what do you think? many people don’t know that The Dark Knight Returns actually fell behind on its shipping schedule – I’d wager that most people who’ve read it now, read it in a collected edition.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about “writing for the trade.” In some ways it’s nice: planting clues that reward a payoff later, and having more pages just allows you to tell a more sophisticated story. Or, alternately, it allows you to space things out visually, so that important moments and long pauses get lots of space to cushion them. There’s also a sense that the long-form comic book, whether published that way or initially serialized in floppy issues and then collected, is the future of the medium – that having a spine and a barcode and an ISBN number, and having your book able to exist on the market for longer than a month (or a week!) is a significant step forward.
On the other hand, the downside is that when you “write for the trade” and still publish monthly, sometimes the monthly reading experience is less satisfying. The writer’s not concerned with giving you a complete story in one sitting, since this incarnation is only the first, fetal stage of the story’s life – once it ends up in a TPB, it can live forever, and that’s where it will acquire most of its readers (over potentially decades!). Brian Michael Bendis has been most vulnerable to this charge lately — his issues sometimes feel like some characters exchanging witty banter but ultimately going nowhere. This trend, popularly known as “decompression,” spaces out stories that might seem cramped if forced to operate at a 1960s-style pace, but sometimes it leaves readers feeling cheated.
Finally, people have been complaining for a while now about lateness in comics publishing. Sometimes this is “fixed” by replacing artists (the slowest part of the process) with fill-in substitutes, but that’s generally unpopular and reads horribly in the TPB ten years later. So lately we’ve been getting a lot of really late books. And people are pissed.
What effect does the serialized nature of the medium have on serial comic books? Isn’t it fair to say that in a serial artwork, a decent-sized proportion of the experience actually consists of the waiting between installments? Isn’t that where at least some of the magic happens? If we try to write more ambitious, long-term stories, how can we still ensure people are hungry for each installment? If we slow down to take the time to make each installment the best it can be (with future generations of readers in mind), does that cheat the fans who’ve been promised a certain schedule?
But then, there’s a certain pride in being a fan “through thick and thin,” and sometimes the long delays can make the final arrival all the more satisfying – I’m thinking things like Kabuki, or Strangers in Paradise, or Bone.