The “new reader friendly” problem

How do you get new readers to start reading your titles?  That’s the question that haunts comic companies and creator on a daily basis.  This is a business after all.  And the point of business is to make money.  It troubles the large and small.  This article mainly deals with the larger companies.  They are the ones that have comics that people have at least heard about, but are choosing not to buy them.

There are many reasons that people don’t buy comics from the larger companies, but the one I want to focus on is continuity.  To many people, it can be quite intimidating picking up a comic that has decades of history behind it.  Others aren’t necessarily concerned about the decades of history, but rather not knowing what is going on with the more recent storylines.  To try to combat this, companies try to market certain issues as “new reader friendly” or “jumping on points.”

The most common way of marketing something as a jumping on point is by re-launching the book with a new #1 issue.  But I’m here to tell you that this is very rarely new reader friendly.  When Marvel released Uncanny X-Men #1, it wasn’t something a new reader could just pick up on.  This issue was set up by events that have been happening for years within the X-titles.  When DC launched their New 52 initiative, there was more of an effort to actually start the titles over, but this wasn’t the case with the Batman and Green Lantern family of titles.  They just continued on with storylines that have been going on for years. 

For myself, it has gotten to the point where I just roll my eyes when I see something being promoted as “new reader friendly” or a “jumping on point.”  This has been a fairly recently developed cynism, and I blame Avengers vs. X-Men.  Here’s a quote from Axel Alonso before the series launched:

We took great pains to make sure that “Avengers Vs. X-Men” is new reader-friendly — that anyone can pick up issue #1 and get right into the story. We introduce the threat, the sides, the stakes and pay special attention to the introduction of characters like Wanda and Hope, who aren’t as familiar as, say, Cap, Iron Man or Thor. As for Wanda, we take out time introducing her, but there’s an oh $#!% moment about a third of the way into “AvX” that casts little doubt that Wanda is a key player in this story.

I’m sorry, but AvX is not “new reader friendly.”  It is a storyline that is the culmination of nearly 8 years of stories.  It began with Avengers:  Disassembled, and continued with House of M, Messiah Complex, Second Coming, Utopia, and Schism.  Can a person that hasn’t read any of these stories read AvX?  Sure.  Will they understand why things are happening?  Probably not.  (Of course, there are likely avid readers that don’t understand what’s going on, but that’s a different topic.)

So, anything that builds upon previous events is inherently not new reader friendly.  It just can’t be.  So, how do you convince new readers to start picking up your titles?  By joining the 21st century.  There is this amazing invention called the Internet.  It’s a wonderful series of tubes that can connect people to a nearly unlimited amount of information.  So use it.

Several years ago, DC had done this for a while.  I don’t remember during which event, but on their website, they gave a summary of the tie-in issues each week for that event.  This allowed you know what was going on in the issues that you did not buy.  And Marvel does have their recap pages, but you have purchase the comic (stores aren’t libraries) in order to read it.  There’s no reason that companies could not have a summary of the major stories that have happened throughout the years posted on their website.  This would help ease the worry people have about being lost when they try to pick up something new.  (Of course, this could already be the case, but one would never know with Marvel and DC’s websites being a mess.)

In closing, it’s pointless to say something is new reader friendly if it build on established history.  The only things that are new reader friendly are completely new.  But realistically speaking, you don’t have to try to make things new reader friendly if you take the effort to make information available to your would be readers.

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One comment

  1. I picked up the New 52 trades for Batman and Justice league this week and its pretty clear, Batman is just carrying on like nothings different and apart from Cyborg you really need to get everyone elses back story to know who they are. Even in the new continuity new readers would have to be collecting Superman, Flash and Wonder Woman and honestly I think that’s more of an issue (no pun intended) then lengthy continuity being daunting. To get new fans comics should have stories that you can pick up and read without worrying about whats going on in other books,

    I can give somebody that trade with all of DC’s big guns on show then give then the first volume of the original JLI, where most of the team were B to D listers and honestly JLI does a much better job of letting people know who their team members are.

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