When it comes to any kind of entertainment media, the producers are effectively left with one of two choices. They can either go with a serial approach, hooking in viewers (or readers) early and getting them to commit to the series; or they can go with an episodic approach, allowing consumers to enjoy the series in bite-sized pieces that are in relative isolation.
Naturally, there are pros and cons to either approach. With a serial configuration, you have a greater likelihood of gaining a loyal following. Take Harry Potter as an example. People who have read the first couple of books are very inclined to read the ones that followed (and watch the accompanying movies), because they are invested in the characters and want to know what happens next. The same is true with many comic books, as well as serial television series like Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire. However, newcomers to the series will feel like they are “out of the loop,” because the serial approach relies on pre-existing knowledge from prior offerings.
On the flip side, an episodic approach allows readers, viewers, and listeners to enjoy the series in smaller pieces. These episodes can be viewed or read in relative isolation. While some pre-existing knowledge about the characters and their circumstances would be helpful, it is not necessary. A typical example of this would be many sitcoms, like Seinfeld and The Office. The episodes do not have to be watched in sequential order; that would be better, but not necessary. This is not the case with a serial approach.
So, what does this mean? If you are considering embarking on a creative venture, you’ll need to make this critical decision before you even get started. With a popular webcomic like XKCD, subscribers can view the comics in any given order and gain the same level of satisfaction. At the same time, they may not be as vested in the series, feeling that missing one or two offerings is forgivable. Such is not the case with serial comics and TV series. Which path you choose can have a monumental impact on the success of your comic, TV show, movie series, or any other creative venture.