To talk with Diana Schutz is to be only a degree of separation from the most famous of comic book creators. But what makes it different is that she interacts, edits and makes the tough decisions with such Dark Horse creators as Frank Miller, Will Eisner and Neil Gaiman that make the final product look so easy. This is not a groupie who hangs on; she is an integral part of the creative process.
Schutz is an editor's editor. She doesn't have the pretentions to become - as she says - "the great American/Canadian novelist." She edits comics. Sure, she's dabbled with an occasional story here and there, but editing is her passion. If you are edited by her, she is your shepherd, taskmaster, mother and protector all wrapped into one. Truth is her mantra. She will pump you up when you're on fire, but will just as quickly douse you with a bucket of water when it's not working. By her own admission, she's a crappy liar. When she says something, she means it. How you take it is your business.
In her 12 years at Dark Horse, though she has held many titles and varied positions of power, but they don't hold much for her. It's the work that's paramount. It's the work of making quality comic books that gets her up in the morning, drives her to do the best during the day and keeps her sane on the crazy days.
She's been courted by the big two-a testament to her competence and work ethic-but has stuck to Dark Horse and Mike Richardson loyally. Some might say that it's a fear of success, the fear of the unknown. But the word that works better is accountability. If she wishes to find the owner, well, he's there and findable. Try finding an AOL/Time-Warner or Marvel executive in the same way and you see her reason for staying.
In this interview, Schutz reveals much about her life, both personally and professionally. You will discover why Bob Schreck deserves what he gets (in a good way), why Dave Sim and Roger Waters could be friends and why Schutz is still just a fan who just happens to be working in the business.
MDT: Marvel has been doing this indie pull, like they want to bring a lot of different indie people, in order to get more readers. They're pulling a switch of sorts. In a market where Marvel is doing that, what does Dark Horse do to keep ahead of the curve?
DS: I don't know, really, that we plan like that. We're constantly coming up with ideas. I'm reminded of Jamie [Rich's] interview, posted recently on CBR, wherein he said, and rightly so, that we're far less competitive than you might ordinarily think. Just because Marvel is doing something, it doesn't mean that the Dark Horse braintrust is sitting back and trying to decide, "How do we beat out Marvel at this new game?" That's not the issue. And certainly not in a market like ours. Our main concern is staying alive and fruitful and continuing to put out books we're proud of... There's no real sense of: "How can we compete with Marvel?"
MDT: Is it comparing apples and oranges, where you're competing for way different audiences in some ways?
DS: I guess we are. If you were talking to an accountant, sure. He'd say we were competing for the various dollar supply that's out there. But you're talking to an editor, and my basic take on things is that I want to continue to publish great books. I think what Joe Quesada is doing at Marvel is magnificent, and I've congratulated him more than a few times on what I consider to be a job extremely well done. He's got me reading Marvel comics again after years and years… It started with the Marvel Knights line that he and Jimmy Palmiotti started, and that has continued throughout the whole Marvel line of titles ever since Joe became editor-in-chief. He's revitalized the company. He's revitalized the books themselves [and] the characters, by bringing in newer, talented people, many of whom have been traditionally associated with independent-type projects. So am I sitting back trying to compete with that? No, not in any kind of conscious way.
MDT: Right. It seemed like the last time you tried competing in any kind of conscious way was…
DS: Comics Greatest World! Yeah, well, maybe we learned our lesson! Whattaya think?! [laughs] Certainly, we have editorial meetings once a week where editors brainstorm new projects and new ideas and those spearheaded by Mike Richardson, who is not only the publisher of this company, but for all intents and purposes, is our editor-in-chief. He's certainly our creative vision and driving force… Sure, we've been talking about all sorts of things. We're expanding our line of European graphic albums and are looking at working with a variety of different creators in a variety of different formats, a little more off-the-wall than you might ordinarily associate with Dark Horse. But is that a conscious reaction to what Marvel is doing? I don't think so.
MDT: How have you guys been able to weather the storm then?
DS: Not easily!
MDT: When I walked in, you were talking about how crazy it is because you guys are… I don't know if "skeleton crew" is the appropriate term, how thin it is. I imagine some hits were taken. How have you guys been able to do?
DS: I think, in general, you know, we have downsized slightly. It's not been because of any kind of a planned thing, but as people have left or gone on to other kinds of work - which happens everywhere. In any kind of business, be it comic book publishing or whatever, there's a certain amount of turnover. That's just basic. As people have moved on, from the various departments here, we just haven't really replaced them. That's been the extent of our downsizing, really. It's just meant that the load of books has been divvied up among the folks remaining. I frankly think that we are all spread a little bit thin right now, and juggling the load has been difficult.
MDT: Has Dark Horse taken the hit with the slump like everybody else?
DS: Sure. Absolutely. I think our market share has risen in the meantime! [laughs] But, yeah, fewer people are buying comics. Fewer stores are ordering them. One of the ways in which we've managed to weather the storm - and I think the storm is calming now - which has proved to be a huge saving grace has been our trade books department.
MDT: That's what a lot of people seem to say, that trade paperbacks are the future…
DS: The 32-page pamphlet is a dead dog, man. Inasmuch as I love comics and I love that flimsy thing that I can roll up and shove into the back pocket of my jeans, it's dead! The cost of paper and production, not to mention paying writers and artists an equitable wage-as opposed to the kinds of slave wages they were paid in the sixties, or earlier than that-all means that the actual price of that 32-page pamphlet is running out of control. It's just not worthwhile anymore to pay $3 - going up to $4 - [when] you might as well pay double the price and have a nice-looking book that sits on your shelf.
