Welcome, X-Fans, to another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT!
You know Gerry Duggan, Vita Ayala, Phil Noto and all the other talented creators writing and illustrating your favorite X-Books. But what about the editors diligently working behind the scenes to help make these stories the best they can be?
As it’s Thanksgiving week, this is the perfect time to give thanks to X-Men Senior Editor Jordan D. White and his team of X-Editors — Lauren Amaro, Mark Basso, Drew Baumgartner, Sarah Brunstad and Anita Okoye — with an eXtra-sized X-Men Monday interview!
Read this one closely, X-Fans — when you’re talking to editors, teases of things to come tend to slip out.
AIPT: Welcome to X-Men Monday, X-Editors! Why don’t you all introduce yourselves, let us know what books you work on and share your favorite X-Men character. (No pressure!)
Mark Basso: I’m Mark Basso. I’m an editor in the X-Office, and I’ve been at Marvel for 14 years. In the X-World, I’m currently editing Wolverine, X-Force, and X-Men Legends, as well as the double-event X Lives of Wolverine/X Deaths of Wolverine. And hey, appropriately enough, Wolverine is my favorite X-Men character. “The best there is” is more than hyperbole!
Drew Baumgartner: Drew Baumgartner here! I’m an assistant editor. I’ve been at Marvel for just over a month, so I’m very much still the office newbie. I assist on Mark’s books: Wolverine, X-Force, X-Men Legends, and X Lives of Wolverine/X Deaths of Wolverine (and some fun upcoming projects that Mark probably knew better than to tease). I’ve always been a big Juggernaut fan, but working on X-Force has stoked a newfound passion for Forge. A DIYer with a rocking ‘stache? That’s a mutant after my own heart!
Sarah Brunstad: I’m Sarah Brunstad, an editor, and I’ve been full-time at Marvel for 8 years now. I joined the X-Office pretty recently, so right now I work on Captain Marvel, Black Widow, Marvel’s Voices, and a few new X-Things that aren’t announced yet. My favorite X-Character is Lockheed, or Rogue if you’re insistent on “people picks.”
Anita Okoye: My name is Anita Okoye. I’m an assistant editor. I started working at Marvel two months ago. I assist on Sarah’s books, so: Captain Marvel, Black Widow, Ka-Zar, Excalibur, Phoenix Song: Echo, New Mutants, Marvel’s Voices, and some other unannounced projects. As for my favorite X-Men character… it’s a toss-up between Idie Okonkwo (shout out to Nigerian representation!) and Broo.
Lauren Amaro: My name is Lauren Amaro, I’m an assistant editor over in the X-Office and I’ll have been at Marvel for 4 years this coming Spring (2022)! I work on Inferno, which we just sent the last issue of to press last week, X-Men, Immortal X-Men, Sabretooth, Marauders, X-Men Unlimited, and a couple of other cool projects coming soon to a local comic shop near you. And my favorite X-Men character is Shark Girl — her mutant powers are that she can turn into a shark — what more could you want?
Jordan D. White: I’m Jordan, I’m a senior editor, I’ve been at Marvel 14 years. I work with Lauren on the books she listed and I oversee all these terrific people. My favorite X-Character is still Kate Pryde, but I also love the Captains Britain an awful lot. Oh, and my role model, Mojo.
AIPT: I’m concerned that Mojo is Jordan’s role model… but also still thinking about Lauren’s mention of “Immortal X-Men.” But we can proceed. How did you find your way to Marvel’s editorial department and what made you want to be a comics editor?
Lauren: I made the knuckle-headed decision that I was going to edit comics when I was a senior in high school, and then pretty much spent the next couple years figuring out how to actually make that happen. I ended up choosing my college based off their Comics and Cartoon Studies program (shout out to the University of Oregon!) and from there, I applied to every comics-related internship that I could find. I did various comics-related internships here and there, including with the fantastic folks over at Milkfed Criminal Masterminds before I was lucky enough to land one with Marvel’s editorial department. With every internship I was fortunate enough to find myself in, I learned more and more about what actually goes into producing a comic and the more and more I became convinced that this was the career path I wanted to follow — so when an assistant editor spot opened, I applied and the rest is history!
