A Life Lived in Comics Digest 1

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It’s official: You kind of like me. You really kind of like me!

It’s been ten days, and I’ve been astonished that I’ve had enough to say to fill them. Here’s what I said:

Day 1: What the Hell Am I Doing?

I explain what this is all about. Basically I haven’t blogged in a long time, and it’s never been about me, so how about a monthlong diary? Can I actually do it? Also, I meet Jim Lee and run the first-ever photo of me on the Wright Opinion.

This is a medium that we all come to for personal reasons, and the experiences we have within the field are unique. It also never hurts to do a little self-promotion, something I had to get good at to get the job I have now, but haven’t done any of since. If I wrote a little about who I am and why I’m here and what I do every day, what would happen? Assuming it isn’t boring, let’s find out.

Day 2: Bridgetown vs. Stumptown

Since getting a job in comics, I’ve been on the lookout for a new hobby. Standup comedy seems like a pretty good one, and I compare the unmediated rawness of standup to minicomics. And I pretend that a Serenity comic is relevant. More interesting than it sounds.

When’s the last time a studio comedy or superhero comic really, genuinely surprised you? You might not see the plot points coming, but you never get the gut punch of something that just shouldn’t be happening in front of you the way that an outsider form like standup can deliver. These forms exist for their familiarity, not their surprises. Live standup is essentially the minicomics of the entertainment industry: people speaking directly an an audience with no outside filter, just their ability to connect and make people laugh at the bullshit of their lives, our lives. The people who are into it often turn hardcore, much like comics fans. Not coincidentally, live standup is not for everyone, and 99.9% of the time it is immensely less lucrative than gatekeeper-based media, but just like yesterday’s minicomics artists are tomorrow’s Architects, what people say and do in those small rooms for a handful of people is what we’ll be seeing in movies, in family-friendlier form, in a few years’ time.

Day 3: When I Was a Cartoon

What I got up to on a Monday at Dark Horse. My relationship with Archie Comics and my Tarzan reprint workload are introduced. It’s the beginning of a necessarily abridged but hopefully honest portrait of how comics get made at a large publisher. I’m also reading Planet of the Apes, and my last diary attempt, when I created extravagantly self-loathing comics, is eviscerated. Includes seven comic strips drawn in 2006/2007.

I’m at a funny point in my career, next in line for promotion to associate editor, but still very conscious of how I balance my time between the projects I assist on and those I edit. I’m also at the point where I’m being urged to utilize newer assistants to help me get books done. So far, everything that credits me as editor I’ve done myself, which has been a pleasant learning experience, but I’ll soon have enough assignments that it won’t be practical to do it that way. Delegating is like everything else in my job so far: you learn it from experience. I’ve always had guidance when I’ve needed it, but the ethos at DH is that you learn by doing, so I’ve picked a few of the books I’m in the process of starting, and they’re going to be the books I use to learn how to let someone help me.

Day 4: Pages Filled with Red

How Dark Horse editors keep up with deadlines, the challenge of Tarzan, Stan Sakai is the best, a junior assistant sasses me, and the reach of Locke & Key. Most interesting for being a plain old day.

The plan is to leave promptly at 5, as I’m visiting my parents to catch Sunday’s Mad Men OnDemand; I don’t have cable. When the show’s on, I see them once a week for dinner, a pleasant, if by the end of the season, slightly stifling arrangement. I never really planned to continue to live so close to where I grew up, but Portland is where the comics scene is, and thank God for that. While I work with a lot of people who moved out here without any promise of a job simply because this was where Dark Horse and a few other publishers were, I just don’t see that I could have done the same. I think I’ve been able to make a few bold decisions for work projects and in other areas, but for better or worse when it comes to my personal life I’m not much of a risk taker.

Day 5: The Wednesday Crowd

I helped a super talented cartoonist make a new comic. Also, it’s Wednesday, and the New Comics Day Posse head across the street to see what’s what. I get sentimental (again) about Twin Spica.

