A post from my Marvel blog of the last decade, this one talking about making sure that individual issues are new reader friendly.
So let’s talk about a recurring topic for a few seconds: accessibility in comics.
In the old days, there was a mantra that “every comic book is some reader’s first comic book”, and a real importance was placed upon making sure that a reader had a fighting chance at understanding the story that was being placed in front of him—that simple things like the characters’ names and the locales in which the story was taking place, and the individual plot-concepts that drove the narrative were all established and explained every issue. Sometimes this need to re-establish would go to absurd lengths, but the feeling was that every book needed to be comprehensible to a novice audience.
Nowadays, with the advances in sophistication in terms of the storytelling styles of most comics, the older average age of the readership, and the fact that virtually every issue is likely to become a component of an eventual Trade Paperback collection down the line, the goalposts have shifted somewhat. One of the reasons we instituted the recap pages in almost all of our regular titles was in an attempt to remove some of the burden of the need to recap on the fly from the backs of our writers and artists—because, when you put six issues of a storyline back-to-back in a collected edition, it gets a little bit tedious for there to be a caption explaining the intricacies of Cyclops’ powers every 22 pages or so.
I heard an industry figure speak on the subject of accessibility in comics recently, and he called it a myth. His point of view was that there’s no such thing, and the importance of such a thing was overrated—that everybody who started reading comics came in at some unwieldy point, and it was the journey of discovery that helped to make them fans in the first place. While there’s a certain amount of validity to part of what he was saying, I think on the core point he was dead wrong. Sure, we’re dealing with fictional mythologies of such a scale that no one individual comic book is going to be able to explain them all to a new reader. However, if it’s an important plot point that the guy who just sucker-punched our hero from behind is a long-established villain, and he’s got a beef with our champion for having stepped on his foot when they were both children, then that’s information that needs to be included in the issue. Very few people attempt to read a comic book, fail to be able to make heads or tails of it, and then decide to read the next one in the hopes of being able to sort it all out. Life’s too short, and there are too many other options in terms of entertainment value for your time.
We place a pretty healthy importance on making sure that our books are accessible to as wide an audience as possible, and that’s one of the secrets of our success. Sometimes we fail, sometimes we drop the ball—but we’re always trying, always keeping an eye on it. Because the flipside of doing so means preaching to an ever-dwindling audience of pre-converts, guys who’ve been following our universe for decades and who know its intricacies inside and out—and long term, that’s game over for both us and our retail partners.