Sunday, February 24, 2008

Taking a Stand on Deadlines

Anyone who has been reading my blog for any length of time knows how much I grumble about late comic books. Because today's consumers tend to have short attention spans and because there are SO MANY different comic books being published right now, when a comic book has a gap of over two months between issues it often kills the sales of that comic.

I can track this in my store's POS system, and I am sure if one looked at the Diamond sales numbers you would see a bit of it too. Retailers like me can see it more directly though, because we will usually order about the same number of issue #5 as we were able to sell of issue #6, even though there may have been a 3 month gap between the issues. Then, when issue #6 only sells 3/4th the quantity as #5 did, we are stuck with a bunch of unsold copies - Diamond's numbers won't reflect this because they still sold the issues, but yet they are sitting on comic book store racks all over the nation, gathering dust.

Or the opposite can happen - during the time we are waiting for issue #6 to arrive we grow our customer base. On top of that, maybe there is news of an upcoming movie or crossover or something that suddenly increases the public's interest in that comic book. We ordered the same quantity of #6 as #5, but now there is an unexpected increase in interest in #6, and we sell out of #6 before Wednesday is over, making customers who come in the next days frustrated that they were not able to get that issue when they have the first five issues, and making us frustrated because we could have sold more, if only we'd had them.

As you can see, lateness on comic books is bad news for comic book retailers. Often if a writer, artist, or publisher start to establish a history lf delivering their comics late comic book retailers will make it known that they will cut back on their orders of comics by those folks, or even go special-order only on items that have those names attached. It is one way comic book retailers can try to protect their bottom line from these "culprits" as well as send them a message that if they can't deliver comics on time stores won't support them as much.

According to last week's Lying in the Gutters, DC Comics is going to take a hard line on deadlines:

Sources close to freelancers inform me that DC Comics has a new in house policy for pencillers. Aside from very specific contracted creators (such as Jim Lee), any penciller contracted to work on a monthly book must deliver complete turnaround of 22 pages of work in four weeks. Not a month, four weeks. If that schedule isn't maintained, they'll pull pages and assign them to other creators. And you may run short of future work. A reduction in quality is more acceptable than a reduction in quantity.

Specific examples I've been given include the recent issue of "Wonder Woman" was half Dodson and half Ron Randall. Also why Koi Turnball was dropped from "Jack Hawksmoor." And it has been pointed out that there are already three fill-ins on the new "Legion" schedule.

Creators are also being dropped from exclusive contracts over this new regime. Expect certain publishing vultures to swarm.

My one problem is that they're willing to let the "superstars" get away with lateness. Really this policy would be the most fair and have real teeth if DC was willing to make creators like Jim Lee follow the same guidelines. That, or they do not get their comic book solicited until they are COMPLETELY finished pencilling the ENTIRE project. Pay those stars an initial check for agreeing to do the project, and then the rest as the issues are sold. That way they have an interest in doing the project, and also an interest in finishing it.

There is, of course, the problem of quantity versus quality. Is it better to have an entire issue of a comic book done by one artist, or to have it come out on time? Is it better to use a superstar artist even if the comic book's issues will run late, or to use relatively unknown artists who can deliver projets on time? Personally I find this almost laughable. There are plenty of quality artists, both "superstars" like Mark Bagely and Howard Chakin who have names many comic book fans know and lesser known artists who could deliver high-quality pencils while keeping their comic book issues on-time. If you've been reading Dan Dare like I've told you to, you would know that Gary Erskine delivers very detailed panels on every single page of the comic book. He also did pencils for Army@Love for Vertigo, and that was also detailed, quality work. And I have yet to see a 3 month gap between the issues of the comics he has done. I am sure there are even more examples of quality comic book artists, both established and new, who could deliver pages on a deadline. It should not have to be a question of quality and consistancy versus timely comics! Give quality, timely artists regular work and have those "superstars" deliver covers and work on "special" stories that can be started way in advance of the time they would need to see print so that the comics stay on-time. And do not give certain talent too much work. If they have too many jobs already don't give them more. The comic book creators should also be honest and cut back work and refuse new projects on their own if they find that they cannot meet the demands of the schedule.

It seems so simple, doesn't it? Of course I am neither a publisher or a comic book artist or writer, so I do not know what life is like in those shoes. Still, it is good to see DC Comics taking a stand on deadlines. I hope it increases both their sales and the sales of their comics in my store.

1 comment:

Nick Girls said...

I read this post with great interest, as it addressed a very serious problem within the industry and seemed to offer what to me seems a straightforward and realistic solution.
As you say, you do not work in the creative/publishing side of the industry, but you are still one of the most important aspects of it, and this, I believe gives you every right to offer up your opinions. Without people like you getting the product into the hands of the reader there would be very little industry to speak of.

My hats off to you for the service you offer, especially since it is driven by a love of the medium as much as anything else.