Committed: Keep Me Hanging On
While marketing departments say otherwise, I would always rather wait for an incredibly late “monthly” comic book than read below par work or fill-in artists and writers. Increasingly I find myself appreciating the comic book creators who withstand external pressure and take the necessary time for their work.
Recently I found out that Optic Nerve #12 will be in comic books this August. It has been more than four years since the last excellent issue of Optic Nerve came out. While this is a long time between issues of an ongoing comic book, I haven’t forgotten anything and I’m absolutely ready for it. Tomine thoughtfully ended the last issue (which had been an ongoing story, spanning several issues) and so we weren’t on any kind of cliffhanger. Four years does not seem in the least excessive because this is not an ongoing story, but a series of interconnected human observations. Apparently this time even more so, as this will be a series of self-contained short stories in this issue.
My friends in the comic book publishing business repeatedly tell me that my opinion on this subject is not one held by most people, but I refuse to believe that more people don’t appreciate quality over quantity. I agree, it is very nice to go to the comic shop every month and pick up some regular titles. But that does not mean that I’m not going to buy a title if it isn’t monthly. In fact, comic books that hire fill-in artists or writers are much more likely to lose me as a reader, because I’m more likely to notice a change in quality than I am a delay in publication.
I deeply appreciate that Adrian Tomine only releases a comic book when it is fully baked. He doesn’t just bang out any old rubbish once a month in order to keep some hypothetical audience “on the hook.” We aren’t fish, he isn’t shooting us in a barrel. He is providing a discerning and loving audience with a work of art. It is ready when it is ready. This is why I am perfectly happy to wait for Optic Nerve until it is good and ready for me.
Tomine has a knack for creating characters with a solidity to them, even when we only see a small glimpse of their behavior, they seem to have other aspects to them. Unlike some writers, he is able to create warm, relatable, familiar characters even when they’re making choices we can’t understand. More exposed and self-reflective than most comic book characters, the players in his stories don’t shy away from telling each other harsh truths. These are people who know each other intimately, and we’re privy to their most mundane, idiotic, unpretentious moments. Tomine betrays himself as an excellent observer of the human condition and we’re lucky that he has the skill to communicate it to us so elegantly with his comic books.
Another book which is taking forever to come out and I find that absolutely fine is Batwoman. From what I can gather from his blog, the initial lateness was a consensual decision, the following delay was from the publisher side. Honestly, that galls me more, because it so obviously an attempt by DC to ride the coattails of JH Williams with their ludicrous relaunch. As far as I’m concerned, they can release 500 other titles at the same time as Batwoman, but it will still stand on alone. The utterly stunning masterpiece of Batwoman: Elegy proves that any following work will be highly marketable, this doesn’t mean that the 51 other titles they release will be. However, despite the marketing machinations of the great machine, I’m happy that Williams and his team have extra time for their art. This book hasn’t even come out yet, but because of Williams commitment to his art, sight unseen, I like that he chose to delay rather than push for earlier publication and potentially compromise the quality of the book.
Remember how we all waited four years for the last issue of Planetary? That was fantastic. Okay, no it wasn’t. Unlike any of the other extremely irregular books I follow, this one was definitely an ongoing story and I really wanted to know what was going to happen. Combining all of my favorite things (science fiction, grumpy old hot guys, incredibly strong women, elegantly detailed art, mind-expanding concepts, conspiracy theories and even more science fiction) of course I was obsessed with Planetary.
I must admit that not only did I loudly complain for about a year, but I accosted Cassaday at Comic-Con about it, then teased Ellis about it on Twitter. Unsurprisingly, neither of them really liked that (I have no tact.) However, after that first year I sort of relaxed, realized that it just wasn’t going to happen and let it go. Now if I’d been more cognizant of the fact that it is deeply not a monthly comic book, I probably would have been less impatient. When it finally did come out, I found myself deeply unprepared for it to end. Something really beautiful happened in the intervening four years. The act of waiting for the book had kept it alive in my head. It was more present and more important because of the time I spent waiting for it. I’m not saying I’m a patient person, in fact, the opposite is definitely true, but in this instance, I think I loved it a little more because of the wait.
Love & Rockets used to be late a lot, or at least it was on one hell of an erratic schedule. Before there was the internet and ways to get emailed an alert when something was being published, I would just go into random comic stores and ask when they expected the next issue. They’d always groan, as if they’d been hassled by a million other diminutive punks wanting more Love & Rockets, explaining that they had no way of knowing when the next issue would be out… But what is punk rock about keeping to a schedule? It made sense to me that it was erratic.
Now that grown up Maggie and Hopey aren’t little punks anymore and Luba is a grandmother, the format has changed to a bi-annual publication and it feels like New Love & Rockets comes out all the time! This revealed something that I hadn’t known before: I am very happy to buy a comic book which hardly ever comes out, particularly if I know it hardly ever comes out. In fact, because Love & Rockets is officially only coming out every blue moon, I don’t expect it and so I’m not miserable when it doesn’t come out. Instead I’m pleasantly surprised when it does.
With these titles and many more the quality of the work makes it absolutely worth the wait for me. I realize that this is not a popular opinion, but I have always found that while I will moan and plead for more, I am more than happy to wait for great art and literature. I’ve said this before and I only wish that publishers would take note because I truly believe that I’m not alone. Fill-in artists and writers only denigrate an amazing story, stay loyal to the work as a holistic continuity and allow it to grow at the pace it demands.