Like last month’s installment, I’m going to use this space to answer an interesting question posed by Chris Jam of Seattle, Washington. Chris asks: “When you do you use inventory stories? How many do you have to pick from and what criteria do you use to choose one? Do you pick those that are unusual or ones that feature writers and artists who aren’t usually associated with the title?” Good questions, Chris, particularly so since this month, for the first time, an inventory story appears in these pages.
Here’s the scoop. Editors use inventory stories when and only when the regular team can’t deliver the finished book by the final deadline. (Completed books are supposed to be sent to the printers at eight weeks before the date they’re supposed to be shipped to the newsstands, but can still make the ship date up to about three weeks before. So the final deadline is somewhere between three and eight weeks, depending on how conscientious a given editor is.) Reasons why creative people can’t deliver their work on time are numerous (and worth a whole column to themselves).
How many inventory stories does an editor have to pick from? It varies. For my part, I never assign more than one at a given time (meaning I don’t assign a second until I run the first) unless I have advance knowledge of some really big deadline snafu in the offing. The reason I don’t is evident in my track record for using inventories. Here in WEST COAST, we’ve gone two and a half years without needing one. In the other AVENGERS book, I had a four year run before sticking in an inventory story. I don’t assign what I don’t need. And with the ever-changing rosters of such team books as the Avengers, one can’t have an inventory story sitting in the drawer for a couple of years and expect it to have the right team members in it when it comes out.
What criteria do I use for choosing an inventory story? The same critical standards as any story with these additions: 1) it must be a self-contained story and resolve all of the plot threads it brings up, 2) it has to be a one part story, and 3) it cannot mess with the on-going status quo of the book.
As for who I get to do it…it depends on who’s available. An editor always tries for the best people around. In the case of this issue, I managed to squeeze a tale out of regular penciler Al Milgrom, who’s no slouch in the writing department. Thanks for another topic to write about, Chris!