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Off My Mind: Creators Vs. Characters—What Determines a Reader's Purchase?

When deciding to read a series, which is more important?

For many readers, comic books become a thing of habit. Many of us have our weekly pull lists at our local comic shop. We read the same titles month after month. We follow the stories of the characters that we've grown to love and cherish over the years. With each title we read, we have a good idea what we're going to get. That's what keeps us coming back month after month.

With all the choices we have each week at the comic shops, deciding what to read has evolved. It's become harder to be able to read pretty much all the new titles that are released. We're constantly seeing new titles appear along with spin off titles or multiple books with the same characters. Today, deciding which titles to read has become a different game.

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It used to be that many would read any comic featuring their favorite character. Nowadays there's also the desire to pick up anything by a particular writer or artist. When it comes down to the final decision, which one is the bigger deciding factor?

== TEASER ==

When I first started buying comics, I picked up any comic series with Batman or Spider-Man. These two characters had more than one book and as time went by, and their popularity continued to increase, the number of titles each had grew with their popularity. Fans of the characters will want to buy all their comics. The addictive nature comics can have won't allow us to pass by a comic on the shelf and be oblivious to whatever adventure or crime they solve in that particular issue.

Unfortunately the trend of adding more and more different titles for the same characters increased. We've seen the same happen to characters such as the X-Men, Superman, Avengers and others. We've seen the creation of franchises among the different publishers. Characters have become part of a "family" of titles, all usually tied together. Different titles often result as minor characters rise in popularity. At the core, we still have that one main character that ties all the titles together. Because it's become increasingly difficult to afford to purchase every single title relating to all our favorite characters, we're not forced to be more selective.

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If having multiple "families" of titles wasn't enough, we're also seeing popular characters appear in multiple titles and are even part of several teams at the same time.

Some Batman comics can be stinkers.
Some Batman comics can be stinkers.

Taking Batman as an example, there are many titles featuring the Dark Knight and his closest allies. Readers love Batman but we can all admit that not all Bat-titles are the same. Yet because of the importance of the character to his corner of the universe as well as other books published by DC Comics, there are those that will continue to buy anything he appears in.

One way to determine which titles make the cut is the creative team. Readers may be on the fence with an offshoot title of a character and the departure or arrival of a new writer or artist can be the deciding factor. Once a writer or artist has a proven track record, you know what you're going to get when they are part of the creative team.

Not all Batman comics are created equal. Readers need to know this and make the message clear to publishers. We need great stories and it's up to the great creators to deliver them.

We're also seen an influx of some of those great creators doing more creator-owned titles. In the past few months many creators have started putting out or announcing titles at publishers like Image. This is where it becomes a gamble for some. Readers love buying comics with familiar characters because they know what they're going to get. Reading a creator-owned comic by Grant Morrison, Jonathan Hickman, Scott Snyder or Brian K. Vaughan pretty much guarantees it'll be "good" (and well written) but that doesn't necessarily mean the content, characters or story will be equally appealing to readers that have loved their past work.

You *will* buy my comics...
You *will* buy my comics...

Ultimately it comes down to the individual reader's choice and taste. This isn't something that has a right or wrong answer. Some readers will stick with their favorite characters regardless of what the stories deal with or how many titles are released. Some will read anything their favorite writers writes or favorite artist draws. Then there are those that will pick and choose and do their best to make a decision based on solicits, reviews or plain old hype.

It does appear that there has been a drastic shift to following creators over simply following characters lately. It's becoming an exciting time in comics since these creators now have the opportunities to tell stories with their own characters as well as the ones we've grown up with.