[Warning: this meanders quite a bit, towards no real destination]
It occurred to me that last week’s post may have read as though I’m totally against continuing stories, which isn’t the case. I read a lot of comics, where continuing series are the standard, and many have been around longer than me. (Series with a continuing creative team, or at least writer, tend to be different beasts, and not what I’m wittering on about below)
Long running series have both good and bad points. And shared universes tend to exacerbate the bad points, making them things that need to be accepted, ignored, or retconned (retroactive continuity is the rewriting of history to say that something never happened. If you’re lucky they’ll give a reasonable explanation of why people thought it did).
I recently reread Daredevil stuff from the last decade, from Bendis’ run through to the Shadowland stuff (which is a few years old now, so not really spoilers). The main idea behind Bendis’ run is what does it look like when a superhero has a nervous breakdown. It uses the character’s history under previous writers, building on your emotional investment with the characters.
The serial nature of corporate IPs opens it up to interesting interpretations by successive creators. Some are good, some are simply servicing the IP, a situation not helped by the monthly schedule: they have to have a story out even if it’s not a good one.
This was played with during this period, with each writer leaving the character in a worse place than they found him, for the next writer to carry on. Bendis left him in jail, his identity public but unproven; Brubaker destroyed his life even further, and left him taking command of the Hand, a cult of assassins he’d fought for years; Diggle left him shattered after the events of Shadowland, which kind of marked as far as he could fall. When the series relaunched under Waid, Daredevil’s trying to get back to what he used to be, but his recent history continues to overshadow his actions.
While I felt the Shadowland stuff didn’t quite work, mainly by being turned into an event, overall the sequence held together even with multiple writers. Using the character’s history to build the story on adds to it in a way a standalone story which introduces you to that history can’t. That’s what ongoing series do at their best.
[Rant Interlude: Franchises]
One of the less good parts of corporate owned IPs is the danger of over-franchising of successful properties. I’m looking at you, X-Men. There was a time, probably longer ago than I now care to remember, when I could have named every X-Man. There have been so many associated titles out over the last couple of decades, introducing so many mutants, most of whom are now considered X-Men, that it’d be difficult without a good degree of study.
Franchising tends, from my experience, to run greater risk of substandard work than much servicing the IP. And then new stories build on stories that you haven’t read. At least the advent of digital comics and increased collecting of stories solves the problems even a decade ago of not being able to get hold of the stories referred to. Whether you’d be grateful to get hold of them is another matter.
Franchises run the risk of diluting your investment.
And I’ve ranted about Events previously, so don’t get me started on that again.
Series with ongoing characters can build up an investment that keeps the reader with the story, obviating some of the set up required (although you still need to consider new readers). Pragmatically, it can also keep readers with a series, which is why publishers seem to prefer series to stand alones. As a writer you also get invested in characters and see further places their stories could go.
But I find I’m often more interested in new stuff than revisiting old stories. Sometimes they do call me back fairly strongly, and the stories still have things to say. But pragmatically speaking none have yet sold well enough to really draw any number of readers back, so my time’s better spent on new stuff that might draw new readers. I would like to make a living from this, then I can write the further adventures.