Handling Mistakes

By | Monday, October 24, 2022 Leave a Comment
I've had a couple instances recently where I had bought a comic that I thought sounded cool and interesting, and kind of right up my alley. In one case, it was a Kickstarter project where they delivered a completed graphic novel and in another case, it was an independently produced mini-series that was solicited through Diamond. In the latter case, I had to order at least the first three issues before any of them came out and I ultimately ordered the fourth before reading any of them because... well, I'm three-quarters of the way in anyway. In neither case, was I familiar with any of the creators involved, but the previews -- just a page or two of sequentials, and the covers -- seemed decent enough.

In the case of the graphic novel, it was... fine, I guess? The illustrations and the visual storytelling mostly worked well enough, and the plot and actual script were coherent. But it wasn't great. The pacing was a little odd in places, and they were a little blunt with the world-building aspects of it. The main characters seemed to have motivation enough, but their characterizations seemed more like a series of randomly chosen personality quirks than having come from some kind of specific upbringing. It came to a reasonable enough conclusion, although the epilogue seemed a little trite.

The series was less good. The individual illustrations were fine, but the scene-to-scene storytelling left a bit to be desired. There were more than a couple places where the writer had to drop in some clunky dialogue to explain what was happening because it wasn't evident in the art. I mean, kudos to him for recognizing the readers would need that, but it's unfortunate that it was necessary. Some of the characters do seem a little more fleshed out than the ones from the graphic novel, but others feel like pretty rote cliches. The overall story seemed a bit disjointed as well, as if the writer wanted to drop readers into the middle of some grand adventure (which is normally an approach I like) but he skipped mentioning some of the internal story logic so readers could at least nominally follow along. Because so much of that was being skipped or explained inadequately, I actually gave up after the second issue.

So, neither book was I especially happy with. I'm not mad; that's part of the gamble of picking up work by people you don't know. I hope all the creators involved learned something from putting their respective books together, and can make their next one better because of it. Hopefully, I've given them a little confidence to move forward just by purchasing their work.

Curious thing about these two books though. Both the graphic novel and the mini-series had production issues. Namely, some of the pages were printed multiple times. As I was initially reading through, I was confused by the weird turn the stories had taken all of a sudden, but a couple pages later when I came across the same page again, I realized the previous instance of it wasn't supposed to be there. I don't know if that was a matter of the duplicate pages being dropped in the layout twice, or the page files got misnamed, or what. It might've been a creator error, it might've been a printer error, it could've just been a random glitch in the system... there are any of a thousand ways those could've gotten screwed up. I'm not looking to assign blame to anyone here. Shit happens. Sometimes it's your fault, sometimes it's someone else's.

But it does make me wonder if that's why the stories were disappointing to me. Not in the sense that I read part of it out of order and that caused too much confusion or something; like I said, that was clearly just an accident. But printers generally don't print an entire print run without running a proof copy by the creator(s) first. That suggests a couple different scenarios to me.

First, if the error was in the proof copy, then the creators missed it. They flipped through the proof and signed off their approval without having really checked it out to make sure everything was as it should be. Whether that was because of lack of time or attention or whatever, they gave their blessing on a product they didn't check very thoroughly. That would further suggest they're more concerned with just getting something out there, irrespective of quality, which would go a ways to explaining some of the lackluster storytelling.

The other possibility that occurs to me is that the proof copy was fine, and something got screwed up between their approval and the final production. In this case, the fault would almost certainly be on the printer and typically, once this is pointed out to them, they scrap the entire print run and reprint it on their own dime. That this didn't seem to happen suggests that either the creators missed seeing the errors before the book got distributed (and, to be fair, in some setups, the printed books go directly to the distributor so the creators themselves didn't even have the opportunity to see them before they started getting shipped out) or the creators did see the error and let the books go out anywhere, perhaps getting a refund instead of seeing the books reprinted. The latter is a bad business move because most creators can keep the misprinted books if the whole thing is reprinted, which means they still get the complete correct edition that they paid for, plus they've got a second run of misprints for free which they can then sell at a discount.

That instance where the creators didn't see the error before the books were distributed seems likely here but interestingly, the Kickstarter group haven't sent any notices about it ("sorry, we just noticed this error") even months after the fact and the mini-series didn't have any mentions of it in subsequent issues ("there was a problem with the previous issue"). I can't help but think that, here again, they're more concerned with just getting something out there, irrespective of quality, which would go a ways to explaining some of the lackluster storytelling.

Now maybe there's some measure of embarassment involved, how the error is something they should have noticed but didn't and they don't want to acknowledge that a mistake like that crept in. There are a number of ways you could spin that, from a flippant "shit happens" approach to moral indignation at the demise of quality craftsmanship, but to not address it at all seems to me to be the least professional and shows the least amount of respect to your readers. Whether it's intentional or not, it comes across as believing your readers are too blind and/or stupid and/or oblivious to notice such an obvious error. That shows a lack of maturity.

Which circles back to some of the explanation why the stories weren't that good. If they're inexperienced enough as creators to know how to deal with this, they're likely inexperienced enough as creators to know how to craft a solid story with relatable characters. I don't say that to mock them or anything -- for all I know, they are actual teenagers and these are literally their first comics -- but rather to point out that they have not yet learned that ALL the elements of a comic including its production and how the creators' handling of problems impact readers' interpretation of the work itself. I can forgive the page duplication errors occurring and, while it was briefly confusing during my initial read, it's not that hard to work around as a reader. But the seemingly lack of concern, or even acknowledgement, of the error doubles down on the story elements that were lackluster.

I do genuinely hope the creators involved have learned something about making comics from their experiences. That will ulimtately be the real test on their work going forward, certainly moreso than anything I might say about their comics. I might check in on them again in several years, but I'm not likely to check back soon given the work they still need to put in. Both on the page and off.
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