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June 12, 2012
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About a month ago I finally got to meet an art hero of mine, Klaus Janson, a well known pro who's been in the industry for over 30 years. A mutual friend introduced us, and we hit it off right away. The group of us went through the Village hitting pub after pub, and soon I was drunk enough to ask Klaus something that had been bugging me.

I asked him if modern comic artists are, on average, slower than we used to be. He said yes, and I agreed.

From the Golden Age until the 80s, pencillers were generally expected to turn in at least two pages a day, while an inker was expected to turn in around 3-4. There were a handful of exceptions, I'm sure, but most of the artists could pump out pages like human printing presses. In the current comic industry, it's completely reversed: while a handful of artists can still hit this speed, the vast majority can't. Pencillers today struggle to produce a page-per-day, while inkers (those who still ink with ink) are hitting around 2.

So what happened? I've talked to a number of artists and a few comic reporters about this, and they came up with a lot of great points that I'd never considered. With their help I was able to construct a loose time line the helps explain what I think happened: artists are slower because the industry has allowed it.

THE 90s
There are a lot of great things that came out of the 90s: creative ownership, new titles, computer coloring, etc. The idea of a superstar artist wasn't new (Adams, Romita, Toth and Kubert), but the idea of superstar artists handling their own books was. The only hitch was that the Image guys, some of whom were extremely talented, were not workhorses like their predecessors (granted, few of the above ever started their own publishing company). Many late books didn't bother to use fill-in artists, rather they'd just delay the release until the superstar was done. And because the books made so much money, there was no monetary pressure to stay on schedule with the rest of the series. Suddenly it was okay that books were late because they were selling really well.

This, by they way, still makes no sense to me--why didn't they strike while the iron was hot and put out as many issues as possible? If there was ever a reason to force someone to work faster, it was during the 90s when they were printing their own money.

And while the 90s are over (supposedly), that decade forever increased publishers' tolerance for slower artists. Especially when it comes to tent-pole books: instead of hiring artists who can fit the schedule, the schedule is now created to fit the superstar. Whoever says that it's not an "artist's industry" anymore is wrong. Having the artist serve the book means the artists is forced to work quickly. Having it the other way around means more delays. But that's not always a bad thing...

QUALITY
While looser deadlines meant more fill-ins, delayed books and shaky schedules, it also meant that readers got a chance to see art that would never had been published before: guys like Travis Charest and Art Adams. Certain artists used the looser deadline to raise the bar, and because so many readers gravitated toward these more detailed styles, comic art became seen more as a "craft" and less as a means to an end.

Don't get me wrong--we had "craft" artists before (guys mentioned above), but those styles were created to fit a schedule of  2-3 pages a day. With looser deadlines, artists are freer to express themselves more completely on the page, and with that freedom comes a wider range of styles, some which take longer than others. One could argue that if you want to stand out these days, you're better off pushing a meager 3 pages a week--I mean, how else are you going to compete with the amazing talent of Paquette or Coipel, guys who's pages clearly take more time to produce.

CONVENTIONS/COMMISSIONS
Another contributing factor is that artists take more time off for conventions and commissions. Personally, I think it's irresponsible to attend a show if an artist is behind on deadlines, but that doesn't seem to stop so many from going. But I understand that comics don't always pay well (especially with artists who are slow), and there's a lot of cash to be made selling sketches, prints, and sketchbooks. More than once, I've seen editors get upset when their late artist shows up at a convention. Yet, they'll continue to tolerate it, because it's the new standard of the industry. Publishers are often so busy gearing up for shows that even the editors will fall behind.

THE NET
Having an internet makes a comic career easier than ever. Not only is it great for quickly looking up references, it also speeds up communication with your publishers and allows artists to quickly check word balloon placement, color samples, and final PDFs before going to print. Of course, the net also provides a lot of vices--frivolous email checking, Skyping, and Tweeting probably makes the net more of a hindrance when it comes to speed. And while Google searching your references is helpful, it's also time consuming and allows some artists to become obsessive. Social networking is great for loneliness and reaching out to fans, but it's bad for speed.

And for the record, I have nothing against a slow artist. In fact, most of my favorite artists aren't fast--Zach Howard, Olivier Coipel, Yanick Paquette, and dozens of European comic artists. These guys slave over their work for an ungodly amount of time, and it's clear when you see the final product because it's something you want to hang in a museum. I wouldn't want them working any faster because the work would suffer. For some artists, being meticulous is part of the process, and I respect that.

