Keeping Comics on Schedule

By now the delays on Flash: Rebirth #4-6 have become legendary. But the book is hardly alone. Just this week, I picked up issues of Dynamo 5 and Ignition City that, despite the series starting on a monthly schedule, came out several months after the previous issue. In fact, a lot of the independent comics I read don’t seem to have a strict schedule. Rather than soliciting them monthly and then rescheduling them the way DC often does, they seem to solicit them as they’re ready.

On the plus side, it’s less frustrating for the reader who doesn’t see a particular issue get scheduled, then delayed repeatedly. On the minus side, the reader has no clue when to expect more.

Solutions

If the goal is to keep a book to a regular schedule, some of the ways I’ve seen to keep it from falling behind include:

Alternating artists. Madame Xanadu seems to be setting up a pattern of one story arc drawn by Amy Reeder Hadley, then one by a guest artist, then back to Hadley. (Admittedly the first guest artist was Michael Kaluta!)

Miniseries scheduling with lead time. Instead of 12 books a year, release 5 or 6, but work on them ahead of time so that they can come out in the space of 6 months. Astro City took this route years ago and will soon be moving back to a monthly schedule. Dynamo 5 and Perhapanauts are headed this way. Interestingly, all of these examples are creator-owned books closely associated with a specific writer/artist team.

Fill-in artists within a story. This seems to be DC’s preferred method on books that they really want to ship before a deadline, like Final Crisis. Of course, unless you get artists who can match styles closely, or divide up the art thematically (by chapter, by viewpoint character, one artist for present-day and another for flashbacks, etc.), the result can be visually jarring. Not a big deal for something that will be read once and then disappear, but problematic for something intended for a longer shelf life at the bookstore.

Fill-in issues. One-shots or short arcs by a completely different creative team than the usual one. DC and Marvel used to keep a few on file for some series, so that if a book was running late they could just pull a replacement off the shelf. (The last time this happened with The Flash was the mountain climbing story that ran right after Geoff Johns left the book in 2005.) These days readers are focused on continuing story arcs, and see fill-ins as intrusions.

Preferences

Looking at these, I’d have to say I prefer the alternating artist approach. It doesn’t interrupt any longer narrative threads, preserves the artistic integrity of each story, and makes it possible to match art styles to stories.

My least favorite would be art by committee, because unless it’s done carefully, the finished work ends up a visual mish-mash.

Which approaches do you prefer? Which ones bother you? What other solutions have you seen?

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7 thoughts on “Keeping Comics on Schedule

  1. matches

    I’m a fan of the alternating artists approach as well, at least for the Marvel/ DC franchises that are in continuous publication. Marvel did some of that with Bruce Jones’ Hulk run and got 18 issues a year out. The artists were JrJr, Lee Weeks, Mike Deodato, Leo Fernandez.. all quality guys.

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  2. Fastest

    My favorite way to avoid lateness in books would simply to be having an entire arc done before it is released. Or 5 of 6 issues done, etc. Then, the next arc done by a different artist, and is being drawn while the first arc is being released. And then when the second arc starts, the second artist should be about done with his arc (but if he’s not, it doesn’t matter, because he still has 6 months to go before his arc is over). Also at the start of the second arc, a third (or possibly the return of the first artist) should start to draw the third arc. And you keep going like this. You can add little things in here and there, such as done-in-ones or three issue arcs. Basically anything you want, but don’t solicit it, or hype it up, untill it is ready to come out.

    The problem with Flash: Rebirth is that they could have used this approach, but they hyped it up way too early. It was summer 2008 when the series was announced, that was way too early. It got the hype up for the story and basically demanded that it be released ahead of schedule. DC may have held off untill Ethan had completed more issues otherwise.

    This would be my ideal way for dealing with lateness. Lateness does seem like a big problem to us fans, and that is a potential problem to DC because fans are their sources of income. And something being so late is bound to have some kind of affect. But comic book companies also have to keep artists and writers happy. Dan Didio once mentioned in his 20 questions on Newsarama that some artists get disheartened when they are working on something for a long time but they don’t get to see fan reaction. They like to see the book come out and be excited about drawing it while people are reading it. I’m sure that my way of removing lateness from comics would piss these artists off, but they obviously wouldn’t be the kinds of artists I would want on my books.

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    1. CM22

      I’ve always liked the idea of not releasing things until they’re done entirely, and it works fine for mini series, one-shots etc, but it could never really work for an ongoing book. Simply because the decision to cancel books is made so quickly right now if a company decides to cancel a book, or change things up with a different creative team etc, they pretty much have to eat 3 issues because they’re always solicited 3 issues out ahead of time.
      If they released the first part of a 6 issue arc and it did absolutely horrible and they decide to change things, they would then have to eat the other 5 issues of the arc, plus any work that had already been started on the next one, and it’s just one of those unfortunate “comics are still a business” things.
      Optimally I’d agree with this though in a fantasy world.

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      1. Fastest

        So they should just not start books they know are going to fail. Magog. Red Tornado. These should be minis, with possible minis in the future. And then if the base is large enough, they can release ongoings.

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        1. Kelson Post author

          How exactly does DC know that a book is going to fail?

          Statistically, most books fail. Any new series has the odds stacked against it already. Worse if the concept has a bunch of failed series in recent history…like, say, the Teen Titans in 1980, when Marv Wolfman and George Perez wanted to relaunch it. Or JSA in 1999.

          (Also, FWIW, Red Tornado is a miniseries.)

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          1. CM22

            Exactly. You never KNOW a book is going to fail. I mean the most obvious and blatant example is Flash: The fastest man alive. Flash books have always done at least reasonably well, this was a relaunch with a number one issue, writers with hype behind them, and an artist who based on his sketches looked like he was going to be perfect for the job. But the book tanked 3 issues in. There was absolutely no way they could have known it was going to that poorly.

            Not to mention that the mini->ongoing formula doesn’t always work. Creative teams change, tones change, economic climate changes. There’s absolutely no way to guarantee that a book someone is buying now is a book they’ll be buying 7 months from now.

            Reply
  3. Perplexio

    I used to collect Lost In Space and Quantum Leap back in the early 90s. I believe they were put out by Innovation comics or something like that. The artwork was brilliant in those but the schedule was rather lax… but just when I started to really get into those titles the company went out of business that was all she wrote. It’s too bad too, Billy Mumy (Will Robinson on the TV series) was a contributor to Lost in Space and the comic was set a few years after the show had ended. So the Will Robinson character in the comics was drawn as a very angsty and sexually frustrated adolescent (Wouldn’t you be too, if the only hot girls around were your sisters? and in the comics Penny & Judy were VERY hot).

    Oh well, anyway, just saying yeah there is a lax release schedule with independents… although not as bad as Flash:Rebirth. I’m quite happy that Van Scriver won’t be doing the artwork in the ongoing… If he were we might not see issue #1 of the ongoing until next June and we might get issue #2 by next October.

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