For every "I never went to college and made $1 million" story, there are 100 "I went to college and had to take whatever menial job I could after graduation in order to make ends meet." In order to sustain payments to my good friend Sallie Mae for a $25,000 dollar student loan debt with which I earned a Journalism degree with an English minor, I spent three and a half years in the trenches of reproductive hell called Kinko's. I like to think of it as my time of "paying my dues," whatever that really means, but mostly it's a way of glorifying a really shitty job.
There were lows. I helped people whose grasp of the language (domestic and foreign born) was sketchy at best. I had the singular privilege of explaining copyright law on a regular basis to those who wanted to flaunt it at their peril. There was a family on Sunday who drove in from the rural area east of Portland to sit and wait while we printed their church newsletter. Doesn't sound bad until you know that we dubbed the parents and their sagging diapered children "The Fecal Family" for some strong and unsavory olfactory reasons.
There were perks. I met a lot of creative people and spent many an after work beer at the corner pub discussing higher projects and jobs. I worked the swing shift with someone (looking not unlike the Brit on "Crossing Jordan") whose humor and adaptation of Darth Vader's theme to the Xerox 5390's finishing tray made the job bearable far longer than ever should have; it's only funny if you've ever worked on one.
Also, I remember when Bob Schreck walked in after starting up Oni. It must have been early because he was using our fax machine (at $2-3 a page) to send messages to Kevin Smith. He had original art copies of the first issue of Clerks. I was helping him and introduced myself as a comics fan. We chatted shop for two seconds and then I took his money. I saw him a little later when Oni was a little bigger and a little bolder and he showed me preview copies of Frank Miller's 300. Without the color, it was stunning. It was just very cool that he remembered our previous conversation and made me feel like an insider, if even for a second.
I've never forgot that good feeling he left. But if you know Schreck's story, it makes sense.
He started working his way into comics early. He read them and loved them. First and foremost, he is a fan of the medium. It's a paycheck, but it's also a passion. Even his first editing experience was in his adolescence. When he was 10, listening and honing his older brother's stories to make them more interesting and in line with his own continuity.
He worked his way up and in the late 70s, started working for Marvel in a marketing capacity, both as an in-office worker and a freelancer. Probably, though his biggest exposure came when he worked for Comico. Here Diana Schutz and Bob worked together for the first time. They helped to take an independent venture that had pretty high production values (look at those early issues of Willingham's "Elementals" and Matt Wagner's" Mage") and some relatively unknown creators and made a good line of comics.
Well, when Comico spiraled down into financial obscurity, he and Diana (again) moved to Dark Horse, nestled in a suburb of Portland, Oregon. Here was where Schreck really took all that he knew and put it to use. Frank Miller apparently was injected with some kind of four-color crack, because he continues to work for Schreck wherever he goes. Too bad Marvel had its head in its collective ass when Schreck was ready to leave. Perhaps they would have that new Miller material for that dream Daredevil project had they wiped the detritus from their eyes.
Dark Horse became an environment in which Schreck describes as a situation mirroring his head talking to and hitting the brick wall far too often for his own good. When it was time, he left, not in any kind of Jerry Maguire style, but quickly and quietly. During the down time, he started the beginnings of Oni Press with co-conspirator Joe Nozemack.
When DC came a'callin', it wasn't an instant decision, but inevitable nonetheless. Making consistent "New York money" (as Diana Schutz likes to characterize it) and in a position of power was too much to turn down. So Oni was handed off to capable hands and Schreck's tenure in the Bat office has seen it in a tumultuous time that might have scared off editors with far less backbone.
But he doesn't forget the Golden Rule of Comic Book Production: the book has to be good. The fan in him is still strong and it can argued quite well that the books he edits mete out that rule.
In this phone interview with Bob Schreck he talks openly about his marriage and divorce with Schutz, why he doesn't write comic book stories at all, and why newsstand sales are a killer for the ego and the pocketbook.
Michael David Thomas: I have yet to see a credit for you in the position as a comic book writer. I wondered if there were any pieces for comics that people - like myself - may not know about.
Bob Schreck: No, I've never had a credit as a comic book writer. I was asked to write a story many years ago for Dark Horse, an eight-page for Dark Horse Presents. I kept telling everyone, "No, I'm a much better tweaker than I am a writer." I finally gave in and handed it over. My assistant at the time, Jamie Rich, said, "Y'know, you're right." I've pretty much kept my writing to articles. I don't know if you know of the Comico Blimp, but I wrote a lot of articles there and other columns during my Dark Horse days.
MDT: Did you have any aspirations early on to do comic book writing?
BS: No. … I started making films when I was nine. My writing [was mainly] screenplay type writing and for film production. I made films all the way up until…1982 or 83.
MDT: A lot of people tend to aspire to the top two positions in comics, either as a writer or an artist. You don't hear a lot of people who say I want to be an editor. It doesn't crop in the dream jobs people talk about. I wondered how that plays into your being where you are now. What did you want to do? At what point did you realize this was what you were really good at?
BS: I had a fairly traumatic experience. I survived a house fire. I had inhalation of way too much smoke. I almost did not survive. I was told that if I had been unconscious for another two to three minutes, I would not have ever been conscious again. I came out of that with literally nothing but my skin and bones. It was me. My whole comic book collection, my music collection, everything was gone in my house. I was young, I was about 19.
It was a great wake up call that made me realize that even the flesh and bones I owned was a loaner. They were bowling shoes. I gotta get moving on doing something with my life that made me happy, that made me feel that I was contributing. It made me feel like I was being able to be creative and eat at the same time. I just decided that that was the real priority. I didn't focus so much on what that was.
At the very beginning, I was a musician. I was a singer in a band, the co-manager for 8 years. I took a lot of risks, but I decided that I'd rather take these risks and be happy at what I was doing than not take the risks and going home every night and feeling like I was not contributing. Waking up in the morning with a pit in your stomach feeling like I don't want to do this. After 13 was when I really started reading comic books. The whole movies, horror movies, comic books, science fiction books. I was and am still a fairly voracious reader… of all types of books. All these things came together and I spent my whole life, from nine up, immersed in that. [The] music career eventually blended in [given] the fact that I hired Adam Malin, the co-owner of Creation Convention, as my keyboard player. Now I was not only attending cons, I was running them. It was all art to me. It was all part of making art. Either the music or the comics or film.
