Saturday, May 12, 2007

Wild Wild Days Pt 1: Hired at WildStorm

"Seems like yesterday... but it was long ago" -Bob Seger, Against the Wind

Wildstorm_logo In 1994, I was one unhappy guy. Professionally, mostly. I was in a dead-end, low-paying temp job that was cutting my hours and didn't have anything to go from there. Lucky for me, I saw (and answered) an ad in the New York Times looking for someone with editorial experience and an interest in comics. The area code told me it was San Diego, which told me it was Homage Studios.

Never heard of Homage? No big surprise, I guess, but it was the studio where Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri and Whilce Portacio did their thing. They dreamed big and were part of the gang that broke from Marvel to launch Image. Well, Marc went to LA and set up shop as Top Cow, while Jim relocated to La Jolla and set up WildStorm. Whilce, one of the most laid-back artists I've ever met, went with Jim.

So I answered the ad. Not too long after, I got a phone call from Bill Kaplan, WildStorm's editor-in-chief. He was coming to New York for a comics convention and did I want to chat about a job as assistant editor? Hell yes!!

We met in a hotel lobby and shot the breeze about comics for a few hours. Bill was a dry-witted but intense guy with strong likes and dislikes; we didn't agree on more than half of the stuff we discussed but it was a good chat. I went back to New Jersey and didn't hear anything, then a month or two later I moved.

Not long after, I get another phone call. It was Bill, who'd been trying to track me down. Do I want to talk about the job again? Sure, I'd be glad to meet with him. We met for breakfast this time and wandered Midtown, looking for somewhere to eat. We settled on a Canadian place, where Bill got the biggest order of pancakes I've ever seen in my life. Well, this conversation must have settled a few things because I was offered the job of assistant editor.

It hadn't hurt that I'd done some writing in comics journalism (COMICS SCENE, STARLOG, and a piece or two in FANGORIA) or that I'd written some Dungeons and Dragons stuff. The game design background would come into play later.

So in September 1994, I packed up my car with everything it would hold, discarded much of the rest, bid farewell to family and friends for a trip to California (the second time I did this, btw) and headed out. My mom came along for the ride and helped me get settled, as I found my way into the world of WildStorm.

My first two titles were to be WetWorks (of which I knew a bit, having interviewed Whilce for COMICS SCENE some months before) and Backlash (of which I knew nothing). It was to become an interesting experience...

I found a studio apartment about a half-mile from WildStorm's offices in downtown La Jolla. Easy enough to walk to work, and I did most days, even though I had a car and a parking pass. About the only days I didn't were those I had errands to run outside of the office, which happened about once a week.

You may be wondering what the life of an assistant editor is like. Well, my days at WildStorm started with a thorough reading of everything the company had published. I'd bought and read most of it before but now I had to become an expert--and I was. My grasp of WS characters was pretty damn encyclopedic. (Of course, that was then and this is now so I could probably get taken in a contest of trivia by a hardcore WildStorm fan but I was pretty good back then.)

One of my first tasks was to find a desk, so Dave (VP John Nee's tireless assistant) helped me out. I think he still regrets it, as I took awhile finding the ideal desk... and it didn't match anything else in the office. Bill probably had second thoughts on hiring me right about then.

Did I mention my coworkers? The other assistant editors were Sarah Becker (who went on to fame in REAL WORLD: MIAMI) and Ted Adams (who went on to form IDW). Sarah was especially tight with Jeff Campbell, artist/creator of GEN13 (ever notice how much the title looks like "genie"?), while Ted was getting involved with special projects-- like trading cards. (More about that later.)

As an assistant editor, my basic job was "trafficking" the book. A comic book (at least at WildStorm) was done in this order:

  1. a plot is written;
  2. the plot goes from writer to penciler;
  3. penciled pages come in;
  4. xeroxes are made, one set for the file and one set for the writer to start writing dialogue;
  5. the pages themselves go to the inker;
  6. inked pages come in;
  7. xeroxes are made, one set for the file;
  8. inked pages are also scanned into the computer server for the colorists;
  9. along with dialogue from the writer, copies of the inked pages (marked up with balloon placement, a crude sketching-in done by the editor) goes to the letterer by fax;
  10. half-sized xeroxes of inked pages go to the color guidist (who colors scaled-down copies by hand as a guide for the computer colorists);
  11. color guides go from the guidist to the computer colorists, who work from the scans and the guides to produce full-color art;
  12. the letterer sends back files with lettering, including effects (such as BOOM! or K-POW or PHAM!);
  13. the editor reviews copies of the lettering (returned on faxes, usually) to spell-check and confirm placement;
  14. the production guys take all these pieces and assemble them into finished pages;
  15. the editor, meanwhile, writes up a letters page and makes sure that everyone has stuff to keep them busy as the work goes through the process;
  16. the editor draws up a map of the pages, identifying where double-page spreads are to go and where ads should be placed;
  17. the production guys create a letters page and place the ads;
  18. once that's done, they run film;
  19. the editor checks the film for scratches, after which it goes to the printer;
  20. the printer runs a blue-line (an unstapled copy of the comic in shades of blue) which are checked for placement and scratches;
  21. after getting an okay, the printer runs a "make-ready" which is an unstapled copy of the comic-- this is really the last point where production can be halted;
  22. the comic is printed, shipped to the distributor and ends up in your local store.

And that's how comics are made.

In my next post, I'll tell you how I screwed up, nearly got fired, made a serious enemy of a creator and more... all in my first month on the job.

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