A Life Lived in Comics Day 14: The Honest to God Day in the Life

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The title refers to the fact that I actually sort of kept minutes and made a proper day-in-the-life post, not that everything in it is honest: times are approximate, and I had to leave out a few proprietary things here and there. Also, everything took a tiny bit longer than normal, as I stopped for a minute or two throughout the day to write everything down.

But that said:

7:30: Wake up. Quick check of comics news sites and work e-mail.

8:15: Bus from Portland to Milwaukie. On the trip, read Shonen Jump Alpha on iPad. I’m a few weeks behind.

8:45: Clock in.

8:46–9: E-mail to an artist about a Tarzan intro. Notes on a script draft for a Creepy one-pager.

9–10:30: Notes to Matt Kindt on a MIND MGMT story and some promo stuff for the DH blog and wrote to Marketing about a press release for a special MIND MGMT project being announced next week, sent in the Brothers of the Spear Archive vol. 2 solicitation copy (written yesterday, waited for it to be assigned an ISBN), notes to Nate Piekos on lettering for an Eerie story, approved Creepy 1-pager scripts, selected preview pages for Archie Archives vol. 6. These sort of happened all at once.

10:30–10:45: Printing and stuff.

10:45-11:45: Eerie lettering approved, and a workorder sent up to get it merged with the lineart and a set of proofs output. Final pass on Doug Moench’s script for Creepy #9 and balloon placements on the inked line art.

Balloon placements are one of my favorite assistant editor tasks, as they’re essentially a puzzle. Ideally, lettering goes unnoticed, aiding in a smooth read, which requires taking into account reading order, the physical space within panels, and creating a trail that leads the eye across the page.

Using copies of the line art (printed when working with Diana, Scott or Sierra, digitally when working with Dave) and the script, you start by numbering all dialogue, captions, and sound effects while giving the script a final proofread. Once everything is numbered, you draw the balloons, captions, etc., onto the art, matching the numbers in them to those in the script.

If everything has gone well in the drawing, and in this case it did, there’s a logical best place for each balloon and everything fits. Common artist mistakes are things like not leaving negative space to fit balloons or placing the character who speaks first on the right. Since we read left-to-right, the first balloon and therefore the first character, should be on the left. As you read comics, you’ll sometimes notice a character on the right speaking first and some awkward placements and long tails necessary to make it read right.

The rules vary from editor to editor. Some like to anchor balloons to panel borders, others hate to do so. Some care if balloons fall into the eyeline of characters, others aren’t concerned by it. Whether balloons can overlap panels or not is a matter of taste as well.

For this story, I did a small amount of reordering things; nothing major, just swapping the order of a balloon and a caption from the same panel in a few places, splitting one caption into two in one instance. Kelley left plenty of space, though the pages are quite full, as Doug is pastiching H.P. Lovecraft’s prose throughout this story, and that can necessitate a certain wordiness.

Over time it becomes pretty second nature. I used to do everything in pencil and redo pages several times. Now it’s straight to ink. For the most part this story went smoothly, though I had to break out the whiteout one time when I accidentally made some balloons into captions and had to restart one page when I lost count of panels. Took a bit longer than the usual 10-page story because of the amount of lettering to do, but if you’ve read Creepy #8, you know Doug’s using those words well.

In Europe it’s standard for artists to do their own placements, and many artists indicate rough placements in their layouts. This helps avoid problems later, but as I enjoy doing the placements, I’m perfectly happy to get to play the puzzle over art as good as Kelley Jones’s.

11:45-11:50: Solicitation cover for Brothers of the Spear comes down, and I make notes, asking for another option on one of the two pieces of art used.

11:50-12: More printing and moving paper around.

12-1: Lunch outside. It’s sunny for a change. There are only about three lunch options in Milwaukie for those of us without cars, but a new one has finally arrived: a food cart called the Steak Shack, which likely pays for itself on Dark Horse staff members’ lunches alone.

1-1:30: Recovering/making a schedule for next week.

1:30-2: Finalizing Conan v12 HC.

2-2:15: A break followed by a brief warehouse visit. There is a box of freebies, mostly damaged comics that aren’t saleable, which is invaluable for filling in stray issues needed for reference. While there, I also grab my comps out my box. I have new issues of Conan the Barbarian and Creepy, the 3 Story one-shot, and the variant cover I helped editor Philip Simon arrange for Reset #1 (the artists of the three Dark Horse Originals series launching in April, May and June created variant covers for each other’s #1s).

2:15-3: Corresponding with a future Creepy writer in between working on solicitation copy for Tarzan: The Russ Manning Years.

3-4: Tracking down some production deadlines for the Brothers of the Spear interiors and working with Art Director on refining the volume 2 cover. Since Brothers of the Spear ran as a backup in Tarzan, there are no original covers for us to use. Volume 1 has a great design by Kat Larsen using two pieces of interior art on the top and bottom halves of the cover, one with art from Russ Manning and one from Jesse Marsh. Volume 2 is entirely Manning art, but we’re keeping the dual images for consistency. It’s proven a little difficult because, while the Manning art is lovely, it’s tough to find panels the right shape that feature both brothers in the foreground and captures them doing something interesting. We found a few good options, but this time we may use the two-image motif to show one brother on the top half and the other on the bottom half. Should get more options soon, then we’ll see.

4-4:30: Catching up on e-mail. Eisner campaign business. Sending out art for a couple projects to licensors.

4:30-5:15: A joint Editorial/Marketing initiative comes up. Impromptu meetings and e-mails. Otherwise I’d have been getting notes on MIND MGMT #3 finished art and lettering to Matt Kindt. Better get that to him over the weekend.

5:16-5:45: Carpool home.

6:50: Laurelhurst theater to see Wanderlust and have a beer (like many theaters in Portland, the Laurelhurst shows cheap second-run movies and serves food and booze).

8:30: Get out of the movie, which was weightless but fun. Internal debate over whether I want to try to catch the end of the DH-sponsored pre-Stumptown Drink and Draw with Peter Bagge at Bridge City Comics. Ultimately decide to go, but a combination of buses means I don’t get there until…

9:30-11: It’s starting the slow process of winding down, officially ending at 10. I miss Peter Bagge, who I’ll hopefully get to say hello to later in the weekend, but do chat with a few folks from work while drinking free Ninkasi beer. I also get my first quick visits with a few of the people I mainly see at shows, like the lovely Liz Conley, now a member of Couscous Collective, but still the gawky 13-year-old I went to high school with in some portion of the back of my brain.

As always, the Friday night party is a nice transition into Stumptown proper, and I meet a few new folks, such as Jackie Estrada of the Eisner Award committee, and get a little time with people I haven’t seen in a while, like Shawna Gore, one of the organizers of the party and of the fest. Mostly it’s comics talk with everybody, though my question, “So, what did you draw?” gets some cool answers, like DH senior editor Randy Stradley’s dinosaurs and a peek into the weird brain of DH assistant editor Jim Gibbons.

11-11:30 Help cleanup a bit while waiting for my ride and debriefing with party organizers.

11:30: Ride home from Kaebel Hashitani and Merrick Monroe of Sequential Art Gallery.

12: Attempt to wind down with some TV. Fall asleep almost immediately.


Saturday: Stumptown, naturally.

Why’m I doing this, again?

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