Alternate Cover: The cancellation conundrum

Captain Britain and MI-13 was cancelled last week. And then un-cancelled. Now? We need to make sure it's not a self-fulfilling prophecy...

Captain Britain

This week, despite massive critical acclaim, the Paul Cornell-penned comics series Captain Britain and MI-13 was confirmed as being cancelled following the current arc, halfway through its second year. Almost immediately after word began to spread, it was thankfully un-cancelled.

Or perhaps it never had been. It’s hard to tell whether someone at Marvel simply jumped the gun, or whether they changed their minds immediately after pulling the trigger, or even if the gun was fired deliberately just to make a bit of noise. Whatever the true reasoning, Captain Britain and MI-13 is currently alive and well.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy, too. Captain Britain’s sales are fairly low – clearly, they’re low enough to make the rumour of cancellation credible. The problem now, though, is that now the C-word has been used, there’s a danger that it’ll become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The hardest thing for any new comic series to do is survive into its third year. Some, in fact, fall well into their first. The problem with comics is that as soon as the cancellation rumours start flying, readers begin exiting in droves. After all, there’s little point sticking with a series when you know it’s unlikely to receive a proper ending anyway. This simply reinforces the original cause of the cancellation rumours. There’s very little chance anyone’s going to start reading the comic at that point, and meanwhile sales drop like a rock until cancellation is the only option.

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It undoubtedly damages retailers and publishers to have a series in that situation, but it’s a difficult cycle to break. Comics that have reached a level low enough for the cancellation sharks to start swirling are already barely profitable enough to publish, and a marketing push involving a budget of any size would be highly unlikely to bring enough readers back to justify it. It’s unfortunate, but it’s how the economics works.

The question, then, is what can be done? Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer. A sustained grassroots campaign has only ever really worked in the case of Spider-Girl, which now finds itself cancelled after hanging by a thread for virtually its entire 100-issue-plus publishing history.

The best bet, it seems, is to make sure a series never sinks low enough that people can start speculating that it’s about to get cancelled, because as soon as that point is reached, it’s curtains for even the best-written book.

With that in mind, any superhero fan should have a look at the next issue of Captain Britain. It’s not destined for cancellation just yet, and if enough people take an interest, maybe it never will be…

James writes Alternate Cover every Monday at Den Of Geek. His previous column can be found here.

26 January 2009

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