MDT: You were talking about "Harlequin Valentine," reformatting that for that kind of thinking…
DS: In fact, I'll show you [gets up to show a copy of "Harlequin Valentine"]. That's exactly the kind of thinking! Originally, "Harlequin Valentine" was planned as a 32-page pamphlet. Now, to give credit where it's due, Chris Warner, who is head of our books division, said to me, "Why don't you think about doing this as a book-book, a hardcover book?" I was pretty wary of that idea for quite a while, for a lot of reasons that I won't go into. It was pitched as a comic. I love comics. I wanted to do a comic.
Then the art came in the door. I already knew the story was brilliant, because I had read it in its short-story prose form. Then John [Bolton] sent in these beautiful pages that were a perfect complement to the story itself, to the brilliance of the story itself. I said, "My God, we're going to put this out as a 32-page pamphlet and it's going to look great, retailers are going to order it to sell out that same damn weekend, and no one will ever see it again." And I was just not about to let that happen. It was too beautiful. So we decided, fine, we're going to make it a hardcover. Then I had to sell Neil [Gaiman] and John on this and… that took some doing. Neil was concerned about gouging the customer.
MDT: Once you hit hardcover…
DS: Once you have a hardcover, the price goes up. Once you do a square binding, it becomes a much more expensive print job, let alone the hardcover on top of that. We wanted to do right by the project and, to me, that meant not making the project available one weekend in a lifetime and [then] watching it disappear. I wanted this book, this story, perennially available. And the only way to do that was to turn it into a book. What that meant was that we got a much better paper stock than if we had done a comic, and we added an eight-page backup, which is basically an informational piece about the Commedia dell'arte and Harlequin in particular, written by Neil, with some painted illustrations by John. I think it's a lovely package. It's 11 bucks. The comic itself would have been in the neighborhood of four dollars. For me, as a reader, I'd rather pay $11 and have this lovely book sitting on my bookshelf forever, rather than some comic I read and-
MDT: Put in your 3-foot long box…
DS: Well, you might put in a 3-foot long box. I recycle them. I don't keep 'em anymore. I keep books on a bookshelf because they're much easier to keep… I'm in my middle-40s, and I am done with long boxes! So, yeah, it just seemed a much smarter thing to do. And by turning it into a book, we get it into bookstores - which you can't do with a comic, that 32-page pamphlet. We get it into bookstores, where Neil Gaiman already has an audience that is not necessarily going into the comic book stores.
MDT: Especially after the kind of media attention that he's gotten for "American Gods"…
DS: Especially after "American Gods," which I've just finished, by the way. Which is the most brilliant thing he's written. With the possible exception of "Harlequin Valentine." [laughs]
MDT: I don't know if you've mentioned "Harlequin Valentine" enough. Maybe you should mention it one more time… [laughs]
DS: I admit to a certain bias! I just got it in; that's why I'm sitting here "effusing," as it were, about it. I just got it in from the printer, and I worked so damn hard on this book, and I am so proud of it. What can I say? This is the kind of thing that, when you're an editor and… the book comes in done and it's beautiful and it's right and you know that all of the sweat and blood and sleepless nights and everything was worth it, this is the moment that I live for. This is what it's all about.
MDT: Do you get those kinds of rewards often or are they few and far between, being able to have the work be its own reward?
DS: The work should always be its own reward. Is it always? No. Of course not. However, more and more, as I get older and the longer that I put into this field, the more blessed I am to work with some really stellar creators. So, consequently, more often than not, the work is its own reward. Look at the creators I've been lucky enough to work with: Matt Wagner, Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, John Bolton, Will Eisner, Harvey Pekar, Stan Sakai, Paul Chadwick... The list goes on. Will Eisner! Did I mention Will Eisner? ! Yes, in a lot of ways the work is indeed its own reward. … There are, of course, various pinnacles that happen in a career -- and, yeah, "Harlequin Valentine" is definitely one of those. "300" was another. The "Sin City 10th Anniversary Edition" is yet another.
MDT: You can look back and say, "I did good."
MDT: We were talking about reformatting "Harlequin Valentine" and you've commented on Scott McCloud's two books, "Understanding Comics" and "Reinventing Comics." I talked to him probably about a year ago and I remember him saying that we are so wrapped in comic book form and considering that Gaiman and Bolton are wrapped up in this form, they're not willing to change sometimes - although they did - is there something that can be done with the comic book to make it more accessible to a mainstream public? Have we locked ourselves into a form that's a "dead dog" and can't change?
DS: I don't really know the answer to that. Making the "form" more palatable? I want to make a distinction between…. the medium itself - sequential art - and format. Can we change sequential art-words and pictures in a sequence-to make it more palatable to the mainstream? I think it already is, to the mainstream; they just don't bloody know it! Y'know, think of the success of "Peanuts." People know how to read a comic strip. They understand the juxtaposition of panels-words and pictures-in a sequence.
Is Scott McCloud fundamentally changing the medium with what he's doing digitally? I don't know. I'm not smart enough to know the answer to that. Could he make fundamental changes to the nature of the medium that would make it more palatable? As I said, I think it's already palatable…
Move out of the medium itself and talk about how you might format that medium to make it more palatable to a mainstream audience, then, yes, the 32-page pamphlet is a dead dog. People in the world… understand books. Comics just have, I think, too much of a history of being for kids. The legacy of the Wertham era, the McCarthy hearings, and the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency - and ultimately the Comics Code: It's a legacy that's been tough to beat.
