What do readers expect from first issues of comics, these days?
When Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson was talking about response to the first issue of Nowhere Men, a series he co-created, he told iFanboy, “I’m not real sure when this trend of expecting the first issue of a comic to explain every single thing about where a series is going started, but it’s not something I’m particularly into as a reader or a publisher.” It was something that resonated with writer and critic Abhay Khosla, and not necessarily in a good way:
No. There’s no such “trend”— there’ve been any number of hit comics that didn’t “explain every single thing” with sales and critical success ensuing. Even if there were such a trend, audiences are allowed to expect things— those are called audience expectations, and understanding and manipulating those is a normal and understood part of the job of a creative artist; that’s on the job description.
But even if we assumed arguendo that audiences have complained in a clumsy way about unrealistic expectations not being satisfied, audiences are allowed to say things in a clumsy way. They’re the audience not James Walcott; their job isn’t to be the editor while a professional editor is in absentia, carefully articulating the deficiencies of their experiences. One needs only to look past the clumsiness, and the sentiment he’s complaining about is invariably the oldest one there is: ”The first issue has to give me a reason to buy the second issue, and it didn’t.” Yeah: that’s not a “trend” or a “meme” or a “fad”— that’s the job. That’s always been the job. That “trend” started at the dawn of the enterprise.
Ales Kot, writer of Image’s Change and Wild Children, disagrees, somewhat:
Stephenson isn’t talking about that, is he? It seems like you’re putting your own words (i.e. ideas on how his brain operates, also know as assumptions, which are often derived from expectations) into his mouth. Stephenson is the publisher of Image Comics, the company that gave 2012 more interesting first issues than any other this year as far as I’m concerned – and I’m saying that as a reader and the guy who is making comics that Image publishes. So what? I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t see it that way. Are there duds? Fuck yes there are. But there’s also way more interesting, exciting stuff than anywhere else at the moment except for Koyama Press and Fantagraphics, two companies that are not really in the #1 business anyway.
First issues are becoming increasingly common (and important, in some way) to the mainstream side of the industry in recent years, and they’re often sales crutches and tools as much as – if not more than – they’re true beginnings or restarts of series. The above conversation feels like the start of something that may not be necessary, but would be nice to see more of throughout 2012: People actually trying to work out that the point of a first issue is, and what it’s actually supposed to do.