Top Cow Addresses Delays, Previews New "Witchblade"

Publishing delays in the comics industry have sadly become a common experience. The reasons for such delays can run the gamut of simple production problems to a serious family crisis or even death, but regardless the reason for the delay, it's often frustrating for eager comic fans waiting patiently for the next issue of their favorite title.

Publishers with the best of intentions can be hit by the delay plague. Top Cow Productions said earlier this year that on-time shipping is a priority for them, but sometimes even the best laid plans get derailed. Top Cow's big summer 2007 event, "First Born," was supposed to run monthly, July through September. Beginning with issue #110, their flagship title "Witchblade" was set to run monthly from August through October. Unfortunately, both schedules have changed dramatically.

"First Born" #2 will be in stores October 3 and "Witchblade" #110 will follow on October 10. The reason? "Witchblade" #110 artist Matt Haley found his commitment to the SciFi series "Who Wants To Be A Super-Hero?" to be a lot more intensive that originally estimated, and he was replaced with artist Luke Ross. In the case of "First Born," series writer Ron Marz experienced a death in his family, which threw the entire schedule into flux.

How does Top Cow plan to stay on track, and what can be done to minimize these types of delays in the future? Top Cow VP of Marketing and Sales Filip Sablik stopped by CBR News to address those issues and give us a look at what's to come in the pages of "Witchblade."

Filip, let's start with "Witchblade." Luke Ross had to jump onto the title last minute. How'd that all come about?

We got really lucky, actually. Ron Marz hooked us up with Luke, his regular artist on "Samurai: Heaven & Earth," who jumped right in and did an amazing job. Luke banged out the pages in a couple of weeks while maintaining the incredible quality fans have come to expect from him and Top Cow on art. He does some of the most breath-taking faces in the business.

His issue focuses on Dani Baptiste (the new Witchblade bearer) and how she gets pulled into "First Born." Originally this was going to be the first "First Born" tie-in with issue #110, but we ended up switching it with Magdalena's story (originally slated for #111) which is drawn by Steve Sadowski. Because both stories were written as character focused, self-contained tie-ins to "First Born," we were able to make the switch work. Plus it gave Luke a little extra breathing room to finish the art and Kevin Nowlan time to work it into his schedule.

When an artist is replaced on a title after being solicited, does that affect orders and how they're handled?  Did the issue end up needing to be re-solicited?

In this case, because the issues were tied into another series, "First Born," it didn't really lend itself to re-soliciting through Diamond. And we really didn't want to delay the release further. We are making the issues returnable through Diamond, though, in fairness to our retail partners and the readers. We're hoping that once people see the breathtaking artwork and read Ron's epic story, they'll forgive us for the delay.

"First Born" was a big push for you this year and "Witchblade" has gained a lot of momentum.  How have these delays affected the momentum on these titles?  Is there much concern about how it'll affect sales?

I think lateness always has an affect on sales, especially for smaller publishers like us. We've tried to be pretty transparent in the last few weeks and level with fans and retailers alike. Matt Haley didn't go into this planning on being late, it just happened that a larger commitment was required from "Who Wants to Be a Super-Hero?" than he originally expected. Matt actually drew part of the issue and then had to back out when he realized he would not be able to complete it in the time frame we needed it.

Ron Marz didn't expect to have a death in his family and obviously something like that can really affect your output when you work in a creative field. These things are unexpected and you do the best you can to recover from them, but when you are on a tight monthly schedule there's not a lot of wiggle room.

With "Who Wants to Be A Super-Hero?" finishing its second season, will we see Matt back behind the "Witchblade" drawing board again sometime in the future?

The magic 8 ball says, "Outlook is good!" Obviously, we'd love to have Matt draw "Witchblade" at some point in the future and it's something we're talking about.

Following these delays, will you guys be back on a monthly schedule?

Yes. We've recognized the problems we encountered in 2007 and earlier and are really circling the wagons to address the issue of timely shipping internally. In particular, we want to make sure "Witchblade" and "The Darkness" ongoing coming out in December will be timely. To that end we've secured Stjepan Sejic to be the artist on "Witchblade" from issue #116-150. Stjepan is a guy we know if capable of producing a book every month. He's going to start working on issue #116 as soon as he wraps up "First Born" #3 and "The Angelus" Pilot Season issue while Sami Basri fills in on "Witchblade" #113-115. This will allow him to get ahead and help us ensure timely shipping.

On "The Darkness" we're working a number of months in advance. As a matter of fact, Michael Broussard should have issue #1 complete by the time retailers' orders are turned in and he'll be well into issue #2. Both Ron Marz and Phil Hester have the series plotted out far into the future. Plus both teams will be on those books for the next couple of years to give fans a consistent vision of "Witchblade" and "The Darkness."

Top Cow editor Rob Levin said in an earlier interview with CBR how one of the goals of Top Cow is on-time shipping.  Now, clearly, "Acts of God" and what not can't be predicted and will derail plans, but what's the future hold for on-time shipping with Top Cow - is this just a bump in the road, or are delays on monthly books part-and-parcel and to be expected in the comics publishing business today?

We're hoping it is a bump in the road. Obviously, all of this is good intentions until we actually deliver, but we're doing everything we can to ensure timely shipping in 2008. We're stacking the deck by putting together inventory fill-in issues which we'll get completed and hold in the event we need to slide them into either series. Hopefully we won't need to, but as I said sometimes unforeseen things happen.

The other thing we're doing is going to a five-week shipping schedule on both series. That means there will be a "skip month" in Previews from time to time, but that retailers and fans can expect an issue in stores every five weeks. For limited series, we'll be getting most or all of the series in the can before soliciting them, particularly if we know ahead of time that the artist may need more time to complete the project.

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