A Life Lived in Comics Day 7: My Place in All This

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The cast of NBC’s Community as the Avengers. Art by Chris Schweizer.

As semi-predicted, I did miss posting last night. Left straight from work with assistant editor Daniel to buy tickets to Marc Maron at the Helium Club. I’m actually a little tapped out after last weekend’s Bridgetown Comedy Fest, where at the Sunday show editor Philip Simon, his wife Kait, and I saw Todd Barry, Janeane Garofalo, several newer comics, and a surprising funny host from Seattle named Solomon Georgio, as well as a surprise drop-in by Doug Benson, but it was Maron, so I had to go.

It was a great show, Maron planted on a stool, describing the usual mix of maladjustment and pain that he explains, “doesn’t break out into funny until it passes the third row.” A few people in the front do become combative, but while he’s previously described rooms turning against him as he went after unruly audience members, tonight he seemed to have everyone else in the palm of his hand. The act ends with a suspenseful but hilarious brush with death on a plane and the euphoric hotel room celebration afterward. The opening act was local comedian Ian Karmel, whom I’ve never met but nonetheless felt a little proud of, since I’ve seen him perform as host and at open mics, and so was pleased to see graduate to feature act for a respected comic like Maron. Overall, a more satisfying show than last week’s, which ended in a Garofalo performance that was uncharacteristically lacking in confidence, nearly collapsed when she transitioned to political material, and ended with her fleeing the stage early in a bit when she learned she’d gone ten minutes over.

Next we moved on to a nearby klatch of trendy food carts and experienced what Portland does to poutine. Not entirely ready to go the full cheese curd, I got my fries piled high with pulled pork and spicy BBQ sauce, while Daniel got the PB&J version, which is slathered in satay sauce and a spicy raspberry sauce. We will die young. The last stop of the night was the New Old Lompoc brewery on NW 23rd, which is entering its final week before closing down for two years while some condos are built in its place. We toasted the place and chatted with a few people at the bar, something I’ll have to fit in at least once more before it’s gone.

Anyway, I’m glad to get to write a bit about spending time with friends from work, because it ties in to what I was planning to write for Friday’s entry anyway, essentially the fact that for so long I didn’t do it. I’m sure a lot of professions are like this, but comics as a job is intensely tied into comics as a social scene. At least, the jobs I’ve had before haven’t had an entire outside of work social aspect attached to them. Certainly you make friends everywhere you go, but in Portland in particular you can easily spend weeks on end going to book releases, art openings, readings, conventions, the local comics shop, etc., and bump into someone you work with, either a freelancer or someone from the office, every night.

I’m naturally a bit of a loner to begin with, but I also felt for a long time like I needed to fight to keep my work and personal lives somewhat separate, if for no other reason than that at the time I feared comics taking over my entire life. It’s a life that had become, for a few reasons, a bit emptier just a few days before I started at Dark Horse, and I did end up pouring far more of my emotional energy than is healthy into the job itself, and I didn’t entirely avoid the social scene, but I limited the time I spent in it and kept either to my non-comics friends or to myself. For a long time, I figured I could just be friendly with people at work and do other things when I wasn’t there, but funny thing, when you always turn down people’s invitations to events, they start to think maybe you don’t like being around them and the invitations stop coming. I’ve never dated within comics, though I’ve gone on a few dates with people I’ve met through comics people. As for actual people I know in the field, I’ve asked out two women and been politely turned down in each case. That’s not a lot in this many years, but it is such a small, tight circle that in most cases it’s just not seemed like a great idea.

Part of it is that I am probably an antisocial miserablist. Part of it is that, even in comics, I don’t entirely feel that I fit in. This always sounds disingenuous when I say it, but I don’t really think of myself as a full-on geek the way that so many of the people I work with proudly are. I’m a smart guy and did well in science and math in school (I wrote the other day about my childhood astronaut dreams and love of Twin Spica—I read the final volume this morning and cried like a baby), but the cultural side of nerdiness comes harder to me. I can’t carry on a conversation about Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica (after much pushing, I’ve watched some of the most recent iteration of Dr. Who, but it took me several episodes before I found a hook, and even so I’m watching it slowly), I’ve never played D&D, in high school I couldn’t make it through the first book of The Lord of the Rings, and genre stuff in general isn’t a big part of my culture diet. Except comics.

(This somewhat mirrors my feelings about Portland itself. As previously mentioned, I’ve always lived in Oregon, and I’ve only lived in Portland proper since finishing college, I did go to high school here and my entire life it was the cultural reference point, where you went if you wanted to do any type of city thing. Many people move to Portland for the cheap rent and art scene and to dress as pirates or whatever. I’m just from here, which is basically the best way not to fit in in Portland. I am, for several of my friends who live here, the only person actually from Oregon that they know.)

