Write or Wrong #45 - Interview with the Editor

Write or Wrong: Define Yourself

Anyone who has ever seriously aspired to work in the comicbook industry has probably at least tried to contact an “editor”…

But what does an editor do, exactly?

As might be expected, the answers vary based on the size of the company… but when it came time for me to get into discussing the role of an editor for you fine readers out there I knew that I wanted to talk to one that was, for lack of a better term, “on the level” of aspiring readers.

I mean, sure, I could try and interview an editor at Marvel or something (and at some point I still might), but most of you reading this are most likely going to pitch your books to either smaller companies/publishers or someone who deals exclusively with creator-owned properties.

Upon considering both of these factors, I knew that the first editor I would want to interview for the sake of this column would be Kris Simon from Image/Shadowline.

In the spirit of fair and full-disclosure, I do feel it’s necessary to mention that I’ve met Kris Simon a total of two times over the last five years, both times at a convention.

The first time was in passing when I was quickly introduced to her by my friend and Small Gods letterer Jim “Kep!” Keplinger. We met in passing and our conversation barely lasted long enough for me to foist a copy of a (now long out of print) NIGHTMARE WORLD book upon her before they went their way and I went mine.

The second time was last year when I swung-by the Shadowline booth in Artist’s Alley and foisted by wife and daughter upon her.

I originally planned on conducting this interview several months ago, but as avid followers of this column know, I – like thousands of other people – also made a pitch to the “Who Wants to Create a Super-Heroine?” contest created by Kris and Jim Valentino with my pitch/proposal ultimately making it to the “Final Five.”

Upon deciding to enter the contest I decided to hold back on interviewing Kris to alleviate any (unfounded) concerns of favoritism or nepotism. (For the record, my submission was submitted “blind,” judged and ultimately selected without my name on it.)

Jumping-ahead to the present, come this Monday my comic series NIGHTMARE WORLD will be making its debut at the Shadowline webcomics hub, but, this has no bearing on the fact that I’ve wanted to interview her for quite some time.

Besides, if I don’t interview Kris about the role of an editor (and how it affects you as a writer) at this point I may never get to it… so, onward!

Grab a drink and prepare to take notes as Kris Simon talks about what it is an editor does (and doesn’t) do, her surprising and candid opinion on self-publishing and what it takes to create comics worth of being published by Image Comics.

Newsarama: Kris, what was your exposure to the world of comics? Also, what made you decide that – of all the possible career options out there for someone like yourself – your calling was (and presumably still is) editing comics?

Kris Simon: I’ve been exposed to comics for as long as I can remember. My father and uncle read comics and gave them to my brother and I to read when we were younger, and my childhood was filled with trips to the drugstore on the corner to spend our allowance on X-Men and Archie comics. Even in high school, my first boyfriend read comics, we dated through college, and my next boyfriend was an inker. I attended art school, and I had a double major in Fiction Writing and Illustration, so comics was really something that combined both loves, along with children’s books.

Considering this was in the early to mid-’90s and Image had just formed and at the time, comics seemed a very lucrative business to get into. My boyfriend had a book that he’d wanted to do at Image, and I figured no one could tell the story better than him, so I offered to edit it for him. After several attempts to get the book accepted, we just went ahead and self-published it. That’s when I discovered I really liked editing. I’ve always been more of a behind-the-scenes type of person.

NRAMA: I have to admit, I didn’t know that you were once involved in self-publishing. I’m (obviously) a big advocate of self-publishing both online and in-print despite (and partially because of) the massive amount of work and effort that goes into it… but what were your self-publishing adventures like? What did you learn from self-publishing?

KS: Self-publishing has changed a lot since I did it; back then there were no print on demand services, and it cost a lot of money.

NRAMA: Oh, I remember those days. It was like “Do I want to print 50 copies of this book at Kinko’s or eat anything besides Ramen noodles this week?” [laughs]

KS: We had an investor that believed in our book, but negotiations with him broke down after the second issue came out because he wanted more ownership than we were comfortable with giving him. It was a learning experience and I would not recommend others go through it, but I do realize that people need to learn from their own mistakes. I was lucky that we could all walk away without owing any money and call it all a wash.

Personally, I feel that if no other publishers will accept your book, self-publishing is NOT the way to go. Small Press companies are dropping like flies, and with Diamond’s stricter regulations and the market being the way it is, I just feel it’s not worth it. But hey…that’s just one person’s opinion. You have to follow your heart.

NRAMA: Fair enough. Well, what was your first “big break” in terms of editing comics? Also, how did you first meet Jim Valentino and what lead to the “tight” working relationship the two of you now share?