MDT: I notice that there's a big distinction when they came out with the movie,"From Hell," they say from the Graphic Novel. It's a stupid distinction, because, essentially, it's a comic book series that's collected. But is that the kind of thing -
DS: We're suffering from this inherited legacy of stupidity, the "dumbing down" of comics by way of the Comics Code. [That's] in conjunction with all the early production values-or I should say lack of values-and the horrible, horrible production that we had for the first several decades in this industry-and semantics! The Code, shitty production values, and semantics.
"Comic book." Think about that… In what sense of the word is From Hell a "comic" book? "Graphic novel" as a terminology works very well in our favor because we don't do too many comic books anymore. There are a few. "Jetcat." Jay Stephens's "Jetcat." Anything funny. "Groo" is a "comic" book. But again, we're certainly, 60-plus years into this medium, we're telling much more sophisticated stories, and the semantics of our industry have worked against us to keep us-in the eyes of the general public-relegated to kids' stuff. So, yeah … changing the format into one that the mainstream can understand-like a book-and putting it in a bookstore, but calling it something like a "graphic novel"... Again, not a story that comes out every 30 days with no ending in sight-but a complete beginning-middle-and-end story wrapped between two covers, that's something that the general public understands. That's why I think the industry as a whole is having more success with trades.
MDT: I wanted to talk a little about being a woman in what seems to be a male-dominated or old boys club industry. When you started, what was the prevailing attitude of women working in comic books?
DS: Do you mean when I started in publishing comics or when I started working in the field? Because I started working in 1978 in retail - in comic book stores.
MDT: Talk about that.
DS: It was in Vancouver, British Columbia, and I was one of the few female customers at the then four- or five-year-old ComicShop - that was the name. I dropped out of grad school and went to work selling comic books in '78, and I was one of the few female counterpeople at that time. How was it? It was fine; it was fun. I learned social skills I never learned in the ivory tower of academia, I'll tell you that!
MDT: Well, what were you reading at the time?
DS: That was just when I had gotten back into comics and it was Steve Gerber's "Howard the Duck" that brought me back in. I had read comics as a child. By the time I was 13, I was only reading romance comics, and then I was reading no comics through my adolescence. I was too busy learning about boys, cigarettes, alcohol, and partying! So then, when I went to college, I was studying philosophy, and as a break from Plato, Bertrand Russell ,and Immanuel Kant, I would read comics.
MDT: [Laughing] You would read "Howard the Duck" as a companion…?
DS: I started reading "Howard the Duck," which is not that far away from Immanuel Kant in the long run. That brought me back into the field, and I became a comics devotee. Luckily, the then-two owners of The ComicShop, Ken Witcher and Ron Norton, bless their hearts, started turning me on to all the stuff I had missed: Barry Windsor-Smith's "Conan"; Jim Starlin's "Captain Marvel"; Craig Russell's "Killraven"; Dave Sim's "Cerebus." I was one of the first 2,000 readers to actually buy issue 1. I have continued ever since.
At that point, I was reading everything I could get my hands on, because I had just rediscovered the medium and my love of it. And things were kind of happening in the '70s. Oh my god, "Giant-Size X-Men" and "X-Men 94!" Things were exploding then! It was the advent of the direct market; independent companies were coming into being. I was reading everything!
MDT: Did you ever feel like you were on an island…
DS: Because I was a girl?
MDT: Because you were a woman reading comics?
DS: Absolutely not! I was surrounded by guys, man! It was awesome!
MDT: But weren't they like white-faced and pimply, vitamin-D deficient living in their mother's basement?
DS: Actually, no, at that time, most of the guys - and again with the advent of the direct market - the people who started the comic book stores were older hippies who had been reading comics. Go back and read those Ditko "Doctor Strange" [issues] or Jim Starlin's "Captain Marvel." There was a "cosmic consciousness" thing going on in comics in the late '60s and early '70s that was in keeping with the times. And many of the hippies of that day turned onto comics in conjunction with their pot smoking. Then they hit 30 and said, "Oh my God, we have to make a living somehow." And they opened up comic book stores. So, no, I wasn't surrounded by a bunch of pimply-faced geeks. I was with a bunch of cool, longhaired guys.
MDT: Who smoked a lot of pot…
DS: Who knew everything there was to know about comics.
MDT: Do you have that brain for trivia?
DS: No, I do not. Although, I did recently have to school young Jason at the comic book store across the street [Writer's Note: Dark Horse's editorial offices are directly across the street from Things From Another World, a store in a chain of stores in the area - and California - owned by Dark Hose owner/publisher/spiritual leader Mike Richardson] that Thor first appeared in "Journey into Mystery #83." It just kind of popped out of my mouth the other day. We were wondering about a volume of "Marvel Masterworks," whether it was volume 1 or 2 of Thor. I said, "Well, it has to be volume 2, because Thor first appeared in 'Journey Into Mystery #83.'" And Jason's eyebrows just about shot off his head! He said, "I'm reminded of just how little I know about comics when I hear stuff like that." Look, man, I worked in the stores for six years and bought and sold collectible, back-issue comics. I bagged and priced those things until I was blind.
MDT: So, you picked up a few things.
DS: I picked up a few things, yes.
MDT: You went from the retail side into… Comico?
