Rich Johnston & WATCHMEN

Brian Hibbs

Usually, I don’t really mind when Rich Johnston gets something wrong — usually it is future news, he’s playing telephone, and publishers don’t want to co-operate with him. He’s going to get shit wrong, c’est la vie.

But history? That’s important to get right!

This morning, Rich opened a story like so: “Today, the final issue of Before Watchmen: Comedian is published, a couple of months late. Which is about how late the very original final issue of Watchmen was.”

No.

NO!!!!

WATCHMEN was not (especially) late — certainly not monthS!

Travel back to 1986, and comics really just weren’t late at all — in fact, they had ship WEEKS that, without fail, comics shipped in.  If the comic was going to be late? FILL-IN ISSUE. So I get why people who were there might FEEL that WATCHMEN was very late, because every other comic book around it shipped with clockwork precision.

Thanks to the Awesome John Jackson Miller, we can back things up with actual facts. To wit:

Cover
Date
Ship
Date
Capital City
Orders
C.C.
Rank
#1 book that month
at Capital City Distribution
Watchmen #1 Sep-86 May 13 34,100 5th Classic X-Men #1
Watchmen #2 Oct-86 Jun 20 38,350 10th The Man of Steel #1
Watchmen #3 Nov-86 Jul 8 38,000 10th The Man of Steel #3
Watchmen #4 Dec-86 Aug 12 40,500 8th The Man of Steel #5
Watchmen #5 Jan-87 Sep 9 33,150 11th Superman Vol. 2 #1
Watchmen #6 Feb-87 Oct 14 32,700 15th Superman Vol. 2 #2
Watchmen #7 Mar-87 Nov 11 30,150 Prob. Uncanny X-Men #215
Watchmen #8 Apr-87 Dec 9 28,150 Prob. Uncanny X-Men #216
Watchmen #9 May-87 Jan 13 28,150 15th Uncanny X-Men #217
Watchmen #10 Jul-87 Feb 10 26,850 13th Uncanny X-Men #218
Watchmen #11 Aug-87 May 19 28,300 13th Punisher #1
Watchmen #12 (canc.) Oct-87 31,900 9th Uncanny X-Men #220
Watchmen #12 (res.) Oct-87 Jun 23 34,150 6th Uncanny X-Men #221

See? WATCHMEN shipped 12 issues in 13 months.

I get that 1986 is a long time ago, but let’s give perfect fucking credit to WATCHMEN, one of the most intricate and clockwork of comics, one of the highest standards of comics craft and storytelling, AND IT (mostly) SHIPPED ON TIME. Certainly, it DID ship on time according to DC’s revised schedule.

Now, Frank Miller’s DARK KNIGHT RETURNS? Yeah, that one was months late in the end. (#3 and #4 were very late), and also CAMELOT 3000 which, as I recall, end up 13 months late in the end. Then there are things like SONIC DISRUPTORS where we’re STILL waiting (some of us!) for the last four issues to ship.

But WATCHMEN #12? On-freakin’-time.

So I say to you: Shame on you, Rich Johnston, shame!

-B

22 Responses to “ Rich Johnston & WATCHMEN ”

  1. Almost. 12 issues over 14 ship dates; you’ll notice March and April 1987 are missing; Watchmen should have finished shipping by April if it was on time, not June.

  2. 14 months, really. #11 was two months late.

    I took my shoes off and counted.

  3. Dur, me count bad! 14 it is!

    Still, WATCHMEN #12 shipped FIVE WEEKS after #11, not “months late”

    -B

  4. Is the Jun 20 ship date right? That’s a Friday and all the other days are Tuesday.

    And do you know or have an idea of what percentage of total orders Cap City represented at that time?

  5. Direct sales orders, that is.

  6. I remember waiting for Watchmen. It just seemed like a super long time. It was barely late. Camelot 3000… they told me at the comic store that the actual art for the last issue had been destroyed and had to be redone from scratch, but even so, that was an insane wait.

  7. Unfortunately, the “WATCHMEN was late” myth has become so ingrained in comics, trotted out every time there’s a late book (“WATCHMEN was almost a year late, and no one cares about that now. Would it have been better if they brought in a fill-in creator for #11?), that I don’t think documented facts are going to do much to shake it.

  8. It’s true, I mixed up #11 and #12.

    I thought you may have been more concerned that you lost the chance to sell Before Watchmen Epilogue by Len Wein and all the BW artists.

  9. It was actually, as you see from the dates above, Watchmen #11 that was late — missing its March release and forcing #12 to be resolicited.

