Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why JH Williams Is Bad For Comics

Detective Comics # 860

Batwoman is late.  Everybody knows this. Batwoman is not late because of Greg Rucka, who is long gone, moved on, and thinking about The Punisher.  Is it W Haden Blackman?  Nah, that doesn't sound right.  It surely isn't Amy Reeder.  In fact, she's taking portions of the art away from our culprit, and actually might make it possible for a different artist to maintain a better than monthly schedule!

Batwoman is late because JH Williams III is late.  I doubt most people truly understand how incredibly tardy he is, though.  Think back, folks.  When was the last time that JH Williams completed a full issue of interior art?  I'm not talking about cover art, or that little commercial they put out a couple of months ago called Batowman # 0.  Can you guess when Williams finished a full issue of pencils?

I looked it up.  It was Detective Comics # 860, published in December 2009.  You're scratching your head now, wondering if I'm crazy, knowing that just can't be right.  It can't possibly be 2009-- that would mean it's been more than a year since he pencilled a comic!

Yup.  It's been more than a year.  You shouldn't be asking yourself where Batwoman # 1 is, Kate Kane fans.  You should really be wondering why you don't have Batwoman # 12 in your mitts right now. 

The truth is that I don't know why you don't have any Batwoman comics to read, folks. I can tell you what JH Williams posted on his blog regarding the delays:

“Some think that this book was to launch last July, this was never the case, this was speculation on the part of some. The book was also never to launch in November either. The zero issue which came out at that time was never in the original plans, but was done as a bit of a reminder as requested by DC, and to set the stage, this of course took out time of the work already in progress. February had been decided on the launch date by the company with reservations about that from me. I felt that was a bit too soon in a realistic look at work progression. One of the reasons for this was that I had been seriously committed to making appearances around the world over this past year. I think maybe 3 months or more of work loss occurred during that time. I kept trying to point this out whenever discussions about schedule came up. When first discussing the launch date earlier last year we had originally wanted April 2011, and now ironically that is what we have. Only after solicits stating otherwise, causing some unnecessary frustrations.”

Ryan Lee Translation:  DC wanted to open Batwoman in July 2010, and I said April 2011.  Oh look, I guess it won't be ready until April 2011 after all!  That's ironic.  What do you want from me, I'm busy with with admirers!

Look, I don't really know the guy, and I don't know what his daily life looks like.  I do know that if Batwoman had debuted in July 2010, that would have been seven months after his last full issue of pencils on Detective #860.  So even if we take him at his word that appearances cost him three months of work, (and by the way, that figure sets off my bullshit detector in the most aggressive manner possible) how is it unreasonable for DC to expect him to have an issue done after seven months? 

It's absurd.  And what's worse is that Batwoman won't even make the April target now.  I know you'll be shocked when JH Williams hit his blog when this news broke explaining why it isn't his fault:

Well, its obvious to many that Batwoman's release has been pushed back yet again. This was not our choice, and as to why, I'm not at liberty to really discuss. So the release may be farther away now, but be assured that work is still commencing. The upside to a later release means that gives us plenty of time to get a lot of issues done. Amy [Reeder] has turned in some variant cover work for the series and has shown us thumbnails for issue 6, looks really nice. So while I'm moving forward, she is too, we'll have my arc done and hers well on it's way to completion by the time this thing rolls out. The only real downside is that solicits were pulled on us twice, making readers heads spin, wish that didn't happen, but it has, lets just make the best of it. I'm fast approaching the middle of issue 3's interior art, Haden and I've started working on script for issue 8, the first 5 covers are done, and Dave [Stewart] has had issue 2 in his hands for his special magic touch.

Ryan Lee Translation:   I'm finished, but DC won't release it so be mad at them, not me.  I guess they'd rather have a few issues in the can than ship issue # 1 and wait six months for me to finish the second issue.  Weirdos.  Well, I wish I hadn't made everybody wait a year for one comic to be completed, but I did, so unless you have a time machine I guess it's forgive and forget, right?

