How To Sell Anything ONCE

 

I followed one of the insty’s links called something like “How to sell comics in the twenty first century,” and found myself wrinkling my eyebrow in confusion (one of the reasons I’m developing the WTF [yes, winning the future] wrinkles on my forehead.)

I’m not going to dispute Glenn’s ideas that the comic book reader has changed.  This is by and large true, partly, I think, because more adults are not literate enough to enjoy a story without the support of pictures.  No, I’m NOT casting aspersions on all comic book readers.  I read them myself – it’s a mood thing – but it used to be considered déclassé past a certain age. Then whole word reading came in (that far back, yes) and people found it easier to “guess the right word” with the support of pictures.  So THAT barrier was broken as more adults never “graduated” past comics and therefore comics had to develop more adult themes and ideas and more complex plots.  Which in turn made them more palatable to MORE adults, including those who read other stuff.  Now comic book readers are likely to be voracious readers of other stuff as well, and usually twenties or older.

At least this is my view of how it came about, though I’ll concede it’s entirely possible it has to do with us becoming more visually wired due to visual entertainment from an early age and/or with fewer kids reading comics at one point – due to more entertainment available – and the creators moving to more adult stuff.

In itself, this is a good thing.  Story is story, and any way it’s delivered it’s a good thing for us story-creators.  And there is no inherent reason WHY comics should equal childhood.  It was just a cultural thing, once upon a time.

So, I’m not going to dispute that the average comic book reader has aged and therefore is more likely to wish to read serious themes and titillating ones, like sex.

But when I followed the article – I confess to curiosity – I found that this was not actually what they were talking about.

What they were talking about was “Shock value.”  I.e. they insisted that you know, sex sells – not in the sense of having sexual plots, but in the sense that revealing a long-running character is gay will sell out that issue.  Race sells they say, because people are more racially aware or whatever.  But what they actually mean is that rebooting a character (or bringing an alternate universe one in) with difference race will sell out the issue.  And – this was the giveaway – death sells.  Kill a major character, and you’ll sell out the issue.

(Sarah gives her world weary sigh.)  They take each of these in isolation and THINK people are mostly interested in sex, death and… race?  Okay, I could buy sex and death, as eternal themes, but no human being in the United States in the twenty first century, who is not a raving lunatic, wants to read about race for entertainment.

They might want to buy the race issue to show they’re enlightened, they might want to be seen reading it, but my guess is they actually buy it for collecting.

The same with the death issues – which as I said is the giveaway since it doesn’t have the politically-correct charge of the other two – because the death is… a death and not really in general an examination of the metaphysics or human ways of dealing with death, the ONLY reason people would buy it would be… collectors.

So, what problem do I have with this?  It sells out the issue, right?

Yes, indeed.  And I’m going to tell you the problem I have with it – it is that the publishers are drawing the exactly wrong conclusions from it, and also that continuing to do this does in fact slowly diminish their REGULAR audience.

They think that “hip people want us to bring in more racially diverse characters” that by itself might be true, though probably better with new characters, guys. “and characters of different orientations” also probably true with new characters TO AN EXTENT, and they want us to kill off more long running characters.  So, we’ll do that more.

Because apparently comic book publishers, like other book publishers have zero concept of market research and of core audience versus sporadic audience.  They’re looking in other words, at unscrubbed numbers.  In unscrubbed numbers these “shock issues” sell everything else under the table.  So they do more of them.

I ran the article by younger son, who, being intensely visual, used to be a bit of a comic fiend.  I got rolled eyes and “Yes, they’ve done this so much I no longer buy any of the long running series – they take so much retconning to bring stuff in line.”

Younger son is what you could call a long-term comic reader.  Before they – apparently – disgusted him by creating so many timelines and alternate selves no one can develop an interest (they’re just going to do something else/undo it, he says.  There is no emotional connection) he used to spend all his spare money at the comic bookstore.  They could count on him to buy x amount of comics a month.

I bet there is a core readership like him per comic book series.  (I used to love Superman, but that was long ago and in another country.)

Of course that readership is not as massive as the number of collectors and not-comic-readers who’ll come out and get a “breaking! Spider man latino-black” issue to “save for the grandkids.”

But it is a steady readership and one, moreover, likely to pass the bug to their kids and grandkids.

The alternate sales format is these “shock” issues that destroy line continuity and make the core readership wander off.

