Originally published at cxPulp.com on June 7th, 2012. To comment, click here!

I’ve just got a brief $40 Pull List for you think week, wrapping up the last month and setting the Pull List for June. The month essentially wrapped up a few weeks ago, but I was holding off on the summation on the hope that Reed Gunther #10 would, in fact, come out. Sadly, that was not the case – and there is even more bad news on that front. But more on that shortly.

To help extend the column a bit, I will do another ever-popular Nonplayer update! Not just any update either, but a full recap with some strong criticism directed mostly at the comic audience. Are you excited? Read on!

LATE AND UNRELEASED TITLES

Reed Gunther #10, $2.99, Image Comics, Due out 04/18/2012 DELAYED – Due Out 06/20/2012

Now this is a sad one – Image is now saying that Reed Gunther #10 has been pushed back yet another week to June 20th. Unfortunately that means that it must be automatically dropped from the list for being more than 60 days late. It is sad, because Reed Gunther was really starting to become a solid series.

You might wonder why a title has to be automatically dropped from the list after being 60 days late – especially a good title like this one. It all comes down to budgeting. With such a small amount of money to spend each and every month on comics, every single dollar counts. When a title is released late – you have money wasted that you could have spent on another issue that month. Not only do we want quality comics, but we also want books that are going to come out on a regular basis. If a creative team demonstrates that they can’t put a title out on time each month, it is a good bet that this will never change. In this case – if the Houghtons are successful in their work outside of comics, this kind of thing is understandably going to continue.

You don’t see many books from Marvel or DC have this problem anymore, but with Image it is chronic. The Houghton’s absolutely have a valid reason why the book has been delayed. Frankly, I find it much more impressive that they are too busy to finish their comic issue on time because they are too busy with a far more lucrative television jobs than the usual excuse: artist is too busy smoking pot and playing World of Warcraft to finish drawing.

So with a bit of sadness that we bid adieu to Reed Gunther, to make room for something new.

DROPPED: Reed Gunther, Image Comics

THE CHOPPING BLOCK AND NEW TITLES

I am really torn about Batman. I haven’t been enjoying the Night of Owls very much, and Batman itself just hasn’t been doing much for me ever since they started dipping their toes into the introduction of the Court of Owls. The price hike to $3.99 is another sticking point – granted, they are providing a back-up story, but thus far the story isn’t making me enjoy this title anymore. It’s a tough decision, since this is a pretty major event and something interesting may happen – but weighted against those other factors, I think it is best to move on.

DROPPED: Batman

As far as new titles go this month – we have a lot of room. It makes sense to go ahead and cash-in the Trade Bank, and officially add Daytripper to the list.

ADDED: Daytripper TP, $19.99, DC Comics. Due Out 02/01/2012

Looking at the list – we are very light on Marvel books. Adding Marvel titles has proven to be tough of late – either their issues are $3.99 (far too expensive for a 32 page book), regularly come out more than once a month, or a combination of the two. While I am a major advocate of publishers putting out their titles on a regular basis, I think Marvel is seriously overdoing it. It is great that they can maintain this kind of schedule, but their pricing and scheduling strategy wreaks havoc on those with a limited monthly budget for comics.

Still, we need to give something a try, and Journey Into Mystery has been getting decent reviews. That seems like a good place to start.

ADDED: Journey Into Mystery #639, $2.99, Marvel Comics. Due Out 06/06/2012
ADDED: Journey Into Mystery #640, $2.99, Marvel Comics. Due Out 06/20/2012

Finally, I think it is time to give an old friend a chance once again. Popularity helped kill the appeal of the Merc-With-A-Mouth, especially with the changes in the character that came about after Cable & Deadpool came to an end. Are things better now? It’s time to find out.