The rhetoric here is so patently modern and so completely immune to all responsibility.  The solicits "were pulled on us twice."  No sir, the solicits weren't "pulled" on you, you couldn't get the work done!  Solicits aren't pulled randomly by mischievous elves. 

Granted, DC does hold some culpability in the matter.  Honestly, if I was DC publishing a book pencilled by JH
You didn't do the work, sir.  You did not behave like a professional.  There was a day when that behavior was a nuisance, and I could forgive such nonsense without a thought. 
GL 62 - # 1 at 71, 517 units.  Ouch.
We are not in that era any more, ladies and gentlemen.  We're at a place where the top selling comic on the Diamond charts doesn't just fall beneath cancellation level from twenty years ago, it's about 1/3 cancellation level.

We're at a dangerous tipping point as an industry, financially.  To be fair, JH Williams III is a top talent in the medium.  But that doesn't excuse him.  That makes his late books a double liability in an age where the knife is at our throats, and I'm pretty sure that trickle at our necks isn't just sweat, but blood.  

Being a good penciller, hell, being a legendary penciller isn't good enough right now.  Lateness breeds audience discontent, or even worse- apathy.  We're on the brink. This isn't a nuisance behavior any more.  JH Williams is bad for comics.
Not everybody agrees with me, of course. In fact, when the subject of lateness comes up, more often than not I get this little chestnut:

Do you want it on time, or do you want it to be good?

That, my friends, is a false dilemma.  This is commercial art, and it is not only possible for the work to be on time and good, but expected. 

Are the deadlines an arbitrary fabrication?  You bet your ass they are.  But that makes them no less "real", for lack of a better word.  The accepted schedule is monthly, and it works.  In fact, for sequential storytelling, it's pretty close to mandatory. 

The truth is that making comics follow a sequential continuing narrative is an arbitrary fabrication as well.  Comics survived and thrived for long periods in which the previous issue had nothing really at all to do with the next.  Batman had a contained and complete adventure in one issue, and the next one would do the same without referring to any others.  

Better than Pitt - and faster
We don't do that today.  Today we spin narrative threads that follow from the past, and we need that last thread to have happened relatively recently in order to keep the story in our heads.  We seem to have chosen a monthly schedule, and most of the artists in the medium, even some of the best ones, maintain that schedule.

Do I want it on time or do I want it done well?  I want both, and I'll get both if I'm dealing with a professional.  Does Dale Keown's work on Hulk pale in comparison to Pitt?  He did Hulk monthly.  He did Pitt...a couple times a year.  Some years.  Look at John Cassaday's pencils on the first 15 issues of Planetary from 1999-20001.  Then look at the next 12 issues that run from 2001-2009.  Is the late work really that much better?  Or are we fooling ourselves with the prima donna bullshit?

Dave Sim used to say:  "first you get good, then get fast, then you get good and fast".

The mantra now is:  "first you get good, then you start believing your own hype, then you work when you damn well feel like it and the peasants will just have to understand."

And why shouldn't JH Williams drink his own Kool-Aid?  He's just been voted the # 3 artist of all time on the Comics Should Be Good top 50 list.  Listen, I'm detached enough to recognize that he's a cut above.  I get the fact that some of his panels are shaped like little bats, and some of them sweep across a whole page instead of lining up in little 9 box grids.  
Fine.  It doesn't take a goddamn year to do that, and if it does, then he needs to knock that shit off if he's agreed to work on a monthly book.  Sound reasonable?  And he's not alone, mind you.  I'm not just picking on one guy, although I'm focusing on Williams because he's so high profile and Batwoman is so impossibly behind schedule.
Remember me?  It's only been a year.
Dave Finch?  Yeah, I'm looking at you.  We put the over/under on Dark Knight issues in 2011 at four.  You've got two in already, and I still wouldn't bet the over.  Ethan Van Sciver?  Check.  More drawing, please, a little less Fox news in your regimen.  OK?  OK.

