• Longform 

    Multiversity 101: How Alan Moore Saved Comics

    By | June 27th, 2011
    Posted in Longform | % Comments

    Pretty soon, everyone can own Action Comics #1 and Uncanny X-Men #1. These collectors items, previously likely to set you back somewhere between thousands and millions of dollars can be acquired for a cool $3.99. Not bad for a legendary collectors item.

    Except they aren’t the genuine article. The former is a renumbering of the highest numbered American comic in existence (having just passed #900), while the latter, some may not know, is the first time Uncanny has ever actually had a number one (the 1963 #1 was X-Men #1).

    Renumbering is the hottest thing in comics right now, and it is likely only going to get worse as we move on (although with 52 DC #1’s coming in August/September, that might be hard to imagine).

    But why do the publishers do it, what problems could this bring and what could they do differently – and how does Alan Moore factor in? That is what I am going to examine in today’s Multiversity 101, which you can find after the jump.

    The first question I want to look at is the why behind renumbering…why do comic publishers renumber their books fairly regularly at this point?

    That answer is two-fold and pretty straightforward.

    1) To Boost Sales

    In comics, readers have been trained to know that the 25, 50, 75, and 100 numbered issues are hot button issues that typically will bring something exciting to the table (or they used to at least). But nothing generates more collector fervor than a #1 issue.

    Relaunches, reboots, renumbering, and just a new book’s launch typically will bring that book its highest sales, and they can even charge a premium for it because it is such a momentous occasion. So the money a publisher makes on it is greater and the buzz on it is all the more, so this is a fantastic move for the company from a business end.

    2) To Make it More Accessible

    The idea behind a renumbering also is typically tied to making the book of note more accessible to new readers. Call it a number one (so a person knows it is a good point to join at), lead with brief introductions as to what is happening and the characters, and move on from there. It doesn’t burn existing readers with intense exposition, just hopefully enough for a new reader to jump on and not be lost. Ideally, this brings an influx of readers who otherwise would not read the title.

    There are a number of problems with this idea though, but the main one is something I would like to call “renumbering fatigue” (ala event fatigue). With each passing renumbering, I am finding it easier to not care at all. Sure, it’s nice that a book is being renumbered, but to me a new number one makes it just as easy for me to drop a book as it is for a new reader to jump on.

    For myself, the main reason why I made it through Matt Fraction’s Uncanny run was because I had been collecting the book for so long that I did not want to break my run. But now Marvel is doing that for me. When I go to my comic shop to pick up all of the books I missed in my time spent traveling (note: I am in the midst of an around the world trip for 5 months and will have quite the stack when I return), will I look at my Uncanny books and think “well, I guess that is that.” Maybe. Maybe not. But the renumbering makes myself, a jaded reader, find dropping this long time favorite a legitimate possibility (although I hear Gillen’s work has been great so far).

    For other readers who aren’t long time collectors, renumbering fatigue can be something that just finds them at a point where they cease to care generally because the status is almost never quo anymore. Look at Wonder Woman. When One Year Later hit, it was renumbered to #1, then within a few years (and way too few comics) it was bumped back up to #600. Now? It’s going back to #1. It is mind-boggling and frustrating for any reader, and perhaps enough to drive readers to drop the book.

    Continued below

    So what do I have to suggest that the company’s could do to remove frustrations about renumbering fatigue while also giving their parent company’s what they want? I have one pretty radical – but interesting – solution.

    Follow the path that TV has laid out.

    One of the most interesting and underrated things I believe that Alan Moore has done in the past 10 years or so (well, unless you count his private life, in which case praying to a squid god and becoming an insufferable curmudgeon may be more interesting) is what he did with his ABC book Top 10.

    Not that it was an amazing book (it was), but that he aimed to tell the comic in seasons like TV. Ongoing seasons of comics told in 12 issue years, with each 13th month earning the book a renumbering and moving on to a further season.

    While it never really played out like that, the concept is genius. To me, it solves so many of the problems everyone has with renumbering and accessibility and everything of that sort, and numbering comics in such a way should be something the publishers look at to fix their troubled worlds.

    Comics would then be presented in a manner that your average person understands (people inherently understand the structure of television and could imbue that quality onto comics), it fits naturally in collected formats (either in 6 issue half seasons or in 12 issue full season collections), it gives the publishers yearly #1’s to boost sales with, it rewards long time readers while also being easy enough for new people to jump in on, and it is a proven structure in serialized media.

    Plus, it could be set-up so the season trade and an inexpensive (think $1) catch-me-up issue could come out a couple weeks before each new season, making it even more new reader friendly.

    It would even make organization in a digital format more attractive and simple in my mind, while also giving writers and artists something that allows them a playground that is contained but also interconnected in the long term if they would like.

    One other thing I really like about it – it could alter the structure and the potential of mini-series in fantastic ways.

    Recently, my fellow MC writer Walt proposed DC’s new DC Comics Presents title be a sort of trial run for potential new titles. I like that idea, but what about this?

    Fred Van Lente and Jefte Palo go to Marvel and say “hey, we have a great idea for a Taskmaster series” and then walk editorial through the plot with art pieces and the whole nine in hand. Editorial comes back and says, “we really like it…but Taskmaster? We’ll give you a half season to try it out. If it sells and people like it, we’ll upgrade you to a full season with an option for renewal.”

    Then, when Taskmaster blows America’s minds (and it did), they have the easy transition into six more issues right there. Next thing you know, mini-series aren’t just random stories that are told and occasionally enjoyed, they are trial runs for comic’s potentially next best thing.

    To me, the seasonal format is just logical for where we are in comics today. Sure, it’s great to have an issue #500 or #900, or whatever, but if the future is a choice between a near constant barrage of renumbering or a method that is logical from a sales and story standpoint, while removing the aforementioned frustration, I am all about it.

    If you’re looking to reinvent the paradigm and make comics more accessible for everyone – not just new readers but long-time readers as well – then why not blow everything up and reinvent how the comic book format is presented? DC did half the job with the renumbering and the reboot, but I think if they took it just a bit further they could really, really make this work.

    Plus, if they did that, they would give Alan Moore something else to complain about. And that is good for everyone, isn’t it?

    //TAGS | Multiversity 101

    David Harper

    David Harper mainly focuses on original content, interviews, co-hosting our 4 Color News and Brews video podcast, and being half of the Mignolaversity and Valiant (Re)visions team. He runs Multiversity's Twitter and Facebook pages, and personally tweets (rarely) @slicedfriedgold. By day, he works in an ad agency in Anchorage, Alaska, and he loves his wife, traveling and biscuits & gravy (ordered most to least, which is still a lot).


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