The Lost Art of Comic Book Editing - An Interview with SHELLY BOND about FILTH & GRAMMAR
Shelly Bond. To list all her accomplishments would monopolize the space for this interview. If you're reading this, you are one of two people:
A longtime reader of comics and know who she is and are curious about her book OR
A new reader (maybe a future or fledgling editor) and are just curious what she and her Kickstarter for FILTH & GRAMMAR are all about.
Shelly Bond has been navigating the comics scene for 30+ years, behind multiple award-winning books with DC/Vertigo comics, her own imprints, and currently with 2020 Eisner award winner, Bitter Root.
So “Come outta' the cupboard, ya' boys and girls.”* and meet Shelly Bond.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Shelly, can I do something different here and bury the lede? Can we talk about you as Shelly Bond: Editor first and then about how it translated into FILTH & GRAMMAR adventures in comic book editing? You’ve left your fingerprints on comics history. Awards and recognition aside, do you think you did a good job?
SHELLY BOND: You make it sound like I’m the wrinkled, old geriatric gorilla in the room! There are still a few comic book editors who are older than I (am old) and one or two who are A LOT older than I (am still older than most). As far as doing a good job, to say I’m proud of every book that includes my imprimatur is a gross understatement. CBY: If you are a wrinkled old geriatric, then I am as well. (I say we are well-seasoned, cast iron pans). I’ve been reading, unknowingly, your work since Comico and, in particular, ELEMENTALS.
SB: Bill Willingham is a certifiable genius, right?! He’s the first and perhaps only person to get me to read and enjoy a superhero title. I love/loved ELEMENTALS so much that I knew, once I was hired at DC, I would track him down again to write and perhaps draw for me. That wedding cover for ELEMENTALS and the giant shot of Fathom are two of my favorite wraparound covers of all time. I hope to recount the story of how Bill and I were reunited in the mid-'90s in FILTH & GRAMMAR. It wasn’t pretty, but eventually it worked out. One of us was very [redacted]. CBY: It's clear you love being an editor. And your history is proof of what a great editor can do. Do you think it's become a lost skill? SB: In many ways, yes. I think comic book editing has become a lost art. I’m not quite sure there was ever an official rulebook for editing comics, but I think a lot has slipped through the cracks because most people have no idea what it takes to do the job well. It’s much more than assembling a schedule or calling the accounting department to chase up a freelancer’s check. And believe me—it’s only for the fearless.
"Getting to know all aspects of a comic book company is as critical as learning the jobs of the collaborators in the chain of command and assembly. There hasn’t been a handbook on the art of sequential storytelling from an editor’s POV, which is why we’re here."
CBY: How has the digital format made editing? Have you saved on purchasing red markers? SB: Digital is great for assembly and as an adjunct to analog editing. I haven’t saved any money on red pens though, and that’s fine. In my experience, to truly edit a comic involves many concentrated hours of script and art autopsy, so I stick with the basics. I’m a paper purist, and while I don’t mind reading comics digitally, I prefer and believe in the tactile nature of the periodical. The idea of creating motion on a flat paper surface, building character arcs and following a story through pacing and crescendo, with rhythm and ambiance, working toward the page turns that require flipping the page over utilizing your fingertips—I can’t see any other way to do it. Yes, we’re well into the 21st century, but I still believe in the power of the red pen. It was always mightier than the sword. And when it comes to books under the Bond imprimatur, it beats digital editing every time.
CBY: I get a sense that today no one looks for the editor in the creator credits. As I look at the increase in indies and crowdfunding books I see more creator names and less editor names and in some books…it shows. Why do you think that is? SB: Sadly, I think it’s because people are still unclear of the many skills and functions of the legit comic book editor. And they don’t want to pay for it! A second eye is important. A seasoned eye shouldn’t be cheap! A lot of writers and artists think we’re bullies who just want to put our bloody fingerprints on their work and boss them around because we can. And there are plenty of people in comics who don’t deserve to use the term “editor” after what they’ve done to a creator’s work. I’ve seen so many people in comics fail upwards toward their editorial positions and certainly haven’t earned their titles. Shame on the industry for that. But I hope FILTH & GRAMMAR becomes a valuable resource for people who not only want to make comics, but for anyone who likes to go behind the scenes to see the nuts and bolts—and maybe apply a few of the tips to make their own work better/stronger/faster/epic. And on another level, I hope there are people who pick it up to become more discerning readers.
CBY: Would you agree with me that Comics are on a pendulum, swinging back and forth from highs to lows, popular to unpopular? Drawing on your experience, where do you think it is right now? SB: Pop culture is fickle, isn’t it? That’s part of its charm. The most exciting time to be in comics is right now. I love self-publishing via off register press with my husband, artist and graphic design apocalypse Philip Bond. Coming up with new, unexpected story angles and badass characters isn’t easy, but we consider it a social imperative!
CBY: I don’t think it has hit its peak yet, but crowd-funding has certainly made an impact. It's the new Rock 'n' Roll Punk spirit of Indie Comics. I understand that it gives anyone a license to create (which is good) but does its niche audience exclude building new readership? I always enjoyed walking through a shop and having something new catch my eye. Crowdfunding takes some of that away unless someone is telling me to check it out. Do you think it has done more to help or hurt the industry?