DS: No, the short story is that I went from comic book retail to publishing by means of a transitional step: "The Telegraph Wire," a bimonthly, 32-page "newsletter" that I put together for Comics & Comix, a then-7-store chain in California. Went to work there in '81. By '82, I had started "The Telegraph Wire" and that became my full-time job with them. It was loosely modeled on "The Comics Journal;" it contained an interview every issue, reviews, upcoming comics news, and ads.
So it put me in touch with creators whom I would interview, publishers from whom I would solicit advertising to help underwrite the cost of this "newsletter" that we would give out for free at each of the 7 Comics & Comix stores. So I began to make a lot of contacts in the field. Additionally, I began to do a lot of conventions, Creation Conventions and the San Diego convention. Creation, at that time, used to run a comic book show virtually every weekend in some part of the country. It was then that I met my future - now divorced - husband, Bob Schreck, who was working for Creation in those days.
I began to meet a lot of people in the industry, in the publishing, distribution, promotion, and creative end of things. Also, I began freelancing for various other fan publications, like "Comics Buyer's Guide," "The Comics Journal," "Amazing Heroes" and "Comics Scene" - which are no longer in existence - and so on. That eventually led to an assistant editor's job at Marvel Comics in 1985. I lasted all of four days, at which point I gave my notice.
MDT: Wait a minute… What was the story there? Four days?
DS: I went in as Ann Nocenti's assistant editor on the "X-Men." Plum job. Thanks primarily to Chris Claremont, a long-time friend of mine, who got me in the door. God, I was 29 years old, about to turn 30. I was a babe in arms. And I thought, "I'm about to work for Marvel Comics. It's a pie in the sky! It'll be wonderful! It's everything I've ever wanted!" I got there and realized that, "No, it's a business. It's a mid-town, Manhattan business." I went in there with some really unrealistic expectations and realized very early on that it wasn't for me.
Comico, with its opportunities for creator ownership, and the fact that it was much smaller and more personable, was much more my style, and I went to work there with Bob Schreck a couple of months thereafter.
MDT: You go to Comico… At the point that you became a comic book professional, in the business as an assistant editor
DS: Which would be 1985….
MDT: There would be a lot of high-profile women who were working in the business at the time. Louise - Jones was her maiden name - now Simonson…
DS: Jones was her married name. She married Jeff Jones and then they split, and now she's Louise Simonson.
MDT: Ann Nocenti, Mary Jo Duffy, Bobbi Chase
DS: Bobbi Chase I don't think was around at that time…
MDT: Sorry, that was a little later… But then Jenette Kahn at DC….
DS: Cat Yronwode, who was very high profile in the industry at that time…
MDT: Karen Berger might have been later…
DS: Karen was actually at DC in the middle '80s, and I'm pretty sure she had become an editor by then.
MDT: So there were a lot of high-profile women at the time you got into the business. Was there any point at which you felt isolated in the comic book business at that time? Was it that everyone had a like mind, so there wasn't a gender bias at all?
DS: I would have to say that no more so in comics than in anything else in this world did I encounter gender bias. Perhaps the one time in my life that I encountered outright discrimination - or should I say a discriminatory attitude - was when Bob Schreck and I were negotiating our salary level at Comico, which was abominably low to begin with. But we wanted to be paid at the same rate, even though we were doing two different jobs. I was walking in basically taking over editorial. They didn't really have anyone there who could edit comic books. And though I was learning by the seat of my pants, I had edited this little magazine for three years prior. So I had some skills. I had a background knowledge of comics.
MDT: And you'd worked at Marvel for four days….
DS: And I'd worked at Marvel for four days. Wherein I learned from Virginia Romita how to create and enforce production schedules.
MDT: Marvel's traffic manager in the 1980s…
DS: Yes, which is a serious skill in comics, believe me! And Bob was going in as basically … overseeing all business stuff, except for the money -- all the marketing and publishing type aspects. And we wanted to be paid at the same rate. They balked a little at that, for reasons that could only be attributed to the fact that Bob is a guy and I'm a girl. But they eventually caved.
The whole gender thing is much more subtle than that. Trina Robbins can tell horror stories, and I believe Jo Duffy can, too, of being treated very poorly in comics because of being women. I have not had that experience. If anything, being female has helped me in this business.
Comics is very heavily male and particularly the creators tend to be mostly men and I find that there exists a whole different dynamic between a female editor and a male creator than exists between a male editor and a male creator. And I think the female editor/male creator dynamic is much more versatile, much stronger and much more conducive to getting good results.
MDT: You're here at Dark Horse. You're pretty close to the top as far as the food chain goes…
DS: I'm a senior editor and have been close to the top at various times in my almost 12-year history here. Managing Editor, Editor-in-Chief. I believe I'm #5 on the seniority - in terms of having been here the longest: Mike Richardson, Randy Stradley, Neil Hankerson, [Dark Horse Maverick art director] Cary Grazzini, then me.
MDT: But as far as position of power, it's Mike Richardson and then you're somewhere in the top 3, top 5?
DS: Well, no, we're structured a little differently here. People don't understand that… editorial isn't the huge powerbase that people seem to think it is. Each department has its own head. … So, in terms of official power title, no, I gave all that shit up. I gave it all up because what it did is it put me in meetings all the damn time, writing memos and holding people's hands and I wasn't able to make good comics anymore. I hated what I was doing. … It turned me into a management type - and a bitch on top of that!
You got a taste of it that day you interviewed with me [for a job in 1995]. I hated myself in that job. Most importantly, I couldn't make comics. So, in terms of directing the scheme of things here at Dark Horse, I don't know. I've been here a long time so I have a certain seniority. Does that mean that I get any special privileges? I suppose some. It means that I have no qualms about walking into Mike Richardson's office, often storming into his office and bitching about something or another! Does that mean that I have "official" power? Hell, no. What do I do? I oversee the Maverick line of books, which is our more cutting edge/creator-owned, creator-produced line of books.
