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.
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...
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.
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.
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