On whether or not single issue comics are a good idea.

Because Fantagraphics’ FLOG RSS feed is kinda broken, I see the same blog posts by them 5-10 times in my feed reader. Because I saw this post by Eric Reynolds 5-10 times, I finally thought enough about it to post. Essentially, Eric found an interview with Chris Oliveros from 1996 that was about periodicals versus graphic novel collections. Here’s a quick quote:

Q: Do you think it’s possible that there could be more work in the future where the artist could sit and draw for two years, and release the entire story… [?]

Oliveros: I think the periodical approach is a good thing. In order for comics to be released in book form, where an author would take two or three or five years to complete this novel, the medium would have to attain this sort of popularity you have in general fiction…

Which is, you know, ha-ha, things are graphic novels now, and even with the popularity of the medium as compared to 10 years ago, very few people are getting those $50,000 advances. But the thing is, Oliveros wasn’t wrong. Like Eric says, it underscores a lot of the issues facing the market today:

1. Particularly with first- or second-time authors, the majority of graphic novels are being ordered by all retail outlets entirely blind, because serialization offered months and months of “previews” of the material to readers before it was in graphic novel format.

2. There are a ton of graphic novels being produced, and even if you read only stuff that’s, you know, good, I feel like that’s still 10+ graphic novels a month at this point. It’s very difficult for any work to stand out, let alone rise-above. It’s why you see people (like myself) getting behind books in such a strong way. STREET ANGEL or SCOTT PILGRIM or MONSTER or whatever really are solid books, but with 300+ graphic novel releases a month, you kind of have to keep banging the drum to make people aware of them before they get entirely buried—and those are three genre comics with mass-market appeal!

3. And that’s before we get to all the crap that’s being released. Unnecessary collections of superhero periodicals. Awful, awful fucking movie pitches masquerading as ‘graphic novels’ to give them an undeserved legitimacy. Self-involved, self-indulgent, pseudo-literary garbage. Vaaaaaaaaaaaaaaanity projects. The merely mediocre.

I’m just like ranting here, but yeah. It’s really, really hard for a graphic novelist to lock themselves up for a year or two, with little-to-no feedback and an ever-dwindling advance, and crank out a book. Back in the old days, the serialization of Louis Riel or Berlin or Optic Nerve provided feedback, interaction, and occasionally periodic injections of cash, all of which made it just a little bit easier to be a graphic novelist. Er, comic book artist. Cartoonist? Illustrator? What did people call themselves in 1996? I was still in highschool.

ANyway, it’s one of the things that I really like about the web, that a smart cartoonist can figure out a way to serialize their work (or even just produce it for the web), making money along the way, and then releasing collections (“graphic novels”) and enter a different market. I think the web is big enough for more comics… It was one of the things I wanted to get into a little bit more on the panel Tuesday, but that wasn’t really the place for it. I also really, really think that the current web-model doesn’t suit every creator.

But I think that, getting back to the point, a more consistent presence in the public eye before a graphic novel release is a very good, important thing. And if we’re really going to let the pamphlet-format comic die, then we need _something_ to take it’s place, and I don’t think we’ve seen it yet.  I am happy to be proven wrong though. If the future of periodical comics is out there, please send a link my way.

– Christopher

12 thoughts on “On whether or not single issue comics are a good idea.”

  1. What is interesting is that, in a market overflowing with creator-owned work, that there are not many anthology periodicals of note. D&Q started their company with a high quality series, but stopped some years ago once their trade division prospered. Icarus uses this model to expose (heh heh) readers to stories which are later collected, and the periodical advertises upcoming titles. Flight skipped periodicals completely, issuing an anthology which sold well due to word of mouth. If there’s buzz, like Comic Book Tattoo, original anthologies can prosper, but that’s true of regular books as well.