KS: My first “big break” was Small Gods. Jason Rand contacted me to edit his book, and the both of us set about finding the rest of the creative team. I first met Jim Valentino at Wizard World Chicago, back when the self-publishing fell flat. I introduced myself and asked if we could meet at his convenience to go over a potential submission. We did, and honestly, I believe the next 4 or 5 proposals I sent in were rejected… and that’s how I got to know him!

NRAMA: You know, thousands of readers out there right now are breathing a sigh of relief knowing that even you got rejected by Jim Valentino a few times. Was it tough to get turned down like that again… and again… and again?

KS: Sure it was! It broke my heart, every time. There are still a couple concepts that were turned down that I feel are still worthy of publication, but I think everyone feels that way about some proposals, and you have to keep in mind this was over the course of a few years. I wasn’t turning in proposals one right after the other.

We spent 6 to 8 months honing these ideas and putting together the 5 pages and synopsis, but Image is the big leagues, and getting accepted meant I would be qualified to be there, so every time a proposal was turned down I looked at what was wrong and how to make it better for the next one. I never took a rejection personally or used it as an excuse to quit.

NRAMA: That’s, in my opinion, of the biggest obstacles for many up-and-coming creators. Rejections are not personal – no matter how personal the work might be to the creator. Sorry… carry on.

KS: Small Gods was the first proposal that was accepted. From that point, I took a lot of advice from Jim regarding the book. When Erik Larsen took over, Jim decided to start Shadowline back up again, initially launching with a line of titles he himself created (ShadowHawk, Emissary, Task Force 1, The Intimidators) and he knew he needed an editor. He asked me, and I accepted! Once Shadowline gained its footing, it was a natural progression to take care of the other books that were coming in as well.

NRAMA: I was a huge fan of Small Gods, but despite the solid writing and incredible art I got the impression that never really found a huge audience past a certain “cult following” that really enjoyed the book. You had to be a bit bummed to see that book wrap-up as early as it did…

KS: Well, by today’s standards, the book was actually quite a success. The series ran for 12 issues, plus a Special. When we felt it had run its course and we voluntarily canceled the series ourselves. It wasn’t canceled by Image. As a matter of fact, there was such an uproar when we announced its cancellation that Image offered to UN-cancel it! As a team, we discussed it and agreed and were going to release one more 4 issue mini-series to see how it went. Unfortunately, there were two problems: First, Juan Ferreyra had already agreed to take over on Rex Mundi, and also, Jason Rand just wasn’t that into it anymore, he was ready to move on. So those factors added up to delays in the production, which grew frustrating for everyone, so we just decided to forget the whole thing. And yeah, I was pretty bummed about it. I was quite fond of the series.

NRAMA: I’m sure you’ve learned a lot from Jim since you began working with him at Shadowline, but what’s the “Number One” lesson you’ve learned from him in regards to your craft?

KS: I don’t think I can pinpoint a “Number One” lesson from Jim; he’s been my mentor and taught me just about everything I know. There are so many different aspects of editing that are important, and he’s really been a fantastic teacher. I think the creators being published under Shadowline are extremely lucky to have his guidance and experience. He truly has a love for comics, and he’s very hands-on with everything that goes through Shadowline. I’m continually learning.

NRAMA: What’s your average work-day like? Do you do a lot of work online, on the phone chasing people down…. what?

KS: All of my work is online, and I’m pretty much in contact with Jim all day long, either over IM or on the phone. I can’t really say there is an “average” work day, most of the time it’s putting out various fires within the creative teams.

There’s a lot of stress involved with putting out a book by a deadline, and it’s my job to step in and make sure everything is running as smoothly as possible. I edit scripts, I approve all stages of the artwork (covers are Jim’s territory, although he steps in on plot and layouts as needed) and I write the editorial columns. Every book requires something different. Some books I don’t have to do a thing on because everything just gels perfectly and gets done while some need a lot of work and attention.

NRAMA: Kris, just between you and me and the several thousand people reading this… who’s harder to work with: writers or artists? Be honest.

KS: It really depends on the individual artist or writer. Artists are typically flakier than writers. They disappear, don’t turn in pages, overextend themselves without telling you and give constant excuses on why things aren’t getting done.

However, there are writers who just haven’t learned how to write! There are those who want to write because “it’s easier” but haven’t learned the basics of plotting or scripting, let alone the economy of writing comics. You can show them exactly what they do wrong, and they’ll go right ahead and do the same thing wrong over and over. I’ve seen both of these things happen time and again with lots of different artists and writers.

