For The Trade
nearly a dozen monthly titles, but only buy half of them on
a monthly basis. The rest I wait to purchase in trade paperback
format. And I know I'm not alone. A rapidly growing segment
of the comic-buying public prefers putting its books on shelves
rather than sealing them in plastic just so they can be cloistered
away in the back of some dingy bedroom closet.
attempt to accommodate these readers (as well as reach out
to the vast, untapped bookstore market), comic publishers
of every stripe have begun to reorient their entire business
structure from that of periodical publishing to book publishing.
In their rush to cash in on the graphic-novel goldmine, the
companies are forcing their talent to "write for the
trade" with some very negative consequences: artificially
extended storylines, first and second acts that never end,
decompressed visual storytelling
The list goes on and
trade clocks in at around six issues. This is primarily for
business reasons (i.e. optimum price point and best distribution
schedule) rather than creative ones. Sometimes the trades
are split up into smaller arcs or a series of individual issues,
but just as often (especially in the Ultimate line) the story
arcs clock in it at the full six issues.
a whole lot of story, the comic-book equivalent of a three-hour
movie. In order to fill up that much space, writers elongate
their first and second acts to several issues each. This not
only makes the trades drag in the middle, it also makes the
original issues all but unreadable since nothing of real consequence
happens in half of them - they're just the lead-ins to the
next issue's big revelation or climax. They're not dramatically
satisfying enough to read on their own.
Geoff Johns and I love his work on Avengers, but his
story arc has me bored to tears. It took two whole
issues to reach the end of Act One, and even then I barely
noticed. The team has just been wandering around the red mist
for three issues while Iron Man and the Black Panther indulge
in their own subplot that moves the story forward but not
could craft a story with five or six acts instead of three,
but most plots simply can't handle that many reversals without
coming off as forced and artificial. Just look at Loeb and
is fairly self-contained, and should stand as acts in and
of themselves, but each ends with Bruce beating the bad guy
and learning nothing. Nothing of any real consequence has
happened - except for Bruce's romance with Selina.
brings me to the other way writers try to pad their scripts:
Add subplots. They use them to create numerous mini-acts within
the larger plot in order to add suspense and keep the audience
interested, but this often leads to the subplots taking over
the main plot, thus damaging the integrity of the story as
a whole. This happens all the time in
Ultimate Spider-Man (admittedly, Bendis does it
very, very well) where Peter's love life or Gwen Stacy's problems
with her dad will take up as much, if not more, page space
than whatever it is Peter is dealing with as Spider-Man.
that Bendis' only sin. He decompresses his storytelling by
including numerous talking-head scenes that eat up pages but
manage to say a whole lot of nothing. A typical issue of
will often include at least one or two pages of the following:
Medium-close shot of Jessica Jones saying "That thing
you did was pretty impressive." That's followed by a
medium shot of Luke Cage saying "What thing, b--ch?"
Then Jessica Jones retorts with "That thing with the
super strength." "Oh, that thing," Cage replies.
"Well, what about that other damn thing
continues on like that for pages at a time (curse words added
to make it feel more like an authentic MAX title.). Sometimes
it works on a stylistic level, but from a storytelling perspective
it just stops the story cold. The many Bendis disciples out
there have all copied this conceit. Too bad they aren't able
to pull it off half as well as he can - and I don't even like
it much when he does it.
opposite end of the spectrum from the "talking-head syndrome"
is "widescreen storytelling." It all started with
, which had good reason to use that particular
style. Plus, Ellis and co. knew how to plot solid four-issue
stories action stories. All main plot that just keeps moving
ahead relentlessly with no subplots or long soliloquies.
is that practically every title under the sun has begun aping
that style to some degree. Splash panels now seem to exist
solely for their own sake. There's no compelling dramatic
or visual reason for most of them. They're just there to look
pretty and turn 18 pages of story into 22 pages of comic.
Personally I'm not big on paying for a 22-page comic I can
read in less than five minutes.
to avoid "writing for the trade" (EPIC writers and
comic execs take note!)? Don't make the story longer than
it deserves to be. If it can be told in two issues, don't
try to stretch it to three or four or six. Even one page of
fluff is too much. All that matters is that the story's good.
taken care of, everything else falls into place.
note: Yes, it's probably hypocritical and shameless to then
link several of Joshua's citations to Amazon, but hey, they're
out there. You might want to buy them. And Fanboy Planet needs