millarworld.tv Comics Creators

What do you think of backup strips?


#1

Before folks get too excited, this isn’t anything to do with the annual. Rather it’s just something I’ve been thinking about.

The backup strip by and large has been abandoned by the industry, when it is used it’s for promotion of upcoming works or reprinting old material. I don’t know of any comics that do it well right now.

And while there’s cost in creating the pages, the printing is next to nothing in incremental cost. So it makes me wonder if bringing backup strips would be a good marketing move or not.

So if a book were to have an extra 8 pages, what would be the best use of those pages to make you pick up that book rather than you not picking up the book? Considering the artist probably can only manage 22 pages a month so it’d most likely be a different artist. There’s six things I think you could do with those new pages:

  1. Extend the main story by 8 extra pages.
  2. Reprint old material about that character.
  3. Tell an alternative story about the lead character in a similar style.
  4. Tell an alternative story about the lead character in a completely different style.
  5. Tell a story referring to the story of the main book, using one of the side characters.
  6. Tell a story with a completely different character.

So as an example, if this was Batman the options could be:

  1. 8 extra pages of the main Snyder/Capullo Batman story.
  2. Reprint of something from Batman 10 years ago.
  3. Tell a smaller Bats story with a similar artist to Capullo.
  4. Tell a smaller Bats story with Skottie Young.
  5. Tell a story about what Alfred got up to during the main book story.
  6. Have a backup strip featuring Cyborg.

Which would you like, and would this make you buy a book you normally wouldn’t buy?


#2

Damn, I would like to know what Alfred is doing. That would be an interesting read. Just Alfred cooking or cleaning some dust off the bat cave.


#3

That’s a great idea, I like getting extra pages! You could really do any of the six and make it work.


#4

I think that option 4 is the best and has the highest chance of interesting more people to buy the book.
That being said, I haven’t ever read a back-up that I actually cared about. The exception to this rule was Shazam in the back of Justice League which is a completely different story that stood on its own, as opposed to being a crappy “irrelevant” story reliant on the main one.


#5

I used to love digging through back issues and grabbing old issues of the Flash with the elongated Man or Firestorm back ups in them. It was like a 2 for 1 as far as my 12 year old brain saw it.

And it’s hard not to mention the Goodwin/Simonson Manhunter strip that ran in the back of Detective. The back up is still regularly in print, but off the top of my head I can’t remember what happened in the main story of the books it was in.

On your choices, telling a story about Alfred could be really cool. Especially if it ties back to the primary story. whether it be in the tone of the Lion and the Unicorn BtAS episode or some other take on what he does in support of Bruce’s war on crime.

I think also having it be a running feature about the bat’s supporting cast would be great. Show Bullock on a case, Have a story about one of the Robins, or a villain. I think relating but not having to BE Batman could make it really fun.

I think a lot of it of course depends on the talent involved first and foremost. I’d read the ongoing adventures of Doiby Dickles and Ma Hunkel with the right team on it. Whereas a team I don’t like the work of can’t make me interested even in my favorite characters.


#6

I don’t know that it would make me buy a book that I normally wouldn’t buy, but I would definitely enjoy the book more. New 52 Batman had done that for several issues, where it was a second story - I believe it was Alfred’s family moving in with the Waynes? I don’t remember what the story was, but what had got me excited about it, was the thought that the resolution of the second story was going to provide some sort of epiphany or insight into the main story, that there would be some sort of magical moment where the thread from both stories were pulled together. Ironically, now I don’t remember if that’s even what ultimately happened?

I would prefer any secondary story support the primary story, even if it is just informing us more about the characters, but I wouldn’t complain about any extra pages. But, it would not make me buy something I wouldn’t buy. Writing of the original story has to do the work of getting me onboard.


#7

I’d rather do without them to be honest. Good back up strips like the Batman ones @cagesafe mentioned are a rarity. I often find them to be ways of bulking up the page count without putting the title’s main creative team under more pressure. They also seem to be how Marvel are justifying their $5 ongoing comics too.


#8

The art of creating complete, satisfying, 8 page stories isn’t practice well or often here in the states, and that’s a shame.

I think nearly all the options you mention can work; expanding on characters or details from the main story, or taking a related character and just telling a story with them. Most important, to me, is that each 8 pages is satisfying on its own, not just as one par of a serialized thing. All the other elements or connections are great, but secondary.

