In a great blog post, Uncanny X-Men writer Kieron Gillen considers just how to make comics featuring long-running characters accessible to new and old readers:
I’ve noticed a few people who said they felt absolutely lost. Which interested me, obviously, because it implies I made a right pigs ear somewhere… Thankfully, most of these people seemed to say what sort of things they felt weren’t explained, which is where I started getting really interested. They were all questions on a similar array of topics. I’ll choose one example, because it seemed to be the first one on a lot of people’s lists, and in many ways most characteristic of the reservations…“Why are the X-men in San Francisco?”
And I’m genuinely thrown.
I would have never have thought of explaining this. I wouldn’t have thought of explaining that any more than “Why is Spider-man in New York?” if I were starting Spider-man or “Why are they in Westchester?” if I was doing Jason’s job or even “Why are they living on Tracey Island?” if I were writing Thunderbirds.
The Uncanny X-men are a superhero team. They live on an Island off San Francisco. It’s just who they are.
Of course, I can see the reason why it’s thrown the people. It’s they know the X-men live in a mansion in Westchester. That they’re not living in Westchester is the problem. It’s not about giving the information to read the story that’s there. It’s about correcting pre-existing assumptions. In other words, it’s not a problem about being accessible to new readers – because a genuinely new reader would accept the fact the X-men live on Utopia in the same way that they except that Bilbo lives in the Shire – but rather a problem with the readers being old readers. They feel lost not because of the story on the page, but the gap between the old story in their heads and the story on the page, and wanting to know what connects the two.
Much more at the link, but it’s a really interesting question. How much do writers have to explain before you feel like you know enough?