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How long does it take to read a comic book?

As i've been going through the comics i bought when me and wayne went on our shopping spree, i'm noticing that comics written 15+ years ago take a lot longer than comics written today. I have nothing against Bendis, but i can blow through one of his Daredevil or New Avengers comics in about 5 minutes, where comics from like 1983 take me at least 15. And they were 60 cents each, as opposed to $2.99 (even taking inflation into account, that's a huge difference). It's no wonder that kids aren't buying comics anymore; they're barely worth the money, regardless of the quality of the stories (and there were good stories then and good stories now. In my opinion Marvel's been on an upswing in the past decade after recovering from the horrible 90s, but i don't believe that comics written today are inherently better than they were during the Jim Shooter years.).

Most people blame what they call "decompressed storytelling", which means that a story arc that would have been told in one issue in 1985 now takes 6 issues. This is a question of pacing, and allows more room for dialogue, etc. There's nothing intrinsically good or bad about this approach. In Bruce Jone's Hulk story, it didn't work at all because nothing ever seemed to happen in any particular issue, to the point where you didn't even see the Hulk. In Bendis' Avengers, it gives us more time to look at character reactions to what's going on and interactions with each other, which i quite enjoy. But the fact that there is less going on in a particular issue means there is less exposition, and therefore less to read.

I think the real problem is due to the art style. The art is definitely more detailed, more realistic than it was in earlier decades. (By realistic i don't mean that they're drawing women in more realistic proportions, of course. I just mean that the characters are more 3d, less... 'cartoony' isn't quite the right word but it's close.) Again, not saying one is better than the other. It's a question of style and preference. I was really enjoying some of the Byrne/Austin art from some of the X-men comics i recently bought, for example. But the changes in art style have led to two problems.

One is the amount of time it takes to produce a book. Artists in the 80s could also draw the way current artists do, but they usually only did it for prestige format mini-series and graphic novels, where they could afford to take more time. Today, comics just come out late on a regular basis.

Second is the fact that in order to accomodate the new style, or maybe in order to get the books done quicker, there are less panels per page. The standard number of panels per page seems to be about 6. But older books had a tendency to go beyond that, and frequently did, whereas for newer books, 6 seems to be about the maximum, with a tendency to do less, and more splash pages or half pages.

Removed from the price factor, i don't think that there's a problem. The new stories can be very good, and it's introduced a new type of storytelling which i enjoy. But when you factor in the bang for your buck, i have to say that it almost doesn't seem worth it.

I think it's a vicious cycle. Today, kids don't read comic books. The audience is largely adults who grew up on the comics. And they're likely to have more spending money, and can afford to pay $2.99 a book. And the comic companies need to charge that much in order to make a profit considering the decline in readership (i.e., we're paying niche market prices, not mass market prices). But because the books cost so much, they're much less likely to attract kids, who are more likely to save up their money and get a video game. Is that a vicious cycle or a downward spiral?

By fnord12 | February 8, 2006, 3:44 PM | Comics