Comic Books Aren’t Late Enough Anymore

You may not find this as funny as I did.

(is privately my name for my column, and also)

This weekend, I was thinking about how far comic book readers seemed to have come as a group since I rejoined the fold ten or so years ago, or at least the comic book readers I encounter on a regular basis. Maybe Newsarama threads have descended into Lord of the Flies, with people putting each other’s avatars on pikes at the edge of camp, but I’ll never know. All I know is that the view is pretty good from where I’m standing.

In particular, I was thinking about lateness. Or rather, I was thinking about how I never think about lateness anymore. If you’ve just started reading comics in the last two years or so, you may not even know what I’m talking about, God bless your little heart, but in the early 21st century there seemed to be some kind of highly contagious tardiness epidemic going around. One of the first books I was reading when I got back into comics was this Joss Whedon miniseries, Fray; it was an eight issue series that took two years to conclude. After issue six, it just disappeared for a year without a word. Around the time it was winding down, Kevin Smith started a Black Cat miniseries that took a three-year break (three years!) halfway through so he could devote his undivided focus to crafting and honing Jersey Girl. He also authored a Daredevil “series” that put out one issue and abruptly ceased to exist altogether. Years later, Jon Favreau did the same thing to Iron Man.

The money I spent on those two books could have gotten me a delicious sandwich, many Snickers bars, or something else that actually ended up being satisfying, but never mind that now. No lawyer would file that class action suit.

It wasn’t just the Hollywood types who were guilty of this behavior, either (although Damon Lindelof deserves at least an honorable mention). From Miller to Millar, just about every high-profile creator that comes to mind was delayed by one thing or another during those heady days. There were months when I thought Image had gone out of business. According to my dodgy memory formed from my dodgy perception, the public at large finally seemed to lose their marbles about all of it when Marvel announced that the last issues of Civil War were, as I recall, running about an hour and a half behind schedule.

“This is the greatest outrage in the history of human endeavor!” people cried. “We need to take a stand against these fat cat comic book creators, sleeping until noon while the rest of us camp out in the cold rain for books that will never come. We must vote with our wallets and punish these layabouts for their hostile disrespect for the audience. They knew the schedule when they signed up for the project. They should have prepared for this somehow. Stand up and be heard, reader! We want our comics, and we want them like clockwork!”

Oh, Ziggy. Will you never win?

I was idly reflecting on those days when I realized I hadn’t heard anyone trying to start that rally for a long time now. It had been ages since I heard anyone complain about delays. In fact, the only complaints I could remember seeing lately were “who’s this clown drawing issue #6 of my DC book?” and “why is Marvel trying to kill me by double shipping all these series and shifting the artists around so much?”

“Oh,” I suddenly realized. “They haven’t stopped complaining. They’ve just shifted their complaints to complain about the exact opposite thing. They’re complaining about getting exactly what they said they wanted five years ago.”

Who is this clown drawing #6 of your DC book, instead of the usual artist you like? I believe his name is Johnny The Book Is Coming Out On Time Congratulations. You are outraged by having to wait for the next issue? Well, now it’s coming twice as fast as ever. You literally asked for it.

Perhaps you should be more careful with your monkey’s paw next time.

I would not work in the comic book industry for a million, million dollars. (Well, maybe for exactly that much. Make me an offer.) It is impossible to please anyone. The readership reminds me of a moment from one of my favorite Simpsons episodes, “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show”:

Focus Group Guy: [after showing the kids some Itchy & Scratchy cartoons] Okay, how many kids would like Itchy & Scratchy to deal with real life problems like the ones you face every day?

[all kids cheer]

Focus Group Guy: And who would like to see them do just the opposite, getting into far-out situations involving robots and magic powers?

[kids cheer again]

Focus Group Guy: So… you want a realistic down-to-earth show that’s completely off the wall and swarming with magic robots?

Milhouse Van Houten: And, also, you should win things by watching.