    No, it was not late by a great deal — but the delay on #11 was infamous at the time, discussed in the pages of Comics Buyer’s Guide and in comics ships (certainly in mine). The fact that a two-month miss was enough to roil fans — and be remembered — is a consequence of how eager everyone was to get it.

    But CAMELOT 3000 was certainly the more often-cited in the 1980s as an example when the late-book subject came around. Every decade’s had at least one “poster-child” book for lateness.

  10. That should be “comics shops,” not “ships” — an ironic typo there…

  11. As to the question above: “And do you know or have an idea of what percentage of total orders Cap City represented at that time?”

    Not for Watchmen. In 1987, Capital City orders on DC books that shipped Second Class to subscribers — the newsstand titles, basically — were about 15.5% of DC’s overall sales for those titles. But on a relatively expensive mature-readers book like Watchmen, you can assume the Capital share was probably greater.

    The figures are Capital’s initial order-in from DC, as transcribed by me from John Davis’s index-card “database.” They are pre-orders; you will note that I also have a figure for what #12′s orders were before it was canceled and resolicited.

    I cannot rule out that there were reorders adding to those figures, but the system for reorders did not exist then as it does today. I’m guessing the figures above are pretty much it.

  12. Having brought it up above, my guess at the late books most frequently noted in public discussions for the 1990s and 2000s respectively would be DEATHMATE RED (the Image portion of the Image/Valiant crossover had issues released out of order, and RED followed long after the EPILOGUE, despite what its cover date says) — and for the 2000s, BLACK CAT: THE EVIL THAT MEN DO. That was a three-year gap, on that one.

  13. I think it’s a horse race between BLACK CAT and ULTIMATE WOLVERINE VS HULK.

  14. PLANETARY and THE TWELVE are also in the three-year gap between issues club, the former a book the audience seemed to stick around for and the latter one which the audience seemed to evaporate for.

    Of course, they’ll all be left in the dust when Frank Miller and Jim Lee return to ALL STAR BATMAN & ROBIN BOY WONDER…

    The completely quiet way DC has dropped the BEFORE WATCHMEN EPILOGUE is curious, though. You’d think they’d make at least a token announcement about the change of plans. Maybe it’ll be re-purposed as the BETWEEN BEFORE WATCHMEN AND WATCHMEN PROLOGUE. Or would that be AFTER BEFORE WATCHMEN BUT STILL BEFORE WATCHMEN? BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE WATCHMEN?

  15. Hey, I’m still waiting for the 1963 Annual. (sob! choke!)

  16. Did 411 issue three ever get officially cancelled? That’s closing in on 10 years (come August).

  17. Was there an issue #8 of SONIC DISRUPTORS that was released? If so, I’d be very interested in looking at it, especially since I thought the series had gotten axed with issue #7.

    When I saw Mike Baron at a Dealers Room table at a convention many years ago, I asked him how the series would have ended. His response (which I have no idea if it was impromptu or the actual ending) was “There would have been dancing in the streets.”

  18. Back in 87, Capital City was one of the four or five top distributors, as I recall. They’d probably account for about 25% of the market.

  19. Also, back then distributors would overorder on popular books and stock high end hardback sets in their local warehouses, for retailers to shop off the shelves. I worked at the San Diego Bud Plant, and we keep extra stock on Watchmen every issue, for local shops to grab with their weekly orders.

  20. Sorry, Peter, but there was not an issue 8 of SONIC DISRUPTORS.

    I’ve always wished I could travel to Hicksville so I could read that 1963 Annual.

    I want to say 411 #3 WAS officially cancelled but I can’t back that up and hey, ten years ago.

    Speaking of ten years, how ’bout Daredevil: The Target #2?

  21. Good article.

    I’d also be interested in knowing how late DKR 3 and 4 were.

    All along I doubted that the last few issues of Watchmen were anywhere near as late as people have said.

    I grimace every time someone tries to justify a recent decent/okay/good comic being anywhere from 4-12 months extra time by saying “Hey, WATCHMEN was late!”

    Over 12 issues Watchmen took 14 months to come out. That’s not a justification for any random post-2000 Big Two superhero title to take multiple months or quarters between issues.

    Instead of talking about DKR and Watchmen, it would really make more sense to talk about crappy ’90s Image comics that took so long to come out. Maybe that would give late creators more motivation not to fall behind…

  22. @DanielT: Speaking of “Daredevil: Target” #2, years ago Adam Kubert was going to finish the mini, but he only got a few pages into #2, including a double-page splash. Later he posted online the art. Now that splash is about to be a wraparound variant cover for “Daredevil.” In 2013.

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