Before I get accused of just picking on DC, how about Art Adams over at Marvel?  There might be a bigger tragedy in comics than the complete derailment of Ultimate X, but I can't think of one right now.  Loved that book.  LOVED it.  Back when I first reviewed it, I said it was the one book I'd hand to a newbie civilian interested in superhero comics.  OH, if only I'd known how poetic that would be!  

That book started out bi-monthly, taking Adams' pace into account.  And for three issues, he did it.  The last issue of Ultimate X?  April of 2010.  In a couple of weeks it will be a year between issues.  I hear that issue # 4 will be out soon.  I don't care.  I'm done with it, and when the sales figures come out, you'll see that I am not alone.  If the creators can't commit, neither can I.  I don't even remember where it left off any more, and neither do you

I'm told that Adams has a new baby, and that this constitutes a good excuse.  I suppose.  I wish I had a job that allowed me to disappear for an entire year.  Part of the problem is that comics do not pay well relative to other artistic gigs.  Maybe Art Adams and Ethan Van Sciver only seem to draw six pictures a year  because they're making stacks of cash creating storyboards for Sonic the Hedgehog 16:  Check Out My Hog!

If that's the case, God bless them. Also, do go do that other more profitable stuff and stay out of comics because we can't afford you.  The old girl is sinking, gents, so either grab a bucket and bail water or get the fuck off the ship. If that sounds harsh to you, it's because you aren't perceiving the situation clearly.  We're in trouble deep.
My good friend in Canada Monster Mike likes to say "I don't care about late comics, because I have plenty of them to read until the next one by creator X comes out."  God bless Monster Mike, too.  If only we had a million more like him, there would be no issue.
Unfortunately, nobody else really thinks that way.  They do care that creator X isn't producing that book, or they forget the book exists and they drop it.  And sometimes it happens too much and they forget about comics in general.  It happens.  Look at the sales charts.  
Vegas over/under for 2011 issues:  4
It matters when any creator breaks the social contract and leaves a book hanging.  It hurts ten times worse when our best and brightest fail us, and invariably its our best and brightest that do fail us.  Do you think your local retailer would like to sell some Ultimate X books this year?  How about twelve issues of Batman: Dark Knight books this year? (the first issue placed # 1 on the charts, so that would be a yes)  
That retailer needs those JH Williams books to keep the lights on.  That retailer needs those JH Williams books so that he or she has some credibility with all of those loyal customers pointed toward Batwoman.  Don't tell me that it's either late books or crap books.  Professionals do the work, period.  And don't tell me it doesn't hurt, either.  It hurts everybody in the industry, and the industry is in intensive care.  Do the fucking work.  Stop punching the sick kid in traction with your narcissistic nonsense.
We need to get real.  We need to get real about deadlines.  Maybe it's possible that some artists simply aren't capable.  Amanda Conner discovered that a monthly schedule on Power Girl was affecting her health.  So she did what a professional would do - she got it done, fulfilled her contract, and then made a decision to step down to work on other, non-monthly projects.  Much respect for that.
Publishers need to get real about deadlines.  I see some evidence of that.  Dan Didio is starting to recognize what Jim Shooter figured out long ago when he dragged Marvel out of the grave in the 1980s - you can't build an audience for a product that isn't on the shelves.  If the current talent can't perform, there's always a Stjepan Sejic out there who can.
That doesn't mean you throw JH Williams away.  That would be stupid.  If the guy is a genius not suited to constant pounding deadlines, let him work on an original graphic novel.  Let the fans salivate for it, don't solicit it until its done, and let the magic happen organically.  If an artist can't keep up with a monthly schedule, they can still produce done-in-one issues not so heavily tied to current continuity. Or one-shots.  Or Elseworld's stories.  There is a place for the diva savant - it's just not a monthly comic book series. 
 - Ryan


Anonymous said...

You need to get laid my man.

But I agree with you totally.

Go get some pussy.


Andy K. said...