NRAMA: It never ceases to amaze me that so many writers are so anxious to get their “big break” only to then refuse editorial guidance when it’s offered to them. I mean, to use a sports metaphor, you would think that they’d understand that part of playing for the big leagues is taking the advice of your coach…

KS: I don’t believe they necessarily refuse guidance (well, some do)… it’s just that some writers AREN’T writers! You can tell them repeatedly “Don’t bury your lead,” but if they don’t know what you’re talking about they’ll just keep doing it over and over, and as the editor, it’s NOT my job to teach writers how to learn their craft.

I’m not a script doctor or a co-writer. To use your metaphor, it’s like watching football for years as a fan and then thinking you can play it as well as the pros with no training.

NRAMA: Ha! Well, what are the top two or three biggest mistakes you see most aspiring writers make while trying to get their first “big break” in the world of comics?

KS: Writers who are fans and think that just because they’ve read comics for 20 years that they can write one. It’s a lot harder than it looks. Sometimes not even an editor can help!

Also, too much hype in the proposal. Questions are posed but answers aren't given. The editor and publisher are not the audience!

Last, I would have to say being succinct. I saw this in the “Create a Super Heroine” contest for writers and I see it all the time in proposals. One brief paragraph, summarize the story (not the plot, there is a difference and a writer needs to know what the difference is)! No editor will wade through pages of description and details. They’ll skim and skip over most of it, if not just flat out reject it.

NRAMA: OK, well, just so everyone out there is crystal clear, what’s the difference between “story” and “plot” in regards to pitches?

KS: The story is what happens. The plot is HOW it happens.

NRAMA: Nice. I hear people taking more notes already. Conversely, what impresses you an editor? Regardless of genre, what can writers (or completed art teams) do to really make you sit-up and take notice of their pitch?

KS: Follow the submission guidelines to perfection. That’s first and foremost, no exceptions.

Then, you need fantastic art combined with a story/concept that is unique, marketable and well-written. It isn’t as easy as it looks, but when it works it can be magic!

NRAMA: I’ve talked about my own experiences as going from a “lone writer” to finding and networking with artists and finally becoming an accomplished comic book creator several times throughout the history of this column to date, but your vantage point and experiences in this area are clearly going to be different from my own. As someone who’s “sitting on the other side of the fence,” what advice can you give to writers looking to connect with artists so they can pitch to publishers such as Shadowline?

KS: Well, I know it’s hard to find artists who will work for back-end pay, but they ARE out there. There are plenty of diamonds in the rough who are looking to break in (it’s how we managed to find Juan Ferreyra for Small Gods…and it was a toss up between him and Mitchell Breitweiser, who went on to exclusivity with Marvel), and when it comes down to it artists can spend the next 6 months looking for a paying gig or they can spend their time drawing pages for an actual script, honing their skills even more while learning what it takes to be on a creative team. 5 pages for a submission could wind up being their ticket “in”… and if they want it badly enough, they’ll do it.

Of course, as a writer, it’s really up to you to set the standard. With a bad script or bad communication skills and everything can fall apart. We’ve seen wonderful ideas go south due to poor execution.

NRAMA: “If they want it bad enough, they’ll do it.” Hmmm… I think I may have uttered those exact same words once or two (hundred) times in this very column. That aside, what’s crucial – in your opinion – for a “good” script rather than just a good story. What are a few script-writing tips you can offer hopeful writers to “improve their game,” so to speak?

KS: Well, I have the Top 10 Tips for Writing Comics under “Help for Writers” on my forum located in the “Help Wanted, Help Needed” message board. I’m asked that question a lot, so I went ahead and posted it there. ;)

NRAMA: Your pimp-fu as well as your foresight concerning this manner are both to be praised. In your opinion, what do comics need right now? What does the world of comics need that it’s lacking at the moment?

KS: Less of the sheer laziness. I’ve never seen an industry so lazy. Too many people seem to want everyone else to do the hard work for them.

NRAMA: Hence my argument for self-publishing as a learning experience… but I digress. Given the fact that you and Jim have recently started the Shadowline webcomic collective I think it’s fairly obvious where you stand on this topic, but what’s your take on the advantages of webcomics for both up-and-coming creators as well as better-known veterans? After all, there are a fair amount of people out there who say that giving away your work online is, well, “dumb.”

KS: For new creators, it’s a way to get your work out there and seen by a ton of people. It allows you to build a fanbase while improving. You can see what works and what doesn’t.