So that comic article should have been entitled “How to sell anything, once.”

The problem I have with it is the same problem I have with the publisher’s sales model.  They too tend to go after the big-big thing.  With print-no pictures publishers most of their publications not being episodic – comics are – it’s not so much a matter of “shock, violating probability” as a matter of pushing something they DECIDE should sell until it’s everywhere.

An example would be The DaVinci code.  Yeah, they could sell it massively and sell all his previous books to an extent, but it palled quickly (partly because of the clone bandwagon thing – which comics are inclined to, also “more gender issues!”  “More race!”) because well…  It’s just one thing, and it brought in – because of the massive publicity – people who normally don’t read for entertainment and in fact, probably, never read those books, just bought them because everyone was talking about them.

Twilight is a little different as, as I’ve said before, the author seems to have a direct line into “sickish” pre-adolescent teen-girl fantasies.  Ditto with Harry Potter, which – for other reasons – stood on its own, though I suspect there the numbers were also inflated through massive publicity and its being a YA book.  I mean, we discovered them while they were still England-only and ordered from overseas, but my kids eventually had a copy in each format, plus a box set, courtesy of relatives shopping for xmas/birthdays and going “oh, look, they like to read, and this book is everywhere.”  I’d bet there were on average three copies sold per kid under 15.

It is this lack of distinction between core-audience and occasional-mega-seller-audience that is killing publishing.  They think they should capture that occasional audience every time.  It can’t happen and the pursuit of it has destroyed things that used to be normal, like the slow-build mid-list career.  Now you either are selected for greatness, or you get fired, as far as most publishing houses are concerned.

And as with comics, what it’s doing is causing a slow down-trend in baseline sales.  In science fiction I HEAR a print run of 70k used to get you fired.  Now 7k is not bad and will keep you working (even if not at spectacular advances.)

In comics, I understand that descent has been much, much faster (I think because it’s an episodic medium so continuity violations are both more profitable “I have to get the one where superman dies” and more disruptive when you keep doing them.)  It still outsells print – I think – but I’ve heard grumbles from all my comic-writing friends that “it’s not what it was ten years ago.”

This is not because sex or death have stopped selling (and thoughtful treatments with non-continuity characters might do very well indeed with the core audience) or that race and gender don’t sell – again, in the right place, those could do very well.

The problem is the short-sighted pursuit of gimmicks at the expense of long-term audience building.  The result is always predictable.  And, apparently, always a surprise.

Perhaps if the core audience for comics/genre fiction was PUBLISHERS these gimmicks would keep succeeding.  At least doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result seems to be how they function.

And this is why, ultimately, indie and houses that act like indie (in the sense of cultivating the long audience instead of the gimmick) like, say, Baen will eat big publishers’ lunch.  They don’t have the resources, they don’t have the money for massive publicity that will put a book in every person’s hands across the land.  G-d knows they can slip up (both indies and houses that act like indie) on production or proofing.  It’s part of doing more with less.

BUT they’re cultivating readers and are in touch with readers, not with non-readers who want a quick rush.

In the era of the long tail, ironically, big publishers are going for the “big, big hit” that even non-readers’ buy.  And are missing out on the “million steady sellers that build an audience for other like books and which, in aggregate, make a boatload of money.”

What can’t go on, won’t.  And outdated business models will get replaced by more efficient, nimbler ones.

The future is ours.

58 responses to “How To Sell Anything ONCE

  1. Tintin, Asterix. Otehr than those, comic books suck.

    • Lucky Luke. Sandman.

      Mostly, like any literature, they are an acquired taste.

      • Yes. I only mentioned the “breaking of age barrier” as a guess — but if you read them as a kid, you might find yourself stealing your kids’ comic books. Not that — ahem — I ever did that… “you really buy these for you,” quoth younger spawn often.

        • The age barrier issue is important. Not as a standard of literacy matter but as a getting laid matter — after a certain age the onus on being seen buying “that crap” reduces the pool of available sexual partners. The fact that any given Carl Barks duck book contains more literary merit than the entire oeuvre of John Irving is wholly irrelevant.

          The fact that most comics artists have no apparent understanding of the female body (correction: of the bodies of actual human females) exacerbates the matter. Idealization of the human form is one thing, sending a character out to fight villains on city streets while wearing fishnet stockings and 5″-heels is ridiculous.

