Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Monster Called Continuity!

There is an article in the Toronto Star featuring some candid thoughts from Marvel's main talent scout C.B. Cebulski wherein he explains why Marvel has begun double shipping so many comic titles of late:

We found, and part of the reason for this increased shipping, is that, there’s a larger growing disparity between best-sellers and mid-sellers and low-sellers. There’s good sellers and medium sellers but the lower sellers are selling lower, lower and dropping. And those were always miniseries or one-offs or things that don’t count. And what we’re finding now is that fans want things that are part of the continuity. They only want the main titles. They want Amazing Spider-Man, they don’t want Avenging Spider-Man

I find this quote indicative of a trend I've been seeing which is the people buying comics now are getting more single (narrow?) minded in their buying habits. What used to work in the last decade (spinoffs of successful titles like Avengers and X-men titles) is now failing because the mish mosh of continuity that exists in 5 different Avengers comics tells this current generation of readers that the story doesn't matter.

And when you basically selling your comics solely on the principal that the story matters and this event will change everything you know about the Marvel Universe! then reader apathy is a death-knell.

So to combat this, Marvel has decided that since readers will only follow one comic continuity for Spider-man, then they will simply publish multiple issues of the chosen title.

That sounds bad to me. Aside from sounding like a stop gap solution that doesn't really address the real issues causing shrinking sales, it means that Marvel will be less inclined to produce comics which tell stories alongside their current continuity.

And I think people forget that stories can work like that. Fans tend to think of things as In Continuity or Out of Continuity but I think some stories can exist alongside continuity. When I used to read Marvel Team-Up back in the 70's, I never cared if the story I was reading was paying attention to regular Spider-man continuity (and often there were nods to what was going on in the other titles) All I cared about was did the issue I was reading follow the last issue I had been reading? Simply put: Was the internal continuity consistent?

For example, if Man-Wolf showed up at the end of Marvel Team-Up 36 one month:

Then I was expecting to see him in Issue 37.

Outside of that, I didn't care how closely the title was tied into events in Amazing Spider-man.

A lot of comic fans seem to want to take an all or nothing approach to continuity, believing that a tightly policed continuity makes for a good comic universe. I don't know how true that is. Yes, it's good if Green Kryptonite works the same way everytime Superman encounters it, but tight continuity is easier to manage in done in ones. When you have the same character in multiple tiles with long ongoing stories (like Wolverine), then continuity becomes a logistical monster. It's no wonder editors ignore it.

With that, I will leave you with today's free comic, a monster of another sort: Frankenstein!

- Enjoy!


Trey said...

While I'm not completely certain I believe Cebulski's analysis (and he seems to agree with the limited and one shot shunners when he calls them "things that don't count"), I think he's comment represents a defect that seems to be growing in comics community: a fetishization of their knowledge about the world the characters inhabit over stories.

I'm in no way repeating the canard of "continuity gets in the way of storytelling"--it does not. But when the impending new 52 meant the stories before the reboot didn't "matter" and thus should be avoided, or that the reboot "destroyed the DC universe" is utter lunacy.

Jim Shelley said...

What's been interesting about the aftermath of the new 52 is how many times I hear commenters on podcasts say DC has left the door open to go back to how things were which indicates that they are hoping DC will go back to the continuity they know best.

I agree with you in part about Cebulski's comments. There may be other reasons that readers are dropping off spin-off titles. One I commonly hear is that readers have long runs on a core title which they do not want to break. Also, it's typical for both Marvel and DC to put bigger named talent on a core title than on a spinoff so that would slow churn as well.


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