I may have brought this up before. With all the years I’ve been doing this site and all the time I’ve lost for one reason or another I’m not always sure, but it’s one worth bringing up again because it is a problem that’s getting worse here in the Year Of Our Lord 2022. Everybody wants to make huge epic stories now. Games have tons of DLC waiting, TV shows are multi-part multi-season stories, movies are larger than life even by movie standards (and some of them also think they’re TV shows), comics are flooded with events and stories made to pad out for a trade whether it needs to be graphic novel length or not, and the miniseries has enough parts to be a full season. It’s all meant to be flashy and keep you there for the next installment or go “ooh” “ahh” with giddy excitement, and then you move on to the next epic.
There’s a cost for all this though. All this binge watching, event-driven, very pretty stories are great for those who like to be invested in big, long stories…until they’re epically disappointed. Ask Game Of Thrones fans. However, that’s not the cost I mean, nor how hard it all is to digest and keep in your head by discussing it with your friends and fellow forum members, though that is a problem with binge in general. Imagine coming home from work or school or the dentist or something and just wanting to relax with a short story and then getting on with chores or going to bed, or if you have time maybe another or different short story. Well, sucks to be you more and more. Waste time you could spend dusting, taking out that overflowing trash, or feeding that dog you just had to have during the 2020 plague because for the next five hours you need to sit there to get the whole story…and even then you’ll only get a season’s worth unless you also binge season two. Want a quick little adventure to read? It’s continued in the next four issues from the previous three and don’t forget tie-ins and crossovers. Well, let’s try a book with 35 chapters and that’s just book one of four. This is a huge waste of time, but also money, and casual story consumers are being slowly priced out of both.
Now some of this is definitely the audience’s fault not for watching all this but in some cases demanding it, giving in to the Netflix-induced marathon session. “Binge season 3 and realize it could have ended there but season 4 will be ready to binge tomorrow.” Every story doesn’t just get remembered later on but is important to the next story and the previous story was important to this. For a group who wants to kill continuity it seems they’re determined to use up as much as your free time as possible and pay through the nose for it…and there’s no shortage of viewers ready to dive into that. I have nothing against serialized stories, even ones that go this long, but I’m seeing less and less of the done-in-one stories and I feel we’re really losing something special here, especially those who don’t have the time and money to spend.
The money part is easy, but that’s been trending for a long time. The days of the dime novel, where someone waiting for a train or walking through a store and wanted something to read before bedtime, is dying out. These were cheap stories, costing…wait for it…a dime. In 2022 dollars that…$2.10? Really? I used to buy comics for less. Heck, I used to buy comics for 75¢, or 3 for $1 in a value pack of previous unsold back issues in a polybag, which is how I got my first three comic books. That’s a two dollar increase from 1939, where I started the inflation calculator online from, to today. So more like two dollar novels.
Yes, that’s due to the morons in charge of the economy from the business sector to state and federal jackasses but my point is it was pretty cheap. I just picked a comic from Dollar Tree for $1.50 because it’s no longer an “all for a dollar” store. Someone in the hierarchy got greedy. It’s not awesome but imagine if the writer had cared more about the story than the money he was probably paid required, or had more experience making comics or whatever was holding it back? It was still a fun adventure meant to sell a cheap action figure line and it had best doggy in his doggy battlesuit. It’s a cheap story but it also doesn’t take as much time. It’s a quick read to relax without being bogged down with a 25 part story in which the Karn slowly wakes up and Churro has to build his own doggy battlesuit. Oh, and whatever the humans were doing at the time. Point is it didn’t need to be this epic origin. The story starts and ends in that issue with a teaser for the next issue being all they thought they would need to bring people back to the store, presumably when the next wave of figures and accessories hits because it isn’t stating to be monthly.
Remember monthly comics? Remember when most of their stories took one, maybe two issues to fully tell the story? Of those aforementioned first three comics two were one-shot stories, one of which also had a continuing subplot connected story, and the third was part of a multi-parter…and back then that was the one I was least invested in, continuing to re-read it because it was all I had and I really liked the Spider-Man cartoon. Of course I didn’t know who any of the other characters appearing or mentioned were at the time. They weren’t in the show and it was my first Spidey comic. Meanwhile the one that featured events from the previous issue I didn’t feel the need to read that issue (not that I could at the time) to follow what was going on here. The subplot involving Zatara’s return and Zatanna’s awakening memory with Red Tornado being damaged continued onward while the main plot with other JLA members stopping the Shark’s would-be army of evolved animals finished here. Then Batman solved a murder in one issue. Even when I was doing those Galactic Adventures comics in a spiral bound notebook for fun I only went to three issues once and the rest were one or two issue stories…and it may have only gone to two because of the size of panels I was doing. There’s a reason professional comics are done on larger paper or on something you can zoom into for the details and lettering.
