This editorial, “Strange Maven’s Diary,” originally appeared in Strangehaven issue #16, June 2004.
Deadlines are a contrary and extraordinary thing.
Without deadlines nothing much would ever get done. If time were infinite, there would be no incentive to ever finish anything, like that immortal Da Vinci character in that episode of the original Star Trek, “Requiem for Methuselah,” who can never get around to finishing a painting as he has all eternity to fudge around with it.
The sadly missed Douglas Adams famously said, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”
Now, I’ve gained a certain notoriety for being “slow” – which I freely admit is a fair assumption on the basis of the glacial progress on this Strangehaven project. Fairly apparent, I hope, is the actual amount of work involved in writing, researching and illustrating an ongoing comic book series, especially one so rich in detail as this one. Perhaps less obvious is the number of assorted tasks involved in publishing, promoting and attending to all the ancillary tasks which are usually spread across a number of staff on any regular publisher (although even I admit to be a little bewildered at the list of positions like Vice President Assistant Sub Editor of Catering and suchlike on your regular American corporate comic book).
But it’s not even so much the huge number of tasks involved, it’s more trying to find the time to do them in between all the other things life throws up at you.
Less warranted is a reputation for missing deadlines, which apart from wildly miscalculating one or two publishing targets in my over-ambitious early days of Strangehaven, has become increasingly inaccurate as regards to meeting announced schedules.
On a micro level, I’ve actually been pretty good at hitting deadlines. I’ve managed to draw, reproduce, sign and mail out a Strangehaven Christmas card to certain lucky recipients for the past ten years without fail by the deadline that just can’t be pushed back. I can always be counted on to contribute the required piece for the annual Bristol Comics Festival charity art auction in time. I somehow got copies of the mammoth undertaking that was Alan Moore: Portrait of An Extraordinary Gentleman delivered with hours to spare to the launch last May – admittedly due to a large number of candles burnt at both ends and the patience of my girlfriend. I even somehow got my Bart Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror story FedExed to the loveable guys at Bongo in time for their annual Halloween fest (which you can read about in mind-numbing detail later in this issue).
The looming deadline has a way of focussing the mind and prioritises things accordingly; as the dreaded date approaches, fewer and fewer peripheral activities are undertaken (e.g. I’ll have to cut the lawn the next weekend as I really have to finish these panel borders now) and the delicate balance between speed and quality is tilted ever so slightly back towards the former.
Typically, life gets in the way; April was the month I set aside to undertake all the tasks in order to complete this issue, but my girlfriend’s birthday and three Bank Holidays made it a short month, plus all life’s other little surprises kept preventing me from achieving my targets;
For example, trying to get the bile yellow dog vomit stain out of the new white carpet, or the neighbours insisting that you cut the bindweed that’s growing through the fence from your side, or trying to catch the mice who are eating the Macaw’s food, or arranging for the car to have it’s M.O.T., or get that tooth that’s been giving you gyp re-filled, or taking members of your extended family to physiotherapy at the local hospital for their damaged knee because the only other family member with a car available at that time refuses to turn right across traffic, or attempting to contact the builder who put in the new bath to ask him to stop the water coming through the dining room ceiling, or trying to get the Royal Mail to trace the missing package containing a bootleg Him DVD that you ordered for your girlfriend’s birthday through e-bay, or helping the parents-in-law to move their 32 inch widescreen TV onto a new cabinet which is not that much different from the old cabinet, or having to do a big shop at Tesco’s because all that’s left to eat in the house is half a packet of stale Hovis crackers, a used tube of tomato puree and some camomile and dandelion teabags.
And that’s not to mention all the other little distractions like Chelski’s European Champions League adventure; I mean the Super Blues never used to be live on TV more than three times a year and now it’s more like twice a week. Not that I’m complaining, and another couple of hours off in front of the box on the eve of the Bristol convention to watch the final would have been most appreciated if the Tinkerman’s typically bizarre semi-final first leg substitutions had been more effective. (Now it remains to be seen whether Mourinho can adapt his obvious managerial ability to the Premiership fast enough for Mr. Abramovich’s liking, although I had probably better leave the subject there before I lose the last few readers who have stuck with me thus far.)
Anyway, where the hell was I?
Oh yeah, deadlines.
Deadlines can force you to rush your work, detracting from the pleasure that doing what you enjoy most can give you – which is essentially the reason you’re doing it in the first place. But, paradoxically, without the pressure of a deadline – even a self-imposed one – it probably wouldn’t get done at all.
And the opposite is true, too. They say that work expands to fill the space available to it, and it is incredible how projects of just about any length tend to go to the very last day, or hour, even, before they’re completed, no matter how much time you allow yourself. (Approximate rule of thumb; everything takes twice as long as you think it will, even if you think it will take twice as long as you originally thought, double it. Likewise, everything costs twice as much as you estimate (watch those property development TV shows if you don’t believe me) but you only ever get paid about half what you think you’re worth).
So, with my deadline met, and Strangehaven in your hands once again in time for the summer, you can skip the comics part and see that I’ve been so busy that I’ve been able to fill most of the text pages with features about stuff that I’ve been up to over the past year or so.
In fact I’ve been so busy that all my stuff is still in boxes waiting to move into my new office studio, which I hope to have time to do after this issue is uploaded to Quebecor’s FTP site on Monday morning.
And man, am I going to look really stupid when some stupid Canadian Bank Holiday causes this issue to ship late.
Image: Gary at the UK Web & Mini-Comics Thing. Photo: Gareth Whitty