Comic Books vs. Comic Strips

By | Sunday, August 06, 2006 Leave a Comment
You know what strikes me about comic fans is how little overlap there seems to be between comic book fans and comic strip fans. The visual language of two is the same, but there's not much translation from one format to another. Take a look at Spider-Man. The Spidey comic strip is still syndicated nationwide in newspapers, but how many people who read the strip regularly turn around and buy any of the comics? Conversely, how many of the comic book fans actively hunt down the comic strip? I certainly don't have actual numbers, but I would bet the overlap is minimal.

Most of the comic strips that got published as comic books were compilations of already published material, repackaged in some way. Indeed, the first comic books as we know them were entirely just reprint material from the Sunday funnies. PvP is a good, modern example of this -- most of Scott Kurtz's material that shows up in his comic was already used for his web site strip.

I suspect that the format has something to do with this. The daily newspaper strip doesn't lend itself to extended story-telling. Most of the strips around are 3 and 4 panel gags. Some of them have "themes" that run for a week or so at a time, and a very few (like the aforementioned Spider-Man) have storylines that are extended over several weeks and months. But generally, the small strip format doesn't allow for much story progression, lending to the decline of long, ongoing strips like "Mary Worth" and "Rex Morgan, M.D." This further lends itself to comedy and the set-up/punchline format.

Comic books, by contrast, have more time to get a story moving along. At twenty-two pages, even a paltry two-strips-per-day format would give you more room to tell a story than a month's worth of compiled comic strips. Plus, the larger format allows for greater flexibility in what the artist can/can't do. (Bill Watterson did a lot to push the boundaries of the comic strip format and his book, Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversay, speaks a great deal towards the restrictions comic strip artists have to work around. But the format is still restrictive thanks to the syndicates.) Now comic books are still somewhat more genre-resticted these days but it's still much more flexible.

Availability is another question. Comic books aren't as readily available as they once were. In recent years, they have become easier to get a hold of, thanks to some of the larger chain bookstores, but comic strips have been much more pervasive in our culture. The decline of newspaper sales has hurt somewhat, but the syndicates have been able to work out alternative methods of distribution (largely, through the Internet) that still allow everyday readers to get their daily comic fix for free.

Do I have a point here today? No, not really. I was just thinking about some of the differences in format and how they impact readership.
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