What this country needs is a good weekly comic book. Admittedly, the last few attempts haven’t worked out terribly well, and the most recent stab at something similar–the thrice-monthly “Brand New Day” era of Amazing Spider-Man–is drawing to a close after a series of missteps and delays that led, at one point, to two issues coming out the same week. But if mainstream comic book serials are going to survive (and, as somebody who’s specifically been enjoying them in that form for a long time, I’d like to see them survive), they need to take advantage of the thing that serial fiction do best. Which is to say: they need to create excitement for the next installment, and deliver that next installment regularly and frequently. American serial comic books are delivered to stores on a weekly basis; it makes sense that the rhythm of at least some of them should be weekly. It’s a lot easier for a reader to stay engaged with a story if the next installment comes out in seven days than if the next installment might come out in a couple of months if all the creators involved are up for it.
In fact, actual (and de facto) weekly comics have been done successfully, and recently–which makes it all the more surprising that there aren’t any American ones at the moment. Remember DC’s 52? That was less than five years ago, and it was a solid hit, selling around 100,000 copies an issue for most of its run. It also had the advantages of a tightly knit team of big-name writers, a strong design aesthetic (and terrific cover art by J.G. Jones), internal art that was consistent if not often inspired, and plotting that was very heavily driven by an “OMG what’s gonna happen next?!” factor.
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DC’s tried a few times to re-bottle that particular formula, without quite as much success. Countdown was done in by risible plotting, weak art and a disastrous lack of direction; Trinity had some fine creators but didn’t start working up a head of steam until it was too late; Wednesday Comics had a number of brilliant elements but also often felt like an experiment rather than a fully realized thing. Brightest Day seemed like a natural weekly, but it’s gone the twice-monthly route instead, with some success. And the DC Universe Online tie-in series, once rumored to be a weekly title, is is now apparently going to be bi-weekly.
Actually, DC had already published a successful weekly in all but name years before 52: for most of the ’90s, the four monthly Superman titles had “triangle numbers” on their covers, indicating their overall reading order, and from 1995 to 1999, a fifth series, Superman: The Man of Tomorrow, was published quarterly so that there’d be a new Superman comic every week of the year. (The Superman titles did something similar for the recent year-long “New Krypton” arc, although they were kneecapped by the edict that kept Superman himself out of both Superman and Action Comics.)
Marvel, meanwhile, has also been experimenting with weekly or near-weekly titles, even beyond Amazing Spider-Man. They’ve released a few short-run miniseries that appear weekly, most recently Kathryn Immonen and Tonci Zonjic’s Heralds. And, for a while, the “Marvel Cosmic” titles written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning–Nova, Guardians of the Galaxy and various Realm of Kings and War of Kings-related miniseries–were appearing almost every week, and fit together into a single wide-scale story. (That, too, has fallen away; right now, their main Marvel project is the monthly miniseries The Thanos Imperative.)
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Abnett, notably, has a long history with the most successful weekly English-language comic book in recent memory: the British weekly 2000 A.D., which is about to hit its 1700th issue, and to which he’s been contributing for many years. The basic 2000 A.D. model–five or six short features in each issue, including one “flagship” series and others in rotation, with big-name talents attached to at least a couple of stories at any one time–hasn’t been tried much in the U.S. in the past few decades. The argument I’ve heard most often is that anthology comics don’t sell in America. But it might be more correct to say that mainstream comics that don’t matter to broader continuity don’t sell, and anthologies have very often been a dumping ground for throwaway material. (The incarnation of Marvel Comics Presents that ran 175 biweekly issues was the one that featured, among other things, Barry Windsor-Smith’s “Weapon X” serial; the one that died after 12 monthly issues was a testing ground for unknown creators and minor characters.)
The biggest problem with publishing weekly mainstream comics is that there are very few upper-tier artists who are capable of producing more than a few pages a week, and probably none who could draw an entire comic book every week. (Mark Bagley’s 12-pages-a-week work on Trinity is the recent speed record. Jack Kirby was drawing 15 pages a week in the early ’70s, but he was basically superhuman.) The solution seems relatively straightforward: run multiple serials side-by-side, commission the work far enough in advance that creative snags don’t cause publication delays, and make sure the stories are targeted to both their audience (e.g. in continuity) and their format (a satisfying amount of plot that keeps readers in suspense). It can be done; it has been done successfully. It’s even still being done elsewhere (don’t forget Japan’s weekly manga anthologies). So why isn’t it being done in America now?
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