When is it time to change a comic book’s setup? Do creators hit the panic button too soon?
TIME FOR A CHANGE?
Okay, let’s say you came up with the idea for a successful comic book, and your book has a strong fan base that helps your sales. And you may even have made some money! (Gasp!)
But then you notice that the sales aren’t quite what they were just a few months ago. When you set up a table at a comic convention, you see that the lines or number of fans coming to buy your wares are not keeping you as busy as they used to.
A lot of creators (and that includes the “big three” comic companies) will want to have a sit-down visit with you to see what can pump some new life into your comic. What about a romance? Or should the set-up be tweaked here or there? If things are really starting to crumble, you might even consider a major change in your main character, like changing a him to a her, for example.
The thing you have be careful of is changing the book from what actually attracted the fans in the first place.
Creators sometimes bang on the panic button, and do it so hard that they simply are willing to do whatever it takes to keep the comic “a success.”
THAT’S when it’s time to panic, I believe!
And remember… only Wolverine has been Wolverine so far! Very few characters can change so radically and remain as popular as he did for so long!
HOW HAVE SOME HANDLED THIS?
One famous story about how this kind of thing was managed had to do with what I call the “Peter David” Principle. What happened?
Not many remember this, but Peter David actually started out in sales for Marvel. When he became a writer for the House of Ideas, he continued to have access to the sales numbers for his comics. When he noticed sales began to decrease (so the story goes), he would make a change in the comic (this particularly happened with his Hulk comics). He would alter the status quo with Bruce Banner or the Hulk, and the sales would pick up again… for a while. Then, when he noticed sales slowing again, he would make another change in the comic’s main character. And so on, and so on, and so on.
Eventually, however, no matter what change he made, he wasn’t able to resurrect the sales on the title, and he left to write other characters for Marvel.
Was this a bad thing? Well, it kept the fans coming back for more for quite a while. I don’t know if this kind of change would work for other characters, but hey… he kept the comic going for a considerable amount of time!
Of course, not everyone has access to sales numbers, so all they can go by is what they see with their own eyes. They’re not quite as popular as they used to be, so they make changes to try and keep things going!
The sad truth is that every storyline has a beginning, a middle, and an end. After a while, fans ask, “What have you done for me lately?” and if there isn’t a real positive answer, we tend to move on to other books/events to try and get the same pleasure we got from the original book.
I always point to the X-Men as a problem with extended (I call them “protracted”) storylines. Nothing ever reaches anything resembling a conclusion, and even our fan attention spans lose interest. Then an event takes place that refers back to something revealed years, possibly even decades, prior.
That’s what got me out of the X-titles. I just hadn’t invested the thousands of dollars and years of time reading that were required to “get” what was going on.
A CHANGE THAT ACTUALLY WORKED!
As much as I would love for every character I enjoy to stay the same forever, our expectations of what happens in the comics have changed over the years. It used to be that writers could tell a story and at the end, reset back to the original status quo so someone else could do the same thing next month!
Now we’re looking for character growth, for things to develop and change in a logical direction. If you don’t keep up with what’s going on in a comic, you just might be left behind. You might not “get” what’s going on in the comic you loved!
There have been a few developments that really did the trick for a character I believe. The one that really worked was Superman marrying Lois Lane. Literally, for decades Superman had to keep Lois in the dark regarding his secret identity. That trope of her “trying to trick him into a loving relationship” got so very old, and I was actually happy to see him let Lois in on his secret. What made this all work was that the writers, in my opinion, actually told stories about a happily married couple, a rarity in the comics! I still love it!
Interestingly, they seemed to be taking Batman down the same path with Catwoman. DC built up and built up their expected matrimony, but at the last second, they turned and left each other at the altar, as it were.
I was actually disappointed. Now, the two are apparently going to a “Gotham War” with each other. Bleh.
By the way, the recent change in the Man of Steel that didn’t work was him revealing his secret identity to the world. That got reset pretty quickly!
SO, WHAT’S A CREATOR TO DO?
I wish I could say I knew the answer to the question of when you make a change or even what change to make if it’s needed. But I have spoken with many creators who tell me there are a few rules to follow.
First, don’t make changes if they aren’t completely necessary. Sometimes fans come and go, so if you are true to the basic concept of your comic, you may lose some fans over time. But what drew those fans to you just might attract more fans over time!
Second, trust in your creation and your ability to tell great stories! I’m always fascinated by the creative process, something I’m always trying to understand better. But I believe in it, and as a creator, so should you! However you got to where you are, I would not jump ship right away!
Also, if you are losing interest in your own story, it’s time to consider a change. What would make you want to tell more stories? I always hear that you should not wander too far from your basic premise.
However, you can also try other comics and premises. If you can develop other stories/characters that stretch your creative muscles in different directions, you just might find new aspects in that original story that got your name out in the public eye.
Something else to consider is what I call the “Image” model of storytelling. If you can, take a break every so often to recharge your creativity or catch up if you have fallen behind. Just be sure to let the fans know what you’re doing. Too often a comic simply disappears, and we fans can admittedly be pretty fickle at times. If your comic doesn’t appear after a month or two (or even three), well, we might go somewhere else to feed our need to read. But social media is a good way of letting us know you need some time off. We want the best from you, and most of us will be willing to be patient to read great storytelling. Yes, we’d like it to come out on a regular basis, but the good stuff is worth waiting for!
I would be careful not to shake up the status quo too far too fast. If I come back to a comic after a time and it doesn’t resemble anything I came to expect from it, my attention just might wander!
So, trust your instincts but be sure to keep the fans informed as to what you’re up to! We want you to succeed, so keep us with you as you move forward!
What do you think? How much tinkering is too much with a comic’s status quo? How quickly do you drop a comic from your pull list? What other suggestions would you give to comics creators when it comes to making changes? Whatever your opinions, be sure to share them in the space below!