For established pros it’s another creative outlet that allows you to experiment and try out new things with little to no risk. With Shadowline’s webcomics, the obvious benefit is that if the webcomic is popular enough, we’ll collect it and publish it. We’ve done that twice with both PX and Parade (with Fireworks) and both were nominated for Eisner’s, so for us, all have been successful attempts at publishing a webcomic collection.

NRAMA: For the record, I just want to say that I’ve been a reader and uber-fan of PX since about the second day it was online. I love that series!

KS: Webcomics, if done really well, can be very worthwhile for everyone involved. The one problem I’ve been seeing lately is the over-analysis of Shadowline’s webcomics. Rarely do I read about if they are good or not, or the diversity of them, or how well they are drawn.

Instead, I am constantly reading about the viewer we are using, why we are doing it (the business plan), and questions about the “ultimate goal” of them. Jim and I read these “critiques” and just shake our heads. We’re giving people FREE comics to read. FREE… and they are all of great quality! To complain about the delivery system not being what you want seems…counter-productive?

NRAMA: I spent the last few columns talking about goal-setting. What are your goals both personally and for Shadowline in the next year? In the next five years?

KS: Jim and I definitely have a 5 year plan for both Shadowline and Silverline Books (Shadowline is coming on to year 4 right now and Silverline Books has just launched). I am committed to both of them and will do everything I can to see those goals become reality.

So far, Shadowline has continued to exceed expectations every year. Now that Silverline Books has become a part of it, I hope that our goals for this new imprint are also exceeded.

Personally, my goal is to stay with Shadowline and continue building both lines. Jim and I work very well together, and I would love nothing more than to do that for the foreseeable future.

NRAMA: I think it’s worth mentioning that you’re weeks away from releasing your first book from Silverline Books, a children’s tale titled Bruce: The Little Blue Spruce. What kind of changes or difficulties did you go through – if any – from changing from being an editor of other writers’ work to (presumably) having your own work edited by someone else? Was it a difficult transition to make?

KS: No, not really. For one thing, I wrote the book about 10 years ago. Jim did the editing on it, and the edits were very minor. Most of them were because we decided to make the book a graphic novel/story book hybrid and Jim had to reformat the story from prose. Jim also edits all of the editorial columns I write, and we usually run important e-mails past each other for editing, so I’m pretty used to it as it’s part of the collaborative nature of our working relationship.

NRAMA: Do you have any additional books you plan on writing in the near future… or do you plan on still focusing most of your energies on editing for the time being?

KS: I do plan on focusing most of my energy on editing, although I also have a follow up in mind for Bruce if all goes well.

NRAMA: What’s the best advice you can give hopeful writers out there in regards to dealing with editors… besides listening to every word they say, of course. [laughs]

KS: An editor is a person who is once removed from your book. They’re not there to necessarily tell you what to do or slash and hack your story to pieces. They are a pair of fresh eyes (fresh eyes that know their stuff) and are not emotionally attached to the work, therefore they see things that you would miss from plot holes to spelling errors to bad dialogue. They question things that don’t make sense and keep things from wandering off track.

NRAMA: One debate that never seems to go away in comics is the ongoing “buying the issues” versus “waiting for the trade.” As an editor who works with a lot of “younger” creators who, quite frankly, may very well be struggling to break-even on their first few books, what’s your take and experience concerning this topic?

KS: For an unknown creator who has no built-in audience, single issues are the way to go. They allow you to prove yourself issue by issue and build your audience. Single issues are cheaper to produce, they are non-returnable and allow the creator to potentially make money monthly.

If there is significant interest in the single issues, then a trade can be produced so that the folks who missed the series but have heard the buzz can pick it up and read it. A trade is very expensive to produce, could take a year or longer to merely break even and whatever doesn’t sell can be returned and further screw up any profits.

NRAMA: I’m glad you brought that up, as it’s something a lot of potential creators don’t consider when they discuss releasing their first published work as a graphic novel.

KS: Most readers will pick up an issue for $3.50 from a new creator (and come back for the rest) rather than blindly buying a trade for $12-$14 by someone they have never heard of. So, for independent creators trying to break in with no following yet, single issues are by far the way to go.

NRAMA: I’ve taken-up a lot of your precious time, so allow me to return the favor by giving you a free “shout-out” as we wind things down. Tell us about one or two Shadowline books that you really, really believe a majority of the readers here at Newsarama would feel good spending their hard-earned dollars on if they gave it a chance – be it in single issue or TPB form.

