Letting plot get in the way of a good story.

Here’s the problem with American comic books – they’re completely inaccessible to the average Joe off the street. There’s no question there. It’s not the price (which is prohibitively expensive for a piece of disposable entertainment), the non-inclusiveness (90% of all comics are about perfect-looking white men who fight other perfect-looking white men), or the repetitive nature of it all (how many deaths did DC Comics reverse in the “Brightest Day” event? All of them?).

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No, the main problem is that it’s nearly impossible for someone new to pick up a comic book and know what is happening. When I was a kid, you could pick up a book and enjoy it as a stand-alone tale. There were usually some side plots going on, but those served to make you want to read more of the comic, not to confuse you about the book in your hands. Occasionally, you’d get part of a multi-part issue, but unless you were reading X-Men in the 1990s, you could get away with not reading multiple comics every month just to enjoy the series.

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Then, a few years ago, everything changed. I think it was right around the time Joe Quesada was promoted to Editor-in-Chief at Marvel. An edict went down, forcing all story arcs to be 6 issues long. No matter the tale, it had to be wrapped up in about 6 issues. Stand-alone issues were reserved for fill-ins by new writers and artists, and they rarely affected the main storyline of a book. Why did they do this? So they could sell trade paperbacks at “legitimate book stores” like Borders and Barnes & Noble.

Let that sink in. They wanted into the real book stores so badly that they changed the way comics were written so they could more readily fit them on a bookseller’s shelf. And you know what? It really worked. Marvel trounced DC month after month. But now Marvel has new responsibilities. They’ve created a very successful movie universe that has been seen by millions of people. Bookstores are all but dead, killing that outlet as a strong money-maker for the company. Both of the major publishers need to change their business model.

They need to attract new readers, and they need to do it on a continuous basis. They need to provide better chances for people to jump into a series without needing to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of a character or franchise. In many ways, the rise of digital comics has brought about an amazing time in the comics industry. Thanks to apps like Comixology, any smartphone, tablet, or computer user has access to an enormous library of comics. More people can read comics now than ever before. It’s time the big publishers start tapping that market by making books people can actually read without a continuity Rosetta stone.

As always, feel free to give me your feedback. Do you agree with me? What do you think are the biggest problems facing the industry? Don’t forget to subscribe!

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