    Hmmm… analyzing ad pages in NEWSSTAND comics (mainstream titles found outside comicbook stores), most of those titles contain publisher ads or licensed property tie-ins (either owned by the publisher or related to the title, itself a licensed property).
    Periodical comicbooks help pay the cost of production, generate some publicity, allow the publisher to guage demand for a trade collection, and basically are 32-page advertisements for the company. If costs are cheaper online, then companies can publish excerpts there to build brand awareness, sometimes more effectively than via print.

    One note… “periodical comics” is a nebulous term, like “comic books”. Webcomics are periodical comics… comics published on a frequent schedule. “Comics magazines” might be a better term.

  2. The closest thing I’ve seen is creator-owned comics appearing online as webcomics before getting picked up for a graphic novel (i.e. Kevin Colden’s FISHTOWN, Neufeld’s A.D., or even manga scanlations prior to print release). But those worked by in part because the web serialization done before a print publisher was attached — I don’t know of many publishers who would put the whole book online prior to a print graphic novel.

  3. A cartoonist doesn’t have to be smart to serialize on the web– all the tools necessary are freely and readily available, save one; self-reliance.

    Even if one cannot crack the insular webcomics clique and become a hit online, a serial endeavour can (well) serve as a first pass before print– a critical editorial step many comics see completion without.

    But then, I’m just another vanity author.

  4. Torsten said: “One note… “periodical comics” is a nebulous term, like “comic books”. Webcomics are periodical comics… comics published on a frequent schedule. “Comics magazines” might be a better term.”

    And yeah, Torsten, that was kind of my point. I don’t think that periodical comics are necessarily tied the pamphlet format. I’m interested in the future of periodical comics, which may-or-may-not contain ‘comics magazines’.

    Chris Arrant Said: The closest thing I’ve seen is creator-owned comics appearing online as webcomics before getting picked up for a graphic novel (i.e. Kevin Colden’s FISHTOWN … I don’t know of many publishers who would put the whole book online prior to a print graphic novel.

    Yeah, and I think that’s a real problem. I don’t believe that the audience for the two is entirely distinct. I do think that some people only need the content of the story and not to physically own it. It’s is why monetizing the content during serialization becomes important… But I do think that there’s enough of an audience that will read a work and then buy the work, or NOT read the work and buy the collection. Forward-thinking pubs like Dark Horse and IDW have already figured this out (although I don’t profess to know reliable sales figures for their work).

    Stuart Immonen Said: “A cartoonist doesn’t have to be smart to serialize on the web– all the tools necessary are freely and readily available, save one; self-reliance.”

    I don’t entirely agree, I think there’s a steep learning curve to working online, particularly for folks of a certain age. And I think the impetus to publish online (either instead-of or in-addition-to traditional print publishing) requires a certain amount of smarts as well.

    “Even if one cannot crack the insular webcomics clique and become a hit online, a serial endeavour can (well) serve as a first pass before print– a critical editorial step many comics see completion without.”

    The last bit is an excellent point. The first bit about the insular nature of webcomics? I’m not sure I agree. I think that all communities are insular, defined as much by shared commonalities as the differences of people they exclude. Webcomics aren’t unique or really noteworthy in that regard.

    “But then, I’m just another vanity author.”

    Strictly speaking, sure, you and Kathryn do self-publish. But I’d say it’s pretty clear that I don’t think all vanity publishing is necessarily bad, just bad vanity publishing. Do you feel I painted you with too broad a brush? If so I’m sorry.

  5. I remember a comment from Becky Cloonan that really struck me during the production of EAST COAST RISING vol. 1 graphic novel, and how she was effectively “off the map” publicity wise due to having no regular work out there.

  6. “I don’t entirely agree, I think there’s a steep learning curve to working online, particularly for folks of a certain age. And I think the impetus to publish online (either instead-of or in-addition-to traditional print publishing) requires a certain amount of smarts as well.”

    Sure, it’s steep– and “a certain age” might refer to both ends of the spectrum, as I’ve witnessed in the young a tendency to, say, tweet or IM rather than work, because that’s hard.

