Not long after this column debuted in May, I received e-mail from three different readers asking if I had any advice on how to break into the industry as an editor. Not long after those correspondences, a couple of other readers contacted me to ask if I knew how to get an internship at a comic book publisher. Sorry it took so long, but I finally have some answers for you guys!
Ian Shaughnessy is a nineteen-year-old student living in Dallas, Texas who this past summer interned at Oni Press for two months.
Michael O'Connor is a junior at NYU's Gallatin School majoring in writing who did an internship at Marvel Comics this summer.
Matt Dryer graduated with a BFA from Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, Michigan and worked as an intern at Dark Horse in the summer between his junior and senior years and is now an associate editor on such books as "Hellboy," "Astro Boy," "Conan" and co-editor of "The Goon."
I invited these three former interns for a round table chat to get some answers for you wannabe comic book editors out there, as well as students considering an internship next summer or next semester at a publishing house, or even aspiring writers looking for an education in comic book production if not a different kind of "in" with a company.
TORRES: So, why did you all choose to intern for a comic book company?
SHAUGHNESSY: I am a "comic nerd" and have always wanted to work in comics in some form. Jamie Rich at Oni asked me if I would like to try editing and I said sure.
O'CONNOR: I've always been a big fan of comics and I'm also a writer. So far, I've had some reviews and a few columns published in newspapers and I've always been interested in writing fiction especially in comic book format.
DRYER: I've never wanted to do anything else. I've always wanted to work in comics in some capacity. I applied for internships with every company I could think of.
TORRES: What other places did you apply, Matt? Did you get offers from any of them?
DRYER: I applied at Marvel, Chaos, Wizard, Image, Top Cow, and a few other places outside of comics like ILM, Dreamworks, Disney and Warner Brothers. I got rejected by ILM. Top Cow and Image both said they didn't have any room for interns at the time. Wizard offered me a spot but I had already taken the one with Dark Horse by then.
TORRES: So, who wants to explain to the readers what "interning" is? What an "intern" does?
O'CONNOR: I guess I could take a stab.
SHAUGHNESSY: I could too.
TORRES: Have at it! Both of you! All of you!
DRYER: As an intern you gain on-the-job experience by working with a company, typically unpaid but often for school credit. You're harnessed with jobs like proofreading, sorting and any number of small tasks.
O'CONNOR: I think most of the time an intern is someone who does the sludge work. All the stuff that nobody that's actually getting a salary wants to do - this includes making copies and running around.
DRYER: You have a number of freedoms as an intern as you're not as responsible for the finished product. There's always someone overseeing you. You're often the gofer. Go fer coffee. Go fer copies. Etc.
SHAUGHNESSY: Well, as an intern at a small press company I mainly organized their messy office. It's a small little two-room office that is just full of comics. When I got there it was a huge mess, so we cleaned that up. Then since they only have two editors I helped a lot with their jobs. Proofreading, organizing press releases, solicitation text for Diamond, photocopying, etc.
TORRES: What was the worst thing you had to do?
SHAUGHNESSY: Um, the worst thing I had to do was clean up old food that Jamie spilled out of the trashcan. I actually liked doing everything else, I think.
TORRES: Ha! Matt? Michael? The worst thing you had to do for an editor?
O'CONNOR: The worst thing I had to do was probably scan in about four issues of the old "Tales to Astonish" with the Hulk. Each scan of each page took forever and I was always afraid I was going to harm the comic.
TORRES: What did you have to do that for? Reference for an artist?
O'CONNOR: Actually for the trades department. They needed scans for what I assume will be an upcoming trade paperback. I also did do a lot of scanning for reference, though.
DRYER: The worst thing for me had to be the organization of "Star Wars Episode II" reference. They had just finished the adaptation and all the reference was scattered about one of the editor's offices. There were literally thousands of pages of character photos, ships, costumes and settings. All out of order.
O'CONNOR: I would have killed to do that. I love "Star Wars."
DRYER: They asked me to organize it into categories and make a file. It took up a whole filing cabinet. It was fun but it sure got tedious.
TORRES: How long did it take you do complete that task?
DRYER: Took me most of that week. Eight hours a day.
TORRES: "Tedious" is a word I hear a lot from interns. "Un-glamorous," too. Would you agree?
O'CONNOR: Yes and no.
SHAUGHNESSY: Kind of, yeah.
TORRES: But you're seeing behind the curtain. A lot of people would die for that. Like Michael said. Even just seeing comics before everyone else and that kind of thing is cool, no?
O'CONNOR: I think that the work itself is the same kind of thing you'd do anywhere, but what's different is that you're working with material that is actually cool to handle. It's not like you're filing tax returns like I had to do in a previous job. You're filing "Star Wars" reference material! In Matt's case, at least.
