Robot 6

The Middle Ground #105 | How long has this been going on?

Reading Greg Rucka feel anxious about the timely release of his new Stumptown arc got me thinking about the strange, hypocritical and entirely arbitrary attitude I have somehow developed toward the shipping schedules of superhero books versus creator-owned comics. Warning: It may be ridiculous.

Timeliness has become more and more of an issue in superhero comics in recent years (especially the last year, as digital releases — which have to be ready to someone else’s schedule, and much sooner than the print deadline — have become more important in the grand scheme of things), but it’s really not that long ago that mainstream superhero books were delayed almost as a matter of course in order to ensure the creators who started the book were the ones who finished the book. Remember the months-long delay for issues of The Ultimates or Civil War? It was an era where fans really got on the side of creator ownership not in the legal sense — come, now. That would be unthinkable — but in the sense of caring who was telling the story, and being perfectly fine with waiting for that story to be told. Well, if you were a Marvel fan, that is; if you were a DC reader, you’d discover that Infinite Crisis had five different pencilers in its last issue, but at least it hit stores before 52 launched.

I have to admit, I was on the latter side, in more ways than one. In theory, I’m all in favor of the creators having full control of their stories and I’m definitely in favor of creators being able to tell the whole story from start to finish. But … there’s this part of my brain that also goes, “Well, it’s a Superman comic, I feel like that that should be able to be cranked out monthly” for reasons that I can’t quite understand. There’s something about the already-extant production line mentality about superhero books that makes me not only perfectly okay with creative ownership being shared on them, but also almost prefers it: Instead of artistic expressions, they feel like “product,” if that makes sense, and the timeliness of product takes priority for me in a way I can’t quite explain.

Compare that with indie books — more specifically, creator-owned books — and my attitude is entirely different. To use the Stumptown example that started this train of thought off: I didn’t care about the delays. I’m not sure I was even necessarily aware of them beyond their existence; I know that there was a delay, but I couldn’t tell you how long it was, nor did I care at the time. Indie books have a “They’ll appear when they appear” pass for me, born I suspect from the idea that they’re creations of … love, for want of a better way to put it, or genuine artistic expression, than commerce or business, although obviously both come into play somewhere along the line. Nonetheless, I have drawn this strange and unusual line that it’s one thing for ongoing franchise books to be compromised in order to hit their release dates, but not other books, which… surprises me, I guess.

For some books, it only makes sense; no one beside Dan Clowes can do a Dan Clowes book, and the idea of anyone but Kevin Huizenga doing Ganges makes me depressed. But for others, less so; another artist could, in theory, have helped Stumptown or whatever stay on deadline without completely ruining it, if they could’ve kept within Matthew Southworth’s visual style, right …? And yet, there’s something about that idea that fills me with the kind of “No! Are you crazy?” that I don’t feel about someone suggesting that Bryan Hitch get subbed by Stuart Immonen on Fantastic Four or whatever.

I give up. Maybe I’m falling for a completely fictitious idea of creator owned and indie being somehow more artistically “pure” that franchise superhero, but my patience, it seems, is stronger for the former than the latter. As much as that realization makes me cringe, it also makes me curious: Where are everyone else’s lines for the lateness issue?

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26 Comments

See that’s weird because my feelings are almost the inverse. I am more forgiving of superhero books because I know they’re going to come out sooner or later, but with independent titles the delays sometimes last so freakin’ long that I tend to notice them more and get more frustrated by them.

But really in neither case do I want other creators to step in and finish the job, ideally. I’m always in favor of everyone getting to finish the stories they set out to tell.

bluedevil2002

May 29, 2012 at 7:38 pm

To use the Superman example…there’s usually more than one Superman comic a month, so it’s not like we’re getting a “pure” creative version each month. Also, because Superman has been around for so long, there’s not just one creative team attached.

With Stumptown, it’s Rucka’s book. You really can’t just get someone else to come in and do it.

I think that’s why things are different.

The increasing trend of treating artists as interchangeable parts has caused me to ignore many big 2 books that I would otherwise be interested in. Switching artists in the middle of a story arc or even in the middle of an issue just kills the flow of a book for me.

Completely get where you’re coming from with this. If my Swamp Thing or Animal issues are delayed I’d likely be very vocal about my unhappiness. I’m reading infinite Vacation right now and Boy has there been a lag between issues but I don’t mind (also Christian Ward, artist on the book, reassures me that the final issue is going to be worth the wait). Similarly Hickman’s S.H.I.E.L.D. is one issue away from completion yet I’m highly frustrated that even after moving to a bi-monthly schedule the second volume often had shipping delays. But If S.H.I.E.L.D. had been released on Image I’d be a lot less miffed about it. Weird, and hypocritical, but that’s just the way I think. Though I really don’t want to see anybody other than Dustin Weaver doing that final issue.