Focus Group Guy: [sighs]

There will always be someone crying injustice or conspiracy because a publisher did something they thought would make people buy something and like it. They didn’t get a fill-in artist for Cassaday on Astonishing X-Men, and the delays were upsetting. They started rotating artists to prevent delays, and that was upsetting. They gave everyone more of their favorite books, and people started wearing barrels to the store, inconsolable. You may not find that funny, but I laughed long and hard about it this week. They just can’t win.

 


Jim Mroczkowski gets outraged, too, but he’s going to start with blood diamonds and work his way down to Yanick Paquette’s work ethic.

Comments

  1. CaseyJustice CaseyJustice says:

    I love you, Jim.

    God, I just…

    I fucking love you so much.

    • Agreed 100%

      The internet has made me realize that complaining is just people’s natural state. they do it without consciously thinking about it, like breathing.

  2. kirbyk kirbyk says:

    Spot on.

    Personally, I like the 2012 problem more than the 2002 problem. But this may be because I’m a word person more than an art person and follow writers more than artists. I can concede that many comic fans lean more the other way and it’s more of an imposition to have an issue, or even an arc, with a fill-in. I only really care if the fill-in artist isn’t very good.

    • KenOchalek KenOchalek says:

      Me too. And I think for the most part, the publishers have been pretty good at choosing fill-in artists. Some folks clearly have more limited preferences in art than I do, but the fill-ins I’ve seen in the books I read have been entirely acceptable.

      That said, Francis Manapul better keep his act together on The Flash! ;-)

    • player1 player1 says:

      It’s true that editors do try and keep the same stable of artists, or type of artists, or colorist on a book these days to give a title more continuity.

      I think, for instance, that Ramos, Caselli and Camuncoli work well in rotation on ASM.

      I loved the Rivera/Martin trade-off on DD. I welcome Samnee to the party.

      I’m liking the choices for the new Cap so far.

      The Mighty Thor has looked consistently nice.

      I’m thinking of instances like Chris Sotomayor or Dean White as colorist.

      I’m not hating what Marvel is doing at all.

      I don’t buy enough DC to notice.

  3. flakbait flakbait says:

    heh. I read in trade now, but when I was still reading in issues I simply stopped reading the books that were chronically late or just had ridiculous schedules. Lone Ranger. Rasl. I almost didn’t pick up the last issue of Red Mass for Mars (then when I did I wondered why I had).

  4. itsbecca itsbecca says:

    I am waiting patiently for issue #10 of Fell.

  5. Vuk Vuk says:

    Oh Jimski !

  6. MikeFarley says:

    SONIC DISRUPTORS #8 is about 24 years later. Sooner or later I’m going to give up waiting.

  7. Without going into a full rant, which I failed in the Walking Dead thread so we’ll see here, I’ll just chime in for two seconds.

    I don’t think artists are lazy or bad at their jobs. I just think we live in an age where artists aren’t trained to be more timely. Lateness is becoming such a problem now that it seems that finding an artist who can do things monthly is more rare then an artist who can’t. All I want is just the best artists to be on time, why is that so hard? I can’t imagine you’re going to lose quality if say Rob Guillory had a better schedule. It doesn’t take away Guillory’s talents, it just makes him a bit faster.

    I don’t know, I just don’t think it’s a crazy idea to expect artists to be better at this in an age where everything is quicker.

    • player1 player1 says:

      Yet if one points to specific examples, it’s usually that the books are double-shipping, not that the artists are too slow.

      At least as far as Marvel is concerned.

      I couldn’t comment on DC.

    • itsbecca itsbecca says:

      Quickness is definitely a skill. Some people can still pump out amazing things at breakneck speeds, but some people… can’t? I think it with people who haven’t, can’t or won’t master that skill you’re definitely going to have a drop in quality if you were to force them to speed up (No question here really.) Some artists, particularly very good and established artists, aren’t willing to put their name on something that isn’t up to their standards. And there’s the thing, you can’t exactly *force* someone to speed up. You can say, “We’re going to replace you if you can’t meet this deadline.” but that doesn’t mean they’ll be able or willing.

