Podcast appearance: What Do I Know?

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I love podcasts. I listen to podcasts while walking, while exercising, while cooking. A friend and I recently recorded a few test episodes of a podcast to see how that would go, and the results were not as bad as I’d have expected, though not yet ready for primetime. If we end up going ahead with it, we’ll be recording several more tests before putting together a real one.

In the meantime, I sometimes have the privilege of being a guest on other people’s podcasts. Most recently, I was invited onto the What Do I Know? podcast, hosted by Jason Gentry and LARP! artist Marlin Shoop. We talked a bit about me, Archie vs. Predator, comics on newsstands, the similarity between the Masters of the Universe movie and Jack Kirby’s New Gods (though never having seen the movie, I mostly spend that segment confused), and more.

Check it out on Podbean, iTunes, and other places. It’s a good, wide-ranging talk, and I had a lot of fun making bad jokes!

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We Won A Ghastly Award!

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I am delighted to learn that Archie vs. Predator has won the Ghastly Award for Best Limited Series! Alex de Campi, Fernando Ruiz, Rich Koslowski, Jason Millet, and John Workman knocked the series out of the park, and I had so much fun I almost had to quit comics afterward, because how do you follow Archie vs. Predator?!

The Ghastly Awards are a great organization, with nominees and winners selected by professionals working in horror comics. I was previously honored to share the award for Best Anthology with Sierra Hahn when we won for Creepy Comics in 2012.

Thank you so much to the awards administrators and everyone who voted. The series was a privilege to edit, and it is deeply gratifying to see that it’s still receiving acclaim.

Self-Promotion from the Shadows

Four months into freelance editing, my daily life isn’t much like it used to be. Instead of commuting to Dark Horse, I work at a cleared-off desk in my apartment or, weather permitting, at one of the long tables with electrical outlets at the public library. Instead of chasing artists, I chase publishers. Instead of receiving invoices, I send them.

But I’ve done all that before, having freelanced in the legal field prior to breaking into comics. The biggest and most difficult adjustment in my new endeavor is the need to remain visible through active self-promotion, something which does not come naturally to me, to say the least. I’ve always preferred a behind-the-scenes role.

As a staff editor, that’s no problem, since you get paid every week whether or not the field at large knows who you are, and when attracting talent you trade on the reputation of your company at least as much as on your own. For the majority of my time at Dark Horse I made virtually no effort to be recognized by comics websites or fandom, though I worked hard to maintain relationships with talent, which is a separate matter. I pushed all my books on social media, but kept the focus off myself.

Recently the creative team of an upcoming title I’m editing offered to list my name along with everyone else’s on the series’ covers. I was flattered, and from a mercenary, self-promotional angle, I was tempted to take them up on it. Ultimately I declined, as it just didn’t feel right. Not immoral or anything, but simply in keeping with my belief that comics editors should be invisible, appreciated in some general sense but rarely if ever singled out publicly.

It is, as I understand it, an accident of history that comics editors are credited for each title they work on, while book editors are not. Though many book publishers today have their own comics imprints (often not including editorial credits in books), what we think of as the comics industry derives from the magazine business, where editors are known and credited. Even as comic books became graphic novels, the tradition remained.

Because editors are routinely credited, they end up getting a great deal of attention in online press as ambassadors of series and sometimes as members of creative teams or svengalis. This focus warps the audience’s understanding of editors’ roles and invites a level of ego that is at odds with the job of supporting someone else’s vision. I have worked with editors whose actual talents lay in finding new places to add their names rather than in their facility with story or their people skills, to the detriment of the books and the reputation of editors as a group.

But it’s hard to deny that those editors who court the spotlight become the ones people hear about, and the ones people hear about are the ones they think of when hiring. Now that I work for myself, I only work if I convince creators and publishers that they want me specifically to edit a project, which requires being visible on a regular basis, and therein lies the dilemma.

I am used to writing up books I’ve edited, pushing stuff out through social media, and contacting friends and colleagues to share. Knowing I would go freelance in 2015, I stepped up efforts to do the same for myself throughout the year—starting to tweet (@BrendanWasright), doing more interviews, and attending SDCC for the first time—but the actual announcement was the test. I think I swung it, scoring articles on a few sites and having congratulations come in all week through social media and e-mail, but it required going against my natural wiring.

I still briefly forget that it’s not enough to acquire a gig like editing comics for Starburns Industries; you also have to announce and promote it, because success breeds success. You get hired because potential clients see other people hire you. The same goes for periodically reminding Facebook and Twitter, as I did yesterday, that you are open for business when much of what you work on as a consultant goes uncredited (as it should).

