Robot 6

Brevoort: Traditional numbering is ‘comfort food and nostalgia at best’

daredevil1Although superhero comics fans typically react to series relaunches with howls of derision, there’s little arguing with the sales numbers: Somebody is buying all of those new No. 1 issues. Just ask Tom Brevoort, Marvel’s senior vice president of publishing.

Responding to a loaded question on his Formspring account — “Why is Marvel terrified, no dare I say PETRIFIED, of having a book reach more than 15 issues before getting reset to issue number 1?” –  Brevoort explains, “We’re not terrified, nay PETRIFIED, of any such thing. But neither are we living in the past.”

“The number is there to serve a function, but it has no intrinsic value in and of itself,” he continues. “It’s comfort food and nostalgia at best. On this, we follow what you and your fellow readers do more than what you say. We hear complaints about renumbering every time we do it, but every time we do it it results in higher sales, which is the whole ballgame — so if it were your time and your effort, what would you do?”

In addition, he points out, the No. 1 issues give potential new readers who might otherwise hesitant to start reading an acclaimed series, say, like Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s Daredevil, an easy entry point.

“We are in the business of selling stories. Our operating philosophy is that good, accessible stories will always sell better,” Brevoort concludes. “But we live in the here and now, and we deal with the conditions of the marketplace in which we sell our products. And when it comes to something as irrelevant to the storytelling as the number that happens to be on the cover, we’re going to do whatever the marketplace tells us gives us the best chance to get that material into as many hands as possible.”

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As a Marvel die-hard since the 70′s – and a comic creator myself in recent years – I’ve never cared about issue numbers. Tell good stories. That’s what matters. Honestly, in the modern marketplace, it makes more sense to number issues through a cohesive storyline or through a particular creative team’s run, then start over when the title’s direction changes. More clearly delineates jumping-on points and story start-/end-points. Lots of examples of this, but Remender’s Uncanny X-Force run is a good example. You pick up that run, and it’s his story from start to finish – one epic tale, uninterrupted. The next Uncanny X-Force series, with different numbering, is Sam Humphries’. Makes sense to me.

Brevoort makes total sense.

I personally rather have it TPB friendly by storyline. In fact I do not have an issue (get it?) with them renumbering for every arc. Years ago I thought of them starting at #1 every year.

Well, he’s not wrong…

No other form of media numbers the way comic books do. Look, I’m the kind of person who visits CBR multiple times per day. I read a lot of articles. I like comics. I read comics. And the fact of the matter is, I don’t read the Waid/Samnee Daredevil. And a huge part of that reason is that I didn’t really consider it until issue 15. But of course by then, I felt very “behind.” I didn’t end up getting it. Honestly, I might start buying the relaunch, even though it’s more expensive, just because I can start from the “beginning.” I know there are logical flaws to that thinking; it doesn’t change my gut reaction, though, and I suspect that’s a reaction not uncommon among consumers.

Anything that keeps Waid & Samnee’s Daredevil going is a good thing.

Sooooo… let’s see: ridicule DC for restarting their line with all new #1s. See that it increases sales for the publisher and for comics in general. Do your own reboot of #1 titles but not across the board and say that it has nothing to do with DC’s decision. Then do a reboot again a second time and tell people they are only doing what readers’ demand and anything else is living in the past.

The PT Barnum of comics, folks.

Oh, comics industry. You are adorable.

I think the idea of restarting each storyline with a #1 makes perfect sense. Every book would feel like an event book, tie-ins would likely be less of a hassle, crossovers could be handled as series, and made to feel like an epic thing, and collectors wouldn’t have to pick up issues of a series they don’t normally buy. Stories are being written for the trade treatment for the most part any ways, so why not?

The only times the constant re-numbering annoys me is when I’m getting into something well after it was published and am trying to track down back issues. Then it’s confusing as hell, and I think of how nice it would be if the original numbering was just left intact.

Theodore Aloysius

December 17, 2013 at 12:07 pm

What about comic books isn’t “nostalgia and comfort food”? I go to a specialty store to buy a monthly magazine that isn’t sold on magazine racks. It publishes stories about characters that were created 50-75 years ago.