ADDED: Deadpool #56, $2.99, Marvel Comics. Due Out 06/13/2012

THE MATH

CASHING IN THE TRADE BANK: Daytripper TP, $19.99, DC Comics. Released 02/01/2012
Dial H #2, $2.99, DC Comics. Due Out 06/06/2012
Earth 2 #2, $3.99, DC Comics. Due Out 06/06/2012
Journey Into Mystery #639, $2.99, Marvel Comics. Due Out 06/06/2012
Batgirl #10, $2.99, DC Comics. Due out 06/13/2012
The Sixth Gun #23, $3.99, Oni Press. Due Out 06/13/2012
Deadpool #56, $2.99, Marvel Comics. Due Out 06/13/2012
Blue Beetle #10, $2.99, DC Comics. Due Out 06/20/2012
Nightwing #10, $2.99, DC Comics. Due Out 06/20/2012
Daredevil #14, $2.99, Marvel Comics. Due Out 06/20/2012
Journey Into Mystery #640, $2.99, Marvel Comics. Due Out 06/20/2012
John Carter: Gods of Mars #4 (of 5), $2.99, Marvel Comics. Due out 06/27/2012

TRADE BANK – $0.00

$.78 (Bank from May) + $40.00 (June Budget) + $3.22 (Reed Gunther #10 Delayed) + $14.00 (Trade Bank) = $58.00
$58.00 – $53.88 (May Issues) – $4.18 (tax) = –$0.06 Banked for July

Yes,the list as is puts us $.06 over budget. I figure I will just find that in the couch cushion this month, rather than holding off yet another month on Daytripper over a few pennies.

NONPLAYER UPDATE!

In April of last year, we added Nonplayer #1 to the list. Its initial solicitation came with a promise – that the book would be complete before the issues were solicited.

Unfortunately, Brandon and I misread this “promise.” Simpson meant that each issue would only be solicited as they were completed. This discovery in May had Brandon and I sharply at odds. Brandon wanted to keep the title on the list and simply wait for issue #2, I wanted to drop it immediately. In retrospect – dropping it was the right decision, since this would have been the 13th month that we carried a nonexistent book. I occasionally like to mention Nonplayer, not as an “I told you so” to Brandon, but more as an illustration of the failure in work ethic that I see from too many independent creators as well as my own confusion at comic readers who continue to support and advocate for said deficit.

Looking at the storied history of this nonexistent story, Nonplayer #1 was initially completed back in February 2011. While I have no idea how long Nate Simpson worked on that issue, if we take the no-solicit promise seriously, we know when the issue was finished. The issue was released in May of 2011, and I have to admit it was good. The story was overall decent and imaginative (if a little amateur), but the art was fantastic.

After that, Simpson was showered in acclaim. He won the 2011 Russ Manning Promising Newcomer Award at Comic-Con in July of 2011, despite only having produced a single comic issue, with no sign when the second would be coming. I found the selection to be strange in the extreme – Simpson is quite obviously a talented artist, but that doesn’t make him a good comic artist. A good comic artist does more than make beautiful looking art, they also understand the time pressure involved in creating a regular comic book, and have the work ethic to produce when against a deadline. They also have an understanding of artistic storytelling – and Nonplayer #1, for as good as it looked, really didn’t demonstrate any more promise in that department than what I have seen in other comics.

In August it was announced that Warner Brothers had purchased the film rights to Nonplayer. Much ado was made of this – ignoring the fact that studios most often do nothing with those rights, and frequently pay as little as a couple hundred dollars for the story. More money comes if the film is actually made, of course, but so far – there has been no further news on that front.

In September, Simpson crashed his bicycle and broke his collarbone. A serious injury for an artist to be sure – but he announced a mere 6 weeks later that he was drawing again, and at the beginning of December he reported that the comic was half-way finished.

Since then, updates have been sparse. Nate Simpson’s own blog and twitter more often talk about other artists he likes – or he spends a moment talking about how he is making “progress” on Nonplayer #2, how something has happened to help or hurt his progress, and generally making a lot of excuses for why the comic isn’t done yet after sixteen months of work. Simpson claims to be working hard, and says that he works 30 hours a week on the comic – or at least tries to. Taking that number, and calculating the number of hours he has “worked” on Nonplayer #2 since he began (subtracting injury time), that is 1,740 hours of work. If Nonplayer #2 is 32 pages of story, that works out to a staggering 54.375 hours PER PAGE. I can’t really say what he was paid for Nonplayer #1, but the first issue sold 8,869, plus a little more of the reprint. It was commonly reported that a creator would make $1 per issue at image, so assuming 10,000 total issues sold, that means Simpson made about $10,000 for the issue. His public quest for a day job definitely indicates he didn’t strike it rich based on that issue.

Assuming his current pace of work also applied to issue #1, and assuming issue #2 is only 2/3 complete (a fair assumption), he worked for around $3.83 an hour on issue #1.

