Shelly Bond, Black Crown, and the future of comics: a vital connection is made [Part 1]
By Jarrod Jones. On an overcast Saturday afternoon in March I found myself sitting in an Italian restaurant talking to Shelly Bond.
It was ECCC 2017, and for Bond, the cat was out of the bag. Everybody knew that the comics editor was up to no good that weekend, but even with the news out in the open that Bond would curate a new creator-owned imprint from IDW Publishing called Black Crown, the details behind her new endeavor remained mum. Secrecy was paramount. With only a day gone by since IDW’s official announcement and the WonderCon reveal of Kid Lobotomy still three weeks away, there wasn’t much she could tell me during that afternoon.
In fact, she would often glance over at Steven Scott, PR Manager at IDW, and ask, “Did I say too much?” We would all have a laugh and I would glance nervously at my plate, concocting yet another subtle ruse to get something, anything, before Shelly went to Anaheim with Chris Ryall and made her announcement. It would probably please IDW to know that she stuck to her guns and kept a poker face the entire time — though there was no way you couldn’t feel the excitement in her voice. Shelly Bond was making comics again, and you could tell it was making her very happy.
We talked about a lot of things that day. We talked about how much we both loved Love & Rockets — which is funny, considering we found out Gilbert Hernandez would produce Assassinistas with Tini Howard for Black Crown not long after. We talked about Bond’s departure from Vertigo, though it was clear that she had moved on from that chapter and was already well into the next. “When I left DC it was liberating,” she told me. “I really felt like it was an exciting time for me in my life.”
Presented here is the first of a four-part interview series, where I talk with Shelly Bond about comics, Black Crown, music, how much we both love Mike Allred — all the important stuff. Every Wednesday leading up to the October 18 release of Kid Lobotomy, the imprint’s auspicious debut from Tess Fowler and Peter Milligan, you can read the conversation that took place on the day DoomRocket met Black Crown.
DoomRocket: I want to ask you about where your heart is with comics in 2017. What do you find in yourself that you hope to see reflected by Black Crown?
Shelly Bond: My heart has been in comics since the day I discovered them in a screenwriting class in September of 1987. My teacher was showing us storyboarding. I had no idea comics still existed, and I also had no idea there were comics that weren’t about superheroes. I never liked superheroes; I thought they were lame, I thought they were misogynistic, and they didn’t appeal to me at all. Especially in college, when I was into filmmaking and I wanted to be an auteur and move to London or Paris.
I discovered comics the day I went to a comic book shop in Ithaca, New York, where I went to college. I walked in and it was unbelievable. I saw all these comics and I could not believe my eyes. I grabbed the ones that instantly appealed to me by the cover: I picked up Grendel, by Matt Wagner, issues #16 and 17, which are a masterclass in storytelling. It showed me that you could do so much with the comic book form as far as the 2-D perspective on paper was concerned; it showed me how 3-D motion could work on the page, and it brought some serious literary expertise. I had no idea that comics could be so sophisticated.
I also picked up Love & Rockets, and that’s a real favorite. Because to me, Love & Rockets was and is “comics & rock ‘n’ roll,” and it was why I always hoped I’d be able to work with Gilbert Hernandez. Jaime and Gilbert were my heroes…
You asked me where my heart is. Part of me is going back to my roots with Love & Rockets, because it’s that first trip to the comic book store when I bought Grendel and Love & Rockets and Elektra: Assassin by Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz and Moonshadow by Marc Dematteis [J.M. DeMatteis] and John J. Muth… when I’d just discovered buried treasure. I never stopped loving comics from that point forward.
I worked with independent companies, I worked for the big corporation for 23 years… now I feel like I’ve gone back to my roots, that I was with a major label and now I have my indie street cred back. [Laughs] So now I’m back to where it all began. With the comics that I can feel in my bones, that were written for me. Those are the kind of books I’m going to curate for Black Crown. They’re the books that I want to read, and the books I want to share with as many freaks and misfits like me.
What was your favorite story from ‘Love & Rockets’?
The Love Bunglers. Oh my god, I wept…
That double-page spread with Maggie and Ray…
… And I just ruined my book. [Laughs] That was Jaime. But Gilbert… the way he handles women — the Luba story, Palomar… I love so many of them. I’ve read them all so many times. I have the different sizes, the different collections, just because [pauses] in different sizes they read like different stories, in some ways. They just feel different. And you get a different perspective when you read them in different formats.
I’ve always loved how ‘Love & Rockets’ accentuates your mood whenever you read it. If you’re in a pretty good mood before, you feel great afterwards, and if you’re just a little bit melancholy before…
… You’re just a puddle. It’s so true! I think that’s what makes the Hernandez Bros. some the finest storytellers we have. They really capture the human condition. They take a scalple and dig at your heart and soul.
What were the days like after you left DC Comics? Was there anything about that break that contributed to the still-hidden concept behind Black Crown? Because I feel there’s a subtext here.
Well… [pauses] when I left DC it was liberating. I really felt like it was an exciting time for me in my life. I always wanted to have a summer where I could focus entirely on me; I hadn’t had a summer off since the very early Eighties. I come from a family business, so I was always put to work, always had a few jobs, worked through college. I always said, “I want a summer where I do nothing but things for me: I want to read, I want to read novels, I want to read comics… just for pleasure.” I didn’t just want to read them with a red pen in my hand. I wanted to dance more, since one of my secret passions — which I guess isn’t so secret anymore, thanks to Instagram [Laughs] — is that I tap dance. And I’ve been tap dancing for a long time.
