Thoughts on Final Crisis

Upon reading the news on Comic Book Resources that fan-favorite artist J.G. Jones (of Wanted and Marvel Boy fame) will not be working on the last issue of Final Crisis, many fans have unsheathed their claws.

The cover to Final Crisis #7, in which J.G. Jones will not be penciller.

The cover to Final Crisis #7, in which J.G. Jones will not be penciller.

It’s DC’s fault for awarding him an assignment that, based on past experience, he couldn’t complete.

What a joke! Another sign that DC is heading towards the iceberg.

Pathetic. DC editorial has been a real mess under Didio and things continue to get worse.

Now I’m going to go out on a limb here — I disagree. There are plenty of cogs in this machine, and hating on the editors seems foolish. In the end, they’ve got two extremes to osscilate between: how popular the talent is (usually measured by fan press as well as how many of his books or, more importantly, trades will readers pick up), and how well will they are with deadlines (usually measured by how many other projects they’re working on, their average speed [difficult to determine for an up-and-coming guy], as well as them out-and-out saying, “no worries, this is a synch, it’ll be done in a month, tops”). I would think if Talent A is “popular” enough (using my earlier criteria), they’ll suck up a goodly amount of Quantity B (the possibility of being late).

And the sales support it. Especially at the trade level, where a growing number of sales are being reaped.

Sadly, while there are plenty of great artists who work at insane speeds (here’s looking at you, Marc Bagley! And you, too, John Romita, Jr!), there are many more (Frank Quitely, John Cassady, J.H. Williams III, and the aforementioned Jones) who are incredibly iconic, but work much more slowly. But so long as the momentum behind the talent is still there, editors are probably right to wait a bit. Remember, this is a business — if 40,000 people will wait for Frank Quitely art (and you’re used to getting maybe 20,000 in sales otherwise), you wait for it. Fan press is secondary to sales. Always.

Art from Jonah Hex #35, by J.H. Williams III. Pretty, isn't it? But it doesn't come quickly.

Art from Jonah Hex #35, by J.H. Williams III. Pretty, isn't it? But it doesn't come quickly.

There’s also the element of mind-reading. And how that only works in comic books, not in comic publishing.

Now, I could be completely off-base (as I wasn’t there in the inner sanctum when Final Crisis was hammered out), but I bet you the conversation went something like, “J.G. It’s been awhile since you’ve done a monthly. But the last one you did [Wanted] was so freakin’ successful, it got made into a movie in less than five years. We have a big project coming up, and Grant Morrison wants you on board. Are you interested?” “Yeah, totally, I’m on that.” “Are you sure? Are you positive it can get done on time?” “Oh, yeah, totally. It’s my only project right now. I promise.”

If you learn nothing else from this post, it’s this: freelancers are lying sacks. They lie for a living. They’re lovable, wonderful people, but sometimes they deserve to be shot. And so it’s not outside of the realm of possibility that the editors said, “all right, well, he says he’ll do it, and he’s got months and months to do it, and he says its his only project… maybe he’ll do it.” Of course, here we are, and obviously the pages were so late that it passed the point of no return, and Doug Mahnke (having a nice resurgence with Superman: Beyond!) is put in the unenviable position of taking over for the star quarterback when the coach pulls him out of the game.

But the blame isn’t on Jones alone. This ties into two other cogs in the great comic book creating machine — I’m not talkin’ magic elves, I’m talkin’ writers and inkers. I’ll start with the inkers first. You might think (and a lot of people probably think) that when the penciller is done, it’s ready for press. Just need about 20 minutes of work from that one guy–what’s his name again? Oh, yeah, the tracer. Except an inker’s job is a lot harder than tracing. Like the linked clip says, inkers are sort of the second set of hands on the art — oftentimes, the awesome little details that you see in your art (ie, the buildings and rubble in Final Crisis #3) are NOT drawn by the penciller, but added in by the inker. Inkers will also correct mistakes in the penciller’s designs, and occasionally add in whole new images on top of the previously drawn art. (Karl Kesel, for example, would assume foot-drawing chores from penciller Rob Liefeld.) If an editor can make a hack journalist’s prose sing, use that same analogy for an inker and a penciller.

The other thing — which can save something or screw something up more than anything else — is the writer. Writers are particularly finicky creatures (I been there), who like to fiddle with everything that can be fiddled with, inevitably pushing things to the very utmost by way of deadline (been there, too). The higher on the totem pole they get, the more they can get away with it — this all ties back to sales. And there isn’t anybody higher on the totem pole than Grant Morrison. So when he says, “I want J.G. Jones involved,” it’s pretty hard to tell your Number One writer no — especially if he’s saying he plans to stop writing for the DCU almost entirely after this project is out. So it hurts the argument “well, they should have known and said no.” If your writer trumps your artist, and both your artist and your writer attract thousands of readers, you basically say, “this is a problem for future me.”

However, there’s more — the pushing of the deadlines. Remember how I mentioned all those other cogs in the machine (not counting balloon placement, coloring, lettering, and — wait for it — actual editing)? The later the script gets in, for whatever persnickity reason, it makes everything else come out that much later. Look at Allan Heinberg’s revamp of Wonder Woman if you need an example: the scripts were so late coming in that the point of no return was crossed again, with a fill-in arc put in its place and the original story concluded in an annual. Remember how I said artists lie? Writers do the same. (Not many of them, but enough to give everyone a bad name.) And it’s easier for editors to believe that if they have nine months to get a 22-page script in… they’d actually have it done. C’est la vie.

In short, there’s a reason why artists get paid more than writers — it takes them a lot longer to do their job, and it’s arguably a lot more demanding. Writers have the easy job, and get all the credit. But because of the fan base that is willing to follow them — even through delays — editors will give them the benefit of the doubt. As for the editors? I doubt they’re just sitting back and doing nothing. The problem is: what can they do? When their bread-and-butter (who is on contract, no less, to get a certain amount of work from DC regularly) is running late, they’re probably calling… and calling… and calling.

Is the talent picking up?

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