Drew: I fell in love with comics after college, and just started reading everything I could, trying to understand how and why they set my brain on fire the way they do. That interest eventually led me to the University of Dundee in Scotland, which offers a Master’s degree in Comics Studies. That’s about when I realized my mix of obsession for the medium and obnoxious organizational skills might be a good fit for editing. I talked with every editor I could find, and wound up over at Valiant, first as an intern, then as an assistant editor, before making my way to Marvel.
Anita: I started out in theater, interning for a playwriting program. I went on to work in the editorial department at Tor Books for three years. After that, I spent about two years working in podcasting and finally landed a job at Marvel. But my love for story, particularly genre fiction, stems from reading comics when I was younger. I find comics’ blend of visuals and text to be that perfect type of mental stimulation. I continued reading them as I got older, so working in comics was always kind of a goal, I just didn’t know how to get in.
Sarah: Reading, writing, and color-coding Excel sheets are pretty much my only skills (well okay, I do make a mean pie crust), so I always wanted a career surrounded by books. I fell into comics in college and after interning in some more traditional publishing routes, I managed to get an internship at Marvel where my job was reading Fantastic Four and helping create a digital archive where we marked things like first appearances, new costumes, new gizmos and such. I read Fantastic Four #1 through something like #300 that summer, and it was like this huge download to the Marvel Universe. That turned into a part-time job, then a full-time gig in Special Projects where I edited prose novels and art books, unique licensing-adjacent sort of stuff. After a few years of that, I had proven I could work my way around a story, and jumped at the chance when a slot in the regular monthlies editorial department opened up.
Mark: Good luck and happenstance certainly played a role, beginning with landing an internship in editorial. There was a relative dearth of interns during my go-round, at least on the days I was in, and that gave me the added opportunity of working under more of the editorial staff and getting to know more of them, as well as their different working styles. It helped me gain a wider understanding of the role an editor plays, and realizing editorial is the hands-on player at every step of the comic process, and the level of creativity and fun that goes into the job made it a goal from day one. After my internship, I had the opportunity to work full time in licensing, where I gained an even greater understanding of Marvel as a company, and the business of IP as a whole, which has all served me when the chance to join editorial came up.
Jordan: I’ve loved comics as long as I can remember. After my master’s program, I knew all I wanted to do was to work in storytelling. Comics were my favorite kind of storytelling, and Marvel was my favorite kind of comics. My wife went to medical school in New York specifically so I could apply at Marvel.
AIPT: What’s your average day like in the virtual X-Office?
Mark: No two days are exactly the same, but it generally involves logging on and sinking into whichever pieces of the process need my input with the most urgency — a script that needs reading and feedback back to the writer so we can finalize it for the artist to draw, inked pages of a comic that need the final thumbs up so the colorist can work on it, noting up a pass of an issue with lettering — and balancing that with future planning — thinking who would be best to write some new series, or locking down a cover artist, or assembling a plan for a future project.
Lauren: Mark said it best, but every day is so different because all your projects are so unique that even though the basic underlying tasks are the same (reading scripts, providing art/color feedback, prepping ancillary materials for books heading to print that week, etc.), you never really do the same thing twice. That being said… emails. And lots of them :)
Drew: Everyone else has summed it up so nicely, but they’ve left out all of the cackling with glee we do when some bonkers art comes in and melts our faces clean off. I end up spending a lot of time cleaning the drool off of my keyboard…
Sarah: Fridays and Mondays are “books are due to print, hustle hustle” days. Tuesdays mean back-to-back meetings. Wednesdays and Thursdays are usually my script-reading, new-books-planning kind of days. But yeah, mostly it’s staying on top of the 100+ emails we get every day and making sure that all of my talent has gotten a little piece of my attention that day, no one’s waiting on me to move forward to the next step.
Anita: Lots of emails (so many), reading scripts, routing materials, writing copy, monitoring schedules, and meetings.