It’s immensely gratifying every time someone wants to work with me on my own and not as a representative of a company, but it’s a strange feeling telling the world to look at me after spending the previous years of my career pushing all the attention at others. It still doesn’t quite feel like what an editor is supposed to be doing, but it’s the price of working for one’s self, and the benefits have been tremendous, so I’ll get better at telling people to look at me, and once they do, I’ll tell them to look at the people who hired me, because it’s really their show.


Say it with me: for all your comics editing needs, as well as pitch and crowdfunding consulting, write to editing@brendanhwright.com.

New Gig! Starburns Industries!

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I tried to bring Dan Harmon’s ingenious sitcom Community to comics for years, and came close a couple times. I could see what it would look like, could imagine the fun the writers and characters would have with the comics medium, just as they had with stop-motion animation, anime and countless film genres before. The show’s rabid fanbase resurrected it again and again when so many other shows fell for good, and I believed they would follow Harmon to comics. A lot of them were clearly already comics fans. “Six issues and trade,” I told anyone who’d listen.

But it was a very complicated thing to get done. I originally talked to Harmon during season 3, when the show’s future was uncertain, and picked back up with him toward the end of season 5, when its cancellation by NBC made a comic appear the likeliest chance for continuation before its stay of execution came one last time, in the guise of Yahoo Screen. After a bunch of white-knuckle ups and downs, the project ended up in my list of the ones that got away (every editor has them). Buy me a beer at a con sometime for the super dramatic blow-by-blow of those three years.

Even though Community never happened, the time and effort have paid off. In the summer of 2014, in what turned out to be the final days before Yahoo made the deal that brought Community back, I visited Harmon’s animation studio Starburns Industries for the first time. I had reintroduced myself to Harmon at a podcast taping in Portland after the previous attempt to bring the show to comics had fizzled, and now over tacos and beer we discussed what a comic version could bring to the series. I’ve rarely had a more educational conversation than I did talking story with Harmon that day, and it was clear why the show and his Adult Swim series Rick and Morty are so brilliant.

In retrospect, the other thing we talked about that day turned out to be more consequential. Harmon was interested in Starburns Industries creating original comics, and pitched several possibilities. It made total sense: in addition to the numerous comics references in his various projects, like the Kickpuncher comic that came packaged with the DVD of Community season 1, plus the fact that the Harmontown podcast tapes at Meltdown Comics in LA, Harmon’s history with comics goes back to writing for the original run of his friend Rob Schrab’s wonderful Scud: The Disposable Assassin and its spinoff La Cosa Nostroid.

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I took the second try at Community and another project back with me to Portland and set to work going through the approvals process. Meanwhile, Starburns’ comics line SBI Comics got underway and announced its initial projects at San Diego Comic-Con 2015. At the same time, I had started to plan a move into freelance editing, having spent seven years at my staff editing job at Dark Horse Comics and itching for a new challenge. After I gave my notice in August, I again flew to LA and took another meeting at Starburns, this time with SBI Comics president Simon Oré, who laid out the studio’s ambitious plans for its new comics line.

Several details remained to be hammered out, but the arrangement we put together was a freelance gig as one of Starburns’ two comics editors, along with Oré. Initially this covered a handful of projects generated by Starburns writers and artists, but over the following months more were added, along with the ability to accept pitches for Starburns’ consideration. With Starburns on the rise between the success of Rick and Morty and early buzz for its feature film Anomalisa, written by Charlie Kaufman and codirected by Kaufman and Duke Johnson, these were busy days, and the agreement wasn’t ready to be announced until last week, but we’re now full speed ahead.

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It’s been a crazy few months, leaving the job that I am known for and not being able to announce what’s next right away (there’s more to come), so naturally going public with this is a pleasure, and I couldn’t be more excited about the projects that are currently greenlit, as well as some pitches I’ve got in hand. I’ll be editing one of the currently announced projects, but most are still under wraps, and they will surprise and delight Starburns fans once they go public. I’m so proud of what I’ve done to date, but 2016 is shaping up to be my most exciting year in comics yet. Every project I’m on is something I believe in, and in the case of Starburns I am working with personal heroes on titles unlike I’ve ever done before. In a way this has been years in the making, and this is just the start.


And don’t forget, I am still freelance, so I am available for editing, project management, and consulting at editing@brendanhwright.com.

After you pitch, it’s the editor’s turn

Making comics is a skill that takes a lot of practice, a lot of effort, and a lot of failure to master. Pitching comics is also a skill, a very different one, but with the same learning curve. It’s also every bit as important, because the single best thing a project can have going for it is a publisher’s confidence that it will sell, and selling a pitch is selling the comic. (Michael Moreci’s recent essay on pitching makes a strong case for the primacy of sales potential in pitching.)

