TV and comics 1: The Act Out

I consume the vast majority of my TV shows either on DVD, Iplayer or Netflix. What this means is that I have not internalised the advertisement-based act structure that commercial television requires. In commercial TV shows, there is an ‘act out’ before each ad break to convince the viewer to stay tuned. For the viewer there is an escape point from watching, not just at the end of every season and every episode, but every time commercial pressures force the TV company to interrupt the flow of the narrative by trying to sell us washing powder.

Comics have a similar structure. A full story arc is often available as a collected edition and this generally collects 6 or so monthly comics. These collected editions are the single season TV box sets of the comic world. Many are the readers who, rather than wait for the story to be collected, want to watch the story unfold month by month, as soon as it is available. Clearly, each episode must also end with a hook to make the reader pick up the next issue. But, just like TV shows on commercial channels have the extra act out running up to the ad break, so every comic has a page out. Each odd-numbered page, found on the right hand side, must compel the reader to turn the page. This is what keeps the reader leafing through in a frenzy to discover what happens next.

DVD box sets and streaming services are diluting the awareness of pre-commercial act outs. Similarly, panel-by-panel or single page at a time comic reading software like Comixology is diluting our awareness of the page out. Most comics are still consumed in paper books, but as we increasingly move to digital models, it will be interesting how this narrative device will evolve.

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