I’m pretty sure some of the sentences I typed here make sense.

§ March 9th, 2018 § Filed under publishing § 7 Comments

So I’ve been trying to think of a solution to the issue-numbering albatross that’s been hanging around the comic industry’s neck for so long, and surprise, I don’t know any easy fixes that don’t involve everyone who publishes/buys/is otherwise attached to comics just, you know, not worrying about issue numbers. Honestly, I really think the best best, and one that was working at least up until Marvel said “ha ha, never mind, here are more #1s” was just keeping that issue number where it was, based on the number of previous issues published. People were buying Doctor Strange #387 or whatever…like I said, sales were beginning to creep up as consumer confidence rose in the titles they were following having some established (and potentially future) consistency. I mean, over at DC, Action and Detective seem to be doing fine with their issue numbers in the hundreds.

Some points were made in the comments to my last post on the topic. Both Brian and Daniel T bring up what Dark Horse does with their Hellboy-universe books, having an overall series number inside the book, while having, if necessary, “chapter” numbers on the fronts of the book. I went into annoying detail on this very topic almost exactly five years ago discussing this very thing.

I mean…maybe that could work for superhero books, maybe, but that would require a huge change in mindsets regarding how readers approach the titles they follow. We’re too used to there being a regular monthly Batman book, for example…while, with a regular monthly title, switches in storylines and creative teams would in effect make an ongoing feel like a bunch of “mini-series” that just happen to be tied together with a shared numbering system. Actually making them literally different mini-series, with new #1s on the cover of each first chapter, even with a secondary overall numbering inside that ties them all together. The Hellboy/BPRD comics can pull this off, as the comics have a mostly consistent aesthetic/tone with a relatively small circle of creative teams. It’s the nature of superhero comics to change in style pretty significantly with new stories and creators, so a “mini-series” by J. Master Artist might sell a lot better than the follow up “mini” by Hacky McHackerton, causing a distinct change in order numbers and sales figures that might be smoothed out by a more obvious shared-numbering system and a sense that it’s all “of a piece.”

My personal preference would just be picking a numbering system, sticking to it, and don’t kill a series and crank out a new #1 just because, I don’t know, the Beast changed the color of his trunks or something. First issues used to be special, a big event…”here’s a brand new series starring the character YOU demanded!” I’d like to see them that way again. Not to say we still don’t get occasional excitement over some new first issues…the recent batch of new launches from DC is getting a small amount of interest, which is a change from that lack of response that “DC-You” thing got. Anyway, the ultimate solution to all this is likely going to be the transition away from monthlies to trades/graphic novels. Which, of course, will still be numbered so here we go again, but possibly would be more conducive to an environment where the specific order of release is less important than the individual reading experience of each volume.

So let’s meet back here in a decade or two and see how it all shakes out.

• • •

In other news…I love — well, cringe sympathetically at, more accurately — stories about shops that have been stuck with way too many copies of something, particularly from the years of excess during the 1990s. You may recall this tale of the tragic fate of 14 long boxes full of Valiant’s Turok #1. Well, here’s a brief remembrance of the Superman Wedding Special which leaves me thankful that we only had as many left over as we did.

7 Responses to “I’m pretty sure some of the sentences I typed here make sense.”

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    It seems positively quaint that, once upon a time, publishers kept up the numbering even when comics changed titles and genres–as when the super-hero comics BLACK CAT and MOON GIRL became BLACK CAT WESTERN and A MOON…A GIRL…ROMANCE.

    Another great example is the comic that, over the course of twenty issues, went from INTERNATIONAL COMICS to INTERNATIONAL CRIME PATROL to CRIME PATROL to THE CRYPT OF TERROR to, finally, TALES FROM THE CRYPT. There may be something meaningful in the fact that the original TALES FROM THE CRYPT never had a first issue as such, but there have been about half a dozen TALES FROM THE CRYPT #1s in the last thirty years.

  • Thom H. says:

    @Turan: Huh. That kind of renaming of a series in the middle of the run is just as confusing as renumbering the same series over and over. So maybe it’s always been a feature of comics collecting that you’ve got to know way more than your average outsider to understand the numbering system.

    Maybe the era of “continuous numbering system” (at least for most series) was a temporary phenomenon in an otherwise constantly shifting landscape of re-titling and re-numbering.

  • Dave Carter says:

    @Turan: IIRC, that had something to do with the distribution system, in that it was much easier to to a title change than it was to convince a newsstand distributor to pick up carrying a new title. It may have also had something to do with postal licenses or something.

  • Brian says:

    I would pile fourteen long boxes of Turok into the shape of a dinosaur.

  • My vote would be for maintaining the legacy numbering in a corner box on the cover. Then denoting the story/chapter part in a banner above the title. This signals that a new story arc/era had begun on a title, so it’s a jumping-on point. If something catches my eye, or I hear some buzz, I can look at the issue on the stands and know how many issues to backtrack to get caught up. MARVEL was doing this post-Legacy, and despite recent press releases, I hope they continue it.

  • Michael Grabowski says:

    There’s always Dave Sim’s current strategy of each new monthly Cerebus issue having a new title and new #1. I don’t know how that’s working for him or for retailers. Drives me a little nuts because if I get the comics out of order it’s a bit tricky putting them back the One True Way. Not that it matters that much since it’s not actually a story, but comics nerds gotta gripe.

  • Signal Watch says:

    I literally don’t get why there’s even a question about numbering. Volume and Issue Number is pretty straightforward stuff that Marvel in particular has mangled beyond comprehension. The goal should be to help readers figure out where they are in chronology, and ALL NEW #1 COLLECTOR ISSUES does the opposite. I’m not new to comics in any way, but I just dropped Cap at some point (which I read in trades) because neither the number on the spine of the issue # in the fine print told me anything. Everything just seemed to be a #1.

    There’s room for mini-series to run alongside the main title(s), that’s always seemed to work fine. But I can’t tell you what a relief it is to have a clear numbering system not (just) for longboxes, but because I tend to let comics pile up and then read a few issues in a row, and I know I’ve got everything. And the same holds true for spine numbers on trades.

    And if they *do* have to relaunch or revive a dormant title, just use the volume #, but do it sparingly. Or annually, so it makes sense. It’s just not that hard.

    If the only thing that can move the needle on comics sales is the number one on the cover, then maybe comics needs to rethink what they’re doing in those pieces of paper behind the cover.