MDT: I wasn't sure where you were in the company. It's changed since the last time….
DS: It always changes. I no longer put the entire Dark Horse masthead on my books because those titles change all the fucking time. The only one whose name I put in is Mike Richardson, publisher, because that one ain't changing!
MDT: You have people - women - who have attained a certain position of power in comics. Jenette Kahn, Karen Berger over at DC. Although it's varied, you pretty much are a force over here at Dark Horse - whether the title says it here or not, you have influence or pull. Seems like the other companies have embraced that, but Marvel has never had a female editor-in-chief, for all the qualified women that have worked there. Has that ever struck you as strange?
DS: Marvel has had a lot of great female editors. Ann Nocenti was one. Louise Simonson was brilliant at that job. Jo Duffy… Frank [Miller] speaks glowingly of [her] as his editor. I don't know why Marvel has never had a female editor-in-chief. I do know that Joe Quesada tried to hire me! Which was awfully flattering.
MDT: Did you have those Marvel flashbacks?
DS: No. Y'know, I'm in my mid-40s. I'm coming up on my 12th year at Dark Horse. I don't want to move back to New York City. I love living in Portland. … I have my bad days, but I'm still challenged by what I do here.
My family's here in Portland. Matt Wagner and my sister, their two kids - my niece and nephew - live in Portland. My other sister lives just down the coast in Northern California. She works for ILM. Up until three years ago, my ex-husband, Bob Schreck, who is still very much part of my family, was living in Portland. But then he took that job at DC. I miss him - but not enough to move to New York! It was a very good move for Bob, though. I think he's become the most high-profile editor in comics as a result of that. And that recognition is long past due, because he is excellent at what he does.
MDT: Let's talk about Bob for a minute.
DS: I love talking about Bob. Well, you know, he's my best friend in the world.
MDT: I heard many different rumors when he left Dark Horse. Did he leave Dark Horse or did he get fired?
DS: No, it was Bob's decision to leave Dark Horse.
MDT: Did he have it in mind to start Oni Press at that time?
DS: No, not at first, I don't think.
MDT: But he just wanted to get out…
DS: He wanted to get out. The then respective heads of marketing and editorial were insufferable and insupportable. (Neither of them work here anymore, thank God.) I don't blame Bob one iota for having left. I'll let him talk about why.
MDT: The only two things I could find as writing credits for you in comic books were "Grendel: Devil Child" and a short story in "Dark Horse Presents #97."
DS: "Tuesday Night at the Jazz Club." Uh-huh.
MDT: I wondered if you had done more that I haven't seen.
DS: There have been a couple of other things. Two or three one-pagers, I think. I did adapt a Harlan Ellison story for "Dream Corridor," at Harlan's request.
MDT: But it seems like a lot of people, what they do, is they're writers and become editors. Or they're editors who want to become writers. And you started primarily as a editor and it seems like you haven't done a lot of writing for the medium. Is it something where you're an editor who likes to write occasionally?
MDT: What moves you to put together something? Why so few and far between?
DS: Can I rant first?
DS: Editors often get a bad rap for good reason: because this industry is full of too many wannabe creators who become editors by default - and not very good editors as a result. Because that's not what they want to do. What they want to do is become a writer or an artist, but they aren't good enough to cut it so they wind up becoming an editor. Swell. And that the reflects on all of us - very poorly, I'm sorry to say.
So when I have been in a position to hire people and I sniff out the fact that somebody interviewing for an editor's job really wants to be a writer or an artist, I tend to discourage them from pursuing an editorial career. By and large, those people don't make very good editors. Why? They're jealous of the creators they work with. They get in a script and they don't edit it; they rewrite it. That's just not the way to approach the job - in my opinion.
End of rant.
MDT: I knew you had that in you.
DS: My undergraduate degree - having said all the above - is in creative writing! But writing for me is very much like pulling teeth. I have no desire to become the great American/Canadian novelist/comic book writer/poet/whatever. For me, writing is something that I do when I feel compelled to do it. In almost every instance of having written something, it's been because there's something stuck in my craw that is aching to get out.
If Bob Schreck were to call and say, "Diana, I want you to write a four-issue Green Lantern story arc for me," I couldn't do it. I'm not a "writer," in that sense. The Grendel story, which is the longest sustained piece of storytelling I've done, was just something that was in me that needed to get out. That's the best way I can describe it. And when I got it out, I was done. If I get something else in me that really needs to get out like that, I'll get it out. But so far that hasn't happened.
MDT: In that case, it's odd. You're an odd duck, in that you see many editors that do that. Marvel's downfall, more than a couple of times, is because of that reason. Who edits you, then? Who do you trust to edit you?
DS: Bob Schreck! [laughs]
MDT: You would seriously go to Bob Schreck? Call him up, say, "I'm faxing you something over. Take a look at it."
DS: I've had freelance writing gigs from time to time. They're not comics-writing things. For instance, Frank Miller asked me to write the introduction to the second volume of the "Daredevil" trades that Marvel recently put out. That's the volume that introduces Elektra and tells her story. It was during the course of that story line that Frank and I met and became friends, some twenty years ago - which is why he asked me to write the intro.
Most recently I wrote the introduction to the "Supergirl Archives" for DC. Whom did I have edit me on both those pieces of writing? Bob Schreck and Frank Miller.
