Thursday, August 30, 2007

Event Fatigue - the fan's perspective

Today Vanetta’s column, “Talking Shop, Event Fatigue?” went live on Newsarama. There are already a good bunch of comments on it, and was quoted several times. It seems that most retailers agree that yes, events can sell comics, but that we are all starting to see some signs of fatigue from our customers. Many of the comments that follow the column express similar sentiments.

When I received the questions, I took a moment and asked you, fans of my blog who have read comics, what your feelings were on events. Since the Newsarama column went up today, I figured it was the perfect time to share the responses I received back in regard to the fan’s feelings of event fatigue.

My first question was weather or not people were less interested in comic book events now than they were two or three years ago. The answer to this was a unanimous YES.

One respondent, Ben said, “. I've been yearning for more stories that are self-contained, so I've hit up titles like "Y the Last Man," "Ex Machina," "The Goon," "100 Bullets" and "American Virgin" just to get away from the event-ridden superhero stories.”

Derry is feeling so much fatigue that she can’t take it anymore, “I hate big events – so much so that they've driven me away from comics. I've been waiting for an event-free few months to try to hop back in but it's just a constant hammering of event after event after event, each promising to Change The Universe! but just managing to get rid of the things I like.”

James L. feels like the events are actually ruining the characters and stories he once enjoyed, “Many of the great books that sprouted up a few years ago have been derailed from their natural story progressions by editorial decrees that the books adhere to the big events.”

My second question was weather or not people buy the tie-in titles for the events. Many said they do, or that they have in the past. But not everyone was a fan of the tie-ins. There were a couple who were very adamant that they do not pick up those tie-in titles.

The more interesting responses came from the follow-up question: “If you were not already reading that title but picked it up for the cross-over into the event, do you usually stop reading the title after the cross-over issues, or do you find that you typically continue to read that title?”

Betty said, “, I quit when/if it's no longer absolutely required, in the rare case that I bother to follow an Event.”

Ben picked up Cable Deadpool after Civil War because he, “got a huge kick out of Cable & Deadpool and their tie in to Civil War.” He says he liked the writing and got into Deadpool’s character. He says, “I'd forgotten how cool he was. I did continue reading that book...but it got sucky, so I put it down.”

James M. doesn’t recall many books that he had picked up because they crossed into an event that he then stuck with. “Outside of maybe a new series that had the first issue tie-in and I kept reading because it the series was new, it just usually doesn't work like that with me.”

To assume from the responses that everyone despises events would be incorrect. I asked what makes a good event, and the answered varied, but no one said, “not having one.’ While there were several who did agree that having fewer of them less often was one way to improve the situation.

Philippos felt that to make a good event the stories need, “cohesion; clear concept; good reasons for characters to react as they do; a concept that seems idea-driven rather than merely sales-driven. Not a lot of random loose things spraying all over the place; especially long after it should be over; or sloppy writing leaving a lot of crap on other people's characters.”

To James L, what makes a good event is the same thing that makes any regular comic book good, “a good story, well defined characters, good dialogue, good art, and a good ending.”

A worthwhile event in the eyes of James M, “is something that has something to say or accomplish, that tells you something about the character(s) involved and actually creates developments as fodder for more stories for the character(s) that can spring forth in their own series. It isn't just about empty hype or shaking things up. It's about creating a situation that will make for a maximum potential for future stories about the character(s) involved in the event. Without that kind of substance behind it, the event is a very hollow and ultimately wasted effort.”

Ben put it simply, “A PAYOFF!”

The main things that people do not like about events are how frequently they’re being staged by the Big Two these days, as well as all of the hype they use to try to build the events into something that they do not end up being.

“DON'T have an event every f#%*ing month!” says Bradley. “It seems like "The Big Two" have events now just for the sake of having an event. Plus, it is such an obvious sales tactic. The fact that there are "events" all the time really reeks of desperation on the parts of Marvel and DC.” He goes on to ad that, “Events need to be once every 5 years. You need to give the readers a chance to take in a big event and breathe again. Plus, if you're going to do an event, how about hiring a creative team that will actually do the books ON TIME? I honestly don't give a monkey's fart about any "big names" that will be doing event books! I'd much prefer a team that will dedicate themselves to doing that book and not have any other projects that will delay the title.”