I had never bought a monthly before the New 52, and when I heard that delays had been a problem before, I couldn’t believe it. TV shows come out every week. You get reruns and season breaks, but by and large those are scheduled well in advance. Delays are rare and major delays are unheard or except for something like a writers’ strike.

Comic strips come out every day. Magazines come out when they’re supposed to. Newspaper columns come out every day or every week without exception. Garrison never says “I’ll get you the news from Lake Woebegone next week.” He does one every show, and it’s always on Saturday.

I can’t think of any other medium that has regular delays. A big, one-off project like an original graphic novel, say a movie or an album might have a delay, but nothing that comes out as a series has that kind of variable schedule. Even with the theater or a symphonie, if I pay for a season ticket, I get regular performances on the nights they’re scheduled.

I can understand a creator-owned comic coming out irregularly, but only if it’s an amateur work or a work of passion. I don’t expect a youtube blogger to update on schedule, but I also expect them to have another job. If selling periodicals is how you make your money, you should do it regularly.

It’s very weird, in that it’s clear companies like DC and Marvel don’t really care as much about the end product as getting it out on time, but as a reader, I get really turned off by shifting artists. Example: I’m not a huge Humberto Ramos fan–he’s fine–but I would much rather have him draw the entire arc of Amazing Spider-Man “Ends of the Earth” and have it take as long as it takes, than have him alternate with an artist with a completely different style. It really diminishes my interest in the story to constantly have to recalibrate to how this or that artists draws.

I get what you’re saying about expecting superhero books on time, but that sort of emphasizes how, I think, we’ve come to expect so little from these comics. They’re fast food, and you don’t wait on fast food. You buy it and wolf it down. It’s not great, but it’s there, and it more or less gets the job done. But I have to say, the really good books are harder and harder to find, for me, and when you find one it seems to be under siege from the same mentality that seems to want to ruin everything by turning it into simple product. Many folks like Waid’s Daredevil run, but how much better would it be if Marcos Martin or Paolo Rivera drew all of it, no matter what the delays might be to make that happen, and with no banal detours like having to cross over with The Punisher to try to transfer some heat onto that title? I’d rather have six issues of stellar than thirteen of okay or pretty good.

That fast food analogy is perfect. And exactly why I don’t buy from the Big Two. Why would I buy a lower quality product, often at a higher price? Have you ever compared an issue printed by Marvel to one printed by Image? The Marvel issue feels like tissue paper by comparison.

But, to stay on topic, I also prefer creator owned books because the art, generally, stays the same all the way through. I’m very willing to forgive a delay because I know the comic is going to be good. And if it isn’t, I stop buying it.

I have a more lax attitude with Superhero books. I know that it’s gonna ship eventually. I have a much harder time with indies as sometimes, it stalls long and there are a few that never finished.

PsychoticWolfman77

June 2, 2012 at 9:27 am

“I can’t think of any other medium that has regular delays.”

Video games are delayed all the time, that’s a big one. Also the movie G.I. Joe Retaliation was just delayed 9 months a mere month before release. As for TV shows, well, now it’s not uncommon for shows to take a midseason break, or for sitcoms to show reruns in the middle of a season between new episodes, which is kind of the same thing as a delay for new content.

Comics does have a problem with delays, but yeah, pretty much what I’ve heard it seems many excellent artists can’t fit 12 comics in a year. So if you want that excellent detailed artist’s topnotch work on every issue, there’ll be delays. Plus the whole soliciting everything several months ahead of time thing and hoping to stay on that schedule, I can understand why comics get delayed. Not that I like that, but I can understand it.

Hmmm on the interesting delays versus fill-in artists thing, that’s a good question. Personally I can dig a comic that has say 10 issues by the main artist a year, with a couple fill ins by another fitting artist to keep the schedule more reasonable for the main artist. That’s what Invincible is doing, though the fill-in guy is the original co-creator too so that’s a nice situation.

Long story short, where the hell is Image United.

@ Jonsey Stark
I am glad you brought up S.H.I.E.L.D. but I am pretty sure it is more than one issue away from completion. I have been very annoyed by it absence from my pull list, to the point where I email Hickman to ask what the deal was. Well the artist (Davis?) is working on two issues right now. It was nice to get the info that they are indeed coming out eventually, what I did not expect was how glad I was that the artist was not changing, a worry that I did not consciously have early. Personally I have more of a connection with the artists of stories than the writers. I think artists get the short end of the stick in terms of credit for a great book (Brubaker could leave Captain America and I would not care in the least, i love his other work though). As an example, in the new “stay angry” story arc of The Hulk, they have brought in a new artist. I cannot stand his style, and at some points in the plot my dislike towards his talent is distracting me from a pretty fun storyline. I just realized I am not really talking about delays anymore.