But what we shouldn't respect is lazy. A lot of times I'll hear artists complaining about deadlines, and how the publisher needs to respect his meticulous working process. And that argument is completely valid-- assuming that their art is meticulous, well crafted and carefully considered. Which, often times, it isn't. Lucky, we now inhabit an industry more tolerant of lazy, it seems.

I did an interview once where someone asked me about being a fast artist (I draw a page per day, pencils and inks within 6-12 hours, 20 page a month). I told the interviewer that I wasn't that fast at all compared to Bagley, Cook and Davis. But considering the average speed of artists today, I could see why some would consider me fast. Then he asked me what my secret was. And I told him there was no secret--I just focus on my work, I don't waste time on the computer or playing video games, and I don't stop until I'm finished, even if it means working late.

I'm still babbled, so please share your thoughts, folks. I'm not totally convinced by some of the arguments I've put forth, either, so feel free to disagree. And help me answer this question:

In a world with time-saving devices like Cintiqs, Sketchup, digital cameras and PS filters, why are some artists still so slow?
  • Listening to: Beethoven piano sonatas
  • Reading: Attack of the Theocrats
  • Watching: Science Channel
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:iconleighad:
LeighAD Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2014
"Google searching your references is helpful, it's also time consuming and allows some artists to become obsessive" <-- Who can't relate to that? XD I have to turn off the internet when writing sometimes to get anything done. Except I turn it on when I need to reference something, and then get distracted. 

The detail thing is a good point, as the art tends to drawn with a lot more detail (cross-hatching and other cool effects in the linework) and weren't as prevalent back in the sixties and many of the characters didn't have particularly detailed (or sometimes individualized) facial features and anatomy (which will take time to reference and keep consistent), lots of comics were drawn in a simpler style (assuming, as you said, that the art is detailed for the specific artist), but I'd expect three pages a week would be a problem - especially for the artist trying to support himself/herself. Artists are usually still paid by the page aren't they? (And less time on facebook would improve most people's productivity even in an office setting, so I wouldn't be surprised if facebook was a problematic temptation/timewaster for artists as well).

Building sketchup models takes time as well. It will save time later, but I wouldn't be surprised if it takes awhile for the time lost in building it to made up in time saved when referencing it.
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:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2014
Thanks for reading!
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:iconryanblack13:
RyanBlack13 Featured By Owner Dec 31, 2013
I don't have any answers to the question, aside from those you've already posed here (which are right on the nose, i think) but I DO know there are artists out there who are only getting work because they can meet or exceed deadlines.  Based on the work, there are guys working for Marvel who couldn't convincingly draw their way out of a wet paper bag and use some of the most ridiculous cheats I've ever seen.  I don't buy those books.  I look at them on the wall at the shop, giggle, put them down and go home and try to get better at drawing.   No, my style isn't ultra-realistic and sure, I screw up some perspective stuff from time to time.  But, if a hand or a lamp looks wrong, or is inconsistent with my style, I draw it 40 times until it is right.  It's obvious a lot of "pros" aren't doing that. 
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:iconsupergirl1056:
supergirl1056 Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2013
I can't help but think of guys like Kirby and Curt Swan, who pumped out pages like a paper mill and still drew better than 90%~ of the artists today. Part of the problem is the constant switching of artists: they're never able to develop their craft to specific characters. Now they get thrown on a book as a gimmick more than anything else. And 'detail' doesn't cut it, since digital coloring and processing SHOULD vastly reduce production time, as it indeed does for real artists who aren't insulated from competition by Copyright symbols.

Modern comic book companies are basically going to shit, and it's because they're copyright whores. They've traded quality comic production for licensing and legal-warrioring. Fuck 'intellectual property', Superman is a rip-off of Marduk and Doc Savage anyway, lame-ass artsy idiots who think they have a right to think up some shit and never work again.
I can't explain how annoying it is when a company has a book that sells and can't get it out on time. Dynamite! does this constantly.

