Which is better: monthly comic books or trade paperback collections? This has been the biggest debate in the comic world for the past few years. Trade paperbacks and graphic novels have become big sellers, not only at comic book stores, but also at book stores. They are seen as the future of comic books by some. Even comics from the biggest two publishers, Marvel and DC gear their storylines in their monthlies to be part of a larger story arc that will eventually be collected. This has fueled the complaint that no one can come into a comic store anymore and just pick up a comic book. Not only do readers have years and years of continuity to deal with, but now they may pick up an issue that is somewhere in the middle of a story-arc thus making it difficult for the new reader to figure out what is going on.
This is where Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith’s Fell is different. Warren Ellis has actually been one of the biggest writers of “stand-alone” comics—each issue a story unto itself and requires no previous knowledge. What makes his latest creation even more unique is that not only are the stories self-contained, but he’s reduced the page count and with that, the price. This is his way of countering another common complaint about comic books: they’re too expensive. Most are $2.99 per issue, and buying more than a few can put a dent in anyone’s wallet. Issues of Fell are a dollar less, and for the most part, contain more story than most thirty-two page comics that are part of a larger story-arc.
The stories contained within deal with the happenings in a place called Snowtown. Ellis blends real events into his tales, some that seem too garish to be true, and yet it does not surprise us to learn that they are. Templesmith’s art perfectly matches Ellis’ stories, and paints a haunting and dreary place that could suck the life and soul out of anyone. The story and art are dark and eerie, conveying a creepiness not often found in comics.
These comics feel different than others. The self-contained stories and supplementary material afterwards (usually Ellis talking about what influenced an issue and printing fan mail) makes this book feel like something you can take along with you, scrunch it into your back pocket, or even give it to a friend to get them hooked. Certainly, there are underlying plot threads and character developments that continue into each issue; however one does not need to have read past issues to pick up the latest one and appreciate the story within. These single issue stories promote the monthly comic book format rather than the trade paperback one. It is also a good thing the stories are self-contained because the wait between issues is a long one, spanning months, and thus it would be easy to forget what has come before once the latest issue hits the stores.
Is the shrinking of the number of pages in a comic and the price going to bring readers back into stores? While certainly more people will pick up issues of Fell because of the price and the fact that just about every one of the first sixth issue has had several printings is proof thereof, the people buying the comic are the ones who alreadey buy comics regularly. Now certainly, this book is not for children, but there is the possibility of it drawing in new adult readers. The problem is that the only place to pick up issues is at a comic book store. If book stores were to carry mature readers monthlies, perhaps new readers would be drawn into the medium. However at this point it is merely preaching to the converted.
The premise behind Fell is one that is catching on—more self-contained stories and more comics that have fewer pages and cost less have also entered the market. This certainly is a good thing, giving diversity and value to the comics market. It is however not enough, as these comics are only available in comic stores and thus they are not attracting new readers to comic books in general. Until the day that book stores sell monthlies, pick up this book and once you’ve read it give it to your friends, especially the non-comic book reading ones. These comics were meant to be passed around, and if you don’t want to do so because you want them to re-read, don’t worry because the issues will be collected in trade form next year.