There is a popular thought process that Jim Shooter was the perfect cheerleader for: the notion that the comic must be basic enough for anyone to read, after all, "Any comic could be someone's first comic." An attitude that has been championed by more than a few people in the business. Recently, however, I've had reason to rethink the old canard, and I wanted to put this out to you, blogdom assembled.
The notion that any particular comic could be someone's first issue, and thus would need not only a recap, but a degree of "dumbing down" on the storytelling side so that the visual language of the comic would not be an impedement to understanding this month's story. Unfortunately, over the last couple decades, what we've seen are a far greater number of comics that become the last issues rather than the first issues. comics have been losing numbers in droves, so making the point that we have to potentially sacrifice the complexity of story or storytelling so as not to drive away a potential new reader, may well be moving us in the wrong direction. We may have been actively pushing away the reader who is constantly looking for something to grow with them.
It does make sense, for instance, to keep the "every issue a first issue rule" when you look at the industry demographic/marketing plan through the 1940s to 1960s: your comics were targeted towards the same age range, so instead of moving upwards with a person's age, you had to hope to replace the same number of readers that "age out" with a similar number that grow into reading your books. Already there are flaws with the system, when you look at birth statistics during the baby boomer years. Without new product to go along with your new kids, you really have no hope of expanding your market.
And of course, this ties back to my In Search Of: The Elusive Bridge Comic" post that generated some interesting discussion, by trying to make the point that we come to different content within the same media over the years with different expectations. It would be interesting to say that "every movie is going to be someone's first movie", so we shouldn't do anything too advance in terms of flashing forward (The Shining) , flashing backward (Momento) or being too inventive with out camera angles (Seven) . There should be no room for ambiguity (Lost in Translation) lest we basically piss off the viewer so badly that they never return to view another movie again.
Hard to read that without laughing, isn't it?
So here's what we do: we don't continually tie the hands of creators. We have books that are not meant for the 6 year old, or the 12 year old, but for the adult. And we make sure that we have books at that 6 year old level that don't insult their intelligence. My almost 7 year old daughter is already telling me what the theme of a movie or book will be in the first third of the story. She understands subtext without knowing what that word means yet. We don't need to keep the material within the medium stupid.
Challenge me. Make me think. Keep me awake. Keep me buying. Or that next comic might be my last.