Shelly Bond, Black Crown, and the future of comics: a vital connection is made [Part 2]

Shelly Bond, Black Crown, and the future of comics: a vital connection is made [Part 2]

The first part of this interview can be read here.

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 second part 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: How are you going about promoting Black Crown? Will IDW just be running ads and promos through their own books and various outlets, or is there a larger campaign in the works?

Shelly Bond: What I will tell you is that the IDW team got my vision from the get-go. I know I’ve talked about Chris Ryall and how he reached out to me so that story’s old news, but it’s one thing to reach out as a gesture and it’s another thing to reach out because you really get someone’s point of view. From just working with him for a short period of time, I think we’re really simpatico in the types of books we want to do, the stories we want to tell, and the creators we want to work with. And we’ve definitely had some overlap over the years.

While I didn’t know him personally and couldn’t pick him out in a lineup if I tried, I did know him by reputation. What I found from the moment I came to IDW… everybody rolled out the red carpet for me, and they really get what Black Crown is all about.

The first book we’re going to launch will be unlike any other. It’s alive as we speak. But we didn’t want to come out of the gate and just dump it on the table. We want to tell everyone once we can show things. There’s nothing worse than trying to describe something without a visual. This comic, we wanted to launch it with the iconic image that we felt symbolized Black Crown, which is the crown, of course.

Philip [Bond] did that.

My husband Philip did that, yes. And I want to take a moment to give him props if I could. Because he has been a tremendous support to me — of course as a husband, the man who raises my child — and as an artist. I married my favorite artist, as everybody knows. But we haven’t had a chance to work together a lot, and I really felt like Black Crown captures that British irreverence. Those books were the kind of books that moved me — I mean, I’m an Anglophile, always have been. I discovered Bowie back in ’74, and I’ve never been the same. So British culture is very cool to me. So when I had Philip design the logo, I gave him two parameters. There are two things this logo had to be: one, it had to be a black crown because duh, that’s the name; and two I wanted it to represent without text, if necessary. Because to me, a graphic symbol is really important for a comic book imprint. So it had to say it all at a glance.

The other thing I wanted was the rock ‘n’ roll swagger, like the tongue that John Pasche created for the Rolling Stones, the one that Andy Warhol appropriated. So just as Philip took out his sketchpad, I said wait a minute — it has to be so iconic, it has to have such swagger, that Andy Warhol is gonna crawl his way out of the grave to appropriate it.

This was done on the first go.

[Holds up a sticker of Black Crown] This belongs on dive-bar bathroom walls. 

Thank you.

This belongs on the back of automobiles and street lamps and…

… Patches, or a tattoo! [Laughs] That’s what happens sometimes, for me at least. When I work on projects, it’s the same way with the title — it comes fast, it comes instantly, or it takes a long time. And then it’s hit or miss. So when you see it, you gotta grab it. You have one shot when you’re at a comic book store or you’re scrolling through a device, you have one shot to make a purchasing decision, and there’s so much competition for our dollars right now. It better be captivating — or you’re done.

How will your previous experiences at Vertigo inform the way you curate Black Crown? You said at the panel that your time with Vertigo will inform the creator bullpen of Black Crown, but how will those creators contribute to the aesthetic of your imprint?

People know what they’re going to get. I have a reputation — for better or worse. People know that I’m very selective about art and story and design, and also about the people that I work with. I tend to go for creators who inspire me, and I often know from reading the first few captions of a story or a body of prose work that these are the people who are gonna be able to translate their voice to the page and to collaborate well with others. So what I love most of all is to take a veteran writer who’s been with me for fifteen, eighteen years and, rather than pair them up with the usual suspects, put them with somebody new. Somebody with moxie. Someone who’s actually going to shake them to the core a little bit, and really present something that you would have never expected them to bring to the table. And vice versa.

I saw you speaking with Tini Howard yesterday, and Tini is currently working with Black Mask. She’s wrapping up a mini-series called ‘The Skeptics’ [the final issue hit on February 22]. 

Oh, yeah. I’ve read it. It’s superb.

Well… how do you like Tini, and is that a name that’s on your list?

I will say that Black Mask has a lot of good books. I like The Dregs, and I think Matthew Rosenberg is doing terrific work there too. I like what I’m seeing there.

When you say somebody has a punk rock aesthetic, you think that the kids are out of control. But the true power, as somebody who’s old enough to have lived through punk rock, is that they’re a bit of a mastermind. Their books are really cool, and as somebody who’s edited for a long time, I look at some of their talent and think, wow, I really want to get my hands on some of them. I want to get my red pen out and yank them over to my team, because I think they’re good. I’d like to see what they could do with just a little bit of direction.

Shelly Bond, with Tini Howard. Photo courtesy of Tini Howard.

Photo courtesy of Tini Howard.

What do you think about the creator-owned landscape?