If Brevoort says it’s a decision based on making money, fine. But to criticize comic fans for being nostalgic seems ironic and/or jerky.

Why continue to number at all? If numbering were phased out at the start of next year, let’s say–would anyone panic?

I think now that comic companies are constantly going back to #1′s every year or so they should just do “seasons” instead like TV. You could have a season of, say, X-Men that lasts for 24 issues and with that you could have arcs within that season and also standalone stories and if you want end the season with a cliffhanger. This way no one can complain (maybe). Than studios will be less inclined to really mess with the numbering system by saying that “hey issue 750 would be coming up in so-and-so book if we didn’t screw with the numbering in the first place so lets go back to that number to sell more books.”

I used to get pretty upset about the renumbering thing, but I have slowly let go of that anger over the past couple of years.

For one, Brevoort is totally right: Marvel is just catering to what the majority of fans show they want with their dollars. The company simply isn’t going to turn away money, even if it does come from speculators and dabblers who won’t actually stick with the title. Philosophically I’m more purist than that, and would like to think better of my fellow comics fans, but I have been proven wrong on that repeatedly (renumbering, $7.99 anniversary issues, nonsensical event books, the New 52).

For another, I like the “seasons” approach. I’m a linear thinker and a completist, so the periodic resets free me up from sticking with a book longer than I am actually enjoying it, or from seeking out subpar back issues.

That said, the “only good stories matter” argument doesn’t work for me, because it could just as well be used to justify the continuation of the numbering.

@Theodore

You’re exactly right, though Brevoort has never been known for his tact or self-awareness.

It’s not necessarily WHAT Brevoort says. so much as the way that he says it.

Oh yes, we comic buyers will flock to new #1s all day long…UNLESS you call it a limited series! Then we stay away in droves! That’s the paradox! We insist that only our ONGOING series be restarted and renumbered, and are happy to let those series that are supposed to end pass us by. It’s our little bit of revenge and keeps publishers from truly figuring us out. Mercifully, the only ones who get hurt are Venom, Nova and Aquaman.

Well, yeah if it results in higher sales figures what harm could it possibly do in the long run? (asks every tin foil cover, shrink wrapped event comic launch of the 90s)

If publishers are going to do this, would I WOULD like to see is to not have the same titles directly recycled. That’s what adds to the confusion. Add a subtitle or tweak the naming a bit (AMAZING SPIDER-MAN to SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN or INCREDIBLE HULK to INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK are perfect examples) so that it looks more like different volumes/maxi-series involved each year or so. It would make tracking down trades that much easier too!

@ Stephen

My thoughts exactly. Not long ago I was trying to read the Hulk commencing from the Loeb reboot all the way through to the current Red Hulk featuring Machine Man. It was a logistical nightmare trying to figure out the order of the trades across two titles and tie-in limited series. I worked out the order, but if you’re forced to use Wikipedia to do it something is seriously wrong. I’m currently trying the same thing with Daredevil and Moon Knight and have had to go back to wikipedia because of Marvel’s confusing manner of ordering their trades.

I like sequential numbering for two reasons: accessibility (knowing where to start reading) as well as being able to read a character’s adventures from the start to current to see character growth etc (Luke Cage for example, was a character i was interested in reading throughout his reboot in New Avengers. Again, thank god for Wikipedia.) Having a sequential numbering system is a good idea, and i prefer it continuing and not rebooting every 18 months. It makes life easier.

I was quite happy when they used to have the old numbering system next to the new number as well. However Marvel and DC have pretty much f@cked readers around so much over the last 15 years with reboots and relaunches a sequential numbering system for collectors is irrelevant. It makes sense for a book like Walking Dead and Savage Dragon in which the creator WANTS to create a long sequential character arc, but not so much for corporate owned characters that are completely seen as products designed to sell over the short term.

Breevort always reminds me why I stopped paying for his comics.

