Hey there Silverline Family,
We hope you are all safe and well out there. Especially if you’re a reader in Europe, please take care and we hope that you’re safe. If you’re elsewhere around the world remember to take a break from the doomscrolling and take care of your mental health. We hope our comics and content can give you nice reprieve to relax and be entertained.
This week we have another Craft Interview. This time with the big cheese, Roland Mann. You might know Roland from a lot of things. He’s the EIC and founder here at Silver, he’s written several comics such as Cat & Mouse, and Trumps. Previously, he was an editor at Marvel and Malibu. He’s also an educator who teaches a course about writing comics, so he may have been your instructor at some point. So listen up class!
This week we talk about working in comics are the multiple duties one might have to fulfill at once. When you’re breaking in and especially if you choose a career in the indies, you may find yourself wearing multiple hats. (I’m a writer, editor, and online content guy, and all I got was this dang shirt.) It’s not uncommon for the team you’re working with to ask you to cover multiple roles to make sure the business of comics gets done for your comic. If you’re a purely independent creator, you get the worst end of it. Finance, marketing, partnerships, and creative all get handled by you. Chances are you might also need to freelance on other comics at the same time make ends meet.
I hope you enjoy this interview where Roland gives us insight into how he creates and how he covers the multiple duties he needs to do.
Craft: Roland Mann – Filling Multiple Roles in Comics
TK: It’s my understanding that Trumps has been rattling around in your mindpalace for a while now. How long do you typically let an idea sit before you develop it, or progress to writing. Is it more of waiting for the right moment for the time, or do you fully develop the idea and then store it until you are able to execute it?
RM: Your understanding is correct. The Trumps concept was born in the late 90s. As I’ve said other places, my family plays a lot of cards, and the idea of the four suits as four kingdoms at war struck me during one such evening while playing Pinocle with my parents. I jotted down the idea quickly, then fleshed the idea out during my next writing session. I don’t generally let ideas sit for too long because I feel like I have to go where my brain is taking me right then. If I wait a month, I might forget where I was headed. But the other reason is that I think WITH my writing. I write and rewrite and revise as part of the “thinking” process.
TK: If an idea is coming together, either in development, or once actual writing or illustration has begun and you feel like it’s not doing the story justice, how do you pivot? Do you just truck through and then hit it again in revisions or do you pursue another idea that you feel the team is better suited for? Any examples?
RM: No, I won’t truck through. I have done that before, but that’s the reason I won’t do it now. Revising or fixing something that isn’t working is far easier—in my opinion—to fix before it is finished than to finish and then try to fix. I think if it’s finished, it’s more difficult to get your mind away from THAT idea. If I stop right then and address the problem, then I can play the “what if” game. What if my character does A? What if my character does B? What if my character does C? and so on. I’ll try to figure out the place in the story the problem is, then see what decision the character can make in a different way—and not just ONE way, what are all sorts of possibilities. Now, I will add this, I try VERY hard to do all that BEFORE an artist gets it. In my view, it’s far easier for me to make the changes at a story level, than for the artist to have to make changes in the art, which could potentially mean a lot of different pages requiring changes. That’s not fair to the artist, and it also signals to the artist that you don’t really know what you’re doing as a writer.
The best example from my own writing, I can’t go into a lot of details because it’s from something unpublished. (how’s THAT for a plug?) But I have a novel that’s now complete, but I was stuck for a time (I don’t believe in writer’s block) on a pivotal decision that a character made. I’d moved passed that point, but it just wasn’t working. So I backtracked to the decision, played out several “what if” scenarios, picked one that I thought worked the best…and went from there. And wouldn’t you know it, the remainder of the novel came fairly easily!
TK: In addition to writer, you also serve as an editor, and several other business titles (but that’s getting too deep in the sausage). Many comic creators will probably find themselves wearing multiple hats, especially in the indies. How do you balance working on your own work and working on the other roles you fill. Is there any special considerations when it comes to budgeting time developing your titles versus helping other creators create their titles.
