We all have our favourite television show, right? It might be Game of Thrones, or The Simpsons, or Golden Girls and it most likely airs once per week. That is sort of the rule of television in that you get one episode per week. Of course if you loved a show you would be super excited that it aired twice per week. But your excitement might drop if there was a catch. Like your cable bill was going to double.
I know that comparing television shows and comic books isn’t a perfect analogy but I wanted to stress how more doesn’t always equal better. Double shipping might seem like good idea at first, after all, who doesn’t want more comics, but the increased output brings a lot of problems and in the end I feel that double (or even triple) shipping will eventually be classified as a failed experiment.
Comic book publishers want to sell as many books as possible. You can do this in one of two ways: you can either sell many copies of a few titles, or you can sell fewer copies of many titles. But you can’t really sell many copies of many titles: over-saturation of the market and a high per-unit cost really prevents that. So the question is how do we get people to buy more books? It is possible that one could create real quality books and promote and support them but that takes a lot of time and energy. However, when you have a customer base that wants to collect and read the next installment of your serialized product you can simply up the number of issues per month and quality doesn’t really matter. That isn’t to say that double-shipped books aren’t quality, many are, but by making the decision to double ship Marvel is actually taking away some of the freedom of choice that a customer has and possibly hurting sales on other books.
Let’s say I have $20 per month to spend on comics. Basically that is one comic book per week. And let’s say that I like Spider-Man, Wolverine & The X-Men, Avengers, and Hawkeye. With taxes that basically uses up my $20. But if 2 of those books double ship then I need to chose which ones are my favourites. I don’t want to only get part of the story so I keep Spider-Man and Wolverine and I drop Avengers and Hawkeye. Now I really liked those last 2 books but I just can’t afford to buy more. So those titles, through no fault of their own, now have fewer sales. And if that happens enough times it might even lead to cancellation.
Marvel kind of has its fans over a barrel. If you love the book then you want, need, to know what happens next. You can’t just buy some of the issues; you need all of them for your collection (and to know what is going on). So you begrudgingly fork over an extra $4 and get double the fun. Which is fine if the book is consistently good with the same artist and writer and stories. But it can’t be.
Most comic book artists I know are not robots. That is, most need little things like food and sleep to function properly. So if you double ship a book you are creating double the work for the creative teams. This has been mitigated by starting teams early and having different teams rotate after about 3 issues. Which is just weird. There are some comic book series that always have a different creative team from story arc to story arc; Sandman is a great example of this but even Sandman didn’t change artists every 3rd issue.
Look at Superior Spider-Man: Ryan Stegman was the artist on issues 1-3, Giuseppe Camuncoli on issues 4-5, and Humberto Ramos on issue 6. Each of these gentlemen are great artists but they have very different styles, and seeing them all in a span of 3 months is jarring and makes for a visually disjointed experience (and collected edition). This oddity becomes even more pronounced in the case of very specific artist/writer collaborations such as Hawkeye. This book was sold as reuniting the blockbuster creative team on Iron Fist: Matt Fraction and David Aja but Aja did the art on only the first 3 issues. Javier Pulido takes over art duties for issues 4 and 5 and while he is a great artist with a similar style it still isn’t the same person. (Aja does return and rotates off and on later issues).
I don’t have a problem with rotating artists per se, but I do worry that having artists work on double shipped titles runs a risk of them burning out and potentially disrupting the creative flow of a book. I also worry that as the price of books creeps higher and higher we’ll see more people dropping books because they simply can’t afford it.
The answer to me is multifaceted. Artists than can do a monthly book should do one. Artists that are slower should be part of a rotating team of artists or they should be given books that ship fewer times per year. Books that come out ever 2 or 3 months are a viable option as well.
But these will only work if people actually buy other books. Part of the reason why Spider-Man and Avengers double ship is because people were buying mostly those books. There used to be all sorts of Spidey books but people just bought Amazing so it switched to double (and before that triple) shipping and other books got cancelled. I know that this is a bit of a chicken and an egg situation but if people are spending all their money on double shipped books they aren’t buying other books, but if they aren’t buying other books then Marvel needs to double ship guaranteed sales.