Writer and editor Buddy Scalera hosted a panel on the art of comic book editing that featured panelists Warren Simons (Editor-in-Chief of Valiant Entertainment), Joe Rybrandt (Editor-in-Chief of Dynamite Entertainment) and Darren Sanchez (Marvel Comics).
First off, each editor recounted how they got in to the industry.
Rybrandt worked in comics retail while he was in high school, he then worked at Diamond, the Sci-Fi Channel, and then Dynamic Forces, which led to him being a part of the Dynamite Comics launch. Simons was working as a journalist — at small local papers, he worked as a fact-checker, and even helped set up Resume.com. He then applied for job with Marvel – it was a grueling process and took six months of interviews before was hired as an assistant editor.
Sanchez flew Apache helicopters before comics – which Scalera said was the “coolest origin ever.” He wanted to do something creative after the army and got an internship at Valiant a week after Jim Shooter left and Bob Layton was running the place. “A crazy time,” Sanchez called it — Shooter had left suddenly after an executive coup. By the time he left, Fabian Nicieza was Editor-in-Chief, and Sanchez was managing editor. He then went to Wizard, then Marvel. Now he’s the custom line editor, creating licensed comics featuring Marvel characters.
Scalera showed the audience a proposal document for the Bettie Page series by writer David Avallone. Rybrandt talked about licensed comics — Bettie Page is a difficult property — it’s not clear what stories you tell with her, and he was initially quite skeptical about it. But he came up with an approach: she’s a model who gets into adventures that are kept light and are not over-sexualized. Then he found Avallone, who ran with the concept. The proposal was just over a page long and broke down all four issues in a paragraph each.
Rybrandt emphasized when it comes to pitches, brevity is key, as editors are all swamped by work. Simons emphasized the importance of peer group in getting hired. He said that the industry is small, and people are constantly promoting their friends and getting them work — so have a group of artists and writers in your social circle, and their success may help yours.
Sanchez said he doesn’t really take pitches, but if he hears from talent he trusts that he has to check an artist out, he always listens. He made the point that getting on Marvel’s pre-approved artist list is important, because “it’s a pain to get someone on payroll. [It can] take two weeks, and by then I need to be in the middle of the story already.” He said internships are a great way to get in, as well.
Rybrandt said to consider your time — can you take on what amounts to a full time job in addition to whatever obligations you already have?. He said that hiring new people is always a big risk for an editor: “You never know what you’re going to get, and often it’s a disaster.”
Simon said that if you are serious about being good, it’s all about putting the time in. He said creators such as Garth Ennis, Alan Moore and Brian Michael Bendis probably write for 8-10 hours a day, and you need to be able to do that. In a slight contradiction to Simon’s point, Rybrandt urged people to “get out and live — life experience is very important,” adding that the best creators like Ennis and Moore have a wide base of interests and experiences.
Simon said at Valiant, they focus on the pitch and hi concept for each new series. Coming in with an exceptional artist helps (“If any of you has a pitch with Alex Ross, I’m very interested!”), but somebody walking in with one of those is very rare. He urged that potential creators focus on “locking the story”. He also said that editors are very much rooted in the month-to-month process — so creators need to be flexible and available when sudden opportunities arise. “It’s a very rough, fluid industry. Breaking in, you guys got to grind, grind, grind.”
Sanchez emphasized that “If you get your break, don’t be late. If you blow your first deadline, I probably won’t use you again.” He says book being late “is a big deal; it means lost money and messes things up down the line for your letterer, colorist, etc.” Rybrandt said that “Honesty is important — there’s not an excuse I haven’t heard, and I know if it’s bullshit.”
Simon agreed, pointing out that there’s an industry saying: “You can be three things: really fast, really good, and really nice — and you must be two of those things at least to make it.” An audience member asked: if you want to be an editor, what can you show someone to get them to hire you? “A bottle of fine bourbon,” Rybrandt answered.
Simon said that if you worked previously “in story” somehow — as a dramatist or a journalist, for example — that can help. Sanchez said that English or Art majors are particularly liked by Marvel HR. Is there a good time when editors are less busy to pitch stories to them? “No,” was the resounding response from the panel, as they are always busy. However, don’t target them during con season in particular, as that is the busiest time for pitches.
How do they handle having to change things in the art and story as editors? There was a consensus that you must do this in consultation with the creators. Simons said: “I will never unilaterally change something — you never want the creator to see something in the printed comic that they didn’t write.” That’s a big deal, and it means they can never trust you again, as he points out. But it should be possible to change things in consultation. “Just keep ego out of it,” Simons emphasized. “Ego is toxic.”
Finally, the panel was asked what work of theirs they particularly recommend: Simons singled out X-O Manowar and Secret Weapons – calling them the “best-reviewed books in the industry.” Rybrandt talked up The Shadow/Batman coming out from Dynamite this week. Sanchez highlighted the licensed comic he is doing with Northrop Grumman, Avengers, Featuring N.G.E.N. – Start Your N.G.E.N.S! written by Fabian Nicieza with art by Sean Chen. That partnership has already received some flak — you can read about it right here.
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