      So what you’re proposing would have to come from an entire shift in the academic training of artists, not a business decision. It may be a good idea, but it’s impractical.

    • @itsbecca: I don’t know why that is impractical considering it’s what people who train the artists should be teaching in the first place. Clearly someone didn’t tell Rags Morales how to be talented but also be a tad quicker on it.

      When I see Charlie Adlard do it month in and month out with very few problems I know it can be done. One of my favorite artists, Patrick Gleason, is doing it right now and he is notorious for missing deadlines before the relaunch. His art is just as beautiful to look at when he has a month to work on Batman and Robin then the extra time he took for Green Lantern Corps.

    • its impossible to get into an artists head or studio and figure out what takes him or her as long as it takes to create content, but the accusation that “laziness” or lack of professionalism feels very unfair to me, especially viewed through the lens of how little money there is working in comics.

      But i will propose this question…might it sometimes be the fans fault that books ship late? We expect and demand so much detail in the pages, to the point where every single piece of garbage on the ground should be fully branded, every glimmer of detail on a costume be fully rendered, and every building in Gotham’s skyline needs to be designed. I dunno, maybe we expect too much?

      or twitter and video games as many have mentioned in the past. *shrug*

    • itsbecca itsbecca says:

      @TNC I agree it would be a good thing to take into better consideration in art school. It’s an extremely valuable skill. And I don’t mean it’s impossible if there were a movement to get it done. Why I say it’s impractical is because that’s not how it’s done and that’s not a movement with a lot of say right now. Getting anything changed in academics is a huge undertaking and you need the educators on your side, and they’re not.

      Also, it doesn’t work to say “Artist A can do it, why doesn’t artist B.” Creative fields aren’t so formulaic. Artists have vastly different ways of working.

    • @itsbecca and TNC–i can’t speak to every art school, but the good programs certainly do stress professionalism and meeting deadlines from your first day there. I went to a top tier school and did a lot in the illustration departments and that was as important part of the conversation as the work. But yes its always a challenge to balance the artistic needs with the client needs.

      Quickess, at least in design becomes more of a bi-product of experience. After a while, it becomes faster and easier, and your thinking and problem solving skills become that much sharper.

    • robguillory robguillory says:

      @TNC: Hey, my schedule is like clockwork, buddy. 4 weeks to do pencils and inks. 1 week to do colors. Any delays I’ve had in 2011 were due to traveling great distances to see people like you. Or giving birth to a human.

      It’s more complicated than just being trained to hit a deadline. Artists these days tend to have ADD. And the reading audience don’t penalize them for that. Ex: If you guys stopped buying Joe Mad books, I’m sure he’d be more inspired to hit a steady deadline on more than 3 books per millennium.

    • rottenjorge rottenjorge says:

      wow its instrsting when creators respond, can i ask @robguillory in the 4 weeks how many pages pages do you or how a page a day or half a day or depends?

    • robguillory robguillory says:

      @rottenjorge: Page per day. That’s 20 pages in 4 weeks, plus a cover.

    • Well first let me apologize to Mr. Guillory if he thought I was being rude or trying to offend him. I am in no way trying to make you guys, the artists, the bad guy here in that you’re lazy or what not. Cause I made it clear earlier I don’t believe artists are lazy or don’t work their butt off to meet deadlines. They obviously do because if they didn’t then they wouldn’t have a job. And of course if anything personal happens in their lives that is a whole other thing that makes any delays obvious. I remember you, Mr. Guillory, tweeting about your child being born and in no way was I thinking in the back of my head: “God that better means Chew isn’t delayed!”. Cause that would be a horrible thought for anyone to have and any other type of personal matter would be the same way.

      I just used you as an example and maybe I shouldn’t because I don’t know the whole picture in an artist life. Maybe that’s the big lesson in all of this because we don’t know what artists are doing 24/7 outside of their work (whether it be good or bad) So again I’m sorry if I offended you in any way and I hope the next several years I see more and more of your outstanding work on Chew and future series to come.

