Most new manga in Japan launch with double-sized stories (somewhere between 30-40 pages).  The page count is high enough that it leaves room to establish the world, setup the status quo, introduce some story problems and ultimately get across the story premise or hook.  Sure, the series might not really hit it’s stride for a few issues or even volumes — it personally takes me 2-3 volumes before I’m really sold on a series — but you have a pretty decent idea what the story is about and where it’s headed based on that first story.

Contrast that with the first issue of most new American comics.  You’ll read the first issue (generally 20-22 pages) and basically only be introduced to the world and/or the characters. You have NO idea where this story/series is headed.  I’m rarely COMPELLED in any way to pick up the next issue — because there was no series premise/hook or even just an issue-hook to bring me back.  They kind of just say, “here is this character, and here are some of the people he interacts with but that’s all we’ve got time for this issue.  Come back for the next few issues when we’ll explain just what the hell this character wants and what’s standing in the way of him getting it.  Just trust us…it’ll be worth it!”

Usually then, I’ll only pick up the next issue based on the creative team — they’ve got a proven track record of work I like, or the creators are doing something that seems like it has potential and I’m gonna give them a chance.  But it’s not that I’m COMPELLED to come back because the story they setup was SO AMAZING that I just HAVE to see where it goes.  And honestly, I think that’s an essential part of the job for the first issue’s story.  Introduce things, but also HOOK the reader with that issue.  MAKE them came back for #2.  Don’t just HOPE they come back.

Often times, even the best comics fail to do this.  Take Invincible by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley (current artist) and Cory Walker (original series artist).  I picked the series up initially because I love Cory Walker’s work.  I stuck with it and gave it a chance because Walker’s art was so badass — not that Kirkman’s story was bad (it was actually pretty good), but it didn’t MAKE you pick up the next issue.  At least not until the stuff happened with Omni-Man, which was probably issue #10 or #12.  That’s when Kirkman and the team started to hit their stride and they MADE me pick up the the next issue to find out what happened next.  I’m not trashing Invincible.  I think it’s one of the best comics around.  Just talking about it failing to hook me with issue #1.

I’m trying to remember what the last #1 that DID hook me for the whole series was.  Not sure, but probably Jonathan Hickman’s S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 from Marvel.  After reading that first issue it was just about impossible NOT to buy the subsequent issues.

Maybe just how important it is to hook a reader with the first issue depends on what kind of “name” you have in the industry though.  Someone like Brian Azzarello (random choice) has a strong enough track record with his past work, that he probably doesn’t HAVE to hook you with issue #1.  You’ll probably give him 3-4 issues before you make any decisions on continuing to pick up the book.  But when you’re an unknown creator like myself, I don’t feel I have that luxury.  I think I’ve gotta hook you right off the bat and MAKE you come back for the rest of the series.  If I can pull that off remains to be seen, but that’s the goal of issue #1.

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