from Amazing Spider-Man FamilyThis week in Weekly Webbing, we track down the unsung, underpaid, unappreciated member of the Spider-Office – Assistant Editor Tom Brennan (don’t let Amazing Spider-Man Editor Steve Wacker tell you that he matches all of those descriptions, above - he's not unsung.)
Brennan is one of that mysterious class of Marvel employees – the Assistant Editor. So what does he do? Well, alright, what does he do besides think about the moving into the Editor’s desk the day after Wacker’s unfortunate “accident”? Quite a lot actually, as he explains to us. He’s also moving on to edit a growing number of his own projects, including Amazing Spider-Man Family and Daily Show writer Wyatt Cenac in next week’s Marvel Assistant Sized Spectacular #2.
We interrupted Brennan’s sketching out elaborate plans involving pianos falling on little stick men named “Steve” to get more info…
Newsarama: First off Tom, you're a new name for this weekly Q&A. Tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you got to the coveted(?) position of being an Assistant Editor at Marvel. Was this something you were shooting for, or did you land here via a side door?
Tom Brennan: Thank you for the warm welcome, the internet. It’s good to be here. As mentioned, I’m Tom Brennan, Amazing Spider-Man assistant editor and defensive specialist on the soccer field. And yes, working at Marvel was a goal of mine while entering the real world. I’d interned for Marvel back in 2004, over in the Ultimate Office, and had a blast being behind the scenes, assisting in what ways I could in the editorial process. Coming out of school, however, jobs ‘round these parts were sparse so I headed to the glamorous world of network television, working for a year and a half in the CBS Page program (those of you who are fans of 30 Rock can hold off on the comparisons to Kenneth – I’ve heard them all.)
Amazing Spider-Man #595 variant coverFor 18 months, I pulled 14 hour days (plus weekends) working as a green room production assistant on the CBS Early Show and as control room production assistant for the CBS Evening News, along with several offices in between. The job gave me a real hands-on training in dealing with high profile talent, working under the pressure of a deadline and generally taught me how to conduct myself as a professional.
About a month after I left that job, I’d heard of a position opening at Marvel and with the thanks of Nick Lowe, my overlord from my internship days, I landed an interview with Steve Wacker and Tom Brevoort, and the rest is history. Tragic, tragic history…
NRAMA: Since you're the one with the title and everything, tell us - what does an Assistant Editor do?
TB: Assistant Editors are basically the feet and arms for an Editor – you deal with the day-to-day operations of a book, from checking in with talent to trafficking necessary materials (art, recap pages, ad lineups) to other freelancer creators, production, proofreading and anyone else involved in the process, as well as handling any other little tasks (emergencies, really) that happen from day to day.
NRAMA: As an Assistant Editor, how much input do you have in terms of the direction of the book? Are you a voice at the Spider-Summit, or not quite yet?
from Wyatt Cenac's Luke Cage storyTB: I’d say I’m getting there. At those things, I like to consider myself the Steve Kerr of these events (that’s a sports reference. Ask your older brothers) -- I pick and choose my shots. There are so many voices in those rooms and they’re all much more qualified than I. I try to see them as learning experiences and focus on taking notes, but when I see my shot I’ll take it, and generally they’ve been well received.
NRAMA: And just so we've got this right, are you in the same office as Steve and Tom Brevoort, three other people, and that Haitian family? That room was only made for one person, you know...
TB: Haitian Family? You guys don’t care whose faces you get in! Actually, that’s former president Jean Betrande Aristide. He’s writing a digital short for us.
I am indeed in the same office-for-one with three other people. It’s “wonderful.”
Actually, it’s bred a nice spirit of camaraderie between myself, Steve, Mr. Brevoort and Associate Editor Jeanine Schaefer. We’ll all probably never be in trench warfare (if we are, I pity the army that’s drafted us), but this is as close as it gets. We’re all in the same room which can get crowded and tense at times, but it’s also kept communication open, which is the key, and made it light years easier to solve problems. From where I sit, it’s a fountain of knowledge – three people with three vastly different points of view on how to do this job are at my disposal everyday. And Steve Wacker sings at least once or twice a day. What else do you need?
NRAMA: Sanity, probably. As we've talked to Steve before, there's a lot to do to get the books out the door. Of all the parts of the process, what tasks are specifically yours? What parts do you love to do? What do you drag your feet on and put off?
Spider-Girl from Amazing Spider-Man FamilyTB: On the Spider-Books, it’s more a matter of trafficking the art, building up and distributing reference and keeping track of where our artists are on their respective issues. I honestly love doing our recap page. When it was THE DB! front page, I’d challenge myself to jam as much info in without being too wordy, and I also challenged myself to come up with as many pun headlines as possible. Nothing will ever make me happier than “Gangsta Trap” in #576. We have a brand new layout in #593 that’s also a ton of fun, but I will miss that challenge.
From time to time, we’ll be asked to do balloon placements as guides for our letterers to follow while lettering a comic. I tend to do that as late in the day as possible – it’s just not something I’m wired too well for.