I’ve never pitched a comic I’ve written or drawn, but I have nonetheless made countless pitches. That’s because when an editor likes your pitch they must next pitch it themselves. There are instances where you’re pitching directly to the people who can greenlight something, but if you’re in that position you’ve probably made it past the point where you need the following advice. This pertains largely to pitches for original projects from lesser-known or unknown creators. In most cases the editor you pitch to has some degree of influence but still needs the support of higher-ups to make a pitch happen.

Editors want to say yes. They get paid the same if they edit four series a month or ten, but they love comics and want to make as many of them as possible, and regardless of where they work they put in countless extra hours to fit in those additional series. They have diverse tastes and don’t want to get stuck with one type of project. If they like your pitch, they will fight for it against all reason. Publishers and marketing departments want to say no. They are painfully aware of the cost and risk inherent in each project they approve and have to be realistic about how far resources can be stretched. They are harder to convince than an editor is, and they should be.

So your pitch must serve two purposes: it is both the document that sells your idea to an editor—making the case for why it is at minimum a good read worth paying $4 per issue for and at maximum a game changer in the comics medium—and also a blueprint for an editor to translate their excitement for the project into something that meets the internal guidelines and needs of the publisher where they work—why it will stand out on the shelf and therefore why it will sell. Of course, it is your responsibility to research the output of a publisher and make sure you are pitching the right project to the right place (that is, don’t pitch a mainstream superhero comic to Fantagraphics), but in many cases it will not be your exact pitch document that reaches the top people.

Instead, an editor will take the information in your pitch and tailor it to the tastes of their bosses and, often, the publisher’s marketing department. This may involve a verbal pitch or, at some publishers, fitting the information from the pitch into a standard form. As many pitches as individual editors are inundated with, an editor in chief, managing editor, or publisher gets many more and has even less time to look at them. Accordingly, what is presented to them is stripped down to its essence, with creators’ bibliographies, comparison titles, and unusual selling points emphasized at least as much as story. You have to sell your story well to get an editor’s attention, but those other elements need to be there too so the editor can use them to get their bosses’ attention.

(This is not to say higher-ups never read your pitch. In most cases the original pitch will be a part of the package submitted by an editor to their boss, and if the process is going well, your pitch may be what clinches the deal, since the writer and artists’ voices are ultimately what they are buying, not just an idea.)

So provide those comparison titles. Focus more on what existing series you believe your series will sell like than on what it is narratively similar to, or include both and draw a distinction between the two. Research how the series you want to compare your series to sell and be honest with yourself if your project can really match those numbers. A lot of pitches list series like The Walking Dead or Scott Pilgrim as comparison titles, and marketing departments tend to roll their eyes at those references. Find what makes your comic part of a movement on the upswing rather than too similar to things that are already overfamiliar. Think about how your series will be marketed and suggest some high concepts, some taglines, a target audience, a hook that makes your editor’s boss want to know more and ask followup questions in a meeting where they thought they only had two minutes to spare.

This is always hard advice to give a writer, but comics is a visual medium, and your chances are exponentially better with art. Some editors will help you find an artist, but the truth is that they don’t have much time for pitches to begin with, and unless you already have a relationship with a publisher, finding an artist isn’t something they can take time away from other things for. Once your pitch is being shown to the higher-ups, art is something they can evaluate at a glance, and that coupled with a few key bits of information from the editor go the furthest in helping them feel confidence about your project.

Confidence is the key word. As in any other job, the currency of an editor is their track record, and it can be fortified consistently to make a career from a series of solid projects or saved up to make the pitching of a risky project go smoother. Their credibility is put on the line every time they pitch, and how a pitch is received affects the confidence their publisher has in what they bring to the table next. If you want them to go to bat for your pitch it has to give them the ammunition to face a series of people with every financial incentive to say no to your comic. Research who edits comics that yours will fit alongside and how they sell. The editor who works on comics like yours that sell well is sympathetic to your aesthetic and has the credibility to pitch it. Give them an exciting hook, an accurate and compelling comparison title, a valuable demographic, and some eye-catching artwork, and they will have confidence that your comic is not only a good story but also one that they can pitch, and their bosses will have confidence that you can deliver.


Thanks for reading, and don’t forget that I offer consultations on pitches. I can give you feedback from the point of view of an editor who’s received thousands of pitches and help make yours a clear, organized, and compelling showcase for your story. Inquiries go to editing@brendanhwright.com. I look forward to reading your pitch!

Tomorrow

SEVEN YEAR ITCH

Seven years is the longest I ever did anything. Tomorrow will be the seventh anniversary of my first day at Dark Horse Comics. I started at the age of twenty-four, and since then I have changed so much, as have my friends in and out of comics, the company, the comics field, and Portland, where I live. My title has changed three times, from Editorial Assistant to Assistant Editor, then to Associate Editor, and finally to Editor. The only thing that didn’t change was that I worked at Dark Horse.

