It’s 2015, and that means a whole new year of comic drama to look forward to!
OK, that sounds more pessimistic than it should, and it’s certainly not all bad, especially when you consider all the stellar new series 2014 brought. From Ms. Marvel to The Midas Flesh, The Wicked + The Divine to the WicDiv cameo in the continually great Sex Criminals, as well as the perplexing Multiversity, fun-filled Lumberjanes, unapologetic Bitch Planet, imaginative Shutter, time-jumping Bodies, space cop drama The Fuse, Birthright, Saga, Grayson, and oh so many more. 2014 was a fantastic time to be a comic reader, despite the kerfuffles and complaints along the way. Which is why I’ve compiled a list of resolutions for comics in 2015 that I believe would bring fans better stories and less to complain about.
…OK, the latter may be an impossible feat, but let’s dream big, shall we?
Think big picture.
Publishers should be focused on prepping stories much further in advance. Not every book has to be monthly. Find the schedule that fits creators, or, better yet, have the whole run in the bag before publishing the first issue. If creators need more time, don’t force them into deadlines they can’t make. Readers would much rather have a complete series by a consistent writer/artist/colourist/letterer and editorial team than three filler issues out of ten. Stockpile content and release it on a set schedule that can be consistently met instead of starting strong and hoping for the best. The end product will be stronger, and fans just might start trusting publishing schedules again.
Less is more.
For every collector who is willing to buy every issue with characters they love, there’s another too overwhelmed by the choices to take a chance on one, never mind all five, series based on that character or team. One ongoing series should be enough to tell consistently solid stories, which may mean editors picking and choosing from ideas and creative teams instead of unleashing anyone available onto a series to make sure there’s one on stands each month. You can still do one-shots or limited-run series, and this is a particularly great way to give fans a wider view of that character/team that won’t conflict with what’s taking place in the current storyline. That’s right: publishing fewer titles would also mean an easier to manage continuity between series set in the same universe. I’m looking at you, Marvel and DC.
Give us stories, not events.
Events can cause even the best writers to sacrifice a great story to shoehorn in “world changing repercussions” that will be retconned or straight-up ignored months later. For every writer who finds a clever way to incorporate event plot points, there are many more whose narratives suffer from it, through no fault of their writing abilities. Sometimes things simply don’t fit, and the flow of a series can quickly be ruined in the attempt. This is particularly noticeable when you go back and read collected trades taking place during an event, where characters are introduced for seconds of exposition, their personalities/priorities change completely to suit the event storyline, or, even worse, the entire story is derailed to focus on something happening somewhere else.
Don’t forget the effect events can have on new readers (and veterans alike) who are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of comics they feel they have to read to keep track of what’s going on. Sure it can be good for sales, especially for readers who fall prey to the “buy all the tie-ins” game, but it also breeds resentment for every filler issue that either adds nothing unique to the event, derails an otherwise great storyline on a series readers might have given a chance outside of the event. Events don’t need to die, but simply meet the definition – a thing that happens, especially one of importance. They can’t be that important if they’re happening every month, or even every year.
Story is king.
It’s Pixar’s policy, and for good reason. Focusing on telling the best story possible, in the most effective way (balancing narrative, dialogue, and visuals, with all the subtle nuances that colour and lettering provide), is the way to readers’ hearts and imaginations. The entire creative team should take the time to build each element of the story, especially how it reads as a whole, before publishing. Comics, like other entertainment mediums, are a way for fans to escape into another world, if only for the brief span of 28 pages. A gimmick or event may be what gets them to pick up a book, but telling good stories is what will keep them reading.
The best way to tell good stories is to fill them with unique perspectives that readers of all ages and backgrounds characters and situations can empathize with. Sure, you don’t know what it would be like to have super powers, but that teenage girl growing up in a conservative Christian family would still be able to identify with the family structure in Ms. Marvel, despite the differences in their religious beliefs. It is the young heroine’s story, told equally through G. Willow Wilson’s words and Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt’s artwork, that has fans clamouring for more. You don’t get to your seventh reprint of an issue through gimmicks alone, and more publishers should take note of why this series was so successful. Which brings us to…
Embrace diversity, dammit.
From race, gender, sexuality, identity, religion, and even geographical locations, comics needs more diversity of every kind, both in the stories themselves and the creators who bring them to life. There are dozens of creators from similar backgrounds (e.g., White American males) who are turning out great books with varied characters and story elements, but we need to foster an environment where creators from equally varied backgrounds and genders as these characters can achieve success. Women in comics is just the beginning, and part of that is tearing down barriers in publishing stories previously labelled as being “too niche.” Once again, Ms. Marvel is proof that even within the superhero genre, there is room for diverse characters with diverse ideologies in the mainstream comic market.
Don’t introduce token characters and use “diversity” as a hook. Find creators with the breadth of personal experience and history to write these new introductions, or at the very least someone who will treat it as more than just an experiment in positive PR— the unfortunate result of some recent announcements. Find common ground amidst the differences that readers can relate to. It’s more than okay if the story resonates specifically with one group of people, especially if they’ve been marginalized in the past.
In fact, that’s pretty awesome. They’ll be your strongest advocates, and ensure more stories of that kind make it onto the shelves while also educating other readers who are less familiar on the subject.
Most importantly in regards to diversity (and being a decent human being), don’t be a misogynistic, racist, homophobic, transphobic, or general dick. Unless you’re actually a senior military officer named Richard. In that case, as you were.
You may have noticed that the best 2014 comics I listed above are already following these rules. This is what makes them great. It’s certainly more difficult for creators working with the Big Two publishers to succeed on all these points, but not impossible. They’re proof that even working within a flawed system, there’s the potential for great stories to be told. And at the end of the day, that’s all I’m looking for from my comic books. How about you?