I’d love “Superman” to have a series of backups about Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, Steel, etc in their turns. I can see a way for that to be really fun and really powerful, weaving in and out of the main narrative. I’ve got one immediately in mind for Jimmy and Lois (years 1 and 2 of a hypothetical Superman run).


#9

There’s not many back up strips I feel have been done well enough recently to justify the inclusion, often I stop reading them and skip.

I buy a book for the creative team, unless it’s another creative team I like, I have zero interest in reading another 8 pages of the character. I’m 37 years old, I’ve got stacks of unread comics and access to more material than I could ever hope to read, an extra 8 mediocre pages are not something I consider a good use of my time or money.
If I was 10 again I’d maybe be more interested in that sort of thing.

I’d prefer additional pages to be used the way Snyder does in Wytches or Remender in Deadly Class, used as an outlet for the creators to talk to and bond with their audience.


#10

What exactly do they do in these back pages? Are they just letter pages?


#11

I think the trick with back-up strips is to connect them to the main story in some way otherwise it just always looks like you’re just filling up space. Both Batman recently and Savage Dragon have used back-up stories to bolster the main narrative and it works very well. I can’t think of other examples but I’m sure there are a few.

Personally though, I would like to see more in-depth content concerning the narrative with extra pages. Watchmen does this very well with newspaper clippings and the like and I used to love the old sort of character data pages and prose back-ups about specific characters and stuff you got sometimes. I remember prose in the UK Ghostbusters comics (I think the were entries from Tobin’s Spirit guide), and even though I hated them to begin with as I was, like, seven or whatever, they ended up being one of my favourite parts and gave added extra entertainment value and extended the amount of reading time you got out of each issue.


#12

Back in the day, I would buy comics like the Flash that had a back-up comic with another character in it (#6). The main and back-up story weren’t related in any way - Flash could be fighting Zoom while Green Lantern or Air Wave were off doing something else. And if I felt that they really were “extra pages”, in the sense that there wasn’t a dramatic increase in cost, then I would be more likely to pick up that book if only on the flimsy rationale that “Well, if the main story isn’t any good, maybe the back up will be.”

I think the back-up stories in the new Dark Knight series are interesting (#5) but at a $5.99 price point it doesn’t feel like they are “extra pages”. A better example would be the aforementioned back-up to the Batman book awhile back - I was going to buy the book with or without those pages but I felt like I got a better deal because of them.


#13

If it’s driving the price up, like on Howard The Duck, I’m not a fan. I don’t mind it with things like Phonogram though.

I like the text pieces Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker put in some of their creator-owned books.


#14

Ooooh, great question!

I’ve been reading Captain Canuck and they have been doing backups with “untold” tales of the older incarnations of the Captain. They are stand-alone tales and each one is a different creative group. I am hoping at some point these old tales will somehow tie back into this new version, but honestly it doesn’t have to. It’s a great homage to the older character for readers that bought the old one and might be freaking out a bit at this new version, but it’s also not just reprints. But I think this only works with a relaunch like Canuck.

I kinda feel like DK III is doing backups that are then part of the main story in the next issue and I’m loving that, personally. If the “Alfred” story wasn’t just a throw-away and either and matched the art style (one of the reasons I’m reading the main book):

  1. Made you want to re-read the issue again to see how the story added to the issue

  2. Influenced the next issue, the main character story line in some small way

The other way I would like is that they are completely self-contained stories and each issue had a self-contained story, that in the end, could all be collected by themselves and be cohesive in some way.

That’s more of how the mystery and sci-fi (I’m thinking Clarkesworld) magazines do it and I really like that style. As long as the character lives in the Batman universe and it fits an overall theme during the main arc, I’d dig it.


#15

I’ve always enjoyed old back issues of comics and I also enjoy when Snyder will take a break from the main storyline to print a sort of one shot within the Batman continuity he has going for him.

I think I enjoy the idea of backup strips promoting new material that may be coming out, for example, when Marvel published the huge book with several snapshots of the new series coming out, it made me go out and buy a lot of the first issues, and I really enjoyed how they teased the series and got you interested. Something like that in the back of a issue is something I would enjoy again, but I also like what you’re saying about the 6 different things you could do.

