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Scott Dunbier Named IDW Special Projects Editor

by  in Comic News Comment
Scott Dunbier Named IDW Special Projects Editor
A gift from artist Gene Ha to celebrate Dunbier’s first day at IDW. The piece is entitled “Scott Free”

Scott Dunbier’s tenure in comics dates back to his 20s, when he worked in a comic shop, but his career truly began in 1981, when he began representing illustrators and selling their original artwork to collectors. The part-time gig became a full time job in 1987, and Dunbier continued to sell original art until April of 1995, when Jim Lee’s WildStorm Prductions came calling. Dunbier joined the company as Special Projects Editor and rose through the ranks at WildStorm, staying with the company through its sale to DC Comics and eventually earning the position of Executive Editor of the line until the Summer of 2007, when he was dismissed from the company.

Since then, Dunbier’s been waiting out his contract with DC/WildStorm until it’s April 1 expiration date, and today officially joins San Diego, California publisher IDW Publishing in an entirely new position created just for him – Special Projects Editor.

Scott Dunbier spoke exclusively with CBR News about his new job at IDW and what exactly those three words — “Special Projects Editor” – really mean.

Story continues below

Beginning today, you join IDW Publish as Special Projects Editor.

Right. Actually, that was one of my first positions at WildStorm when I started there. It’s a bit of a full circle. I will be looking to do all manner of new and hopefully exciting projects. Some creator owned books, some licensed things. Really, anything that’s interesting and good. I don’t want to put any limits on the kinds of projects that I’ll be working on.

How did this gig come about? How did you and IDW hook up?

It’s kind of a funny story. Ted Adams — one of the gentlemen who started IDW — came from WildStorm. Ted likes to play poker and I do, too, and occasionally we go and play poker together. We take the drive up to either the local Indian casino or one of the card places in the San Diego area. Over the summer, we were talking about various things. I was telling him about some ideas I had for the future; different kinds of books I’d like to do, different kinds of projects. Things like that — and never with the intention of trying to get a job at IDW.

A couple months later, Ted called up and asked if I’d be interested in having lunch. We met and we had a very nice lunch and he proposed that I join IDW; that I come on full time. I’d gotten a number of phone calls from various places for different sorts of positions and most of them — you know, it’s always flattering to be asked — but most of them weren’t things I was necessarily interested in, either creatively or for other reasons.

Let’s compare what you’ll be doing at IDW to your previous job with WildStorm. How different will your job really be?

It will actually be very different. I’ll be able to focus more on the nuts and bolts of doing comics. The position that I was in at WildStorm was managerial. I definitely edited comics, I put books together, but there was only so much time I could devote to that. WildStorm is owned by DC — many of them are very nice people, but it’s a very big corporation and they definitely have a big corporation mentality. There are a lot of meetings, and a lot of fires to put out, things that can eat up a lot of time in your day.

At IDW, my job will be putting books together. I will not be running the editorial team. Chris Ryall [EiC of IDW Publishing] is in charge of the editorial department at IDW, he does a great job. Ted has told me how happy he is with Chris. That’s a position I really don’t have any interest in doing again. For the right person it’s wonderful, but I’m more interested in just doing quality comics.

It sounds like you’re getting back to your roots and really getting into the craft of making comics again.

I don’t think I ever left that, but I’ll be able to focus more time on it. Making comics is truly something that I love to do. Working with talented creators on books I love and believe in believe in is a joy — I mean, I’ve been very lucky. I’ve worked with some extraordinarily talented people throughout my career and it’s just fun and gratifying. So, I’m looking forward to spending more of my time on things like that rather than on managing an editorial department.

You brought up the creators that you’ve worked with over the years. You have an extensive address book filled with names of top-notch creators from Warren Ellis to Grant Morrison to Alan Moore. In terms of these new special projects, can you give us a little bit of an idea of where you’re headed — are you going to look to open up that address book again or are you really looking for new talent?

Both. It’s always exciting to discover a talented unknown writer or artist, and I hope I stumble across more. But I’ve also been fortunate enough to work with many fantastic established creators, how could I not want to work with them again? Hopefully some will want to do something new with me and IDW.

Day 1. You walk into IDW and they’ve got your office waiting for you. When you’re done setting up your office and doing whatever you need to do in the morning, where do you begin?

I take a three-hour lunch break.

Okay, so you’ve returned to the office after some good eating and you’ve got about two hours left in your day, where do you start?

I don’t know. I’ll have to do a little bit of paperwork. I’m going to go in and take care of some sort of official stuff and then once that’s done I’m going to go to my office and sit down. I think there are a couple of dry-erase boards that are in there that I requested. I’m going to start writing on them; different goals, different objectives I have. Different creator names. Different kinds of projects. I’ll start making some phone calls. Start sending some e-mails. Start letting people know where I am.

As far as new talent goes, how are you going to seek it out? Is that gong to be through networking or are you going to ask people to solicit you?

It’s kind of a Pandora’s Box when you put out that invitation because there are so many people out there who want to break into comics. Just by the number of those people, there are going to be a lot of people who don’t quite measure up. But there have been plenty of people over the years who have sent me emails or packages that I’ve looked at that were very promising and I’ve had dialogues with them and they’ve gone on to become pretty good professionals. So it’s just a matter of luck. If somebody sends you a package and it’s something that you find interesting in there; you find some kind of spark…

I get people all the time on MySpace who send me links to stuff. Most of the time, you know, they still have a ways to go. This shouldn’t be construed as an invitation to send me links on MySpace all the time, but I do try to respond to those and give an honest critique. A very brief critique, but an honest one. And there have been a couple of guys just over the last few months who’ve sent me stuff that was actually very promising and I mentioned their names to a couple of different editors at a number of different companies. Finding new talent is very exciting and very rewarding. If you can find somebody who really has something and nobody else has really noticed it, it’s a nice feeling.

