This article by Erik Larsen appeared on Comic Book Resources this week and I think it warrants some discussion. I won't recount the entire article here, but the gist is, Larsen believes a combination of the delivery methods of Japanese manga and European books such as 2000 A.D. could offer a way to sustain the direct market into the future. We all know that digital is the wave of the future, but what is the transition between the crest of that wave and the fall of the current one? Do we simply limp along with the direct market functioning as is, or would it behoove the industry to explore another option to make print a more viable method of delivery as we transition into a more digital format? It's a topic worthy of some discussion.
In his piece, Larsen argues that weekly or bi-weekly anthologies by the Big Two (Marvel, DC) featuring an entire family of characters, printed with more care and better materials than the current monthly titles and featuring a $5.95 price point would be more appealing to chain bookstores and newsstands and would therefore be more capable of building a large and sustained audience of new readers. Like I said, I won't plagiarize his entire article. I want you to read it and form your own opinions. But it does bear taking note of. One of the most interesting aspects of his theory is the room it would give less successful titles to grow, given that they would be tacked on to more successful books. For instance, Jeff Parker's Agents of Atlas might have a much larger audience and therefore would still be being published today if it were grafted onto the back of a larger Avengers anthology each week.
Where I think the delivery method could work extremely well is in comics for children and young adults. Anyone who knows me thinks that the way Marvel and DC run their kids lines leaves a lot to be desired. While there is some merit to certain books in those lines, for the most part they're just a mish-mash of one-off stories and licensed properties. While they're fun for kids who are already relatively familiar with the characters, they do little to build involved, ongoing storylines and therefore do little to build a young new audience. Without a sizable group of young people interested in these iconic stories, comics will continue to become a medium largely geared toward men aged 18-35. If you're in that age group, you get some great books, but there's not a lot for anyone on the edges these days. Not, at least, from the Big Two.
But consider if Larsen's ideas were implemented in the kids comics lines. What if you had an anthology each week, say in the vein of the WB's successful Animated Series, that featured the entire Batman family. You get a Batman feature, a Nightwing feature, a Batgirl feature, so on, so forth, each with its own ongoing story. Plus, in a format like that, you could easily cross the titles over without feeling like you were just fleecing the fans for all they were worth. Which, lets be honest, is how we all feel at times when we hear the announcement of another "big event." I'm not sure about you, but I think if you gave kids a nicely bound, 64-page Superman comic with ALL the Super-family involved and asked them just $5.95 for it, you'd have kids forking over that lawnmowing money for comics for the first time in years.
Perhaps its just wishful thinking on my part, but like I said before, it bears consideration.