Monday, September 26, 2011

Quality or Quantity?

One of the most exasperating aspects of work-for-hire books can be the turnaround time. On any of the projects that I've worked on to date, the most time I've ever had to draw(pencil and ink) a page has been a day. Now this is normal enough in the scheme of things; any artist working on a monthly book where he/she is drawing every issue will only ever have a day to complete each page. In many(most?) ways, this is a good thing. It forces you to be less precious with your work, and teaches you shortcuts and tricks to make the work go faster. But it also inevitably leads to compromise. There are only so many hours in a day, and after 12 to 14 in a row, you can get pretty burnt out. So you produce the best page of artwork you can in the given time-frame.

Then there are the books that you get 3 weeks per issue to draw, because of certain mitigating circumstances. I recently drew a run on a title that simply needed to be drawn in three weeks apiece over three issues. It isn't down to anybody else's failure on any part whatsoever; sometimes that's just all the time that's available. So you do the best you can, and hopefully it'll turn out well enough that nobody will notice that some of the pages were hurried along in places. But it can lead to some work that you're less than happy with, work that you wish you could've had just that teeny bit more time on. Early last year I drew a mini-series that needed to be completed in an even shorter time-frame; 2 weeks per issue. This was due to the tie-in movie's release date being just around the corner, and the fact that our story was a prequel tale meant that it would work much better if released before the movie and read as a primer. So we double-timed it, literally, but we got there. The book was really well-written, so it was actually good fun to work on, though it was a killer getting it in on time.

But get it in on time you must, since professionalism and time-keeping are incredibly important aspects of the comicbook creative sphere. Now these examples are not meant to be complaints, far from it; they're just the most extreme recent examples I can think of. As I mentioned above, the norm is you get one full day to complete one full page. And that is pretty darn do-able when you get down to it. That said, the frequent result is that I usually come away from a book wishing I'd had a bit more time to make the pages just that bit better across the board.

More and more lately I've been realising that in 20 or 30 years, not many people are going to remember a large body of work that is competent and solid, but not particularly stand-out or significant. I need to take the time in places to do some work that allows me to spend longer with each image, that lets me wade around in the creative pool discovering new techniques and methods. To produce an entire project of work that I'm really excited by and proud of. In other words, to end up with something memorable.
I'm thinking, would I rather my favourite movie director rush a new movie out once every year simply to meet a quota, or would I prefer he take his time and craft something that really says something, regardless of execution time? Well, maybe not quite regardless of deadline, because that way chaos lies. But certainly giving something enough time to breath and gestate.

So this time I'm going to put my money where my mouth is. I'm going to take TWO(count 'em!), maybe even three(steady) full days to complete each page, from pencil to inks to colour. I've always wanted to take a bit more time with the work, and now I can. I'm hoping that I can manage to surprise myself, and that the work will be even better than I imagined. He said confidently.


Stephen Thompson said...

Agreed. Reminds me of a funny scene in Chaplin where Dan Ackroyd plays one of the pioneer directors in Hollywood who's commitment to quality means he never makes more than two pictures a week. Since then the time directors take to make a quality film has expanded. Comics, on the other hand, still put the monthly deadline before everything else. If you want better comics you either take longer to do each one, like the Europeans, or you add more artists to each project, like the Japanese.

Will Sliney said...

I agree with this only if you do all the work beforehand. Over working it is the biggest killer of creator owned books. Only the top tier of comic book artists will have buyers who will wait around for them. I can list dozens of great creator owned books that just died because they were late, irrespective of the quality.
Comics kind of got rid of the monthly dealine a few years back and it hurt them. Im delighted to see DC force it back with their new books.

Stephen Mooney said...

Thompson: This is certainly the direction my feeble mindgrapes seem to be leaning. I've tried the method where it must be done at all costs within a (sometimes restrictively) tight deadline, with varying results. Nothing that I'm as yet terribly proud of. That said, sometimes I think I'll NEVER manage a body of work that I'm actually happy with/proud of; that it's just the way I'm wired never to be satisfied. Still, I need to try it this way for a change, see what I can come up with.
That said...
Will: yep, I agree with some of your sentiment also. Over-working can be a killer, and lead to ridiculous delays. But I think that could be down moreso to a lack of self-discipline on some artists' part. I'm aiming more to give the work that bit much more time to breath, but still at a very clearly-defined pace. There will still be a fast deadline for each part of the book, albeit a slightly lengthier one.
I agree thatit'd be crazy to not have a lot of the work in the can before initial release, thus ensuring constant, regular release dates for each issue. But in this case it may be say, bi-monthly as opposed to monthly. In other words, there'll be as rigid a schedule as with any of my previous books, just with a bit more time between each issue. This is all hypothetical of course, assuming all goes to plan.
One last thing; you mention the new DC relaunch being monthly, and thus each issue being drawn in a month. I doubt that's the case, surely. I imagine that taking the lead-time into account, the artists would have had about 6 weeks per issue for the art chores, much like on a standard Marvel book. Then after a 3 or 4 issue run there would be a guest artist for an issue or 2 in order to let the main series artist catch up on themselves and prep the next arc. I could be wrong, of course, but this has widely been the norm with the big two to my knowledge. So to say that these books are being drawn in a month I think is probably a little misleading.
Now, no doubt there are still plenty of guys who can draw an entire book every month at the big two, some tackling both pencils and inks. I dunno. It's an interesting topic though.

