How Much Does Schedule Matter to an Ongoing Comic? Jack Staff News and Opinion

Flipping through the latest issue of Paul Grist’s Mudman (#3), I noticed that the text section/letter to readers tackles the question of “what happened to Jack Staff?”, Grist’s previous superhero comic.

After plugging the four collections available so far for the title (start with Everything Used to Be Black and White), and announcing that the next book, Old Beginnings, New Endings, will reprint the six issues he released of Weird World of Jack Staff, Grist answers the question as follows:

The problem Jack Staff had was, despite its popularity amongst those who read it, there just weren’t that many people actually buying the comic. Despite my best efforts (and those of Image) there didn’t seem to be much that could be done to change the situation. Changing the title to Weird World of Jack Staff in 2010 was an attempt to try and catch a few new readers, but despite the initial push this gave it, it never actually increased the sales of the comic.

Might I suggest that there is something that might have been done? Much as I enjoy Grist’s work, I dropped his comics five years ago when I finally got tired of him never making a promised deadline. A little later, he and Image announced that the book would be going monthly, but that idea only lasted four months before the book was delayed again. Here’s the publication history of Jack Staff (comics, not books) over the past three years:

  • Jack Staff #20, May 2009 (resolicited)
  • Weird World of Jack Staff #1, Feb 2010
  • Weird World of Jack Staff #2, Apr 2010
  • Weird World of Jack Staff #3, Sep 2010
  • Weird World of Jack Staff #4, Aug 2010
  • Weird World of Jack Staff #5, Oct 2010
  • Weird World of Jack Staff #6, Apr 2011

A patchy release schedule, making the book seem quarterly, isn’t going to support a superhero comic, no matter how well-drawn. And when you look at the pattern of his history… There are still uncollected issues of Kane, his cop series before Jack Staff, which once upon a time was announced to be going to an original graphic novel format. Never happened. Heck, I have three different Burglar Bill #1s, a six-issue miniseries that only ever made it to issue #4 under one of its three publishers.

I sympathize with Grist’s statement that he “can’t carry on indefinitely working on a comic that isn’t selling enough copies”, but I also suspect it’s a situation much of his own making, or at best, a chicken-and-egg case. (Does it not sell because people never know when to look for it, or do customers not buying make it take longer to get an issue out?) Grist mentions that he intends to bring Jack Staff back someday as a “series of mini-series and one-shots, like Hellboy.” I’ll believe it when I see it.

Oh, and Grist also says that “Jack Staff was not (as sometimes mistakenly reported) a reworked Union Jack proposal for Marvel Comics, but a variation on the British Superhero theme.” I could have sworn that Grist was the one who said it was inspired by Union Jack, down to naming a particular story it spins off of. (See here and here.) Regardless of whether it was or not, at this point, given Marvel’s legal history and their ownership, it’s safest to say otherwise now.


10 Responses to “How Much Does Schedule Matter to an Ongoing Comic? Jack Staff News and Opinion”

  1. Hooper Triplett Says:

    So, as a consumer I vote with my dollar by pre-ordering off-beat titles with my retailer so they know I’m interested in something other than the Big 2 superheroes.

    But creators who solicit work without delivering are shooting themselves (and others around them) in the foot. I want to support Mudman, Saga, Stumptown, Concrete, but they need to hold up their end of the bargain. I’m surprised Image solicits for material that isn’t ready yet – they’ve worked awfully hard to shed that old reputation.

    (And same goes for folks publishing periodically only to collect them in TPB with all sort of extras – you don’t get my pre-order either.)

  2. Rivkah La Fille Says:

    I’m a firm proponent that if you plan on releasing a comic in a periodical format but the artist hasn’t yet established themselves as able to meet a consistent deadline or if it’s a self-published work without consistent income from a publisher (ie: monetary problems can pop up that halt momentum on the work), then it’s best to complete the entire arc before ever releasing the first issue.

    I lose patience as well when I have to wait more than a month between issues. I don’t care if I have to wait months between story arcs, but if there’s something I’m expected to keep track off from beginning, middle, and end, the previous issue needs to not have been so long ago that I have to reread it in order to get the newest issue.

    Also, the same way a smaller ad appearing multiple times in the same publication is more likely to draw sales than a single large, blitzy ad, I think having a title consistently displayed on the shelves every month does way more to boost sales than a few big openings.

