What Happened to Infinite Vacation? The Problems of Indy Comic Series

Infinite Vacation is a comic miniseries written by Nick Spencer with art by Christian Ward, published by Image Comics.

Infinite Vacation #1 cover

It began in January of this year and is intended to run five issues. It had an immediately grabbable concept, postulating a world where you can visit different, alternate-reality versions of your life. Our protagonist, Mark, finds that other versions of himself are dying and has to figure out what’s going on, while chasing a girl he’s interested in who hates the idea of visiting across realities. It got very good reviews, too, and was covered in USA Today online.

Unfortunately, only two issues have come out. The book was solicited to be monthly, as you might guess, promised to end last May. The second issue, due February, shipped in April. There have been no issues since then. (Although, due to sales, the first issue had three printings, each with a variant cover, and the second issue has had two.) The writer has stated that issue #3 is due out October 26.

Now, I bring this up not to speculate on why a relatively successful series stumbled so badly — although I do note that Spencer also writes Morning Glories, which comes out every month or two on a more regular schedule, but he’s been doing more work for Marvel, which may take priority, and I have no idea about the artist’s other commitments — but to react as a reader. I liked this series. I’d like to know what happens in it. But when/if it ever concludes, I won’t even remember what I’ve read so far.

(I also want to snicker at the headlines from fall 2010, when promotion for the series was gearing up, that say things like “Nick Spencer to Take an Infinite Vacation”. Yeah, that was a bad idea, wasn’t it? Kind of prophetic.)

Why, being burned with such examples, should I as a customer support future indy comic miniseries? Why shouldn’t I wait for the eventual collection, a (presumably) complete story I can buy without delays and read in one sitting? I know, I know, “if you don’t support it now, there may not be a collection”. To be blunt, that’s not my problem, is it? There are plenty of comics I can buy now, and plenty of people who want to tell me about the latest thing. I am fine with other people being the early adopters — those reviews and comments will tell me whether I should buy the eventual book without me risking my money.

There is no good reason for me to buy an independent comic issue any more unless it is a complete story in itself.

Serialization works for big companies with brands to maintain with recurring visibility. It no longer works for small publishers or customers. I know that indy creators like the idea of it costing less to publish an issue than a book, and I know that smaller chunks are better for aspiring creators learning as they go, but those reasons don’t benefit me as a customer or reader. It used to be the case that releasing a series would build a name, but with so much material now available, very few people are willing to speculate on the work of new creators, and no one’s got the patience to allow a success to build long-term. (AKA There will never be another Bone.) Retailers no longer buy a copy for the shelves of a project that looks intriguing, so customers who don’t already know to seek out the work can’t try it.

It’s now more likely that a serialized story will disappear without ending than that it will conclude satisfactorily. Either Diamond will stop carrying it when sales get too low to make it worth their effort, or the creators will stop working on it when they need to take other work for income, or the publisher will release a book version with material never serialized, meaning I’ll have to rebuy it anyway.

Young creators should be instead looking toward online release of their work, to build an audience. There is plenty to be said for working in smaller chunks instead of going straight to graphic novel. It allows feedback, so artists know if their work and message are being received as intended, and it’s less of a commitment of money and time. Sure, it doesn’t *make* you money (until you’ve built enough of a following to bring in ad revenue or start selling products), but it doesn’t lose you as much as print publication does either.


30 Responses to “What Happened to Infinite Vacation? The Problems of Indy Comic Series”

  1. Jason Green Says:

    A thousand times agreed. I love supporting the little guy as much as possible, but the number of limited series like this that just disappear is so incredibly frustrating. This post made me immediately think of “Pretty, Baby, Machine,” a gangster comic put out by Image a few years ago (it stars Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, and Machine Gun Kelly, hence the awkward name). Anyway, it was supposed to be a 3-issue series, but only the first issue ever came out. The creators got their movie deal and just gave up on it, as if they had no intention of making anything beyond getting that big payday. That kind of nakedly crass commercialism just disgusts me. Phil Noto’s “Infinite Horizon” is another one that just petered out.

    I don’t know if it’s enforceable, but saying “This series will be this long” in all of your advertising material and then never finishing it sure sounds like false advertising and a breach of contact with consumers to me.

  2. Darryl Ayo Brathwaite Says:

    I’m a fan of comics being released after they’ve been completed. Unfortunately, that cannot occur at Image Comics due to its backend-only structure and artists needing to eat.

    I’d like to hear something along the lines of what First Second is beginning to do, albeit as webcomics: graphic novel completed. THEN, serialized. THEN, after having built up goodwill and momentum, graphic novel collection released.

  3. Johanna Says:

    Ah, well, First Second is part of a book publisher, so they understand things like advances to authors.