Then one thing led to another and I was walking away from my music career and walking into a career into comic books. I feel that what I do is very much like a producer who sits in a music studio and works with artists, different musicians and produces an album, which is very much like a film producer who sits down and says, "We need to make this happen and get all the players to make this happen." Take the best and try to get that onto the page.
MDT: When I talked to Diana back in December, she had talked a lot about when you hire people to edit, about weeding out the people who might be hired as editors, but really want to be writers or artists. I wondered if you shared those views as well.
BS: Very much so. You wind up with very frustrated editors who aren't editing but rewriting the work of the talent and that's again what makes a great producer. Somebody who understands where that line is and can say, "This is the voice…" I always try to say that I try to provide very fertile topsoil. A place for these people to take root and grow. I don't want my vision on the page…
For once, I understand where the various creators have come together on a certain project, then my vision becomes basically an amalgam of trying to make all their visions come together in harmony. My motto is my ego and my opinion shouldn't win. Let's say we have a co-creator project like Milligan and Allred. Neither of them should win, but the book is the ultimate winner. That is the entity we should be fighting and working together to make sure that the book wins and not any one person's narrow focus. As long as everybody realizes and agrees that boy, we're going to do the best to make this the best book we can. I try to put my personal/professional biases in the back and I certainly use my bag of tricks on every project, but at the end of the day, it's the book that should win and not any one opinion that I might have.
MDT: You seem to be one of the few editors that just edits, who doesn't have a name on a story. Even Denny O'Neill, who's a great editor, is a writer still has a name on a book. You just edit. Is that something that seems to be less and less or is it having a resurgence.
BS: I don't know. There's quite a few folks who are just strictly editors. I really couldn't say. I don't think every editor who is also a writer has to approach editing as a heavy-handed kind of I'm going to rewrite you. I know many don't. Basically the guy that I took my lead from before I ever thought I would ever edit a comic book was Archie Goodwin, who was a great writer, but seemed to have to the ability to turn that switch and when he was an editor, he was an editor. Everybody I know who knew him just loved working with him because he was supportive and he was good at not imposing his will. That's a difficult line to walk, especially when he's written as good as he did for those many years. I literally turned to him at convention one year and said, "You're it." He looked at me like I was crazy.
MDT: Did he know who you were?
BS: Oh, sure. I was hosting him all over the country as one of those guys who was working at Creation Conventions. We did store signings, we'd go to dinner, we'd hang out with James Doohan from "Star Trek." I'd known Archie for years, but I also have worked with a lot of writers and artists that worked with Archie where he would be the editor and his creative team would be the guest as well at these conventions. I'd heard a great deal about how much they enjoyed working with him. Knowing him, I got to watch him in action. I turned to him and said, "You're it." He said, "What do you mean?" I said, "If I can be one-tenth as good as you are, as a person, as a professional, as an all-around guy, I'd be the luckiest person on earth. I'm watching you and I'm learning. I'm cribbing off of your notes." I can't repeat what he said to me, but it was really funny and it was typical Archie and it disarmed the situation. It made me and the few people standing around laugh and get away from a very clumsy moment that I had created that was embarrassing the hell out of him. I knew when I said it, I meant it. I knew what a presence I was blessed to learn from. Consequently, I also learned a great deal from Diana in the years of working at Comico and what not. There was a certain amount of stepping back and compassion, just being able to listen to what it is…. Cause many times the writer or the artist you're working with, they're not quite sure what it is they want to say at this juncture in the book. So you're there to hear things that even they're not picking up on and help them see it. Diana helped me greatly in that regard.
MDT: Archie's one of the few people I've never heard a disparaging word about. Even thought I realize he's died and people tend to eulogize after the fact, but he never gets a bad rap.
BS: Well, see, if he were alive, he would fill your ear full of what a louse he was and laugh hysterically. It would be pretty hard to come up with somebody who would have anything bad to say about him because he was a remarkable man. I found out he was really into wrestling. He really loved that kind of WWF thing. Then I realized, see, there's his flaw.
MDT: His only flaw. Kubert started his school with course for penciling, inking, coloring, layout, but nobody has a class on comic book editing. The only editing classes that seem to help are in Journalism school. Why hasn't somebody figured out how to teach a proper comic book editing class or offer it at all?
BS: I think because of many reasons. We're still looking for validation as a legitimate art form, but until we start believing it ourselves, it's going to be hard to convince others. I think it's more tangible… The Kubert School isn't even a school that promotes the writing end. It's more of the physical trades. It's like telling the parents, "Well, your son isn't going to a printing vocational course, but it's the next best thing." Savannah College of Art and Design - I don't think they have editing course per se - are a little more focused on the writing aspect. I know Kubert has writing, but they are - because of its genesis -more focused on the arts angle, either animation, design or comic books. That's a great question. I don't know, but I think it's a combination of those things.
MDT: Frank Miller seemed to feel left adrift when you left Dark Horse. Kevin Smith has talked about how he didn't re-up with Oni because of his relationships with you. What kind of editor crack do you give them to produce these kind of creative DTs?
BS: I don't know. Gosh, each one of these situations [is] so different from one another and it's just a matter of dumb luck and timing. I mean, what is going on with Kevin and Oni has no relation to my relationship with Frank and I really don't know where and what Frank is going to be doing next. I don't believe he does either. I've worked with him for many years and he's a smart man. He really puts his head and heart into what he's doing at the moment and stays clear. He says, OK, now that I've gone completely through the process, if something hasn't perfected itself as he's winding down, he waits to hear as to what's calling to him next. It's not really any mojo on my part. It's just a matter of dumb luck and timing.
MDT: Do you feel like you foster those kind of personal/professional relationships with all of the people who work for you at DC?
BS: I'd like to. It's a little more difficult when you have a monthly book that has to hit every month. The old question being, "Do you want it good or do you want it Tuesday?" and the answer is, "Yes." All those years, I thought Tuesday was an arbitrary day and now working at DC, I realize you had to have it in Tuesday so you didn't get yelled at at the meeting on Wednesday. It wasn't just this chosen day.
When I begin on a book, I try to connect with the creative team as much as I can. But you know, I can't physically be on the phone with them every day… It's the first five to six months on a book when you get to know each other and if it's everything working and it's not broken, then we're good. It's almost - I hate to use this analogy - after the first few dates, you got what you're doing.