        • Dorothy Grant

          I’d also hazard the rising of “geek as a subculture” has a fair amount to do with it, too. Once upon a time, no matter how quickly you could do logs on a slide rule, or what books you got on a trip to the city, you probably put forth an effort to be a normal neighbor. Now that people are encouraged to group forth in sarcastic black t-shirts and festoon their cubicles with plushie stuffed representations of e. coli and the black death, listen to odd music and put a decepticon or autobot sticker on your rear window (and still make a living as an adult while raising a family), the “things only geeks like past childhood” are being pushed commercially on for “adult” tastes.

          Gaiman’s Sandman arguably predates this trend. (He started the series in ’89. Google didn’t make waves until nine years later, in ’98, and the Matrix was glorifying geek in ’99 during the dot com bubble – that’s when I was first aware of the “geek as cool” trend, but I don’t know when it really started.) The first Xmen movie came out in 2000, right as lots of geeks were flush with cash from the Y2K switchover, and the dot com bubble lent an aura of nouveau riche subculture to the whole thing.

      • I read Sandman (Gaiman’s creation) after I read Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens. They were pretty good. I still like to make my own pretty pictures in my head though–

  2. The problem with comics was publishers (and stores) pursuing the speculator dollar. Howard the Duck, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the “death of Superman” were the most notable culprits, although the Todd McFarlane pre-bagged Spiderman #1 was the apotheosis of the trend — a comic nobody could actually read without destroying its “value” as a mint condition relic.

    Comics, an industry in decline, had learned to goose sales with stunts, exploiting the anal-retentive obsessive-compulsive proclivities of its readership with stunts appealing to their wildest dreams of avarice, creating momentary spikes in demand. Unfortunately, like all binges, these had disastrous consequences.

    Sarah has identified one of those consequences: alienation of core audience. Fans who had invested in a character or book came to feel abused by publishers who (quite reasonably) saw that character/series as merely an asset to mine. Writers and artists, eager to build a rep as edgy were happy to invert a character — it was easier than character development.

    Another consequence, especially of the TMNT craze, was that comic shops choked on inventory. They were buying multiple copies of books released by “independent” publishers, sight unseen, for fear of missing the next “hot” comic. Unfortunately, most of the books they bought were amateurish and ended up in the shop’s backstock, tying up capital that should have been available for financing operations.

    By pursuing such stunt issues the comics industry accelerated its decline, alienating rather than building its core audience while weakening its delivery system. Geeze, where else has something like that happened?

  3. Scrambles to write a novella about a likeable transgender black Jew in a wheelchair, and then knock him/her off. Now who will illustrate this, hmm?

    • Better make him/her Palestinian — Jewish MCs don’t sell well in the overseas markets. In fact, make him/her a Palestinian Muslim and the villains can be Jews in Nazi-like uniforms (edgy and ironic and PC sells.)

    • Should probably be good looking. If man, muscled like a bodybuilder, wheelchair or no wheelchair. If woman, willowy with huge cup size. And wheelchair bound can’t move much – okay, maybe there is magic which allows him/her to become the flying superhero during certain conditions. Or the comic book equivalent of science will allow her/him to be running around the roofs at night.

      And yes, definitely either a Muslim or at least from a Muslim family. An atheist who is from a devout Muslim family might work. More conflict. Maybe a woman. And when she is found dead the police suspect a honor killing, but of course the real culprit is the (white, rich, WASP?/or maybe Jew) supervillain.

      Oh yes, definitely has possibilities…

      Heh. My problem with comics wasn’t only the shock value changes, it was that otherwise most of them seemed very firmly stuck to the formula – kill a character and replace him with somebody else, but that somebody else would seem to have the exact same problems and trials as the former version. So I’d lose the comfort value of knowing what I would be getting if I bought something – a familiar hero going through familiar story lines – but without getting anything really new. Besides, I don’t much like unending angst which seemed to become part of the formula at some point (except for the ones which are supposed to be comedy or at least comedic). So I haven’t bought any in about two decades. Used to buy quite a lot.

  4. The movie industry has fallen prey to the same problem. Prior to Jaws, Star Wars and Indiana Jones (basically, before Spielberg & Lucas) filmmakers were content to spend $2M making a movie and earn $10M exhibiting it (ROI of 5X ain’t bad.) In the Seventies they started chasing blockbusters, which isn’t a bad strategy when you’re talking about spending $5M on a movie in hopes of earning $150M, but is insane when you’re spending $150M in hopes of earning $250M!

