Emanata: Eight Questions for Comics Creators

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6. Why is this comic a bargain for its cover price?

I don’t think $4 is prima facie too much for a comic book; I paid $125 for Kramers Ergot 7, and I’d do it again. But there are a lot of $3 and $4 comics out there, and that adds up in a hurry, and if I’m going to buy a 32-to-40-page pamphlet I want to get the sense that its creators passionately believe that it’s going to be the most awesome, most spectacularly entertaining thing I read all month, rather than another piece of product to fire off in this week’s skirmish in the market share wars. Be amazing or get off the racks.

7. If this comic involves creatively shared characters or settings, how is it going to obey the Campsite Rule?

I’ve lifted that term from Dan Savage: you need to leave the campsite in better shape than you found it. That means that if you’re working in a shared universe that’s subject to change, that universe needs to be both somehow different (in some way, however small) and more open to further interesting storytelling at the end of your comic book than it was at the beginning. Occasionally, superhero comics writers talk about “putting all the toys back in the box” at the end of a story; fine, but if they’re not going to be better toys when you’re done, there’s no reason to pay attention to what you’re doing with them. And if you’re closing off possibilities for stories, you have to replace them with better and more fertile possibilities. (This, incidentally, is one reason why killing off established characters in ongoing serial comics is usually a bad idea; it preemptively eradicates good future stories involving them. A fate worse than death is usually a lot more dramatically interesting, anyway.)

8. Who might I recommend this comic to?

Mostly, this just means that cartoonists need to figure out who their audience is, and make sure they’re creating something that can be enjoyable and meaningful enough to that audience to be worth not just experiencing but passing along; a lot of the pleasure of comics, as with any other kind of art, is sharing the best work with friends. The question has an additional sense for modern American serial comics, which have a well-earned reputation for often being hard to get into unless you’re already an initiate. That can be fine, in the right circumstances; I’ve been reading Green Lantern for enough years that I don’t need to have the premise explained to me at length every time I pick an issue up, and there’s a lot to be said for the fun of well-handled deep continuity. But I think it’s fair to demand that if a comic book has a #1 on its cover, it shouldn’t have any prerequisites to reading and enjoying it.

Thanks to Andrea Gilroy and Evan Narcisse.

Want more Emanata? See all of Douglas’ columns here.

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