FROM THE EDITOR'S DESK: Diana Schutz, Part I

Welcome back to FROM THE EDITOR'S DESK, CBR's series of in-depth interviews with the Dark Horse editorial team. This week, we chat with Executive Editor Diana Schutz, who has worked for the publisher since 1990. With nearly twenty years at Dark Horse, Schutz has accumulated considerable insight into the comics editing process, and part one of this feature will focus on some of her career highlights, along with a look at Dark Horse's creator-centered structure and a hint of some new series coming up in 2009.

An avid comics reader since youth, Diana Schutz's early reading habits included the entire Superman family, including "Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane" "Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen," and any comic book featuring the various Superpets that populated DC Comics in the 1960s. "And 'Supergirl,' of course, was my favorite," Schutz told CBR.

"I grew up in Montreal and my elementary education was in French, so I also became an avid 'Tintin' reader. For a brief period of a few years in high school--when I became more interested in boys and parties--I stopped reading comics, but got back into them in college. I saw a 'Howard the Duck' comic in a spin rack--that was like no comic book duck I'd ever seen before!--and that was it. I've never looked back."

Asked what brought her to Dark Horse originally, Schutz was quick to credit publisher Mike Richardson, who brought her into the fold. "Mike's also the reason that, nineteen years later, I'm still here," she said. "In March 1990, Mike moved my then-husband (and still best friend) Bob Schreck and me to Portland, Oregon, to work for Dark Horse. Before getting hired at Marvel as an assistant editor in 1985, I had worked in comics retail and had also written fairly extensively for the fan press--this was back in the late '70s, early '80s, so pre-Internet. After a very short-lived stint at Marvel, I spent four years as Editor in Chief at Comico, one of the small independent publishers that came into being in the 1980s along with the direct market; that was where I first met Matt Wagner and edited' Grendel' and 'Mage'--and 'Jonny Quest' and Bill Willingham's 'Elementals,' among others.

"Back in 1990, Dark Horse consisted of ten people working together in one big room; I think Bob and I were the first employees who not only were moved to Portland specifically to work for the company, but who already had established careers in comics publishing. At the time, we also had job offers with DC Comics; Bob, of course, eventually ended up there, after nine years in Portland."

Diana Schutz has edited some of Dark Horse's biggest series, with highlights including "300," "Concrete," "Sin City," "Grendel," "Usagi Yojimbo." 2009 will see her editing a re-release of "The Amazon" by Steven T. Seagle and Tim Sale, which she also worked on during the series' original incarnation at Comico twenty years ago. Among her current serial comics projects, Schutz is looking forward to the six-issue "Citizen Rex" series by Gilbert and Mario Hernandez, which she described as taking place in a wild and scary future with robots and gangsters and intrigue and, "of course, beautiful women!"

"Way back in 1982, [Fantagraphics Publisher] Gary Groth handed me the first issue of 'Love and Rockets,' and it's still my favorite comic today," Schutz said, referring to Los Bros. Hernandez's most famous project. "I met the Bros. in 1983 or 1984, and I've been waiting all this time to be able to work with them, so ['Citizen Rex' is] a real treat for me!"

On the whole, though, Schutz has found herself working on book-length rather than serialized monthly comics, a trend she described as "a reflection both of the way the market is moving--from periodical to perennial publication--and of my own personal tastes. I love the fact that Dark Horse has an eclectic list! My own tastes are pretty eclectic, too, so Dark Horse is one of the very few comics publishing houses where editors can work on a variety of projects. As I get older, I find I'm more inclined to read more personal, more thought-provoking, more intimate stories--so Farel Dalrymple's 'Pop Gun War,' Paul Hornschemeier's 'Mother, Come Home,' Moon and Bá's 'De:Tales,' the upcoming 'Adventures of Blanche' hardcover by Rick Geary -- those kinds of stories are more meaningful to me personally.

"On the other hand, probably the most fun I've ever had on the job was editing the comics based on Michael Chabon's Escapist character, originally created for his Pulitzer-winning novel 'The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay'. The novel was a love letter to the comics medium, and we tried to keep that same spirit throughout the comics."

Dark Horse's first Escapist series was an anthology of short stories that may have appeared throughout the fictional comic's long and storied history, as established in Chabon's novel. Another miniseries, "The Escapists," written by Brian K. Vaughan, followed three modern-day comics creators as they sought to publish a new Escapist series. The hardcover collection of "The Escapists" is currently out-of-print, but Schutz announced a new softcover edition will be available later this year.