  4. Rob Barrett Says:

    How about Nate Simpson’s Nonplayer? Beautiful book, but all that hoopla over a single issue in a year?

  5. Jeff Says:

    I’m one of the ones waiting for the end of this series. I pre-order and pay in full at order time. I put my order in a spreadsheet and submit that to my retailer, checking off books as they come in. I’m still missing some items from January previews! Fear Agent is a long running one that went in hiatus with a few issues to conclude the series, numerous Dynamite titles ship more than a half year late and will never catch up with the solicitations, and I’ve had about enough.

    I also want a complete Locke&Key hardbound though, and that goes back to your other point – if readers like me hadn’t taken a chance on the early issues and then continued to buy them, would it have made it this far? I own graphic novel collections of Powers and Sleeper Agent, and I find it harder to justify the singles as they com out as they’re such a great read in the GN format. ( still bought all the Criminal singles – couldn’t wait!)

    Don’t even get me started on the iPad apps and whether that makes more sense than a house full of comics and/or taking a chance on new series sight unseen for the first 3 issues or so as we catch up to Previews…

  6. Basque Says:

    I’m not sure I really understand the logic behind “There is no good reason for me to buy an independent comic issue any more unless it is a complete story in itself.”

    While I find these delays somewhat irritating, in the grand scheme of things they’re not really that big of a deal. I feel pretty confident that the series will continue and conclude at some point, and when it does, I’ll be reading the rest of it. It won’t be very difficult for me to pull issues 1 and 2 out of the longbox to re-read them first, so not remembering what happened before is not even an issue.

    Maybe this is overly optimistic, but you could even look at it as a good thing: spending more time on a series, reading it multiple times, stretching out your enjoyment of it. Okay, maybe you don’t buy that argument. But still, I just don’t see how there is “no reason” to buy a series just because it’s late.

    The reason is simple: I enjoy it and I want to support it. I would prefer if the delays were not so long, of course. I’m sure everyone can agree on that. But if I like something, I support it. I’d rather have late indie comics than no indie comics.

  7. Tom Ramirez Says:

    Your reasons are exactly why I’ve been making Fighting Yamako-chan transition from print to digital. The cost effectiveness is just too steep and delays in life often prevent me from releasing my comic in any sort of timely manner. Having a digital format (like Graphic.ly) gives my customers instant access while the relatively low cost provides extra incentive to those who may otherwise not want to purchase a hard copy of a single chapter for $5 to $7 dollars.

  8. Suzene Says:

    @Rob – ‘Nonplayer’ was exactly the comic that came to mind while I was reading this post. When the creator essentially states that he has no fixed schedule and the next issue will be finished when it’s finished, then he can join Joe Casey and Warren Ellis in the “I’ll believe it when I see a trade” corner.

  9. Jason Green Says:

    Jeff: Wow…I would *never* pay up front for a Previews order, especially given how few books actually ship on time. How can your retailer possibly justify that when they don’t even pay until the book ships?

  10. Suzene Says:

    Jason: The shop I worked at would give customers ordering from Previews the option of paying either half up front, half on arrival or all of their order up front because too often customers would place an order, then decide they didn’t want it by the time it actually arrived. The shop could always refund their money if the book/item was canceled or never shipped, and not have to run the risk of eating the full cost of the order if the customer turned out to be a deadbeat.

  11. Johanna Says:

    Jeff, prepaying is a difficult situation I didn’t even consider. Does your retailer allow you to get a refund after a long enough period of time, or does s/he require the book be cancelled before an outdated reservation clears?

    Basque, if you’re confident that the series you follow will eventually conclude, then you’ve had better luck than I have. As far back as Hepcats, 20 years ago, I’ve been following great comics that never finished, and I know that the best intentions don’t mean a creator can overcome the market forces set against them. I support indie comics, but I want to treat them as a business, not a charity.

  12. James Schee Says:

    I agree that an indy comic better get online, through an ap or a website as I don’t see it making it otherwise.

    Given that I don’t shop at a comic shop, the Indy comic scene has pretty much dried up for me. I have only found one new creator whose work I like in the past 3 years or so. It was Faith Erin Hicks and I only found her work through Twitter pointing towards her work on her site.

    Even creators whose work I know and like seem to have vanished. I haven’t seen or heard about a new book by Andi Watson in years, Chynna Clugston did one issue of Blue Monday and then it was scrapped for it to be a GN instead (if I recall correctly) and it has never appeared.

