The other day, I was at my friendly neighborhood comics shop, shooting the breeze with another customer and the store clerk. The conversation turned to the best inkers, and the other customer named his top three: Josef Rubenstein, Dick Giordano, and Tom Palmer.

 

Somehow, Vince Colletta's name came up.

 

I think it's safe to say that nobody would put Vince Colletta on any list of the "best" inkers, by whatever standard one wants to use. Mark Evanier, who rarely has a negative word to say about anybody, is an unabashed critic. (See here and here.) He cites several examples of top artists -- Neal Adams, Jack Kirby, and Alex Toth -- demanding that his brush never muddy their pages.

 

 

While two of us reacted with a groan, the store clerk pointed out that Vince's saving grace and main value to publishers was that he was fast and reliable. If you positively, absolutely had to get it done overnight in the worst way, give the job to Vince -- he'd get it done, in the worst way. And if you were an artist who didn't want him to ink your work, there was an easy way to prevent it: Turn the job in on time!

 

Which led us to wonder: Why isn't that the case any more? 

 

Used to be, publishers would got through Herculean efforts to ensure that something got to the printer on time. Bob Kanigher came up with the Metal Men in a weekend because DC was without a story for Showcase #37. Dozens of Marvel comics in the '70s were inked by "the Crusty Bunkers" -- buddies of Neal Adams and Dick Giordano who worked for and hung out at their Continuity Associates studios and would finish a job by basically giving each penciled page to a different guy in the room. Half of Avengers #150 is a reprint of Avengers #16 because Steve Englehart had a falling out with Marvel and didn't turn in his script, so Jim Shooter and Gerry Conway ginned up a half-dozen or so pages with George Pérez to frame the story.

 

Really desperate editors would stick in a reprint; more prepared editors had inventory stories ready to go -- out-of-continuity, done-in-one tales that could be plugged in at any time. And who can forget Steve Gerber's (in)famous Howard the Duck #16, chock-full of two-page spreads covered with rambling essays about why he didn't actually write a story that month?

 

But now, if a book's late, it's just late. Six months passed between The Dark Knight Strikes Again #2 and #3. All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder was even more sporadic. As noted in Wikipedia: "The once-monthly series became increasingly delayed over time, to the point where only one issue was published in 2006. When issue #5 was released, the series was placed on a regular bi-monthly schedule, with the exception of Issue #10, which was postponed from April 9, 2008 release to August 27 release, and then to a September 10 release, which it successfully met, only for the book to be recalled due to a printing error that left numerous profanities insufficiently censored."

 

Kevin Smith wrote three issues of Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do limited series in 2002, and we got the rest THREE YEARS later. Daredevil: Father #1 was published June 2004; #2, October 2005; #3, November 2005; #4, December 2005, #5, January 2007! and #6, February 2007.

 

This even happened with Civil War, the maxiseries that was the spine of the whole Marvel line. Citing the artist's need for more time, it fell a month behind, then two months behind, and other parts were also behind, and then Marvel held up the tie-in and spinoff issues so events wouldn't be spoiled. Not to mention the delays on Superman and Wonder Woman this past year.

 

Now, this would have never happened in Mort Weisinger's day. If the artist was late, get another artist! If the writer was late, get another writer!

 

So the question we had -- and I throw this out to you -- why is this allowed to happen today? What, exactly, is different? The three of us shooting the breeze couldn't quite figure it out. 

 

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One other thing to remember is that a few high profile cases lead some fans to assume that more books are late than is truly the case. 

 

I keep track of my monthly orders on a spreadsheet.  At the end of each month, I check off which ones arrived so that I can track my comic book budget.  If a book is one or two weeks late, that won't show up on my spreadsheet.  I only notice when a book slips into the following month.  But most months, I have 2, maybe 3, books that didn't ship in a given month.  That's out of 35 to 40 monthly orders.