    But it turned theatres into havens for teenagers happy to watch the same movie multiple times and drove out adults who valued story-telling and character over spectacle.

    Of course, when a producer spends $1M blowing something up he can see the results on screen; few producers can tell the difference in value between a script costing $5,000 and one costing $50,000 … and besides, the director and stars will completely rewrite it by the time production closes anyway.

    • And then the Japanese made a gekiga of _JAWS_ — and managed to make it even bloodier and gorier….

      The modern version of this is the “unrated DVD” version of a flick; it has its run as a PG13 flick so the kiddiewinkies can get in; then the hard-R/NC17 version comes out so they can watch it at home, safe from prying MPAA raters.

  5. I’ve had two alpha readers suggest that my MC’s stories would work well as graphic novels. But since I still have not bumped her off, she’s not going to develop an interest in other than humanoid males, and she’s not human so she has no race to change, it sounds like I’m stuck. ;)

  6. Nothing loses me faster than a movie or TV series that kills a character in a spectacular, moving way … and brings him back to life. I loved Wrath of Khan, hated Search for Spock and never watched anthing to do with Star Trek again. And I watched the whole original series in the 60s. Ditto Spike, I kept watching Buffy, but I refused to watch the Angel series after I found out Spike would be ressurected there.

    • Bringing people back from the dead is always tricky. The best ones are those that are most mystical about it.

      Marvel in the “Lost Gods” sequence (that replaced Thor while they tried the reboot) killed off Red Norvell in the opening comic. Then, the lost gods head into the land of the dead, where Red is set against them by their enemy. They grab him and haul him back to the land of the living. A perfectly reasonable reason.

    • Buffy died three times, seasons one, three and five.

      • Being “dead” until Comic Relief Guy does CPR isn’t spectacular, although it was pretty moving.
        The “here’s an alternate world” thing depends entirely on it not being continuity– I don’t care for excuses for mirror universes and alternate timelines, but that’s me, not the original complaint.
        The one that was moving and spectacular involved a return that wasn’t a tail-pull and steered the entire next season, including the question of where she was while dead. Did anybody think that Buffy would stay dead?

  7. And I am so glad that the adds for the Buffy comics inadvertantly warned me to stay the hell away from them.

  8. Clark E Myers

    Looks to me like a generalization of we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us – at some point we pretend to work becomes we can’t do real sustained hard work any more – see e.g. John Malloy on How to Work the Competition into the Ground & Have Fun Doing It where the secret is to work on the work ethic because that too is a use it or lose it issue.

    A particularly glaring example is the telemarketer – rumor says new hires are always the highest performers because a new hire will make an effort to sell – the discouraged by the experience, experienced worker races through each call hoping the next call will be a laydown sale.

    Similarly with the possible exception of Baen looks like publishers are racing through slush looking for the next book that will sell itself. Not what say the Knopfs did or other of the famous editors of the past. Thor Power Tool of course accelerated a change in publishing but I think I see similar effects in the movies and television programming. Maybe not.

    Certainly a lot of we pretend to work people in this world and at all levels.

    • Slush pile! A publisher dirtying her lily white hands reading unsolicited manuscripts? Nope, most of them stopped doing that decades ago. Then for awhile, agents high graded slush for them. Now they’re starting to look at e-book phenoms as the way to pick sure fire print bestsellers.

  9. Comics cost too much for kids to read.

    I went on a kick when I got into the Navy, and it took about nine months for them to do something so stupid that I stopped buying anything.

    (The “Nightcrawler is a demon, and by the way he wasn’t Catholic, either, he was brainwashed by badguys so that they could fake the Rapture by contaminated communion wafers, everything where anybody saw him being Catholic was a hallucination induced by this evil anti-mutant bigot guy” storyline. Even other ignorant anti-Catholic bigots thought that the writer went overboard there.)

  10. “The Rapture,” eg the pre-tribulationist Rapture as cooked up in the Nineteenth-Century, is extreme Protestant Fundamentalism. I never heard a hint of it in my childhood in USA Presbyterianism. This plot had Catholics thinking they saw the Rapture happening?

    • After Nightcrawler is made Pope and then has his image inducer go out right at the televised coronation, from memory. After also getting a lot of people to join the Church so that they’re a bigger chunk of the world population. That way they could take out a large percentage of the newly Catholic population of the world because that would let them take over the newly reinforced to the horribleness of Mutants church or something?

