CBR News continues our FROM THE EDITORS DESK series of interviews with the Dark Horse editorial team. Last week we spoke with Scott Allie, the man behind the curtain on such series as "Umbrella Academy" and "Hellboy." We now bring you an in-depth discussion with Tim Ervin, another longtime Dark Horse editor, but one with quite a different set of skills and experiences.
In his ten years at Dark Horse, Ervin has edited some of the publisher's biggest manga series, including "Lone Wolf and Cub" from beginning (as assistant editor) to end, "Samurai Executioner," "Path of the Assassin," "Trigun," "Hellsing," "Gunsmith Cats," "3x3 Eyes," and "Appleseed." More recently, Ervin has also worked on collections of webcomics such as "Megatokyo," "Nothing Nice to Say," and "Basic Instructions."
Of editing webcomics for print, Ervin told CBR News, "I like that I can't really tell what works will really take hold and find their audience. Trying to bring a webcomic to print and get it to readers can be a special challenge. I think working on a book like 'Nothing Nice To Say' will open us up to new audiences and venues."
Ervin is greatly enjoying working on "Gantz," the surreal and violent manga series by Hiroyu Oka that mixes computer-generated images and traditional line art. Dark Horse has published three volumes of "Gantz" to date, with volume four due in February. "The wait [for American audiences] has been long on this title, and we're glad to finally be able to publish this absolute frenzy of a manga series," the editor said. "It's quite different from past manga in its approach to the art, the strange alien creatures and flat out brazen take on teenage horniness and violence."
Perhaps unexpectedly, comics were not a big part of Tim Ervin's life before he began working in the industry. "My secret power is that I was never really into comics before Dark Horse," he said. "Sure, I'd pick up 'Mad Magazine' and 'Cracked' and the occasional 'Richie Rich' off the rack at the grocery store when I was a kid. I tried to get into comics, but the first time I went to a comics store I got the 'you don't belong' stare-down and ran out with a dog-eared copy of a horror comic, like 'Creepy' or 'Weird.' I kept that thing for a long time. I might still have it in a box somewhere. But that was my extent of my comics exploration before Dark Horse."
How then did Ervin come to join the Dark Horse crew? "I was working at the Kinko's in northwest Portland, trying to get into Will Vinton Studios (who've since been bought out by Phil Knight and renamed something else). One day I was leafing through the want ads and found the perfect job for my now ex-wife," Ervin said, referring to current Dark Horse editor Shawna Gore. "She got it and I met her co-workers at parties. Eventually I got a job in production working on the nasty film processing machines. Before this digital era, we worked in a purely analog environment--everything was big, eight-up sheets of film. Eventually I argued my way into editorial and clamped down like a pitbull. They haven't been able to get rid of me since then."
Tim Ervin's approach to editing comics focuses on the creators, which in turn leads to better creations. "Judging from what I see with the other 'real' editors around here, keeping up relationships and helping a potential writer or artist (or both) develop over time is a big key. A lot of artists really need realism and support, which takes a lot of patience and tact to provide," he said. "It seems like an artist can work for so long before he or she 'gets it' and the balance and juju flow into their work."
Describing what makes a comic work is tough, even for an editor. "Usually it's what you don't see, what doesn't draw your attention that proves a work's quality," Ervin said. "To be drawn into a scene, I need to not think about what's going on. It needs to be natural."
Ervin believes it's important for artists to get reliable feedback. "When a budding artist only asks his or her mom if it's good, they'll get a skewed perspective," he said. "Ask a mean old man. Like me. I'll tell you it sucks before you open your portfolio. Just kidding. Kinda."
Because Ervin is often working with pre-existing material such as manga rather than original scripts and art, his process is somewhat different from that of his colleagues. "I've spent so much time editing manga that I refer to myself more as a project manager than an editor. I do have to put on an editing hat every once in a while, but mostly I'm emailing translators and letterers and begging them to get something done in an impossibly short amount of time," Ervin explained. "But my process is something like this: provide opinions on or research acquisition of new titles, guide project through administrative processes (licensing, contracting, etc.), choose freelancers for manga projects and guide them through the process, quality checking each part of the process, working with production to get the book squared away, trying to get marketing to give me special attention, stuff like that.
"Sounds kinda boring, eh?"
Though Tim Ervin is not involved with Dark Horse's talent recruitment programs like the Stumptown Festival portfolio reviews or finding new artists for "MySpace Dark Horse Presents," he does have his own highly refined method of discovering material he'd like to publish: "I use 'stumbleupon.' Seriously. That's how 'Nothing Nice To Say' came to be. And 'Basic Instructions.' 'Megatokyo,' well, I did stumble upon that one as well, but it was an analog stumbling, literally running into someone in the hallway of a convention as my attention veered toward a long line of people waiting to talk to a pasty dude at a table. I also used to go to conventions and do panels where I'd just ask people to tell me what they wanted so I could go out and look for it. That's the way I do it. I don't pretend to know anything, instead I ask others what they think. Although sometimes I'll just see something I like and just go for it."
With 2009 just beginning, Ervin told CBR that "my head's in 2010 right now" as he focuses on future projects that can't be discussed. "I think 2010's going to be an explosive year," he said. "There's something about the doubt and stress people are feeling worldwide right now that will turn into fantastic creative works over the next few years. I'm keeping my ear to the rail these days."