree, I guess. For me, the deeply woven, decades-long narratives, are precisely what make comic books unique and uniquely compelling. At least the style of comic books Marvel and DC have been publishing for the last several decades. I personally think there’s no good reason to deny the freedom to pursue that form of artistic expression to comic books.

But I also acknowledge, as I have done repeatedly in this thread, that this form of storytelling may simply no longer be sustainable. Which saddens me.

In retrospect, I think I would have used my money much differently as a kid if I had had access to a handheld device capable of playing a nigh-unlimited amount of cartoons, books, video games and stupid pet tricks.

Want to sell comics to kids? Drop them back to below $1.00 per issue, even if that means going back to cheaper paper and printing. Today’s comic prices are nauseating.

Stan Lee invented long comic arcs in the mid-1960s. For the first three decades of comics, almost every issue, and almost every story within that issue (remember that single-story comics were almost unheard of), was a stand-alone story. That worked just fine for all comic genres and all comic audiences. Stan’s innovation was a fine one, but it didn’t need to apply to every comic book ever.

And once again, the suggestion here is to aim books at younger children. Even back in the 1950s, kids didn’t want to wait a month for the next installment. Today far less so. Abandoning continuity is perhaps the most basic and important requirement to gets kids back into comics.

Thank you! I had a vague awareness of early comic books being single-story anthologies, but I hadn’t tied it in to the larger issue.

You could maybe make a case for Lee Falk.

Not sure what this means. Certainly comic strips had been doing multi-strip arcs for decades. (They actually anticipated silent movie serials.) Do you mean to say he was doing multi-book arcs for comic books? I haven’t seen those if so. Can you give some examples?

As far as I can tell, various of his ongoing superhero comic strips got reprinted in comic books, with arcs long enough to continue from issue to issue to issue to issue for months; even years. Would that count?

There used to be some byzantine postal regulation of something about a periodical with only a single story didn’t qualify for a certain lower shipping price so the publishers had to put multiple stories per issue to save money. (Maybe somebody else remembers it better or has better Google Fu on this point.)

Not by me, certainly.

That’s not what I understand. Rather that to qualify for the cheaper magazine rate, the comic had to have a two-page text story. The number of picture stories didn’t make a difference.

HA!!! I just bought the last volume a month ago of the 14 volume The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Vol. IV hard cover edition published 2008 to 2010 and I have read them all.

It’s fairly obvious what you are saying is true; the compilers of the encyclopedia tried their best but trying to reconcile different storylines in characters’ back stories have made a lot of entries hard to read.

It apparently never was sustainable. No long-running character has maintained a consistent continuity for decades upon decades without contradictions, retroactive continuity, reboots, reimagining, etc. Given that it has never been done, it seem strange to assert that that’s what makes the medium compelling.

I think we’re talking past each other. We seem to be using very different definitions and talking about different things.

When I refer to comic book continuity, I don’t mean a rigorously consistent, coherent, singular plotline. I mean the pretense that the Peter Parker aka Spider-Man of The Amazing Spider-Man #53 (2020) is the same character that appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962), and the pretense that all of the stories published in between happened and are a part of his history.

That continuity was created by, and continues to be created by, dozens of different writers, artists, and editors. It involves retcons, reboots, re-imaginings, contradictions, parallel universes, and * shudder * clones. It involves feedback by thousands upon thousands of fans, some of whom become writers, artists, and editors who worked on those comic books. It involves nit-picking by fans, who spot contradictions and continuity errors, and get a “No-Prize” for explaining why those contradictions and continuity errors really aren’t. It’s a huge, sprawling, contradictory, glorious mess. I love it.

It’s a unique, collaborative, emergent form of storytelling. (It’s similar to myth and folklore, but distinct from those). When I talk about the “sustainability” of this model, I am NOT talking about sustaining a single, rigorously consistent, coherent plotline. I am talking about the commercial sustainability of this approach to storytelling.

This sense of a deep, layered history is one of the main elements that drew me into comics when I was kid. I was attracted to stories that made me feel like I was entering a complex, fully realized world, with a deep, layered history that I could uncover. References to past issues (Ed. Note: This happened in Uncanny X-Men #133) made me want to seek out those stories, to see how the whole epic unfolded. It’s what has kept me invested in these stories over decades.

The fact that this unique form of collaborative, emergent storytelling may no longer commercially viable in today’s media market saddens me.

Let me be clear. I have absolutely no problem with the fact that your preferences for comic book storytelling may be different from mine. I absolutely do not expect anyone else to read comic books the same way I do or for the same reasons, or to appreciate the aspects of them that I do. If writers and artists want to create stand-alone issues with no pretense of continuity with previous works, I have absolutely no problem with that.

Indeed, that kind of work has always existed alongside “mainstream” super-hero comics. As you and others have pointed out, that kind of work used to be the “mainstream” of comic books. It increasingly seems to be becoming the mainstream again. It’s ok. I am never going to tell someone they’re wrong for creating those kinds of stories, or for enjoying consuming them, or for preferring them over the form of comic book storytelling I personally prefer.

But I do absolutely reject the idea that this form of storytelling, this artistic pretense of continuity across decades of real time and dozens of different creative voice, is a “nonsensical hampering of the artists’ craft”, or that it constitutes a denial of freedom of artistic expression.

Maybe Gerry Conway is right. Maybe the only way super hero comics can survive is by cancelling everything, ignoring continuity, and relaunching by only ever producing stand-alone issues specifically targeted to middle school kids. I personally doubt that would actually work, but I’m just a fan, not an industry expert. If that is the way the medium goes, I’ll be sad. Is that ok?

There’s no reason why both types of comics can’t coexist. They’ve been coexisting the entire time. The Disney comics have always been standalone issues. (I think the Archie line was until recently, but I’m not really familiar with those.) The lines that aim at kids have always known that universes are an impossible concept for casual young buyers.

DC and Marvel, though, always wanted to have it both ways. That worked until the comics stopped being the main source of exposure. The occasional Superman or Batman movie increased the value of the comics. Having half a dozen must-see blockbusters every year devalued them. Responding so that the ever-decreasing number of connoisseurs like you had to buy hundreds of issues to get every last detail of the latest event was known to be commercially suicidal but they kept doing it anyway until it’s finally collapsed.

TBH, I’m not sad that this so-called artform is the snake who ate its tail. It destroyed comics for me. I try reading a collection of what are supposed to be a six-issue run of a single title and it proves to be incomprehensible because the action between chapters has taken place in another title. If somebody who had been reading comics for 60 years is totally shut out of the art, then perhaps it’s no longer art but in-group masturbation.

My withdrawn post above came out harsher than I had intended. If you read it before I deleted it, I apologize for the harsh tone.

I think at this point I, on one side, and Ascenray and yourself on the other, are largely talking past each other.

I actually agree that mega-crossover events that require reading dozens of different titles are terrible. I also absolutely agree that there’s no reason why both types of comics can’t coexist, and I pointed out myself that they’ve been coexisting the entire time. I was specifically responding to Gerry Conway’s suggestion linked in the OP to “Cancel Every Existing Superhero Comic”.

I think there is a middle ground between having to buy 52 comics in a single month to follow a story, and only having stand-alone issues specifically targeting middle school kids. I agree the former extreme isn’t viable. If the only viable way forward is the latter extreme, I’ll personally be saddened. If there is a possibility of a renaissance, of some sort of happy medium, with a shared universe and continuity that doesn’t just shut out new readers, alongside one-offs and stand-alones, I’ll personally be happy.

In any event, with the degree of talking-past-each-other it seems to me has been happening in this thread, I don’t think there’s much point in me participating further.