Late in the day on Friday, news broke that, as a result of the overall impact on the comics industry caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Marvel is ordering ‘pencils down’ on 1/3rd of their publishing output for the months of May and June. The pause, according to the publisher, will impact 15-20% of their overall line (once double-shipping books are taken into account), and will “help spread the amount of publishing product over the coming weeks and months.” As I noted last week, the pause makes a lot of sense considering no new physical product is being shipped to comic shops for the foreseeable future, and Marvel currently isn’t releasing product digitally. Still, for Marvel, who puts out around 100 titles each month, the pause will result in a significant reduction of books flowing from the House of Ideas for those months, and certainly an impact to the creators working on those titles. In the absence of additional information from Marvel, I wanted to get an idea of which Marvel titles might be logical candidates for the pause, and what a month of Marvel books might look like with the output reduction in place.
May of 2020 has a total of 103 individual Marvel issues scheduled for release. A pause on 1/3rd of output for the month would amount to around 34 comics being removed from the schedule. The only thing we know for certain Marvel’s going to be pausing work on is double-shipping titles. There are only five series with multiple issues scheduled for that month: monthly series Amazing Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, and Immortal Hulk, as well as the Empyre: X-Men and Marvel Zombies: Resurrection miniseries (the latter actually has three issues scheduled that month). Taking those into account means 97 unique series are scheduled to ship, with 5% of those series impacted by taking out the double-ships — well below the 15-20% threshold Marvel cited on Friday.
There are a few other books that could fairly easily be paused with giant hiccups in the overall line. Four reprint titles, including three Facsimile Editions and an issue of Marvel Tales, could easily be dropped without impact to any creative teams. There are also six one-shots — two Marvels Snapshots, a Giant-Size X-Men, a Daredevil annual, and two Empyre tie-ins — that could also be delayed, though depending on what happens with Empyre those tie-ins might need to stay. If they do delay all ten of those books, that brings us up to 15 of 97 titles impacted, or just over 15% of output, which hits Marvel’s magic percentage range. As far as actual individual issues impacted, though, sixteen out of 103 also equals around 15%, far below the 1/3rd cited last week.
The next logical place to look for delays would be in miniseries. There are 38 miniseries scheduled to come out from Marvel in May. Delaying all of them would be overkill as far as the numbers Marvel’s provided go. Of those 38 minis, eleven of them are Empyre or Empyre-adjacent series. Presumably Marvel won’t want to delay anything that’s related to their big event (save for maybe an issue of the double-shipping Empyre: X-Men series), so assuming those are coming out brings us down to 27 individual miniseries that could still be delayed.
One of those miniseries is Marvel Zombies: Resurrection, which has three issues scheduled for May, so those 27 miniseries account for 29 individual issues. If we add it all up, and take into account the Marvel Zombies duplication, we’d be looking at 41 total series, with 43 individual issues. If we’re not delaying Empyre-adjacent books, we’d also need to bring back the two aforementioned Empyre one-shots, so removing them brings the number of titles up for delay down to 39 series with 41 issues. It’s probably safe to assume not all of those would have work paused, but some combination of them is most likely to account for the 1/3rd of output, though hitting the 15-20% mark due to double-shipping books seems even less likely in that scenario.
There’s obviously not a one-size-fits-all way to parse out what Marvel’s going to delay. Based on the information we have now we don’t even really know exactly how they got the numbers they quoted on Friday, since the double-shipping books don’t make up 15-20% of titles on their own. Are they counting additional printings of sold-out books as double-shipping? Are variant covers counted as separate output? Are they including reprints and facsimile editions in their calculations? The Beat reached out to Marvel for clarification, but as of yet have not heard back.
The final order cut-off date to preorder the first batch of Marvel books scheduled for release in May was on April 13th, but last week Diamond suspended FOC for the week of 4/6, and on Monday Marvel announced all titles previously on FOC for 4/6 would slide to 4/13 “for the time being,” noting that all on-sale and FOC dates are subject to change. These are unprecedented times, and Marvel, like the rest of the industry, seems to still be figuring out what their path forward is. Hopefully they’ll release more details about what they’ve paused work on soon, and the impacted creators can find other avenues of income until they’re able to get back to work.