By Hollis Cobb
Graphic Novels and Comic Books have developed longstanding traditions of extended, multi-volume series that stand in stark contrast to their novel counterparts. Though there are numerous examples of novel series spanning 4-8 books (Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, etc.) with some series passing the ten-book mark (Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events for example), many series of comic books span dozens if not hundreds of issues. What results is an interesting dynamic between the comic book and its reader. The elongated series model that make comics take on can both act as a barrier to engagement as well as a narrative strength.
It can be difficult to quantify how many issues exist within a single comic series. Many American comic series are “ongoing,” meaning that there is no set limit to how many issues a single comic runs. Even when a series ends, characters may continue in other series. For example, Spider Man has appeared in hundreds of individual comics spanning dozens of individual comic series runs. When considering Japanese manga, there are nearly 200 manga series that span more than 100 issues. There is immediate intimidation to new readers: where does one start? Do I have the time or resources to read so much material? There is an inherent barrier to cost that comes from longer series as well. The average cost of a comic book is a little more than $4, while the average price of a manga issue is $15. Though purchasing one comic book issue may be accessible, when once is faced with dozens or hundreds of issues the cost quickly adds up. When compared to a single paperback book, one can enjoy a whole series for significantly cheaper. Even when considering purchasing used copies, it is much easier to find a single book or a short series than it is to find issue #45 of your favorite superhero comic. These long series can serve to reduce readership of an already stigmatized medium.
However, long-form series do have some positive elements that increase their desirability among readers. Due to long, drawn-out narratives, readers can spend much more time with characters they love, and said characters have more time to be fleshed out by their authors. It provides essential time for readers to form meaningful connections with the texts they read. For authors and comic book artists, long runtimes, reboots, or reimagining of characters allows for different artists to explore specific characters. Batman, for instance, has been redesigned and reimagined by over a dozen writers and artists, each giving a unique spin on a class character. Such exploration is unheard of in the world of traditional novels where one character/story is confined to the creative mind of a single author.
Ultimately, the extended run-time of many comic stories ultimately serves as a barrier to access the medium. Approaching such a diverse world of comics is intimidating and is inhibited by the relative cost of comics books themselves. However, once one has “broken into” the world of comic books, the benefits of such long and well developed series benefit the experience of both the reader and the comic creator.
If you’d like to learn more about comic book pricing and other barriers to entry for future comic book fans, I encourage you to check out this article: