Welcome back to FROM THE EDITOR'S DESK, CBR's series of in-depth interviews with the Dark Horse editorial team, and our second installment of a two-part interview with Executive Editor Diana Schutz. Part one looked back on Schutz's career at Dark Horse, her thoughts on book-length and "perennial" comics, and her interest in comics history. Now, the editor discusses with CBR News her own approach to the editorial process, and what readers can expect from her desk in 2009.
Schutz told CBR the creators involved often determine an editor's approach to the a particular project, and her long tenure in theÂ industry has provided her with an array of experiences. "I generally prefer to work with cartoonists-- writer-artists, that is. Making comics boils down to writing with pictures, so cartoonists tend to be more fluent in the language of comics," said Schutz. "Dividing cartooning into the individual tasks of writing and drawing was a time-saving move brought about in the 1940s by the commercial constraints of publishing monthly comics, but that separation of tasks is entirely arbitrary!
"That said, there are always exceptions to the rule: working with Michael Chabon, Brian K. Vaughan, Neil Gaiman, Glen David Gold -- well, that's been a joy!"
Schutz continued, "Some cartoonists--like Stan Sakai, Frank Miller, or Gilbert Hernandez--deliver their stories completed. Paul Chadwick, on the other hand, prefers to work in more traditional fashion: he sends preliminary thumbnails on 'Concrete,' with the captions and dialogue roughed in, then waits for feedback before continuing the process. Because I tend to work mostly on books/characters that are owned and produced by their creators, I don't 'control' my books in the way that editors at Marvel or DC direct the characters and stories for what are, after all, company-owned properties.
"Generally, I've always felt that my job is to help the creator realize his or her vision to the utmost degree: that means working with both the creator and the other departments at Dark Horse--in terms of design, production, printing, marketing--to create the most favorable publishing environment possible for the work. That means not only managing the project but also overseeing quality at each and every stage of production, at the creator's end and at the publishing end. So, no matter whether it's script or pages of art coming from the cartoonist, or whether it's a design for a title page coming from our production department, my job is to make sure it's as good as it can possibly be. **And** on deadline!"
Because of Dark Horse's high production values and visionary creators, a lot of effort goes into making sure the comics come out just right. "I probably worked harder on '300' than on any other book I've edited, both in its original incarnation as a five-issue comics series and in its ultimate format as a 'widescreen' hardcover graphic novel, which is how Frank had envisioned the work all along," Schutz said. "Reproducing painted color is an exacting process, and ten years ago, when the series was first published, the technology wasn't as precise as it is now, so I remember working weekends with the outside color separation house, forcing up to **seventeen** rounds on some pages, just to make sure that Lynn Varley's outstanding color work on the book translated as closely as possible to her original painting."
Editors, then, must be on the lookout for any number of potential problems throughout the comics creation process. "Anything that can go wrong probably will, at one time or another, so troubleshooting is a big part of the job," Schutz said. "As an editor, you're overseeing the particular project from start to finish--from story idea all the way to that printed comic book on the racks--multiplied by every issue of every series in your slate of titles, including the trade or hardcover collections, plus any original graphic novels under your purview, and all reprints of virtually anything you've ever edited through the years. Add to that planning for the future--scoping out new creators, new projects, and new formats, constantly reading new proposals--as well as being actively involved in the scheduling and promotion of your books (doing interviews such as this, for example!), and ultimately the job starts to look an awful lot like a pretty intense juggling act. With curve balls getting thrown at you on a regular basis!
"Luckily, these days I have excellent help in the form of my associate editor Dave Marshall and my new assistant, and former student, Brendan Wright.
"Most people seem to think that editing exclusively involves working with writers and artists on stories, but there's a lot more going on. In fact, it's that whole aspect of multitasking that really appeals to me about the work. It's never boring!"