Yesterday was my last day. Given all that has changed in my life and in comics, I’m excited for thirty-one-year-old me to strike a different path from twenty-four-year-old me and am thrilled to announce the beginning of my career as a freelance editor. My initial client list is made up of projects I am honored to be a part of, and I’m available to take on more, so keep reading.

I noticed several months ago that, by a quirk of the publishing schedule, the two series I have edited the longest and with which I am most associated, MIND MGMT and Grindhouse, would end at the same time, with my most nutso project, Archie vs. Predator, concluding shortly before. As it happened, the final issues of MIND MGMT and Grindhouse were both released last Wednesday. At the same time, some intriguing freelance opportunities presented themselves, and I decided to take the plunge.

I’m leaving Dark Horse on good terms and intend to keep up my relationship with the company. I love many people who still work there, and I look forward to continuing to see them outside of work and to reading the comics they’re working on. I’m sad for all the projects I won’t see to the end, but I’m proud of each of them and confident in and thankful to the editors taking over for me.

SEVEN YEARS GOOD LUCK

It’s difficult for me to imagine the opportunities Dark Horse provided a kid just starting out in his career happening anywhere else. The very first thing I worked on was an issue of Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo, a favorite since my first year of high school. Within a month or two I was on the phone with Dave Gibbons, discussing the mammoth Life and Times of Martha Washington. Both happened because I was working for legendary editor Diana Schutz, and assisting her it sometimes felt like I got to work with just about everyone in comics. Assisting Diana is how I first came to work with Matt Kindt, Alex de Campi, and Jeff Lemire, three of the talents who, along with Stan, really defined my last years at Dark Horse (Jeff and Dean Ormston’s Black Hammer has been delayed until next year, and missing its debut is one of my biggest regrets about leaving, but I am immensely proud of the work we did and know it’s in good hands).

Once I undertook my own projects, not everyone at Dark Horse always understood what I was trying to do, but that didn’t stop them from letting me make moves like bringing Jeff Parker and Erica Moen’s webcomic Bucko to Dark Horse, opening the door to Monkeybrain with Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover’s Bandette, abetting Alex de Campi as she transcended every boundary of good taste in Grindhouse, developing a model for digitally serializing original graphic novels in advance of their order periods, creating the template for our Gallery Edition books and adding complicating features like massive foldouts, updating Creepy and Eerie for a modern audience, or giving weird newcomers Damon Gentry and Aaron Conley their first shot with Sabertooth Swordsman, which went on to win the Russ Manning Award for Promising Newcomer. They also put beloved franchises like Archie, Predator (and therefore Archie vs. Predator) and The Terminator in my hands, as well as acclaimed game studios like Naughty Dog, with comics based on The Last of Us and coffee table books of Uncharted and the art of the studio. I even have my name in a few Star Wars comics for some reason.

And, fatefully, I was assigned MIND MGMT #1, back when no one knew whether it would make it as an ongoing or end up a six-issue miniseries. Last week saw Matt Kindt finish the series on his own terms, after thirty-seven issues and a little over three years. I don’t know what my life or career would look like right now if not for receiving that assignment, and for that alone I would have always been grateful for my years at Dark Horse, but I am fortunate to have so many other reasons.

SEVEN YEAR PLAN

The future is a little terrifying, but I’m also the most excited I’ve been in years. I don’t know how long I’ll stick around Portland, but it will remain my home base for the time being, with more frequent visits to Los Angeles mixed in. One thing I don’t plan to change is my being a part of comics. I am as enchanted today as I was when I started by the possibilities of words and pictures and believe to my core in comics’ central role in innovating visual storytelling today. I hope to stay in comics as long as I am working, even if my role in it is evolving.

It’s probably more accurate to say my role is expanding, and I’m very pleased that the immediate future includes a continuation of my old one. Dark Horse will be among my first new clients, as I’ll be finishing a handful of projects on a freelance basis. I’ll also be starting immediately on some new Image series I’m excited about and lending a hand to a few existing ones that I read devotedly, and I’m currently in talks with a couple of nontraditional publishers about their upcoming comics lines. After years of doing things one way, I look forward to doing things five or six ways at once.

And that’s just the stuff I know about. Equally compelling are the projects that I don’t know are out there, the other Image series in search of an editor, the self-published books by authors who want a sounding board, the brilliant pitches in need of a helping hand to shape them, the graphic novel that’s complete except for a final proofread. I’m throwing the net wide, and I look forward to consulting/editing/proofreading on all kinds of projects.

If you’re looking, please send inquiries about experience, services, and rates to editing@brendanhwright.com. I’ll also be roaming Rose City Comic Con and New York Comic Con. And if you’re interested in seeing how this whole being-my-own-boss thing goes, follow me on Twitter at @BrendanWasright. Let’s keep comics the most vital entertainment medium going—together.