Delays are a bummer, I feel a bit more forgiving towards the big two though. The fact is that I will like the hulk despite having to wait through delays as a character he will not change. Indie comics and characters are different, I dont have the same strong emotional attachments to them, a LONG delay and my memory fades a bit, they are not as cemented into my mind i guess. (some, not all though)

Bear in mind: Marvel and DC both pay plenty of money to the people who write and draw their superhero books. But if you’re working on a creator-owned comic, you’re either working off an advance — which is rare, and usually small — or you’re getting no money up front, and get paid 100% off royalties. And since royalties are based on net profit — the amount of money the book brings in, minus the publisher’s expenses — that means you may or may not get any money.

In a lot of cases, creator-owned books are late because the creators are having to take on other work just to pay rent and put food on the table — because their creator-owned book isn’t paying for that stuff.

So, likewise — I’m much more okay with a creator-owned book shipping late than I am with a Marvel/DC WFH book shipping late.

With respect to S.H.I.E.L.D., it was initially meant as a bi-weekly. I love Dustin Weaver’s style, so I am fine with the wait.

With indies, I understand the delays, but some delays are too long. For example, Infinite Vacation has had 4 issues in 18 months and it was supposed to be a monthly 5-issue miniseries. I read the fourth issue last night and I didn’t remember almost anything from before. I have no idea why the owner of the company wants to destroy Mark. No idea.

Similarly, with Sweets and Turf, two miniseries which I loved at first, the delays were so long that I feel I lost a lot. I could have reread the previous issues, but it is a bummer to have to do that when they could have planned the output differently. I understand with Sweets, since it is a personal project and the artist needed money in the meantime to pay the bills, but I don’t think that was the case with Turf.

Anyways, I think being on time is important for indies and for the big 2. I love that Irredeemable was always on time. If it hadn’t been always on time, I would have given up on it.

marvel zombies destroy ! series is very dark and muddy looking and the story and characters are rushed through , why can’t marvel find some decent artist and writer for it?

To me, the big big problem with delays for creator-owned books is that they kill their own chances of being successful if they can’t come out on time. The perpetual hype machines for DC and Marvel completely drown out those brief moments when a creator-owned book might get some attention on sites like this one. The return of some once-buzzed small press title is never going to get as much attention as the fact that Malibu Stacy has a new hat this month.

I think the digital audience will be less forgiving of lateness, regardless of whether it is Big Two or indies, then print fans. The print comic book audience has been trained to wait a month (and then some) between issues, or to wait 6 months (and then some) for trades. (Cranky old man voice) them Internet kids expect updates a lot faster (maybe Twitter faster). I think it works out better for the Big Two, since they have huge backlists (Think this month’s Spider-man vs. the Scorpion fight is cool, check out these 40 other Spider-man vs. the Scorpion fights). A lot of independent comic books are touted as “finite stories”, and I think that will be the way of the future, having the whole thing done before uploading it. Making that work will require a whole new way of financing.

Judge Fred MANSON

June 2, 2012 at 1:28 pm

I do not care at all when an indy comic book will be published. I prefer to wait it and have in my hands when it is available.

I also have though “why there is not another artist in the team?”. Intern conflicts: well, a supplemental artist is good for the scheduling. OK. A supplemental artist is not good for just the scheduling.

If the whole story is written with two main mixed stories, then it is interesting to see the differences between these two stories with two different artistic approaches. So, the supplemental artist option is good.

Otherwise, this supplemental artist option is a non viable one.

Now, about junk mainstreamed comic books – just bough to help me to wait the true comic books, I do not care at all who is writing the story and who is drawing it. I really do not care at all. And when all is very bad, it is much easier to have the famous excuse to drop these junk comic books!!!! :)

I want my super-hero books to be on time, like clockwork, month after month.

To me, a creator, if they want to work for one of the big 2, should do so knowing they are expected to produce work on time. I’d get fired from my job if I turned in my work whenever I felt like it instead of when it was expected and when I committed to have it done. They don’t own the characters, they were hired to work on them.

The creator-owned books are another thing. The creator determines the schedule for those because they own them.

From a retail point of view lateness is a REAL problem. I don’t need a monthly book to come out week 1 every week, but a monthly book should have an issue every month, otherwise don’t call it a monthly. You need to manage customers expectations. There is nothing worse than an irregular comic buyer who asks when the next issue of a book is coming out and I have to look at the Diamond website to find out how delayed it is and that customer walking out of the store unsatisfied and not interested in buying another book late may be late… “I’ll just wait for the Trade”. (And then they buy it from Amazon for 65% off.)

