Talking Comics with Tim: Popgun Editors Smith & Kirkbride

Popgun Volume 3 (Image)--the latest installment in an anthology series often referred to as a graphic mixtape--is set to be released this Wednesday, April 8. This edition features another great bevy of talent and was co-edited by Mark Andrew Smith and D.J. Kirkbride. Editorially, this particular volume is a transition of sorts, as Smith will be moving on and Kirkbride will be stepping to the forefront editing Popgun Volume 4. We talked about working on this latest installment, the editorial process in general and a variety of other topics.

Tim O'Shea: How did the Tara McPherson cover come about?

D.J. Kirkbride: Mark and (Popgun co-creator) Joe Keatinge rocked that. So glad they did. Beautiful cover.

O'Shea: How did the two of you divvy up editorial responsibilities on Volume 3?

Kirkbride: Mark has this tower with a giant $ on the front of it. Inside is a sea of gold coins. He swims in them as if they make up a body of water, only coming for air to check his email and make Popgun demands and order Chinese takeout. Wait -- what? You know, it's been a pretty natural flow, with the divvying. He's been at this longer than me, so I come to him for advice while trying to keep everyone rocking and rolling in an organized fashion. The book got done, so, uh, I guess it worked out.

Mark Andrew Smith: I think we’ve got a really good support team of editors and assistants and production editors that help out with everything and make sure that things get done. D.J. is taking over with volume 4, so here I was making sure that his Jedi training was complete. He’s graduated into a Master Editor, and the future of POPGUN is in good hands.

O'Shea: What are the biggest challenges to editing a book like this with myriad creators?

Kirkbride: Keeping good communication lines open. With so many creators and stories over a pretty long period of time between books, it's easy for things to get a little harried or confusing some times. I'm convinced there's a secret formula somewhere, and we will find it!

Smith: With such a massive book mostly keeping track of everything. I was doing it before in my head, but D.J. has discovered something called a "spreadsheet" that’s some miracle device. So I’m more the loose cannon, and D.J. is more of the straight and serious guy in this buddy cop movie.

O'Shea: How many different genres are featured in this volume of Popgun?

Kirkbride: Hooo boy... I think almost everything gets a shot. Fantasy/sci fi, certainly, plus some action, comedy, drama, horror -- you name a genre, odds are it's somehow in the book.

Smith: Yep -- EVERYTHING.

O'Shea: In terms of developing this volume, as compared to past volumes--are there certain successes or elements that you learned from the past volumes that you two have implemented or capitalized upon?

Kirkbride: We seem to keep taking more chances. Not that volume 1 was timid, but it seems like we allow the envelop to be pushed a bit more and more with each volume. There are a couple stories in volume 3 that are really edgy, at least to me (I'm from the Midwest, though), but we're really expanding our horizons and trying to truly have something for everyone in these books.

Smith: What D.J. said.

O'Shea: Paul Grist is using his Facebook account to advance market his contribution to the volume--have you heard about other unique marketing choices that contributors have opted to utilize?

Kirkbride: I love that Paul Grist is doing that. So cool! (And his story for Popgun 3, Eternal Warrior: Endings, is awesome, by the way!) We're hoping that each and every creator will chip in when it comes to marketing. So many people work on the book that, if each of us tries to get the word out, it should be some crazy mass marketing. I've been locked in my room, proofing stories for vol. 3 and contacting creators for 4 for a while, though, with only two buckets, eleven cans of green beans, and a jug of water, so I'm not aware of what others might be doing at the moment, but hopefully our talented (and very handsome/pretty) contributors are out there, spreading the word.

Smith: Yeah, there are two hats that you’ve got to wear as a creator. One is creating the work and the other is going into marketing mode and promoting. Between all of the creators involved with Popgun, we do pretty well in both aspects. It’s great seeing Paul Grist use Facebook. A lot of other contributors have gotten creative in their own areas giving talks, going on radio shows, and doing their own promotion. With so many people involved the promotion fans out very widely.

O'Shea: Mark, this volume marks your departure from the Popgun project--what's been some of the highlights of the project for you?

