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Letting Go Of The 6 Issue Story Arc

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In modern era comics, the trend seems to be the 6 issue story arc. At the time, this solved a lot of problems comics were facing at the time, and countless of stories have been told very well in this format. But it’s starting to become a pandemic. It seems to be be applied to every story senselessly, and it’s started to cause as many problems as it originally solved.

Now, just so we’re all on the same page, I want to describe the standard 6 issue arc as I see it. It’s a single story with a beginning, middle and end, spread across 6 issues. Generally speaking, the setup is in issue 1, and the resolution in issue 6. Yes, sometimes there may be the occasional 5 or 7 issues, but to generalize things I’m going to keep saying 6. Now, not all 6 issue arcs fit themselves into that category. In some, the 6 issue storyline is broken up into smaller pieces, where certain problems may be resolved in an issue or two. I personally feel, however, that the 6 issue arc with B/M/E seems to be the most common these days.

I’m a writer myself, as most you will probably already know, and I also find myself writing an arc in the space of 6 issues. If you were to group my issues in The Flea, for instance, I would put the arcs as 1-6 and 7-12 and so on. Now that was when I had just started the comic writing properly, so maybe for comfort I attached myself with the stuff I knew well. Perhaps I was used to the arcs I’d grown up with and stuck with what I knew best, I don’t know. Now, I feel like I’m straying away from that a little bit more and telling this storyline in the amount of issues I feel like it should stretch across.

When the 6 issue storyline was first introduced, it was sold to us as a way to open up comics to new readers, so they could just jump on at the first issue of any arc and get a distinct storyline which they could enjoy without any knowledge of countless years of back-story prior to this one. Personally, I’ve always felt that attracting new readers should always be priority as well as pleasing old readers also, so it does feel nice to see that way of thinking being put into practice.

Now, however, I rarely find that to be the case. The standard 6 issue story arc seems to be flawed in two distinct ways. Firstly, this arc in a monthly comic book will take 6 months to tell. Assuming everything stays on schedule, that means only  two stories per year. It’s hard to keep people 'hooked' on this story for half a year, and it’s difficult to attract new readers when they have another few months to wait before their next chance. A lot of readers, I think, would have jumped ship over to buying trades from that point. Now the trades will be fantastic, sure, the story will be there for a continuous read from beginning to end. But the monthly comics? The half a year waiting for this story to reach it’s end seems to be too much for me. It’s not fair. The second is that these arcs seem to have switched the new readers off. Like I previously mentioned, these new readers will come in to buy a book they hope to be clicked onto, only to find something in the middle of an arc. Now that itself is a three month wait, I can’t see these eager new readers wanting to wait that long.

So why do writers use it? To be fair, sometimes it will be the right format to tell the story. Sometimes the writers will need all 6 issues to tell the story how they want to tell it. But in some cases, it’s because it’s easy.

So is it time to put a stop to the 6 issue arc? Definitely not. Is it a valid form of storytelling? Only when the story requires it. But it’s not for every story. Like I previously mentioned, I tell myself to tell the arc in as many issues as I think it should take. Some will be 3 and others may be 9, it’s the contend that matters, not the one that looks best on the bookshelf. Readers should expect creators to choose the format that best suits the story they want to tell, not just the one they find easiest.

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 14 September 2011 13:11 )  
Author Profile: Chris Heath

Writer and Artist of The Flea, The Last Cowboy , Sleepers, Talon and Cape Fall just to name a few ;)

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+1 #4 Chris Heath 2011-08-20 18:54
Yeah, as of late I've started to notice a few changes here and there with the arc numbers, which is good news. I completely agree, the trades are superb and are read how the writer wants them to read, but for monthly readers? In some cases, I feel like this storyline that is so much better read as a 'batch' than a monthly period. I'm not saying I dislike all these arcs the way they are formatted, just believe that sometimes it is used more as something that looks good on a bookshelf compared to what it actually contains.
0 #3 Vicki Locey 2011-08-20 17:31
Nicely done Chris. As a writer myself I agree that each arc should take as long as it takes. Some can neatly wrap in three issues, others six and then others require more.
0 #2 kacangpool 2011-08-20 15:22
that's a very insightful take, chris. though as i largely buy only trades, as a reader i don't mind it as much. and we are seeing shorter 4 issue arcs these days too.

good article.
0 #1 Vlad Impaler 2011-08-20 00:59
I like it, comics are fun to read in trades!! But its hard to know what else they could do.

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