I agree with Freebird. I have no objection to the renumbering of series, treating them like TV series. That makes perfect sense to me. But there DOES come a sense of confusion when you’ve got multiple volumes and a bunch of similar issue numbers. Especially if people are trying to hunt down back issues, or buy digital versions online (I’ve heard some horror stories about improperly filed runs on Comixology). By giving the series even slightly different names it might help to avoid further confusion. Instead of having two Daredevil No. 1s within the past, like, three years.

For casual readers, its a nightmare.

It makes sense but I see a restart as more of a jumping off point than a jumping on point. I used to stick with a series I wasn’t enjoying much, waiting for it to improve, to maintain my run of issues. Now I can bail and not feel like I’m missing out on anything.

Oh please. Just number everything “#1″, and then you’ll solve everything. So Brevoort and Marvel, instead of taking a leadership role and NOT catering to every stupid new person’s “need” to be able to “hop on” at a convenient point, is just caving and ejecting all of comics’ history before him.

Sweet.

There’s a reason that Amazing Spiderman #121 means something. When it’s “what is this, volume 17 #3, or Mar 2014 issue, or…?” there will be no continuity, and therefore no one will care.

And you will have successfully cannibalized the market into obliteration.

HELLO DIGITAL!

:eyeroll:

Your in the issue of selling stories? I would rather you be in the issue of TELLING stories. Cheers Marvel!

If you tell good, quality stories, numbering is irrelevant. With that in mind, why focus on renumbering the series at every opportunity? It could be Daredevil #594 (making that number up) as opposed to Daredevil 2013 # 15 and, if it is good, then what number it uses to denote sequence is meaningless.

He alludes to renumbering as spiking sales whenever they do it. That is almost the same mentality as in the 90′s with the variant covers and other gimmicks which, while interesting, were just masking for not necessarily impressive storytelling. It also hints to his attitude towards the readers: If we do this basically cosmetic change periodically, they will buy it. The story can be great (like Waid’s is) or not, but quality be damned, they will buy it.

For fandom’s part, many of us apparently have a lemming mentality for buying into it.

Although I can’t stand the renumber of comics because it gets confusing quickly, especially when you are looking for comics with a similar title or you are trying to buy back issues, I just want to add my food for thought.

Though I completely understand that the sales of issue 1 are probably larger than that of issue 25, I wonder if Marvel or DC advertised the new arcs/creative team would sales would increase. I don’t have numbers in front of me, nor do I work in the industry, but I have a solid hunch that high digital sales are the reason for the constant renumbering of the titles.

Though I dislike the renumbering and I think there may be a better way to follow the series and the arc then renumbering (make everything a “maxi series” or something), I think it looks silly that Marvel has the 3 digit numbering when they obviously do not “want” to number the series for that long! This is my light hearted criticism.

I truly, deeply, somewhat even irrationally, love when someone who has to make these decisions day-in and day-out and has done so for years and years goes ahead and tells a self-important, vocal minority, armchair publisher fan how the real world works.

I heart Brevoort.

I laughed cause it sounds very similar to the answer I got from a DC editor at SDCC 2013 when I asked when “The New 52″ was going to stop being New and just be the DCU?

He responded that books that have the “The New 52″ title on the cover sell better than the books that don’t, and up until that stops happening, expect to see it on the covers of the books.

When did Marvel start printing “good, accessible stories “?

And Brevoort sounds like a real smug, pompous ass.

Monthlies are now just feeders for the inevitable TPB, where the numbering doesn’t matter. Think about it: if you wanted to collect every issue of the Nu52 Batman, then yes, you’d probably want to have each issue in order from #1 onward in your longbox. (#0 you’d have to figure out for yourself if you’d want in front of #0, or between #12 and #13 where it was published.) But if you collect the trades, the numbering is irrelevant. You’d collect Snyder’s first three trades, but you’d probably put “Year Zero” before them because chronologically they come first.