      However….and let me try and respond to you and some of the others who posted here. I don’t really think ADD is an excuse, life is but not ADD, because I’m sure a ton of artists back in the old days had it too. Look at how the masters at the time did their work and I bet a good chunk of them met deadlines for not one but several books at a time. Somewhere down the line, and it would be interesting to see when we can pinpoint it, the way artists went about doing their work has changed. Whether it be personal or practical, comic book artists in today’s world don’t go at the same pace as say the artists from the 60s to the 90s. It became a slow change to how artists go about their work today and I just find it strange that it seems to be getting “worse” (i.e. we’re kinda accepting it) and not trying to teach future generations of artists to go about it in a slightly faster fashion.

      Basically, in short (too late), I don’t see how ‘Faster=Poor Quality” that some others on this debate seem to have.

    • itsbecca itsbecca says:

      Don’t ask me to pinpoint when, but I think it because artists have come more into the spotlight, and we’ve encouraged more elaborate work: painted interiors (Ross), manic detail (Jae Lee) or unusual painting techniques (Templesmith) etc. And a book doesn’t necessarily need elaborate art, but it sure is lovely. Back in the day people bought characters they liked. Then they started to follow quality writers, because they knew they’d write any character in a compelling way. Now we have a large contingency of people who will follow an artist from book to book, purely because they love their work. (Are you one of these people? If not, that alone would explain the disparity.)

      I think that sort environment makes the artist more than a job that anyone can fill, it makes their books a destination which means that they will be given leeway, because taking them off will mean some outrage and possible a drop in sales. Think if they kicked … I don’t know… Geoff Johns off a book for being late. That would be insane. So some people think the same way about certain artists.

      I’m a designer, so I’m, of course, sympathetic to artists. I’ll say again, people work at different paces, and while I do feel it’s an artists responsibility to understand their limitations and accept jobs accordingly, I know saying no is one of the most difficult skills to acquire in a lifetime, especially to a project you’re interested in.

      So, in short, you’re not wrong per se. It’s just the current paradigm.

  8. mguy77 mguy77 says:

    Well I took a stand after Civil War & Old Man Logan storylines were finished. I didn’t buy Marvel big events post CW & no more Millar books PERIOD. I support DC for getting the stuff out on time. Creator A or B you not God’s gift to comics get your stuff done — period. If that means you rotate story arcs fine or do 10 issues a year instead of 12 delayed issues & covers fine by me.

    Sincerely,

    Matthew

    • HomeTeam790 says:

      I took the same stand mguy, if I’m not respected enough by the major publishers to have something put out on time when solicited, then they don’t deserve my hard earned money. I’ll take my business elsewhere where my money and time are respected.

  9. player1 player1 says:

    I think they do it best when they alternate arcs.

    They build up a backlog of scripts, assign them as arcs, publish them on schedule and promptly collect them in trades.

    Just like they do with Amazing Spider-Man.

    Which they publish twice-monthly.

    Since nobody is that fast, they throw bodies at it.

    But they do it efficiently.

    Knowing that he has Ramos, Caselli and Camuncoli in rotation, Dan Slott can write to the strengths of each.

    Having a good colorist or really distinctive lettering really compliments the sense of continuity.

    I care less that Alan Davis or whomever draws my Captain America comics on a monthly schedule, and more that the editor gave him enough time to draw them that I can enjoy them on something like a monthly schedule.

    I think they’ve learned to have more in the can before issuing the solicits now.

  10. SmoManCometh SmoManCometh says:

    I’m all for books looking their best, but there needs to be some kind of balance to delays. More than a month…maybe two months late is too much. I get that Civil War needs to start at a certain time since it’s affecting every title being published and is a important piece, so I see how something like that can be lost in the non-stop machine, but we’re waiting forever for Casanova Avaritia #3…why did they not wait till it was clear all four issues would come out on time before announcing it…I don’t get it.

    The same goes for double shipping, I don’t mind if it happens every now and then, but every month is silly.

    As far as fill-in artists go, rotating two different artists for a series is something I always enjoy…I just hate when we lose one of them.

