I have a love/hate relationship with today’s ongoing sagas of comics. In order to go forward, I have to go back.
I’m a child of the 80s. That’s my timeframe. That’s when I grew up and consumed things. That’s when I was buying comics. I had an allowance, and comics are what I spent it on. I was also given comics from my uncles and cousins.
Most of my comics were from Marvel, and as a kid, I was never, ever lost in reading a comic. I could jump in right in the middle of a storyarc and get a cool synopsis of what happened before. Some character was always doing a flashback of some sort to explain how we got here. The reason for this was simple: there was an edict from the EIC that said that the writers had to treat every comic as though it was someone’s first, so there had to be a mechanism somewhere in the story that caught the reader up.
I loved it. It meant that you could always jump into a story without being lost. That was the young reader in me.
As I’ve gotten older and become a creator myself, I understand how unwieldy that became. Always doing a flashback, always going over what has gone before, a character always going pensive…it isn’t how modern stories are told. Modern stories either don’t bother to catch the reader up, so they’re lost when they get into a story mid-arc, or there’s a page at the beginning telling what has gone before. (There are pros and cons to both approaches. The pro of the former is that you get a full story, with the con being the possible alienation of new readers; of the latter, the pro is that the reader is caught up, with the con being losing a page of storytelling.)
As a creator, I get asked all the time (from former readers) what’s going on in comics, and what comics should their kids start reading. They don’t know anything about the prices (exorbitant) or the stories (sometimes impenetrable), but they remember enjoying them as a kid and want their kids to have that same enjoyment. And I feel bad, because I can’t recommend collecting comics as a hobby anymore. Not in good conscience. Not when the prices are astronomical and the stories are hard to follow. (Because everyone wants to tell an ongoing story.)
I don’t have any solutions to the problem. A series of limited series may be something, but you can lose readers that way if/when you start referring to other stories. Large numbers (in the hundreds) are reassuring because they speak of longevity. At the same time, if you’re just picking up a series and they have numbers in the hundreds, that represents years of stories that you know nothing about. It can be daunting.
Then there are “jumping on” points: points in the ongoing saga of a character or team where things are fresh and new and a new reader can supposedly come aboard and not get lost. (Total bunk, of course. There’s still a lot of history to eventually digest.)
What do I do? I dive in, understanding that I might not get everything that’s going on, but trusting that I will eventually. I might have to track down a back issue or two in order to get the full story. I’m not happy about it, but it’s also how the modern game is played.
I just sometimes wish there was another set of rules.