 

For example, for May, the only scheduled books that didn't arrive were Invincible 83 and The Stand: No Man's Land 5.  Invincible, a creator-owned title, has been behind schedule for some time.  The Stand is late by one month (issue 4 shipped instead of 5).  Both titles have scheduled a couple of skip months this summer so that they can catch up (The Stand) or at least close the gap (Invincible).

 

That's it.  2 books out of 40. 

 

The complaints about lateness are completely out of proportion to the number of late books. 

But All-Star Batman and Robin? Am I really supposed to believe nobody but Frank Miller and Jim Lee do Batman stories? Spider-Man and the Black Cat? Kevin Smith is the only one who could write that story? C'mon. Yes, what they bring to this project is special ... but it isn't unique.

You can't be serious?  People are buying All-Star Batman and Robin for no other reason than it is by Miller and Lee!  Maybe more writers than Kevin Smith can do Batman stories, but only Kevin Smith can do a Kevin Smith Batman story, which is what is being sold, and bought in that case.

 

Those mini/maxi-series are their own thing anyway.  Part of the reason they aren't part of an ongoing monthly run is because everyone knows that the creators concerned aren't on the book-a-month treadmill. 

 

It's part of a progression that you yourself have been a part of CK.  You said you dropped Simonson's Thor ongoing as soon as a new creative team came on.  Back then people wanted Simonson's Thor, and nobody elses, but he didn't have the same contractual strength that allowed these new books to be published like this.

 

Of course, I think it's ridiculous that ASB&R and Smith's books aren't just completed and put out there.  The co-publisher of DC Comics should have words with Jim Lee, for a start!

 

www.comics.org/issue/31464/cover/4/

 

In at least one case, blowing a deadline resulted in a classic.

Sometimes I feel that ALL comics should be mini-series. Let one creative team/creator complete their story (4 to 6 issues) then publish it. Then let them do a new story or let someone else tell a new tale. Of course that will reak havoc with any sense of continuity but that's beating a dead horse or smashing your head in a wall. ;-)
Figserello said:

But All-Star Batman and Robin? Am I really supposed to believe nobody but Frank Miller and Jim Lee do Batman stories? Spider-Man and the Black Cat? Kevin Smith is the only one who could write that story? C'mon. Yes, what they bring to this project is special ... but it isn't unique.

You can't be serious?  People are buying All-Star Batman and Robin for no other reason than it is by Miller and Lee!  Maybe more writers than Kevin Smith can do Batman stories, but only Kevin Smith can do a Kevin Smith Batman story, which is what is being sold, and bought in that case.

 

Those mini/maxi-series are their own thing anyway.  Part of the reason they aren't part of an ongoing monthly run is because everyone knows that the creators concerned aren't on the book-a-month treadmill. 

 

It's part of a progression that you yourself have been a part of CK.  You said you dropped Simonson's Thor ongoing as soon as a new creative team came on.  Back then people wanted Simonson's Thor, and nobody elses, but he didn't have the same contractual strength that allowed these new books to be published like this.


Fair enough; I did say that, didn't I? Although my departure had as much to do with Walt Simonson leaving the book entirely -- he stopped drawing it but kept writing it for another year or two -- as the fact that the team that followed, Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz, were doing their damndest to give us warmed-over second-rate imitations of Jack Kirby tropes, the very thing that never appealed to me about Thor the character or Thor the title. Had this new team not done that, I might have stuck with it.

 

Along the same vein, I latched on to Wonder Woman's post-Crisis revival specifically because George Pérez had a hand in it, at first drawing only, then drawing and co-plotting with Len Wein, then writing and drawing it, and then only writing it, and I left when he did. But years later, I came back to the title in the Greg Rucka era -- although not because of him, but because of a cover that captured my attention -- and kept with it through all who followed, Jodi Picoult, the other outsider writer whose name I can't remember, Gail Simone and the first three or four J. Michael Straczynski issues.

 

In other words, the first time around with Wonder Woman, I was on board because of the creator, but the second time around, it was because of the character.

