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Author Topic: You know what? I don't CARE about "new readers"  (Read 4638 times)
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JulianPerez
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« on: August 20, 2006, 03:47:06 PM »

Wow, that title was cathartic to write! It felt GOOD. I don't care. Screw new readers.

Actually, that's not true...I've had a lot of good experiences introducing friends to the seventies work of Englehart and Gerber. It's a good feeling, and it's lots of fun to watch someone else see something that you've known your whole life and look at it with new eyes.

But I am so very, very tired of the chief concern of writers and contemporary comics being "getting new readers." A writer saying "I want this to reach out to new readers" is sort of like a politician evoking "freedom" in a speech: it is usually a sign of total insincerity, because that phrase is so overused that it no longer means anything anymore.

Worse, it provides an ultra-sanctimonious, uncriticizable moral position. "Oh, no, we can't mention Firestar and Justice in the new NEW WARRIORS book. That would confuse readers that don't know who they are." Well, you can't argue with that, right? It's like Reverend Lovejoy's shrieking wife crying "Won't someone PLEASE think of the children!" I mean...despite the fact that it really is a good question WHY such important characters aren't calling or writing their best friends, right?

Now, there's nothing wrong with accessibility. The brilliance of many writers, like Cary Bates in particular, is the subtle way they give exposition and information you need to understand the story. Jim Shooter, in his time at Marvel, wisely used to insist that in the first few pages of a story, every character would be called by NAME.

Still, the problem is that so much is being done in the name of accessibility, that it should be said that it is not the most important virtue desired.

I am so very tired of "Continuity" being a dirty word. I'm tired of its associations, attached to it by small-minded men without any vision, or lazy writers seeking to excuse their sloppy mistakes. Ultimately, the things we call "continuity" are just things that make stories in a serial medium any good, and is a requirement, and is no different for any television show that lasts a while: characterization consistent with what came before, a tool for characterization, and a storehouse of elements and stories from which to build on. Continuity is consistency, and consistency is how you create suspension of disbelief.

Ideally, books should be written that satisfy old fans, and newbies alike. Old fans should be able to see all of the above, and newbies should see something that makes all us Old Guard types understand why we like it. But compromising the integrity of a book, or not taking into account story developments to confuse "new readers," is not an acceptable compromise.

An example would be the Marvel character Sandman. On the Spidey cartoons, he's a sneaky crook - and I understand that Sandman is going to be the villain in the next movie. However, in the comics, there have been many stories featuring Sandman reforming and becoming a hero; a sincere, heartfelt reformation that he gains very little from. It's wasteful and stupid to ignore all this character development to return the Sandman to being just another villain.

But at the same time, some books SHOULD be written to appeal to the strengths of the fan audience. Some books should have a niche, and there is nothing wrong with that. If you pick up a Geoff Johns book, you're getting something that has references to fifties issues of Tommy Tomorrow and has Golden Age characters that never even had SILVER AGE incarnations.

Yes, comics are a market that is shrinking (in the U.S., anyway), although it requires an inability to see the big picture, and some good old fashoined stupidity, to blame all of this on the fact that books are written for the fan audience. In a Wal-Mart world that pushed out the Mom and Pop stores that were the classic distribution point for comics, in a world of TELEVISION and general illiteracy, in a place where ALL small businesses, not just comic book stores, are struggling, a world of style-over-substance writers that just can't write, the fact that guys like Roy Thomas like to mention Stan Lee stories from the sixties...well, that's a POOR scapegoat AT BEST.

In fact, this has been going on since the introduction of television. Comics became mostly science fiction and superhero around the time the boob tube was taking hold. The reason that science fiction magazines were among the only pulps to survive past the 1950s (WEIRD TALES has been in more-or-less continuous publication even today) is that it GOT a niche audience, and the widespread audience that read Westerns and Crime/Detectives and so forth vanished, they started turning on their televisions.

This is why the whole Scott MacLeod/Warren Ellis passive-aggressive anti-superhero sentiment is so misplaced. Comics should THANK THEIR LUCKY STARS for superheroes, because thanks to them DC and Marvel didn't go the way of Smith & Sons.  

