Shinku Returns, Sword in One Hand, Apology in the Other
First, I'm sorry. Actually, better make that we're sorry.
This week, "Shinku" #5 finally reached comic shops after a delay which is, frankly, embarrassing. I didn't remember when "Shinku" #4 was in stores. I made myself look it up, even though I honestly didn't want the answer: January.
So on one hand, the entire creative team is thrilled to finally have the book finished and in stores. Issue #5 wraps up the first story arc, and sets the stage for where the book is headed (and yes, we definitely intend to keep going; issue #6 is completely drawn, along with a good portion of #7). On the other hand, we're deeply apologetic for the delay. We hope you'll still give the book a chance.
Which brings us to ... why? Why did it take so long to get "Shinku" #5 complete and off to press? I feel like you deserve an answer. I'm not someone who feels like creators owe the audience whatever it wants, whenever it wants it. George R.R. Martin does not owe you or me his next volume of "Song of Fire and Ice" on anyone's schedule except his own. But I do feel like creators should extend explanations to their audience, if for no other reason than it's the polite thing to do. So if you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen a reference to a member of the "Shinku" creative team dealing with some health issues.
In one of my previous columns, I explored the challenges (and rewards, of course) of creator-owned comics. Rather than belabor those points, here's the quick version:
On the plus side: you own your creations; you reap whatever benefits they generate; and you tell the story you want to tell, in the way you want to tell it.
On the negative side: the direct market is still notoriously oriented toward Big Two superheroes; you produce the work for free, hoping there's some profit to divvy up after the book is released.
Now, everybody doing a creator-owned work knows all this going in. Or at least they should. By the time Image takes its fee, and the bills (printing, shipping, etc.) are paid, "Shinku" single issues are not profitable in any meaningful financial sense. Now that we have five issues done, and we'll soon have the trade paperback collection put together, hopefully we'll start seeing more of a financial return.
None of this is a complaint, it's just background to hopefully convey a sense of how this works. Yes, there have been other delays that impacted the "Shinku" schedule, like artist Lee Moder taking time to draw a few side projects in order to generate some page-rate income, like me always juggling multiple deadlines. A guy's got to eat.
As "Shinku" #5 headed toward completion, our colorist, Mike Atiyeh, and his wife and daughter, suffered a series of health issues that lasted for almost the past year. I can't remember any of my friends ever experiencing such a sustained streak of medical concerns. It's not my place to get into specifics about someone else's personal matters, so I'll simply say the health concerns were quite serious, including hospital stays. Because of that, our schedule were impacted.
When all the health issues were thankfully resolved, Mike was in the position of having to catch up on his paying work for publishers like DC and Dark Horse. "Shinku" is, quite literally, a labor of love. No one is getting paid a page rate -- not me, not Lee, not inker Matthew Waite, not letterer Troy Peteri, not editor/designer Phil Smith, not Mike. Paying the mortgage and doing a creator-owned book are not always mutually compatible, for any of us.
I asked Mike on more than once if he wanted to bow out, and return to the book's coloring duties when his situation resolved itself. Each time he said no, and reaffirmed his commitment to coloring "Shinku." When a creative team clicks, it's like a family. You don't jettison a member of a family when they run into difficulties. I've known Mike since even before we wound up at CrossGen in Florida together. I was at his wedding. I felt helpless when his daughter was born with a heart defect. I was overjoyed when she beat the odds, and not only survived, but thrived.
The finished line art for issue #5 waited for months until Mike could get back to it. More than a few friends offered to lend a hand coloring the book, so we could get it out. That would have been the easy thing to do: move on, just get the issue on the stands. If this had been a work-for-hire book, that's absolutely what would have happened. Publishers are sympathetic to real life impacting schedules, but ultimately, they're in the business of producing on a schedule.
But "Shinku" is a creator-owned book. It's ours. We get to make the decisions. So we decided to wait for Mike, no matter how long it took.
Yes, it was frustrating to have the majority of the issue done and just waiting for the final color. Yes, it's frustrating to answer the questions on Twitter, or at signings and conventions (though obviously it's gratifying that people care enough about the book to ask about its return). Before you ask about the third volume of "Samurai: Heaven and Earth" from Dark Horse, yes, Luke Ross and I still intend to do it when he has time to draw it. Luke is under exclusive contract to Marvel, but we talked about it again at New York Comic Con last weekend. We're both still committed to seeing the story through. It's just a matter of Luke's schedule.
Certainly everyone on the "Shinku" team knew we would lose any momentum we had, which can be deadly for any book, but especially for a creator-owned book that already has to fight for attention. We knew we would be risking the goodwill of the audience, which in a very direct way is responsible for whether we see any return at all on this venture.
But waiting for Mike also meant we would keep a consistent look to the book, especially through this first five-issue arc/trade paperback. The "marker comp" style Mike decided to use for Shinku -- which is more time consuming for him to produce -- is unlike most other books on the stands. let's face it, it wouldn't be easy for someone else to duplicate Mike's style.
But this is all about more than the book. It's about friends. It's about family. It's about doing what's right for each other. So after 10 months, "Shinku" #5 is done.
I think we made the right decision. I hope you think we did too.
Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it's pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes "Artifacts" for Top Cow, "Prophecy" for Dynamite and his creator-owned title, "Shinku," for Image. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com.