      Both the “Catholics suddenly believe in the Rapture” part, and “The Pope being a mutant would signal the end times” thing were very important. It was over a decade ago, and I think I did a bit of brain damage from banging my head about it. TV Tropes has it in the “You Fail Religion Forever” section, though; I think there are anime series where they’re wishing they’d thought of it first…

  11. How much has the series-based comics world influenced the trend to series-ize any book that’s successful?

    I needled Sara on her excellent UF “Would this fly?” query a few weeks ago re the inevitable resulting series, but just looking to Baen I see a lot of book series – Sara’s DST and Shifters series, all of John Ringo’s many series, Eric Flint’s 1632 series, David Weber’s Dahak, Honorverse and Safehold series, Colonel Kratman’s A Desert Called Peace series, Mad Mike’s Freehold-based books, and on and on.

    I’m not complaining, mind – I like exploring universes further with the authors I enjoy – but this has certainly changed over the years I’ve been reading SF. Most of the earlier SF I’ve read was standalone. RAH had a future history that pretty much everything of his slotted into somewhere, but he didn’t really put out anything like these modern character-continuation series until the latter part of his career, and eventually he created his multiverse that had all his characters playing in the same sandbox. I do recall reading SF series in my misspent youth – Asimov had Foundation (which I never actually read past the first one, but I saw them all), Norton had her Time Traders, and Gerrold had his Flinx books more or less along modern series lines, but I seem to recall the whole book series concept happening more as a Fantasy thing than in SF, and a lot more SF standalone novels with no hooks for sequels.

    It seems to me that this Series Imperative (hey, cool name for a story – I wonder what it’s about…) started to come into effect about the same time the page-multiplication-imperative did as well where everything had to be at least 500 pages, but maybe this is coincidental convergence of two different factors.

    It also seems like the Series Imperative applied to movies, especially movies based on comics or old time serials, thus tying back into my question up top – is this all really the Comic Effect?

    • David Weber’s “War God” series, too! (<3 those handsome fox-eared devils)

    • OK, if the writer wants to do it, or licenses someone else to do it, it’s when the poor fellow dies and somebody else grabs on and starts cranking them out… a lot of people who have a bad picture of H. P. Lovecraft have only read the August Derleth/Lovecraft “collaborations” which are Derleth writing a story based on a brief note by Lovecraft.

    • Perhaps it’s the influence of table-top role-playing games? Your characters there could go on past a single adventure, after all, so why not the characters from a novel?

    • Burroughs wrote mostly series; Tarzan, John Carter of Mars, Pellucidar, Carson of Venus, etc. and he was one of the early SF writers. So I don’t know that your Series Imperative holds up that well, although I do agree that more books and movies have been made into series in later years.

      In part I suspect this is a consequence of looking for the ‘next big thing’, if they actually have a big hit, (Jaws, Rambo, Indiana Jones, Diehard) the idea is to reproduce that hit. To an extent this works for the sequel, people who liked the first one will buy the next one. But to have a successful series, you can’t have four or five rewrites of the same script, only the first two will sell, if people figure out they are the same story half-digested and requrgitated. They won’t waste their money, they’ll just go reread/watch their copy of the original.

  12. I have a slightly different slant on it. I read Superman, Flash Gordon, Batman, wonder Woman, and the other comics when I was a teenager in the 1940s. I liked the characters, and followed them with interest. What the current clowns have forgotten, if they ever even knew it, is that they are the stewards of a tradition. Yes, they own the copyright. They can do anything they want to a character. But when they distort him/her and spoil the tradition, they are no longer acting as stewards. They are acting as despoilers. Shame on them.

    • A lot of comics writers still know it, but they tend not to be the ones who get put in charge. Also, there’s not as much fisticuffs-as-literary-criticism as might benefit comicsdom.

  13. The new My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic comics had something like 24 collector covers for the first issue. (Many of which were actually pretty cool.)

    But the normal subscription cover was so ugly it would choke a goat.

    This no work.

  14. I think partly it is an agency problem. If you own the business, doing steady non-spectacular work gets you more money. If you are employed by the business, and higher management is MBA types, you only get ahead if you are noticed for the one spectacular mega-win.

