Robot 6

Ongoings vs miniseries: Is one better?

30 Days of Night ongoing

I’ve been pretty down on ongoing series for the last few years. I sort of touched on it some months ago when I expressed frustration about ongoing series having to make things up as they go along. It’s hard to tell a satisfying story when you’re not building toward an end. My biggest issue with Marvel and DC’s events over the last few years hasn’t been that they want me to buy a bunch of peripheral comics; it’s that so rarely have I been satisfied at an event’s conclusion. Events don’t end; they just lead to the next in a never-ending series of more events. On a smaller scale, ongoing series are the same way. Unless I’m a completest collector, there’s no reward for reading every issue of The Amazing Spider-Man or any other long-running series. They’re stories without end and many of their parts over time are horrible.

So why do I get a thrill when I hear, for instance, that IDW is turning Star Trek and 30 Days of Night into ongoing series? I love the series-of-mini-series approach that those titles and books like Hellboy have followed for years, so what is it that gets me excited about their becoming open-ended? Part of it is the vote of confidence by the publisher when it commits to an ongoing series. Of course it’s not really a commitment, because even ongoings can be canceled at any time, but it says something that a publisher believes there’s enough life in a character or concept to support a series indefinitely.

More than that though is the statement that there are limitless possibilities with these characters or this world. That’s a thrilling idea, even though not every story is going to be a winner. I prefer the term “mini-series” to “limited series” precisely because even though “limited” doesn’t refer to imagination or scope in that phrase, I instinctively rebel at the thought that stories have limits. It’s a silly thing to get hung up on and of course stories do have limits of various kinds, but I want storytellers to fool me into thinking that they don’t. Ongoing series help to foster that willing deception.

X-Men #110

On the other hand (or back on the first hand, I guess), I completely agree with Tom Spurgeon when he writes about REM breaking up and notes, “One thing that’s interesting to me as a comics fan is a few folks wailing about the band’s demise. I can’t imagine any interpretation of that group’s long run that isn’t a success story. Comics could use more projects with a beginning, middle and an end, and more fans willing to see things draw to a close.”

I’m genuinely torn about this. Whenever I’m faced with two extremes, my default tactic is to figure out where the middle ground is, but I haven’t been able to do that with the tension between ongoings and mini-series. I appreciate the tighter storytelling of mini-series, but I also love the freedom to experiment that ongoings provide. I’m thinking about how Chris Claremont used to do these sprawling, epic stories on X-Men and then follow them up with an issue where the team would just play baseball or something. I wouldn’t have wanted a whole series of those downtime stories, but they were always welcome after a dozen or so issues of heavy drama and I came to love them. You don’t get that kind of thing in a mini-series.

The balance, I think, is in refusing to choose. As much as I’d love to discover that there’s a perfect format, I don’t think there is. I’m happy that there are both and I’d love to see more publishers embrace both formats. Just because there’s a 30 Days of Night ongoing doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t also be 30 Days of Night mini-series at the same time. Or am I wrong about that?

X-Men scan from Gentlemen of Leisure.

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Comments

8 Comments

I completely agree that both are viable to exist at the same time. Batman: Gates of Gotham was one of the best mini-series, in my opinion, in recent years. It also adds to the story while being ‘canon’ but without detracting any from any of the Batman ongoings.

The same could be said for Fables, which has had a few mini-series expanding upon other characters(Cinderella) while the ongoing continues its planned story.

On going series are the best. But i am begging to believe that an on going series told in the Limited series format may be the best way to go.

The problem I have with ongoings is the lack of endings. The characters can only bear so much drama and development before a reader will expect a proper ending. At least thats how I realized I feel after years of X-Men plots that never end.

There are characters that can pull off ongoings: but they are rare and the character can’t change much. Batman can because its about solving crimes (well, its supposed to be), etc.

I need the arc of beginning, middle and end.

At one point I would have voted for ongoing without thinking. I’m pretty sure, however, that I now much prefer mini’s. Or, really, just a contained series with no promise explicit or implied that a follow-up will exist.

I have grown so tired of reading episodic issues of characters being worked on by people who can’t possibly have a huge sense of ownership. The only ongoings I read anymore are Savage Dragon (b/c Erik still does it, and it definitely has a forward momentum with things changing all the time), TMNT, and Daredevil.

I suppose Fables is another ongoing that I read, but the longer its gone on the more weary I’ve grown of it.

My favorite “ongoings” are those were a creator has an ending in mind… DMZ, Proof, Chew… I don’t really care how long the series is going to be, but having an ending is important. Monthly ongoings are less art than they are consumer product in most cases.

I agree with everything you say about complete stories being more satisfying. I prefer minis/maxis/series of minis myself, for the creative pay off.

That said, re: the new IDW books — IDW have played things well, building the audience’s anticipation with quality minis first. These are two young properties too (kind of). I mean, this is the JJ Abrams Star Trek, right, so lots of potential to do new things.

And since IDW don’t own these properties, hopefully they won’t take them for granted either, in the same way as Marvel does with their own characters.

I know what you mean about Claremont’s books. I miss those days when Marvel didn’t write for the trade. Now it’s stories-decompressed-to-death; no thanks.

There’s books which, by their nature, require an ongoing. Archie, for example, or the “Adventures” type books such as Batman: the Brave and the Bold which adapt a TV show. You don’t *want* these books to have an ending, and their nature doesn’t require it. Here’s the next silly thing Archie is getting himself into.

The problem with most superhero titles these days is that they progress from beginning (which, for a lot of these characters, is 50 years ago) to perpetual middle, and the illusion of change which really cycles back to the status quo over 5 or 10 years. Really, how many comic stories are repeats of something we’ve already read? I’m on the fence with the upcoming Incredible Hulk relaunch, given that it deals with a Hulk/Banner split…for the 4th time in continuity. This might be new to somebody, but it’s old to me.

So, yeah, I’d like a series of miniseries for the sake of letting *this* story by *this* author have a definitive beginning, middle, and end. I think that giving the author a definitive wrapup point will avoid the need for ongoing plotlines which, by the way, never really get resolved–and leave you feeling p.o.’d when the book get cancelled and they’re still not answered.

I like miniseries most. At least when considering what issues to buy, I’ll pull the trigger on a miniseries a lot more often than pulling the trigger for ongoings.
I do follow many ongoings and enjoy them immensely. I think ongoings are something that comics provide that books don’t provide as often.

I think you need a balance of both. Some characters are rich enough to support an ongoing series, some are not. I’ve talked about this with a friend, and we decided that there should only be like 10 ongoings at each of the big two, and everything else should be rotating mini series featuring other characters. So like at Marvel, you’d have Avengers, FF, X-Men team ongoings, a Spidey ongoing, a Hulk ongoing, a Cap ongoing, an Iron Man ongoing and a Thor ongoing. Everything else published would be a mini-series that a particular writer has a particular vision for. So if Jeff Parker has a great idea for a 4 issue Hawkeye mini, awesome , he does that, and after 4 issues, it’s done. If he has another idea, he comes back in a few months and does another mini. I think it would help mitigate the flooding of the markets with Bat/X/Avengers books and would lead to more exposure for smaller characters.

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