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Where have you gone, Sal Buscema?

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We don’t really follow the day to day announcements of Marvel and DC, except when they strike us in some larger sense, but yesterday’s shocker that CIVIL WAR #4 and 5 would be delayed by a month and two months, respectively, got even our attention. As ICv2’s recently released sales estimates show, CIVIL WAR #3 by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven sold just a skotch under 300K copies, making it a sales blockbuster by any estimate. But it gets worse: the mini-series is but the tentpole for a huge interconnected web of tie-in mini-series and crossover comics — in order to keep the story fresh, some 30 other titles will also be delayed.. Reaction among retailers and readers was flabbergasted. Of course, just about every other blockbuster tentpole of the last few years has had delays (HOUSE OF M) or else drastic “many hands” artistic line-ups (INFINITE CRISIS) and delays, but still.

Marvel’s statement to retailers was muted and understated:

We apologize for the inconvenience but feel that this is in the best interest of the quality of the event and for retailers to continue to realize the immense sales for these books. We are announcing these shifts early enough in the hopes that retailers can adjust their buying patterns for the next few months. Also, we hope the addition of a few more key Civil War titles will make up for any lost sales that result from these moves.

BUT WAIT THAT’S NOT ALL!

Can’t wait for Wednesday is, at least this week, much better called “I’m still waiting for Wednesday.” Eternals #3, Justice League of America #1, and Wonder Woman #2 were all slated to be released today, along with Civil War #4 — all are delayed. The ongoing Wonder Woman series, scripted by Allen Heinberg, has had a substantial delay, supposedly due to Heinberg’s Hollywood duties. JLA #1’s delay is even more sudden — only days ago, DC was promoting it in the NY Times and Publishers Weekly because it contained an excerpt of writer Brad Meltzer’s new novel. Reportedly, as recently as last week DC did not even know the book was going to be delayed, which sounds odd, but we can’t even begin to hazard a guess on all the reasons.

Graeme rounds up message board reactions. While late books are a fact of life, the delay of a huge chunk of Marvel’s line will have a huge impact on retailers, not to mention books that skip shipping for a month or two impacting on creator’s income. It’s a huge mess, made all the more dramatic by the fact that it was announced less than 24 hours before the issue was to have shipped.

And who to blame? Was it Mark Millar’s ongoing health problems? Is it artist McNiven? Millar himself wakes up and posts an explanation that will please few fans or retailers:

All I can say is that this is really good of Marvel. Why? Let me explain. Civil War is seven issues long and both the first and last issues were extra-sized. Steve is a pretty fast artist, maybe a nine or ten books a year guy, but he only had a six or seven week head start on this series. Absolutely nothing at all. And it was always going to catch up with him, especially given that 100 characters appear in every issue and it’s the most labour-intensive thing he’s ever drawn. It also happens to be the BEST work of his career and Marvel could easily– EASILY– just done what DC did and stick fill-in guys on the series. In fact, we EXPECTED it for issue five because we knew a lot of titles like FF and so on were tying in.

But you know what? They didn’t. MCW has rocketed Marvel profits lately. The new figures aren’t available yet, but we’re doubling and sometimes trebling the sales on the tie-in books, the anthology title– an ANTHOLOGY TITLE– is doing over 100K and we’re heading towards 400K with the book itself. Marvel believe in the project and they feel me and Steve have formed a good team. Something they don’t want to fuck with for the sake of squeezing a few more bucks into the next financial quarter and so, after doing their sums, decided they’ll take a hit. Now this is a pain in the arse for being reading the book because it means waiting a few more weeks for Steve to finish. It’s also a pain for people enjoying the tie-ins. But Steve is hammering away here and these books will all be done and dusted by the New Year and the series, and tie-ins, will all be published completely soon afterwards by the original teams and without some grotty fill-ins. It also means the collections remain looking great.

But who’s to blame for all the rest? Giving WONDER WOMAN a big push behind a writer with another career = delays. (Damon Lindelof, writer of ULTIMATE WOLVERINE VS HULK is another Hollywood offender. Apparently writing LOST is more important to him than his nascent comics writing career — is that fair, we ask you?)

