With the news of delays to come for "Civil War" out there as responses from the creative team already in, CBR News took a moment to catch up with "Civil War" Editor Tom Brevoort to discuss the delay, the reasons behind it and how Marvel is addressing the issue for fans and retailers.
Tom, thanks for talking with CBR on a day that I'm sure has been pretty hectic. Let's begin by making sure we're all on the same page here because there's a yelling and screaming and finger pointing throughout the Intner. Steve McNiven said previously the delay is primarily to accommodate his schedule and to allow him to finish the series himself. In your own words, what was the reason for the delay?
The reason for the delay is to ensure that we'll be able to finish this project with the same creative team that we began with, and at the same quality level we've maintained so far.
And not that anybody will believe me when I say this, but these delays aren't at all because we're changing the story "Armageddon 2001"-style. [Editor's Note: This is in reference to changes made mid-stream during DC Comics' Armageddon event. Half way through the series the identity of the villain was revealed and last minute changes were made to keep a surprise ending.] There are some elements that are shifting around-hence the new 11th issue of "Front Line," but that's simply an issue of us having more elements on the canvas than we have space for in the remaining pages. But the ending that you will read will be the same ending we spent two days coming up with at our editorial retreat back towards the end of '05, the one that Joss Whedon visited briefly. Sorry, conspiracy theorists!
In the past when faced with a situation like this publishers have often simple brought in a guest artist. Why the decision not to bring a guest artist in on "Civil War" to keep the series on time?
It's no great surprise: fill-in artists suck. And as much as everybody complains about delays like this, and how they're going to hurt sales and interest, the plain fact of the matter is that fill-in artists hurt it worse - they just do it more quietly, so people who aren't in the industry and don't see the sales numbers don't really realize. For all that everybody's up in arms about the delay, what readers really want when you get down to the content of what they're saying is for the project to be monthly by Mark and Steve. And when that becomes an impossibility, you have to ask yourself what's going to cause more lasting damage, long-term? I'm glad that people seem this upset because it shows that they're really into the story, that they can't wait until the next one comes out, but the reason that they feel that way is because Mark and Steve are producing an incredible book. And as soon as you bring in a replacement, you can immediately see the ardor of the fans start to cool.
To throw out two examples, look at "Ultimate Extinction" and the follow-up "Ultimate Galactus" series. They all sold well enough at the end of the day, but as soon as we had to bring in substitute artists - quality artists in all cases - the momentum of the series immediately started to slow. That trilogy should have been a monster seller for the Ultimate line, but it wasn't. And I think the reason that it wasn't is that the integrity of the project was compromised as we tried to meet the schedule. And that'll also effect the long-term sell-through of the "Ultimate Galactus" trade paperbacks. Or you can look across town at the end of "Infinite Crisis." You can almost chart where the bloom started to go off the rose at the moment when they had to pull Ivan Reis in to do a couple of pages in issue #3. In the short-term, people were willing to put up with it, but as each successive issue had to rely more and more heavily on substitute artists in greater and greater quantity, you could just see the dissatisfaction creep in - to the point where what seemed to be most discussed about issue #7 was the art inconsistency. I'm not saying that DC was wrong to do this - I don't know what kinds of financial pressures they might have been under, or publishing plan pressures they might have been under. But what I can tell for certain is what it did to the reading experience. And having seen that, I choose to try to learn from it.
Plus, these days you simply have to factor in the eventual trade paperback or hardcover collections, as they've become a significant part of the revenue stream. On another board, Bryan Hitch correctly pointed out that nobody today really remembers the four-month wait between "Dark Knight Returns" #2 and #3 - heck, most of the people reading this likely first read that story as a collected edition. And that's because the work is strong, and has stood the test of time. It wasn't compromised simply to meet the monthly schedule, and as a result, DC and the retailers will be able to sell it forever. I think that's the model for the future.
Word is that Steve McNiven was given a shorter than normal lead time for this project at just six weeks. Is that accurate?
No, not quite. Steve had a shorter lead time for the project than we might have liked, but he sent me the first page of issue #1 on 1/3/06, so he's been actively penciling on it since the very tail end of last year. But it's a complicated book and a complicated story, and includes numerous characters that Steve isn't all that familiar with or hasn't completely wrapped his head around drawing before this. And it's at the center of a massive promotional spotlight, so the pressure to excel is incredible.