So why am I making such a big deal about this? It definitely isn’t to stick it to Brandon, or to bash Nate Simpson specifically. I think Nate Simpson is very young in terms of being a comic professional, and while he clearly has spent a lot of time honing his artistic skills, he hasn’t taken the same care to improve his skills as a comic creator outside of what he figured out on his own. It is kind of like kayak fishing – many who enjoy that hobby are excellent fishermen, but only have a basic, passing knowledge of kayaking. Simpson knows how to put ink to paper, but he clearly doesn’t understand what it takes to put that art together in the form of a comic story that comes out on a regular basis. Unfortunately the hands-off approach of Image and the acclaim of the readers isn’t giving him the constructive criticism he needs to improve that aspect of his craft or encouraging him to seek out someone who can teach him how to be better.

If you go back to the original promise of Image – it was to be a place where creators would finally get “what they deserve” for their creations. The idea of the creator-owned work is a nice one, in theory. But when you look back through the history of Image, how many people really hit it big with an original, creator-owned work published by Image? You probably rattle off “Robert Kirkman,” but who else? A lot of Image’s biggest names originally became known for their work at Marvel and DC. Many who first became known while at Image have gone on to bigger and better things, but their big paychecks came when they moved on to the big two.

The thing is, while Marvel and DC retain the rights of the characters and stories created – the creators who work for them seem to be more prolific, get paid more for their work, and are given greater opportunity to make a name for themselves than those at Image or other small-press publishers. Run more like a business interested in making money, Marvel and DC demand that their creators meet deadlines, meet minimum quality standards, and work with editors to improve their own work. Outside of the rare few with the intuition and the work ethic to figure out all of this on their own, a new creator working at Marvel or DC comes out of the experience with a greater understanding of how the industry works and with greater name recognition – which makes their work more marketable.

So many comic fans rebel against this system, decry “corporate” mainstream comics, and end up being cheerleaders for the independents. Don’t get me wrong – good work should be applauded, but good, consistent, and evolving work should be put on a pedestal. Nate Simpson has no business being put on a pedestal yet, and if he realizes that he has taken his first step towards actually getting to that point.

Simpson’s Manning Award is a great illustration. Granted, the award criteria really only focuses on a sample submission and doesn’t consider the artist’s work-ethic or a demonstration of improvement, but shouldn’t it? To me, a promising comic artist is someone not only with raw talent, but also someone with a drive to produce and demonstrate improvement over their short careers. To me, “promising” means there is something there that can become great with enough work and improvement. Along with that comes a willingness on the art of an artist to become better in those categories.

So in the case of Nate Simpson, has the current culture of comic readers helped? The Image Promise certainly didn’t. Yes, it exposed his skill to the market, but it did nothing to press him to produce. “We’ll solicit it when it is finished” only allowed him to take as much time as he wanted without pressure. He doesn’t have someone taking him by the hand and teaching him about what needs to be done to be a successful comic creator (meaning, someone who can live off their work). He isn’t learning when you can sacrifice a tiny bit of quality for the sake of meeting a deadline, and still have your work praised. He definitely isn’t being taught about better ways to approach a comic project to prevent an artist/writer from having to toss a bunch of finished pages because you realized they were boring, after the fact (as he admits to doing with issue #2).

And the fans and awards? Is that teaching him that anything less than the “perfection” he is creating now won’t be acceptable, even if it means being able to produce a regular comic? Is shouting down the few critics like me who suggest that taking 16 months to produce a comic is neither promising nor desirable doing anything to help him become better and actually produce something you want to see?

This is why I approach the list the way I do – and stress the importance of timeliness so much. I love fantastic work, but I would rather read a slightly sub-par comic than have no comic at all. For all of the merits of the creator-owned argument, Image’s approach went too far in the other direction. In the meantime, the changes at Marvel and DC that lead to more credit being given to the creators has placed the big two closer to the industry ideal than any of their competition. Image may give the full rights that people tout as ideal, but at the big 2 books are selling, and creative teams – rather than being afterthoughts in the credits – are actively promoted and advertised.

Sadly, I don’t think we will ever see Nonplayer #3. We will probably see Nonplayer #2 eventually, but until Simpson learns to work within a reasonable, profitable schedule he will never be a success in comics. Meanwhile I suspect that we will have many, many more months of celebration for something that doesn’t exist.

FREE COMICS

I still have a bunch of Free Comics to give away – as usual, you can check out the list here. This week, the passkey is Nonplayer!