These people should be waking up every morning and saying, "Gosh, I get up and I get to draw "Batman" or "Green Lantern" or I get to write "Green Lantern." This is great and this is my job! If I have a problem with my job, I'll call my editor and say hey! If I don't, then I'm going to write another book." If it's a voucher problem, we handle it. If it's me and Nachi Castro or if Nachi takes it or Michael Wright takes it. When a script comes in, I read it that night usually. The creator gets an email from me the next day saying, "Hey, great!" or "What about this?" Once you get somebody that you understand what they're doing, you really make it easier to say, "What about that one line on page 12, I didn't understand it?"
The other thing that I always try to do and I don't always, is that the minute that I get a script in or artwork is to let them know that I got it. It's here, it's cool, I'll read it tonight. If I can't make every one of those calls, I have Michael and Nachi make those calls so they don't have to worry that it's here, it's safe, don't worry and it's not at the bottom of a lake somewhere. I try to foster those relationships. I'm sure I don't succeed 100% but I try to let people know that I'm there for them if they need a readjustment, if they're unhappy, if they're feeling creatively stifled, whatever, we try to address it, make it better. The bottom line is, if they're not saying, this is the greatest job in the world and I'm getting paid for it, then that's not good. That's how I try to run my life. If I wake up in the morning and say, "I don't want to do this," that's when I start working toward fixing that, find out what it is that's wrong and how to make that go away.
MDT: Did you start out at Comico as a comic book professional?
BS: I started out getting to know a lot of folks. I knew a lot of the guys who became Comico because I ran shows in Philadelphia and they used to set up a table and sell their original art. Gerry Giovinco, Matt Wagner, Phil Lasorda, Bill Cuchinatta, and a bunch of other guys. I worked at Marvel for about 7 months in the office and four or five months freelance. Carol Kalish hired me. She hired me for someone else. She hired me for someone else, for Pamela Rutt's office, without Pam knowing. So when I got in there, she said, "Who are you?" I said, "I'm your new person." She said, "Great!"
MDT: I would just like to add at this time that you outlasted Diana by a year and a half.
BS: Oh, yeah. She didn't make it. She made it four days. It was a combination of getting her hair ready and the train commute. That's what did it to her.
MDT: She used to do her hair?
|Diana Schutz with Matt Wagner|
So those guys knew me and knew I had a head for marketing through being at Marvel and my Creation days. They called me up and said we want you to take over as a marketing guy. I was called Administrative Director and while there I eventually started coming up with some creative ideas and put together some comic books. They thought I had a pretty good head for it.
MDT: Why did you eventually leave?
BS: When or why?
BS: "When" was '89. Why was because… we were on the newsstands. We had a lot of people, Carol Kalish, Tom Defalco telling us, "don't go on the newsstands!" We were young and innocent. We thought that the newsstand was a great opportunity to expand our market and it wound up being a very bad move on our part. First, the first reports you get tell you [that] you have a 95% sell-through. And then at the end of the last report, which is about a year and a half later, you had a 4% sell-through. So suddenly all of those books you printed haven't been sold…
MDT: …and they're coming back.
BS: You already paid that printing bill a long time ago and you're not making any money. It just got very ugly very fast. Diana and I were not part of the financial end of the company, but we were getting more and more concerned. Eventually the company was bought out by Andrew Rev based in Chicago and we left. Before Andrew took over.
MDT: Did you get married prior to going to Comico?
BS: No, actually we got married after on our way to Graphitti Designs. We were already out in California. We got married while we were living in California, but the ceremony was in Montreal.
MDT: And this is before you got to Dark Horse?
MDT: Did you both apply to Dark Horse at the same time?
BS: No, actually I was miserable in Southern California. Bob Chapman and I were beyond the best of friends, beyond respecting each other. Our Oni collaborations were very, very fruitful and he's the greatest guy on Earth and a savvy businessman. It's just [that] him and I were not working out. I was too into working at Graphitti pretty miserable and a good friend of mine, Dave Stevens, kept telling Mike Richardson that he should call me. But Mike felt uncomfortable because I was at Graphitti. The funny thing was that two to three years prior while I was happily ensconced at Comico, I was one of the first people to extend a hand to Dark Horse when they were a brand new company with two books at a IADD meeting… International Association of Direct Distributors meeting in New Orleans. Within two or three years, Mike and myself and Bob Burden would all hang out. Mike was like courting me, trying to get me to leave Comico to Dark Horse. So flash forward two to three years later… After Dave told Mike a few times, Mike called the office, heard my voice and said, "You sound miserable. Why don't you come up here, spend the weekend and I'll show you how great Portland is." Diana and I flew up. It was miserable weather. I think it was in March. Rainy and rainy, but we fell in love with it.
MDT: In spite of it… You guys got divorced while you were at Dark Horse…
BS: Yeah, about a year and a half after we got married, something like that.
MDT: Some people find it weird enough to be married and working together. Even if you weren't necessarily on the same projects. But then even stranger being divorced and working together. How did you manage that dynamic?
BS: It was as difficult as being married. I think we had a rockier road actually when we were at Comico and living together. I had an easier time separating out some of the tougher business moments, so that when I got home, I didn't care. But suddenly I realized that I better care because Diana still did. [Laughs]
It was a little rough there and eventually she let go of that stuff after 5 o'clock. At Comico, it was more like 7 or 8. It was difficult for both of us. It was a very difficult time for the company and it put a lot of strain on everyone. I know that Mike Richardson was pushed to his ultimate test of patience, but I think once it calmed down, I think we did a pretty good job of it.
MDT: You and Diana got divorced, but the way that she talks about it, you are still really close. From a personal point of view, I don't know a lot of my exes anymore. How did you maintain that? That seems to be a really hard one, regardless of the work situation.
BS: I'd like to think it's maturity. I'd like to think it's learning to forgive, not only each other, but yourself and letting go of things that really have no meaning. [They] are nothing but picking old scores and ruminating on bad territory that's just over. We both decided that there's so much about each other that we gave freely to each other that it would be a sin to throw away the entire relationship because of some bad decisions. Maybe we weren't cut out for that type of relationship. Maybe we're just really, really good friends, but we shouldn't live together. That seems to be working fine, especially with the coasts. It's a big country. [Laughs] Even when we lived right around the corner from each other… we went out to see jazz bands and to see movies. We had a lot of great times and social interactions. Matt Wagner and her sister are still married… I consider [Matt] my brother. I consider Barbara and Trish my sisters. Matt's kids I consider my niece and nephews. They're my family. They may all laugh and shake their heads when they see me and Diana, but hey, it works.