DRYER: Agreed. It wasn't all un-glamorous either. They listed me as an assistant editor in eight books before my internship was up. I also actually got to write two letters columns!
SHAUGHNESSY: Yeah, I got a couple of credits in books as well. It can get pretty boring at times, but the perks are outstanding.
TORRES: Okay, let's talk about the perks. The best thing about being an intern is the free stuff, right?
DRYER: Perks. If you're there long enough and they trust you enough, you can sometimes talk to some of the creators. I was asked to call Joe Casey once. My head nearly exploded. It was the coolest thing ever!
O'CONNOR: The free stuff was cool, but I liked having my opinion respected. That was the best thing for me. Axel Alonso listened to what I had to say and sometimes made changes based on those things. And I got dubbed "the best damn proofreader Marvel's ever had."
TORRES: Alonso listened to you? So you're the one who got the Princess Diana story pulled!
O'CONNOR: Ha-ha-ha... no, that wasn't me.
SHAUGHNESSY: For me it was meeting all the creators that I admire. Jen Van Meter and Greg Rucka were really good to me while I was up there. I roomed with Matthew Clark, got to do lunch a couple of times with Matt Wagner and the Top Shelf guys. And San Diego was really cool, too.
TORRES: I was wondering when the real namedropping would begin.
SHAUGHNESSY: And the other huge perk was working on so many books that I love.
TORRES: Did you go into this with any preconceived notions about what it would be like? What an editor's job was?
O'CONNOR: Some. And I mean, it was pretty much what I expected in that respect.
SHAUGHNESSY: There is a lot more to editing than I thought there was. It's so much more than just proofreading and getting the book out on time. They have to be in constant contact with their creators. They have to find talent, they have to make sure advertisements for the books are designed, they have to make sure the press gets a notion of the books they publish, they have to write up solicitations for their books for the Diamond catalogues months and months in advance…
TORRES: That's why they're too busy to pick up their own trash, huh, Ian?
SHAUGHNESSY: Yes. I won't even talk about James Lucas Jones' desk. But, they really do put their all into the books they edit. It isn't just proofreading and getting the book in the hands of the public.
O'CONNOR: Both my parents are journalists, and I've been around editors a lot, so I had a pretty good notion of getting the books together by bringing about a cohesion of writer and artist, and waiting for the material. And dealing with all the red tape of a large company like Marvel, especially when someone high up doesn't like a story idea, like the Diana one you mentioned. Also fighting for that story while at the same time having to juggle all your other books.
DRYER: I had no idea what to expect. I was amazed at how much time and effort when into everything and at how many books one person would be editing at a time.
TORRES: So, did you all go into this thinking it would lead to work as in Matt's case?
SHAUGHNESSY: There was always that possibility in the back of my mind, but at the same time I knew that any work I got after the internship probably wouldn't be in editing.
O'CONNOR: Hoping, yes.
TORRES: What kind of work were you hoping for, Michael?
O'CONNOR: I don't actually want to be an editor, but I want to be a writer, and I want to write for comics at some point. Having the connections I now have makes it at least a little bit easier to get my things read and then have some feedback and who knows? Maybe one day I'll get lucky...
SHAUGHNESSY: Yeah, I wanted to be a writer originally. That's kind of what got me the internship in the first place.
DRYER: The hope was there. I wasn't expectant though. I knew what the odds were and set myself up for an in and out type of deal. I just wanted to walk away with a few good connections and some great experience.
TORRES: What do you think you've taken away from the whole experience? It's obvious that it was very positive for all of you.
O'CONNOR: A definite understanding of how a comic book is put together and from a writer's perspective, what it's like to craft a story in such a visual medium. Also that Marvel is a business and there's going to be the usual hierarchy there is everywhere else. And that there are menial tasks to be done in the office that can burn out even the most devoted of comic book fans looking to get in.
SHAUGHNESSY: Great friends and contacts in the industry. I still talk to the Oni guys just about every day, and keep in contact with a lot of Oni's creators, too. I know that if I ever give them something of mine that I have written, they'll look it over and give me advice.
DRYER: The job is the most obvious answer to that, but overall I took away a new way of looking at things. There's a certain aesthetic to the production of a comic book. I never considered things like balloon placements and the pagination of story pages and how they're broken up by ad spaces. Stuff like that. I learned to step back and look at the big picture. Not just the writing or the art but the whole thing.
TORRES: Is interning a "must" for any aspiring editors out there? What about if you just want to write?
DRYER: Interning is certainly a great step in the right direction.