RM: OMG, that’s a tough one. The truth is that I really do love to see new creators enter the team of the published. There’s not a lot of money in comics, but there’s a lot of emotional rewards. For instance, I’m very excited that our next kickstarter includes WOLF HUNTER, written by our own Tim TK (who supplied these questions and I feel like I’m addressing all the answers to him!). And while it won’t be his first publication, it will be his first published comic book. I like that because I know how “I” feel when I see my work in printed form, and it excites me to know that Tim will get that exact feeling when he holds the printed copies of WOLF HUNTER #1 in his hands! As far as how I budget the time…I wish I could tell you that I have a big spreadsheet (like I used to have as editor at Marvel and Malibu) that has the timelines for every project and every title we’re doing…but the truth of the matter is that because we’re so small press, the timelines for every creator on every title is so different. Someone like Aaron Humphres can really produce pages quickly as his “day job” allows him greater flexibility to create more pages. On the other hand, someone like Dean Zachery can’t do that because his day job requires more time from him that keeps him from drawing the thing he wants to draw. ALL of us want to be more like Aaron, of course, but we can only do what we can do. So my personal decisions on helping other creators budget their titles depends greatly on what the team as a whole can do.
Hope that makes sense.
TK: How does also being a writer influence the kind of feedback you, or how does also being an editor influence how you react to feedback? How you do find the path to encourage a creator to really improve their original idea without getting behind the steering wheel too much yourself?
RM: That’s also a tough one. An editor’s job, or even someone just offering feedback is not to make the writer’s story THEIR story. It’s to try to figure out what the writer is trying to tell and help guide them on that path. Now, there are some things, obviously, that the writers don’t necessarily see because they are so close to the story that the editor can see, and that the writer sometimes thinks the editor is butting in.
One example of this I can think of is the upcoming KNIGHT RISE. Mackenzie had sent me a really nice outline of the story she wanted to tell…the problem with the story is that it wasn’t “A” story, but it was two stories. We swapped a few emails and suddenly she was like “Whoa! Cool! Yeah, I see that”—and she went off to the races with it (And I know readers are really going to love it!)
Another example that comes to mind is with WOLF HUNTER. I remember your summary and the initial second issue was very claustrophobic because it was all inside the train AND it was a lot of talking heads. My recollection is that you knew the story front and back, knew what you were trying to accomplish, but didn’t realize the second issue was like that because it was surrounded with action on either side. So you simply (I say “simply” –ha) rearranged some of the stuff, added a bigger action sequence and made stronger use of noir-style narration to make it work.
And I think that leads me to the part of the answer that can be tough: An editor has to think about more than the story. Yeah, you want to make sure all the elements of story are there, but you also have to take into consideration the audience. The editor is really the first audience member, but they come at it with a writer’s eye. Not only that, an un-emotionally-invested writer’s eye. An editor can look at a story and say “hey dude, there’s no action here,” or “hey, there’s nothing at stake for your protagonist here,” or “why do we care about this?” because they see that when they read it. They can then offer up suggestions to the writer not in an attempt to write the story for them, but in an attempt to get the writer thinking about the problem and figuring out how to address it. I always try to offer suggestions to writers when I’m editing, and I try to offer up at least two suggestions which take the character or story in completely opposite directions in order to get the writer to look at all the possibilities. Often what happens is they come up with something that isn’t quite as extreme as my suggestions, something in the middle of the two polar opposites I suggest…and it works.
TK: How would you say your workload has shifted compared to when you got into comics. I would assume you have more responsibilities, but technology has also advanced. Do you find that some tasks are generally more efficient, either as a writer or editor, and has that made your creative life easier or harder, or has it simply made room for more work to fill your day?
RM: The big difference is that when I got into comics, that was what I did full time for a little more than a decade. Now, my primary responsibility is as a college professor. Comics are my night gig. I’m very fortunate in that my boss encourages me to stay involved in comics. A near exact quote from her is something to the effect of “I want you to keep doing that because it keeps you relevant.” Which is really funny, but when you think about it, is also very real. The department can continue to say “the guy who teaches comics is also a comic maker today,” instead of “he used to make comics a bunch of years ago.”
But there are indeed a lot of things that are easier today than they were when I got started in the late 80s thanks to technology. Some of the more obvious things might be the ability to instantly receive the art from the artist as soon as they are done. We no longer have to wait on the mail to hopefully deliver the original art in undamaged condition. We can work with folks internationally a whole lot easier for the same reason.
I can also communicate with creators a lot easier than back then when my options were phone (not always convenient), mail (super slow), or fax (whaaaaa?). I can send you an email and you can get me a pretty quick response when you get to it.
But I DO think that technology has caused me to have a serious case of over commitment. When I was employed as an editor full time, I edited an average of about 6-7 titles a month. Silverline is not remotely close to monthly, but we’ve got 22 projects…YES, TWENTY TWO!!!…in various stages of development. While I try to keep up with where they are all, sometimes things fall through the cracks (that’s why I’m getting some help from Dante Barry on that soon!), not because I care more about one over the other, but simply because I’m looking one way and miss the one in the other direction! Lol