  11. BCDX97 BCDX97 says:

    Well, the Twelve just started up again and that was really late.

    Bomb Queen is always late. Firebreather from Image is supposed to have a third and fourth issue that seems to be lost in the void. And of course, there is Image United. Still waiting on issues 4-6.

    And Mark Millar’s books are always late. There is lateness out there, you just need to know where to find it.

  12. Timmy Wood Timmy Wood (@TimmyWood) says:

    Anyone still buying The Twelve?

  13. BCDX97 BCDX97 says:

    Oh, and there is no such thing as a Newsarama thread anymore.

  14. Gerry Lopez Gerry Lopez says:

    I see a lot of talk about artists being disciplined enough to keep to deadlines. Could it be that artists have a hard time keeping a schedule because they are spread thin, working on several projects at once? And not just comics work, either. And I don’t suggest this in a negative way. I’m saying maybe they aren’t being paid enough.

  15. mikegraham6 mikegraham6 says:

    This is why all comics should adopt the Hellboy model

    • can you expand on that?

    • mikegraham6 mikegraham6 says:

      A series of self contained mini-series, rather than an ongoing series. each team has a chance to finish up their own story ahead of time. Marvel and DC already operate under a story-arc model, by doing away with the ongoing nature of serialized comics, it solves a ton of nagging issues (late books, filler issues, change in creative teams aren’t as overt, stories are built for the trade). i think this model would also allow creators more freedom to take risks as readers would be more inclined to hop on/off of a given mini

    • KenOchalek KenOchalek says:

      I like this concept, Mike.

      Over time, it might even diminish the audience desire for air-tight continuity in the super-hero universes. If every book comes out in mini-series format, it becomes much easier for a story to stand alone in its own continuity or reference only the previous stories the writer chooses.

    • thats what i thought you meant. I always loved the Hellboy numbering system. “1 of 5″ and then on the inside it says “#75 in a series” or whatver.

      i agree on the mini series model. People don’t freak out as much if you need to take a few months off to recharge. But if we’re talking about big 2 publishers then thats a tough model to change to. Seems like it works better for creator owned, at least at this point.

  16. There’s always Bendis’s Powers keeping the late torch ablaze.

  17. JRBirkhead says:

    I finally quite buying monthlies because I got tired of Marvel’s double shipping. And it wasn’t because of the story or anything being on time. It irked me that Marvel would ship two $3.99 books a month and I still felt like I got a 2.99 amount of story in two comics.

    It’s the same crap they pulled with Amazing Spider-Man when they switched to the Big Time storyline. They said they were bumping it up to 3.99 for each issue, but we would be getting more story, and we did. It was great. But within a year, we were down to 19-20 pages of story for 3.99 an issue. Just outrageous.

    So I finally decided to stop giving them my monthly dollars and buy trades now. My LCS suffers, but man, I don’t know how else to complain than by how I spend my money. When I can get a trade HC for the amount of THREE issues of Marvel comics online, it has gotten to the point of being ridiculous.

    Charge me 2.99 for each issue for double ships so I just get screwed, but not with my pants on.

  18. walterwhite walterwhite says:

    I’m still waiting on Nonplayer #2 from image

    • BC1 BC1 says:

      And this is a good example of late for a reason. The creator got in an accident, and there is no fill-in for a creator owned book. Image United, though, is moving from “late” to “vaporware” quickly…

      But let’s be honest, the days of guys like Kirby banging out craploads of pages a week, drawing multiple books a month, falling asleep at their tables and possibly even going blind because of their work, are over. Consumer demands have changed (back then, few readers were hard-core critics of art), and the economic motivations of artists are different too (Manapul ain’t working for page rate, for example). You have anomalies – Mark Bagley, Salvador Larocca, month in and month out doing the same book for a long run, no fill-ins – but if we want good art, not rushed art, this is what we have to accept. I’m cool with it. But we could without the double shipping do for a while (except ASM – I needs my fix twice a month, I’m too used to it now).