Smith: It’s been great from the start. With three volumes, I’ve co-edited about 1,500 pages of material and been surrounded by some very wonderful people. I really like the community that we’ve built with Popgun and that I really get excited by a lot of creators. So the people are really the highlights of Popgun for me and seeing the perfect story time and time again. It’s good getting the most talented people you know together and working together in a community and then seeing what comes out of it. Incredible.

O'Shea: D.J., what have you learned from working with Mark?

Kirkbride: I've learned from Mark that you only go over the top in arm wrestling when something is REALLY on the line -- like your big rig or your son's love. Really, though, Mark always has an eye toward the big picture, so I'm trying to learn from him the magic of not sweating the small stuff and just doing my best without obsessing. Forest for the trees -- all that good stuff. I came during volume 1 as the Assistant Editor (a job now occupied by my hero, Adam P. Knave), mainly proofing stories... but Mark and Joe Keatinge really encouraged me to help out in other areas more and more and, after volume 2 when Joe decided to step down from the day-to-day of Popgun to concentrate on his dancing career, they really gave me a shot to co-edit here, and I appreciate it.

O'Shea: The initial volume was described as "well known names doing work they're not known for, brand-new talent set to change the industry, and rare b-sides unearthed for the first time in years". Would you say this description is apt for Volume 3? If so, can you discuss what new territory the well-known names will be exploring, the new talents set to make a name for themselves in this volume, and of course--are there any rare b-sides in this volume?

Kirkbride: It's close, but it has evolved slightly. Certainly, we have some well known names doing different stuff -- Sir Erik Larsen, for one, continues his trend of REALLY surprising us -- but, actually, some of the other folks, like Paul Grist and Mike Dawson and Dan Brereton to name exactly three more, rocked out in very cool ways that will still be familiar to their fans. Some really stellar work from folks who we all look up to... The unearthed b-sides has kind of gone away, as we're focusing on original material. Volume 3 is very exciting because we have so many new talents with really unique visions. I think readers should expect great things from every single one of them. Singling out any would be like telling my oldest son, D.J. the 3rd, he's my favorite right in front of my daughter, Candy. (Interviewee's note: I have no children.) So...

Smith: I’d really like to do some more rare tracks like with some Daniel Torres material that hasn’t been printed in a while or someone who I’m really excited about. We‘ve been so busy with original material that we focused on original work only. With this one it has mostly been new people and regular contributors, but the creators often rotate with each volume.

O'Shea: With all the small press publishing houses that are in the marketplace, how and why did Image ever embark on a project of this kind in the first place?--It's nothing like anything else that the publishing house releases.

Kirkbride: Mark and Joe made this happen. How the heck DID you guys do it, Mark?

Smith: Joe Keatinge and I brought the evolution of the idea to Stephenson and Larsen at Image and they gave us the nod and told us to run with it. We did and now fast forward a few years later and here we are.

O'Shea: Were there any contributions that could not be included this volume for whatever reason that may pop up in Volume 4?

Kirkbride: Yes. We ended up with over 130 pages of completed and AWESOME stories that just couldn't fit into this volume. Deciding what went into 3 and what we held for 4 -- that was the toughest part of this job, in my opinion. The thing to understand is that all the completed stories were ones we'd approved or been following as they developed, and they were all great... it was just a matter of space and trying to find a flow in each book. We held onto some REALLY strong stories to give volume 4 a head start. It's bittersweet in a way, but now volume 4 is already shaping up to be a great book, and we've just barely started!

O'Shea: Is there anything you'd like to discuss that I did not ask you about?

Kirkbride: I guess this is as good a place as any to mention Mark's shoe addiction. Seriously, Mark, you have more shoes than you can ever possibly wear. Do you even wear a pair more than once?? Kidding. (I know he doesn't.) The truth is that Popgun has been and continues to be an amazing experience, and I really do need to thank Mark and Joe for getting me involved --also, mad props to our production editors, Thomas Mauer and S.A. Finch, who have made these books look SO great and really keep it all together, as well as Adam P. Knave, who has stepped in as assistant editor for volume 3. It's a big team effort. I'm really lucky to get to work with these guys as well as SO MANY amazing creators. Just as a fan, it's cool to get new stories and be able to read them before anyone else.

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