  15. Another place where this phenomenon of “chasing gimmicks” has appeared: Pro Wrestling. Used to be promoters had actual plots; and a “gimmick match” (steel-cage match; “loser has to retire” match; etc.) was rarely done, only used to end a particularly long-running feud. Now, practically every Pay-Per-View has a couple-three gimmick matches, and every other plotline is trying to recreate “the Montreal Screwjob”, or Hulk Hogan joining the “new World order”, and the fans are burning-out on it.

    [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montreal_Screwjob
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_World_Order_%28professional_wrestling%29
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_World_Order_%28professional_wrestling%29#The_Hostile_Takeover_Match ]

  16. There’s also the ever-present conflict between the relatively static series, where the “reset button” gets hit every few months to return things to the baseline situation, versus the more “story-like” narrative in which big, permanent changes happen.
    I suspect some of the creators behind these set-piece Big Events are hoping to make permanent changes to the mythos of the comic. Sometimes they succeed: Tony Stark abandoned his “I’m totally not Iron Man” secret identity back in the early 1990s and has never gone back (and now the movies have locked that in).
    More often they fail.
    Still, there are sometimes artistic motives as well as commercial ones.

    • There is, after all, more artistic potential in stories where things really change. The problem is that when things change, they come to an end. Marrying your true love ends the romance arc. Even if you have stories about life after marriage, it’s a different story. Perhaps it’s lower in drama, which is always an aesthetic danger if not positive flaw. (Series, like stories, should escalate. And stop before it becomes too ridiculous.)

  17. Heh. I was more into comics ten years ago, and I remember that, ten years ago it wasn’t what it was ten years before that.

    I probably still read about as many comics as I do “no-picture” books, but I don’t buy the episodic form any more; I just didn’t have the time to go to the comic book store every week, so I just wait for the collected form to show up in bookstores. (More and more, the collected form is also episodic, but I tend to avoid those.)

    • At the price of comics currently, by the time you’ve bought and read a six-issue story arc you have easily paid for a trade ppb.

      • Yes, that’s part of the reason younger son went on the “hard stuff” — no pictures SF/F. Comics were over in a quarter of an hour, anymore, and we’re NOT made of money.

        • We used to get comics when I was little. By the time I was 7 or 8 there wasn’t enough there to hold my attention. I was reading the Wizard of Oz and biographies by that time– (Shakespeare too lol)

          • I have fond memories of discovering Baum’s follow-ups to the Wizard (note: weren’t we just discussing literary series? Add to Dorothy the adventures of Frank & Joe Hardy, Nancy Drew, Chip Hilton, Tom Swift, Tarzan, John Carter and Sherlock Holmes.)

            If you haven’t seen Eric Shanower’s marvelous graphic additions to the canon you really ought browse them. I want to say it is Oz as illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley inked by Winsor McKay and Bill Watterson, but really it is a style all its own, perfectly Ozian and perfectly delightful. Visit http://www.shop.hungrytigerpress.com/Comics_c2.htm for an idea of his work.

            • Additional exhibits in evidence of series as a long established literary tradition: Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective. Updike’s “Rabbit” books. John Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga. There are at least three Dumas books featuring the adventures of a certain trio of the King’s Musketeers. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster appeared in numerous books.

              The Mystery genre is almost wholly comprised of series, multiple books featuring the same MCs. To the aforementioned Holmes, add Lord Peter Wimsey, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Nero Wolfe (including side books featuring supporting characters Inspector Cramer and Doll Bonner), Ellery Queen, Perry Mason, Bertha Cool and Donald Lam, Sam Spade, Travis McGee, Spenser, Kinsey Milhone and so on ad infinitum.

              In SF the trend can be found in the adventures of Professor Challenger, the Skylark and Lensman sagas, Jack Williamson’s Seetee and Legion of Space series, Zelazny’s Amber, McCaffery’s Dragons, Laumer’s Retief, Dickson’s Dorsai, Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat and Deathworld, and Herbert’s Dune among others.

              Fantasy has multiple series, from the aforementioned Oz (I s’pose we could include Lewis Carroll’s Alice books), MacDonald’s Princess & Curdy, Cabell’s Poictesme, Howard’s Hyperborea and Lovecraft’s mythos as well.