  1. I think extending the main story with a different artist would get bothersome. Perhaps it’s just me, but if I’m enwrapped in a story, particularly with one artist, it’s hard for me to get into it when the artist switches mid-story. For flash backs or visions or prophecies I think it’s fine, because those require some sort of shift to denote the difference from reality, but if it’s just the same story and they switch artists in the middle, that would take me out of the story, especially if it was done in each issue consistently.

  2. I would enjoy seeing this from time to time, but not every issue. I think the old material being the old material is part of what makes it intriguing and interesting and valuable, and to reprint it weekly/monthly in the back of issues would take away some of that value.

  3. This one I enjoy somewhat, but again, I think making it similar but an alternative story, like making the same story but with different art, would take me out of it. But perhaps that’s just me.

  4. This is one suggestion I think I enjoy the most. It would be cool if they just had a side story going on that happened to be pinned on in the end of the issue. That I could definitely get on board with, plus it could give other writers/artists their chance to take on the character without having to sign on for a bunch of issues or whatever, and perhaps it could give companies the chance to low-key try out different writers and artists for different titles. I’m imagining something like how occassionally in the current BATMAN title, Scott Snyder will let James Tynion IV and Jock publish a shorter Batman story at the end of the issues.

  5. This could work as well. I think it would be cool to do this and expand on different characters as the book continues, and then you wouldn’t need to spend as much time on them in the book if you didn’t want to, but the readers could all understand and appreciate them. A good piece of advice on writing I once heard was that even though they’re you’re side characters, in their world they are the main characters. Everybody is the main character to themselves, and sometimes that’s hard for us to realize as we read just a couple lines or scenes with certain characters in them. I think this idea would help that concept become more concrete, as well as help writers introduce/expand on characters they may want around, but not necessarily at the forefront of the story.

  6. This I would more enjoy in it’s own mini-series rather than the back of another series issue. I somewhat enjoyed this concept as they did it in “Web Warriors” issues they’ve put out, but if I want to see a different character, I’ll read a different series.

All this is merely personal preference, so take it with a grain of salt and not too seriously, but I thought I’d pitch in my opinion.


#16

Rick Remender often gives a bit of a back story to his motivations for writing a book, insight into events that happened to him when he was younger etc.
He wrote a personal essay to the readers of Captain America as well, to spell out his plans for the book and why he decided to take the direction with it that he did - I find all that added depth to what I was reading and maybe added a bit of resonance to it as well.

With Wytches Scott Snyder put up some pics of a woods that he found pretty scary and writes essays about what scares him etc - I like a bit of insight into creators lives. Why I really enjoy the creator interviews in the Megazine.

Grant Morrisons Invisibles letters pages were pretty legendary as well.

Letters pages are alright but I’m more interested in reading the professional’s words and relating to them as an individual, than reading someone just writing in to fawn over their work etc.
I hate the letters pages in Saga for that reason, ‘oh your book changed my life’ in amoungst the attention seekers trying to be quirky & hip.


#17

That does sound more interesting than just letters pages (which is what I thought you were going to state). Powers and Walking Dead give up several pages to letters every month (well, maybe not monthly for Powers) and I skip them every time.


#18

I think you’ve missed an option:

. 7. Tell the main story in 14 pages, plus an 8-page second story, and the comic won’t cost you a penny more to produce (and will take the pressure of your main artist if he can’t deliver a 22-page book every month).


#19

I’ve actually thought about ways of reducing that workload myself. Backups are one way, but I’m quite keen on the idea of interludes, even for a page or two, that fit organically into the story you’re telling, as Alan Moore did with Supreme and Rick Veitch.

That might allow you to get really impossible artists to come in and do some sequential work – Bizarro’s mini recently did this to wonderful effect, giving us pages from Gabriel Ba and Bill S and Darwyn Cooke.


#20

These are great examples. Watchmen and Ghostbusters did a great job of giving you additional relevant content. So did some of the old Star Wars (darkhorse) books. I think i’d rather read supporting material than a whole new creative team jump in with a sidestory that i probably won’t care too much for.

For me the backup story is a mixed bag. I always feel like i’m paying extra for it, whether its an actual increased cover price, or a reduced main story page count. Its such a mixed back of quality an interest as well. I mean even if i’m buying a Batman book i’m buying it for the creators and the main character. Now you throw in another character and creative team and that’s something I probably wouldn’t have paid for on its own.