MDT: Did you have a bunch of different positions while at Dark Horse?
BS: I can't remember how many. I was marketing director, then I was editor and then I was group editor. I think that's it.
MDT: You met Frank Miller long before Dark Horse.
MDT: How did the working relationship begin?
BS: I was his marketing director at Dark Horse first. That was the first working relationship. "Sin City" was just about to first appear in Dark Horse Presents in 8-page installments and he called me and said, "Look, we got this going on. And with all due respect to you, here's how I'd like you to play it." I said, "Great idea!" He didn't want giant big posters and huge, giant fanfare. I did market it like any event in Dark Horse Presents, but I didn't go bombastic and I didn't print Frank Miller's photo. I said, "Hey, come to the DHP trough 'cause there's going to be some pretty good water there." And I just kind of followed his wishes, which I agreed with. They were very smart.
Here is this guy who everybody knows for kind of reinventing Batman and he just wanted to quietly be there in their faces with this new thing they've never seen. Every month. He was right, it worked phenomenally. Still to this day, there are so many people who have not read Sin City because it doesn't have funny ears and a cape. And they somehow, for those who have, don't think that it's as good and they can't see that their judgment is ruled by the fact that he doesn't have funny ears and a cape. That's not everybody, but there are people who didn't like it. He didn't change; he's still a great storyteller.
MDT: I got as far I could with Diana about leaving Dark Horse. She got me up to a certain point, so you need to tell me, when did it appear that you needed to leave and retain your sanity?
BS: There was quite a long period there when the actual work with creative folk was the only thing that was keeping me there, probably a good two years. Where the actual physical editing and the phone calls, working with Frank, working with Dave Gibbons… pinch me, it was a wonderful group of people. Working with Ed Brubaker and Jon Lewis and Stefano Gaudiano. I got to work with all these people that loved what they did and had something to say with what they were doing. It wasn't just, "Wow, I'm working with a really big superstar!" it was a whole group of people who get up everyday and say, "This is great!" It was challenging and fun. But the focus, I felt, was waning at the top of the company and we were getting more and more involved in things other than comic books.
I understand that it's tough when you're out there and you're not corporately financed and you don't have characters that aren't 50 years old and cultural icons that are winding up on bed sheets and a multimillion dollar film. You're talking to somebody who loves film. I love film, as much as I love music and comics and novels. But if I wanted to be in a place where I was thinking films, I would have been at it.
So, it was very difficult to keep the entire company focused on what we were doing and that part of it was very frustrating. After a while of people not really paying attention to your concerns for the company, you get frustrated. I felt that the decisions being made were not taking into consideration those of us who were making comic books. I got to a point where I had to go. I'm treading as nicely as I can here. [Laughs] I have a great friendship and camaraderie and respect for Mike Richardson. He afforded me an amazing opportunity. I think [the] money… he spent on me was well spent. I think I gave him what he was looking for. I certainly think I delivered. And he made good on all the important promises he made to me. He never left me at the end of the day in the lurch. After a certain point, I disagreed with where he was focusing his attention and where I thought he should be focusing his attentions. Who was I to tell him what to do? He was the guy who owned the company. I thought, "he's not listening to me, so I better go where somebody will." And what better place than my own company?
MDT: Diana told me that it wasn't just Mike Richardson, but another person in particular that made your life a bit of a living hell there. Was it mostly Mike not listening to you?
BS: Ultimately, yes. Had he listened to me, I would have stayed. It just got a point where I was asked, "What do you want?" I kept saying, "You don't want to know what I want." And then I broke down and said, "This is what I want." And instead being what I wanted, it turned out to be my list of demands. "I told you, you didn't want to know what I wanted. I was pretty sure you weren't going to listen to me. And now I give you what you begged me to give you and you're saying it's a list of demands. How can I win? I told you I was going to lose." It was a tough time for all of us. Clearly, it could have been handled better. I just decided it was time for me to move on. Again, I'd just done an amazing thing with Dark Horse and they continued to turn my head around. It was just a time when maybe it was time for me to go.
MDT: Wasn't there a bit of time between leaving Dark Horse and Oni?
BS: Left Dark Horse in September and Joe [Nozemack] and I decided to announce Oni about 7 months later. There was a time where I was not doing anything and then deciding, "Let's try this. Let's move forward with this." When you do something like this, you have to do it like every move in my life: you have to let go of the last branch, close your eyes and reach out for the next branch. You can't hold on. Take that leap.
I say this so many times when I do portfolio review. I say, "What do you do?" They look at me funny, so I say, "Clearly you're not drawing 'Spider-Man' right now, so what's your day job?" They say, "I work at a Kinko's" or as an art director. I say, if you really want to make this jump, you're going to have to make this jump of being the starving artist. If you're spending 8-10 hours a day working at Kinko's, then you're not spending 12 hours a day being an artist. You physically can't. I use the "don't dream it, be it" routine from "Rocky Horror." You just have to - if you remember that scene -- jump into the pool without seeing that pool.
MDT: You realize you're using a "Rocky Horror" Picture Show analogy…?
BS: It's true, you have to believe that there is something there that will cushion your fall. You have to believe in yourself that you will... Whenever you go, all you have is yourself and that is all you need as long as you believe in yourself and make the best of wherever you are. Really then, wherever you are doesn't matter. When Oni came together, there was no conversation with anybody that I had worked at Dark Horse. Like "Wink, wink, don't worry, when you leave, I'll be there for you." There was a decision that Joe and I made. We made that decision. Either people called and said we're there for you or we called them and said, would you be there for us? In the case of Frank, he was remarkable. He was there in a heartbeat. That was the only fair way and honest way to move. He sat there quietly and said "You have to make up your mind. I can't tell you whether I'll be there, but you have to live your life. You have to move first." I couldn't ask for a better friend and professional relationship.
MDT: What the initial mission statement for Oni?
BS: I've known Joe since he was a young kid, 15. He walked to the Comico table or early Dark Horse and said, "Are you Matt Wagner?" I said, "No, that's him." My work relationships at DC have worked so well, all those years, [because] after you get to know each other, you realize you share so many of the same abilities of how to work with people and interact and how to respect people and the artwork. When we started up, we agreed on so many things. This is the place where we want to put out really well written, beautifully illustrated stories that push the boundaries. Kevin Smith was a part of that. All the people we were working with.