SB: It’s the future we always wanted. Getting to create art without a bunch of suits who don’t read comics is just so fucking liberating. Viva comics! CBY: Has a particular publisher and their direction/books caught your eye?
SB: I’m very impressed by Avery Hill, Silver Sprocket, and Adhousebooks. Fantagraphics has always been a favorite, thanks to complete and utter devotion to “Love And Rockets,” my legit gateway drug into comics when I was a college student. I’m also fond of so many UK indie cartoonists that came highly recommended by Broken Frontier’s Andy Oliver and Lucy Sullivan and Sofie Dodgson, three incredible humans with exquisite eyes for emerging talent and champions of comics as craft. CBY: I think we can say FILTH & GRAMMAR adventures in comic book editing IS A SUCCESS! It’s an autobiographical love letter, editing guide and a collection of bonus material that you have created and put up on Kickstarter. Why share that with the world? Did you get Karen Berger to edit it? SB: Why not share it with the world? Graphic memoir is all the rage and what better way to plant my flag in the sand? As for editor, I’m working with Heather Goldberg, an amazing woman who was not only an ardent Vertigo reader in the ‘90s, but she holds a Master’s in Secondary Education in English and briefly taught at the high school level. Hiring my former boss of 20 years to edit my memoir sounds like a nightmare—for her as well! But she’s approved of her appearance in it. That means a lot to me.
CBY: What were you working on during the pandemic? I understand you used to tap dance. Did you do more of that? Your feet were certainly moving. Was FILTH & GRAMMAR a product of the pandemic? SB: See INSIDER ART: A Compendium of Comics, Cats, and Crafts. It’s 272-pages chock-full of stories by 150 female and nonbinary creatives that we put together in three months (March 2020-June 2020) to raise money for female & nonbinary comic book retailers who were hit hard during the pandemic. We raised over $6K, and it’s still on gumroad.com/insiderart.
We funded on Kickstarter for comps last fall and raised $29K. As for tap dancing, my dance studio was shuttered like the rest of the world, so I took my taps to the garage and did some powerwalking. Does bagging and boarding 800 lbs of comics count as exercise? If so, consider that part of my daily workout routine. CBY: You offer a lot within FILTH & GRAMMAR, including some editing guides. Would you consider doing a straight-up editor guidebook or online editor workshop? People take editing courses but the comics’ medium is different. You can teach the theory of editing but they need the knowledge of how to apply it. SB: I think FILTH & GRAMMAR is a nice balance of how to edit and “A Day in the Life of a Comic Book Editing Ingenue.” It’s part educational and part secret history of my life and times with many favorite comics creators. Did Grant Morrison write The Invisibles scripts in invisible ink? Did Peter Milligan set America on fire on his “American Scream” tour or just nurse a warm pint and a cold slice of pizza in a cheap motel room in Ohio? And keep in mind that, while I only married one of my favorite artists, I’ve learned a great deal from helping so many other talented friends and colleagues see their dream projects realized in glorious 4-color. The honor is all mine. As for teaching editing online, I’m sure it can be done, but with most creative occupations, the best way to teach this skill is to have someone push you into the deep end of a freezing body of navy blue water!! As I said, not an occupation for the timid or tentative.
CBY: Outside of getting FILTH & GRAMMAR, what would you recommend to anyone interesting in editing? How can they find a pool of water in order to dive into the deep end?
SB: Continue to comb the credits! Reach out to the editors whose work blows your mind. Politely send them a request on social media and, if they grant you access, ask a few questions. If they’re in town for a local convention or conference, introduce yourself. If they’re decent people, they’ll be flattered and will offer up some tips. It’s a long climb up the corporate ladder and hard to get your foot in the door, but there’s nothing wrong with starting as an intern or working in the mailroom and applying for editorial jobs when they open. Getting to know all aspects of a comic book company is as critical as learning the jobs of the collaborators in the chain of command and assembly. There hasn’t been a handbook on the art of sequential storytelling from an editor’s POV, which is why we’re here. I’d like to think I’m revealing a path for people who are fascinated with the medium, but have no clue where to begin—something I would have appreciated in 1988 when I was lucky enough to get hired as an editorial assistant and trained under editor extraordinaire Diana Schutz.
Artist Amalia DeGirolamo details my journey into the murky depths of Comico the Comic Company on a quest for an issue of ELEMENTALS…Warning: Don’t swim in basement water…you might not live to tell.
CBY: We here in the Yeti Cave thank Shelly for joining us. If you haven’t checked out the book we’ve been talking about – FILTH & GRAMMAR – go to Kickstarter now or keep an eye on Shelly’s website on how to purchase the book. If you just want to see great new talent and different projects, take a look at what Shelly is working on or simply promoting. You won’t be disappointed.
To check out the Kickstarter for FILTH & GRAMMAR click HERE.
Twitter: Shelly Bond, Editor-at-Large: https://twitter.com/sxbond
Website: off register press: https://www.offregister.press/
Twitter: off register press: https://twitter.com/offregisterhq
*"London Calling" – The Clash