MDT: So essentially people you trust and respect?
DS: People that I trust. My friends, who know that they can tell me this is a piece of shit and not ruin our friendship. People who will tell me straight and whose opinion I respect.
MDT: Who would you go to here [at Dark Horse]?
DS: It really depends on what I'm writing. I've never watched the TV show, because I don't own a television, but if I suddenly felt compelled to write a Buffy story, I would immediately seek out Scott Allie to get his feedback on it, even though I hired Scott when he was a "little kid," as I like to say! But it depends on the nature of the project. On "Devil Child," I worked with Matt as my editor, though I certainly solicited feedback from a number of people, including Dave Sim, first and foremost.
MDT: Let's talk about Dave Sim. The issue wherein he published your resignation letter from proofreading. You've known Dave a long time.
DS: Since October of '82.
MDT: And you've been working for him as a proofreader… Was it just for his columns or for the whole book?
DS: I stopped working for him as a proofreader earlier this year. I never proofed the book itself. Just the text, the typeset text.
MDT: You'd been doing that for how long?
DS: Officially, since middle of '94.
MDT: You did the proofreading. At which point, did you have reservations about working for him in proofreading for "Cerebus?"
DS: I guess I never really had many reservations about proofreading for Dave. I always felt that he was entitled to his opinion, and my job was to make that opinion as grammatically clear as it could be. I have a great deal of respect for Dave and his ability, and at one time in my life I was very much in love with him. Dave and I haven't communicated in years on any kind of personal level, though. I seldom even dealt directly with Dave on the proofreading.
I hadn't had any qualms about proofreading Dave because of the content of what he had written. As long as Dave was putting forth an argument that he believed in, that he was attempting to support, I felt he had every right to do that. The one thing about this country of yours is it's got the First Amendment. Too many people forget about that when it's convenient, but as a Canadian, I don't take that First Amendment lightly. It's very important to me.
What I would not do is support Dave in - what I perceived to be -an attack on a friend, Jeff Smith. To whom, ironically enough, Dave first introduced me! Anyway, it was at that point… when I was sent this boxing challenge to proofread, I couldn't do it. I didn't want to do it. I didn't feel comfortable doing it. That might be hazy, female, emotional thinking - which Dave would put in quotes: "thinking" - be that as it may, I just couldn't do it. I wouldn't do it. Then, I realized that if I were going to be selective about what I would and would not proofread for Dave, I could no longer do the job adequately. At which point, I resigned. End of story.
MDT: Any animosity that he printed your letter?
DS: I thought it was a little unprofessional of him. In this business, and I was telling this to somebody else the other day, if you can't get over stuff, you might as well get the hell out. Life is too short to hold grudges, and I've always been pretty quick to forgive in any case.
I was aggravated at the time at Dave's printing my letter not in the issue in question - not in the issue in which he called out Jeff Smith - but in the subsequent issue, which contained a 20-page anti-female diatribe, over which his secretary Carol West did quit. Over which I would not have quit, because it was exactly the kind of thing I was used to proofreading - namely an argument, no matter how faulty, in which Dave believes. However, by juxtaposing my resignation letter with this 20-page anti-female diatribe, many of Dave's readers - who did not read my resignation letter carefully enough - assumed that I quit over the anti-female diatribe, as did Dave's secretary, and not over the calling-out of Jeff Smith. That aggravated me because I got a bazillion fucking emails, and I felt compelled to correct all these people I didn't even know. It was a big fat waste of my time trying to explain to people, "Hey, I didn't quit over that." Anyway…
MDT: The thing that I've read on message boards - not always the great bastions of logic - but some people think that Dave Sim is just fucking nuts. You've seen this brilliant start and he's carried it for a long time. Then there was this sharp turn into a Roger Waters/Pink Floyd type megalomania, where him, Waters and Axl Rose seem like they should get together and commiserate. Is it that Dave is losing it, is something else going on? I would think that you might have a good insight into that…
DS: I don't think so. I think you're asking the wrong person. I haven't talked to Dave personally in years.
MDT: It would just be a package that showed up at your door?
DS: It would be a fax sent to me. I would fax back corrections.
What do I believe? I believe that Dave is an extraordinary human being, extremely talented and that means that he deviates from the norm. Is he fucking nuts? Any more than any other artist? I don't know. I think he's very, very serious about his interests and his beliefs. When he focuses on something, it tends to consume him.
MDT: Is the 20-page diatribe a good example of that?
DS: Even back in the day when I was talking to Dave on a regular basis, his thoughts moved in very different ways from most people. Not necessarily wrong, just differently. Which is often a sign of genius. I'm not a psychologist. I have no idea. I think he's a remarkable person, extremely different from the norm, which makes him both unusual and interesting. Is he fucking nuts? Got me.
MDT: It seems like he's walling himself off, alienating people either one at a time or in droves. I don't know if that's a correct assumption…
DS: I'm sorry to say that I think that's true and it just makes me feel badly for him. I hope it's not true. I don't know about his personal life anymore and what friends he has in Kitchener, where he lives. The people who I know were very much a part of his life back in '94 seem no longer to be very much a part of his life now. Shit happens, maybe he's got other friends. I don't know.
MDT: Segue from Dave to big egos in general in the business. You deal with pretty big stars in the business. Frank Miller. George Lucas with licensing the Star Wars properties. Sergio Aragonés. You deal with a lot of people who are creative and being creative; I imagine you have to handle them a certain way. How do you do that? How do you handle somebody…? Miller you know and maybe don't have to worry about as much, but somebody new, how do you go about it? Do you have a conscious process?
