Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

February 27, 2012

Go, Read: David Brothers On Marvel's Increased Production

The writer-about-comics David Brothers has a nice post up here about an implication to a publishing practice that I hadn't ever considered. Marvel has apparently been utilizing the dependable sales that come through the direct market to benefit by putting out more issues of various comics. This gives them an extra sales boost in the months when two issues appear and makes for a higher cumulative figure over time. Imagine a network having a popular television production film a half-dozen extra episodes. I would imagine without looking that someone at Marvel has described this in terms of giving the fans more of what they want. The thing is, according to Brothers' piece, this practice has exacerbated the company's publication of issues by artists other than those primarily affiliated with the series in question. So imagine a network having a different set of actors, writers and directors film a half-dozen extra episodes of a popular television production. Is that still a boon?

This is a really interesting example of a mainstream comics publisher favoring short-term gain over long-term benefit. Ostensibly the practice of using other talents, particularly those that might not mesh smoothly with the more closely-affiliated comics-makers, would drain readers from the regular reading experience over time. I say "ostensibly" because like many practices in comics it's not just there's an aberrant, anti-conventional wisdom policy in play as much as there's an odd practice in play and a market that's been conditioned not to punish such practices. It may even reward them. This makes it difficult to criticize such practices as harmful. You can also argue that if a company is clever enough -- say they announce a strategy of "these four books by artist A are the primary plotline, interspersed by individual issues focusing on supporting characters" or something similar -- this is the kind of practice that can be encompassed in a project's overall creative direction. Sometimes in comics if you can just argue the potential of something being true, that's the same as actually executing that something. If you're only worried about today's profits, you may be right in thinking this.

I believe it's dangerous to do this kind of thing now, though, and that this traditional market for comics needs exemplary behavior from its primary movers rather than just arguably acceptable behavior. That market not only needs its major suppliers to do no harm, it needs them to do right with enough consistency those behaviors become the rewarded status quo. Otherwise you just have to wait until things get bad enough that bottoming-out enforces some semblance of this kind of discipline. Even at that point, with all the heartbreak that comes with a wounded delivery system, there's no guarantee there will be enough tension left to facilitate a return to sanity. It's a dangerous game.
posted 4:00 pm PST | Permalink

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