Everyone in publishing has a 'Rush Job' every now and then. Someone else falls ill, or takes on too much, or the editor isn't happy with what he's been sent, or he forgets to send a script out on time, or the publisher changes the printing schedule or decides everyone is too blase, or someone else somewhere else doesn't do what they're supposed to do. Then someone like me gets a "Rush Job". Usually this means drawing a page and getting it to the editorial office within a week. I do quite a lot of them. Because I'm "known for it", editors will turn to me if the deadline is even tighter than that.
The occasion I am going to tell you about was some years ago - and I'm not going to name the comic, the editor or the company- but it's all true.
One morning, about 10.30, I got a phone call from The Editor; "Nigel! Can you do us a big favour?!"
"I'll try!" "We need a two page story and a cover, all in colour, by this time TOMORROW morning- we're going to press at 11am!"
"Phew!" Well, I never say no, I always accept the job and figure out how to do it later. Except that morning there WAS no later- it had to be done NOW. Today, 2010, a 24 hour turnaround is a bit uncomfortable, but not impossible. Scan it in, email it at 10.30 the next morning; do-able. But this story takes place in the dim and distant days of Some Time Ago. Before emails!!
There were three options:
1. Royal Mail. To post it would mean getting it to a Post Office by 4.30 pm that day and paying £3.20 to have it delivered by 10 am. Impossible.
2. Red Star. This excellent service was run in conjunction with British Rail. You took the item along by 7pm, they put it on a train and then couriered it to it's destination by 9 am. It cost £50.
3. British Rail. This meant getting the last train at around 11pm, and waiting outside the editorial office until they opened up at 8.30. Tickets then were about £40. So which would I choose? That's right- Red Star (You didn't think I'd do the overnight heroics did you?!)
So once I'd decided on Delivery Method, I then had to do the work. I had less than 8 hours to do three pages. At the time we're talking about, I drew at 140% (that is, twice the size of the printed page.) and I hand-coloured everything myself. No assistants, no computers. I didn't think it would be possible to draw and colour three pages that size, so I took the drastic step of drawing SAME SIZE as the printed comic. Normally, this is frowned upon because it's very small, it hurts the eyes and any imperfections show up big time! But I had no choice, so same size it was. As the clock inexorably ticked around to 6.30 I raced through the job. It turned out OK, and, as I hurtled through the streets in a cab, rubbing my blurry eyes, I congratulated myself on having earned my sleep.
The following morning, I waited to hear from the Editor that it had arrived safely. At 10 am, I thought about phoning but thought that they'd be very busy rushing this issue to the printer. At 11am I was on tenterhooks. Had it arrived? Was everything OK? By 12 I could contain myself no longer. Phoning, I found the office empty- lunchtime! Of course! At 2, I called again! He's at a meeting!! Now I was sweating! Did it arrive and is all OK, or has it not turned up and the meeting is about how fast they can get me duffed up and sacked? 3pm, I call again- "did it turn up OK?" "Did what turn up?" "The rush job" "Oh, that. yes, it's here. " "Well, was it OK? Did you make the deadline?" "Yes. Don't draw it that small again. The processing department said it's not going to print as well as normal".
And that was that. No "thanks for saving our necks!" No "You must have worked hard to do all that in the time it took". Just "Not as good as usual". Well it wasn't the usual circumstances, was it?!
Four weeks later, the comic was out. Looking at it, the cover was fine, No different than any other. On the inside pages, there was a little thinness to some of the black areas, but that could happen any week. But the odd thing is, the cover, which was rushed, and apparently 'not up to scratch' was later selected by the same editor as a good example of how covers should be, It was printed up in a catalogue, a programme of events, and as a T Shirt.
Not bad seeing as I 'drew it wrong'.
And if you're wondering, they never did reimburse me the £50.