So that summer I told myself, I’m not just gonna tap twice a week, I’m gonna tap four times a week. And I had a blast. I traveled with the family: we went to Europe, we went to San Francisco… I did a lot of my own writing. As you probably know, as a comic book editor you’re kind of a jack of all trades — or a Jill of all trades — you’re really there to be Master Control. You juggle so many plates, doing so many things, and the writing you get to do is terrific.
I love copywriting. I love self-copy. But you don’t often get that time to do your own writing, do your own personal projects. So this summer was spending a lot of time at our public library and really devoting time to writing my own stories. In between breaks if I hit a certain amount of pages, I would sneak off to the graphic novel section and read a graphic novel. So I have to say I felt spoiled.
I read a few other books that I might not have picked up. Some absolute classics. One of my all-time favorite storytellers and visionaries is Charles Burns. With each and every brushstroke, he blows my tiny mind. In reading Last Look — of course, I read each of those chapters separately — I finally got to read it all at once, and my jaw just dropped. And it took a few days for me to pick it pack up. It reminded me why I became interested in comics, and why I continue to remain in comics all these years. Because it’s an art form unlike any other, and there’s nothing more gratifying than to work with writers and artists and letterers and colorists and other people in the business who want in from different mediums. Because it really is unique. And I feel really proud and honored that I get paid to do this for a living, to help all these people collaborate in these really unique stories and characters.
What’s the “shared landscape” of Black Crown look like at the moment? I imagine there are more than a few creators milling about, collaborating on insanely wonderful things.
So Black Crown of course is the name of the imprint, but it is also is the name of a pub that anchors a mysterious street. Imagine if you will your favorite street in any city. For me, it’s St. Mark’s Place in New York. I moved to New York in 1992, and St. Mark’s Place was just thriving. It was amazing. The coolest punk shops and unique record stores — and no franchises. So to me, it’s St. Mark’s Place. Perhaps there’s a place for you in Chicago — or London, maybe — that’s your street, where you feel like you can discover new things. That’s the street.
So Black Crown Pub is the anchor. And inside there’s a proprietor and there’s a barmaid, and they pretty much serve a crew of people who come in and out — a Greek Chorus of regulars who’ll come in and out — but then we also have a lot of real estate surrounding the pub and on the other side of the street. And what I mean by real estate is that each creator that is a part of the Black Crown imprint gets to own a chunk of the real estate. They can interact on the street as little or as often as they like. For instance, we have a record shop that’s called the Atomic Turntable that Mike Allred already called dibs on if you couldn’t tell by the title. So when we draw the street we’re gonna have a sign that says: “Coming Soon: AAA Top Real Estate”, and… uh oh, you look so sad!
I’m just so happy right now. [Laughs]
Oh! Okay! [Laughs]
Mike Allred is just the best to me.
He is! He is the King of All Pop. Forget Michael Jackson. [Laughs] I think Mike Allred is — I mean, he writes, he draws, he sings, he dances… he doesn’t tap dance, but I’m working on that. [Laughs] So Mike can’t work for Black Crown right now, so I thought a great way to show people that he’s going to be a part of it is to have a sign that says “Coming Soon…” on the Atomic Turntable. But there will be creators who actually want to be on their own and that’s okay too. So perhaps those creators will be very tangentially connected to the street. Perhaps they’ll have a character whose sister’s in a band that plays at the Black Crown over Christmas Break. Maybe we’ll do that story at some point.
It’s a place where creators who actually have always wanted to collaborate can meet up. We did something similar years ago with The Unwritten and Fables. The creators of both teams — Mike Carey and Peter Gross on The Unwritten Fables with Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham — they’re all friends! We’ve known each other for years and they wanted to work together, so I said, “look, I’m Master Control, I edit both books — have at it!” So we worked it out, we figured out how to make it cohesive, where everybody would have a good idea what was happening. [Black Crown] probably won’t be on that level, but if you think of the interaction of like-minded creators and suddenly they could actually have their characters interact — how cool is that?
The one thing I just want to make clear about it is that each of the monthly or mini-series we put out has a very singular vision and a unique point of view. The books will be very different, and the stories don’t take place on that street. That’s just a street where you can go on occasion.
A touchstone, correct.
A crossroads where all this intersects.
It is! It really is. In fact, I’ve been playing around with a phrase very similar to that, which is, “Black Crown exists at the cross-street of comics and chaos.” So hopefully that sort of gives you the feel of what kind of comics will be happening there. I’d like to tell you that these comics have the swagger of rock ‘n’ roll, that bravado. They’re irreverent… they’ll make a statement. They’re the kind of books that you’re not sure what you’re gonna get, but once you open one up, the second you read Page One, Panel One… that’s it. You’re sucked in. And once you hit that last page, you can’t wait thirty days.
Thank you for being so forthcoming with that answer.
Did I say too much? Well, Mike [Allred] doesn’t want Gerard Way to steal his record shop. [Laughs] I’ve already said to Gerard — Mike and I go way back, to 1988 — so I said to Gerard, “look, I know you’re the real rock star, but I got my loyalties.” [Laughs] I knew Allred back when he was a DJ in Germany and he would send me submissions. And I would be his pen pal through those submissions. So even though his artwork was rejected at first, I was the one who got to sign that rejection form, which said, “Dear, Mr. Allred… we think your work is very good but not quite on the level to be published yet…” and I would write in red pen, “But I think your art is amazing! And you must love Bowie, because your characters remind me of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane.” [Laughs] And we started this great working relationship. It’s been a great relationship ever since.
Do you think he kept those letters?
Knowing Mike, he probably did. [Laughs]
Our interview with Shelly Bond continues next week. ‘Kid Lobotomy’ #1 hits stores October 18.