Brainiac On Banjo: Streaming Ahoy!

The reading today is from the book of Punter, Chapter 9, Verse 17: “All we have to fear, is me.” – Firesign Theater

Presuming climate change doesn’t do us in first, Americans are about a decade way from abandoning the concept of the continuous media vehicle. In English, that means the idea of television (and radio before 1962) had lengthy “seasons” and, if successful, would return for a following season.

Of course, this was well before streaming became a thing.

Unlike the rest of magazine publishing, the comic book medium also was a continuous media vehicle: numbering was consecutive and rarely split into “volumes” of, say, twelve monthly numbers per year. Nobody cares what consecutive issue numbers were applied to Time Magazine in August 1975, but if you ask the issue number for the X-Men cover-dated that same month there are enough comic book enthusiasts who know the answer to that – #94, for those who came in late – to fill Yankee Stadium. At least the #94 that was in use in August, 1975. Around that time, the late, legendary comics retailer Joe Sarno pointed out in an interview if you put consecutive numbering on something, some people are going to collect it.

I think those sing-along days may be lost to us forever… and I guess I’m okay with that.

Highball #4, interior page

Today, U.S. television has imitated the British style: occasional seasons, each of indeterminate length, followed (sometimes) by subsequent seasons that could pop up months or even years later. This has led to our receiving some of the benefits of the British television system – much better writing, greater casting opportunities, and a more diverse range of styles, topics and talent. We pay a unique price for this: we have no idea if a second season will actually happen and even shows that have been green-lighted for a pick-up have been cancelled. Agents now mutter the phrase “pay or play” in their sleep.

Which brings me to Ahoy Comics. They’ve built this streaming numbering thing into their system from the get-go.

I admire Ahoy, and to be frank I’m a bit jealous. They publish really great stuff employing original stories, concepts and characters with an edge that is both sharp and clever. They are well made, and (by the way) feature a terrific group of witty top-notch writers. Just after I finally abandoned the childish concept of publisher loyalty, these guys figured out how to make it work for the present day markets.

Each title (give or take; I don’t want to ham-string them) tells their stories in arcs, just like damn near everybody else, but each arc is numbered and titled separately. Billionaire Island, to name but one of their titles, ran six issues and later was followed by Billionaire Island: Cult Of Dogs, another six-parter. Second Coming, a series that relieved DC Comics of a bit of their anal retention, has endured its second coming; both are six parters as well. About an hour and a half after the final issue of each series, Ahoy puts them out in bookstore friendly trade paperback – again, just like the other publishers.

Legendary retailer and fan Joe Sarno

Of course, it helps if you don’t have the baggage of three-quarters of a century of character development… and perpetual character redevelopment. The “everything you know is wrong” event programming that has been an acid eating away at the long-established publishers need not affect the young’uns.

Ergo, in my peculiarly wired brainpan, Ahoy Comics is publishing comics according to the streaming television model. I’ve been taught to be impatient since childhood, and I still expect continuous monthly publication as a knee-jerk response to our rapidly deteriorating world, but eventually we have to accept the realities (well, some of them) of our time. Quality, subjective as it is, wins hands down.

I am not decrying this evolution. For one thing, it’s easier for me to find specific comic books these days than it is for me to remember which streaming service carries which streaming teevee show. But I do recall the words of Joe Sarno. If you number it, they will come.