Don’t get me wrong. Andi is an enormous talent, and once we got started there was very little I needed to contribute. I gave pretty minor notes on the three stories, and when the one-shot came around I gave a small amount of direction on the cover and put together the sketch section, but this was Andi’s show. An editor is basically a helper monkey, but monkeys with the great fortune in many cases to get to choose who we help. My greatest contribution to Skeleton Key was my very first one, when I advocated for a favorite cartoonist to get a slot in DHP (Andi and I had previously worked together when he wrote and drew a two-page story for MySpace DHP featuring his character Hen). After that I contracted Andi and trafficked the art and gave the barest guidance on stories, but the beauty of the job is that at the end I get to claim undeserved credit for a comic with my name in it.

Day 6: No Lunch! No Lunch!

I guess this one’s interesting if you’re a completist, but I’d probably skip it. I do note a rarely commented upon motif in Frank Miller comics, but you’ve probably already noticed it. You’re smart.

Day 7: My Place in All This

Not much about the day’s work here. More to do with standup comedy and whether or not I fit in in the larger comics scene around me. I make dubious claims about my own geekhood and talk about the comics social scene in Portland inasmuch as I’ve removed myself from it, likely from fear of rejection.

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.

Day 8: The Hard Sell

I’m late on my solicitation copy (called tip copy in-house), and instead of catching up I write a bit about what goes into putting it together and what it’s about.

I’ve never worked in a comic shop, but I’ve been a comics reader since I was 11, so writing for retailers took some adjustment on my part, and I still occasionally forget what’s relevant to whom. On a recent revival of an old series, I initially noted how many years it had been since the last issue, since as a reader seeing a beloved character I hadn’t seen in years would get me excited, but it was pointed out that for retailers this isn’t a selling point, since it raises the question, “How do I sell this thing when there are no recent sales figures and that many new readers are unfamiliar with it?” By contrast, in writing the tip sheet for Skeleton Key, I made a point of drawing retailers’ attention to the fact that the book would be in stores the Wednesday before Free Comic Book Day, so they should stock up in order to have plenty of copies on hand when a greater number of children then usual come through the store on that Saturday (this is also why I scheduled the book for that week in the first place). Information not especially relevant to a reader, but important for retailers to consider.

Day 9: Secret Origin part 1: They Make Me Think of You

Traveling back in time on a lazy Sunday, learn how I started reading comics. It’s probably a lot like your story, but just that little bit different. Includes two comic strips drawn in 2001/2002.

Owned by Jim Walker, Sandy Grand Slam’s original location was above a gun store, but it soon moved to a bigger location nearby, before leaving town altogether and becoming Interzone Comics in Gresham. After a few years, Jim sold Interzone and opened a store back in Sandy specializing in gaming. For a while during college I maintained a pull list at the Sandy store before it too closed. Years later I ran into Jim again at the Portland Comic Book Show, where he shared a retail booth, and I got to tell him I now worked in the comics field thanks to the passion for the medium his store had originally instilled in me nearly a decade earlier. He seemed proud, and telling him about my job felt more important than telling anyone else I could think of.

Day 10: The iPad, and All That it Implies

My growing preference for digital comics, and how some comics, like Butcher Baker the Righteous Maker, seem to actually read better on the iPad. Plus, the various approvals stages for editing comics at Dark Horse, and I put MIND MGMT #1 to bed.

That’s right; technology is now at the point where it is easier and faster to download a brand new copy of a comic than walk across the room and pick up the one I already have. Even before buying an iPad I had pretty much stopped reading my print Dark Horse comps once our comics went day-and-date digital. Not even counting the fact that my employee account lets me read most DH books before they’re released and in some cases even printed—way better than waiting for comps, which sometimes come weeks after release—if I’m already in my chair with my laptop, why go all the way to the other room, where I may have to actually look around under other comics for them or even—gasp—have to get them out of boxes?

My God, 20 more days to go!

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