To this day, I don’t really know what it is about comics. I will read action, sci-fi, fantasy, whatever in comics, in a way that I won’t get excited about a similar movie or TV show or book. But by the same token I also read tons of comics memoirs and all-ages stories, things I don’t seek out in other media either. Elsewhere my taste runs more toward straight drama without magic or superpowers (the last film I saw was the Iranian family drama A Separation, which is absolutely stunning) or satirical or absurdist humor. Parody is tougher for me, but the proper level of intelligence and heart can get me into it, as in a show like Community. Upon learning I’m not a Star Wars fan, a senior editor told me I was a “bad nerd.” But if it’s comics, it seems like I gravitate toward everything. So I can talk nerdy comics with you (though I have tried and failed to make things like X-Men or Legion of Superheroes work for me), but when it comes to all the other geeky pursuits commonly thought to go hand in hand with comics, I’m lost.

Anyway, as time’s gone on, you naturally have to integrate more into the social scene presented to you or, unless the one you had before remains perfectly intact, and several of my old friends moving, returning to school, or getting night jobs means that it hasn’t, you will spend most of your free time by yourself. Which I did, for about a year. Which sucked so hard. So as a matter of social survival I’m making the effort to get over my shit. I’m actually going to a lot fewer comics-related events than I used to, mainly from burnout, but spending more time with my coworkers and freelancers, going to movies, standup, drinks after work, normal people things. It’s nice to be normal. Fewer lunches with a book, more with people. I brought lunch on Friday, but accepted an invite to a nearby diner anyway; the sandwich will keep until Monday.

Which leads naturally to what my place is at Dark Horse. To some extent Editorial is specialized—some editors only work on a small circle of creator-owned and prestige projects, others edit exclusively manga, etc.—but most of us have a mix of responsibilities. My own projects, as I’m still pretty junior staff, consists largely of archival reprint material, though I do also have some creator-owned projects like MIND MGMT, Bucko, and a few others. The projects I assist on are largely licensed properties, with a large portion of those video game–related. I’m fairly well established as a presence at this point, by which I mean everyone knows me and I feel comfortable walking into any editor’s office. At a company of this size, it can be hard to tell if the higher-ups are very aware of you, but I’m confident that at this point I’m a familiar face and what I do is recognized. I’ve recently begun some projects that are of personal interest to Mike Richardson, so I’m obviously working to impress with those as much as possible.

More responsibility is coming my way, and that’s exciting. On Friday, editor Dave Marshall and I had a meeting with newly minted assistant Shantel LaRoque about how we will be integrating her into Dave’s and my workflow. Many of the basic assistant tasks, like vouchering, trafficking art, making bookmaps, and the like will be moving over to her, while I retain the deeper stuff like balloon placements and making notes on scripts and art and spend more time on my own projects, several of which she will also assist me on. I will retain my assistant duties on Diana Schutz’s books, and a few of my projects I’ll still edit from top to bottom, but it still feels like a pretty big change in how I will do my job, and to a lesser extent a change in my position within the department.

In the wider comics scene I’m largely anonymous, and that’s fine. Everyone’s at their computers all day, so most communication takes place by e-mail. It’s a pleasure whenever I finally meet people I’ve worked with, and it’s amusing to be introduced to someone by my first name, then see recognition come over their face as they say, “Brendan . . . Wright?” I’ve made connections through comics with people in other cities and countries, as well as unexpected contacts in other fields, but as an assistant editor none of this is really about me, and I still feel more akin to the average fan than to the serious pros. I still waited in line, happily, for Bryan Lee O’Malley at this year’s Emerald City, and I’ll be paying my own way into Stumptown again this year, where I have no work-related responsibilities and will be walking around as a fan.

It can be hard to be a fan and a pro at the same time, and also easy to act like both at different times. I know more than the average comics reader about what’s going on behind the scenes, but there’s still so much I am in the dark on that I find myself saying the same kind of “well, why don’t they just. . .” that you might read in a comments section on CBR, before someone gently reminds me that it wouldn’t work because of this, that, or the other. As I’ve said before, it’s a funny business. I wear a T-shirt and jeans to work, spend portions of my day reading Tarzan comics, and send e-mails asking if it’s okay for a cover to say, “A Dick and Fart Joke Murder Mystery,” but we’re also trying to make money, make the actual books as high-quality as possible, and present a professional front to the stores and readers that we need relationships with the exist. It’s a bit easier when I’m not deliberately cutting myself off, though, and I’m glad to have begun spending more time with the very cool people I know through our shared profession and hobby.

Later today (maybe): That solicitation copy thing I mentioned Thursday. I wrote some of what I needed to yesterday, and hope to get a little more done today or tomorrow. Working on the weekend, yeah!

Why’m I doing this, again?

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