Is 22 Pages Our Only Option?

22 pages.  Or 20.  Or 24.  You know what I’m talking about.  The traditional American monthly comic.  Is this the best format to tell every story?  How did we end up here and what can we learn from other comic cultures around the world?

I’m told that 22 pages came from the assumption that an artist could pencil a page per day, and there are 22 work days in most months.  In Steven Grant’s Permanent Damage column on comicbookresources, he mentions that Marvel Comics had shrunk down to as few as 17 pages in the 1970s, and were only raised to 22 after indie companies started springing up offering a far greater story-to-ad ratio.

Clearly folks had gotten by on fewer pages, and before that on far more.  But whatever the official page count, the single issue “floppy” format has been the standard American comic for far longer than I’ve been around.

While this format comes with a sense of familiarity, it’s not always the best way to showcase a company’s characters or creative talent. Nor is it the most effective way to attract new readers.  When you think about marketing comics to younger readers, something akin to the British anthology format might work better than the typical $3 floppy model.

Imagine a childrens’ anthology in the 2000AD format.  Each week, you get a handful of 7 page stories, some serialized, some one-off (with less exploding heads, of course).  This would provide a higher content to dollar ratio and alleviate the month-long gap in between stories.  Getting kids into the store on a weekly basis would be an invaluable tool in creating new lifelong readers.

So far I’ve enjoyed DC’s New 52 initiative immensely.  The problem lies in the format.  Few of us can afford to try out and continue to follow 52 distinct titles.  The fact is that a bunch will be killed off without the majority of the readership having seen them. They might be served better by a format popular in Japanese comic books: the anthology or “phone book” style publication.

Manga is traditionally produced in huge, inexpensive volumes on newsprint, with the most popular series getting reprinted into collections.  It varies from weekly to monthly, with stories ranging from 7 to 30 pages, but the idea is the same.  The reader gets the chance to sample every title regardless of its popularity.

Sure, you’re forcing readers to buy more than they normally would, but by combining them cover prices would go down.  Just imagine:  instead of having to choose between the new Swamp Thing or Animal Man, I get to lug this bad boy home:

Seriously, who wouldn't buy this?

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with telling a story in 22 pages, it’s not a catch-all for every book.  Why not give something else a shot, publishers?  What other formats would you like to see?

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5 thoughts on “Is 22 Pages Our Only Option?

  1. You don’t have to choose between Animal Man or Swamp Thing. Get them both and leave everything else on the shelf.

    …and now that I’ve posted the “missing the point” comment, I agree with you–I very much think an anthology format is what people need. Recalling my youth, my introduction to most of the DC pantheon was in a Justice League special that was 80 pages and just this sort of thing. It hooked me for life.

  2. “Sure, you’re forcing readers to buy more than they normally would, but by combining them cover prices would go down.”

    Good post, but I’m unclear on this point. Why is combined cheaper? (Apart from paper quality, I mean.)

  3. They experimented with this format when DC produced “Wednesday Comics” a couple years ago. It was a really cool concept but it didn’t seem to catch on unfortunately.

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  5. I’ve been arguing for an anthology format for the big two’s books for years. Make ’em cheap and thick just like the manga “phone” books you mentioned and then collect the completed story/ chapter and offer it as a glossy paper TPB or hardcover.
    As for “Wednesday Comics” I think that the format was ultimately a poor choice. Rather than the phone book format, they went with a tabloid newspaper layout with one huge page per story, much like the Sunday comics of old. One page a week, no matter how large, is different than say 7 or 8 pages at a time.

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