Stephen Thompson said...

That enforced DC schedule is gonna mean multiple artist on story arcs though, which is one of the huge problems with American comics.

Stephen Mooney said...

Well sure, in OUR opinion. Many people, though, would seemingly prioritise a regular monthly schedule over consistency of artist going on available evidence. So obviously it comes down to personal preference. But yeah; I cartainly agree with you. The art sets the visual tone of what is predominantly a visual medium, so I usually find any sort of major shift in that tone(ie a new artist) to be incredibly jarring, and it inevtitably takes me out of the story a tad.
It isn't like on a TV series where directors change all the time. This gives many episodes their own tone and pace, but the visual/thematic anchor of the same cast and sets in each apisode helps smooth that transition. Comics don't work that way; different art is different art.

Stephen Thompson said...

I think it's more jarring than that. Every artist has a different style so it's also like the every character has been 'recast' with a new actor and all the sets have been rebuilt.

Stephen Mooney said...

Well that's exactly what I'm saying.

Declan Shalvey said...

I think the reason creator owned books are late isn't necessarily because of over-working, it's generally because it's not as financially viable to do it, so sometimes you have to drop what you're doing and take a job that will pay he bills. Creator owned books DO die if they are late though and I hear Image is pretty strict about having work done ahead of time because of it.

The DC books are going to start having fill ins with inconsistent art. That will certainly help me lose interest, but that's just me. It's like the Watchmen argument; the book was late but now, imagine reading that book with a fill-in guy in the middle. Doesn't make sense. Having a consistent art team is a much more immersive and rewarding experience. It's more than if you changed directors on a TV show, it's more like you totally change the visual look of the show for an episode. It's jarring. The monthly nature of American comic books often leads to sub-par and inconsistent material.

Saying all that, you are doing a creator owned series. You should draw it all and do it well. If you are factoring in an extra day to do a better job on it and colour it (which isn't that much time when you think about it so I don't think you're over-working it). As long as you have enough of the book in the can before it starts coming out, you're fine.

Stephen Mooney said...

Agreed 100%, Dec. Can I get an A-men.

Anonymous said...

Hello there. I wrote a longish comment here but it didn't post, so I'll summarise. If time is important and you need to be competitive, you'll need to evolve to produce more, whilst maintaining quality. In our industry in the early '90s, nobody would gave anticipated where we are now, where about a third of the people do arguably better work (computers, software, methods, digging deep etc). It isn't so much fun, but that's a competitive market. If there is a limited number of books, I'd expect the comics industry will evolve in the same way- and anyone who doesn't take that on will be out in the cold, or effectively doing a hobby. I hate to be depressing about this, but it happened. I'd love to take longer, but instead I have to work smarter. The things we make are still good- maybe not under this current government, but that's another story.

Stephen Mooney said...

Hi Spaceintext. Cheers for your thoughts. While I certainly agree in principal that a main concern should be to figure out a way to both streamline the work while concurrently improving it, right now for me that could be a bit of a pipe-dream. I've already experimented with all and any of the corner-cutting methodology that I could come up with, and while it certainly may have increased workflow, it rarely if ever actually IMPROVED the work. The odd happy accident would certainly occur, but these were not the norm.
I realise that one major step I could undertake to speed up my process(which lets not forget, isn't particularly 'slow' in the scheme of things) would be to transfer over to an all-digital production. I'm reluctant to do that unless absolutely necessary, though, since I'm not crazy about the look and feel of most digitally-produced work, even though it can be incredibly competently produced at times. One of, if not THE biggest joy for me in drawing comics is working with pens on paper, the tactile nature of the process. I think to be honest I'd sooner choose a different profession than give up this aspect. If needs be, I'll return to the way I'd been drawing books after this experiment, and work to the traditional monthly schedule. No problem.
But this one time, I want to take the opportunity to try something a bit different that I can invest more time into. I believe that while the general comics-reading populace want and need their comics in a timely, monthly fashion, there are still some people out there willing to wait that little bit longer for an interesting, well-produced book that is a single person's vision. And that's supposing that I need to release it, say, bi-monthly. All going according to plan, I'd have enough work in the bank that I could release the issues monthly as normal.
Who knows, I guess. Until I'm really stuck into the meat of this thing then these are maybe all moot points.
But I certainly take your point on the adapt-or-die aspects of the more traditional work.
I just keep coming back to the same point in my mind though, that at this point I just want and need to try a different process. Who can say if it will succeed.

Stephen Thompson said...

I think the only people that want comics on a monthly basis are the 2 or 300,000 people who read superhero comics regularly. That leaves several hundred million people to reach with a quality book.