DS: It's really not very calculated at all.
MDT: Are you a people person?
DS: I hate people. People suck. [laughs] Actually, nobody sucks until they prove to me that they suck. And by and large I have a tremendous respect and admiration for creative people.
MDT: Everybody starts with a clean slate with you when you meet them? They have to lose points to be difficult?
DS: I mean that, in general, the world starts with a clean slate. How do I deal with creators? Well, to start, Frank Miller is not quite the "cinch" that you make him out to be. Let me just tell you the Frank story.
MDT: Dish the dirt.
DS: No, it's not even dirt. What was implicit in what you said is that if you are friends with someone, it's easy to work with that person. Whereas I contend it's exactly the opposite.
MDT: As in, how do you maintain a friendship AND a business relationship?
DS: That can be thorny. When Bob Schreck left Dark Horse, Frank called me and asked, "Diana, will you be my editor?" If I'm not mistaken, my first response was, "Frank, we've known each other 16 years. I don't want to mess that up. We've been friends for that long and I don't know if it's a good idea." Frank was concerned because he really didn't know other editors here at that time. I like Frank. He's my friend. I didn't want to disappoint him, but I was really concerned. I didn't want to lose that friendship. It's too important to me. So, we gave each other a trial run of six months! So here it is almost five years later, and it still seems to be working. Mind you, he's drawing fucking Batman right now! [laughs]
MDT: What about new people you take on? With this new Maverick line, you didn't know everybody that came on…
DS: I don't edit everything in the Maverick line. I oversee the whole line, but I couldn't possibly handle editing every single book published under the imprint.
Look, when Mike Richardson and Will Eisner came to an agreement on "Last Day in Vietnam", that became my project. Will Eisner! How do you "handle" Will Eisner? Shaking in my boots, man! Here's the thing, when you're working with a consummate professional like Will, what am I going to tell him? Sure, nobody's perfect and you might have to tell somebody that something they did kinda sucks. "Hey, Frank, please redraw this hand, okay? Please?!"
How do I deal with anybody? I just deal with them. One thing is that I'm a really crappy liar. What people get from me is the truth. They may not like it, but they're going to get the truth. They're also going to get my support. I really strongly believe that my job, particularly in dealing with creator-owned books, is to represent the creator to the publishing house. My job is to facilitate everything I can at the publishing end to make sure that the creator can realize his or her vision to the utmost. So if that means that on a Saturday, I'm at a color separation house looking at the 16th goddamn separation of a page of "300" still trying to get it right, then that's what it means.
Have I had disagreements with creators over stuff? Absolutely. But when you're dealing with creator-owned projects, it comes down to the fact that it's the creator's book. If I disagree so vehemently, I have two options: either to take myself off the book and reassign another editor who might be more simpatico with the creator, or - and this is a real bottom line - to not publish. I do not have the right to go in and change something just because I happen to think, or maybe even know, that I'm right. It's not my book, it's not Dark Horse's book. It's the creator's book.
If I have a disagreement with the creator, my job is to state that disagreement, argue my position. But I learned a lesson early on with Matt Wagner - all the way back in 1985 or '86 over a script. We spent 20 minutes on the phone arguing over a word he had used. He'd used incorrectly, but - you know what? - it didn't matter to him. In his mind, that word meant a certain something and it conveyed to him what he wanted it to convey. I argued until I was blue in the face and finally, Matt said, "Di, it's my book." End of argument, dude!
If it were that important to me, I could step down as editor, or if it's that important to me, I could opt to not publish. Was I going to do that over one word? No. Have I stepped down as editor because of a disagreement with someone on a book? Yes. Once. And in that instance, less because of an aesthetic disagreement and more because our personalities didn't mesh very well. Consequently, I offered that person another editor for the project. That happens. Not everybody likes you. Or vice versa. Sometimes the mesh of personalities just doesn't work.
MDT: So funny, sometimes it's brought down to something as simple as personal interaction…
DS: Editorial work, to me, rests very much upon personal interaction. Again, particularly in the arena of creator-owned projects, where the creator has the final say. That doesn't mean that I don't give story feedback. That doesn't mean that I don't give critical feedback every step of the way. But it's up to the creator how much or how little of that feedback they want or are going to take.
MDT: One of the cool things I've always liked about Dark Horse is that it's a private company. It's owned by…
DS: One guy…
MDT: One guy, 100 percent. No shareholders. You saw with Marvel, that once you obtain shareholders, well, it can go either way, but you saw them take the dark path. Has Richardson ever had a flicker of going public in order to get more money to do more things?
DS: There have been offers, but I don't think Mike would ever do that.
MDT: Would you consider leaving if something like that happened?
DS: I don't know. One of the reasons I'm still here is because this company is owned by Mike Richardson. One guy that I can go and talk to, or argue with if I need to, or ask his advice or opinions. In other words, there's a human being I can talk to, as opposed to a board of directors or whatever - some corporate entity that's not amenable to personal interaction.
If Dark Horse were to become publicly owned, I'd have to see how that would change things. Understand, I'm not a kid anymore. I'm not inclined to make a big career change at this stage of my life. The next major milestone I want to get to is retirement, for God's sake! I want to go lie on a beach in New Zealand or in Cabo San Lucas. I don't know. There are also other things that you only consider with age. Health insurance is very important to me. All sorts of practical considerations: my retirement plan, for instance. I don't know what I would do if Dark Horse went public.