KS: Well, I can’t really just choose a couple, it’s not fair to the rest of creators at Shadowline. It’s like having 10 kids and being asked to name your two favorites in front of the other ones! But I can say this:

If you have kids, do yourself a favor and get them Dear Dracula (Josh Williamson & Vinny Navarrete) and Bruce the Little Blue Spruce (Jim Valentino & myself), and order Missing the Boat (Justin Shady/Wayne Chinsang).

If you like horror, get Savage (Mike Mayhew & Steve Niles) for some Bigfoot vs. werewolves action and order Zombie Cop (Jeff Mariotte).

If you like superheroes, pick up I Hate Gallant Girl (Kat Cahill & Seth Damoose) and order the winner of the super heroine contest Incredible Journey (Tom Arguello, Jim Valentino & Jimmie Robinson).

If you need an “alternative” fix, get any of the books in the Ted McKeever Library.

Of course, if you’re utterly depraved (and I know you are), then continue to support Bomb Queen by Jimmie Robinson!

NRAMA: I once heard that every time Jimmie Robinson sells an issue of Bomb Queen that an angel cries. Regardless, finally Kris, on a personal note, all creators have a favorite snack that they turn to in order to give them energy during those late night work sessions. What’s your favorite? [laughs]

KS: I try not to eat after 7pm, but I guess if I do, it’s Dippin’ Stix – but not the candy! I eat the apple slices or carrot/celery slices that come with different dips, like Ranch and caramel, caramel with peanuts… yeah, pretty boring, I know.

Back in the day (of not dieting) it would have been a scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream mixed with Bailey’s Irish Cream.

NRAMA: Hmmm, I do have some sweet-sweet ice cream in the freezer right now… and since I’m not on a diet (yet) I think I’ll go have some on your behalf! Thanks, for the idea (and for your time) Kris!

WRITER’S NOTE Before I go, I just want to make a quick mention of the fact that Josh Ross (he of NIGHTMARE WORLD and Atomic Robo back-up story fame) and I will be signing comics and kissing babies at Vault of Midnight

 in Ann Arbor, Michigan on Halloween Night from 6-10 PM… so if you’re from the Midwest area and feel like kickin’ it with us while we sign comics and such, feel free to swing on out, ya’ hear? Thanks, all!

Next Time: At last: How to crush the opposition and make friends in the process.

Dirk Manning is the writer/creator of NIGHTMARE WORLD and a longtime contributing writer for Newsarama. He lives on the Internet and can usually be found lurking around MySpace as well as the comic hub at SoulGeek, Comicspace and even Facebook and Twitter. Yeesh. He tries to be fairly accessible to people who’d like to talk to (or at) him and he usually does pretty well at responding to everyone who takes the time to comment in the talkback sections of these columns… so leave some comments below and check back often if you’re into that sort of thing, have something worthwhile (or entertaining) to say or otherwise want to keep the conversation going.

Want to read Write or Wrong from the beginning? Here ya’ go!

WoW #1: Introduce Yourself

WoW #2: Thematically Speaking

WoW #3: How Badly Do You Want It?

WoW #4: Meeting Bendis and Finding Artists

WoW #5: Making First Contact

WoW #6: Things Fall Apart

WoW #7: Creation vs Dictation

WoW #8: Kill the Buddha

WoW #9: They’re Not Robots

WoW #10: Dollars and Sense

WoW #11: World Wide You

WoW #12: Always Use Protection

WoW #13: Contract Killers

WoW #14: Take a Look in the Mirror

WoW #15: Words Worth 1,000 Pictures

WoW #16: Mid-Ohio Musings

WoW #17: Seeking What the Masters Sought

WoW #18: Means and Ends

WoW #19: Likeable Characters

WoW #20: “What’s My (Evil) Motivation?”

WoW #21: It’s Not a Race

WoW #22: How to Successfully Play God

WoW #23: “Are you really THAT good?”

WoW #24: Things Fall Apart, v2.0

WoW #25: Climbing Out of the Hole

WoW #26: “See all those people out there?”

WoW #27: “Lose Yourself”

WoW #28: The Tallest Midget in Shortsville

WoW #29: Punisher Skrull Sex

WoW #30: The Wrath of Con

WoW #31: All We Have is Time

WoW #32: Dishin’ with Dwight MacPherson

WoW #33: The horror, the horror…

WoW #34: The End is the Beginning

WoW #35: The Weakest Link

WoW #36: Wrestling with Spidey

WoW #37: It Has To Be You

WoW #38: Step Up

WoW #39: Rage Against the (Pitch) Machine

WoW #40: Interesting Times

WoW #41: “Why So Serious?”

WoW #42: Defining Success

WoW #43: Define Yourself

WoW #44: The Power of “No”

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