Saturday, August 19, 2006

jonesing for that rush

There was a time for a lot of years that I was a junkie. Each week I needed a fix of mainlined four-color graphic heroin, and occasional, yes, I couldn't even go that 7 days and would go back looking for more. As a kid I would frequent up to four different stores to keep abreast of all the different series that I collected, as often the spinner rack at one 7-11 would get the new Detective Comics but not the Avengers, so off to another place I would go. This went on in all the different cities I lived in, from Houston to Shaumberg to San Anselmo to Diamond Bar to New York. But now I'm cured.


How do I know?

Because unlike just about everyone else in comic book land, the pushing back of Marvel's Civil War series doesn't mean a damn thing to me. If I want to read it I'll get the trade, or I'll simply be patient.

As I type that the younger me is having a fit.

Does anyone even remember how late the last issue of Dark Knight Returns was? Or the last issue of Watchmen? Good, neither do I. I do recall that they were damn late at the time, but now I don't really care. Because when I pick up my hardback Watchmen or TPB of Dark Knight Returns, Moore, Gibbons, Miller & Varley don't disappoint. They all give me the goods with stories and art that stand the test of time. And in the end, that is really what I want. How many people are still pissed off that the Kree-Skull War wasn't done entirely by Neal Adams? I still am. And thus the 30 day deadline kills another epic.

I guess that I've been there, trying to crank out the work on a monthly basis and it's tough, tough with the level of detail and care that you try to put into the work, tough because you have to rely on a number of other people not getting sick, not having kids, not having vacations, not having anything go wrong in their lives. And if the companies don't build any lead time into the schedule, or decide to change things along the way editiorially then you lose that lead time quickly.

A monthly comic? Cool, but when push comes to shove, and Marvel hands it's latest epic over to an untried artist no matter how good he may be, I'd rather wait thank you.


James Meeley said...

Actually, Charles, some of us DO remember how late the last issue of DKR was.

The problem here isn't that "real life" can get in the way. I think pretty much ANY fan, who has an ounce of rational thinking in their heads, can understand that things do not always go as planned.

The problem is, that the industry, from publisher to creator, doesn't seem interested in trying to address the issue. They just joke about it with some glib comment, if they even bother to mention it at all.

It's that lack of concern by those who should be MOST concerned, which fuels fans anger and rage over the issue. Maybe instead of telling us how much you (and by "you" I mean the industry on every level, not just you personally) don't think lateness should be an issue, you work to find ways to make lateness NOT an issue at all (or, at least much less of one, then it is right now).

You mentioned not having enough "lead time" on projects. Well, that's a good point. Maybe something should be done on that front. After all, it isn't like Civil War is the first comic to ever be late. Perhaps that's something creators, especially ones who are known for slow work production, should bring up to editors and publishers, before they take on a supposed monthly project.

Or, maybe solicitations should be held off until an issue is completed. This way, consumers and retailers don't get the rug pulled out from under them, like they have here.

Or, maybe editors could work to the strength of the artist. If you know they can't do a monthly, don't put them on one. Put on a quality artist who CAN do that grind. Lord knows there are plenty of them looking for work. If slower artists want to work on a monthly, they can do fill-ins.

Which brings up another idea, the return of fill-in artists. "Fill-in" seems to have become a dirty word in the industry, which is just stupid. There's nothing wrong with a fill-in artist, if they can produce quality work. You mentioned the Kree-Skrull War in Avengers not being finished by Neal Adams. So what? John Buscema is no hack, you know.

And these ideas are just off the top of my head. I'm sure if I really thought about it, I could come up with plenty more.

You are right that lateness shouldn't be a big deal. But not because readers and retailers shouldn't make a big deal when it happenes. It shouldn't be, because there are plenty of viable solutions to prventing lateness to begin with. Why those within the industry refuse to use them mystifies me (and many others, I'm sure).

As an artist yourself, prehaps you are too close to the subject, to see it objectively enough. You don't think it's any great shakes, but you know, lateness does hurt.

It can kill sales on a book, which hurts retailers when that huge order comes in, but those who were going to buy it now have moved on to other things. It hurts them finacially, which can put them out of business.

It hurts the indurty's reputation, as it makes it look unprofessional. In pretty much any other industry, if they were as glib about being late, as the comic industry is, they wouldn't be an industry for very long. I know if I couldn't get my job done where I work, I'd be out of a job. But comic artists can screw off on their projects, and make up the loss of funds doing magazines covers for Wizard and gaming mags. That doesn't seem right.

As I said at the start, most fans understand creators have real lives that can get in the way. They also know that the kind of quality some creators strive for, doesn't come very quickly. But as I've already shown, there ARE ways around that, to prevent it from letting lateness become the problem it has. And the fact is, it does hurt the industry when it happens, no matter how much of a
"non-issue" those within it think it is.

Maybe it's time to put away the glib sarcasm and excuses and start working on fixing the issue. I know many fans and retailers would be more than happy to do what they can to make it happen. Perhaps it's time for those within the industry to start taking it as seriously as those on the outside do. Especially seeing that they have the MOST to lose.

Just one fan's thoughts,
James Meeley

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

james - you do make a lot of great points and I agree with you on a lot of them.

I DO have problems with the lateness in a large number of cases, and I believe that you hit the nail on the head when you mention that editorial should be taking into account the speed and ability of the artist, and shape the schedules accordingly, but it seems that that hardly ever happens.

