More Than Comics: The Importance of Backmatter to the Reading Experience

While the days of mail order ads and snail mail letters are gone, comic book backmatter is as important as ever. Particularly with creator-owned comics, single issues and collected editions are coming with all kinds of extra content that provides readers a more immersive experience.

Story Related
Writer Jonathan Hickman is notorious for putting his design skills to work on his comic’s extra content, creating everything from maps and infographics for East of West (illustrated by Nick Dragotta), to secret codes and message board transcripts for The Black Monday Murders (illustrated by Tomm Coker). While these materials aren’t completely necessary for readers to understand and enjoy the story, they do cultivate a much richer world with a seemingly real history. Some writers even use backmatter as a place to give real story beats and information that directly influences the story, like Brian Wood did during the first arc of The Massive (illustrated by Kristian Donaldson and Garry Brown).

Though not world-building in the traditional sense, The Violent by Ed Brisson and Adam Gorham includes a short story or comic about Toronto by other Canadian natives, further creating the scene with which the story takes place. Invisible Republic by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman, and Kill or be Killed by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips create a similar effect by publishing short thought pieces on the future (Invisible Republic) or revenge films (Kill or be Killed) that expand on the world that each story lives in. Indoctrination by Michael Moreci and Matt Battaglia is another great example, which uses political essays by notable contributors to draw a parallel between the real world and comic’s story.

Reader Submitted
Letters sections have made a comeback in recent years, but many have had some divergence from the ones of the golden age. Whether it’s the southern recipes readers submit to Southern Bastards (by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour), or the tales of newspaper slinging that former paper delivery professionals submit to The American Newspaper Delivery Guild of Paper Girls (by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang), creators have managed to get readers involved through submissions that are unique to the world of that comic.

Ales Kot took this idea further with the second arc of Wolf, publishing a multi-page reader-submitted comic at the end of each issue. These comics may not say anything about the story, the world, or even the genre of Wolf, but it does say something about the comic’s creator, giving a voice to a number of unpublished writers and cartoonist.

Process Pieces
Most popular with collected editions, process pieces like sketches, thumbnails, character designs, and scripts give a glimpse into the making of the comic. The popularity of these works have given rise to artist’s editions that give readers an even deeper look at how comics are made. These process pieces provide a bridge from the original idea to the final product, showing the transformations that takes place at each step of the process.

Blurred Lines
Story related, reader submitted, and process pieces may be convenient ways to define the kinds of backmatter, but the truth is, it usually appears different in practice. Some books have a combination of all three, while others may implement something undefinable by these categories. As comic creators continue to come up with innovative ways to use backmatter, these lines will further be blurred, just like the lines between reality and that comic’s world.

What are some of your favorite uses of backmatter? Share them with us at @ComicLeaksCom #ComicBookBackmatter.

About George Aslanian

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