    I think a lot of self-published or first-time cartoonists are under the delusion that if they can get the first issue out, sales from that will support them making the second issue and so on so that they don’t have to have a part or full time job to make ends meet. But I’ve yet to see a (self-published) cartoonist for whom it’s worked out this way. And when the second, third, or fourth issues don’t come out on time, and the first issue’s been out so long that it’s become difficult to find, sales undoubtedly plummet. Nobody buys the second/third/fourth in a series they’ve never heard of if they can’t find the first!

    On the other hand, a quick build-up of issues leads to curiosity: where a potential purchaser may have passed up the first or even the second issue, seeing a third/fourth/fifth/etc issue unconsciously makes the consumer feel like they recognize either the title, the art, or your name. In reality, you’re building name recognition and branding your work. Like Coca-Cola or McDonald’s, what’s important isn’t forcing an immediate direct purchase from your customer, but creating something that’s been repeated across your customer’s retina so many times that eventually the brand feels like an old friend: familiar, comfortable, and the first thing a customer thinks of when they want a particular kind of product. Consistent repetition of your title on the shelves, month after month, is what builds that familiarity in the periodical comics world.

  3. Rivkah La Fille Says:

    Btw, stories that don’t end drive me frickin’ BATTY, and spotty publication history is a great indicator that you’re never going to see the story’s conclusion. After having Steady Beat cancelled, I’m never releasing a comic again unless it’s finished before publication.

    And currently doing just that. Don’t care how many people think it’s crazy to sit on finished chapters and not publish them, it makes me crazier thinking about disappointing readers and my characters if the work never gets its end. You NEVER know what may come up that halts the progress of your book! And a halted book is a guaranteed customer killer.

  4. Mentor's Camper Says:

    I can’t even count the number of ongoings I’ve dropped because they were perpetually late. Many of them had promise, otherwise I wouldn’t have picked them up in the first place.

    I just don’t get why they don’t get at least half a dozen in the can before releasing the title. It seems there’s enough fault to spread to the creator as well as the company putting it out who probably doesn’t want a whole bunch of pages in the can because they want to be able to cancel at a moments notice without having had to invest any more than they had to.

  5. Johanna Says:

    Rivkah, sounds like you’ve REALLY thought about all this. Thank you for sharing that.

    MC, I think it’s merely a question of money. A lot of people need to get an issue out so they can make the money to make the next issue. Comics run close to the bone.

  6. James Schee Says:

    I really liked Jack Staff when it first came out, but I think I lost my patience when it moved to Image. Because then the plan was to just reprint everything for the first few issues if I remember right. I liked it, but I didn’t like it well enough to rebuy the same stuff that close together.

  7. Adam Says:

    Yeah, as much as I love Grist’s work it does seem at times like he just doesn’t give a hoot. Which is unfortunate.

    Like Rivkah I’ve thought about this many times especially now as I think about self publishing. I ran into similar problems with my first book and it inevitably ran late by the end. A lot of that was just poor communication amongst the group though.

    I’ve been thinking more and more about webcomics, digital comics and later print and timely release has always been number 1. I’d like to be working on the last issue when I start releasing for example if not done all the way.

  8. Chad Says:

    I’ve got those same issues of Burglar Bill, but I’ve given up on ever seeing an ending to that series, just as I’ve lost any and all hope that Grist will return to Kane. (Has he ever explained why Kane remains dormant? After Image started reprinting the trades a few years ago, I had hope, but then … nothing.)

    But as much as I love Grist’s work, I stopped buying Jack Staff after I found myself unable to keep track of the story anymore, what with all the fits and starts, figuring I’d return to it someday when I was looking for something good to read. Lately, finding something good to read hasn’t been a problem, so I never went back. I think that the way Grist structures Jack Staff, with different sections of the book segmented into dealing with different characters’ stories, made it even harder to keep track between the delays, even though I like that style.

    Of course, I’ve been buying Mudman, so I’m still a sucker for the man’s work. Three issues in, it’s been coming out bimonthly.

  9. Paul O'Brien Says:

    MUDMAN has been slipping, though. It cropped up on several shipping lists before it finally came out.

  10. JE Says:

    I only have the Jack Staff trades, as well as one single issue of ‘Weird World…,’ which was the #2 issue. I was never able to start with that series because my local store never re-ordered the first issue, and it just seemed like the issues would never come out.

    There’s a particular conundrum with regard to creator schedules for work that’s coming out. I’m not sure if we’re asking too much that a comic book come out on a predictable schedule that doesn’t take too long before the hype dies out. I have fits thinking about Nonplayer and Jack Staff and all the other stark examples of lateness (Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk and most of the Kevin Smith stuff, although I don’t read those), since that’s just a loss for the creators when the readers lose interest because they’re late. And even sadder if it’s a situation they can do something about.




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