When you picked up Hawkeye #16 in late January, you might have been wondering what happened to issue #15. Well, it turns out that #15, originally solicited for September, is finally scheduled to arrive in stores February 26th. (Check the “skip month” following #12 that caused a domino effect; the solicitations for issues 17, 18, and 19 also changed.) Obviously, Hawkeye is not the only book that has had publication schedule issues, but the sheer number of changes for the title is alarming. In fact, since its launch back in August of 2012, only 16 issues (including an annual) have been released, which is even more surprising given that fact that Marvel has experimented with double-shipping a number of its titles. (For example, Mark Waid’s Daredevil launched a year before Hawkeye and just reached its 36h issue). Because Hawkeye has been such a critical success, Marvel is willing to adjust the publication schedule to accommodate the creative team. However, if the schedule changes so frequently, Marvel should consider publishing some of their titles every other month, especially since they are banking on replicating Hawkeye’s success.
Bi-monthly shipping was a fairly common practice for Marvel and DC throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, when they had much smaller creative and editorial staffs. The longer period between issues was not only necessary in order to give editors time to coordinate multiple titles, but more importantly to keep books on schedule. As the outlet for comics moved from newsstands to specialty shops, regular shipping schedules could slip since publishers were aiming at a specific audience rather than casual readers. To that end, late issues and re-solicits have become an accepted part of being a comic book consumer. But why should fans and retailers simply accept such irregularities and delays? Shifting some of their titles to a bi-monthly schedule would not only give the creative and editorial teams more time to work with, it would also relieve the stress on retailers who have to adjust orders for delayed or resolicited books.
Readers, for their part, seem to be willing to wait for books as long as they are of high quality, so why not build that anticipation into the publishing schedule? Image Comics has been doing this quite successfully with a number of titles, such as Lazarus and Saga. Having planned skip months for these titles not only ensures their quality, but also gives new readers – who may have picked up the first trade of a series – a chance to quickly catch up and jump on to single issues. (Saga, for example, has regularly increased its sales month-to-month.) Of course, just because readers will wait for books doesn’t mean they should have to, and having a regular schedule is preferable to a shifting one with fill-in artists or late books, as evidenced by the complaints resulting from Marvel’s double-shipping experiments. Knowing that a title will arrive when it’s solicited, with the regular creative team, should be something fans and retailers can expect, not hope for. Again, if Marvel wants to try a more creative-centric approach, they would be well advised to emulate Image’s publishing schedule.
There are other reasons why bi-monthly shipping would be beneficial for both publishers and readers. For one, it makes the $3.99 price point a bit easier to handle and even allow for readers to add a title to their stacks. Making a bi-monthly title that is oversized would even justify and the inevitable $4.99 price point. That bonus material could even be offered digitally between issues, much like the print / digital “combo packs” offered by DC. Also, since many readers are switching to trades, having a month between issues might encourage them to switch to single issues since it would be easier to “catch up” on a new series. As for retailers, the bi-monthly schedule would give them some breathing room for re-ordering titles that sell out (or fail to meet expectations) and a better sense how to adjust their regular orders.
Obviously, Marvel (or DC for that matter) shouldn’t shift all of their titles to such a schedule since the majority of them do come out on time. However, having a bi-monthly schedule would save retailers and readers the frustration of fill-ins and late books, and it would give creators and the publishers more freedom to try out new and different types of titles. After all, if the books are good, they’re worth the wait.