              Fantasy and SF often feature series set in an established “universe” with continuing characters or an evolving cast as the timelines develop. For example, Piers Anthony’s Xanth books are comprised of an evolving cast of characters, with Bink and Chameleon having become proud grandparents as the books continue. Christopher Stasheff’s Warlock and Wizard In Rhyme series similarly develop as extensions in an established universe, as do Dickson’s Dorsai, Niven’s Known Space and — in various forms — pretty much everything written by Michael Moorcock..

              In some of these cases the series is comprised of related short stories, typically published first in magazines and later packaged as collections, often intermingled (as in Holmes’ case) with novels, which were often serialized before book publication.

              There are numerous other examples, a number of which occurred to me while writing, fading before I could incorporate them into this comment. Louis L’Amour’s Sackett, Chantry and Talon family sagas, W.E.B. Griffin’s sagas, numerous contemporary thrillers by Tom Clancy, Brad Thor and others — the series is a well established, thriving literary form.

            • Nancy Drew and the Hardy brothers too– Well the comics didn’t have the right visuals for me. I still like the pretty pics in my head better–

            • You have named most of the books read before I was 14. ;-)

              • oops– mind is having probs with words– named=read

                • Never read Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys. Did read a lot of serial books. Still do, in fact! The first SicFi series I can remember is “Lucky Starr”, somewhere around third grade. You missed Celia’s “Adelsverein” series… 8^). I’m sure we’re all familiar with Sarah’s books. I’m sure there are a few dozen others, but my headache is keeping me from thinking right now.

  18. This reminds me of the adages of professional wrestling – bring out the midgets, and they sell out the arena. Keep doing it and it becomes boring. Once the novelty wears off, ticket receipts drop off substantially.

  19. As far as comics go, Japanese manga is eating up a growing portion of the comic book reading audience. The reason: STORY. Japanese comics never were relegated to a “kids only” status, therefore the creators of them were free to explore subjects that used to be considered “too adult” here in the U.S. By “too adult” I mean a more mature look at romance (no, not just sex–look at issues of “Oh My Goddess” by Kosuke Fujishima as the relationship between Beldandy and Keiichi develops [no sex there, barely even kissing]) and dealing with what it means to be human (see issues of “Gunslinger Girl” by Yu Aida or “Battle Angel Alita” by Yukito Kishiro). Yes, there are plenty of manga series that contain “mature themes” (i.e. panty shots and T&A–writer’s aside: why are these considered to be mature or adult when they are the product of juvenile imaginations?) but there are more that have arresting storylines. And another thing: in a manga, when a character is killed off, barring unusual and usually tragic/horrific circumstances, the character STAYS dead. Thus, the manga creator has to get… wait for it, wait for it..CREATIVE. This appears to be something which the leading American comics publishers have completely lost sight of.

    Sorry for a slight rant, but mention of comic books tripped my anti-gloop plotline trigger. With the exception of “Usagi Yojimbo” by Stan Sakai (never mind the Japanese names, this is an American comic originally published in English), I have completely sworn off reading American comics in favor of manga because I am tired of predictability and an insipid lack of plot. Note: “Usagi Yojimbo” has won the prestigious Eisner Award for Stan Sakai’s masterful storytelling.

    I think what I am basically trying to say is what everyone else here seems to be saying: the core of what makes a story good is just that: STORY, not gimmick, whether it be the latest PC bandwagon trend or “let’s bring So-and-So back from the dead for the Umpteenth time” trend. Stories last the test of time, gimmicks vanish when interest flickers and fades.

    • You probably have already seen it, but try the Avatar: The Last Airbender TV show.

      It’s surprisingly good anime-inspired animation. They could’ve been helped with a series bible, but much better than most cartoons.

      If you prefer something a bit more realistic after Avatar, Vathara’s fanfic Embers is an in-process delight.

    • … writer’s aside: why are these considered to be mature or adult when they are the product of juvenile imaginations?

      I’m still trying to work out how a “gentlemen’s club” is a place no man can visit and be considered a gentleman.

      American comics, especially those from the “Big Two” follow from the tradition of Saturday afternoon serials and soap operas. Inventive violations of continuity and logic are eminently forgivable.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcLPsvnMFyA

  20. About the time comics jumped in price to $1.25, I discovered an order form in the back of the paperback copy of Dragonflight that let me order the next book (Dragonquest?) along with a few other books by that publisher. I lived out in the country, and had a 10 mile bike ride to get to the city library, which I did do every week. But being able to order the books that weren’t available at the library yet was amazing! Back in the ’70s, the publishers were different.