Allright, so not quite as short a lead time as some have said, but still a shorter lead time than you would have liked. Why exactly was there such a short lead time?
It's pretty simple. We didn't come up with the concept for "Civil War" until that writer's retreat towards the middle-end of 2005 - September September I think it was. And the lay-of-the-land at that moment was perfect for it, provided that we got underway immediately, perfect in a way that wouldn't necessarily be the same another six months or a year down the line.
Would you mind explaining to our readers what exactly this lead time means for Steve?
I'm not sure where the six weeks number came from. Steve takes about six weeks to pencil an average comic book, so maybe that's it. So I can't chart where it's being calculated from as a starting point. What I can tell you for certain is that I received the first page of issue #1 on 1/3/06, and that was for a book that shipped to stores on 5/3/06, so that's four months right there (although, to be fair, that first book was larger than normal, and you have to shave off a month of time for when the book actually has to go to the printer, approximately 4/3/06.)
One of the big issues brought up by fans on many different forums including our own is the question of whether Steve McNiven could handle the schedule in the first place. According to Steve's own admission, he's not the fastest artist in the world and once said that he's only capable of approximately nine issues a year. With hind sight being 20/20, was it a mistake to schedule "Civil War" #1 when you did knowing Steve's artistic speed?
No, because without Steve McNiven we wouldn't have had "Civil War" to begin with. Mark was supposed to be taking this year largely off, to rest and recuperate at the instruction of his doctors. But he came up with the idea behind "Civil War" and was excited to do it - but it would only be worth the personal sacrifice if he could do the book with Steve. If McNiven had been unavailable, or uninterested in the project, there wouldn't have even been a project in the first place.
Plus "Civil War" is a crossover, and a crossover involves coordinating events across the entire line of books. As such, it's far more timely in terms of the overall publishing plan than an ordinary story. If we decided to try to hold off on "Civil War" until, say, December, what that means for the rest of the line is that none of the creators on any of the regular books can do anything to substantively change the status quo in their individual titles. Talk about working in a straitjacket, not to mention comics that the readership will quickly grow bored with.
Why wasn't there more advance notice about the delay given to retailers?
We were trying to be responsible, believe it or not, and give retailers the whole picture of the ripple effect these changes would have to the entirety of the back end of "Civil War's" shipping schedule. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for us to simply say that "Civil War" #4 was going to be a week late, and then two weeks late again a week later, and so on, but we wanted to give everybody as much ample warning as possible, especially retailers so that they could manage their cash flow.
What kind of e-mails and calls have you been getting from comics retailers? What feedback are they giving you? Does Marvel have any plans to help soften the financial blow some smaller retailers will take as a result of this delay?
I don't know the sum total of the response we've been seeing from retailers - that's more a question for David Gabriel. But on the matter of the financial blow, one of the things that changes along with the revised shipping schedule is revised Final Order Cutoff dates. So any retailer who believes that these delays are going to decimate his readers' interest in the project can immediately go to the Diamond site and cut back their orders. Or, if they need to reallocate funds for cash-flow reasons, they can reduce their CIVIL WAR numbers now, and re-up them in two weeks' time. So other than the fact that they're not going to be seeing "Civil War" dollars when they were expecting to, I don't know how much damage this can really have on the smaller shops. I may be missing something, though.
I do know that this is the biggest pain in the ass for the retailers, and I'm sorry that they have to deal with all of this.
Essentially, the delay announced by Marvel constitutes a two month delay for issue #5. Will the series return to monthly publication following the release of issue #5?
I can tell you that for certain that they won't - which is what that whole list of dates and adjustments was about. We reworked the schedule for the entire back end of the crossover, and all of the affected titles, and gave those new dates to everybody all at once so that they could see how this will domino across everything. And hopefully, we've calculated correctly, and everything will go off like clockwork from this point on. But I'd be lying if I said I could absolutely guarantee that - the writer, for example, has a chronic disease that could quite possibly take him off the board at any time for an undetermined amount of time. Or it might not - but it's impossible to say for certain.
Special thanks to Stephen Gerding of Kung Fu Rodeo for his assistance with this article.