Does romance work in a serialized format? Priya Sridhar studies how comic books do it and shares her thoughts on the subject.
Who can forget the cliffhanger adventure comics? The story that leaves you dangling in the Sunday papers? We see serials in online fanfiction, and in daily soap operas. Readers love serials, provided we get cliffhangers that allow for suspension of disbelief. They also love comics, as proven by a hundred years’ worth of art and panels. Characters like Superman, Charlie Brown and Calvin have become comic mainstays.
We readers also love romance. Some of us like happy endings and true love. Readers show this with their spending power: romance is the most prolific genre. Twenty five percent of published books are romance novels. Thus, I argue that serialized romance has and will work again, for dear readers. Publishers ought to consider the potential of releasing weekly or daily serials, if they haven’t before. We have a world on which orders have made their mark, and we ought to do so again.
Obstacles in Writing Romance
Writing pure romance is hard. The writer needs to tell a love story, with believable leads that get together after a semi-plausible conflict. These conflicts can run from one of the leads being married or divorced, brokenhearted, in fear for their lives, and so forth. Readers need to root for the main couple to get together, and not question obvious flaws. Adding supernatural elements can allow writers more creativity; in Meg Cabot’s Abandon trilogy, for example, Pierce’s main contention for getting together with John Hayden, the god of death, is that she has to stay in the underworld with him and abandon her old life.
Romance also needs to stand out positively. We’ve seen how bad reputations cling to bad “romance,” like Fifty Shades of Grey, and change readers’ perspectives for the worse. Your job as a writer is to add fun stories, at the least. Writers need to make their mark when presenting their world to new readers, especially with how the Internet has opened up avenues for self-publishing with web comics and print-on-demand businesses.
Despite these obstacles, serialized romance can succeed. How do we know? It has succeeded before, in the comics’ realm. And it is succeeding now.
Romance Comics in America
Back in the 1940s, the Golden Age of comics saw genres surging. We had superheroes, space adventures, crime dramas, and romance. DC Comics published romance at the time, as did Marvel and Fawcett Publications. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby of Marvel fame penned the first mainstream comic, Young Romance. [Editor's note: We featured Jack Kirby's foray in to romance here] These comics would compete with magazines that published short fiction, in part because of their lower prices, and in part because people wanted romance comics. These unfortunately didn’t survive scrutiny when psychologist Frederic Wertham published a nonfiction textbook claiming that comics corrupted youth, and romance comics were not spared. The Comics Code Authority, a self-censorship body that publishers created to assuage parents’ fears, did the rest of the work. Young Romance lasted the longest, ending in 1975.
I can say, having read a handful, why these comics couldn’t survive the Comics Code Authority and self-censorship: the stories play out as morality sermons. Girls find their flaws tripping them up, like their arrogance or clumsiness, and these flaws cause them to favor ill-tempered men while ignoring good-hearted ones. Roy Lichtenstein wanted to mock these stories in his works such as Drowning Girl, precisely because of these sentiments. It’s hard for a girl to see themselves in these works, especially when the narrator judges them for wanting to be ordinary teens and women.
Despite this, romance comics outdid their issues during their heyday. People wanted to read them. The potential was there. And it set the stage for the next era of inked romance . . .
Love in the Time of Manga
The Japanese publish romance manga, or comic books drawn in a stylized manner. Manga by itself has numerous genres, including fantasy, science fiction, horror, drama and yes, romance. The most well-known ones in the states include Fruits Basket, Skip Beat and Absolute Boyfriend. They spawn a good number of genres, but some are straightforward love stories. And yes, they do have the occasional cliffhanger while exploring obstacles such as gender identity, trauma, and destiny. Manga and anime have become a profitable industry, hand in hand.
Manga serials tend to be published in magazines, such as Shounen Jump and the now-defunct Shoujo Beat; Viz Media released the latter to American audiences with resounding success. Readers would get chapter installments, and would eagerly await it. If the creator gets lucky, these manga are collected into trade paperbacks or even got adapted into cinematic versions. Americans also like manga, given how companies like Del Rey and Viz Media have flourished by translating and releasing manga. Tokyopop, which I hope is not resting in peace, went one step further by recruiting American artists and comic writers to create manga for them. The demand is there, and so is the supply.
We know that romance comics, and romance comic serials by default, have a good chance at succeeding. There are other reasons why serialized romance novels can work:
People Read Genre Serials - Online magazines such as Fireside Fiction and Tor.com feature stories that arrive in chapters or installments. People will wait for ensuing chapters. We thus know that they work.
People Read Comic Serials, Romance and Otherwise - Dark Horse published a romance serial, Stranger in Paradise, which ran from 1993 to 1997. The web comic Megatokyo was a successful, popular serial. Other web comics have seen similar success, such as Abominable Charles Christopher, Girl Genius, Cyanide and Happiness, and PvP: Player Versus Player.
Obviously the competition rate is high. People will draw their stories, and post them. Even so, romance comics can succeed in serial form. We just need to create the stories to tell. And let’s get to the writing and drawing!
Priya's latest release, Neo-Mecha Mayhem, is out now. For more information about her and her writing check out her website, and follow her on Twittter .
What do you think of the serialization of a story? Does leaving you wanting more add a little something extra or do you prefer to binge a story in one sitting? Share your thoughts with us in the comments or join the discussion on our Social Media.