    I’m picking up a few Indy titles either in TPB form, Love & Capes or through the new ap for my IPad like All Nighter from David Hahn. ($1.99 is decent)

    Yet other than those, and Scott Pilgrim I haven’t seen anything new in years. (though Craig Thompson’s Habibi looks interesting so that’s a positive step) And its no use saying go to the shop mine don’t have good records of getting indy titles & I’m not doing mail order where I have to prepay.

    Which is kind of a shame really, I was reading manga but lost interest in the majority of what’s out in it these days. So I have room for something different, but not a lot available.

  13. Arthur Says:

    Once again Johanna, you easily (and perfectly) articulate a point I merely grasp at straws at.

  14. GDWComics Says:

    I think there’s also a budgetary concern here. Lets say I have so much to spend on comics each month. Yeah, I want to buy 100 dollars worth each month but cant. So some things that look pretty good I have to put back just because I’m too poor to invest in another ongoing. So I have to be picky. So lets say Infinite Vacation was part of my pull list (which it was at one point). I have so much budgeted for comic a,b,c,d,e and Infinite Vacation. Now lets say IV has problems and doesn’t come out for several months. Now lets say that something else comes out that is pretty good. Equally as good as IV (to me at least). Well, I’m going to jetison IV and buy book x. So now, when IV returns, I might not be able to buy it anymore becuase I’m already invested in the other book that took its place that IS coming out on time and can’t really afford to add another to my pull list.

  15. Augie De Blieck Jr. Says:

    And, this being comics, the alternative is also scary: DC Comics is releasing their comics monthly, on time, absolutely and positively.

    But it’s a roll of the dice as to which creator will be working on it from issue to issue.

  16. Laroquod Says:

    I don’t get what the big deal is. People wait many years for say, George R.R. Martin’s work. And he actually earns money from and really has no good excuse, but still they wait.

    On the other hand, indie project do not make a lot of money and thus can’t usually support an artist on their own, so to be marking down indie books on the basis that they aren’t ‘fast’ is to rate the whole field on a slanted basis that favours big business.

  17. Johanna Says:

    It’s not wanting indy comics to be faster; it’s wanting them to be satisfying. A series that starts well but never reappears isn’t a satisfying reader experience. And your last sentence supports my point: serialization isn’t a model that works for indy creators and books, so they should find/use a different one.

  18. Jeff Says:

    Jason, Johanna, my retailer is a guy who had a comics shop for years and saw himself slipping further behind as the last pokemon or whatever boom busted. He was going to stop completely but eventually let go any staff and gave up the storefront for an upstairs area he always had for back issues, trading card tournaments, etc.

    I’m sure he would be fine with x% of my order being pre-paid, and I believe that was what he first requested if I wanted to keep going with him but frankly that’s just more headache for me. I pay him once when I order, and then just pick up stuff when it comes in. So I do have a couple of months pre-paid but once I got over the initial hump I was back to the same rough monthly cost.

    And yes, if something just plain old hasn’t shipped then we take it off and he credits me the difference. Before I had a bunch of books on the pull list, but I didn’t religiously read Previews. So now I have fine control as each month I decide exactly what comics to pick up/axe from my reading list, and I pay more attention to these contentious indies and keep an eye out for good material for my daughter. My retailer used to have a huge backlog of comics from guys who had their pull list with him but only came in every few months or maybe stiffed him in the end. Now everyone pays at least some up front and hopefully he can make a go.

    If I switched to strictly graphic novels, I think it would be cheaper to just go via Amazon, although I don’t know as you could order there at the time Previews comes out.

  19. Nick Purpur Says:

    Independent comics can be successful if they are published in a timely manner. IV will lose 1/2 to 1/3 of its audience by being late. If independent creators put they’re time into their comics, the potential for monthly sales are there. Apparently, in this case, work for hire was more important.

  20. Comics A.M. | DC, Marvel tease big announcements as NYCC looms | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment Says:

    [...] Comics | “There is no good reason for me to buy an independent comic issue any more unless it is a complete story in itself”: Johanna Draper Carlson bemoans the tendency of indy comics to start strong but never finish and concludes that print serialization is not working for small publishers. She sees online releases as the way to build an audience nowadays, although that may not solve the problem of the near-infinite wait between issues of Infinite Vacation. [Comics Worth Reading] [...]

  21. Chad Says:

    “Even creators whose work I know and like seem to have vanished. I haven’t seen or heard about a new book by Andi Watson in years, Chynna Clugston did one issue of Blue Monday and then it was scrapped for it to be a GN instead (if I recall correctly) and it has never appeared.”

    Dunno about Andi Watson, but I saw Chynna Clugston’s name in the credits of one of DC’s comics, checked online, and yeah, she’s now an assistant editor at DC.

  22. Chad Says:

    As for the issue at hand, I honestly have no problem dropping cash on indy comics in serialized form, even if I know that they may never finish.

