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Credit: Vertigo Comics

Is it time for publishers to rethink the monthly comics model?

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Jan 15, 2020, 6:24 AM EST (Updated)

I just recently caught up with the HBO series Watchmen and like most everyone else found it brilliant. As soon as I finished the ninth and final episode of Season 1, I felt incredibly satisfied. Yes, I'd love a second season, but I don't need it. This first season was so good, and it felt complete, just like the original 12-issue comic book series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Watchmen the television series capitalized on the way we consume entertainment these days and provided a show built for our times: a bingeable series that tells its story in one season.

(Edit: to be clear, I get HBO dropped the episodes on a weekly basis. I'm more focused on the completeness of the tale)

How I wish comics companies would look at the changes in TV and change the way they do business. Because just as broadcast television seems increasingly archaic with its 22-episode seasonal formula in the age of Netflix, comics seems trapped in the distant past with its monthly comics model. The monthly pull list is a dinosaur, a metaphorical meteorite away from extinction. That doesn't mean there isn't sales value in monthly comics; a look at recent sales charts show titles like the final issue of Doomsday Clock and the third issue of the new X-Men title selling 100,000+ copies. And when Saga comes back, I'm sure that will sell like gangbusters every month. But speaking for me personally, the few single issues I still purchase almost seem like I'm just maintaining a routine from an era that has passed us by.

Doomsday Clock 12 Cover by Gary Frank

I just don't have the time, inclination, or money to keep up with the monthly grind.

I've primarily become a "wait for the trade" guy so I can read an entire story in a nice, compact single volume. My interest in the story doesn't wane because I'm unable to get to the comics shop to pick up my books, or if there is a delay in shipping (I'm looking right at you, Doomsday Clock!). Trades allow me to binge-read limited series like Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III's The Sandman: Overture, Dan Slott and Michael Allred's Silver Surfer, Tom King and Mitch Gerads' Mister Miracle — or catch up on a series like Saga —and then place it on my bookshelf for the next time I want to re-read greatness. I know many other fans who, for similar reasons, have begun drifting away from monthly comics and sticking to trade paperbacks and hardcovers.

I don't pretend to have the answers for a problem that I'm sure executives at Marvel, DC, IDW, Archie, etc. wrestle with daily. But imagine if those publishers devoted their resources to bringing the Binge TV model to comics, and created six- and 12-issue limited series to be released all at once in a single collection? DC is one company that has always been ahead of the curve in leveraging its reprints business. Thanks to the success of Vertigo, it pioneered placing graphic novels in bookstores and exposing comics to a wider audience. But recent sales slumps led DC publisher Dan DiDio to address, during a retailer Facebook Q&A, how the company is looking to tweak its TPB strategy. "We have to find ways to make our collected editions valuable, so that people want to purchase them and put them on a shelf," DiDio said. "We also have to reevaluate these collections of six issues and out -- when you collect six issues of a periodical regardless if it's a complete story."

Image Comics is paying close attention. In a well-timed interview with our pals at Newsarama, publisher Eric Stephenson discussed how a few Image titles, Motor Crush, Moonstruck, and Crowded, have switched from a monthly comics model to an OGN format. While a small sampling, the creators of those titles recognized that they were doing better in trade sales than with the floppies. That's a healthy, and wise, reaction to what the market wants.

Here's something else to consider. Think of all the incredible talent companies could lure to tackle a self-contained Batman or Iron Man story if all they had to commit to was a single arc. Mark Millar built his career on this format. Millar and Bryan Hitch's The Ultimates was just the start of his foray into these finite stories. His "Enemy of the State" and "Old Man Logan" arcs ran through the Wolverine books, but they were standalone adventures. He's continued to focus on that, from his Millarverse titles all the way to his current works for Netflix. The reasoning behind his approach is quite basic, according to Millar. "I'm a great fan of the evergreen story. I love a timeless story," he told me during a recent interview. "Superman: Red Son was kind of timeless. Kick-Ass kind of works that way, too. You can just hand it to somebody who doesn't read comics, and just say, 'Here you go, enjoy this.' Like Batman: The Dark Knight Returns or Batman: Year One. Somebody who's aware of the character, you can just say, 'Have a read at this' and hand them one book."

There are some incredible talents out there who I'm sure would like a crack at telling a killer 12-issue tale involving certain heroes. Not just comics legends like Gaiman or Frank Miller who have taken their talents to other media. But someone like Jim Lee, whose responsibilities as DC's chief creative officer don't give him the time to do a monthly book, could certainly be enticed with the right writer to jump on a special stand-alone serial. Wouldn't it be nice to see Lee and Geoff Johns team up again for another epic 12-issue story that was free of any continuity restraints?

As comics sales continue to erode, the industry has to change with the times. The law of diminishing returns practically demands it.

I'd love to hear from you, our faithful readership, on what you think of the monthly comics model. Do you still hit your LCS on the regular? Or do you wait for the trade?

Let me know in the comments below!


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The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.

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