  19. TaBfan19 TaBfan19 says:

    Thanks – this made me laugh out loud. Awesome.

  20. Kmanifesto says:

    Wasn’t this column suppose to be posted months ago?

  21. sitara119 sitara119 says:

    we as comic fans are a bitchy bunch in general. in this fast food culture, we want instant gratification our way right away. NOW! OR NOT NOW! IN 2 WEEKS! MONTHLY! BI-WEEKLY! HE WOULD NEVER REMOVE HIS MASK IN PUBLIC! SHOWING CLEAVAGE MAKES ME UNCOMFORTABLE AND HER A SLUT! I HAVEN’T SEEN A COSTUME REDESIGN THAT BAD SINCE LAST WEEK! blah blah blah
    i often wonder if publishers pay that much attention to sites like this where so many people expect all different things and when we don’t get it we condemn them as (insert insult). i’d blow my brains out if it were my job to sift through all this angry shit in an attempt to keep fans “happy”.
    i think i also would like to start directing my anger toward things that deserve it like blood diamonds, food additives, racism, sexism, formula milk and flu shots.
    this is a very good article. you’re on a roll jimski

  22. longshot75 says:

    comparing artists from the 60s to the ones that are now working in the industry seems just silly and completely dishonnest:
    I get it that buscema and kirby are comics legends but what they got published was art where every male character was a clone of the same man and every female the clone of the same woman; with always the same poses to the point where it looked like it was photocopied from one comic to the next.
    what i want is creativity,correct anatomy and perspective; i don’t want to feel like madrox is playing all the characters with different wigs, clothes and/or fake boobs.
    what i need in the comics i read is esad ribic’s amazing depiction of tian in hickman’s ultimates, jerome opeña’s work on tabula rasa in uncanny x-force, travel foreman, frank quitely, paolo rivera, marcos martin,brian hitch,doug mahnke and the list could go on forever…
    So, rob liefeld, david “the hack” mack and greg “porn face” land (sadly this list could go on forever), stay away from my comics or draw the ones that TNC and all those who want fast instead of quality are reading.
    And if you can’t see the difference of skills displayed on the page between those two groups maybe you should read books instead of comics.

  23. nathematics nathematics says:

    I guess I would prefer books to come out late, but if it’s coming on three months late, bringing in a sub would at least keep me from forgetting to look for the next issue. Then again, I’ll be damned if I buy Fell #10 illustrated by Greg Land or some shit.

    Still, Jim, great article. It is quite funny how mad we get when they fix a problem because we think the solution is overcorrection.

  24. I’m still waiting for the next issue of Hellshock…….

    The problem isn’t that artists aren’t fast enough. the problem is that the art has become much more detailed. Look at the art from comics in the 40s-80s. While some of it was good and cleverly composed, it was not heavily detailed. When the 90s rolled around and art got super detailed, it naturally takes longer to do. Look at a Batman comic from the 50s and look at Jim lee’s Hush. If you can’t understand why it takes so much longer, you need to look closer at the art.

    Also, the act of physically drawing the page is not the only thing the artist has to do. They need to figure out the composition of the shot, they need to work out the lighting and the anatomy. They need to do research for backgrounds and objects. It’s more than just putting a pencil to a piece of paper and drawing. There is a lot of work involved that isn’t obvious at first glance.

    You can’t have it both ways. If people want more detailed art, it takes longer than the basic art comics used to have. You can’t take something that used to be just “product” that nobody took seriously and have it evolve to a legitimate art forma nd think the deadlines are going to be exactly the same. it’s unrealistic.

  25. zenman zenman says:

    Good article Mr. Mxyzptlk

  26. Alexa D. says:

    I’m still waiting for the next issue of Doc Frankenstein…

  27. Have fun with those straw men.

  28. CrimsonBlur CrimsonBlur says:

    I’m ok with the fill in artists myself.. SOMETIMES THEIR GOOD! (Like when Marcus To or Scott Kollins fills in for Manapul… I love all 3 artists to death, so I’m happy no matter what in that case)