…I met Scott Morse in WonderCon, 91 or 92. Once again, he was just a little kid. I was in marketing and I said, "I can't hire you, but you should be drawing 'Star Wars.'" Sure enough, he just did a "Star Wars" story. We just wanted to put out really good comics for people who love the medium. Fertile ground for not being messed around with and without a Comics Code to constrain them. Have a good go at it.
MDT: When DC came looking for you and you accepted, how did it work leaving Oni?
BS: I had to walk away from Oni completely. I had to sell my ownership of the company off.
MDT: Did Joe buy that up?
BS: It was a combination of things, but I'd rather not go into actual details of that. Suffice to say, I have no claim whatsoever to Oni. They are operating solely without me. I had to divest completely from that. That was a hard decision. Joe and I had been on the Oni trail for about three years and it was a very difficult decision. It took a lot of sleepless nights… Jamie was with us, came over from Dark Horse. It was not easy for any of us. I think everyone did a good job of keeping the professional and the personal clearly delineated and I went with their blessing. I went with my fear. I thought, "Gee, this could be the worst decision I ever made in my life and it could be the best." So far, so good. I think it's worked out for everybody. Joe and Jamie are really happy, doing all sorts of great stuff. I'm having a blast. I know that if I wake up and I'm not happy looking at that train, everyone will know at work. "Oh my God, Schreck's upset at work again!" I'm really enjoying it.
MDT: At DC, what titles do you edit right now?
BS: Lots. Detective, Batman. Green Arrow. Green Lantern. My brain is going. There's at least one more. I've got the Dark Knight 2. There's probably six other projects that I'm working on at the same time.
MDT: Do you have territory like certain characters for having first look at editing a project?
BS: In terms of Batman, being group editor, it's all my domain, except for "Legends of the Dark Knight," it has to go through me for approval. That's pretty much anything to do with any character to do with Batman or the Batman world, anybody has got to go through weird. If there's anything that somebody wants to play with Green lantern that's wacky or weird, Carlin comes over and says what about this? Green Arrow in particular, Kevin coming on and rebooting it, we had a "Don't touch it until Bob and Kevin tell you to touch it again." We didn't want any convoluted continuity when Kevin was just reestablishing it. While I can take the leap of faith that that's the 15 minutes that he was not in that scene in the "JLA," others get very upset about continuity like that. I didn't want to drive people too crazy.
MDT: Chuck Dixon was writing almost all of the Batbooks. Was there a bit of panic when he first told you?
BS: There's always a bit of a panic. But when we discovered what was going on, we discovered that Chuck had written so far in advance, even if he had left within five minutes of telling us, we were golden. He didn't leave us in the lurch at all. There were no horror stories or spitting or yelling. He just came to the point where he felt like he needed a change and CrossGen offered him something that he didn't feel DC could offer him. God bless him for it. I've known him for at least 20 yeas. We've known each through mutual friends, through conventions. He's always been the sweetest guy, most gentlemanly person you'd ever want to meet. Like any other working relationships, there were some tensions here and there, but there was no major hoo-ha so to speak.
MDT: How hard was it to find the writers you did to replace Chuck?
BS: It wasn't hard. I tried to strike a balance. You got Terry Moore, who's got this voice we've all come to know. It's an indie cred, but indie mainstream kind of. And he didn't have the indie cred like Jon Lewis has. Jon was a little further in the outskirts of the independent publishing word, whereas Terry's book was more immediate and more emotional. More of a mainstream-type leaning with the story, whereas Jon, you were in a swamp with bugs and toads and they were all saying things that you had to read several times to go, "That's what he was saying! Oh, he's so crazy!" And that's so unique and out there and one further than the other. There's Scott, who's been a part of our world for a number of years and has worked with Chuck and has wanted to step up and use his own [voice], to get people to see him for more of himself. Chuck's the same way, saying, "C'mon, guy, let's try and get you your own book and your own stuff." Chuck did a great deal for this guy. It was an interesting scenario. That's what we do as publishers, as editors.
Artwork on "Sin City" was Frank Miller solving a problem. "How do I get my voice, my stories into the market place in a manner that the marketplace won't forget me every year?" If it takes six years to draw it and it comes out, then it takes me another six years. He literally sat there and said, "Wow! This high contrast way approach gets my art out there - without the color - and I'm in their faces more. I'm not a stranger.
That's what we do. We solve problems. While there are some problems I prefer not to have, after we discovered that Chuck was leaving, we knew it was a challenge and let's try and make this into as positive a changeover for us as it's going to be for Chuck in his new gig. He was - and still is - looking forward to and enjoying his whole new set of books. Let's try and make this fun and see what we can do.
It was really rewarding, sitting there and look at all the pieces. Devin really wanted "Nightwing." It's been nice seeing people's reaction because it's been mostly positive. It'll be even nice once they see what these people are doing on these respective books. We're all really pleased, especially each editor who's working individually with them. In this transition, I'm reading every script just to be sure that we're together. And it's really great to see what Devin is doing. It's so weird to see Jon Lewis writing "Robin." It's such a trip. He's just having a blast. The same thing with Terry and Scott. I just read one of Scott's scripts and I'm like, "The guy's just having a blast!" This is fun. You can't help that each have their own unique and fun voice, strengths. Reading the scripts, flipping in and out of the different voices and experiencing the fun they're having is great. The bump is waiting to see what the actual fan reaction is going to be when they sample exactly what we've put into place. It's been rewarding watching the "Bruce Wayne: Murderer" storyline unfold. And getting the feedback. Some say, "Oh no, it's another stunt this month." No, it's a story. A new movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger - except for Collateral Damage - is another story. Let's have fun! Hey, let's go see what they do.
It's been real rewarding. It's like, these guys are pulling off some good stories. I had Kevin Smith call me and he stops in the middle of the conversation and says, "Dude…" "You know, Batman: Murderer?" "Yeah…" "Awesome…" I'm really loving it.
That's a good one. I got people digging on what we're doing. It's that extra reward. Like I said, reading all of their new scripts has been such a pleasure, if I'm not enjoying it then, then no one's going to enjoy it later. I hope people really enjoy it, but I'm pretty sure they will. I've already got a pretty big smile on my face.
MDT: Speaking of writers leaving, Rucka's leaving "Detective" as of #775? What kind of conversation was that when he came to you? Was it pretty straight forward?
