FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK, CBR News’ series of in-depth interviews with the Dark Horse editorial staff, concludes this week as we discuss classic and modern horror with Shawna Gore. Focusing on archival editions and art books but branching into ongoing and limited series, Gore’s current editorial workload includes the “Herbie,” “Eerie,” and “Creepy” archive editions; a new “Creepy” series beginning in July; “Emily the Strange” and an “Emily” art book; the Harvey Comics Classics series; miniseries such as “The Cleaners” and “Criminal Macabre: Cellblock 666;” Bernie Wrightson’s illustrated “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein;” the upcoming “Too Much Coffee Man Omnibus” by Shannon Wheeler and “Planet of Beer: A Smell of Steve Treasury” by Brian Sendelbach; and collections and art books scheduled for 2010 including “Jim Silke’s Nudes,” “The Art of Michael Kaluta,” and “The Devil’s Footprints: Bad Pennies.”
“I’m having a great time working on ‘The Cleaners,’ in part because it has let me return to really making comics from scratch with a team of inspiring creators, which doesn’t happen often now that I have a lot of book collections and archive series on my schedule,” Gore said of the May-concluding miniseries. “But I have to say my heart really belongs to ‘Creepy’ at this point. It is both exciting and intimidating to work on the new version of ‘Creepy,’ but it’s shaping up really nicely at this point. In the first issue we’ve got Bernie Wrightson, Angelo Torres, Brian Churilla, Jason Alexander, a painted cover by Eric Powell, and a slew of great, terrifying stories.”
Despite her affinity for the horror genre, as evidenced by her choice of projects, Gore indicated that she is typically “not a big fan of human-on-human violence being the main source of a story’s horror,” even though this genre has achieved popularity in more recent horror films.
She also confessed that one of her most memorable projects at Dark Horse isn’t horror at all. “One of my favorite books I’ve worked on in the last couple of years is the very sweet European book ‘Fluffy’ by Simone Lia,” she said. “Simone draws in a very simplified and cartoonish style, and the story focuses on a man who has a little talking bunny that thinks he’s human. As simplistic and cute as that sounds, ‘Fluffy’ is one of the most interesting graphic novels I’ve read in a long time, in terms of how the narrative works and the larger story it tells about how terrified some people are of the details of their own lives.”
Among Dark Horse books she hasn’t worked on, Gore expressed immense appreciation for “Blade of the Immortal.” “I think it’s one of the most incredibly beautiful stories ever told in comics, and I love everything about how it’s crafted,” the editor said. “I’m not a huge fan of most manga, but ‘Blade of the Immortal’ and ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ are two of the best comics I’ve ever read.”
Gore said that, as a child, her father and older brother introduced her to comics, and she did not consider reading comics any different from other types of reading. “I just loved reading, and I read everything I could get my hands on — books, newspapers, magazines, cereal boxes,” the editor told CBR. “When I was six my brothers and I found a big stack of ‘Creepy’ and ‘Eerie’ magazines at a swap meet, and that was the day I fell in love with horror comics. As a kid, my favorites were anything weird and spooky, like ‘Creepy’ or any EC titles, but I also loved Archie and Harvey comics, and I read a lot of ‘Howard the Duck,’ ‘Captain Carrot,’ ‘Swamp Thing,’ and the ‘X-Men.'”
As can often be the case, Gore’s tastes evolved as she grew older and was introduced to more material. “I think I was 12 or 13 when I got a copy of Marc Hempel’s first ‘Gregory’ comic, and that was also when I discovered the first ‘Concrete’ series,” she said. “Both of those titles blew my mind in different ways. A little later when I was a sophomore in high school my oldest brother, who was in college, got a job at a comic shop. I suddenly had a lot more access to stuff I hadn’t seen before, like ‘Love and Rockets,’ ‘American Splendor,’ and ‘Eightball,’ which really impacted my appreciation for comics.”
Gore first came to Dark Horse in 1997, when she was hired as the company’s first publicist. “I was 24 and had moved to Portland a year after graduating from college, and I was actually looking for freelance writing jobs,” she said. Gore found herself wanted to break into the editorial side of comics, but the marketing experience she had acquired allowed her to take a PR position in the music industry in 2002. “It only took me a couple of weeks to regret the move,” she said.
