Robot 6

Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs | Days Missing and Non-Serial Series

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Days Missing

This week’s column isn’t so much a review as it is an observation and a request for your thoughts and recommendations. One of the things that appealed to me about Archaia and Roddenberry’s Days Missing series when I learned about it at C2E2 was the non-serial aspect of it. Rather than unfold a long-running plot about it’s main character and the people and things that threaten his goals, Archaia and Roddenberry chose to present the series in almost an anthology format. Though one in which the same character appeared every issue and always had adventures that followed a similar formula.

I’m reminded of some of the TV shows I used to watch as a kid. Today, shows like Lost have changed the television landscape to the point that every show has to have some kind of over-arcing plot. Even detective shows – which you’d think would be perfect for a simple format of stand-alone episodes – have meta-stories like Will Jane Ever Catch Red John? or Will Castle and Beckett Ever Tell Each Other How They Feel? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but there’s something pure and refreshing about shows where it’s just our heroes fighting this week’s bad guy or trying to meet this week’s challenge.

Comics are the same. Even when the latest company-wide crossover isn’t besieging them, most comics stories can’t wrap themselves up in a single issue. The Writing for the Trade phenomenon is so standard and familiar that it isn’t even worth griping about anymore. That’s what makes a book like Days Missing stand out.

After the break: What it’s about and do we want more of it?

Inspiring Frankenstein

Inspiring Frankenstein

The first volume of Days Missing contains five issues. Phil Hester and Frazer Irving wrote and illustrated the first and fifth installments with David Hine/Chris Burnham, Ian Edgington/Lee Moder, and Matz/Hugo Petrus creating the stories in between. In each issue, a mysterious, mirror-eyed being named the Steward watches over humanity from his other-dimensional library and identifies key dates on which our future survival is not at all assured. In each story, the Steward finds it necessary to intervene and save us from ourselves before folding the day away into the fabric of time so that history doesn’t remember its ever occurring.

It’s a great idea for a series and the story possibilities are as endless as the genres in which they can take place. Hester and Irving open the series with a crisis around an out-of-control, modern-day virus. Hine and Burnham then present a story about the real-life Frankenstein’s Monster that inspired Mary Shelley’s tale. Edgington and Moder reveal what happens when a scientist at the Hadron Collider comes too close to discovering the Steward’s existence while Matz and Petrus explore the pros and cons of Hernán Cortés’ plans for South America. Finally, Hester and Irving return with another account of something dangerous run amok; this time nanotechnology.

Though crossing and re-crossing the boundaries between science-fiction, horror, and historical fiction, each story has a couple of things in common: they all follow a basic formula in an exciting way and they all reinforce the themes of the Steward’s love for humanity and his tragic loneliness that results from his dedication to his mission. You sit down to each story with both a general idea of what to expect and an eager anxiousness to see how this particular creative team is going to play with it.

The Steward vs Cortes

The Steward vs Cortes

Of course, that’s just the first volume of Days Missing. The second volume is going to follow a longer story arc that was set up in Hester and Irving’s final story from this volume. And again, I’m not complaining about that (especially since it’s going to be Phil Hester writing it). I like longer-form stories as much as anyone and it’s certainly nice to know that the Steward is a real enough character that we can explore his motivations and concerns on a more personal level.

But I’d love to see a third volume of Days Missing that returns to the anthology-like format of self-contained issues. I think there’s a need for that in comics. So I have two questions for you guys.

First, would you also like to see more adventure series where each issue is a self-contained adventure with no over-arcing story? Or is there no room for that in today’s comics?

And second, if you do like the idea, what other series would you recommend that are already doing this? I can think of DC and Marvel’s kids series – which are awesome – but what else am I missing?

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Comments

20 Comments

Michael Bennett

June 30, 2010 at 8:43 pm

I think the first volume of DAYS MISSING was brilliant in idea and execution. I am actually very excited, though, that the second volume will look more at the Steward’s life, but still with individual days as the story. I hope Archaia and Roddenberry can keep the same passion for the project that I know Hester will bring to make it to a third volume!

personally i think anything archaia rocks! anything hester rocks! and i am warming up to the idea that roddenberry rocks! good luck guys on the series!!!

My prediction is that as digital comics find their place in the comics landscape print single issues will become less common. Comic series sales tend to do nothing but drop after the first issue (and raise during crossovers or big promotions) and digital comics have the potential to supply readers demand for long form serials in addition to always having each issue readily available and managing them in a convenient way.

I doubt print comics will ‘die’, but moving more towards anthology/one-shot stories may make them more viable to an audience that isnt necesarily comic into a comic book shop every week (maybe they’re just coming in to get some trades of a series they started in digital format)

Self-contained stories.
You mean like the sort of thing DC and Marvel used to do back in the Silver Age?
Like the sort of thing EVERYONE did in the Golden Age?
Like B-movie series (Sherlock Holmes/Hopaling Cassidy/Dr Kildare, et al) of the 30s-50s?
Like most Western, cop, and medical shows did on tv until the 80s?
What a radical concept!

(And yes, I’m all for it!)