O'CONNOR: For aspiring comic book editors, yes. Unless you want to try and come in a different way, as a journalist perhaps, but it's the best way, I'd say. As for the creative side, I wouldn't say it was necessary, but it's very hard as a writer to get noticed. Unlike an artist, who can just show his stuff off and the editor can immediately say what he does and doesn't like, a writer needs to have a connection, otherwise his stuff will just end up in the trashcan or in a pile of other scripts waiting to be read.
TORRES: So, that's what's really going on with my "Alpha Flight" pitch… What about you, Ian? To intern or not to intern?
SHAUGHNESSY: I'm not sure. Like I said, I had always wanted to be a writer but was given the opportunity to at least "see" the editing process. But I honestly couldn't think of a better way for someone who wants to edit comic books to get to that position than to try to get an internship.
DRYER: I agree. I know I'm the only one in our office who started that way but I can't figure for the life of me how you would do it cold.
TORRES: Okay, let's put you in your editors' positions for a second. Think back to when they were talking to you about interning for them. What did they expect of you? If you were hiring an intern, what would you be looking for?
O'CONNOR: Someone who is there because they have a genuine interest - not only as a fan, but also as someone who wants to be an editor or a writer or illustrator for a living. I know that a lot of the other interns were there on a lark, or they were such die-hard geeks that they couldn't see the forest for the trees. Even though editors are comic geeks, too, they don't want someone who's just there to get the free stuff and read comics five months before they hit the racks. They need someone who knows something about writing, story construction, and proofreading, and who's willing to work hard and not laze about reading comics all day when they're supposed to be doing something else.
TORRES: So, how did you apply for your positions? What's your advice to others who might want to attempt the same?
SHAUGHNESSY: I didn't apply, so I don't know. I was offered the position.
TORRES: Okay, so apart from, you know, hanging out on message boards and sucking up to the right people, what can someone do?
O'CONNOR: I just sent in my resume and then waited three months. Thought they didn't want me so I started to look elsewhere, and then I got a phone call to come and interview.
DRYER: I made a list of all the places I could possibly want to work and I sent letters and resumes to all of them hoping to get one or two bites.
O'CONNOR: It was part luck but it was also because I'd had a lot of experience with other jobs. It also helps to attend a school near the company.
DRYER: Luck played a big part for me too. I knew a few people who helped me out a great deal.
SHAUGHNESSY: Luck plays a huge part in it.
TORRES: Okay, so let me close with a few "fun" questions...
SHAUGHNESSY: I like fun!
DRYER: Me too, on with the fun!
TORRES: The coolest person you met while interning was...
O'CONNOR: Axel Alonso. Runner up is Mike Marts.
DRYER: Scott Allie. Hands down.
SHAUGHNESSY: Matt Wagner. I felt like the guy from "South Park" who throws up every time the girl he likes talks to him. He's the reason I love comics.
TORRES: The one company book that I would like to edit is...
O'CONNOR: "Amazing Spiderman." Spidey's my favorite Marvel character. Though I'd rather be writing it.
DRYER: I'm currently co-editing "The Goon" with Scott. It is by far, my favorite book Dark Horse is publishing. The first time I read something by Eric Powell, a Hellboy short story in "Weird Tales" #2, I laughed until I cried…
SHAUGHNESSY: I'd love to be able to work on a new book Oni is publishing called "Once In A Blue Moon." It's a fantasy book about a young girl who becomes a heroine in a book that her parents used to read to her when she was little.
TORRES: The best comic you're reading right now not published by your company...
O'CONNOR: Oh, man. I hate to say it, but there's a lot... "Star Wars: Republic," "Gotham Central," "Batman," "Catwoman"...
SHAUGHNESSY: "Usagi Yojimbo."
DRYER: The Geoff Johns/Olivier Coipel "Avengers" is the best thing I'm reading right now. It's just a beautiful book.
TORRES: And lastly, in five years, I would like to be...
SHAUGHNESSY: A comic book writer. I really have no interest in writing for the big companies, just doing my own thing in the world of small press. That isn't to say I wouldn't work for a big company, but it isn't my priority.
O'CONNOR: A comic book writer doing my creator-owned, ongoing series that makes me filthy rich and famous.
DRYER: A full editor. I'd like to try something small in the realm of self-publishing as well.
TORRES: Good luck to all of you then, and thanks for taking the time to chat with me and share your experiences.
Next week: Writing for comics with Gail Simone ("Birds of Prey", "Deadpool"), Robert Kirkman ("Invincible", "Tech Jacket"), Brandon Jerwa ("G.I. Joe"), and Ande Parks ("Union Station").
Meanwhile, on the Open Your Mouth forum: Drawing for comics and a little something we're calling "Art Assignment: Argobots."
Thank you for your attention.