If my memory served me right, the Detective Comics run had been in progress for a couple of years before it was placed in that book. I believe DC was leary about a Batwoman comic around the end of 52, so they didn't put it out right away. Williams had most of the Detective run completed before it was published, hence little to no delays in their publication. Now that the pressure's on him to get it out, he's taking his sweet time with it.

Anonymous said...

The second time you guys have talked about me and "Fox." I'm beginning to think your issues with me aren't about my work output, but my politics, which you only know about because you asked to know my thoughts by joining my Facebook page. I mean, I do things other than draw comics. I also create beautiful music.

I'm doing what you suggest in your final paragraph: Creating work at my own pace, not interfering with anyone's schedule, and not soliciting work until the project is finished. Why bust my balls? Because you hate Glenn Beck? Grow up.


Chronic Insomnia said...


It's only about politics insofar as I think all partisan thinking is equally inane whether it's coming from Beck, Limbaugh, Olbermann, or Maddow. Or Van Sciver. And none of that is relevant to the lateness argument, of course. So regarding the charge of "Juvenile Jackassery", well, guilty as charged.

I think there's a really good conversation brewing here about fan demands and the creator's point of view. You can show me your world, and I can show you I'm passionate about comics and not just a spiteful child.

Honestly, you were born to do our show, which has always been built on shooting candidly from the hip. Open invitation to Skype in for an episode of Chronic Insomnia, and I genuinely thank you for taking the time to chime in.

- Ryan

Web Wreckage Stephen said...

Am I a cynic to question the veracity of anyone posting around here with the EVS tag? Do you get that kind of notice when you rant, Ryan? when I rant, I am lucky if my Wife even tells me to shut it. Of course I don't have a poop reference-laden podcast assailing the apparent lack of prudent thinking at comic publishers, which doesn't help.

If this is The EVS, then cool, and let the snark games begin.

BTW, is it true that DC has approached Michael Golden and Geoff Darrow to pick up the slack for J H Williams while he gets up to speed? Just wondering...

Chronic Insomnia said...


The EVS thing could be bullshit, but I really doubt it. If I drop bombs on somebody or their work, there's a coin flip shot at them coming back at me. If I write the world's most glowing praise....crickets.

DJ said...

I agree with you Ryan, to an extent. As an example Lady Mechanika #0 and #1 both came out at the end of last year, the book did very well and came out exactly when it was solicted. #2, 3, or 4? nada, zip, as if the series never existed. This was particularly vexing since I spend quite a bit of time in the Aspen Comics website forums. The news about the issues had gone silent, even worse I bought both issues for my sister who hasn't read a comic book in years and she's been desparate to see more of this series and I've got nothing to tell her. The mods recently posted that the artist (Joe Benitez) was having some family issues and got behind schedule and that issue two will be out at the end of the month. You know what? I'm completely cool with that, family comes first. Not to mention that the book is all Joe's creation anyways so without him it couldn't continue. This was especially the case for Aspen and Michael Turner books in his last few years...

I understand that people have lives outside of their work but at the same time you've also shown what happens when such events become the norm. Late books = loss of interest, or in the worse case, complete removal from the medium. So I guess I'm one of those stupid fence sitters, if you have a legitimate excuse for late work (ie. family issues or perhaps a terminal illness as mentioned above) you pass, there are things that are more important than a job. But if a book was solicted for a certain date than as an artist two things have happened:

A.)you have either agreed to have the book finished in time for that release date and it's all on your shoulders or,

B.) The man who works in the big office upstairs wasn't paying attention and set the date for publication anyways. If this is the case than as co-workers this should be discussed and handled professionally and explained to fans rather than just dragging us on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on... that shit can really get annoying when you're waiting on a book.

Thanks for mentioning Mr. Seijic as well. Not only is he always on time with his books he's also going to be publishing his own book in trade format starting in the summer, this means he does all the artwork for witchblade, does varient covers for other books and is realeasing his own series in an ongoing trade form, Something all artist should strive for in terms of speed I think.