I think sometimes it’s really fun to have your own stuff — I think we all have our own passion projects — but when you’re collaborating, it’s really important that somebody steers the ship. And I think that sometimes the problem is with some of these smaller companies, with a lot of the material that is out there today… I think it’s healthy to do do your own thing, but when you have somebody helping you out, guiding it, and helping you to hone your own skills… you get a better end result. It’s the editor’s job to make you look as good as possible, without showing any signs that she was there. That’s editing advice I got many, many years ago.

What’s your approach to editing?

I’ve been known as an editor who’s very hands on. I get a lot of ink on my hands. And I’m very particular about art directing — I think there are a lot of editors in comics who come from an English background, or English Lit, but I come from an arts background as a film and video production major. Took a lot art classes, a lot of design classes, so I come with more of a visual aesthetic.

I think a lot of the problem with comics today is that editors are not editing. And in some cases an editor doesn’t really know the parameters. You shouldn’t break the rules until you know the rules. I think that’s something that is very key that I want to impart as well. Every editor has their own editorial style, and I’m respectful of people and their own methods. But I have a design that works for me, has worked for me since 1988, and essentially I’m really active in every part of the creative process. From the story, idea… sometimes I throw a title at a writer and say hey, what do you think of this? 

Right. 

That was the case with Bodies. Do you remember Bodies, from Vertigo?

Of course.

Si Spencer and I had really wanted to work together, and he pitched me some things I thought were really good, but I couldn’t get them approved. And I said, “I really want to do a book called ‘Bodies’, what would you do with a title like that?” And he said, “Gimme two days.” [Laughs] He knocked me out cold with that pitch. It was one of those pitches I got approved within a matter of weeks, which is saying something in a big company. It was just so sound, and so different.

The point I’m trying to make is that you can be an editor who’s really hands-on and real authoritative and really demanding, but if you see something that isn’t broken the best thing you can to is take a step back. You don’t need to put your thumbprint on everything. Picture things that matter the most. An artist that draws beautifully, but needs help with the pacing and doesn’t really move the camera angles around enough and puts eight panels on every page… it’s probably a good idea to get them a layout artist so he or she can work from someone else’s thumbnails.

As an editor you have to be smart. You have to look at somebody’s strengths and ask, “how can I elevate and look better, and how can I teach them? Sometimes it’s just takes working directly with me. Jon Davis-Hunt is a really good example.

What was your approach with Jon? 

I had met him years ago at a Bristol convention in England. Really liked his work — he had done some 2000 AD stuff — and I wanted to find him a Vertigo book, but I really wanted to work him. Because he had a very particular style and he was used to a larger format. He was used to working on four-page stories, Future Shock stories, so the pacing was different. Had a lot of big panels, and we was drawing really small figures. I thought, “Wow, this guys needs to do some splash pages.” So when I hired him to do Clean Room, Gail Simone and I talked about this and she always made sure there was extra room for him to do one or two splash pages of his own choosing in each issue. So she would only write 20 pages. [Laughs]

So that’s how I could help him evolve into a much more dynamic artist. Now he’s working on The Wild Storm with Warren Ellis. And I like to think that when Jon and I worked together we helped elevated his storytelling and his art. I’m so proud of his achievements.

You’ve said that a part of this imprint’s credo is that Black Crown will reflect the inclusive nature of the industry today. The industry is as diverse as it’s ever been, but there’s always room for improvement. How will Black Crown go about strengthening diversity in comics?

One of the things I’ve been working on, as you may know, is a Kickstarter campaign for a project called Femme Magnifique. You probably also know the reason why I put it together. I was really frustrated with how a lot of people in the comics community were reacting to the Election results.

Yeah. 

Everyone has their own political reviews, but it was a missed opportunity for a woman to be in the White House! And I felt strongly about that. So I thought, let’s all come together and let’s do something positive! So I’ve been scouting talent for many, many months, even though I was busy reading and writing, I was going to shows and I was meeting with talent. I was on Twitter and Deviant Art and Tumblr and Instagram, and a lot of times I will follow artists who I know and love and I will follow the people they like too. That’s how I find new people.

Can you share any examples?

For instance, Nick Derington — who’s on Doom Patrol right now — I knew Nick worked with Mike Allred about ten years ago, but I hadn’t realized he wasn’t in comics for a few years. So I was on Twitter, and I happened to see he did a Marvel… one of the characters from Marvel, not a superhero person, don’t remember which one… but she looked amazing. I said, “Wow! Nick Derington’s back! What the hell has he been doing?” So I reached out to him and said, “Hey, you doing comics?” And he said, “No, not really.” So I said, “Wanna be in comics?” And I showed Gerard his work, and Gerard was like, “Oh, my god, I love Nick Derington.

So that’s exactly how Doom Patrol came together. Gerard wanted a very particular look, and I said, “You know what? I’ll have to take a look around.” Because sometimes you’re not quite sure until it just shows up and lands in your face. So we were in agreement literally just from an image I saw on Twitter. I have to say, that is one knock-out team, and I’m really proud of what they have accomplished too.

Our interview with Shelly Bond continues next week. ‘Kid Lobotomy’ #1 hits stores October 18.

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