With all that can go wrong in producing a comic book, it may be fair to ask what can go right--what factor or factors ultimately lead to a good comic? "I guess for me it boils down to **story**--by which I don't just mean the plot. A good story also requires strong characterization, believable obstacles for the characters to surmount, and surprises along the way," Schutz said. "All of which is to say that a great deal depends on **execution** or the style in which the story is realized. And, of course, because comics is primarily a visual medium--or, at least, that's what we notice first--the artwork should be compelling and original. But, really, it's all about words and pictures working together narratively: sequentially, silently, and quite still."
This year will see the latest of Dark Horse's black-and-white themed anthologies, which Schutz began editing in 2002 and for which she professes "a particular fondness." Previous editions have included "Happy Endings," "AutobioGraphix," and "Sexy Chix." "The most recent one, 'Noir,' is finally on the schedule for September of this year, even though I've been working on it since 2006," Schutz revealed. "It's an anthology of crime fiction, and I've been very lucky to have writers like Brian Azzarello and Ed Brubaker request dispensation from their exclusives with DC and Marvel, respectively, to write stories for the book. Other contributors to 'Noir' include David Lapham, Paul Grist, and my Brazilian twins FÃ¡bio Moon and Gabriel BÃ¡, as well as Rick Geary, novelist Chris Offutt, and Dean Motter, who delivered his 'Mister X' story for the book over two years ago!
"I was also really fortunate to have Jeff Lemire write and draw a story--I was utterly blown away by his 'Essex County' trilogy, published last year by Top Shelf, so it was a thrill to get Jeff on board this project. Anthologies allow me to work with people who ordinarily might not be available for one reason or another, and juggling that many creators is always a fun challenge."
Another creator featured in "Noir" is M.K. Perker, and Schutz noted that she was nearly responsible for bringing the artist to prominence prior to Vertigo's publication of "Cairo" and "Air." "Well, I 'discovered' M.K. Perker in 2004, by which I mean he showed me his art at the MoCCA Fest that year, and I commissioned some work from him not long afterwards, but none of it has seen print yet, for reasons too long to go into here," the editor explained. "In the meantime, DC published 'Cairo' in 2007, and 'Air' debuted last year. But in addition to a story that M.K. has done for the 'Noir' anthology, we're also publishing his 'Insomnia Cafe' this fall -- a crazy, absurdist graphic novel that he has both written and illustrated, in his own more idiosyncratic, more stylized fashion. M.K. is a really talented cartoonist and storyteller, and 'Insomnia Cafe' is dark and funny and exquisitely drawn."
Other projects coming up in 2009 include several new projects and re-presentations of popular out-of-print books. "I'm editing three brand-new graphic novels, all of which will be published in hardcover in the fall," Schutz said. "Larry Marder is working on an original Beanworld graphic novel, 'Remember Here When You Are There,' a new book-length color story that follows on the first two collections of his previous black-and-white 'Beanworld' comics. Larry has been a good friend of mine since the '80s -- we met in 1984 -- and I've been a fan of 'Beanworld' since before it became an actual comic book, back when it was produced in Xeroxed copies for Larry's mailing list, so I'm glad he's back making comics again after having run other people's companies for so long, and it's wonderful to work with a friend on such a delightful title.
"Matt Kindt, whose 'Super Spy' was named Indie Book of the Year 2008 by Wizard, is currently finishing up '3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man,' a heart-wrenching tale, told from three different perspectives, of a guy who, literally, doesn't fit in the world.
"This year also marks the 25th anniversary of 'Usagi Yojimbo, 'and probably the coolest of all the various anniversary events Stan and I have planned is 'Yokai,' a hardcover original graphic novel, fully painted by Stan! Yokai are the monsters, demons, and spirits of Japanese folklore, so they are perfect subjects for a Usagi story in which every page is a color painting.
"In 2009 we'll also see a couple long out-of-print projects by Dave McKean brought back for the fans: Dark Horse will be publishing 'Cages' and 'Pictures That Tick,' both in softcover for the first time. And last but far from least, this fall we'll be collecting Matt Wagner's 'Grendel: Behold the Devil,' the latest in the Grendel hardcover library, as a prelude to more new projects in 2010. Always thinking ahead!"