Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Single Issue quandary

There's been an interesting development in single issue comics recently. Perhaps it was a conscious decision to move away from the multi-issue arcs that have dominated American comics for so long, maybe not. But we've been seeing an increase in self contained single issue comics lately. Warren Ellis, ironically enough one of the writers who helped pioneer the "write for the trade" movement with Transmetropolitan, wrote Global Frequency as twelve self contained stories, and he and Ben Templesmith launched Fell as a series of self contained stories for $2 a pop. Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba are doing Casanova with the same format. DC's Jonah Hex relaunch has also, last time I looked, been a series of self contained single issues. Other writers, from Brian Wood to Dan Slott to Ed Brubaker, have done self contained single issue stories in their work to varying degrees, even if they're all connected in some way.

It's good to see, and something I advocate heartily, especially if the average single issue comic is going to be $3 (or more). I think that the single issue format should be used to greater effect. There's a lot of potency in a good story with a beginning, middle, and end as a single unit. Think about how effecting Spider-Man's origin story is to this day. Or the World's Fair chapter of Jimmy Corrigan. You can read them as part of an ongoing narrative, but they are extremely affecting when read in isolation as well.

So, I'm all for utilizing the single issue comic as a storytelling medium in and of itself. I just don't buy many of them.

Well, that's not entirely true. I did pick up Fell #4 yesterday. But I find it hard to work up the same enthusiasm for a series of self contained stories as I do the monthly comics I follow regularly. Probably because they're all serials, which have that "what-happens-next" anticipation to carry them. That serves as a hell of a spur. "I have to know what happens next!" is a hell of a spur. And, given my limited budget, $3 I could put toward that self contained issue of Local will most likely go to my latest serialized addiction. I don't have much of an excuse about Fell, since it's $2 and all, but I've somehow not kept up with it regularly, either.

Of course, one of the good things about self contained stories is that they don't have to be read in any kind of order. You don't feel like you've missed anything if you didn't pick up the last issue. I tend to grab them when I'm in the mood for one, and it's nice that I have the option with more contemporary comics in different genres now. For awhile, the Batman Adventures comics were the only self contained comics on the market, at least from what I could tell, and while they were fun and certainly earned their reputation as the best Batman comics no one seemed to read, it's good that we have other options beyond cartoon tie-in comics out there. Even if I don't buy any of them too often.

Well, now I've figured out why I don't buy that many self contained singles, even though I think there really ought to be more of them. I didn't even set out to write about that. But that's my egocentrism for you.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there a middle ground between the compulsion to buy on the basis of continuous narrative and the reduced percieved reader immersion of truly self-contained works?

By which I mean books like DEMO and GLOBAL FREQUENCY, in which there's no real connective over-plot, as opposed to LOCAL and FELL, which have self-contained and potentially discrete chapters but which are also manifestly part of the same overplot - to wit, Fell's adjustment to Snowtown (and his Terrible Existential Baggage) and Megan's Growing The Hell Up.

Maybe Local and Fell are the happy middle ground. Just enough of a temporal relationship to compel the reader to come back for more, while still providing a discrete reading experience.

I mean, obviously, "Gud Komik" should be reason enough. But, y'know, sometimes it in't.

...I would totally do a $2/16pp-format superhero anthology with a rotating stable of artists. And by "do," I mean "write."

Also, I'd steal the name from a Japanese gameshow! Take THAT, "Beat" Takeshi!

*hides from "Beat" Takeshi*


3/28/2006 08:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By which I mean Masaaki Sakai, OBVIOUSLY.

*still hides, but from different gameshow host/former Monkey King*


3/28/2006 08:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fell may be self contained but in a way much like many early Marvel comics were. Each issue starts and ends the story, but it adds to the overall universe of the story. I guess the best analogy would be single episodes of television shows in a similar format. I don't enjoy 'My Name is Earl' or the classic 'Star Trek' because they don't follow what can sometimes be a weak "soap opera" need to constantly continue huge stories.

3/28/2006 09:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah i re-read that, my grammar was horrible. i hope the point still comes across

3/28/2006 09:21:00 PM  
Blogger ninjawookie said...

Batman Gotham adventures deserved an eisner for consistency, and tim levins should be working more.

they were golden years, along when catwoman was being done by stewart and brubaker....then the pulodo run...oh i wet myself again.

3/29/2006 07:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "middle ground" comic, somewhere between soap opera & done-in-one, that I've enjoyed the most is Legion of Superheroes (current series). We spent the first few issues getting to know key members of the (sprawling) cast, while a big threat hung in the background. I could pick up any of the first few issues without worrying about who did what to whom 5 issues ago.

Between all the "write for the trade" padding, and the "this ties in to a comic published before I was born" Crisis-ing, Legion (along with Fell, Jonah Hex, and a too-few other comics)has been a more complete satisfying experience per issue.

3/29/2006 08:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really appreciate "done-in-one" stories for a couple of reasons:

1. I think they often show more skill than sprawling storylines dragged out over six issues. The single-issue restriction often forces the writer to work harder (and edit better). And yes, the Batman and Gotham Adventures titles were some of the best comics DC ever published, and the only Batman titles I've read in the last 20 years.

2. Nostalgia -- as a kid, I couldn't always be sure I'd find subsequent issues (this was the days of spinner racks in the 7-11, youngsters), or that I'd have the money next month, so I always thumbed through the titles and picked the ones that weren't continued. I always have a warm feeling for a comic that starts and ends a story in the same issue.

3/29/2006 08:58:00 AM  
Blogger SmileAndNod said...

You mean to say that I can really go into a comic shop and buy a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, all self-contained, and it won't cost me twenty bucks?

C'mon, it's an early April Fool's article, innit?

3/29/2006 02:48:00 PM  

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