Now every comic has to be at least four or five issues long so the publisher can resell it as a trade collection, as if being large was the reason that “Demon In A Bottle” or “A Death In The Family” are (or were) popular and important enough to be collected for those who missed the original run. Some of my favorite comics were done-in-one stories and the same was true for my favorite episodes.
Of course back then there were few serialized stories. Sure you had your nighttime dramas like Dallas or daytime soap operas that may have existed as far back as the radio days but they also followed like 5 or 6 plotlines an episode, which rarely if at all intersected. It’s just the next plot would involve a different mix of the same characters. This was the exception though. Most stories were started and finished in one episode. The multi-part story was a special occasion, especially in a comedy that decided to do something different like send the cast to Paris and have someone captured by the French Foreign Legion because they were mistaken for a deserter. I don’t think that was an actual plot but that’s not my point. You could watch the one episode or read the one story, be entertained, and then do something else or watch a different show. The good ones…or the really, really crap ones you had to rag on…might be a discussion on the bus or around the water cooler but otherwise you got to consume a lot of stuff at one time, not ten parts of the same stuff.
Of course we also go back to that price problem. The dime/two dollar novel is gone, the anthology magazine went kaput long before printed magazines got smacked by the internet, and what we have now really isn’t for the casual reader. Just doing a quick look on Amazon’s book page, novels for adults are around $12, books for kids around $6. Even if kids could read current comics they’re priced above the average allowance or chore reward. And the ones that are made for kids are kind of insulting but that’s another discussion. The mainstream comics have to have the best art (so you’re agree with Wertham now?), be printed in high-quality paper, and be done by names so big that they were probably half the price of the comic after printing and distributing expenses. Crowdfunders don’t release a monthly comic, they release a trade of their webcomic or original graphic novels, losing the serialized experience but also not having a short story unless it’s some back-up tale that may or may not matter, or are just there as a reward for backers that wasn’t available elsewhere.
You may get a show you like on streaming or on demand but the home video market has never been a cheap buy and rental is dead unless your local library has a few DVDs available. At least that’s free if you have a library card, and so are the books if you return them on time, but their books are still all long reads. This is one of the reasons I review books a chapter at a time on this site, though the novelty of it and what we can learn from reviewing it that way also has merit. Even some novels need multiple books to tell one story. I’ve had some Star Wars novels do that to me, but some stories work best as one novel and then if there’s another story to be told, rather than part 6 of the same story, you do a sequel novel with a brand new adventure. One of my favorite Star Trek novels that I’m hoping to do a Chapter By Chapter review of (no, that’s not the next one I reviewing) was a sequel to a novel I hadn’t read. I enjoyed the setting and characters enough that I eventually got that novel and also enjoyed it, though admittedly it wasn’t as enjoyable at the time. Maybe re-reading them in order years later will fix that but I still liked it at the time.
The worst part is some of these stories aren’t even working at that size. One of the complaints I’m hearing about the Disney+ Obi-Wan series besides tossing out lore in favor of looking cool and flashy is that it feels like they took the original movie idea and padded out a few more bits to make a miniseries. A video game may never be done because it may have some DLC coming and the graphics are anything short of the Enterprise holodeck images fits are thrown. Casual games are given the finger by the “hardcore gamers” and now we’re getting mobile games, something that should only be designed for waiting rooms, restaurants, and since there are no short books and novels anymore the train or bus ride to and from work, that are trying to be as epic as their console and computer brethren so sempai will notice them. Do these stories need to be this large? Sometimes yes, but if the answer is sometimes no maybe don’t do that.
Sometimes you don’t want to be as invested in your fiction as you do your real life, and some people will never be interested in larger stories. It’s been a misconception that comics were bogged down by continuity but they used to do it right, with a main battle and maybe character stuff or some villain scheme as the connection between issues. Books and comics could be bought for the casual reader, gamers who lost arcades could still just play a quick run game or card game for something to do, and movies didn’t have to be five part stories with the last two being two parts hard. It’s like you can’t just relax and enjoy something short for a half-hour or so and do other hobbies. Give us your money, give us every waking moment of your life, and drown in stories far longer than they need to be. There’s a place for these longer, serialized stories and epic movies…but they don’t all have to be that.