A few years ago, I went on a stint where I wanted to collect every Incredible Hulk trade ever published. I made some pretty good headway, until I realized that some of them were terrible and I really had no need for them in my collection. I just wanted the stuff I enjoyed, not every filler issue. To that extent, I’m not really heartbroken if I’m missing, say, the collected issues of John Byrne’s Hulk #1-11, because they weren’t very good in my mind.

i guess nobody cares about back issue collecting which some of us still do.

I have picked up the wrong issue in the past because i didn’t notice the difference between volumes 4 and 5 because it was only a year apart.

it is a huge pain for tha texact scenario.

Aw, hell, just slap a big #1 on every single comic book and be done with it.

A couple of comments:

1. How do new readers go about collecting back issues 5 years from now if each series has restarted several different times? If the reader goes to a comic shop or a convention asking for Wolverine #3, he’s basically going to get laughed at because there are multiple Wolverine series that have that issue number.

2, What about current readers who happened to miss an issue? Again, tracking down that issue isn’t going to be especially easy.

3. I agree with an earlier post about certain issues having special importance (ie, Spider-Man 121, Fantastic Four 48, X-Men 137, Daredevil 181, etc). That’s totally lost when each comic series is re-numbered at the drop of a hat. (Of course, it needs to be said that there really aren’t that many special individual issues any more – it’s all about the story arc spread out over 6 – 25 issues and even those arcs aren’t particularly relevant over the long term because the stories are ignored when a new creative team comes on board).

4. Continuity is damaged because it’s becoming impossible to refer back to past issues when they all have the same numbers. Remember the little yellow boxes that would occasionally appear in a comic that directed readers to a specific issue number from the past to help inform readers about what happened to a character? Well, that’s basically an impossibility now when there are multiple issue #3s for a character.

5. I don’t understand why titles with high issue numbers scare off readers. We have virtually a 60 year history of long-running titles with an occasional restart here and there and sales that were better than what they are now. (Of course, in the past, readers could pick up one issue of a series casually and get a beginning, middle, and an end – or at least a good chunk of story if the story was continued for another issue). I would submit that it’s the drawn out nature of story-telling, the high cost of issues, and the fact that none of the stories matter now because they will be ignored by the next creative team that starts with a new #1 that’s causing harm to the comics industry, not a long-running title.

6. The new restarts might generate sales now, but so did the special covers 20 years ago and we all know where that ended up. I don’t think it’s particularly a big deal when a new creative team takes over a series as this has happened throughout the history of comics, but I do think the process of restarting issue numbers and touting great jumping on points isn’t going to help comics in the long run. I’m sure Marvel is just looking for short term sales, and that’s fine, but I feel that there will eventually be a swing back towards acknowledging the history of the various characters rather than this sense of restarting everything after short periods of time. There’s only so many times that readers are going to want to see the FF fight Dr. Doom, without any reference to the shared history that the characters have or any sense that the story means anything because it will be ignored when a new jumping on point occurs and a new writer gets to tell the Dr. Doom story he’s been waiting to tell.

Don’t mean to sound too gurmpy as I still buy and enjoy quite a few new comics but I just feel there’s a better way to grow the comic book audience than by constantly restarting comics for no reason just because a company is looking to stimulate short term sales. This stimulative effect will dry up someday and it will hurt comic book collectors in the future who are trying to read more about the characters they are interested in.

I have never had a problem with renumbering , but why not have the volume number? Also when looking for Daredevil by Mark Waid how will a new reader know which #1 to get since Mark has 2 volumes of it? Regardless I am one of those who don’t like the way Marvel is going with the renumbering and every time they have done that to my favorite title I usually drop it from my pull list and make room for something from DC or Image and I have to say Thank you at least because that way I have fallen in Love with Wonder Woman , Saga , God is Dead , Black Science , M.Project and Animal Man.

I think there’s a general misconception here; gimmicky covers never did sell a lot, and were cause for a lot of losses that Marvel suffered at the time. It was Marvel execs at the time trying to make a quick buck, and failing miserably at it. But throughout bankruptcy, Marvel retained it’s market share, despite destroying the whole industry(through other, non-tinoil shenanigans). Which brings me back to my second point; good stories do not matter, good branding does. Renumbering is just a way to refresh their brand, so that’s why they do.

