chrisgumprich.com

LESSONS LEARNED #7

By Chris Gumprich. (Originally posted June 6, 2005)

After you invest a lot of time, energy, and sweat into a project, it can be hard to let it go. Nowhere is this more true than in self-publishing. By definition, a self-publisher is someone who is so absolutely committed to their vision that they are willing to put their own money behind a project, just to see it done. The creator begins to see through blinders, oblivious to everything except the end result - 24 pages wrapped in a glossy cover. And honestly, there's a lot to be said for that level of focus. One could even say that it's required. But, all sugarplums aside, never forget that this is a business. If you make a mistake, it can cost you the project.

That was the situation I found myself in as I approached the first deadline. The deal that the artist and I had involved three deadlines eight weeks apart. As the deadlines were reached, the artist would give me the finished art for a third of the book, and I would pay him a third of the agreed price. Very straightforward. The contract was signed at the end of April, but the first deadline was not until October 1, thus allowing time for character design and so forth. The artist and I had been in constant communication, so I knew exactly where he was at every stage.

.and with one week to go until the first deadline, he was putting the finishing touches on page 4.

The decision had to be made. Was I willing to throw away the past year and start over? Was I willing to walk away from the project altogether? Or could I cross my fingers and hope that this was an exception, that the artist would henceforth be on deadline?

I emailed the artist and told him I was pulling the plug.

He responded, asking me to reconsider. He assured me that, even though things had been a little rough for him, he was completely dedicated to the project. He'd give me what he had on the first deadline, and the next twelve pages for the second deadline. I would not need to pay until the second deadline.

Not wanting to see the project die on the vine, I agreed. The risks were minimal, and I really did want the comic to see print in time for the 2004 San Diego Con. If I changed artists at this point, I wouldn't make that deadline.

(Remember that statement - it becomes an important point a few months down the road.)

He sent me the first four pages, penciled and (mostly) inked. I took a look at them, barely able to contain my excitement. my project was taking shape, my script turned into images just as I imagined it.

Hm. That's not right.

The main character, Jack Douglas, is a computer programmer who dresses like a private eye out of a forties noir flick - rumpled suit, old trenchcoat, and fedora. The fedora was his trademark, the visual image that showed the reader that Jack was slightly out of step with modern fashion. and it was nowhere to be seen on page one. Nor page two, where Jack walks through an empty office while lighting up a cigarette. The fedora finally shows up on page three, when a security guard (a background character in one panel of my script) spends three panels finding Jack's hat and tosses it to him, completely throwing off the narrative flow - and much of the impact - of the first three pages.

I emailed the artist, and he tells me that he forgot to draw the hat on the first two pages, so he made some changes to page three in order to incorporate the fedora into the story.

I think about the deadlines. I think about the fact that he already needs to redraw a few poorly-done faces on pages three and four. I think about the May release being seven months away.

"All right, we'll keep it as is," I said. "I'll write some dialogue to squeeze it into the story and we'll move on. Besides, nobody will notice."

"Nobody will notice." Words made famous by the infamous director Edward D. Wood, Jr. Words that I used when looking at the final printed copies of Recriminations, a few months earlier.

Some lessons take a while to sink in.