PJ Bickett, Archaia

July 1, 2010 at 4:20 am

Thanks for the great article and kind comments! To address the question about the interest in having more self-contained adventure stories available, I think it is a great idea and really gives readers the chance to take a month off here and there without fear of losing key information.

The data we have reviewed for independent comics actually shows a direct correlation with the decrease in orders with ongoing series due to fans missing one single story of an ongoing series, which they then immediately remove from their pull-list. With more self-contained adventure stories, such as DAYS MISSING, we have not actually seen any significant drop in orders from issue to issue. So, you can expect to see more self-contained stories from Archaia in the future with announcements at SDCC.

I like the concept of The Steward; it’s like the antithesis of all those Horror Show hosts who would snicker at the misery of the people whose stories they narrated. Not to mention that he *actually intervenes*.

And yes, I do think that self-contained stories are perfectly OK. You can always have an arcing plot in the background which eventually gets resolved *in its own complete story* later. That would please everyone- both the casual reader who just picks the one issue, AND the regular audience that wants to feel like all the stories are connected. I recall the old Spider-Man stories being like that most of the time.

I wish Days Missing had more pterodactyls…

The Steward versus dinos? That would be awesome!

archaia is THE best indie publisher! outside of marvel dc and dynamite no one else is creating any original words cause of all the licensed crap. dynamite is the only other publisher trying to do the cool s#$% archaia has already done!!!

Thanks for the kind words, folks. Seeing this article up here everyday reminds me I have writing to do. Day Missing II, full steam ahead!

Actually, I think with digital, the done in ones will make a comeback. Digital makes it easy for newcomers to drop in and drop out, much more so than the direct market. It’s more akin to news-stand distribution, which is biased for occasional readers, which, in turn is biased towards shorter stories.

Jean Teotonio

July 3, 2010 at 10:29 am

Self-contained stories are crap. Why? Because of the length of a single issue. I have been reading comics my whole life. I can sit and read a single issue in like 11 minutes. Why in God’s name would I do this to myself? Wait a whole month (sometimes much more with all the delays) just to pick a single story that entertains me for less than 15 minutes?

I haven’t bought single issue comics in years and I don’t foresee myself going back. Trade collections is the best thing that ever happened to comic books. I can actually sit down and read a good, entertaining solid story for a decent amount of time.

I wish more comic publishers would just adopt the Japanese approach: having a trade paperback sized monthly publication that combines 4 or 5 different single issues i.e. Shonen Jump. And I second that Archaia Press kicks ass. They are original and actually take the time to create amazing stories with each series.

I miss the “one and dones”. So does my wallet. Back in the day, a four part story used to be a big deal. The big summer crossovers were about three different series about three issues each for a total of nine comics. The “written for the trade” format has utterly stunted creativity in comics, trading lean, well written adventures in favor of padded story lines. With “one and dones” I only have to drop about four bucks for a single story, with “written for the trades” I have to drop about twenty+. Is it any wonder people arn’t buying comics as much anymore?

“Self-contained stories are crap. Why? Because of the length of a single issue. I have been reading comics my whole life. I can sit and read a single issue in like 11 minutes. Why in God’s name would I do this to myself? Wait a whole month (sometimes much more with all the delays) just to pick a single story that entertains me for less than 15 minutes?

I haven’t bought single issue comics in years and I don’t foresee myself going back. Trade collections is the best thing that ever happened to comic books. I can actually sit down and read a good, entertaining solid story for a decent amount of time.”

Some people want/like a story they can read in under 15 minutes. And being self contained and done in-one isn’t mutually exclusive with being a good story… I don’t get how the pain of waiting a month is less bearable than waiting the extra months for a story to be collected in trade format. Not to mention the possibility of not knowing if you like something, spending $4 versus $15 or 20 to find out… But its just a matter of personal preference for the most part

I like variety and a good mix of self contained and serialized stories.

I’d also like to join in with the Archaia lovin’ and especially with Days Missing. I found the tagline intriguing and I haven’t been disappointed yet and will order volume 2 as soon as it comes out. As for other one and done Atomic Robo vol.4 consisted of 4 separate stories happening in the same week but with no link to each other.

Personnaly, I will enjoy stand alone issues or storyarcs that are nicely written, original and beautifully drawn. I like having variety

The show that did it first, a planned arc, was B5 by JMS. Since then, a lot of shows have followed suit, but you do still get episodic TV that is more light hearted fun and you can still follow if you miss an episode or two, like Burn Notice, White Collar, Human Target, House, Chuck, etc. All have a larger story arc to some degree, but are not focused on it.

Comics are more difficult because people normally want their money’s worth and most modern comics are quick reads, but exceptions exist like Jonah Hex, Brave and Bold, which are one and done.

I think the lack of done-in-one issueshas a lot to do with why there are so few new readers coming to comics. There needs to be a way for people to “sample” with a minimum of (perceived) risk. Coming into the middle of an arc is confusing story-wise, or even if it isn’t, a consumer is likely to view it that way. A potential buyer might need a few reasons to say “yes” to something new, but they only need a single reason to say “no”. Money is another factor. If I buy part 3 of 6, that means I have to track down and pay for 1 and 2 (hopefully still available) and there are still three more to buy. A well-written comic should still be entertaining if I don’t ever buy the opther parts, but how many potential new readers are going to take the chance?

