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Deadlines and My Relationship With Them
Spoiler Alert: It's a toxic one!
I feel compelled to discuss this open and honestly because it’s come up several times in conversation the last three to four days. The subject of artists and writers hitting their deadlines is a taboo and triggering topic. Editors venture into an agreement with a creator to perform a task to the best of their abilities within a certain timeframe. There is a trust extended there. That’s the job. If that trust is broken enough times your reputation as someone who can’t deliver on time spreads and will stick with you until you break that trend consistently for an extended amount of time. In the world of comics, especially editorial, getting books in on time is the top priority. Think of comic production schedules as a bus or a train. If the conductor/driver is delayed at one stop for too long each consecutive stop is also delayed and impacts everyone involved. From the transit company having a bad reputation to the riders counting on that transportation to get them to their destinations on time. Being late just isn’t a good look for anyone involved and if you’re the cause of the lateness it’s even worse.
For the last few years, except for a few projects, I am someone who delays the train. This may be considered career suicide to say this publicly, but I’m also someone who never shies away from taking responsibility for my actions. Doesn’t matter if there are other creators who are notoriously late. I can only speak to my own relationship with deadlines. C.B. Cebulski told me two things: “To work professionally in comics you need to be good at the job, easy to work with, and on time. If you’re two of those things you can get work.” The other was. “You’re only as good as your last page.” The first part of my career I really wanted to be all three things and I was pretty much on time most of the time. I didn’t think too hard about C.B.’s last bit of advice too much. I recently looked at some of my old work and I saw the corners I cut and shorthand I was using to speed up my process. Almost no rendering at all. There were a few decent panels, but back then most of my compositions and layouts were super basic due to both keeping it simple and my utter lack of skill & experience. Back then, after layouts, I was doing 2-3 pages a day regularly. More on that time later.
I ran through the above pages. Even at 11x17
I can’t really remember the moment that I started to care more about the actual quality of my work. Maybe it was a review I read or online feedback, looking at the finished book on the shelves of my LCS and feeling disappointed knowing I could do better, or the lack of gigs coming in based on my last work. All I knew is that I made a choice to sacrifice my health to spend more time on my pages by doing multiple all-nighters to get it in as close to deadline as possible. That choice worked and I got more gigs and comic fans noticed my work more, but I paid the price for it. I got real familiar with the law of diminishing returns. It got to the point that I could crank out 3 great pages in 24 hours, but utterly exhausted and needing 2 days to fully recover. Although it was terrible to experience personally, I feel it was worse for my family to watch me destroy myself like that.
From tighter pencils, more detail, & rendering to inking my own work.
In my day-to-day life, I’m a person who does exactly what they say they’re going to do. I’m trusted and my word means everything to me. People count on me and that’s important that I’m there when they need me. It hurts me to let people down. I remember someone in high school calling me dependable and I low-key hated it. ‘Dependable’ wasn’t sexy or cool! LOL! Now, it’s a badge of honor I wear proudly. My wife, kids, extended family, & friends can rely on me without batting an eye. So, imagine how I feel when I give my word to an editor or client that I’ll be done with something and I’m not. It’s NEVER my intention to be late and it absolutely doesn’t matter why I am late. I HATE to be the reason the train is delayed.
A picture that hangs in my living room with strong words to remind me.
It truly doesn’t matter why I miss a deadline when it comes to an editor. It just doesn’t, but talking about it publicly may help someone else figure things out. Plus, since it’s my newsletter and I’m opening myself up to this taboo topic, I’ll put it out there when I know others can’t or won’t.
At any rate, for me, it’s usually at least 1 of 3 reasons I ever get behind: Family obligations/responsibilities, health, or over-extending myself/trying to do too much in terms of quality or multiple gigs to make ends meet. I’m also a notorious over-thinker, but that’s it. No video games, excessive procrastination (though I’m not immune to a little), or straight up negligence. With my kids all grown up and my wife being the self-sufficient badass queen she is, the last family obligation was taking care of my father during his final cancer battle. Mostly these days my delays are having to juggle multiple gigs. Schedule was tight, but doable until I dislocated my shoulder and that’s all she wrote. Oh! Forgot to mention my ambition to both mentor and give back to up and coming talent while producing more creator-owned content inspired me to create my own studio at the same time. Like I said, doing too much! LOL!
You all see me online. What you see is only a PORTION of all that I’ve got going behind the scenes. That said, John Romita Jr. said that he calls his art style “Deadline Style”. I’ve known this bit of info for a while and have a folder with John Jr.’s pencils. I can totally see where he’s coming from and JRJR isn’t the only one who developed a style built for speed. Just look at John Buscema’s breakdowns! Both were able to draw multiple books a month regularly. Those days might be gone as publishers tend to want artists to ink themselves these days. So pencillers have developed styles that rely mostly on their inking than their pencils. This is now the direction I find myself in. I’ve attempted to do this before, but I never fully committed for fear of C.B.’s last bit of advice about that last page I mention. However, things have changed for me as I go fully into creator-owned work next year. As I clear my plate of freelance work for the next 4 months, I’ll be using my own ‘Deadline Style’ to complete everything in front of me. This time, I’m fully committed to the change. So, some of the work that’s going to come out this year might look pretty different from my regular detailed stuff. Apologies in advance?
This was a long one. I know, but it was something I had to get off my chest. It was a personal one to be sure and all the clients and editors I’ve worked with over the years have been cool, supportive, and tolerated my tardiness. They didn’t have to do that, but they did and I’m grateful. I’d like to think it’s because I’m a good artist and easy to work with. Two out of three ain’t bad 😉. Going forward as an indie creator it’s one of the things I’m putting behind me in 2024. This way, I can get the quality of work I’m aiming to put on the shelves by focusing on just one book, while not making any kind editors feel nervous putting me on interiors. Win win!