Infinite Spider-Man 11.5: Other Formats

Posted by Mister Mets 02 July 2012

It's impressive that Marvel has successfully changed a formula that worked well enough for decades. Since the Mid-1970s, the traditional format was that there were three Spider-Man monthlies, an approach that came with some disadvantages. Brand New Day showed that an entirely different schedule and creative team system could still be successful. And The Big Time is a different format from that, a compromise between the two, with increased production of Amazing along with various satellite titles. Marvel has several alternatives to these options.

The Massive Monthly

Amazing Spider-Man could be a monthly, but there's no reason that it has to be limited to 22 pages of content per month. If Marvel increased the page count to 80 or so pages an issue, they could charge ten bucks a pop. I would imagine that this system would be similar to how the book was during Brand New Day, just in terms of how the creative teams work with one another to produce a high amount of content.

One advantage is that there would be a likely decline in per-page printing costs, so it might be cheaper than getting the same material spread out through several issues. But there's less of a premium on advertising, when there are more pages available for advertisers per issue. Bags and boards are designed with 32 page stories in mind, so storage could become a problem for customers. And each issue would be more expensive, which would make it more daunting for new customers.

This would also require the writers to learn how to work with an entirely new structure than the one they've used for years. It could be liberating not having to worry about a cliffhanger on the 22nd (or now the 20th) page, and this does allow greater opportunity to set-up a longer story with confidence that the reader will stick around for the entirety of the much longer issue whereas they might not be so inclined to buy several issues. But publishing shorter stories gets complicated. The inconsistency in the format can get jarring if a two part story is followed by a collection of shorter pieces which is followed by a single-issue storyline.

It seems that this format would almost mandate "writing for the trade." It encourages writers to go with longer and bigger storylines, which means there aren't as many opportunities to explore Spidey's downtime. That has contributed to great stories in the past. Writers are also less able to use one of the best tools at their disposal in serial drama: the cliffhanger. It's something most comic book writers have had years, if not decades, of practice on. Though it may be more satisfying for newer readers when the chances are greater that the new issue of Amazing Spider-Man has a complete story.

There would also be pressure to include some material by cheaper talent to fill out the pages. If the draw is a fifty page story by Ed Brubaker and Humberto Ramos, the rest of the issue could be material for people you've never heard of. In some cases, this would be a cost-saving measure that gives new talent a chance to shine and reach a greater audience. But some writers and artists are unknown for a reason; they're just not ready for something like Amazing Spider-Man.

Graphic Novels Only

Some readers have advocated a switch to an OGN only format, although this comes with a few disadvantages. 
The buy-in cost is highest, and Marvel can no longer earn revenue from the many fans who double dip. This also requires the greatest amount of material before it's time to publish, so the talent has to wait longer to get paid, or Marvel has to wait longer to get back the money that went into the salaries. In addition, there's no revenue from advertising.

Structurally, you'll have many of the same problems you have with the massive monthly, just on a larger scale. There may be incentives to keep stories shorter, as fans won't be particularly interested in paying twenty bucks for Part 1 of 2. At that price, they'll want a complete story, even if they're willing to pay four bucks each for a ten issue storyline.

But each new Spider-Man adventure would be a big deal, with the wait between volumes. There are some interesting possibilities there. It could be the equivalent of several Spider-Man films an year. In that case, the bigger stories would no longer be as special, and there would no longer be as many opportunities to tell the smaller stories.

Digital Only

It's possible for Marvel to switch to a digital only format at some point in the near future, although this approach would also come with some problems of its own. It requires a consumer to have some sort of screen and an internet connection, although that's increasingly becoming less or a hurdle.

It could seem like a distinction without a meaning, as a digital only format is still going to require a schedule and cost structure. There isn't much of a difference between a 22 page weekly floppy and a 22 page weekly digital comic from a plotting perspective, although the writer could be reassured that a reader would have an easier time picking up related storylines.

But digital would allow for a few other possibilities. The chapters could be shorter, although I'm not sure anyone wants that considering how decompressed the typical comic book is nowadays. It's reasonable to demand, as Dan Slott did, that the first issue of a longer comic book story should be satisfying as a work of art.
Dear comic book reviewer, PLEASE stop lowering the bar for "set-up" issues and 4 minute reads. Far too often I'll see a review that starts "Well, this is just a set-up issue, so..." NO, damn it! Demand MORE from your comics! No more grading on a curve! 
Most of these things cost $4. SOMETHING should ACTUALLY happen in those 20 or so pages! You should be getting a FULL unit of entertainment! Can it be a chapter of of larger/greater story? Sure. But it should still be a full "meal" in and of itself-- not a partial serving or an appetizer of something to come.

I don't care if it's the best damn prepared appetizer in the world. For 4 God forsaken dollars it should entertain me for more than 4 freaking minutes! 
And if it doesn't? HELL, YEAH you should deduct points for that! No more 5 star appetizers! I'd rather have a 4 star MAIN COURSE! No more sizzle-- bring on the STEAK!
*soapbox disengaging*
*returning to your regularly scheduled broadcast*
That gets much more difficult when the entries are shorter. There has to be some form of payoff to the set-up in each installment, and when there's less space to tell the story, writers lose one more tool: that of elaborate set-up, which can sometimes be a beautiful thing. An example was Amazing Spider-Man #238, in which a routine fight with some thugs results in the creation of a new supervillain. Individual chapters are no longer as special when it's only 7-8 pages per installment, possibly several times a week. You would also go several installments without seeing Spider-Man in action, or Peter Parker dealing with his private life.

After pondering Marvel's alternatives, it's worth considering what they could have done circa 2007 if they had decided that completely changing Spider-Man's schedule would have been too radical a development, and that their best course of action was to overhaul but keep the monthly titles.


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