Shelly Bond, Black Crown, and the future of comics: a vital connection is made [Part 4]

Shelly Bond, Black Crown, and the future of comics: a vital connection is made [Part 4]

The third 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 third part of a four-part interview series where I talk with Shelly Bond about comics, Black Crown, music, how much we both love Elastica — 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’m locked in. Just hook Black Crown into my veins. [Laughs]

Shelly Bond: I’m so pleased to hear you say that. Because really, I’ve always felt that there was a really strong connection between the types of comics that I like to read and music! And it can be any kind of music — I really like electronic and my favorite band right now is Moloko. Róisín Murphy. She’s the other reason I’m doing Femme Magnifique.

The election happened, and the next day I got to see her live at the El Rey Theater [in Los Angeles]. I had never seen her live before, I had went by myself, and it was and epic experience. She’s a performance artist. She did costume changes on stage that would rival Bowie. She wears these crazy masks that would be at home on a Dave McKean cover.

Her songwriting is so profound. It’s bombastic and hysterical and so on point. Today and yesterday… what she wrote in the 2000s? Still rings true today. She was my Femme Magnifique, the type of person I want to write about if there are enough slots — I don’t want to take anyone else’s slot! [Laughs] — but I might do an introduction about her and have a spot illustration. Because it was part political, but for me it was really about performance. I’m standing in the El Rey Theater and I’m seeing a small group of people, it wasn’t stadium-sized but a small group of people coming together to watch this woman perform. It was the synergy and the energy of a very unique crowd. And I thought, “This is what you need to do.

In terrible times, you need to bring like-minded people together to champion a cause. Step up and spread the cause of positivity. Because otherwise, we’re all just going to be sad or angry, and it’s not going to be a good place for the next generation to exist.

It’s interesting to me that writers like Kieron Gillen will put together mixtapes for their comics, like ‘Phonogram’…

Oh, I love Phonogram. I tried to get those guys to work for Vertigo for years but I could never get their pitches through. But Kieron is actually writing a story for Femme Magnifique, so…

That makes me wonder: would you ever consider putting together a Black Crown mixtape?

No, but what you’re saying are things that I’ve thought of ever since I got into comics. I was a DJ in college. My whole life has had a soundtrack. Everything I do has a soundtrack. Even in the early days we talked about doing something like that. I’ve always thought it was an interesting idea, and sometimes when I was putting out a promo book I’d consider something like that. J.H. Williams put a playlist in Sandman: Overture. I think it’s really going to be telling when we see the type of readers we bring to the table.

I really hope that we can get NME and Rolling Stone and music sites interested, because what’s missing today is the thrill of the quest. Everything is instant gratification. You wanna hear a song? I can play it for you right now. I used to have to go into New York City to get my rare Bowie. I’d have to take a train, go to Tower Records — I would have twenty bucks, and I would have to make the tough choice: do I want to get the vinyl of a soundtrack which was probably fourteen bucks, or did I want to get two other albums? And I would stand there for maybe three hours deciding; I would look at all the other Bowie albums that I had to see if there were any new liner notes or maybe there was a foreign edition or an import that was on sale, like somebody was an idiot and put it in a bargain bin. [Laughs] So that’s the kind of person I am.

From left to right: Tini Howard, Tess Fowler, Shelly Bond, Philip Bond. Photo: Black Crown/IDW Publishing

From left to right: Tini Howard, Tess Fowler, Shelly Bond, Philip Bond. Photo: Black Crown/IDW Publishing

How do you like working on Black Crown with IDW? 

Everyone at IDW… they all get it. They all get what I’m trying to do. That indie vibe. Like, we’re 4AD. That’s our record label. We’re Beggar’s Banquet. We don’t need to be Columbia. We don’t need to be Matador. We’re the new label. That’s how I feel about Black Crown.

There’s such care. Whereas… DC had a lot of books and their emphasis was superheroes. That’s what they had to do and I got that. I understood that. But it’s nice to have people say, “Hey, wow. We like what you’re doing. Can we help you?” It just seems like everybody has the same spirit, drive, and verve to make Black Crown a successful imprint. To make it a part of IDW. And that’s what’s important to me.

