Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Monthly Issues

At Newsarama, writer Peter David talks about his Marvel Comics series X-Factor, and the resulting article is noteworthy for a couple of reasons.

First up, David evidently refuses the usual question/answer game and gives quasi-interviewer Steve Ekstrom a mini-essay instead. In other words, my humorous suggestion in response to another recent Newsarama piece has now become reality.

David explains his reasons for rejecting the usual procedure:

Here’s the problem: I don’t want to give anything away. Nothing. Anything I would feel comfortable discussing would be so vague that it would ultimately be unsatisfying. As much as I want to get publicity for X-Factor, I'm not sure how to go about it without blowing key points. I can't discuss what happens with the baby without blowing the story.

[…] I'm not trying to be ungrateful here. Nor am I unaware of the importance of marketing comics.

This, of course, is just the symptom of two larger problems that David doesn’t address: One, the big comics websites have largely resigned themselves to delivering soulless hype pieces rather than journalism. And two, because of that, they largely tend to talk about plot, and nothing else.

David goes on to answer a question or two that Ekstrom might or might not have asked him given the chance, before making a vow you don’t hear (or read) every day:

My goal is nothing less than to triple sales before year's end. I want X-Factor to be a book for which waiting for the trade [paperback] is simply not an option: Readers have to pick up the latest issue. […] I want fans to get to the last page of an issue and they can't believe what they're seen.

Well, X-Factor currently sells around an estimated 35,000 units, so let’s say David is looking to get the numbers up to 100K before 2009 is over. Quite an audacious standard to set for himself, right?

Well, probably, but there’s one more thing on David’s mind:

Issues #39, #40, and #41 are a three step program to turn the book around creatively and sales wise. […] And my greatest desire, frankly, is for the internet to somehow develop the self-control to keep its collective mouth shut over the specifics. […] Blowing key aspects of stories don't simply spoil stories; they ruin them. Ruin them for the creative team, ruin them for the company, and they ruin them for the readers. I would love to see issues #39 through #41 be a Ruiner-free zone. I want to see fans exhibit the self-control not to ruin the stories for others, because fans who come into the books not knowing what to expect will, I believe, quite simply be blown away by what's coming up.

So, you see, he can’t do it alone. He needs the readers’ help. Aside from leaving a convenient back door in case the book’s sales don’t go up dramatically (“Well, somebody blew the big ending,” he shrugged.), this also speaks to one of the central aspects of serial fiction, of course: What Happens Next.

Now, while I can sympathize with David that it may well be heartbreaking for any creator to see a big plot point blown in a public forum, I’m not quite sure this concern supports the kind of significance David is trying to saddle it with.

First up, and most obviously, lots of big plot points of lots of works of fiction get blown all the time, but that doesn’t prevent many of them from being commercial hits. And second, anyway, is this really as widespread a problem as David makes it sound? I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember the last time a big plot point from a Peter David comic was blown to me. (In fairness, I don’t spend a lot of time on message boards these days.)

Finally, I would think that the best way of insulating yourself against this sort of thing as a creator or publisher, surely, is to make sure that your work of fiction isn’t utterly dependent on shocking plot twists alone.

I can’t speak for anybody else, but, quite honestly, I don’t recall that learning a plot point ever prevented me from exposing myself to a narrative of any kind that I was sure I wanted to read or watch in the first place. Do people really say, “No, sorry, now that I already know Madrox the Multiple Man grows four additional arms at the end of issue #39, I don’t need to buy the comic”"? If they really care about the book, wouldn’t you rather assume the opposite is true? “Holy Moly, Madrox grew what? I can’t wait to get my hands on the darn comic!”?

If they don’t, at any rate, then I would probably be more inclined to wonder if four additional arms were really such a great idea to begin with, rather than to be annoyed that somebody dared to talk about it. But then again, I’m not Peter David.

1 comment:

Jim said...

Interesting blog. Thanks for pointing this story out.

I can't really say I'm compelled to read X-Factor but I'm certainly curious what the book will be selling throughout the coming year.