"the other outsider writer whose name I can't remember"

 

Clark, do you mean Allan Heinberg?  He is from TV, he wrote the first few issues of WW before Jodi Picoult, but he also wrote Young Avengers for Marvel.

Yeah, that's who I mean. His stretch on the title was thoroughly unmemorable.

I read somewhere on the 'net a posting by Joss Whedon about writing for comics. It goes something like this...

 

Joss' wife does their finances. One day she got in a check from Marvel and she asked him what it was for. He told her it was for Astonishing X-Men. She looked at the amount and laughed. The amount on the check for writing a best-selling comic book for the industry's biggest publisher was such a small percentage of what he earned writing an episode of a TV show that the Marvel check was referred to as "walking around money."

 

The moral? The bigger then name is outside of comics, the lower the priority is to write that comic book. Kevin Smith could write a few issues of Spider-Man and buy some groceries, or direct a movie and buy another house. Brad Meltzer could write something that would sell 80,000 copies in comic shops, or something that will sell a million copies, everywhere, and he'll get the money when it's optioned for a moive, not DC. The motivation there to write that measley comics story is just not going to be there when you have $100,000 in mortgages to pay each month.

 

The moral for publishers is: If Tom Hanks wants to write a Beast mini-series, get the scripts finished before you even announce it. Publishers of course, will never learn this lesson, because the press on "Tom Hanks to write Beast mini-series" is perceived as more of a value to the company than the actual finished project.

 

The same holds true for some of the bigger comics artists. Joe Benitez probably loves drawing his Lady Mechanika character, but he gets paid a whole heck of a lot more drawing covers and issues for the Big Two, so it takes a backseat. As is often the case in the art world, sometimes you have to choose between Art and Rent.

 


"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." -Groucho Marx

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While rereading a bunch of mid-'70s Marvels, I noticed how many of the mainstream superhero comics were drawn by competent but unexciting artists: Sal Buscema, Herb Trimpe, George Tuska, Bob Brown, Don Heck, Ross Andru. I suspect these guys got a lot of work because they could meet their deadlines every month. On a major title that HAD to come out every month, this would have been important.

 

The  hot young artists of the '70s -- i.e. the fan favorites -- often had trouble with deadlines. I'm thinking of Barry Smith, Neal Adams, Bernie Wrightson, Frank Brunner, Jim Steranko and others. In most cases, these guys just weren't suited for cranking out 22 pages of art every month. They were perfectionists and didn't like being rushed. Unlike the older artists, they didn't grow up during the Depression; they didn't experience the industry's near-collapse in 1955. So they didn't live in fear of unemployment. They knew they could sell posters and portfolios to fans if their comics work dried up.

 

It was a different generation, with a different mindset. Very different from the Kirbys, Colans and Romitas who felt that "If I don't meet deadlines, I don't get paid; and if I don't get paid, I don't eat."

George said:

It was a different generation, with a different mindset. Very different from the Kirbys, Colans and Romitas who felt that "If I don't meet deadlines, I don't get paid; and if I don't get paid, I don't eat."


True. Not only that, the Kirbys, Colans and Romitas had the mindset that "If I don't meet deadlines on this job, I won't get the next job." 

 

That's why I really don't have much respect for Kevin Smith. The THREE-YEAR lag between issue #3 and #4 of Spider-Man and the Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do came because he got writer's block because of all the negative reviews he got for Gigli and Jersey Girl. Yeah, yeah, writing comics is pocket change for a semi-major filmmaker, but in my line of work, there IS no such thing as "writer's block." That's for dilletantes.

ClarkKent DC said: "That's why I really don't have much respect for Kevin Smith."

 

According to a recent Rolling Stone profile, Smith has lost interest in making movies, too. He now prefers to sit on his couch and smoke pot all day. Maybe that's what he is best suited for. He hasn't made an outstanding movie since "Chasing Amy," and that was 14 years ago.

 

For about a decade now, I've seen Kevin Smith as more of a "media personality" than a filmmaker.

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