“Fortunately, I’d left Dark Horse on great terms, and everyone there knew I would have stayed if I could have moved into editorial. Within just a few months, I got a phone call from my current boss telling me one of the longtime editors was leaving. He asked if I would come back to Dark Horse, and I was very happy to say yes.”
Though much of her current role involves editing archival and licensed collections, projects like “The Cleaners” and the new “Creepy” ongoing do allow Gore to work with new material. When receiving new pitches and scripts, the editor said that story is the first most important factor. “The first indication that something could possibly work is usually the sense that an interesting story is being told,” she said. “And if you’re doubly lucky, the story is not only engaging, but maybe it’s also being told in a really unique and compelling way. Those two singular aspects are more important to me than genre or anything else that might seem obvious.”
The task of editing archives, though, is distinct from but no less challenging than working with writers and artists to create original comics. “Archive projects usually begin with finding a source for the original material. Sometimes it’s easy and the material comes from the licensor, or whoever brought the project to Dark Horse,” Gore said. “In the case of something like ‘Creepy,’ we’re literally tracking down all of the original copies and scanning from the actual pages. With a title of that age, it would be incredibly good luck to find access to either original art, or original film or stats–but even if we were fortunate enough to find film for a project like ‘Creepy,’ there is no guarantee the film itself would be viable given how much film can degrade in quality over time. In the case of the Harvey Comics archives, we were fortunate to have access to a lot of the original silverprints that were made from the originals, so the reproduction quality of the black-and-white art in most of those books is phenomenal.
“Even though we don’t have that benefit on ‘Creepy,’ I’m really lucky to work with some of the best production guys in the business, and they put up with me being picky about the little things,” she continued. “In return, I try not to be too much of a pain the ass, and every once in a while I come to work with big bottles of dark beer for our production guru, Dan Jackson, to thank him for letting me drive him a little crazy.”
Art books, too, involve a slightly different approach. “The process of doing art books is obviously different than working on a comic series, but in some ways the work mirrors itself,” Gore said. “Even with an art book you need to determine what the narrative is going to be, how it’s going to read, and if there is a certain perspective you want the reader to take. And just like with comic panels, you can tell different stories with art collections according to how they are arranged when you view them.”
Art books aside, “Creepy” can be seen to represent a bridge between Gore’s roles of editing new and classic material. “Aside from my deep and life-long love for ‘Creepy,’ one of the reasons I’m loving working on the new series is because it gives me the chance to really get into storytelling techniques with both the writers and artists,” she said. “There are some things about telling short stories that are easier to pull off than with a longer story, but there’s also an overarching need to keep the story tight and well paced.
“With almost any comic series, it’s smart to make sure every panel counts. In a longer story, sometimes that means giving room for the story to breathe, building in room for panels showing characters reacting to each other, and in general using the panels to set a pace for the story. This is especially important with horror stories–especially the kind I prefer where suspense and dread are more important to the story than the panel showing a knife plunge into someone’s back.”
For those projects that do originate in Gore’s office, the editor said that she enjoys finding new creators to work with. “Creepy” has given her a chance to hire writers and artists whose work she admires, while reviewing portfolios at conventions has also yielded some successes. “Portfolio review is really hit or miss, but I’ve been lucky in a couple of instances,” Gore said. “Rahsan Ekedal, who is drawing ‘The Cleaners’ for me right now, brought his portfolio to WonderCon a couple of years ago and I really liked it. Portfolio reviews also provide the benefit of meeting face to face, and I was impressed with how much he communicated with me and responded to what I said about his work.”
Gore further indicated her appreciation for this sort of communication and eagerness to develop as an artist, saying, “a big part of making comics is finding new — and in many cases young — talent and working with them to improve their skills.”
“I knew when I met Rahsan that he would be really open to working on that, and that alone made me want to work with him,” she continued. “I’m also really compelled by what his art looks like and the emotion it evokes. He does really beautiful inking, but I’m really into his pencils. I want to try a project with him where he either really loosens up on his inking or sheds it somehow. But for ‘The Cleaners,’ that dark and atmospheric inking really helps capture the mood set by a deeply disturbing set of events in the series.”
Other artists Gore looks forward to introducing in 2009 include the German artist Saskia Gutekunst. “She did some sample art for one of the first pitches I really loved for the new ‘Creepy’– a story called ‘Chemical 13’ by Michael Woods. Her work is lovely and haunting and very spooky, and it’s stylistically both classic and completely new feeling to me. I’m in love!”