Posted by on Apr 26, 2012 in Digital | 13 Comments

And now, after all of yesterday’s analysis of how you can make chapters work in eight to ten screens, you’ll find on May 1 that you have every right to say to me, “So then how come the first chapter of Insufferable clocks in at 23 screens?” This is why, and it’s a reflection of my long-held philosophy of what a first issue should be.

I’m a huge believer that the first issue of a comics series–or, more applicable to what we’re doing here, the first installment of a serial–fails miserably if the reader can’t walk away with a clear idea of what the series is going to be about. That doesn’t mean the creators have to spell everything out or that there’s no room for mystery–what it means is that by the end of installment one, the basic series premise should be conveyed. Hook a reader all you want with suspense and mystery and intrigue, but give them something concrete in exchange for their time. Give them at least as much information about the story as they’d get by reading the back cover copy on a paperback. You want them to know conclusively by the end of chapter one whether or not they want to come back for chapter two. You don’t want them having to blunder through four or five chapters before they even have the slightest notion what they’re reading, not in serial form.

Sometimes–actually, so far, every time–this means having to expand that first installment enough to fit in a conflict/resolution, a cliffhanger, AND the series premise (at least as much as you’re willing to give away) in as clear a way as possible.  Note, “clear” and “simplistic” aren’t synonyms–I just don’t think you can afford to leave a reader confused at the end of that first installment, because there’s every chance s/he won’t come back.

You don’t have to keep re-stating the series premise thereafter, though you might want to dip the reader’s toe in it from time to time just to refresh his or her memory.

In the case of Insufferable, Pete and I ran that first installment out to what feels to me to be about eight print-comics pages worth of story–that, with some added digital-format transitions, ended up at about 23 screens. And we even threw in a little surprise at the end for anyone who thought they already knew every detail of the series premise. I think it works. Interested to hear your feedback when it goes up Monday.


  1. Chip
    April 26, 2012

    Everything I’ve read of your work achieves this masterfully. The proof is definitely in the pudding. Appreciate the insight, and spending the time to take us all to school!

  2. Zander Cannon
    April 26, 2012

    I always consider the first installment to be essentially the first act of the story: Introduce all protagonists and antagonists, as well as settings, concepts, goals, rules, etc., then end it with the hero basically starting on his or her way toward the goal. It seems like a tall order, and I often will push some major, but not crucial, character intros to the second installment, but I figure if I haven’t gotten through all that stuff, my series is going to seem very world-buildy as I continue to introduce characters and elements of the world in issue after issue.

  3. SKleefeld
    April 26, 2012

    Totally agree with the basic thought, but I feel obliged to point out that doesn’t necessarily mean some set number of pages. Many of the early Zuda comic winners did an excellent job in 8 screens. Warren Ellis launched Freakangels with a 6 page installment. (Although, arguably, Ellis has enough cachet that he could ‘get away with’ fewer pages than might be needed for other creators.) I think it depends a lot on both the type of story being told, and how the creators want/are able to break it down.

    I think it’d be interesting to see how a second Waid webcomic might launch, now that (as you noted in your previous post) you’ve gotten a better handle on pacing for a venue other than monthlies floppies.

  4. Dan Taylor
    April 26, 2012

    “You want them to know conclusively by the end of chapter one whether or not they want to come back for chapter two.”

    Or, to be more precise… “You want them to know conclusively by the end of chapter one that they DEFINITELY want to come back for chapter two.”

  5. Jose A. Rivera
    April 26, 2012

    I agree with everything you said here, particularly how the first issue should let the reader know what the series is about. With most first issues these days they feel like cold openings from television series, and not in the good way. Or, they feel like an Zero issue from the 90’s that gives you a bare bones basic of what the story COULD be about; kind of like a teaser for a teaser.

    I’ve read first issues from the 70’s and 80’s and a lot of them were done-in-one stories that introduced to you the characters, gave you the premise for the series and, if the writer had the foresight, snuck in a few hints at running plot threads to occur later.

    These days first issues tend to six issues long, going for the “reads better in the trade” route. It’s not bad per say, but a lot of times I really do get the impression one issue of a comic was chopped into six in order to sell a trade in the future.

    Then again, that’s just me.

  6. George Tramountanas
    April 27, 2012

    As the anxious lady in the Target commercial says…”Open, open, open.”

    It’s gonna be a good May Day!

  7. Smars
    April 27, 2012

    it’s always a challenge to fit fit in a conflict/resolution, a cliffhanger, and the series premise in the first installment. it always feels weird drawing people in so intensely and then pulling back to give them the more normalized form of the story.

    i always have a hard time getting just the right amount in there, to truly be satisfying. but I keep trying.

  8. Michelle Therese
    April 28, 2012

    This is great. Exactly what I was trying to figure out. Thanks!! :-))

    (I’m in the “Advanced Comic Book Writing” at Comics Experience and facing the daunting task of creating a 22 page opus. One of our classmates linked to this page. Fantastic!)

  9. Rich Johnston
    April 30, 2012

    You can also see this in the way print comics Saga and America’s Got Powers have launch. Webcomic Crossed: Wish You Were Here did the same. I don;t think it’s just about getting everything you ned to say in that first chunk, there’s also the ability to make a major impact in the reader’s time and life. They buy the first issue, they get a lot more, it’s easier to hook them.

    May 1, 2012

    […] of story each time you swing by.  You can read about Mark's thinking on the size of these updates here.  Personally I'd chalk our adoption of this structure up to Warren Ellis' FREAKANGELS.  In my […]

  11. An Indian (Web)comic enthusiast
    May 1, 2012

    Followed a link to your blog Mark, then jumped to Thrillbent. Really enjoyed this and am looking forward to the next Insufferable instalment (meant in the best way possible!) with bated breath. 😛

    As far as panel count goes, time flies when we’re reading/watching something interesting, and get completely immersed in it (any bookworm knows how hours can go by unnoticed when you’re reading that page turner). I like how the “digital page turn” here is made so simple as to “fade away” and not come in the way of enjoying the content at all. Also, speaking of panel count, I feel the last big reveal should have appeared on its own, rather than with the panel above it. What I mean is, instead of:

    left half > right half (top + bottom)

    IMHO (please don’t mind), what would have been better is:

    left half > right half (top) > right half (bottom) (with big reveal)

    Finally, things like “Of course he stops more bullets *THAT* you”… Not trying to be a spelling/grammar Nazi, but something like this is quite jarring, be it in print or on the web. No reason to lower our expectations or reading standards just because we’re reading online content, right?

    All in all, great work and I can’t wait to see what happens next! Thanks to everyone involved for a wonderful reading experience so far. 🙂

  12. Thrillbent is Live! « 3 Million Years
    May 2, 2012

    […] each time you swing by.  You can read about Mark’s thinking on the size of these updates here.  Personally I’d chalk our adoption of this structure up to Warren Ellis’FREAKANGELS. […]

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The comment’s server IP ( doesn’t match the comment’s URL host IP ( and so is spam.

  13. literature holders
    May 25, 2012

    Great post.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.


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