    But I don’t think it’s any harder than any other freelance occupation, as market research, legwork, advertising and networking are as much a part of the traditional model as they are at being successful online.

    I’m just saying the serial long-form model, at the very least, provides a platform (and one that can be ameliorated on the fly) for print solicitation- and audience-building while adhering to a(n albeit arbitrary) deadline. Moving Pictures is 140 pages longer now than it was two years ago; it would have been very easy to spend that time playing XBox or some fool thing instead. Those sausages aren’t going to make themselves…

    My experience with the webcomics community (WC journalists, ad networks, site hosts, etc) is that it has not been worth the effort to attempt to enter the scene; perhaps that’s just me. I agree that insularity is not unique, but if strict online success is the goal, I’ve personally found it a challenge. MP is therefore more of a “comic on the web” than a “webcomic,” as I have more or less given up trying to garner notice on the net alone.

  7. This subject is always interesting as it’s a chicken or egg type of scenario. Without the ‘low risk’ monthlies to build interest for the eventual trades, many feel the comics could not survive or sales would be hurt due to people not willing to sink funds into a larger price tagged hardcover or trade.

    On the other hand, many claim that the monthlies are hurting hte overall product, which are now written with trades in mind. Just look at Final Crisis, which was criticized a great deal for the way it was presented as a serialized comic. When you sit down and read the entire thing straight through, it’s a much, much better product and you can clearly see all the threads and connections and plots lining up like ducks ina row. It’s a completely different book in trade/one sitting and I think the general concensus would have been much more positive if it was released as a trade only compared to the way it ended up.

    I also think writers would be able to ‘perfect’ work before it sees print with the lack of deadlines if we switched to trades and we wouldn’t be seeing the increased decompression style of work and stop and start feeling of many titles.

    Im not sure what hte solution is, but I can point to the success of several European comics, which are often times released as trades/”graphic novels”. It’s a different industry over there, though, at least in regards to non-imported American works.

    One of the biggest obstacles facing any kind of trade oriented push would have to be Diamond though. They helped the industry when it was at its lowest but now have a stranglehold on it and are pushing out smaller indie books and their pricing (like 60% or so discount on any solicit) automatically cripples any high cost trade-like product not coming directly from marvel or DC and even then, neither company is rushing to put out non-monthly-first trades.

    Not sure what point I’m working to here, so I’ll just end it there.

  8. re Chris A’s “I don’t know of many publishers who would put the whole book online prior to a print graphic novel”; Top Shelf has done this before (with Matt Kindt’s Super Spy) and is doing it now (with Kagan McLeod’s Infinite Kung Fu). Frankly, I see it as a year-long marketing campaign for the GN release — when the industry releases 10-20 notable GNs every month, it’s all too easy for a book to disappear in the shuffle. Online serials give people a hundred more chances to get interested in the book.

    If the books you publish are primarily plot delivery devices, then making the contents publicly available beforehand will probably cut into your sales, but if the content is art/lit-oriented and the production values are nice, then anybody who liked it online will buy it in print.

    That said, however, we certainly aren’t seeing XKCD kinda numbers — as Stuart said, that’s a tough nut to crack.

  9. @Chris
    “The closest thing I’ve seen is creator-owned comics appearing online as webcomics before getting picked up for a graphic novel (i.e. Kevin Colden’s FISHTOWN, Neufeld’s A.D., or even manga scanlations prior to print release).”

    Self-publisher Carla Speed McNeil is now serializing her FINDER stories on-line in their entirety, then print-publishing them as trade paperbacks. Avatar is serializing Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield’s FREAK ANGELS online in its entirety, then selling trade collections.

    And Big Head Press (my publisher) is serializing creator-owned comics in their entirety on-line, and even paying advances to creators, then publishing trades to make its money.

  10. I would much rather have the graphic novels than the comic books like you see today.

    However, I have heard that once something is released online it is a lot harder to get it picked up for a novel.

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