Saturday, 11 May 2013

The Advance Game

Originally serialised within the pages of the self-published Glamourpuss #1-26 (April 2008 to July 2012), The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond is an as yet uncompleted work-in-progress in which Dave Sim investigates the history of photorealism in comics and specifically focuses on the work of comic-strip artist Alex Raymond and the circumstances of his death on 6 September 1956 at the wheel of fellow artist Stan Drake's Corvette at the age of 46.

(from the Kickstater Update #158, 9 May 2013)
...And I have to say that I really appreciate the donations to the Dave Sim Fund which are staying pretty steady.  Which is a good thing because the printing of the restored CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY volumes -- Aardvark-Vanaheim's "bread and butter" books -- has been telescoping like crazy. Problems with the second set of CEREBUS proofs not including all previous corrections meant that we took a giant step backward, but we are now (or will be in the next couple of days) into Round Two of the proofing stage.  But that pushed HIGH SOCIETY back by a couple of weeks. I finally had to tell my Diamond rep to just forget about HIGH SOCIETY for the moment (Diamond wants five weeks to get the word out to the retailers) and I'd let him know when we were closer to a print date.

Meanwhile, I decided not to do any IDW covers this month so I could devote all of May (well, except for the three All-Day Kickstarter days, of which this is one) to actually producing THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND pages for the monthly serialization through IDW. So, updating all of you on that, I finally ordered a magnifying lamp for my drawing board and it REALLY works well.  I mean, I spent the first day doing a panel on the inside front cover of THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND #1.  That's where IDW runs their credits, so I thought I'd start the story there and scatter the credits over the first two or three pages.  I spent a LOT of time checking what my ink line looked like under the magnifier and then checking what it looked like on the actual page.  And I was inking PAINFULLY slowly, trying not to make any mistakes.  By the second day, I had loosened up considerably on page one and then suddenly I SAW the Stan Drake figure I was inking --  actually his left arm -- through my Al Williamson eyes.  And, of course, Williamson's style is really based on microscopically thin lines and solid blacks.  Which I was now capable of doing because I was inking lines that were half the size they appeared to be.  "Oh, I GET this, I understand this!"  It didn't last long but it was pretty amazing when it was happening.  It's also helped me with my "finish" -- squaring my corners and making sure my solid areas of black are solid instead of having white specks and streaks in them.  It comes and goes, but overall the effect is pretty good. A big step up in the photorealist scheme of things.
Glamourpuss #16 (November 2010)
Art by Dave Sim
Anyway, the idea is to see how much of a single issue I can get done in a month.  #1 doesn't really count because I have to design the logo, the look of the cover, the typography and the "titles" in the inside front cover.  I thought I'd never be done with those.  On #2 I won't have to do that again. Which is the reason I wanted to take all of May to try and get #1 done and maybe some of #2...

...Basically what I want to do is avoid the "advance game", where you get a large sum of money for a finished work and then have to finish it.  But long before you finish it, the advance is gone, so then you have to find other paying work to do while you're finishing the work you already got paid for.  I used to give Bissette a hard time about that, and now I'm going through it  (he thinks he's landed in some weird parallel universe where Dave Sim does work-made-for-hire covers).  Basically the idea of the Dave Sim Fund and doing the IDW covers is to get me to the point where I can COMFORTABLY take an advance. A situation I'm not going to be in until I know how long THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND is.  So, that was why I decided to tackle it from a different angle with the monthly serialization. Basically turn in a finished issue to IDW and get paid for that and then start on the next one.

Which is more complicated than it sounds because the early parts of the book are done. I'm just making them "grabbier" (hopefully) and issue-length -- 22 pages.  But somewhere up ahead, I run out of finished pages and have to produce all 22 pages for the next month.  Right now I'm doing a page every two days. Some pages I'll be able to do that with and some are going to stretch into three days and four days.  So figure 13 pages a month.  That means I'll be doing a monthly book at bi-monthly speed.  So what I have to do is get far enough ahead and close enough to the ending so that when the monthly freight train starts up behind me, it's far enough behind me that when I'm running flat out towards the end of the book, I get there before the freight train runs over me.  So, it's a math problem.  How many finished issues do I need to have "in the can" before I let the freight train start up?  Conservatively?  I suggested to Chris Ryall, IDW's editor-in-chief somewhere between 12 and 20.  Of course Diamond's solicitation period is another five months that can be factored in.  I tell IDW they can start the freight train up behind me, IDW tells Diamond and Diamond says, "Okay, that's five months from now".
Glamourpuss #16 (November 2010)
Art by Dave Sim
So that's where the Dave Sim Fund comes in.  Really, just getting me from HERE, TODAY, RIGHT NOW -- where CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY, my primary revenue producers, aren't in print -- to THERE -- where CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY ARE in print and hopefully I can be turning in finished issues of THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND and either getting paid for them or partly paid for them. That's something I'll have to discuss with IDW hopefully when I've got an actual issue #1 in raw form for them to do the finished production on.  And I don't want to get paid ANYTHING until it's an actual FINISHED issue.  Otherwise it gets muddy in a hurry.  I'm finishing issue 1 and 2 and trying to work on 3 and I've already been paid for #1 and THAT money is gone.

It's the "advance game" which I was always looking at from the sidelines and going "THAT doesn't work."  And now I have to find a way to MAKE it work.  Talk about poetic justice. The IDW covers are a good example.  The idea was that I would do four covers -- a cover a day for four days -- at the beginning of the month and that would cover enough bills that my other revenue streams would make up the difference.  But it took me four days to do the POPEYE cover, on average it took me two and a half days.  Suddenly it's not four days out of the month, it's a third of the month.  It's not making widgets -- I want to do GOOD covers and the better I get at it the more competitive I get with myself (not to mention wanting to do a cover that will auction for a good price at Heritage).  "Oh, you know what would look REALLY COOL?"  Yes, Dave, it would look really cool, but it will also take you the better part of a day or a whole day.

Things aren't really dire (at least I don't think they are), but this is a whole new way of doing things that I have to deal with.  I have mental fallback positions if I'm missing something (which is a distinct possibility when you're in strange territory as I am) about doing THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND as a monthly title.  But relative to you as potential patrons, this is why I'm telling you all of this.  This is what I think is going on and this is where I see myself fitting in. 

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