I say: plan it out properly or don't do it. If you know an artist takes forever, then start early. If he won't keep up, fire his ass and get a new project lead. If they don't like it they can go live in a fucking cave like Ditko, see if I care. I'd rather have an artist who actually produces a God damn book for me to read than one who sabotages a good book because he's too fucking lazy to put his nose to the grindstone. 'Artistes' indeed, bunch of hacks is more like it. If they can't produce on schedule they ought to be tossed on the street like any other failed worker, and if comics didn't rely on government-enforced monopolies to get their revenue maybe they would be run like a real business.
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:iconjncomix:
JNcomix Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2013
I'm just gonna throw out some stream-of-consciousness stuff. Main things that immediately come to mind might be (in no particular order):

A) Many artists today are more detailed. I think, in general, most of today's readers demand or expect it.

B) As you mentioned, discipline plays a HUGE roll. Many "artistes" don't put a whole lot of weight into discipline and if they're not going to be held accountable then why on Earth should they change?

C) Along the same lines, maybe working from home plays a roll? I don't know how many of our comic legends worked from home or an office/bullpen. Most pictures I've seen of Kirby look like they were in an office but I don't know. Some people have a really hard time working from home. I know I do. I'm usually much more disciplined when I travel to an office and even more so when there's a production staff around. But then, I've been lucky enough to have an office/studio job for a long time. In animation, there's little-to-no room for idleness. I can work from home when I HAVE to but it's usually too chaotic for me (I also have kids).

I consider myself pretty fast but that's probably when I need to be. I work best with a solid deadline. In fact, I NEED a deadline (self-imposed or otherwise) or I'd never finish anything. Also, it's a different beast with storyboards because the rendering isn't nearly as important as the storytelling.
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:iconjncomix:
JNcomix Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2013
I forgot to mention that there also might be a lot more artists today than before, although I really have no idea whether or not that's true. It seems that way to me. If that's the case then you'd need to factor in idea that most of these guys never would have survived in the old days. They just wouldn't have been able to stay on schedule and probably would have moved on to some other trade, possibly non-art related. All we'd be left with are the classic guys that we're all familiar with, some simply because they were able to produce the work fast enough and others because they are the comic gods.
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:iconthedaytripper:
TheDayTripper Featured By Owner Jan 5, 2013
I'd say you already answered it. Some artists are still so slow today because many enjoy what comes with being a superstar artist more than creating and drawing stories. The 90's was a perfect example of this. You had marc silvestri spending loads of time at the playboy mansion. Look at Rob Lifield. Yes everyone knows this guy is a dreadful artist and story teller, but look at his work in say, New Mutants #100, then look at some of his youngblood or more recent hawk and dove. While many of the same problems from 20 years ago remain, back then you could kind of see a hunger and potential in his work. Once he got uber famous and made a boat load, he seemed to not care about improving or anything. It's the same with today, except people are behaving like that even though they haven't made a boatload of money yet.
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:iconkiadesignz:
KiaDesignz Featured By Owner Jul 17, 2012
I think the answer to your question, in some ways, boils down to the individual artist. Some are lazy, some are meticulous, etc etc. but I think one big reason might be because we live in a world where digital tools, in theory, are supposed to make us faster, but instead, they make us complacent. Example: How many times have you drawn an eye slightly lower than it should be? Digitally, you just draw a selection around that sucker and move it to where it's supposed to be. Five seconds. Traditionally, you have to erase it and re-draw it, which takes longer. My point is, working traditionally, and making those mistakes, forces an artist to learn from the mistake, and is a good lesson in taking the time to make sure things look right (generally speaking). When you can fix a mistake in a matter of minutes by essentially letting the computer do it for you, you never learn how to not make that mistake next time. So in essence, you spend a lot of time fixing mistakes, whereas those people who took the time to learn the basics spend less time on trying to make things look right because they know their shit.

Having said all that, I know it seems like I'm bashing digital methods and I'm totally not. The computer is a tool just like a pencil and what defines it is the artist, not the tool itself. I'm also guilty of using those digital short cuts that I mentioned, and that's why I realize where it can be harmful. I'm just saying that, when I see an artist who is fast (and good), it's because the basics have become muscle memory to them, and they have the freedom to just be creative and get the job done instead of worrying about what looks right and what looks wrong. I don't think this applies to every artist out there, but I think it's more common than not.
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:iconrobpaolucci:
RobPaolucci Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2012
There is so much porn readily available now peoples hands are on their dicks and not their pencils
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:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2012
I'm above porn, so that's why I get shit done
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