I hope that makes sense. I’m writing this in northern Minnesota while fending off mosquitos, so my attention is a bit divided. The best done-in-one comic of the last few year was definitely “The Man in the Pit”, by Jason Aaron, Wolverine #56.

You should all be reading JONAH HEX. You are all reading JONAH HEX, aren’t you? Also, Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith’s FELL was one of the greatest comics of the new millennium for its deliberately effective use of storytelling structure. Hell, I can’t remember the last time I’ve gotten that much bang for so little buck.

I think the digital era will INCREASE the amount of done-in-one stories because that’s how a mainstream audience, the casual reader, likes to read comics. The most widely-read comics these days aren’t anything found in the Direct Market, they’re webcomics like XKCD and CYANIDE & HAPPINESS because they appeal to a readership beyond our hopelessly self-contained niche. If comics are to prosper, they will have to grow into this casual readership and grow away from die-hard, continuity-loving, superhero-obsessed fanatics (we’ll call them “nerds”) and the former seems to love their comics simple, easily-read and enjoyed with minimal baggage.

The thing that made the Golden Age what it was was that EVERYBODY read comics. They were just beloved by the general populace. And the reason they were so beloved was because you could pick them up and enjoy them, simply, cheaply, and without any fuss or muss associated with long, overdrawn narratives AND, bonus, they didn’t talk down to you or treat their readership like trash. We need to get back to that point where comics aren’t quite so in-joke heavy and aren’t JUST for an expensive specialty market and aren’t JUST for fanatics.

“Self-contained stories are crap. Why? Because of the length of a single issue. I have been reading comics my whole life. I can sit and read a single issue in like 11 minutes. Why in God’s name would I do this to myself? Wait a whole month (sometimes much more with all the delays) just to pick a single story that entertains me for less than 15 minutes?”

- Jean Teotonio

Will Eisner is rolling over in his grave. Did you really just say that? THE SPIRIT was the greatest American comic ever created and it was only a few pages per story. You are too caught up in the modern age, my friend. Eisner could change the way you look at form and structure, I promise.

GLOBAL FREQUENCY?

Also,

“Self-contained stories are crap. Why? Because of the length of a single issue. I have been reading comics my whole life. I can sit and read a single issue in like 11 minutes. Why in God’s name would I do this to myself? Wait a whole month (sometimes much more with all the delays) just to pick a single story that entertains me for less than 15 minutes?”

How is this any different than buying four-issue story that you can read in less than 60?

One of the things I enjoyed most about the short-lived “Slimline” format (as used in FELL and CASANOVA) is that Ellis and Fraction had the talent and foresight to moderate the weight and density of their storytelling so that their 16-page books seemed much longer.

I love single-issue stories – done in ones and anthologies are the only floppies I buy. (I like form to marry content, so I take longer arcs in trade form). I don’t understand the “longer is better” line of thinking — I get just as much satisfaction, if not more, from a 8-page story or done-in-one than I do from most graphic novels. The same is true in other media; I’m a big fan of the Twilight Zone, literary short stories, etc. You can see more in a glance than you can with an extended gaze. I understand the appeal of continuity, but extended or eternal narratives suffer from the outstretched rubber-band effect. Unless you have a finite storyline (like what Mignola is masterfully doing with the stories and arcs in the Hellboy narrative), overarching dramatic suspense is sacrificed. Remove the threat of mortality and you are telling stories of no real consequence. The Batman Black-and-White stories have a mythic value that the ongoing uber-drama has sacrificed. If there was a self-contained Batman story in every issue of his mags, I’d buy them every month (currently reading the Joker’s Asylum series of done-in-ones). So off the rack for me it’s Jonah Hex (recommended), the previous Spirit series, Conan, whatever done-in-ones or anthologies that hit the shelves, and all those glorious back issues.

“…Ellis and Fraction had the talent and foresight to moderate the weight and density of their storytelling so that their 16-page books seemed much longer.”

- Eric Palicki

Yeah, I completely agree with this. That’s a great way of putting it. A few pages of briskly-paced and weighty story is much more effective and enjoyable to read than 100 pages that are meandering, bland and utterly light-weight.

“I get just as much satisfaction, if not more, from a 8-page story or done-in-one than I do from most graphic novels. The same is true in other media; I’m a big fan of the Twilight Zone, literary short stories, etc. You can see more in a glance than you can with an extended gaze.”

- Joe Yank

Glad to know I’m not the only one who feels this way. The trend definitely seems to indicate that longer and bigger is innately bigger, as if by making something bloated and overwrought, you make it more “epic.” I love the things you just mentioned… and I’d add O. Henry to the list, as well. And I happen to love anthologies, which are such an odd bird in today’s comics market. The BATMAN BLACK AND WHITE books are terrific and I also recommend Image’s anthology books (POPGUN is a cross-genre “mixtape” 24/7 is science fiction with stories featuring robots and robotics and OUTLAW TERRITORY is westerns).

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