My own personal experience on coming on to a book, Good Guys #1, that was scripted and set into motion a good 90 days + before the print deadline, and it still ended up being a rushed nightmare job to complete. I actually spent 3 days in the middle of this at the Defiant offices inking 20 hours a day and sleeping on the floor of the publisher's office until the third day, when, after 16 hours of work, production sheepishly announced that they had lost 3 pages down at Kinko's. I stormed out and went back to the hotel to sleep for 10 hours.
the final book is a 200K+ print run rushed disaster that should have been pushed back.

My post was more directed at the particular disaster that is Civil War, and a little less than lateness in general (although I was using other examples to bolster my point, so I perhaps was being careless with respect to making the point).

Nothing wrong with John Buscema by the way, but I would have preferred to have had the Kree/Skrull war done entirely by Roy and Neal. Just my opinion. I do feel that if you read the collection, or just the comics in sequence, that you can see that by the final confrontation with the Supremor (sorry for the spelling), that the art is clearly being rushed, and while I understand the scheduling, I just wish that it hadn't been rushed.

And I was not addressing the side of the retailers, who clearly have a very serious issue with returnability and the decrease in foot traffic when an important issue is pushed back. Those dollars are precious for them, no question. That was not part of my post and was something that I had the idea to post on a little later.

I personally hate the characterization of artists as flakey and responsibility-avoiding, but the truth is that there are some for whom the gift causes no pain and others for whom using the gift is just as bad as not using the gift. I've known Ron Lim since we were in college and I used to hang out at his house chatting and watching bootleg Kung Fu laserdiscs while he drew page after page of Surfer. He's the guy you want doing Infinity Gauntlet, which is why marvel went to him when Perez could finish the job. The you get guys like Mike Dringenberg who is pure brilliance, and for whom trying to get that last issue of Sandman out was like pulling teeth. I still have copies of the pencils of that issue somewhere, and they slay me when i see them, since I know how hard it was to produce them. So, to your point, editorial: give Mike more time.

To your last point: I really DO hate the reputation that comics are crap, and not professional, but I also think that the idustry needs to move more in the direction of having the stand alone issues that they don't solicit until the work is done, or to have all the issues in the can by team X before soliciting while team Y is catching up on the other issues. A lot of this is editorial not having their sheduling together for a variety of reasons.

Perhaps we should have two seperate catagories for comics as product and comics as art. The art section is like books and music elsewhere inthe world: when its done, its done and you publish. Comics as product would address that idea that every 30 days we kick out a new issue of the FF and we enjoy the hell out of the serialization. I do think that we're going this way already actually. We just need to keep going.

James Meeley said...


I guess we aren't as far apart of things as your blog entry might have made it appear. I have to say, that makes me happy.

I really liked your idea for "comics as art" and "comics as product." Personally, I think that's pretty much the difference between smaller non-mainstream stuff and mainstream comics. I think it's great for a creator to follow through with their vision, at a pace they can live with. However, working in "mainstream comics" won't always give you that. You have to be willing to bend a bit on that and accept some of the responsibilities that go with it, especially when the work is supposed to be produced monthly.

I can understand your disdain for the "lazy and irresponsible creator" stereotype. I feel the same about the "smelly, socially-introverted fanboy" one. Unfortunately for both of us, those stereotypes hold SOME truth, as there are those on both sides who fit those labels all too well. All we can do, is strive to not allow ourselves to be like that and do what little we can to improve those tired and cliched images.

I also agree that most of the lateness problems do rest on the editors and publishers. They are the ones assigning the work and making the schedules. Still, creators can't totally absolve themselves of things, as they should be the ones to know their own limitations best. Frank Quietly, for example, should know he can't do his art to that level he does (or wants to do it at) and keep a monthly schedule. So, to accept a book he knows will be that way, without any type of concessions (like a huge lead time, or fill-in artists to give him breathing room on deadlines), is foolish on his part. It also could come off as greedy, arrogent and/or retarded for him to do so. Artists should always keep their own limitations in mind, when they go to accept a project. If speed isn't one of your strengths, then you shouldn't accept a monthly series. No matter how much you want to. No matter how much they offer you.

Of course, the lack of any consequences on their part is surely a part of why so few do so. It's almost always the fans and retailers who pay for editors and creators mistakes in areas like this. Is it really any wonder why they always take such offense when it happens? Then, when creators and editors try to play off the lateness as "no big deal", it only furthers the anger and resentment. It's a cycle that really needs to be broken. Editors should just admit they screwed up and fix it. Creators should just keep their mouths shut, unless they absolutely have no choice but to speak on the matter. And even then, they shouldn't act as though this is some minute matter which should be beneath notice.

I'd love to see you do a blog on the fans/retailers side to this stuff. Perhaps if one of the industry's own, such as yourself, were to make the case for them, others within the industry might be more inclided to take note. I sometimes wonder if part of the reason this issue never seems to be addressed, despite there being so many easy ways to prevent it, is because the ones doing the complaining are the "low ones on the totempole."

As I said before, this type of thing hurts the reputation of the industry. And with all the movies, video games, cartoons and other things which are taking the source material from comics nowadays, this should be comics time to shine. But stumbling blocks, like lateness, continue to hold them back, when they really don't have to. Not the least of why, is because stuff like this can so easily be addressed before becoming a problem.

We all know how creative those within the industry are. So, let's put that creativity to work in logistical way, as well as artistic. After all, just because you are creative doesn't give you the licence to play the role of a fool. I know we (that is, we meaning the comics community and industry as a whole) are smarter than that, as to let lateness become an issue like it has. Let's show everyone else what we already know: You can be creative AND intelligent at the same time.