If you’re doing a limited series, I think it should be completed or near completed when a publisher solicits it. And maybe a few issues of an ongoing should be finished before it starts (worked for Jim Lee)

CONTINUITY MATTERS

June 2, 2012 at 10:11 pm

For companies with deep pockets and tons of creators dying to do work for the bigger guys— there is no excuse. IF an artist is sick- he gets replaced… if its a mini series– then it should have been waay ahead of schedule before the 1st issue shipped.
NO EXCUSE for a BIG company regular book to be late.

Now Indies on the other had have many hurtles to over come…. 99% of the creative teams have other jobs to pay the bills. Or simply cannot afford some of the hidden pitfalls that publishing throws at us. Its a big deal to get 4 issues out in 6 or 8 months.
Indys are excused.

I once heard David Mack say (and I’m paraphrasing here) that it’s “better to have something that comes out late, than something come out crap. In five years time, people aren’t going to remember that there were delays in between issues, but they will remember if the book wasn’t very good”.

I buy books in tpb format, and had no idea Civil War was delayed in between issues. I did at one point remember reading the book and going, “this art is awesome, why can’t other artists be as good as this?”

You’re posing a false dichotomy here. I would like both the talent to stay consistent in an arch AND the books to come out on time. There are actually books that have lost me as a reader because of delays — not because of a protest but because I lose track, forget about the story, and the narrative loses it’s momentum. The solution really is to produce books far enough ahead of release that you have the whole arc in the can before it hits stores. When it comes to limited series, especially events like Civil War and Infinite Crisis, there’s no excuse to not have planned, written, and drawn those far enough in advance to make sure they hit stores in a timely manner. This is really a logistics/production issue more than it is a creative one.

Quality over everything. I don’t care if it takes James Stokoe two years to finish an issue of Orc Stain as long as it is good. In Europe for many series we get one 48 to 64 page or so album a year or more and no one’s complaining.

There is absolutely no reason for a main stream comic to come out late. These artist and writers are paid to do a job, not paid to do a job and finish when they feel like it. If they can’t handle a monthly book don’t take on the responsibility of one. Comic books are comic books not a picasso! On my job if I am continually late I get fired. Example image united, what the hell happend there. They should know by now not to publish any issues until all are finished. And notice its mostly allways the same writers and artists, mostly artists. As for Indy books same thing don’t salicit a monthly book if u can’t finish it on time. Maybe put it in a trade. I’m sick of the excuses about artistic integrity. If they had integrity in there job they wouldn’t be late. Nuff said. Sorry about my spelling.

I guess I’ll start out by admitting that I’m a “wait for the trade” reader mostly, so my patience might be more lenient than others. But I firmly believe that in either creator owned stories, or monthly superhero books from the “big2″, quality takes precedence over timliness. The two examples I’ll use, Grant morrison’s “New X-men”, the frank quitely issues are masterpieces of x men lore, they flow with the fractured, erratic writing style that Morrison uses. They were plagued with delays because quietly uses so much detail and intricacies in his art, that it’s difficult to produce 32 pages a month of it in a timely fashion. Marvel substituted Ivan kordey with short notice when quietly wasn’t meeting his deadlines. When I read the new x men omnibus, I cringe at every page of kordey’s rushed, scrawled art. (not entirely his fault, as some issues he had to pencil with mere days notice to meet marvels deadline) It breaks up the visual continuity and style of the book so much that it’s distracting from the story. (I almost wanted to write marvel asking them to pay quietly to finish the issues for re-release) as a finished piece of art that will be reprinted several times and read years later, overall quality is much more important than whether or not it was released on time years prior.
My second example would be Warren ellis’s Planetary. It’s an absolute masterpiece, perhaps my favorite series beyond Neil gaimans sandman. It’s 27 issues took something like 8 years to be released. But John cassadays art is breathtaking, humbling. It fits the series like a glove. And as a result of the 8 years that it took Ellis to write the story, it has an immense sense of scope and grandeur. You watch both the characters and the storytelling itself evolve into something greater.
It took Steven king something like 20 years to finish “The gunslinger”, and personally, I’m glad it did.
In the end, it’s the amazing stories and art that we take from these books we love. Expecting prompt releases at the expense or art and story just seems like selling these creators short.
Patience young Jedi…

I feel the same way you feel, Graeme. And for pretty much the same reasons. I think also, a lot of independent creators have day jobs too, so it’s understandable to not be able to keep a monthly schedule.

What Diggity said. I’m tired of the art whiplash at the big two, but mostly Marvel, as they double ship the heck out of their books, and use multiple artists on a story arc or even a single issue.

I rarely notice if a book is late a couple of weeks, as I just buy them when they come out. Books being months late, OTOH, are pretty much cutting their own throat sales wise, as I tend to lose interest.

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