There are two kinds of storytelling and comic fans are familiar with both.
- The first one is Open. That’s the traditional format where a new issue hits every month. When one writer leaves a book, a new one steps right in and takes over so that the overarching story continues.
- The second we’ll call Closed. In a closed format, the story has a definitive ending. The most common format of a closed story is in a miniseries where the writer completes four to six issues (normally) and the story’s done.
However, there’s more to the closed format than your standard miniseries. There’s the maxiseries which runs for even more issues (a format pioneered by Camelot 3000 and personified with Crisis on Infinite Earths), which were both full stories which took longer than the standard four issues to tell.
And then there are the finite series – books that have a set length and a set finale. James Robinson’s Starman, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Brian K Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man and Nick Spencer’s Morning Glories are examples of this type of storytelling.
So which is better?
Open storytelling provides an opportunity to tell longer stories that aren’t limited to one writer. If a writer burns out or leaves the book, he or she is simply replaced and the story continues unimpeded.
Another benefit is the commercial aspect. Open storytelling allows books to last beyond their creators’ runs on the title and can even see titles become iconic ones that buyers expect to see on the stands. Imagine how different comics would be if books like Action Comics, Superman, Detective Comics, Wonder Woman, Avengers, Captain America, or The Incredible Hulk had been cancelled when their original teams had decided to leave the book.
One of the problems with Open storytelling is the fact that a writer can get burned out. A perfect example is Marv Wolfman. In the early 1990’s it was becoming very apparent that Wolfman was burning out on writing The New Titans for DC. However, he was under contract and had to keep writing the book. (Granted, editorial interference may have contributed to the burnout.) When Wolfman’s contract ended, DC editorial wound up cancelling the book and relaunching the Teen Titans franchise with Dan Jurgens’s Teen Titan book.
Another issue is that writers can get changed mid-story and story plans can be altered or scrapped. Tony Isabella’s Hawkman that we looked at a few weeks ago is a perfect example. When Isabella left the book, editorial wanted the Shadow War story (plotted to run four years) ended ASAP and it was ended in a handful of issues. Of course, there are numerous examples of where story plans get changed. Another example was an appearance of the Hybrid in an issue of The New Titans where Harpis confronted Steve Dayton to set up a Hybrid miniseries. Plans were changed and the scene was never mentioned again. If things like this occur often enough, the book can begin to get a bad reputation for shoddy storytelling and sales may begin to slip.
Now let’s take a look at Closed storytelling. Closed storytelling allows a writer creative freedom. He knows what the flow of the story will be and which story
points need to be hit when. The story has a set beginning, middle, and end.
Closed storytelling does have one major problem – writer’s block. This can be easily seen in James Robinson’s Starman run during the “Jack in Space” story when editor Archie Goodwin passed away. Robinson was close to Goodwin and the story began to wander aimlessly for a few issues. It took the return to Earth to bring the focus back.
Another problem is poor sales. Robinson himself said that the initial issues of the 2011 Shade miniseries sold so poorly that the full run was in doubt. Mike Baron’s Sonic Disruptors is a perfect example. The series suffered from low sales (Baron himself has called it a dud) and DC scrapped the series with issue 7 of a scheduled 12.
Yet another problem is the fact that at the series’ conclusion, the characters may no longer be usable for the publisher. DC famously had Alan Moore construct new characters for Watchmen instead of using the newly-acquired Charlton Comics characters because the characters would be all but unusable at the conclusion of the story. At the end of Starman, Jack Knight retires and passes his cosmic staff to the Star-Spangled Kid, who renames herself Stargirl. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman features the title character’s death.
(As an aside, an argument against the above is to ask – would you want to see these characters written by someone else? Would you read Morpheus if Neil Gaiman wasn’t writing him? Just look at the Before Watchmen controversy when DC decided to publish these characters against Alan Moore’s wishes.)
Those are the facts. I’ll leave it up to you to make the call. Which do you prefer – open, unending character stories, or shorter character-driven tales written by one writer? Post your opinions and thoughts below. I’m hoping for a good discussion on this.