Comic books are one of the most collaborative forms of art in existence. Not only does it require creators to work together to forge something unique from their own unique processes, but there’s folks operating behind-the-scenes. One of those roles is the assistant editor, who’s responsible for aligning everyone in the name of collaborative efforts far greater than the sum of their parts.
To better understand the editor’s function, I spoke with Valiant Comics’ own Drew Baumgartner, who offered a sneak peek into the creative process behind company titles like X-O Manowar, Harbinger, and Bloodshot, among many others. From his daily routine to a sense of how comics are made, Baumgartner sheds important light on the imperfect magic of making comics.
AIPT: Drew, you’ve been at Valiant for a year and almost a half. How has the job evolved and changed over that time?
Drew Baumgartner: With a crew as small as Valiant’s, efficiency is the name of the game, so some of the biggest changes in my time here has been how things have streamlined. This has ranged from how we work with our creatives to how we track an issue’s progress to how we send issues to print. That has meant changes to virtually every department, freeing up time to allow them to do what they do best.
At the same time, our editorial office puts a big emphasis on professional development, so I’m always being trusted with a little more responsibility than the day before. Sometimes, that means I’m in on meetings I wouldn’t have been a year ago, getting a chance to chime in on new projects and initiatives. Other times, that means I’m stepping into the editor’s shoes, working directly with creators as we hammer out scripts or art. We have a great team with tons of experience, so there’s always something to learn.
AIPT: Walk us through the day routine and the life of an assistant editor.
DB: Generally speaking, I’m working on 3-4 series that are going to print (as in, will need to be ready to go in a given month), and 3-4 more that are in development. For the books going to print, a big part of the job is just keeping the trains running on time. Making sure the scripts are getting to the artist with enough time to get the art to the colorist with enough time to get the colors to the letterer with enough time to hit our print deadline (with enough time, of course, to address any notes that might come up in any step of that process). That’s really priority #1, but built into that is what people probably think of when they think of “editing” — proofing for spelling/punctuation errors, catching continuity/costume mistakes, making sure everything reads clearly and smoothly, and that all of our characters act and talk like themselves.
Some of that also comes up in the books in development. Indeed, after scripts are approved, the process looks basically the same for the books going to print, it’s just our deadlines are further away. It takes most art teams longer than one month to produce a finished comic, so we have to build the schedules back from the last deadline we want that art team on, and start them as early as we can to avoid any time crunches down the line. But before we ever get to that point, we typically start with a pitch — usually a specific idea for a character that we’d like to see a certain writer’s take on. We might see a few drafts of that before we approve the pitch, and then start seeing drafts of scripts. A lot of the heavy lifting happens in those stages, as we work with the writer to determine everything from the broad themes and arc of the story to the specific plot points and character moments. We work with so many talented writers, so this is always a pleasure. The next step is casting the art team. As an assistant editor, this is never my final call, but this is one of my favorite parts — imagining how some of my favorite artists might draw a given script. But that’s something we only get to do once an arc, so not exactly a “typical day” kind of thing!
In addition to working on the interiors, I’m also working on covers. In some cases, that might mean soliciting cover art from artists, in others, that might mean offering my thoughts on covers others have commissioned. As an assistant editor, part of my job is also to marshal feedback from our sales and marketing teams on every cover we publish. Depending on the day, this can take up a lot of my time!
Valiant also offers an 8-page insert of additional content for readers who pre-order our books through their LCS. They typically feature some behind-the-scenes looks at the art process, character designs, commentaries from creators, or anything else we think readers might be interested in. We have an amazing design team who actually puts those together, but deciding what to feature is basically the assistant editor’s domain.
AIPT: When you’re working on titles like Bloodshot, is there any insider access to film production?
DB: There’s definitely some. We have a great relationship with Sony, and I was fortunate enough to work on some projects for them as the movie was in production. But for a film project of that size, there’s always some level of secrecy, so most details were kept on a need-to-know basis. As someone working on the Bloodshot series, I was privy to information about characters from the movie who may or may not be appearing in a Bloodshot comic soon!
AIPT: For someone who wants to be an assistant editor, what are skills they must have? What are the skills they could build in the position?
DB: Organization and communication are the most important prerequisite. All of the comics knowledge in the world won’t count for much if you can’t keep track of your projects or provide clear feedback to everyone you’re working with. Assuming that hurdle is cleared, I would say a broad knowledge of how comics work is more valuable than very deep knowledge about only a few things. A character’s first appearances or past conflicts with a given villain is something you can look up in a few minutes and immerse yourself in with a weekend of reading, but an eye for, say, composition takes longer to develop. Assistant editors will need to provide feedback on every aspect of comics production, so it’s important to understand the basics of not just writing or anatomy, but also perspective and color theory and comics lettering.
Many of these skills are developed and refined on the job. Some of that comes from watching my peers give feedback and internalizing how what they asked for was turned into the finished product. And some of that comes from watching the creators we work with interpret our notes. There’s often more than one way to solve a given problem (say, to direct the reader’s eye to the main character in a crowded scene), and an artist or colorist might come up with a more elegant solution than what I might have suggested. Those can be great learning moments.
AIPT: Okay, speed round. Top 3 comics of all time — go!
DB: Watchmen — can’t deny a classic! The structure of this book is incredible. Building Stories — this is the comic that made me decide I needed to work in comics. Asterios Polyp — [David] Mazzucchelli is an absolute master, and he’s really experimenting with the form here. Great stuff!
AIPT: How do you keep a mustache oh so perfect — go!
DB: Nanites, duh.
AIPT: When reading questions for an interview like this do you twitch at any (likely a few) mistakes I’ve made in writing them — go!
DB: I can be a good enough proofreader when I’m really concentrating, but I’m not one of those people who breaks out into hives when I see a misspelled word.
AIPT: Favorite form of procrastination — go!
DB: Calling it my favorite is probably generous, but I seem to fall into long YouTube rabbit holes pretty regularly these days.