I LOVE IT WHEN A PLAN COMES TOGETHER
Chinese educator Tehyi Hsieh was not writing about the comic book industry when he reported the old proverb “Harmony would lose its attractiveness if it did not have a background of discord,” but he may very well could have been.
I was talking to my pal Joe Casey on the phone the other day, sorting out the trials and tribulations of getting the latest Double Image to the printer, kibitzing about his latest work on The X-Men, and trying to convince him to let me collect his first Pop Comic, The Harvest King, into a handy trade paperback.
And it began to occur to me that one of the things I like best about the comic book industry is how putting a comic book in your hand is like bringing Order out of Chaos.
I mean, think about it: when you go to the comic book store to pick up your latest stash, even the comic in your pile that you enjoyed the least… or worse, absolutely hated, had a team creators going through an uncommon amount of work to bring its fragile minutes of ephemeral entertainment to your unfeeling carcass.
The comic book industry is Discord and Chaos wherever you look, what with publishers with large markets-share seemingly throwing “product” at the proverbial wall to see what will stick; high profile Old Guard and Flavor Of The Month spitting epithets at each other like somebody skinned his knee playing kick-ball; the merest mention of the word “distributor” can have real-world aftershocks for companies without a firm hand on the rudder…
…and I’m sure you can fill in your own tales of pathos and intrigue and stupidity and dropped balls, as well.
But every once in a while, it’s good to pause in the eye of the self-referential hurricane that is the comic book industry and think about all the brain juice, muscle pulls, and sleepless nights that went into that copy of Crapfest Monthly that you’ve just bagged and boarded and will never look at again.
For example, when I first thought about getting into comics, way back in early 1995, I didn’t just say to myself, “Astronauts are big; let’s do an astronaut book.” I mean, in early 1995, I was working as a laboratory technician in a biomedical manufacturing facility. Ever see The Andromeda Strain? You know that bit at the end where they’re running around the Wildfire compound in those containment suits? That was me, formulating vaccines and other medicines for injection in a Class 100 clean room, swathed head-to-toe in an anti-static, low-shedding coated paper suit for eight hours a day.
Oftentimes there’d be some mix-up outside the room during a formulation, and we’d be stuck in the clean room until they could sort it out.
Since it was hard to hear because of the air scrubbers, you didn’t talk to others unless you really had to; since particle movement had to be kept to a minimum, if you dropped, say, a clean room pen or other such instrument, you had to leave it until the end of the shift.
This sort of restriction of movement basically left you with a lot of time to yourself to think.
I would make up little games for myself, like trying to assign famous actors’ voices to food. Like, if chocolate could talk, it’d have the voice of James Earl Jones. Or, how would William Shatner answer the question, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” (Answer: “To… get to… the other… side.”)
Stuff like that.
One day in one of these sterile environment reveries, I was thinking about the then upcoming film Apollo 13, and how many of the films and TV shows I enjoyed as a kid followed the ol’ astronauts-in-trouble theme. Planet of the Apes, Capricorn One, heck, even I Dream of Jeannie.
So I figured I’d test the comics market a little, and do a 12 page minicomic about a spaceman in jeopardy of some kind. I knew I could write up a compelling story, and that I’d have to draw it myself.
The fact that I couldn’t draw very well was deemed not germane to the discussion; I was going to figure out the comics industry.
So producing the comic was really the least of it; write, draw. Xerox, fold, staple.
Tom Fassbender, who was then the comic buyer for the dearly-missed Capital City, came across the mini at the second Alternative Press Expo, and loved it. When I told him I thought they could offer it the same month that Apollo 13 hit the theaters, I swear to God he said, “I like your savvy, kid,” with a 1940s curl to his grin.
It was pretty well-received, so when we thought to do up the idea as a real series of comics, it only made sense to shoot for another orgy of big movie tie-in borrowed-interest, and we scheduled our launch around 1998’s Armageddon, that year’s astronauts-in-trouble flick…
…and we missed that by nine months.
Lots of reasons, sure, but it boiled down to the fact that we weren’t going to solicit our first issue until the last was in-house. Starting a new book in those days was crazy; retailers were gun-shy, fans fewer in number than even just a couple of years before…
…so our thought was that the only way anyone would believe us when we said our book would be coming out monthly would be to wait until the art was completed, and then solicit the first one. That meant that, to me, by the time readers had a chance to buy #5 in the stores, #1 would have been completed for a year.
That was a long twelve months for me to wait to get feedback on our comic, believe me.
How does this not wholly self-indulgent walk down memory lane have any bearing on the jumbled discord that is the Comic Book Industry 2001?
Simple: just remember that there is a whole army of people each trying their damndest to entertain a comic book reading audience. From the writer of Crapfest Monthly, who’d always dreamt that he’d get paid to think up adventures for his favorite characters, to the artists and inkers, to the colorists and letterers, to the graphic designers and marketing pitchmen, to the ad sales guys, to the copywriters to the fulfillment guys to the administrative folks to the printers and their team and the distributors and their guys and the retailers all across the country still braving an uncertain economy….
…all because they love comics.
There aren’t a lot of oil can store owners waking up every morning who can’t wait to get to work because they love the oil cans.
There are a whole lot of people working together to seamlessly bring you your top-quality comic books, and there are a whole lot of pins that need to fall just right to make it smoothly from an idea in somebody’s head to a finished comic in your hands.
But when that happens, it’s like bringing Order out of Chaos.
I love it when a plan comes together.
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