Looking back at some of the comics you’ve worked on at WildStorm, ranging from what some would consider highly offensive — "The Boys" — to the more sophisticated — "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” You also edited a line of Alan Moore superhero comics with America’s Best Comics. It was certainly a diverse batch of books. In terms of what IDW is looking for from you, have they put any limitations on what sort of content you can bring to the company? Like "The Boys?"

No. And it’s nice. Ted and I had several good talks before it got to the point of me coming on. We talked about content, we talked about different kinds of books. Ted and I, I think, will make a very good team because we both want to do excellent books that will be entertaining and hopefully resonate with readers.

It’s a very exciting time for me because at WildStorm… It was a different atmosphere. Not necessarily open to some of the ideas that I thought might be valuable, or might be interesting or intriguing. When Ted and I started talking, I told him some of the ideas that I had, some of the ideas that hadn’t gone over so well when I pitched them at WildStorm and DC, and his reaction was very, very positive to all the ideas I gave him. We talked about the different kinds of books I would want to do, I felt Ted needed to know what he was getting into in terms of the kind of things I wanted to do. His reaction to all my ideas was very positive.

He didn’t come back with any resistance?

No. He said some would definitely be tougher to pull off than others, but he thought they were all good ideas. That doesn’t mean that we’ll do every single one of them. It’s just nice to have somebody feel positive about your ideas.

This title, Special Projects Editor. The three words associated with it appear to be "Must Deliver Big." It sounds like a project you’re working on must hit a certain level in terms of talent and appeal. Is that the case?

I don’t know. We’ll see! You know, the idea is to do good projects that will be a bit different than some of the things that IDW has done in the past. I think they do a lot of things really well, but I told Ted when we started talking, “Well I don’t exactly do the kinds of books that traditionally you do.” But Ted was very clear that he wanted to do the kinds of books that I wanted to do. Hopefully I will be able to “Deliver Big.”

Since you were dismissed from WildStorm last summer, what have you been doing in terms of thinking about comics, and has that time off given you a renewed or different perspective on comics? How has that time off informed where you’ll be moving in the next year here?

You don’t get an awful lot of vacations like this in your life. I mean, nearly ten months. I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with my family, with my wife and two boys. That’s turned out to be a very positive thing. Although on the other hand I’m very excited to get back to work. You get the itch to do stuff, to be in a creative environment.

From the time this started, in early June of 2007, my wife Amanda has been just incredibly supportive. I can’t stress enough how much that has meant to me. I don’t want to get all mushy here, but especially early on, it was difficult. But her being there, her belief in me, it made me stronger and more resolute.

I was thinking about my options. As I said, I had a few phone calls from different places ranging from freelance editing on up. It’s always nice to be courted, but none of these options were the right kind of fit for me. And so honestly, by September, I had pretty much just decided, well, I’m going to have to do the crazy thing and start my own company. I thought, maybe this is the only thing that will really make me happy.

Again, Amanda was very supportive. We talked about selling our house, moving into a condo, tightening our belts. Anything that would help a new venture like that succeed. Then I got the call from Ted and we started talking. At first I was… not skeptical, but I had kind of made up my mind that starting my own company was what I was going to, but the more we talked, the better IDW sounded.

The people I work with are very important to me. The creators, of course, but also the folks I share an office with. There needs to be a balance on both sides. I need to have faith in the people I work for, because it’s my reputation that’s at stake. If I go to Warren Ellis for example, I need to be able to tell Warren Ellis that he will be treated right. That I will make sure he will be treated right. I need to trust the people I work for to know that they will treat him in an honorable fashion. If I didn’t feel that way about IDW, about Ted and Robbie and all the guys up there, I wouldn’t be joining them.

Did you ever get to a point over those ten months where you thought about quitting comics completely?

No. Never.

I used to joke that I would get a job at Starbucks because they have good insurance. I really love what I do and I don’t know what else I would do, whether it would be in some kind of other related field, but I never really thought about leaving comics. I got a call from a friend of mine in New York — he’s an art dealer named Albert Moy, he sells Jim Lee’s art; he’s a friend of mine from way, way back — he called me up — and I didn’t understand where he was coming from at first — but he was nervous I was going to go back to dealing art! I told him not to worry.

How do you look back on your tenure at WildStorm?

With great fondness. I’m on great terms with everyone at WildStorm and nearly everyone at DC. I wish Ben Abernathy [Senior Editor, WildStorm] and everyone at WildStorm nothing but the best.

Tell us about some of the goals you’ve set out for yourself in your first year as Special Projects Editor at IDW?

My goal is to do books that I’m proud of. When I started at WildStorm, I didn’t come on as an editor. It wasn’t in an editorial capacity. But when I began, I remember I used to suggest people to Jim. I felt that WildStorm had a nice pool of talent, but I felt it could be more diverse. And I used to tell Jim different ideas for different creators I thought he should go after. Eventually I think he got sick of me suggesting them and just made me Special Projects Editor and a year later made me Editor in Chief.

When people pitch me things, they ask what kind of books I’m interested in. My general response is “something good, something that’ll sell.” Sounds simple, but it’s true. I don’t want to limit the medium. A superhero book or a horror comic or a romance comic, if it’s good and it has potential, that’s what’s important, at least to me. And my goals really are to try and continue to do some good comics. Hopefully some will be books that people will dig, that they’ll feel like buying.

Now discuss this story in CBR’s Independents forum.

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