BS: Yeah. Greg and I go way back. There was no histrionics. For him it was time. He had come to a place where he felt he had set out what he wanted to do and say what he wanted to say. We have other projects in the works with Greg, so he's not going away. It's just his actual monthly on "Detective" will stop. There are other projects that are moving forward. We go back… I don't know if you know, but Patty Jerres walked him over to me at San Diego when Joe and me had started Oni. She said, "I can't get anybody to listen to me about how good this guy is. He loves comics and he's a great novelist." We went outside and sat outside the San Diego Convention Center and chatted. He was a sweet nice person who had a couple of books written. He told me what he thought about comics and what he wanted to do with comics. He pitched me Whiteout in three sentences. Joe and I went home and read his books. We thought this guy could spin a great yarn. Boom! Whiteout was born. So, no problems, I love his work, I love his writing. We're good pals. I have a great relationship with him and his wife… When I go to Portland, we hook up. When he's in New York, we get together... It's one of those things.
MDT: Brubaker is moving to "Detective." Who's taking over "Batman?"
BS: That is a transitional stage that we're not looking in that corner right now. We haven't locked down what we're going to do right now. We have four issues before we have to worry about which direction we take and how we handle that situation right now. We'll discuss "Batman" when we get further along.
MDT: You came out as a bisexual at a "Gays in Comics" panel in San Diego. Was that a couple of years ago?
BS: I think I've been out pretty much… I started when I was 13. Sometimes you have to repeat these things because people don't want to hear them. Before I married Diana, she was well aware of my sexual proclivities and all my family and friends knew about me. I did something again when I was at the age of 19. I did a "Gays in Comics" panel because somebody asked me if I would want to be on the "Gays in Comics" panel. I said, sure.
MDT: Was that the first time that you had been pretty open in the work place or in your profession...?
BS: The job I had before I met Diana was Creation Conventions. Before Adam employed me, I employed him. He was my keyboard player in a band. We performed Rocky horror. Kind of obvious to him what I was about. During all that time, times change, things change. Back in the late 70s, early 80s I didn't go out of my way to belabor the point, but I also didn't go out of my way to hide it. So, some people may not have known I was bisexual because I wasn't wearing a sign. But some people certainly did and my closest friends did. Some people I was actually glad didn't know and I was glad because I didn't think they could handle it. I still have friends to this day that have trouble being honest with who they are with certain people.
MDT: In the comics industry, is there an ad hoc support group for homosexual/bisexual creators in comics?
BS: Not that I'm aware of. We have the panel that everyone goes to and a few magazines, indie fanzines that are there, but not that I'm aware of in any formal sort of way.
MDT: Is it a non-issue in the comics industry?
BS: I think the industry echoes any other facet of planet Earth right now. It's a non-issue until it's an issue. Some people have no problems with it. Some do. It's not that there's any great conspiracy of heterosexuals to stamp out bi/lesbian/transgender group, but there are certain individuals who are either threatened by it or can't understand it and make things difficult for those that are different from them. That translates beyond sexual preferences. There are some people who make things difficult because they don't like the color of their skin or their religion. There are a lot of bad biases out there.
MDT: The archetype for the superhero has been the male heterosexual, bristling biceps with a busty female on his arm. Has that archetype changed at all when you have characters like Apollo and Midnighter from "The Authority" in the books?
BS: I think it's going to be a long while before that archetype is replaced with an understanding that there can be different types of heroes: gays, straights, whatever. I don't think the average person out there really affixes any sexuality to it other than their knee-jerk reaction, what they consider to be quote-unquote "normal." So I think yeah, maybe it'll take some time before people will go, a gay superhero can be a good thing. I think that people that don't really have a knowledge of it wouldn't affix sexuality to it at all. They'd find it to be more about heroics.
MDT: What kind of feedback have you gotten about the gay characters in "Green Lantern" and "Green Arrow?"
BS: There's the usual "Oh my God, I didn't Green Lantern to be preached about homosexual issues. I buy it because of Green Lantern. How dare you preach to me?!" There's the "Oh my God, I thought I wouldn't have to deal with this subject here. I'm not going to be reading this book anymore. I find this morally reprehensible!" Those are [in] the [minority], a total of six letters. And some not so vehemently weird to frighteningly strange. Beyond that, there was a large amount of letters, between email and regular letters (a good 60 letters) that outweigh that. This is really great! People in very high places in the media, people who are living in the middle of America looking for validation elsewhere and getting these nice letters saying, thanks for putting this stuff in there. It made me feel less alone or made me feel my fight has been worth it.
MDT: Once someone knows of your preference, are you accused of bias for inclusion of a storyline like this?
BS: No. I think actually the opposite happens and you become, "Hey, I have a story about a gay character. Why don't you run it?" I live my life and I'm a whole human being with many facets to me. I'm not just a sexual being. When I watch movies, they're not all about gay themes. When I work, I don't think my every waking moment isn't such that I think every book should touch on that subject. I do believe that in every way, I put my creative effort forth, I try to present all of us and try to show tolerance through all types of people, beyond sexuality, beyond religion, beyond nationality. I try to put forth what I feel to be a very proper way to look at humankind as one big family that should be trying to get along together and not trying to divide each other.
So, it actually works at times the opposite where I'll get two or three gay stories. I'll tell them, "This is great. This is your idea and go make it happen for you." We'll have more people bringing more things to the table. That's not to say that, were something to present itself that really sucked me in, I wouldn't pursue it in some way shape or form. But with Terry in particular in "Green Lantern," he is a continuing character and we're not done. There's all sorts of plans Judd and I have to continue with Terry.
MDT: Is Denny O'Neill still a part of the Bat office?
BS: I believe he comes in on Wednesdays and he is writing "Azrael" and he's pretty much on a consulting basis. I'm not sure beyond that because I'm not privy to the actual relationship him and Mike Carlin and Paul Levitz have. We see Denny at least once a week. As far as the day-to-day, no, I'm in charge of the Bat group. Denny might have project that he's working on for Paul, but beyond that, no, he's not involved in the Bat Group any longer.
MDT: When did you officially take over?
BS: About a year and half ago, going on two.
MDT: You were transitioning with Denny to take that over?
MDT: When I interviewed Rucka a while ago, he and Grayson called Denny "The Master." Is that a title he's deserved of?
BS: If that's what they were calling that. I don't think he forced them to call him that [laughs]. If anybody had a question, he would certainly be the guy to go to.
