FROM THE EDITOR'S DESK is an exclusive series of interviews with Dark Horse's editorial team. Previously, CBR News chatted with Senior Managing Editor Scott Allie about his work on such titles as "Hellboy" and "Umbrella Academy," and then with manga and webcomics collection editor Tim Ervin. Our feature continues this week with Senior Editor Chris Warner.
Warner's career in comics dates back to 1984, when he served as artist on Marvel's "Alien Legion," "Moon Knight," and "Doctor Strange" series. "Once Dark Horse started rolling, I moved back to Portland and have been working with DH ever since, as a creator or as an editor, my current gig," Warner told CBR News.
In that time, Warner's edited "Akira," "Terminator," "Ghost in the Shell," "Aliens vs. Predator," "Dirty Pair," "Berserk," "Empowered," and art books including "Lonely Heart: The Art of Tara McPherson," "Blast Off!," and "Beasts, Babes, and Brawn: Sculpture of the Fantastic." In 2009, he will be working on "Kickass Kuties: The Art of Lisa Petrucci," the re-launch of "Aliens," "Predator," "Aliens vs. Predator," "Don't Hold Your Breath: The Art of Brian Ewing," "Lost Constellations: The Art of Tara McPherson Volume 2," and new volumes of "Empowered," as well as a couple of other major projects that have not yet been announced.
When Warner joined the company, Dark Horse was "a back-room operation by [publisher] Mike Richardson and [editor] Randy Stradley," the editor recalled. "I was basically the first creator to work on a Dark Horse book ('Dark Horse Presents' #1), drew and wrote a bunch of stuff, then started doing some editorial work on the side. The early days were a lot of fun. We were very successful right out of the gate, and we had a very tight, fun crew. Even though we've gotten much bigger, we still have that fun, creative atmosphere. It's like a pirate ship full of toys and comic books."
The re-launch of the comic book versions of the Fox science fiction franchises "Aliens," "Predator," and "Aliens vs. Predator" represent a return to some of Warner's favorite projects. "I had hands in all three series creatively back in the day, and it's great to see them getting back into comics in a big way," Warner said. "I'm excited to be working with artist Zach Howard again [on 'Aliens']. I think Zach's one of the best guys out there, and he's not widely 'discovered' yet. But he will be."
The Fox line will debut with an "Aliens vs. Predator" special for Free Comic Book Day on May 1, followed by "Aliens" #1.
Other current highlights on the editor's list include Dark Horse's art and pop culture books, as well as Adam Warren's "Empowered" series of graphic novels. "'Empowered' is one of the funniest, smartest, best-drawn comics in recent memory," Warner said. "Also, over the past few years I've been editing a series of art books from some of the most talented lowbrow and pop surrealist artists out there, and 2009 will see new books from painter Lisa Petrucci, poster artist Brian Ewing, pop surrealist superstar Tara McPherson, as well as a mega-collection of rock poster art collected by Sal Canzonieri, 'A Fistful of Rock & Roll.'"
Warner's approach to editing comics come down to three key elements: story, story, and story. "The editor has to keep the creative team moving forward together to serve the greater good of the story," he explained. "Oddly enough, even writers sometime lose the story. Creators (myself included) sometimes have a tendency to get their energies drawn into dead ends that may look nice or serve some peripheral plot point or character bit but will derail the narrative drive of the story. The art must be exciting, the dialog must be snappy, the plot must be compelling, but you have to make sure you never lose what the story is really about. The editor is the part of the creative team who comes closest to being a dispassionate observer--the editor is the audience surrogate and has to try to keep that blank-slate perspective to keep the creators moving in the right direction to serve the story and, ultimately, the audience.
"On creator-owned titles, it's a different ballgame," Warner continued. "The creators are exploring their own vision, and should be encouraged to do so. In this case, an editor is more of a publishing project manager, but you still make observations and then let the creator use or lose them as they see fit."
With the primacy of story in mind, it is perhaps not surprising that Chris Warner begins the editing process by "knocking around the plot with the writer to make sure that everything's covered--making sure that all the potential reader 'Why?' questions have the right answers." Warner said his next step is to edit the script with an eye toward the storytelling visuals, making sure the writer is telling the story through the pictures and correcting any visual problems before the artist starts to pound away at the script before moving on to the artist's layouts.
"These stages are really about the only time you can substantively edit anything," he added. "After that, you can make some corrections, but the train has already left the station. The more problems you can solve early in the process, the less problems you'll have in the finished book."
In a list that includes licensed comics, manga, art books and more, Warner enjoys the eclectic array of his editing workload. "I have no real preference of genre or style," he said. "I want good stories with complex, believable characters, snappy dialog, and some kind of thematic subtext that transcends the typical genre trappings. I tend to prefer a more naturalistic approach to dialog, and I don't care for overly texted comics. What's the point of all these beautiful pictures if you're just going to cover them up with word balloons and captions? Go write a novel!
"In terms of art preference, I look for a style that's appropriate for the material, with good drawing skills and excellent visual storytelling," he continued. "I prefer very tight pencilers, but that's not necessarily a deal breaker."
Warner also noted that he keeps an eye out for aspiring artists through digital outlets like MySpace and DeviantArt, as well as reviewing portfolios in person. "Over the years, I've reviewed literally thousands of portfolios at conventions and other events and I maintain contact with a lot of promising artists, even though there's a good chance we'll never work together," the editor said. "I'm an artist, and I enjoy looking at art, so that's one of the great rewards of the business."