NRAMA: What's the "progression" of an Assistant Editor like, for lack of a better word? Is it something like the longer you've been there, the more full-on "editing" you get? Or do you have to kill Steve to get his job?
TB: Well, Steve told me from day one that no matter how long you’ve been at the job, as an assistant editor you still have to pick up your boss’s dry cleaning, wash his car, babysit his kids and reorganize his sock drawer, so I do that unquestionably and probably will for the rest of my life.
The longer you’re at the job (or the faster you excel), the more projects you wind up editing. You still tend to have a lot of input from your boss or your Senior Editor in terms of content, but in terms of casting and scheduling, it’s much more in your hands.
NRAMA: That said, you have done some full-on editing. What was the first story you edited, and were listed as Editor on?
TB: Aunt May: Agent of F.E.A.S.T., a short story in Amazing Spider-Man Family #1. Keith Champagne, Shawn Moll and a pocket full of Tom Brennan's dreams.
NRAMA: What else is coming up that's under your purview?
more of Wyatt Cenac's Luke Cage storyTB: Right off the bat, next week you, the comic book reader, can find Citizen Cage by Wyatt Cenac and Todd Nauck in ye olde Marvel Assistant Sized Spectacular #2.
The Sinister Spider-Man, by Mr. Brian Reed and Chris Bachalo, will be under my editorial reign, thus affirming my childhood prediction “one day people will know me as the guy who gave the world an anthropomorphic hippo with a cybernetic arm.” I’ll also be working on Marvel Apes specials, a few digital specials with my man Tom DeFalco, as well as the Spectacular Spider-Girl digital comic by Tom and Ron Frenz.
I’m also looking forward to the 70th Anniversary Timely Annual: Young Allies by Roger Stern and Paolo Rivera. It’s a story that means a lot to me and, I feel, Roger and Paolo as well, and I think it’s going to be something very special.
NRAMA: We knew about Spider-Girl and a couple of the others, but how did the story with Wyatt come about? What's it about anyway?
TB: It’s appearing in Marvel Assistant Sized Spectacular #2, out next week, and features Luke Cage as he decides whether he should enter the most dangerous snake pit of all – New York City Government. Wyatt Cenac is one of the rising stars in comedy and comedy writing and can be found weeknights on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I met Wyatt after he and Tom Brevoort did a local Comic Book talk show, Comic Book Club Live. I discovered that he’s a huge comic book fan, but was also a professional writer. So I took this idea to him and we developed it a bit, focusing it into a 9 page story. The art’s by Todd Nauck, who’s also made his name in political superhero-ing with Amazing #583’s short story, “Spidey Meets The President!” and as a notorious city politics nerd, I’m extremely happy with it and I hope you guys go out and buy eleven copies each.
NRAMA: We've hit some of the better parts of the job, but what about when things go off the tracks a little, like last week's #592? As has been mentioned by readers, the Macroverse time thing in issue #591-#592 didn't work out quite the way Dan wanted it to...within the office, who noticed that mistake first?
TB: Actually it was Dan Slott who caught it, but alas, it was too late. Lesson learned: Reed Richards’ vocabulary is too intelligent to grapple with, even for the people who write it for him. Really, given Bob Gale’s experience with Time Travel, we should have called him in on that one. Ah well, The New York Times makes dozens of mistakes a day. These mistakes are awful and they kill you when you see them in print. But ultimately, all you can do is take your beating and get back to work.
NRAMA: Not to start pointing fingers, but what happened to allow that to get through? Was it a...er...tense time in the office?
TB: That screw up was something of a group effort. It’s weird – a thousand set of eyes can see a book (and often do) and still a mistake will slip past. On the Spidey books, it goes through proofreading, through a read-out editor (an editor from another office who’s job is to give the lettering a clean read), through all seven of our web heads, myself, Tom and Steve. Dan was explaining a complicated piece of science and unfortunately a few of the puzzle pieces got mixed up.
from Young AlliesThat’s generally not the kind of stuff that’ll cause tension, though. We certainly work our butts off to make sure it doesn’t happen, and often succeed -- for those of you keeping count, we’ve put out 46 of these ASM issues since December of 2007 with very few hiccups (and ohhhh we’ve come close…) – so we mixed up a confusing bit of imaginary science. It sucks but we’re all prepared to move on. Plus, as you’ll see in the #593 letters page, a solution has been crafted, so go buy that. BWAHAHAAHA!
picture supplied by Steve WackerNRAMA: Fair enough. So looking ahead - what are you working on today, right now for the book?
TB: I’m working on Spider-Man: The Short Halloween by Seth Myers & Bill Hader, as well as continuing to prepare for ASM #600, which will be, without a doubt, the most jam-packed, bang-for-your-buck issue of Amazing Spider-Man since…well…ever. I’m extremely excited to be a part of that big of a moment in comic book history, and we’re all working furiously to make sure it’s something y’all will love. I’m also building up a boat of reference for the stories that follow 600, where you’ll see—what? Oops, gotta get back to work. Thanks for your time, internet! Seeya in the letters page…I’ll be the one getting made fun of.