Monday, September 18, 2006

Is Twelve Issues a Year Too Much to Ask?

That probably reads more sarcastic than I intend. It should be read "Is twelve issues a year too much to ask?"

Should we expect the average professional penciler to be able to produce (12 x 22) 264 finished pages every year? Which is roughly a page every work day, with weekends and holidays factored in.

I know some guys can do it, like Scott McDaniel, Phil Hester, and Jim "The Talent" Balent, who, say what you will about what he chose to draw, managed to draw 79 straight issues of Catwoman without a fill in artist, and that's a pretty impressive run. (why yes, I do own all 79 issues. Why do you ask?)

And I know you're going to say Jack Kirby did that on 5 titles on a time, but c'mon, he's Jack Fucking Kirby. Larry Bird could sink a three-pointer from half court, but that doesn't mean the Celtics expect any of their current players to be able to do that.

Most artists today, I think, just cannot do that. And frankly, I don't think we should even expect it.

I mean, it's easy for us on the clattering keyboard side to say, "yes, that's what they're paid for," but I know from (vicarious) experience that pencilling is hard-ass work. On top of the creative time spent with the blank page, figuring out panel lay-out and blocking each scene, making sure the flow is right and the narrative clear, there's the actual craft of drawing, filling in each line and curve, rendering each face to be distinct, making the background feel both real and at the same time out of focus. And the more detailed, the harder it is to make and the longer it takes to produce.

And while a mini-series can be given the lead time needed to account for an artist's speed, ANY head start will eventually catch up to a penciller on an open ended book. So we have three options for an on-going book (if you can think of any others options, please let me know). You can stick to the 12 months, rain or shine, schedule, and just be prepared to drop a fill-in issue or two in, either stand alone or not, or you can work the schedule around the artist, or you only hire artists who value the deadline over the art.

And I don't know what's the right thing to do. Do you?


Anonymous said...

I dunno, it's tough to say. People will defer to "quality over quantity." And that is a valid stance - you don't want to hassle or rush an artist or writer or whoever who is trying to put together a quality read the best they can while they presumably have other things going on with their life. On the other hand, though, delays can kill an ongoing story's momentum. And if delays keep piling up (which is seeming to plauge a lot of DC's titles), you really wonder if there's something else going on behind the scenes, and people will drop the title out of frustration.

But yeah, I don't think it's an easily solved problem... maybe a bit more transparency?

Markus said...

A seasonal structure whether through breaks (i.e. months without publication) or changes of creative teams seems to work quite well for the most part. I don't know whether a five or six week schedule is feasible, but that might be something else to try.
Ultimately however jlg is right in that transparency is the real problem. It's not that important WHEN books come out, it's important that they DO come out when the publisher SAID they will come out. Readers adjust their schedules and buying habits accordingly.
IF a publisher wants to have a true monthly for tradition's sake or because they expect to benefit from the regularity, they need to put people on the book whom they know can do 1 issue per month. It's not for everybody.

Matthew E said...

I'm perfectly fine with fill-ins as long as they're good fill-ins. I can't see myself ever becoming so attached to an artist's work that I can't stand to go without it for a month.

SallyP said...

I fear that I am a creature of habit. If Green Lantern is supposed to come out on a particular Wednesday and it doesn't, I have a tendency to stamp my little feet and say bad words. Remember when Marvel used to have a bank of one-shot issues that they could dip into and use and filler when the artist or writer was late? You knew that it was a fill-in, but it still satisfied that itch.

Anonymous said...

For me, the ideal situation was found on New X-Men, where there were a few different art teams that worked on different story arcs. It takes editorial discipline (and scripts finished in advance), but it balances the desire to nurture the artisic value of the comic while keeping a schedule.

Not that New X-Men stuck to its schedule, either. I guess it's all about editorial management.

Anonymous said...

Look at Fables as an example of where the primary artist (Mark Buckingham) does the major arcs (~10 issues a year) with "guest artists" doing 1/2 issue short arcs inbetween. It certainly hasn't hurt Fables' quality, and they've been on time for all 53 issues.

I think the quality comes from having a team that plans for it.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a fan of the fill-in issue, unless it's with purpose, like telling a completely different story. I understand that artists are human and sometimes life gets in the way, but if an artist can't maintain a schedule then they shouldn't be asked to do a monthly book. I don't get angry when a book doesn't come out but I'm still waiting for the next issue of BattleChasers, so what do I know?

p.s. I also like the way fables is done.

Anonymous said...

No, it is not.

Usually I would be hesatent to draw paralells between the Japanese comics industry and the American one, but I think a comparison could be useful.

The typical Japanese comic artist both writes AND draws every panel of his or her creation. They release roughly 15-20 pages every week. If we take an average of about 17 and half pages per week, multiply that by 52, and subtract the Golden Week Holiday, that's about 895 pages a year. An output that FAR exceeds anything todays pampered pencilers can put out.

Well, you might say, "Manga is simpler style, requring less time and effort."

You might even be partially right. But ask any penclier today to both write and draw 22 pages, with a month to do it no lesss, and see what sort of answer you get. Even if the art style is simpler, writing adds exponentially to the workload.

You might also be foolish enough to say, "Well, American books are in colour."

My poor misguided friend, that is why we have inkers and colourists. The Japanese don't colour, but neither do American pencilers. Today's artists are ridculously slow and continously excused by their respective companies. Bah. BAH I SAY.

Shawn Levasseur said...

In Japan, if I understand correctly the average Manga artist has several uncredited assistants. The American artist has none. If anyone assists that's another credit on the comic, and another check to be written by the publisher.

But that does bring up the question. Why should we expect all 12 monthly issues to be done by the same artist?

Even Dave Sim's achievment of 300 issues of monthly Cerebus (with an occasional lapse made up for with double issues) was done with Gerhard doing all the backgrounds in most of the comics.

It's time to put the TEAM back into the art team. Not just a relay from penciler to inker to colorist.

It's not too much to ask for 12 issues a year. Any given artist may not be able to pull it off, but why should the full weight of 12 issues be on that one artist?

Be it fill in artist, or dividing up the work within issues, it's up to the editors and publishers to see to it that it gets done.

Blaming the artists is missing the target.

Independents shouldn't be an exeption to this. I forgive it a bit more, and I'll concede that an issue every 6 weeks or a bi-monthly (at worst) schedule is okay for indie comics. But anything less frequent, or failing to meet schedules is unprofessional.