GLENN HAUMAN: Decompression and burn rate

Glenn Hauman

Glenn is VP of Production at ComicMix. He has written Star Trek and X-Men stories and worked for DC Comics, Simon & Schuster, Random House, arrogant/MGMS and Apple Comics. He's also what happens when a Young Turk of publishing gets old.

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14 Responses

  1. John Ostrander says:

    Part of the problem, I think, is that there often is damn little STORY per issue. It used to be that a story got continued because it was too much for one issue. The monthly now is just one part of a story that is, ul;timately, meant for a TPB. A story that might have really lasted only three or four issues gets drawn out over six or eight to give better market value for the TPB. If the monthly is late, the feeling is that it doesn't matter because the REAL destination is the TPB where it will the lateness won't matter; the reader gets it all in one swoop. Annoying for the reader who supports the monthly book but I'm betting that the general feeling at the companies is that most of those readers will pick up the TPB anyway. I think that's short-sighted and will help kill the monthly and lead to a declining readership overall. But that's just my opinion.

    • Glenn Hauman says:

      So you agree that it's a pacing problem? Do you think that there's a conscious effort to pad out pages so that there's enough of a spine for the trades?

      • Mike Gold says:

        I think a lot of that padding is artistic self-indulgence. Nice big juicy splash pages, fodder for original art sales.

  2. Elayne Riggs says:

    I think another problem is that today's readers, more and more, are trained to think of the WRITING as the story, and completely gloss over the art. Due to improvements in the printing process, much of today's art seems far more illustrative than comic art of yore, lots more time and care is put into rendering it, and if you're only spending five minutes per comic how much time are you really putting into "reading" the art? Many fans appear to have never cultivated the vocabulary needed to understand artwork. This may or may not be a future column for me. :)

    • Adam Casey says:

      You make a good point on 'reading' the art. I find a big distraction/detraction is the copy-and-pasted panel used to convey passing of time or emotion, but really there's nothing for the brain to 'read', so it just glosses over it.Similarly, the power of a comic is that the reader connects the dots between the gutters and panels. When a story is decompressed, and most of the action is drawn out in panels, there's nothing for the reader to do. Reading becomes a passive activity, like watching television, instead of an active one.

  3. Stuart Moore says:

    Just a contrary note: Plenty of people stuck around for the conclusion of ULTIMATES 2. And while ALL STAR BATMAN & ROBIN has dropped a bit, it's still one of the best-selling books in the industry. I think I'm paraphrasing Jim Hanley (apologies if that's wrong) when I say: If a book is hot, lateness won't hurt it. If it's not, timeliness won't save it.Decompression is a whole different ball game, but I think there's a generation of single-issue readers who are now used to it. I know this is heresy, but in the Bully article, I thought the Ultimate pages read a lot better…and not because I prefer Mark Bagley to Steve Ditko. It's just a more natural reading pace. (I liked Bully's analysis in the comments section, by the way…he makes it clearer that he's not blasting ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN.)

    • Glenn Hauman says:

      Stuart, I agree that modern books read better than older stuff in the aggregate, but they're a very bad bargain. It now takes many more pages to tell a story nowadays, and so it costs a lot more in time and money. I disagree that there's a generation of single-issue readers that are now used to it– if nothing else, something so decompressed that it makes a story tough to read over very short chapters, it makes it tough to retain readers.As far as Jim's theory about "If a book is hot, lateness won't hurt it; if it's not, timeliness won't save it," I point to the massive ratings drops in LOST, DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, and 24 after longer than expected hiatuses. Yes, we're comparing apples and pears here, but the lesson still holds.

  4. Stuart Moore says:

    Interesting discussion. I don't really want to debate the TV angle, because I think you've listed three shows with very different schedules and different non-schedule-related problems. My point is more that ULTIMATES, ALL-STAR BATMAN, and ALL-STAR SUPERMAN for that matter, haven't shed readers at any faster rate than more timely titles do. Neither did DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, as you point out. Lateness is a huge business problem for comic shops; I don't want to underplay that. But it's just not a killer for individual books.And I think the sales figures on the single-issue books speak for themselves regarding decompression, too. You and many others may find ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN to be a bad bargain on a monthly basis; but it's kept a circulation in excess of 70,000 for seven years now, and at times it's been much higher. That suggests to me that there are readers who like it as it is, in that format.This leads into a larger debate-slash-can-of-worms: whether the Direct Market is bringing in new readers, or if the existing ones are just aging. There's only anecdotal data, of course, because of the decentralized nature of the comic shop market. But sales in aggregate have not dropped since the mid-90s, and I can't believe everyone who was buying comics then is still here and buying the same number now. So it seems to me there must be new readers coming in to replace those who drop out…and it also seems to me, given which titles sell best, that a lot of them are fully comfortable with decompressed storytelling in their monthly books.

    • Glenn Hauman says:

      It's tough to tell between books too– US-M has been rock solid on delivery, as far as I recall, and I posit that decompression ain't so bad when you know that the next installment will be right along next. (See Lost and 24 again.)As far as bringing in new readers to comics, I don't know; they gotta come from somewhere, but damned if I can figure out from where…

  5. Nat Gertler says:

    The idea that "the pictures should tell the story" does get taken too far, with the assumption that everything should follow the moment-to-momentness of cinema. We've been tossing useful tools like narrative captions and thought balloons out of our toolbox, seemingly because they're not cinematic.Having said that, let's remember that questions of value can be addressed not just through content, but also through pricing.

  6. M. Sean McManus says:

    I don't think it's really a problem with today's readers. I think the problem is with today's creators. They're the one's making the comics stories so decompressed.There was a review of a comic that was relaunched recently, and somewhere in the middle of the review a comment was made to the effect that, what the original comic did in 8 pages or less, the new and improved modern version couldn't do in 20.Maybe no one wants to admit it, but maybe these new guys just are not as good as the old timers. Maybe they all want to write screenplays instead of comics and so they're missing out on some very powerful aspects of the comic medium. Maybe they just don't care. They get paid per issue, so they take one idea and stretch it out as long as possible. Obviously, I'm just playing devil's advocate here, I don't really know what's going on in their minds. The people buy what's out there, it's not their fault.

    • Elayne Riggs says:

      "I think the problem is with today's creators. They're the one's making the comics stories so decompressed." You mean the writers, don't you? I haven't seen that much "decompressed" art to go along with that writing. If anything, the art is more illustrative and intense.

  7. M. Sean McManus says:

    Just had a new thought here– is there any similarity to "waiting for the trade" and "waiting for the DvD"? I'm asking in terms of TV shows like Heroes, Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Sopranos… etc. etc.

    • Glenn Hauman says:

      Well, there certainly are a lot of folks doing both, and for many of the same reasons– convenience, no ads, ease in distribution, etc.