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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Comic Book Access Points- Do We Really Need Them?

Today, people say comic books are hard to get into. Publishers believe that they have to craft events like Marvel NOW! and DC’s NEW 52 to provide readers with an access point to the characters and the stories in serialized comics.

I’m wondering what exactly is a comic book “access point? The book where readers “jumped” onto a series. Because we didn’t need those back in the 1980s when I started collecting or the 1970s when my brother was collecting comics.

Back when I started collecting, there was no such thing as a “jumping on issue.” You just saw a comic, and if you liked the cover, you bought it. If the story was great, you bought more.

My first comic book when I really got serious about collecting was Iron Man #228 in 1988. (It came out in 1987, but it had been sitting on the newsstand for a while) It was in the middle of the Armor Wars, and featured Steve Rogers as the Captain. From that single issue I got into Iron Man, Captain America and the West Coast Avengers based on what I read.

Now this comic that got me hooked was in the middle of a storyline. But from what I read in that single issue of Iron Man, I was compelled to buy not only the next issue of Iron Man, but two more comics, Captain America and The West Coast Avengers. By the end of 1989 I was collecting at least 15-20 titles a month between Marvel and DC.

I remember Jim Shooter saying in his blog that every issue is an entry point. And I have to agree with him. Every issue of a comic book is going to be someone’s first. That’s why I believe every issue should have a great story.

The problem with today’s “event” model is that it tries to tell readers where they should start reading comics. That’s not what comics are about. That’s what they’ve never been about. New readers don’t buy comics based on dictated entry points. They discover them. They pick them up based on covers that tell great stories, and after they finish reading them they go out and buy more.

Entry points have always been dictated by the reader, not the publisher. That’s why I believe all these reboots fail. A new reader may discover a comic book well after an event like the New 52 or Marvel NOW! is over.

Or they may discover a title in the middle of a storyline like I did with Armor Wars over 25 years ago.

The critics of the past 20 years have complained that continuity keeps readers from discovering titles. And that’s their reasoning for pre-made entry points. But from what I’ve seen over the last 20 years that continuity really isn’t a problem. It’s bad storytelling that’s been the problem.

As I stated before, every comic is someone’s first. And if the story doesn’t knock the readers’ socks off then they don’t have the incentive to buy in and continue buying more issues.

One of the big problems with all these reboots and re-numberings is that it keeps the new reader from having that access to the decades of past continuity. With a pre-made entry point designed in every new number one issue, the new reader can pick and choose to discard parts of a characters’ history. When the series ends, in 12, 24, or 36 issues, the reader can choose to just stop buying that characters’ adventures.

But when there’s solid storytelling in a serial like a comic book, there’s that compulsion to buy into the adventures and dig into those back issues for more comics. That’s when the first issue the new reader buys has the possibility of turning into more than 36 comics or a couple of trades.

Personally, I believe every story is an entry point. And I apply that concept in my own serialized publications like the Isis series. When I write Isis stories, I make an effort to make sure every story is an entry point. Because I know every story will be someone’s first experience with the character.

And the readers have been responding. Many readers start at different points in the Isis series, whether it’s the first book Isis, or a middle book of the modern Isis series like Isis: The Beauty Myth. Usually after they finish one book they come back and buy the rest of the series.

From the feedback I’m receiving from the Isis series, I’m finding it’s the storytelling that keeps them coming back for the back stories. So it’s imperative for a publisher to tell great stories from day one and keep telling great stories. When the first issue a reader picks up is great, then readers have the incentive to keep buying more comics in the future.

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