We thought comics companies caught on to this back when Kevin Smith first started writing the funnies. You got plenty of books in the can before going on the schedule. Now the cross-over comics scripters are dragging the schedule back.

It wouldn’t be so bad if it were just special mini-series. Late books are a fact of life and comics fans have come to expect delays when high-strung, high quality creative teams are at the helm — ULTIMATES and PLANETARY anyone? But events like CIVIL WAR are crucial to the entire comics economy. Marvel has planned everything in 2006 around it, and this time they gambled and lost.

Over and over again in the message board postings you hear readers wishing for more regular schedules. Of course, we remember when Sal Buscema drew TWO books a month, and Jack Kirby drew FOUR. That was reliable. Nowadays, artists are allowed to have lives and just need more time in general. The irony is that today’s delicate auteurs are still swiping from the guys who had to “hack out” a book every two weeks. Kirby and Buscema didn’t have Internet message boards, however, perhaps that’s the difference.

In all of this, 52, the weekly comic that everyone said couldn’t be done, is coming out like clockwork. It’s taken D-Day like planning and non stop attention from three editors — but that’s because putting out a WEEKLY COMIC is hard. Putting out a monthly comic should be a piece of cake.

Except when it isn’t.

PS: of course, for all the bitching and grousing, this will probably end up costing Marvel very few sales. Retailers and fans like to bitch and grouse, but they always seem to be there on Wednesday, any Wednesday.

  1. I dunno, I think some people have rose-colored memories. And you can’t really cite exceptionally fast artists (as you have here) to prove a point about artist speed, especially when even those guys had off-months where inventory stories filled in. (I miss the luxury of inventory stories!) Not to mention many books in Ye Olde Days weren’t actually monthly anyway (and had much simpler production values than many of today’s hyper-illustrated stuff).

    I think demands on today’s artists are a bit heavier than they were of yore (and that’s even noting, as some will, that higher page rates are commensurate with those higher demands). And I know a lot of fast and reliable artists besides the one I married. So I really don’t think the work ethic has gone downhill as much as some fans may believe it has. I think they’re just misremembering (or selectively remembering) the past. It happens to a lot of us when we get old… so very old…

  2. The thing that I find weird is the system that the publishers work on. What kind of business model relies on the timeliness of artists, some of the most flaky people in the world? It seems to me that it would make more sense to attach timelines and drop dead dates to these projects. OK, I can see leaving some of the regular monthlies alone, but when you have something like Civil War where you are counting on it to be huge and bring in new reader it would make more sense to plan this out better. They shouldn’t even announce a series like this until it’s at least 3/4 of it is done so that any production hangups can be taken care of without messing up the shipping schedule. To me this all smacks of stupidity by the publishers or them just not really caring about their consumer base (if we’d all grow some cajones maybe we’d let our dollar speak for us, but we are weak people that cannot live without our comics). Like you said, we all seem to be there every Wednesday.

    It could be that it’s just because I’m in the high tech industry and every project is written in up in a Project Management software so we know how far along we are in the whole thing as well as when the drop dead dates are. It really isn’t that different, software engineers are a flaky bunch as well.

  3. Oh, wait, I thought this post was about Sal Buscema! I want to know more about Sal Buscema!!!

    But seriously, even though I think Sal and Jack are/were gods among men, the art of comic book art is different than it was even 10 years ago. The computer coloring techniques alone on Civil War are light years ahead of the flat color on Spectacular Spider-man. Sal was almost a one-man show, and as amazing as he is, I doubt even he could have done Civil War on the same schedule!

  4. I was also looking for more Sal Buscema info. Is he still drawing stuff or what?
    His run on Spectacular Spider-Man was some of the best Spidey art this side of Romita.

  5. This is good news. I have to give Marvel credit for wanting to have a solid book with a consistent creative team from start to finish. Of course, if the delay gets worse, McNiven may not have a choice but to be replaced. Hopefully the tie-in books will have the issue after their tie-in come out on time. That would be good for retailers.

  6. John Romita Jr is still working, and always in schedulle.

    An on the Planetary side, it’s just a bad editorial decision, instead of being releasing 1 or 2 floopies a year they could wait thil they had at least 3 comics complete a launch 3/4 comics or go the Hellboy road.