MDT: What did you learn from him in the time you were transitioning to take over the Bat Group?
BS: He taught me a lot. In terms of editorial, I have a lot of my own training. It wasn't really much of an editorial training. It really was an understanding of where Batman stands in the DC pantheon and how DC works. He gave me a lot of insight into what to look out for and how to look out for the Batman character. Not so much protecting it from DC, but the character in general from overexposure. There's things [to look out for] when you have a character that can generate a certain amount of dollars for the corporation, but also a character that goes beyond that. He's one of the few cultural icons. Balancing all that and keeping your eye on what's important. Helped me focus on that.
MDT: When DC called, was it Denny O'Neill who called?
MDT: Did you know it was coming?
BS: No, I didn't know that Denny was calling and I didn't know that DC wanted me to eventually take over the Batman group in particular. That being said, DC started calling me back in 1987. Through the years, I got a couple of nice free trips to New York. Many of the offers often resulted in making my life a little more comfortable wherever I was. Most of those calls were from Dick Giordano and Paul Levitz. It came after several years of not hearing anything. When I started Oni, Paul Levitz came to my first Oni party. Joe had an Oni party at San Diego and Paul showed up. It impressed everybody else. I've known him for many, many years. He walked in and said, "I'm just here to check out the competition." On the way out, he said, "When you're tired of banging your head against the indie comics world, we'll hire you." Sure enough, he did.
MDT: What made you finally take their offer after all those years of saying no?
BS: It was a very difficult decision. The offer was bigger than what they had offered before in terms of what they wanted me to do. I was at a different place in my life than I was before. I had been on the journey with Oni, at a point where sitting down and talking with Joe Nozemack, he was comfortable and told me right out, "If you did take this job, I wouldn't feel that you hadn't given Oni a good start and were leaving me high and dry. I understand the big offer being made to you and I don't want you to feel like you can't make a decision to say yes." And if I did go, I could go with a clear conscience. Other personal reasons, all my childhood friends were here. I just saw a friend that I've known since I was 12 or 13 years old and my brother and his wife and kids. My mom and dad are all out here. They're not getting any younger. It all just pointed towards here.
MDT: Judd Winick came onto "Green Lantern" during your tenure. How did that come about?
BS: I took over "Green Lantern" as the editor because Kevin Dooley, the former editor, left soon after I left there. The writer on "Green Lantern" was Ron Marz. We had become decent friends and got to know each other very well while we were working on "Batman/Aliens" several years prior while I was at Dark Horse. Ron lost his dad during that time and I, unfortunately, have had a lot of experience with death. He didn't. I was pretty sure that I was helpful getting him through that, which solidified our bond a little more. There I was looking over at "Green Lantern," which needed an editor. There he was, standing there, saying, gee, I need an editor. Mike Carlin said, gee, you guys get along great, why don't you take over "Green Lantern." There we went. Some of the ideas we were kicking around ending up being grand fathered in from me and Ron to me and Judd. One of them being Terry and another one being going through with Kyle what Ron went through, with his father passing away. That one we haven't done yet. But Ron said, take these and go with them. The funny thing was that Ron and Judd had met about a year ago prior to San Diego and they hit it off. Just before Ron got the call to go to CrossGen, Ron and I and Judd had talked about drawing an issue along the bottom of the pages where you would see Kyle's cartoon strip. Judd would write and draw that. Ron would write the regular comic above it and the two would juxtapose each other and reflect the story in different ways. It was going to be this really fun thing. Before we got started, Ron decided to go to CrossGen. I looked at Mike Carlin and said, I think Judd would do a great job. He said, "Hey, it's your book." Away we went.
MDT: Did it seem like much of an experiment at first?
BS: Did it seem like an experiment?
MDT: That was my first impression when I heard he was taking it over. Others I talked to felt the same way. He was kind of unproven in a mainstream market and I wondered if it felt like that at all?
BS: No… Judd was reading comics when he was 10. He knows those characters. I know maybe a handful of the DC characters well enough, but he is immersed in it. He knows them all. He knows most of their histories, which sometimes gets us in trouble, but we do as much checking as we can. He was a total comics fan. People have these preconceived opinions that because he was doing a book for a non-Marvel/DC publisher that he couldn't handle a book that had their logo on it. He was actually always going that route. That's what he wanted to do. Unfortunately, you don't just get those gigs. You rarely just walk in the door and say, "Hey, here I am." Especially when you're a writer. You either publish material or a home-generated, homespun Kinko's piece that you throw in people's faces at conventions. It's rare that a writer walks in the door at Marvel and DC and says, "I'm yours." It really wasn't an experiment, much in the way that I know that Jon Lewis is a good fit on "Robin." Yeah, he hasn't done a mainstream book before, but that really doesn't matter. Can he write? Boom, the answer is yes.
MDT: How did you get to be the editor of the Green Arrow book?
BS: There was no "Green Arrow" series and I remember one person, Darren Vincenzo and Kevin had talked about doing one at least three or four years before I got to DC. I was already publishing Kevin at Oni, which allowed others to go, " Gee, we heard that Kevin Smith really likes Green Arrow. Let's call him up!" I don't think they would have called him until I brought him into the comics industry as a writer. And so Daren and he chatted for quite a while, but nothing ever came of it. Kevin's a busy guy and he had his movies to do and his "Clerks" books to do with Joe and I. It was kind of difficult for him to do other things. To some degree, all of these writers and artists develop a personal trust with certain editors. Kevin knew me better than he knew Darren, so he never really jumped on the Green Arrow thing. So when I got there…. The minute I announced I was going to DC, Kevin was saying, "This is great! You and I can do 'Green Arrow' together." I called Mike Carlin and said, "Kevin Smith wants to do 'Green Arrow' and I want to edit it." Mike said, "Go in peace."
MDT: Why did you decide to do a series?
BS: If you were looking at the press back then, we were trying to decide to do a series or a limited series. Ultimately, we did a series because Kevin wanted to do one. He wanted to reboot it and didn't want to do a limited series. He really felt that it was a great character and would do it only if it was a regular, monthly series. So we said, OK.
MDT: That was easy.
BS: It sounds easy.
MDT: Have you ever had Mike Carlin tell you "no"?