Philippos makes an interesting point about events actually hurting continuity and giving publishers and their creative teams the excuse to be lazy, “They invite bad writing, especially when they're approached with the attitude that customers are dumb enough to buy really bad writing but want all those in-canon appearances (a lingering attitude from the "comics as trading cards" era). In any case, someone hired to write a crossover often gets some if not most of the characters wrong, but then, since the event had high sales, the sloppily researched version in the event becomes dominant in the subculture's mind.”

“I hate that events are so nakedly about holding the reader hostage for as many pamphlets as she can be induced to buy,” said Betty, who continues with her strong feelings on the current “event mentality.” “I hate that events feel like me versus the comic company: their goal is to keep me confused unless I buy every title, my goal is to buy as few as possible. I hate that events break up existing story-lines, existing character-arcs, and existing relationships which were actually quite interesting thank-you-very-much. I hate that events feel like a High School pep rally and I'm treated like an eighth grader, and a rather dim one at that. No, I will not believe you that it's awesome just because you repeatedly tell me it is. How about you actually write something awesome? I hate that events are driven not by the characters, or existing themes, but instead by shock-value.”

Everyone seemed to agree that while they did not believe that events were the only way publishers COULD sell comics, it does seem to be method they’ve chosen to use at the moment. Many also confirmed that they are feeling event fatigue and that if these non-stop events continue publishers will loose readers, rather than gain them.

Brian says, “I'm just not excited about the prospect of yet another BIG, MEGA EVENT as it makes the previous BIG, MEGA EVENT seem less important. Why should the reader care about this year's big event when another will be coming right around the corner.”

“[Events] scare away potential new readers, and frustrate long time ones,” says James L. “If the big two don't stop with the constant crossing over, I can see an industry bust on the horizon. Of course, maybe that's what the industry needs to get back to the state things were in a few years ago, with good writers and artists being allowed to tell good stories, rather than being forced to be disgruntled cogs in a corporate machine.”

Ben says, “Events are OK, every five years or so, but NOT EVERY FRIGGIN YEAR! It's OVERKILL! I wish Marvel and DC could let their characters breathe for five minutes before making them deal with Monitors or Skrulls or whatever the hell else the big wigs want to throw at 'em. The only thing EVENTS have taught me in comic books is that eventually, EVERYTHING goes back to zero.”

James M blames it on the “institutionalization and corporitization” of comics and their characters. “The big two are more focused in finding ways to develop the "intellectual property icons" they have into other media forms, with the comics that made them icons to begin with being much lower in importance to them. This is the ultimate price to be paid for allowing the big two to become tied to corporate industries and answerable more to their stockholders and board of directors, than the reading audience and their retailing partners. While they will probably always keep the comics going, so long as they generate even a mild profit, to help gage the viability of these IPs for further potential of profitability in other forms of media, comics day of being THE most important thing to the big two is probably a thing of the past. Thus, event-driven stories will continue to be the norm, so that they can grab up those short-term profit gains, to keep the stockholders happy. And none of those in the seats of power will care, until the day that short-term thinking balloon pops. They'll just pray it doesn't pop while they are the one(s) at the helm.”

Based on my informal research, it appears that events have already driven some people away from comics. In addition, those that are still buying and reading monthly comics are starting to show event fatigue. Some have stopped buying the tie-ins, others have stopped buying events altogether. Others just cry out, “Make it stop!” Events do sell comics, but will there be a breaking-point where a majority of the current super-hero fans decide not to buy into the next big event? Maybe. At least for those that took the time to respond to my questions, it seems that they are starting to get pretty fed up with the current event-hype-event-hype-event trend we’ve been experiencing from the Big Two’s super hero universes. As I said in the Newsarama interview, "When used correctly they can definitely increase sales to both fans and new or returning readers. However, they should not be over done -- one event every year [total, not per publisher] or every other year would be fine. Then just focus on the core of the universe and make those titles good. I don't want people to just buy the events. I want them to buy comics."

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