AiPT! Roundtable: On Comic Book Double-Shipping



If you’ve ever been on a comic book message board, you’ve probably seen the posts. “Stop double-shipping comics; I can’t try anything new!” Or, how can I tell when a comic will double ship? I need to make a budget!”

Several years ago, breaking from the monthly tradition, Marvel began shipping 18 issues of its most popular titles a year, with little warning of when those “extra” issues would hit. Now, after streamlining their line with the Rebirth initiative, DC ships their top books twice a month, guaranteed. Marvel, in turn, has followed through and done the same for the X-Men’s ResurrXion titles.

But when some readers gripe, others are thankful to get more of their favorite stuff. And many retailers love having additional top-sellers, ensuring cash flow and getting those readers to frequent the stores more often.

So overall, is double-shipping a good or a bad thing? Is the answer different for retailers and consumers? Do more niche books really suffer from being squeezed out of readers’ budgets? We’ve once again wrangled some AiPT! contributors together in our ALWAYS MONTHLY (until we decide differently) Roundtable to set the record straight, once and for all.

Jim: My first question for if it’s a good thing or not is, is the story worth it? I don’t want to be double-dipping each month for a story that’s “meh”.

I also have a tendency to wait until an arc is complete before reading it because I can’t remember what has happened from month to month, so maybe the faster pace of release would make it easier to keep up with storyline.

David: To add to your point, Jim, if you’re trade-waiting it certainly speeds up the process of getting new volumes, since the six issues or so most trades collect will be on store shelves twice as fast.

I’ve read double-shipped books that are great (Captain America: Steve Rogers comes to mind) and some that drag on and on (Aquaman has had portions like that). Double-shipping can certainly make comic stories decompress and drag on. I don’t think writers have any incentive to pack a single issue with a lot of story since they know in two weeks we’ll get another chapter anyway.

On top of that, artists can’t possibly keep up with the shipping schedule, which means fill-in artists have to pop in, further alienating the reader from the story. Marvel is tackling this issue with All-New Guardians of the Galaxy by having guest artists come in to draw flashback issues that reveal more about each character. While this helps keep the main story visually cohesive, I’m not sure the strategy fixes the issue.

Eric: You both raise points I think are notable. On one hand, double-shipping allows storylines to wrap up faster. I tend to like this. Given that arcs are written for trade, double-shipping helps ensure more than just two or so stories get finished in a year.

On the other hand, frequent artist changes are an issue. I don’t mind artists changing for different arcs, but I hate when art is inconsistent across a story arc.

Ultimately, I like double-shipping in theory, but there are definitely series that end up feeling inconsistent due to frequent fill-in artists being brought in to keep up with an accelerated publication schedule.

Cam: Amazing Spider-Man double-shipped during the post-One More Day reboot back in 2009, and after a few clunkier story lines, they really hit their stride with The Gauntlet, but the whole premise of that was it was a banner under which a bunch of smaller stories were being told. It was 18 issues, but it was a showcase/new status quo-ifier for, like, eight of Spidey’s big bads.

I have no idea if it was helped or harmed by double-shipping, but I think the problem with fill-in artists was solved by having so many different artists, for each different arc, on purpose. Which I agree is, artistically at least, the biggest problem posed by double shipping. Nothing is more jarring, especially on the re-read and trades and all that, than an abrupt, out of nowhere art change.

Dog: It TRIPLE-SHIPPED for a while! No human beings could possibly meet that schedule, so the hook was rotating creative teams (artists AND writers) that told their own stories. It was a good way to get product on the shelves, but hard to build story momentum. I don’t think many people would like to return to that.

Cam: Yeah, that is that weird place we find ourselves in comics right now, because you’re right, I think globally, comics are headed towards more complex, long form storytelling (similarly to TV) and people have less interest in short arcs. But at the same time, no matter how many times a month the books ship, getting 22 page chunks at a time still lends itself to shorter stories. Even when DC did the weekly books in an attempt to be “real time”, they never really felt that cohesive.

So I compliment this current double-shipping initiative for trying to respond to the market forces of people impatient to get the whole story faster, but I don’t know if it’s really the best model.

David: Oh ya, 52 definitely felt chaotic. Even the post-Brand New Day stuff was tricky to keep track of. Fun fact: I was a huge fan of those comics and both Chris Hassan and I got in the letters section of Amazing [Spider-Man].

Cam: That’s awesome.

David: Technically it was easy, with so many books shipping per month.

Cameron: There you go, another advantage of the double-shipping model!

Nothing is more jarring, especially on the re-read, than an abrupt, out of nowhere art change.

Dog: I imagine when the X-titles really get into the swing of things, if they’re successful, we’ll see something similar happen to the rest of Marvel’s big titles and yes, it will mean less room for smaller books. But will the world miss more ill-advised series like Solo and Mosaic? It’s not like Ms. Marvel or Riri Williams are going to disappear.

One thing I can’t understand is DC keeping its top books at the $2.99 price point. I mean, it’s obviously good optics, but are A THIRD of the readers going to drop a book if you raise it to $3.99? Because that’s how many would have to for that decision to NOT make financial sense. Are A THIRD of all Batman readers going to give up because of two extra bucks a month? There’s looking good to the fans, and then there’s just hating money.

Cam: Well, it’s not even a “get dat money DC!” issue, it’s more a “hey, is this sustainable?” question. In an industry that’s not making THAT much money, is it wise to be artificially lowering your prices? Personally, especially with this double-shipping, I don’t mind not paying more, but does it add enough value to offset the revenue?

It’d be interesting to hear what the Return On Investment is on them busting their butts putting these books out.

Jim: Also with the lowered price point, are they really able to pay for the best talent, or are they basically working them to death with slave wages at an accelerated schedule, driving the best talent elsewhere?

Dog: I think there’s a “going rate” for your average writer, but the superstars make more. So yeah, they’re likely dumping big bucks twice monthly for a lower return. Cam’s right — great for readers, but readers can be fickle (and rightly so). Good will won’t last long if the stories start to suck.

David: I’ve seen an uptick of foreign artists, some of which are great and can do a good job keeping up (the artists on Green Lanterns comes to mind) but I do wonder if they’re getting paid less due to them being new to the game.

Cam: Yeeeeah, that’s a real possibility. And something as hectic as a double-shipping initiative is definitely vulnerable for taking advantage of new-comers.