Jordan: Everything they said is true. One of the things people don’t necessarily realize is that since we all work on more than one series AND are working on multiple issues of each series all in different stages at the same time… most days involve doing a little bit of every thing we do in the process of making comics, just on different books. It’s a lot to juggle.
AIPT: Is there one thing you find yourself doing as a comic editor you never would have eXpected?
Mark: Never is a strong word…
Drew: Trading emails with bona fide comics legends. Of course I should expect it, but there’s still a part of me that can’t believe it’s happening.
Anita: I’d say working in book publishing kind of prepared me for what to expect concerning the editorial aspect of comics, but since we have to get out multiple books a month, the accelerated pace and intricate parts of the production process are very new to me.
Lauren: You know when you’re trying to convey a very specific pose for an artist and stock images just aren’t cutting it?
Sarah: I think it’s hilarious when I have to send an artist my own terrible cover sketches to help illustrate a suggestion I’m making. But also I don’t think I could have anticipated conversations like, “What color is Frost Giant poo” and the debates they would produce.
Jordan: I definitely never expected that I would make videos of my cat as a puppet explaining the history of the Ancient One, but I did.
AIPT: In your role, you help creators ensure their stories are the best they can be. What’s one story you love (from X-History, comics, in general, or another medium) that inspires you to help produce new classics?
Drew: Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye run was the series that brought me back into the Marvel fold. It inspired a ton of imitators, but the distinct voice and look of that series really changed my expectations of what a superhero comic could be.
Sarah: Dang Hawkeye is a good pick. Alias — another not particularly super heroic book and one of my favorite comics of all time, still. It’s a definite career goal of mine to build complex stories about women — heroes and villains and all the women in between. Ladies on toilets, that’s my niche. And as far as classic stories go, I’m really inspired by the research, intentions, and sheer creativity of Don McGregor + company’s Jungle Action stories. I want to bring that level of thoughtfulness and collaboration to every project I do.
Anita: In general, the story that truly inspired me to get into publishing is Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon. But as for one that comes from X-History, I’d have to say the “Age of X” storyline in X-Men: Legacy is one of my favorites. Essentially, I’m a glutton for emotional turmoil.
Mark: Oh, that’s such a tough one. If anyone has half as much fun reading a Marvel comic I put out that I did reading “Maximum Carnage” or “The Dark Phoenix Saga” that would be extremely gratifying.
Lauren: Oof — it’s tough to narrow it down! I’m going to say All-New Ghost Rider though, for me, a Mexican-Puerto Rican kid growing up on the West Coast, seeing a superhero story that had a Mexican American main character, taking place in a city I was intimately familiar with, and that had that quintessential Marvel magic — that was huge for me. It felt like the world opened up when I picked that book up. If any reader picks up one of our books and finds themselves in between the pages, like I felt like I did, that would mean the world to me.
Jordan: There is a copy of Watchmen downloaded to my phone at all times. Recently, I’ve been working my way through the bibliography of Agatha Christie. I am currently… 30 books in, and I find her work really impressive. It’s so much fun and knows exactly how to do what it wants to do. It actually makes me really curious about novel editing — like Anita said, it’s done at SUCH a different pace, I have no idea what that would even be like.
AIPT: Is there an X-Men story you worked on you’re especially proud to have been a part of? If so, what made it special to you?
Mark: I mean… I’m incredibly proud to be a part of X-Men history, in general, so I’ll have to cheat and list a few: Launching Wolverine: Black White & Blood was incredibly creatively and artistically satisfying, while diving into some old favorite time periods with the teams on X-Men Legends allowed me to step back in with some of the creators that drew me into the world in the first place. For sheer depth and scope, to say nothing of the creativity and quality Ben, Josh, Federico, Frank, Adam, and the rest have put into them, X Lives/X Deaths of Wolverine will rank up there with one of the grandest epics I’ve ever been involved in.
Lauren: Having just sent Inferno to the printer, it’s hard not just to wax poetic about that. Gerry’s doing such great things on the main X-Men book right now, and I’m always going to have a soft spot in my heart for the time I got to spend on the insane ride that was Hellions… but I don’t think there’s been a project I haven’t been proud to work on, so I’m going to cheat as well and say there are a lot of upcoming projects that have me bouncing in excitement that I get to help be a part of bringing them into the world. Stay tuned, True Believers!