That’s why I bring up Chris a lot, because I wasn’t going to share this with anybody. I like having a partner in crime. And while my husband is certainly going to be doing some art — and he’s my secret weapon, if I ever had one — it’s very important on the editorial side to have a boss who really gets you, trusts you, and really enhances your ideas. That’s what I see in Chris as a collaborator. I knew it from the get-go, from our very first meeting.

Having only been with the company for a short while now, I feel it in my bones that this is the right place, the right time for Black Crown. We’re gonna fire on all cylinders.

How does the experience at Black Crown differ from that of DC?

When I first started at DC, I had to prove myself. I was an assistant. So I knocked them dead. I worked from ten to ten every night. Weekends were all about St. Mark’s Place — I was a kid, and I had grown up around the city — but during the week I would just work. I lived a block away from the DC offices, I would work all day, and then I would go home and I would listen to music all night. So I really had to prove myself. But when I started my own projects, Scene of the Crime with Ed Brubaker and Terminal City with Dean Motter and Michael Lark, those were my mission statements. I would say to Karen [Berger, Executive Editor at Vertigo], “These are the kind of books I can make for you all the time. Promote me!” Let me have my own books that define my own identity.

That’s what’s so exciting about Karen starting Berger Books. She was a great boss, she championed me — even the crazier stuff. I had worked with David Lapham, who did one of my favorite books from the Nineties, Stray Bullets, hands down a genius. She said go with God when I pitched her Young Liars. She said, “I don’t get it, but you got it.” [Laughs] Thank you, Boss!

Her book had a very different tone, she had different tastes in creators, which is what made us such a great team. We brought a balance to Vertigo.

I think about Berger Books and I think about Black Crown… and then I think about AfterShock and Black Mask and Image Comics, and these are all creator-owned paradigms. Do you feel that creator-owned is the future? 

You know, Vertigo was always very much a boutique imprint. It always had its own philosophy, especially when Karen was in charge. And… we didn’t follow the same rules as DC. Paul Levitz, her boss at the time, trusted her to steer her own ship.

I would say that — you brought up those punk rock imprints like Black Mask, and there are quite a few out there now. I would often go do portfolio reviews at colleges, and people would ask me, “How do you get into comics?” And I would tell them to get published. And they would look at me and say, “That’s not a good answer!” and I’d say back, “It’s the right answer.” You know? If you believe in your work, you can do a few things. You can do what Becky Cloonan did and go Xerox your pages and staple them together and sell them at comic book stores, because that’s how I found her work.

There are editors who don’t read comics. I know a lot of them. read comics. I love comics. Number one favorite type of reading material. Comics! I like novels too, but comics.

Another thing you can do is go to conventions. Are you a writer? Go chat up some artists! Artists who also want to break in. Put your heads together. And if you talk to people at shows, they can give you some tips too. Today it’s so much easier to get your work out there. Now is the best time for people to get into comics, but they also need to learn what it means to be a professional. That’s what separates the kids who are just throwing it onto the page versus the kids who may end up shepherded by an editor. It’s all about discipline. And editors are great for deadlines.

That’s another thing that’s wrong with the way we live now. You need that lifeline. Editors need a voice. You need to know what you’re getting from a freelancer, and they need to know what they’re getting from you. It’s a mutual respect. I’m calling you? Sure, I wanna talk about American Horror Story: Freak Show because I like it too, but I also want to know how you’re doing on that page — can you get me that page in two days? Because if you’re not going to do it, I’m gonna have to pull it and give it to someone who can. That’s the problem with a lot of editors. They’re afraid to be bad cops, or they don’t know how. And that’s fair enough because, really, there is no book on it.

This is the conclusion to our interview with Shelly Bond. ‘Kid Lobotomy’ #1 is in stores now.

The first part of this interview can be read here.

The second part of this interview can be read here.

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