    Mike Mignola as keep the numering the hellboy comics in the inside cover but releases it as mini-series. It seems the best way to work with top talent. Release as mini-series. Maybe I have to wait a year ot two, but then it pays of, for a few month you get to read a story. Everytime i pick up a new issue of planetary …. it’s just because of adiction, i can’t even remember the subplots…

  7. Let’s see… if memory serves correctly Sal Buscema used to do Captain America, Avengers, and Defenders (plus any number of fill-in issues) all at one time. Later on, he’d do Marvel Team-Up, Spectacular Spider-Man, and Rom (and again with any number of fill-ins, like Daredevil, Marvel Two-In-One and on and on). Even John Byrne, at his peak, was doing Fantastic Four, the Avengers and the X-Men all in one month.

    But I’m sure if they had the page rates then that artists do now, they might’ve taken things a little bit easier. When putting bread on the table is an issue, and a missed deadline might affect future earning potential, it’s important to make sure that deadline is met.

  8. Where have you gone, Sal Buscema?
    Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you
    Woo woo woo
    What’s that you say, Ms. MacDonald,
    Our pal Sal has left and gone away?
    Hey hey hey
    Hey hey hey

  9. Don’t you think the REAL reason Marvel decided to not go with a fill in artist is because they know what the sales of the complete hardcover are going to be if it’s all McNiven versus if they just throw it out there with whatever artists was walking through the office at that time?

    I was in a shop today doing a signing and the owner groused to every single customer about this whole issue and, while I agree with Heidi that some people like to bitch and still buy the books, I do wonder how much this could hurt retailers which is the last thing the industry needs especially as it seems to finally be picking up some steam after years of stagnation and depression- then again if fans have extra money in their pocket maybe they’ll finally start checking out some really great independent books they’ve been walking past with their nose in the air as they seek out their spandex fix.

  10. yeah, but look at the level of detail in work by a Hitch or a McNiven compared to more reliable, consistent artists like Buscema, Romita JR (even Bagley and Larocca).

    These guys are all brilliant storytellers and I love their work. I whole-heartedly applaud their ability to produce high quality work on often a bi-weekly schedule – it’s truly amazing.

    It’s also the exception, not the rule.

    I’m more than happy to wait for my next Cassady comic, Hitch comic or McNiven comic. Their art is worth the wait. I don’t want these guys to rush – i want them to amaze me when i pick up an issue.

    Of course, if they COULD put out multiple issues a month I’d be even happier…

  11. Y’know, the problem isn’t that Steve McNiven ain’t no Sal Buscema. Few people are total masters of storytelling like Sal or Steve. The problem is the *editors* and the *editors in chief.* So Sal can do two books a month. Fine. He can be scheduled that way and I for one *looooooooved* his long run on Spectacular Spider-Man (1st series, not counting the magazine). But Steve McNiven, we know he takes six weeks to turn out each fantastic issue. That’s fine, that’s great. No harm, no foul. He does a seven issue book, that means it’s going to take him at least a full year to do that seven issue project. That means, if you’re an editor, you don’t solicit even *one* issue until he’s *finished* the *fourth* issue. Or halfway through the series. Steve turned in his first pages of Civil War #1 in January — that means that the first issue shouldn’t have been solicited until JULY. Don’t tell me as an editor or editor in chief that your economics can’t handle holding off on soliciting a project the scope of Civil War until your star artist can handle it. We know that as a multitensofmilliondollarcorporation that you *can* schedule these super projects with something more closely resembling sanity for the artist, and therefore for the retailers and therfore for the readers like me. Don’t tell me that you’re going to make another Steve McNiven essentially start his amazing work three months behind just by saying yes to it. It isn’t fair to any of us that you’ve done this to him. Get your g—–n acts together and give your artists realistic lead times. And if your writers from TV and Film can’t get their acts together and turn in their scripts — FIRE THEM. There are more than enough writers to pull the weight that these TV and film writers can’t.

  12. I’d argue the level of artistic detail that goes into each panel and the ever-changing dynamic page layouts requires more time today. That’s why less pages get done in a day per artist.

    On the other hand, a lot of it is discipline – not an issue with the artists in particular, but more of a generational thing, I’d argue.

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