MDT: Are they going to bury you here?
DS: At Dark Horse?
MDT: Are they going to find you dead on your desk?
DS: I hope not!
MDT: Where do you see yourself…? You have a lot of experience here as a comic book professional. You've turned down jobs at DC and Marvel. What would be the next step? What is the next step for you?
DS: I think this is it. Like I said, the next step is retirement. Though I can't ever imagine not working, and I certainly certainly afford to retire. Julie Schwartz is in his 80s and he still goes into DC, like, at least a day a week.
No, you know, I can't ever imagine not working. I love the work too much. That's not to say I couldn't easily cut down to fewer days a week, or that I don't want to lie on a beach in New Zealand or that I wouldn't retire in some capacity if I could afford to.
Bob keeps trying to convince me to move to New York and go to work at DC. My ambitions are smaller I guess. I don't need to make New York money. I have a house here. If I can pay my mortgage, I'm good.
MDT: And get "Harlequin Valentine" as a reward…
DS: And get "Harlequin Valentine" as a reward. Yeah, I love what I do! For as long as I am challenged by this, I don't feel the need for a "next big step."
Bob is in "Wizard" magazine every month. For God's sake, he's in "Entertainment Weekly" this week! That's fabulous, it's exciting, it wonderful. Would I love to have that kind of profile? Sure, of course. But I'm so happy with what I do have that I don't want to give this up.
MDT: That's funny. The sense I get is - you can tell me how wrong I am - you're pretty high profile. That's the reason I emailed you and said, let's do an interview. You always have a voice out there. You're quoted for high-profile books, comic and otherwise. You do introductions for collections. It's not like you're shying away from high-profile projects. It sounds like you'd like to have that recognition professionally, but left alone personally.
DS: All I meant by what I said earlier is that the sort of level of fame that Bob is getting is remarkable - and am I jealous or envious? No. Would I like a taste of it? Oh, sure. People are dazzled by fame and glamour - even in our tiny field - and I'm no exception
MDT: That's why we go to conventions…
DS: Yeah, one of the best moments of my life, before I ever began working with Will Eisner, was accepting an Eisner Award from him on stage and having him kiss me. I was standing in front of the microphone, dumbfounded, and my acceptance speech went right out of my head. All I could say was, "Oh my God, Will Eisner just kissed me!" Sure, those are moments that are special to all of us.
MDT: I get the sense that the fame and adulation are not…
DS: No, it's not a driving force for me. Plus, as you say, I do have - and this comes as a bit of a surprise to me - a high profile. I think the reason for that is that I'm old.
DS: And I've been doing this for a long time. It's not like I've been editing comics for three years. I've been at it for a long fucking time. Let me amend that: I'm experienced.
MDT: It's the way you said that. "It's because I'm OLD and they won't kill me and I won't die. They can't fire me. I'm still here."
DS: I am still here and I get to work with some very high-profile, talented creators. I'm very blessed in that regard. I've been around a long time. I know my shit, man. When I go to a convention, I don't lack for company. I even have groupies!
MDT: I remember a year and a half ago, you were at San Diego and remember seeing you everywhere. I was thinking, "Man, she gets around. She's having fun."
DS: I have a great time at conventions. Comics people are wonderful. The great thing about comics is that it's a tiny little microcosm of society, but it is so connected. It is so tight. When I went to Australia and New Zealand last February, I made friends everywhere I went due to the comics connection. Dylan Horrocks picked me up at the Auckland airport. I'd never met Dylan before. We'd worked before, but it had all been via phone. He brought me to his home where I stayed overnight with him and his wife and kids.
Comics is a wonderful tight cultural, social bond. It's amazing. It's remarkable. I had similar experiences in '94 when I went to England, Scotland, and France. All I had to do was find the local comic book store and introduce myself.
My God, I was in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, a week ago at a Mexican restaurant. I bought a restaurant T-shirt, and the kid - the 31-year-old guy - who came over to sell me the T-shirt was named Arturo, and we began to talk. It turns out he's into drawing, so I asked, "What kind of drawing? Painting?" "No, no, cartoons, cartooning," he said. "I love comic books." I looked at him and said, "You're bullshitting me, right?" He said no, no. I pulled out my business card and said, "This is who I am." His jawed dropped to his toes, for God's sake. He says, "'Grendel,' 'Sin City,' Sergio Aragonés!"
So I met the only comic book fan in Cabo San Lucas! It's like we sniffed each other out! It's remarkable. It's wonderful. Just that level of recognition - or even the letters we get from people on a daily basis - makes me feel blessed to do the work I do every day.
MDT: Have you seen that Volkswagen commercial? The guy's driving around talking about how he's got all these great things and he's afraid one day somebody's gonna knock on his door and say, It's all a big lie, we have to take all this back? Do you ever feel like it's weird to be where you are and be able to do the things you do? Like the incident in Mexico?
DS: No, it's not weird at all. And it doesn't feel like it could go away all of a sudden. It does feel like a blessing. I'm grateful. I mean, my God, I have my crappy days like everybody else. I'll walk out of here going, "To hell with comics, Dark Horse - the whole thing! I'm moving to Cabo or New Zealand!"
But, by and large, you think of all the people in the world who just collect a paycheck, and every day of their life, they're not personally invested in what they're doing - how awful is that? This is my life. Making comic books and helping creators realize their vision is my life. I love what I do. I've taken that childhood love of mine, and it's become my career, my passion, and my joy. Who wouldn't consider themselves lucky to have that?