Finally, there are some writers that just shouldn't try to write for other audiences. Mark Waid and Peter David comes immediately to mind. DANGER signs flared the moment Waid said that IMPULSE was going to be a kid's book, because to Waid, when he means "kid's book," he means something that insults the intelligence of the reader. To say nothing of Peter David. His way of characterizing children and teenagers is to write them as being merry, grinning and slightly mentally retarded.
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MatterEaterLad
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« Reply #1 on: August 21, 2006, 02:38:11 AM »

Quote from: "JulianPerez"

I am so very tired of "Continuity" being a dirty word. I'm tired of its associations, attached to it by small-minded men without any vision, or lazy writers seeking to excuse their sloppy mistakes. Ultimately, the things we call "continuity" are just things that make stories in a serial medium any good, and is a requirement, and is no different for any television show that lasts a while: characterization consistent with what came before, a tool for characterization, and a storehouse of elements and stories from which to build on. Continuity is consistency, and consistency is how you create suspension of disbelief.


You talk about continuity being important a lot, but I'm confused, at what point does a mention of an old story in a new story that shows lots of other things changed (perhaps for the worse) make any difference in the quality of the story?
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Permanus
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« Reply #2 on: August 21, 2006, 07:58:43 AM »

I'm not as big a purist on continuity as you are, Julian - in fact, I can take it or leave it, to a degree - but you're right to point out that publishers' concerns about taking on new readers are tainting their wares. I also think their fears are exaggerated: nobody complains if they don't know who the characters in a soap opera are, or, for that matter, if they don't know much about the characters in a novel by page 1. (I'm just reading An Accidental Man by Iris Murdoch, and the first chapter intensely, and a bit confusingly, introduces the many dramatis personae with the most cursory descriptions, but guess what? I'm still reading!)

Still, I don't think that "continuity" is a dirty word in comics now; in fact, DC seem to have created a continuity so complicated that it is now impossible to understand it unless you buy every title they publish. DC's concern with continuity leads them to "simplify" it with convoluted stories like Crisis and 52, which only serve the purpose of a) selling lots of comics and b) making things more complicated. As far as a) goes, well, they're publishers, they live to make money, but in b) they have failed to meet the demands they imposed on themselves in the first place. Instead of making things easier to understand, they've made everything more complicated. I don't know which version of Krypton now obtains, I don't understand Supergirl at all, and what's up with Kandor? I can't figure all this out, and my degree is in Archaeology: I can only imagine what other occasional readers feel.

Because yes, I'm an occasional reader. I don't have the time, money nor even the inclination to buy all the titles that DC put out, and I understand that every now and then that means I am going to encounter a character I don't know. I read the Superman titles regularly, but I don't buy Firestorm, so when Firestorm appeared in last issue of Action Comics, I was mildly surprised to get some new information on the character. Oh well, I took it on the chin. I'm not going to rush out and buy the latest issue of Firestorm to find out more, because guess what, it's always been a boring, badly drawn title. (That's the problem with creating a universe by committee: the talented writers are saddled with the dumb ideas of the hacks.) Most people would react the same: they understand instinctively that they are reading part of a larger work that they aren't familiar with.

It depends on what I'm reading, I suppose. Currently, I'm very fond of EX MACHINA, which has a fairly complicated internal continuity that needs to be respected for the story to make sense. If you pick up an issue in the middle of a story arc, you're probably not going to understand what's going on, but the same thing could be said for Crime and Punishment if you start reading it on chapter five. EX MACHINA isn't the sort of title you read occasionally; you either read it or you don't. If I pick up the odd copy of PUNISHER, on the other hand, I don't care about not knowing what's going on, just as long as everybody is shooting each other.
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nightwing
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« Reply #3 on: August 21, 2006, 01:45:19 PM »

Wow, when I read the subject line I thought this thread may have been started by Dan Didio.

Because you know what?  Comic creators actually do not care about "new readers." If they did, they'd write comics appropriate for and appealing to kids.  Or at the very least, something that would appeal to someone who never read a comic before.