They’re going to start worrying about sales now? And they’re starting with something inconsequential that only creates quick spikes instead of driving long-term sales? Used to be, they never renumbered and the weakest books outsold today’s best sellers. If they want to increase sales they might want to work on all-age accessibility, shorter stories that can be read in one to three issues, put them back on the stands of every corner store, and get prices down to where they’re not cost-prohibitive to parents making an impulse decision when their kid brings it up to them in the checkout line at the supermarket.

There is a factor I haven’t seen addressed and that is the retailer aspect. Brevoort mentions that we, the fans, make the renumbering financially feasible. Given that the retailers are the ones ordering them (based on some pre-orders and also speculation) then we can assume that these new #1′s are not always the success stories that Marvel wants to pretend they are. It would seem more honest to compare the sales of, say, #3′s and 4′s. Unless these numbers show a statistical increase then the new #1 really is just a gimmick and one that will soon back-fire in Marvel’s face.

When the internet oral minority stops buying the number ones and driving sales I’ll believe that it really bothers them at all. As it is, sales numbers show that most of these vocal ranters are hypocrites at best and liars at worst…

10 years ago I used to collect 40-50 different titles, but with the shut-down of a couple of publishers, and different books stopping and restarting I’ve clipped off nearly fifty titles in that time.
One of the easiest ways to quit a title is it restarting, and I’ve only stayed with 3 ‘titles’ in that time 1 restart in Batman, multiple restarts for Captain America and one full re-imagining JSA became Earth2.
If I want something now I’ll sample a issue digitally, and then wait it out for a trade, making me a ‘no more floppy reader’ except for my core books.

Brevoort’s attitude is one of the reasons why I no longer buy modern comics.

Yes Tom, then at what point is EVERY issue a #1?

I actually expected Marvel to move in a new numbering direction 7 or 8 years ago. They’re just getting there a little more slowly than I thought they would.

I predicted they will move to a 12 issue cycle. Those 12 issues will all be published under the same story arc title. Once those 12 conclude, they relaunch with a new #1 and a new arc title. These 12 issues then get broken up in two trade paperback volumes with a Vol 1 and Vol 2. Repeat. That is the method that would best serve the New Reader Curiosity as well as the Addicted Reader mentality. There is always a jumping on point, and there is always compulsion to buy more.

They’re almost on a 24 issue cycle with some of the books at the moment. So, it’ll happen.

Do the new #1′s lead to sustained sales after they relaunch? Based on sales charts, it’s usually “No”.

He has a point. However, I don’t think they should be able to have their cake and eat it. They renumber at #1 to get a sales boost, but if they can argue that the next issue would have been #600 had they not renumbered, they’ll re-renumber for another boost. It’s as cynical as any foil covers of the 90s.

Besides, I don’t think nostalgia is bad in and of itself. Personally, I think there’s something special about Action Comics or Journey into Mystery making it to 1000 numbered issues.

In addition, as others have noted, consecutive numbering helps people keep track of continuity and landmark issues, not that I’m personally that bothered with those things these days.

Logic and a few facts seem to be missing from quite a few of you folks commenting.

Let me paraphrase: “Brevoort knows what he’s talking about, and those sales spikes with a new #1 don’t lie!”

Perhaps.

But what you, and he, and Marvel and DC, are completely failing to consider is the other side of that argument. You know….#7? #10? #13? #26? (God forbid a series actually lasts for TWENTY SIX WHOLE ISSUES!)

Because with the spike in #1s, the FALLOFF of #2-up also occurs. And with each new #1, more and more people will no longer feel they have to stay invested in a title, seeing it THROUGH the “rough, not-so-good” spots, like the vast majority of buyers used to do in the past. So, sales for issue #11 become far, far lower than what they would have been if it was issue #411, because no one cares. They don’t have to.

Rinse, lather, repeat repeat repeat. And now we have print runs in the low 10s of thousands for SUPERHERO books, a thing unheard of throughout ALL of comics publishing until the last years of the 20th century, on into the 21st.