    Is it frustrating that something great like Steve Bissette’s Tyrant never got finished? Sure. But I still treasure the issues of Tyrant that I have. And admittedly, that may not be the best example, as each issue was satisfying on its own while being a part of a larger narrative, whereas something like Infinite Vacation promises an answer to a mystery. But I’m still OK with the $7 I spent on the two issues of Infinite Vacation that have come out. I have faith that it will get completed.

    That being said, if a creator burns me consistently in not finishing the story he or she set out to tell, I could see becoming a trade waiter for their work.

    But I’m still going to err on the side of just buying the comics if they sound good, especially when my support might mean more of the comics I enjoy. And there’s always hope that a creator will come back to finish the book. I began buying one of my favorite GNs, Hicksville, back when Dylan Horrocks was publishing it serially in the comic book Pickle. Pickle dies, but years later, Horrocks published the complete story as a TPB. And I was happy to have it.

  23. Dean Stell Says:

    Yeah, I’d agree with you Johanna on almost everything. I do understand why these things happen and how hard this is for the artists, but reading an issue or two here and there isn’t a satisfying way to enjoy a comic story.

    And that’s especially true with something like Infinite Vacation that had a true story rather than a central premise for the series that allowed the creators to tell stand alone stories.

    I’ve got a longbox at home full of partially completed minis and it just isn’t as rewarding to read them in dribs and drabs.

  24. Will West Says:

    Completely agree with this article, as I blogged something similar myself a few months back. This was a common problem with small press creators, but it seems to be affecting Image more recently than I remember in the past.

    I used to be a small press brand manager for Diamond, and we used to insist that an indy creator have the first 3 issues ready to go at the time we listed the first issue, so that there weren’t any delays in the release schedule. Over time, we got a little lax on that, and realized that the small press creator (especially one with a full time job and a family) didn’t understand the realities of a comic publishing cycle. This led to a LOT of unfinished books.

    Plus, it was saddening to me to see creators, like David Lapham, just drop their indy darlings when the work starting coming in from the Big 2. At this point, I only trust small press books in collected form, as it’s the best bet I have of ever getting a complete story.

  25. Chad Says:

    “Plus, it was saddening to me to see creators, like David Lapham, just drop their indy darlings when the work starting coming in from the Big 2.”

    Are you sure that’s what happened in Lapham’s case? I seem to remember that Stray Bullets wasn’t selling well enough for him to continue and be able to pay the bills, so he pursued work from the big two, hoping that he could return to it. But I haven’t seen any statement from him on Stray Bullets’ status in a looong while. That’s another series I’d love to see return.

  26. Johanna Says:

    It’s tough to know exactly what happened with any particular title unless the creators themselves comment. I don’t really want to bash any particular artists or books, because indy creators do have a really tough row to hoe, and we may not be aware of the factors behind the decisions they have to make economically.

  27. Will West Says:

    You’re absolutely right in that we don’t know what happened unless we hear it from the creator. All I know is I saw less Stray Bullets and more peripheral Bat titles. Blame aside, the problem remains unchanged – one series is left undone, as focus is placed on seemingly higher profile books.

    To me, the reasoning almost doesn’t matter, as it still lessens my confidence in certain creators. It’s no longer solely a small press problem, as we see this from bigger titles, like Batman: Odyssey and Daredevil Father.

    If you can cite Infinite Vacation, I figured I could cite Stray Bullets. After all, we haven’t really gotten an explanation from Spencer, either…

  28. Johanna Says:

    Oh, definitely. I just wanted to be proactive to prevent one way I saw the discussion going. Gunshy, you know.

  29. Chad Says:

    And to be clear, I was just curious if Lapham had commented on Stray Bullets’ possible return recently, not looking for speculation or a blame game.

  30. DeBT Says:

    Having only recently discovered Stray Bullets, and catching up on the series until it ended on that evil, evil cliffhanger, I wonder what’s stopping David Lapham from concluding the current arc by posting a few completed pages on a webpage or something? As he’s mentioned many times, the script has already been completed, and all that’s left is for him to draw it.

    Putting this high-profile indy comic on the web would certainly give this comic some well-deserved publicity and also resolve some of the tension that’s been made from faithful followers wanting to see a definite conclusion, even it’s only for the current arc. It’d certainly give some people some peace of mind. I can’t even begin to imagine the level of frustration of having to wait over six years for the next part. My sister compared it to waiting for the next volume of Nana.

    If people started liking his continuation, he could have some kind of PayPal provider for his audience to give “whatever funds they deem necessary”. Of course, there’s still the inheirent danger that he’ll grow sick of his project again as he’s done so in the past, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

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