"In both the 'Escapist' anthology and Brian's 'Escapists' series, we got to play around with the entire history of comics," Schutz explained. "Taking off from the premise of Michael's novel, that the Escapist character had been created in the '40s, we emulated different styles from different periods in comics' history, created faux comics covers, and wrote 'historical' treatises that were a mixture of fact and fiction to go with them. It was a blast!"

One major project Schutz is working on now is what she has been calling "Big Martha," or, more formally, "The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-First Century," a slipcased 600-page hardcover collection of Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons's various Martha Washington stories, along with commentary by Gibbons, an introduction by Miller, and other extras. The book will be released July 4 because, Schutz said, "Ain't no one more American than Martha Washington."

It is no coincidence that Diana Schutz has been involved in all of Frank Miller's major projects with Dark Horse. company. "[The company] is structured in such a way that rather than editors necessarily being assigned a specific roster of titles, we often tend to work, instead, with specific creators," Schutz explained. "So, for example, Paul Chadwick is currently drawing an original graphic novel entitled 'Best Wishes,' written by Mike Richardson--and even though it's not a Concrete story, it's on my slate of books to edit because I'm Paul's editor. Similarly, I'm editing the upcoming 'Spirit Storyboards,' which showcases every single one of Frank's almost-700 storyboards drawn in the course of production of 'The Spirit' film. I seldom work on Hollywood-licensed properties, but because I'm Frank's Dark Horse editor and this is all about his actual artwork, the project falls to me.

"I was also very fortunate, in the mid-'90s, to work with Barry Windsor-Smith on 'Storyteller.' I'd never met Barry until I became his editor, but I've been a fan of his since his run on 'Conan,' in the '70s, so it was a dream to finally work with him."

Working with Miller, Chadwick, and Matt Wagner, just to name a few, Schutz has contributed to her share of classics. "I've been at Dark Horse since 1990, and I've been working in the industry for over thirty years--as a comics editor since 1985--so there are far too many highlights to choose from," the editor said. "One of the most challenging--and rewarding--projects has been the line of 'Art of' books. I came up with the idea for 'The Art of Sin City,' which we published in 2002, and that kicked off similar projects, like 'The Art of Hellboy' (edited by Scott Allie), 'The Art of Usagi Yojimbo,' 'The Art of Grendel,' and so on. Then, when Jeff Smith called me a few years ago and wanted Dark Horse to publish 'The Art of Bone,' with me as editor, that was immensely gratifying: I mean, Jeff has his own publishing company, after all, so it was pretty cool that he would want us to publish his art book. Well, I'm a huge fan of 'Bone' and a huge fan of Jeff Smith generally, so that was a no-brainer--though an awful lot of work, as are all the art books, but the end result was really rewarding.

"Similarly, the hardcover 'Will Eisner Sketchbook' was a highlight--working with Will was always a highlight--and he just adored the book! That was an early example of the high-end type of archival publications that the market has now come to readily accept, but it was perhaps ahead of its time in that regard.

"The next art book on my plate, by the way, is 'The Oddly Compelling Art of Denis Kitchen,' which is hugely exciting. Denis is primarily known, I think, as the publisher of Kitchen Sink Press, but people forget that he's an amazing cartoonist, one of the major figures of the underground comics movement--well, I haven't forgotten, and 'Oddly' will collect most of Denis's comics art, including some really obscure pieces that you'd just never be able to find nowadays."

In addition to her prodigious work at Dark Horse, Diana Schutz also finds the time to enrich the industry with her teaching. "Because I'm such a comics history buff, I actually teach courses in comics art history and criticism at Portland Community College and Portland State University," she said.

Besides her own work, Schutz is enormously fond of Dark Horse's archival reprints, which include "Herbie," "Little Lulu," and, she said, "Those big thick paperbacks chock full of '60s Harvey comics like 'Richie Rich,' 'Casper the Friendly Ghost,' 'Baby Huey' - I'm crazy about all that stuff!"

Check back with CBR News tomorrow for Part Two of CBR's FROM THE EDITOR'S DESK interview with Diana Schutz, when she will discuss what it's like to edit Frank Miller, Stan Sakai, and more.


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