First, Robert Kirkman launched a new comic series without telling anyone – not even the comic shops receiving the book.
Then, he concluded his massive mega-hit, The Walking Dead, without tipping his hand before the final issue dropped. If you somehow managed to avoid the internet for a couple days before buying your comics on July 3, you’d have had no idea you just bought the last issue of The Walking Dead.
I have not read a lot of Kirkman’s comics, but I love his publishing stunts. And I love Kirkman’s rationale for them, which is simply to make comics surprising again.
Comics Solicitations Are Both Great and Terrible
Movies have trailers, books have previews, and comics have advance solicitations. These monthly rundowns list the comics that each publisher will be putting out three months from now, so comic shops can see what they want to order and readers can see what they want to buy.
Solicitations are necessary for many reasons. The most important is to allow comic shops, which often operate on narrow margins, to see what’s coming out in a few months and plan their orders accordingly. Shops need to know about new series, creative team changes, price bumps, and the like so they can optimize their orders (and sell books to their customers).
But solicitations, and the wealth of information that they contain, are a double-edged sword. As a comics reader, I sometimes wish they didn’t exist. Most comic news sites now dump solicitations on the internet each month, so it’s easy to see exactly what’s going to happen in my favorite series three months from now, if I so choose.
Solicitation info’s not solely to blame, of course. Comic news sites (and heck, even The New York Times) also run spoiler-filled articles about comics that haven’t released yet. Heck, I’m the one who wrote that “The Walking Dead to end this week” article I linked above, which ran the Tuesday before issue 193 came out.
Between solicitation info and spoiler-filled articles, it’s tough to read monthly comics and be truly surprised by what you find inside these days. Especially if you’re as dialed into the internet and comics newsiverse as I am (which, admittedly, is my choice).
Being Dialed In Makes True Surprises That Much More Meaningful
I think the fact that I am so dialed in, and so weary of the lack of true surprises (remember that time Loki died in a comic and a new Loki series was announced four days later?) is why I have such strong feelings about Robert Kirkman’s attempts to inject the element of surprise back into monthly comics. Kirkman is attempting to reproduce that feeling that I (and I would imagine he) had as a child or teenager, when I would walk into a comic shop, flip through books without knowing anything about them, and buy them because I found something that spoke to me. Before I started visiting Newsarama and Comic Book Resources regularly in my teens, I bought comics simply because they looked neat, or someone recommended them on a message board, or I’d read good things about them in Wizard.
“We want to make going to a comic shop exciting again—a place for discovery!” said Kirkman, when talking about the surprise reveal of Die!Die!Die!. “The internet has drained all surprise and anticipation from comics. Everyone hears about exciting new projects and then has to wait months or years for it to be in their hands… and half the time at the end of that buildup, the stories get spoiled in some lame attempt at getting wider media attention.”
Kirkman’s stunts are clever, exciting, and surprising precisely because they circumvent the usual comics news cycle of three-month-out solicitations and Tuesday afternoon spoilers. They are unusual events that take place within an industry that is, despite its unconventional subject matter, very set in its ways. More and more publishers are experimenting with new release structures, and new technologies, and new ways of doing business. But no one’s doing it quite as excitingly as Robert Kirkman is, which is why I’m quite glad he’s the one who ended up with all that The Walking Dead money.