Do many of you understand why people get into comics in the first place? Because they want to be part of history, because they want to see “what all the fuss is about.” This is true whether you’re 6 or 60. Curiosity, and a desire to be part of something bigger than yourself (vocalized, realized, or not) is what drives interest in much of pop culture. It speaks to you, in whatever way, because it is bigger than just you. It is pop CULTURE. That word “culture” speaks to its ubiquity: it is part of the fabric that makes up our society.

If I were Marvel, and I decided to make a character who was very large, very strong, green, and seemed to have a lot of anger control issues, and said to the world “Here’s Spiderman!” you all would say, and rightfully so, “hey, that’s not Spiderman! That’s the Hulk!” And Marvel would say, “No, WE decide what Spiderman is, and THIS is Spiderman, and if you don’t like it, go elsewhere.”

And that is what Marvel and DC ARE doing, to a less obvious degree.

The FAMILIAR…”nostalgia”…continuity is what drives real sales, long term sales. When a person USED to pick up a long numbered book with which they were unfamiliar, they didn’t sit down and cry and wail because “Oh my God, I have to read ALL the rest of these to understand this story in my hands???”

No. Almost invariably, the numbering would inspire people to say “whoa…you mean, there are HUNDREDS of other issues of this character that I am discovering and enjoying? How can I read THOSE, too?”

And that is not just what drives back issue sales…it drives REPRINT sales.

With a new #1, there’s nothing even implying any sort of continuity, so a reader unfamiliar with the character could very easily enjoy that one issue, then move on…having no idea that there was anything else to enjoy (trust me…that may sound weird to you diehards out there, but my MOM was surprised that they still published comic books at ALL…and she’s not alone.) This is happening with Walking Dead right now! People are complaining about the book’s lower quality, noticeably so, but they’re sticking with it because it’s on issue #116…instead of #16.

So, rock on DC and Marvel! Enjoy your “spikes”…eventually you will have spiked yourself into oblivion.

Big congrats Timber72, my thought exactly, well… much deeper infact.
I would add that while there’s probably no turning back from this relaunch hysteria, ther is also no guarantee at all that sales will increase or remain constantly higher, rather there could well be a counter effect on the medium/long term, possibly when superheroes’ movies won’t be this popular anymore (I can’t see the time honestly) as it happened in the past, it’s all cyclic after all. When and if this will happen, die-hard comics fans will be the core suppliers of the whole system once again, and Brevoort and co. might well be very busy in calculating the exact Vol.1 number for each series to ‘relanuch’ it…

I tried to express what Timber2 did earlier in this thread, but not as well. But, yes, what he said! I hope the professional comics business folk read some of these threads because they are expressing some valid concerns. The short-term stimulus of a new #1 isn’t going to matter if demand continues to fall with subsequent issues and if the comic companies are creating situations where it gets easier and easier to drop titles…

Why would Marvel care about back issue sales? They don’t sell back issues. Retailers and individual collectors do. They can make money off of old comics, but it’s not on an issue by issue basis, but by putting the comics into collections that are either named, or marketed by the writer or artist of the run.

Brevoort isn’t just wrong – he’s demonstrably wrong. I’ve been reading comics for 25+ years now, and I no longer know or care about what’s going on in the Marvel Universe, primarily because of “stunt renumbering.”

Do people honestly expect us to believe that a book that starts at #1, is cancelled in the 300s, is given a new first issue, reverts to its original numbering with #500, is cancelled again, restarted at #1 again for two and a half years, only to be cancelled and restarted YET AGAIN is “reader-friendly?” The very idea is laughable on its face. This is the definition of off-putting and hard-to-follow. Throw in a number of .1 and 0 issues, and things only become more confusing. It might be a different story if continuity weren’t being maintained between all of these various incarnations of DD, but it is.

And this is one case study.

I have absolutely no idea what’s going on with the Avengers books, and I have no idea where I’d start reading if I were to suddenly become interested in following them.

Fortunately, that ain’t gonna happen. Make mine anything but Marvel and DC, thanks.

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