No, what they really want is to capture some of the *existing* audience for other books and move them over to their own.  Every "bold change" I've seen in the last ten years has been aimed at saying, "Hey, fan boys, this is the new "cool" book to read!  Put down that X-Men comic and come try out mine!"

As for continuity, I think there are degrees.  In my teen years, I actually loved being plopped down in the X-Men's universe around issue #112 and having to figure out who all these oddball characters were.  It probably took me the better part of a year before I had a good handle on X-Men characters and their history, and it was fun piecing it together.  On the other hand, by the 90s that same title had become so slavishly tied to it's own history, and so hopelessly mired in plotlines going back 10 or 15 years, that I completely lost interest.

I don't think it's necessay to "dumb down" a book to make it appealing.  But on the other hand I absolutely believe you can make a book so insular and self-referential that it practically screams, "Get lost, newby! This mag is for members only!"

One little device that would help...and which I never seem to see anymore...is editor's notes.  You know those little boxes at the bottom of a panel that say something like, "This happened during Spidey's unforgettable battle with the Scorpion in issue #212".  Whatever happened to those?  What a great way to tell us just as much as we need to know and at the same time clue us in to another back-issue to add to our wish list!

The coolest editor's note ever had to have been in that 70's Englehart/Rogers Detective story where Batman makes a reference to his last battle with Hugo Strange*  and the editor's note says: *In Batman....believe it or not...Number One!"  Must have been fun to write that one!

Then again, that would require editors and I'm not sure there are such things anymore.
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Genis Vell
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« Reply #4 on: August 21, 2006, 03:08:26 PM »

My two cents:

1) New readers? Unfortunately, I don't think that in the US there are so many "new readers". Several comics are for old fans or, even worse (for me, of course), for readers "ashamed to read superheroes".

2) I always loved continuity. It gives sense to fictional universes, making them similar to the real world. But, the more the time flies, the more authors and editors aren't able to keep a good continuity.
So, I'm not interested in continuity anymore... I wish to read stories where the characters are respected, though.
I have 2 rules which demonstrate how a serious continuity cannot endure forever:

- The presence of characters related to a certain hystorical period. Sharon Carter, Captain America's girlfriend in the '60s and '70s, had a sister named Peggy who fought in WW II. Sharon is still young, but Peggy... Should be 80!
And what about the Punisher, a Vietnam redux who still seems in his 30/40s?
- The presence of characters not related to the core universes. In SECRET WARS II appeared a character named Circuits Breaker. She was a character from the TRANSFORMERS comic book. Now Marvel doesn't own the rights for the publications of that comic anymore. So, Can we consider in continuity that appearance? And I could talk about those stories featuring Doc Savage or Conan.
Continuity works IN THE MOMENT. Then, when time passes, it becomes all more harder.
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MatterEaterLad
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« Reply #5 on: August 21, 2006, 03:44:09 PM »

Those time problems are hard as well, even by the late 60s, writers needed to have Superboy battling Nazi plots, some comics show panels with Hitler addressing German crowds...he later meets President Kennedy...and neither quite fit in with the tales originally told in the 50s that were often reprinted in the back of Silver Age first run stories.
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Permanus
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« Reply #6 on: August 21, 2006, 09:49:23 PM »

Quote from: "nightwing"
One little device that would help...and which I never seem to see anymore...is editor's notes.  You know those little boxes at the bottom of a panel that say something like, "This happened during Spidey's unforgettable battle with the Scorpion in issue #212".  Whatever happened to those?  What a great way to tell us just as much as we need to know and at the same time clue us in to another back-issue to add to our wish list!

Do you know, I hadn't even noticed they had gone, but now that you point it out, they left a gaping void, didn't they? "Way back in issue 38, folks!" they would breezily announce. When I was playing the online superhero role-playing  video game City of Heroes last year (my character was called Blue Murder), I'd put stuff like that in my dialogue lines, along with an appropriate asterisk: "*It happened five minutes ago, folks!" Nobody ever seemed to get it; now I realise why.
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