Just say you’re sorry and promise it’ll never happen again.
Sometimes those two magic words, “I’m sorry,” are capable of speaking volumes. The two words can re-open lines of communication once shattered by neglect or inconsideration. The possibility exists that the utterance will draw attention, providing additional weight to the words that follow. When coupled with a peace offering, the true power of an honest apology can regain one’s favor in one fell swoop.
Before you get any funny ideas…this has not turned into the Ambidextrous dating column. We’re discussing late books ladies and gentlemen, and how to make them disappear from our comic consciousness forever.
Finding myself in a charitable mood, I am prepared to offer the following insight free of charge to any licensed professional that becomes inclined to implement the upcoming counter-measures. Is everybody paying attention?
The catch phrase known as “late books” in regards to the comic reading public reached its fever pitch in the early nineties when Image exploded onto the scene. On paper, their intentions were just, but the execution became slightly flawed. Which to be honest, could be expected from a coalition of primarily artistic talents that decided to undergo the tumultuous capacity of publisher, backed by a minimum degree of experience. As a result, products being released when the publisher actually solicited them for release became a statistical anomaly within Image’s initial publishing plan. But by and large…the fans didn’t care.
Issues of timeliness were put aside because of the beauty afforded by increased production values, which included paper stock that didn’t rip when sneezed upon and bright, vibrant computer generated color. The majority of the books didn’t contain a relevant plot worth re-living, but the things sure looked damn good.
This trend of additional attention was adopted by the Big Two, whether they’d admit it or not, and the comic industry is now littered with comics that, believe it or not, are actually worth the nearly three dollars we have to pay for them. But pretty colors and glossy paper can only take you so far, because no one likes late books. We accept them yes, but we don’t like them. I hear retailers aren’t particularly fond of them either.
Enter CrossGen Comics, who have recently, and rightfully, tooted their own horn regarding the consecutive on-time release of 100 issues of comic goodness. The realization that this was an enviable feat across the industry has no doubt caused major publishers to step back and consider what steps can be taken to improve their own Solicitation Completion Percentages. (Yes, that term is an Ambidextrous original.)
Instead of entertaining the notion that the industry should undergo a bizarre transformation where Frank Quitely and Travis Charest are required to produce their pages chained to the desk in the office of their employer, as CrossGen’s press release suggests, I’m going to offer those running the show in the freelance community my five cents. With a few alterations, late books can become the true statistical anomaly.
Before we begin, let’s get one thing out of the way that anyone who’s ever had a job have realized at one time or another…shit happens. We cannot predict it, can seldom control it, and it tends to play hell on life’s many schedules. The following may help publishers minimize its effects on theirs.
An editor has identified the creative team of a lifetime and is beginning to make the calls necessary to assemble the project to end all projects. Now, while I won’t pretend to completely understand every facet of an editor’s role in the creation of a comic book, I will comment that the implementation of an appropriate schedule should be just as important as the selection of a worthy scribe.
The creative process demands time commitments from a professional that are as individual as a fingerprint. Certain creators cannot produce quality work at a rate conducive to monthly publishing. Fact of life. No amount of moaning from the fanbase is going to change the fact that every creator doesn’t have the capabilities of a John Romita Jr., who exhibits a level of productivity and excellence that’s currently unmatched. Fandom is quick to comment on the prevalence of the “lazy” artist, more concerned with his Playstation than his art board, and while they may ring true on a limited basis, to accuse a talent of not taking his position seriously because it’s difficult for them to produce one page a day is unfair.
With this in mind, furthered by the realization that a creative team can single-handedly sell a project, a schedule accommodation should be made to ensure that things occur without a hitch. This could entail having several issues at completion upon solicitation, and even making modifications to the title’s release date.
Let’s take an example. When Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely are announced the new hit squad on New X-Men, the title’s release date is staggered to elicit public consumption every six weeks instead of every four weeks. Now, before everyone begins pitching stones, claiming that X-Men is Marvel’s most popular title, and that there’s no way in Hell they’ll allow it to suffer such a blow, consider this.
A six-week release schedule gives you nine issues of Morrison/Quitely filled goodness, and hopefully with the anvil removed from his back, the man will meet his revised schedule. What’s that you say? There’s three issues missing!? We need to have twelve issues of X-Men a year or survival itself is in jeopardy!!?? Okay. With nine issues on tap for Quitely, here’s best case scenario…Quitely gets ahead of schedule and the fans get a tenth out of him. Worst case scenario…an editor heads into the flames knowing that there’s three issues of space to be filled before year’s end. What’s to prevent Marvel from acquiring a fill-in artist for the remaining tales and releasing New X-Men on a bi-monthly basis two months out of the year whenever the schedule allows? This situation would provide the publisher a degree of latitude to alter things with a greater sense of control, confident that the schedule doesn’t require them to promise the world, yet featuring a safety net that could result in a fill-in experience capable of standing on its own, without existing as an unfortunate speedbump until the regular guys get back.
Too radical you say? Okay…my next suggestion is actually easier…or maybe harder…depending on how you look at it.
You’ve decided that X-Men MUST be released every month to maintain profit share, and a major schedule alteration would confuse the readership and the retailers. But you’ve booked this incredible creative team that isn’t known for their speedy turnaround, and this requires you to ignore the reality that a fill-in will become necessary after four months. Fine. We understand.
Hire a regular fill-in artist to tag-team with the main gun…and make sure their work can compete from a quality standpoint. Fill-in artists are fine…if they maintain the standard of quality we’ve grown accustomed to, which can only happen if they’re allowed a proper time frame in which to deliver their work. Nothing is worse than an issue completed by more than one artist, with a serious of emergency pages tacked on at the conclusion to complete the necessary page count. I realize fill-ins are usually called upon in emergency situations, but frequently that emergency shows itself in the final product.
The proposed situation for Ultimate X-Men was brilliant. Adam Kubert does three issues, then hands off chores to his brother Andy, and the beautiful cycle continues. (Until Origin started, of course.)
I believe the reading public will easily accept a rotating art team, if this is announced at a title or revamp’s inception, instead of used as duct tape to keep a ship from sinking that had no business setting sail in the first place. Assume that something will go wrong eventually and plan accordingly.
But here’s what may ease the sting of late books in the first damn place.
Inform the people of what is happening with late books. Convince us that a domino effect of disastrous occurrences has set our favorite titles weeks hopelessly behind in schedule. Explain that you’re doing everything to rectify things…and we know you are. But sometimes people need to hear certain words, whether this is fully realized or not. Sometimes these words make the truth easier to swallow. Here’s what I mean.
Ultimate X-Men #?? Original Date: — Expected Date:–
Due to a period of unfortunate illness, the script for the following issue was delayed by several weeks and slowed production. Pages 1-16 are completely finished, with the remainder in the process of being colored.
No…the publishers don’t OWE anybody an official explanation, and yes it probably would become a pain in the ass for whoever was entrusted with the task of these bi-weekly updates, but it would be nice. And aid in killing the misconception that editors are sitting on their hands and allowing their talent to deliver excessively tardy work. I can’t believe I’m actually saying this…but sometimes you have to tell people what they want to hear. You have to massage their disappointment and confusion if shit does happen. And happen it will.
I’m confident there are several things I’ve missed, and issues that have been oversimplified but like I said…shit happens. Feel free to drop by the message board and tell me how wrong I am. And apologies to my boys at Marvel for using you as fodder for several of my examples.
Next time: Beats the hell out of me. Perhaps an emergency fill-in, explanation provided.