Drew: I’m pretty new here, so I hesitate to take much credit for anything that’s come out just yet, but Mark is right to highlight X Lives/X Deaths of Wolverine as something special. All of the creators are vibing off of one another, which makes updates from them an absolute blast. It’s also a twist-filled thrill ride, which makes the experience of editing it kind of like trying to edit a rollercoaster.
Sarah: I’m also new to the X-Office; I’ve spent most of the past 4 years in the Avengers group. But I’m thrilled with the new stuff I’m helping build. I did get to borrow some X-Men for last year’s Marvel’s Indigenous Voices, and being a big Dani Moonstar fan, that was really fun and fulfilling.
Anita: I’ve only been here two months, but I’m pretty proud of having Tini Howard’s Excalibur and Vita Ayala’s New Mutants be my first experiences working on X-Books. They’re radically different in many ways, but both books have these very poignant approaches to highlighting the importance and gravity of familial bonds (whether through blood or friendship).
Jordan: I am most proud of this entire era. We’re working on the X-Books in a really new and exciting way, and I am so proud of all the writers, artists, and editors who have worked on them, really rising to the occasion and making the Krakoan Age something special.
AIPT: The X-Men line post-Inferno is very mysterious, but you certainly know what’s to come! SO, could you tease a future project you’re currently working on?
Sarah: THE SPARK.
AIPT: Finally, what advice do you have for aspiring comic editors?
Mark: Read a lot of comics (and other things!) and analyze what makes you like the ones that you like, and what makes you dislike any that you dislike (unless I edited them, then like them :) ). You’ll find you can connect the dots between art styles, story construction, etc., and come to realize what goes into making a “good comic” by your standards, which will help you edit your own.
Lauren: 100% agree with what Mark just said! If you can find some friends to talk out those opinions with, that’s a great way to help articulate your thoughts and even expand your own taste as you get exposed to books or other media you might not have checked out on your own. And if you’re a writer or an artist, finding a group to share work with and get practice both giving and receiving constructive criticism is huge!
Drew: The more you know about how each step of the process works, the better you’ll be able to work with creators, whether they’re writing, penciling, inking, coloring, or lettering. I highly recommend picking up some how-to guides (Stan Lee and John Buscema’s How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way is a great place to start), and start making some of your own comics. You’ll learn so much about the thought processes that go into creating comics if you do a bit of it yourself.
Sarah: Yep, read a lot. All the things. Read across genres, too — breadth is important, especially when you’re just starting out and don’t really get to hand-pick what kinds of books you’re working on. I’m crossing enemy lines here, but Klaus Janson’s DC Comics Guide to penciling and inking are really great primers for people looking to build their vocabulary and think like an artist. Also form a community with your peers who are trying to come up at the same time — you’ll share resources and commiserate over the bad pay and long hours, talk over ideas, and help each other make connections.
Anita: I agree with everything everyone else said. I will say, networking is really important. Social media has made it a lot easier to connect with creators, editors, and voices within the comics community. Also, don’t be discouraged if your first job isn’t in comics. I bounced around between three industries before I got in. And I’ve found myself working with people I met while doing my stints in book publishing and podcasting.
Jordan: Best advice I can give is you don’t have to wait to get a job at Marvel to make comics. That goes for writers, artists, and yeah — even editors. There are SO MANY comics being made right now out there and if you want to be an editor, there is nothing saying you cannot hone the skills by getting together with other aspiring creators who might like some editorial help. Nothing says “I can make a comic book” like having made a comic book.
AIPT: Great advice, everybody! And, now that I know how packed your days are, I’m eXtremely grateful you took the time out of your email-filled schedules to answer these questions. Thanks for your hard work and keep it up!
And thanks to Jordan for these eXclusive peeks into the not-too-distant future!
Until neXt time, X-Fans, stay eXceptional and happy Thanksgiving!
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