BS: Yes, trust me, I have had Mike Carlin tell me no many, many times. That's what makes a good working relationship. Believe me, I've had some pretty lame-brained schemes and Mike has gone, "You're crazy." "I'm not crazy, I'm just a little off." The yes's are the ones that get through the hoops to the stands. Trust me there are a lot of no's out there. That's what it's all about, is trying something new and testing the waters to see what floats and what doesn't. Believe me, he has ample opportunity to tell me to take a flying leap.
MDT: Are you still on track to do the "Brave and the Bold?"
BS: Yes. We're not exactly sure at this point. Kevin still has two more issues of "Green Arrow" to get out and then he's going to take a break. We're keeping everybody on "Green Arrow" except for Kevin, even Matt Wagner on the covers for the entire Brad Metzler run. Which should keep everybody happy and keep the book looking the same. Kevin's got "Black Cat" at Marvel and just because of the nature of [his schedule], he's a busy guy. Every time you turn around, he's doing Roadside Attractions for Jay Leno or a benefit thing or a college speaking tour or he's writing his next screenplay or shooting his next movie. He's got a lot going on. It's still on track. When it's going to hit those tracks, we're not sure. It could be 7 months from now, it could be longer.
MDT: You've hired TV stars, cartoonists, filmmakers, authors, & comic book veterans. You would think that juggling people with egos built up from a lot more than just comics would be tough to juggle, manage, placate and cajole and keep happy. Do you have a conscious process for handling people?
BS: I don't think so. It's so bizarre. … I think I can understand where people in general are coming from for lack of a better term. I try to listen. I try to empathize. I try to look the other way sometimes when I know I'm getting handed a line. I try to have as much patience as I possibly can. Some people will laugh out loud and say, "This guy, patience?" That's OK, because there are some who try my patience, but I think they're the rare ones who take it to the extreme limits of patience. No, it's not conscious, it's just who I am and what I'm very…blessed with. Most of it I got from my mom and my brother. My mom, through just example. Earlier, you had asked about editing and whatnot. One of the things that I forgot to mention was that my brother wrote stories. I was 9 or 10 and my brother was 13 or 14. Rather than writing them down, he would tell them to me. I was his editor, so to speak. An hour into it, if he said, the girl now did this, he wanted me to go, "That didn't make any sense, because earlier you said, she would never do this." He'd go, "That's good." Hours of listening to my brother tell me stories trained me to be a quiet, patient person. And I'm a chatty Cathy, as you can tell from these questions, but when I talk to a writer or an artist, I flip that coin and become a sponge, because that's what I have to be.
MDT: Speaking of patience, you are working with Frank Miller on "DK2." Did you get requested by Frank Miller or was that just a no-brainer?
BS: When I hit DC, it was after I had made my decision. Frank said, "I think I have another story in me and it's been brewing for a while. Let's go." Once again, the comfort zone and the ability to know that most of what you want to get done will get done. No one's perfect and I've dropped my share of balls in the process, but there's a certain comfort zone for him to know that I'm going to be fighting for him when it comes to the simplest of things. Yeah, it was a given that once he said, "Yeah, I want to do the 'Dark Knight Strikes Again'" that I would be his editor.
MDT: Was the task of getting it under way a monstrous task of getting it done?
MDT: It was pretty easy?
MDT: And working with Miller previously just made it easier?
BS: Yeah. It wasn't an arduous process whatsoever. It was a matter of Frank saying he wants to do it, me going to Carlin down the hall and saying, "We got a big giant book coming our way…"
MDT: Mike Carlin's going to hate you because it makes it sound like he says, "Yes" all the time.
BS: How could anybody in their right mind say, "No, we don't want to work with Frank Miller?" The guy knows what he's doing. There's not many people you could put in that box, especially in the last 15 years. I can put one in there: Frank Miller. He's got a pretty good track record.
MDT: In the last year (if not two), you've been quoted as much if not more than Joe Quesada in the comic press as well as mainstream press articles. There's a certain celebrity that you've been exposed to and maybe have become. EW or Rolling Stone rolls up and asks you your opinion, how do you not let that go to your head?
BS: If you do, you're the saddest individual that ever lived. It's ephemeral. It's nice when people want to know your opinions, but it's very ephemeral. The Entertainment Weekly thing was nice and it was like, "Wow! They ended it on my quote! That's so cool!" But then you move on. It was a nice little thing, but at the end of the day, it's not very important. There's a lot bigger thing on this planet than my getting quote in Entertainment Weekly. There's people dying, there's famine. Then there's all these incredible things where people are saving others with vaccines. Me going and saying something nice about Batman is really [small]. Most of it I don't even see. You're working all day so there isn't much time to sit back and go "Wow!" The biggest part for me on the Entertainment Weekly thing is that we got on the cover. That was like, "We got on the top section of the cover! Woohoo!" That was the coolest thing because it really got he word out there to a larger audience.
MDT: You went from Dark Horse to Oni and then DC calls. What would keep you from starting up another independent press? Why do you stay at DC?
BS: The answer to that is the same reason to everything I've done. I started my band when I was 18 or 20. Because it's a challenge, it's fun and I work with a lot of great people. Not just in the Bat group, Michael , Nachi Castro and Lisa Hawkins, Matt Idleson. Those are he folks I work with day-to-day, but everybody up there is just a great group of people who are as different as they are exciting. A very eclectic group. It's fun, it gets my blood going. If I wake up in the morning and the pit of my stomach says, stay home, then I know. I can't wake up and say I don't want to go to work.
MDT: Do you hold yourself to the same standard that you hold others who work for you? Waking up in the morning and saying to yourself, "This is the greatest job and I get paid to do it?"
BS: I hold them up to it, but if they don't, I feel bad for them. Whenever I do portfolio review, I say to them, please don't make the mistake of waking up 20 years from now and hating the fact that you're a cartoonist. There's nothing worse. It's like a nightmare. Here you have a job that you should be jumping for joy that you're doing. They look at me like I'm crazy. There are cartoonists and writers who wound up there by accident and hate it. Some people just don't like the freelance life because it takes a special person to be creative, to open your heart, open your mind to these beautiful lovely things and sit down and be a hard business man and say, "No, I can't take that job, even though I want to. My heart wants to take it, but you're not giving me enough money, so I have to take the job for higher pay." Or juggling saying, "I'll take that job because I love it, but take another job so I can continue to support myself and my wife and my kids or whatever." It's not easy doing that. I go in there because it's fun, it's challenging and the minute it becomes a chore or DC doesn't want me either, I don't want to be phoning anything in, so to speak.