by Mike Hansen
“I’ve had the opportunity to pitch, research, and build several amazing collections that I could only have dreamed about as a fan.”
The folks who write and draw comics get a lot of (deserved) attention for their efforts, but there are a lot of people who work behind the scenes in comics to make them the best they can be when they get in our hands. From editing to design to proofreading, there are a LOT of steps in the production process of every issue and collected edition.
Lifelong Marvel fan Jeph York is one crucial piece of the production puzzle for many Marvel projects. From his home in Boston, Jeph has had a major hand in many of Marvel’s best and most interesting reprint and archival releases for the last few years (including one of my all-time favorite Marvel volumes, the Captain Britain Omnibus by Alan Moore and Alan Davis).
I’ve known Jeph online since I first started posting in comics message boards a few years ago. Not only is he incredibly knowledgeable about Marvel’s vast publishing history, but he’s a really nice guy, and – though I’m not sure if it comes through in this particular interview – can be wickedly funny.
I emailed Jeph over the last few weeks to ask him about his work at Marvel. In Part 1 of this wide-ranging interview, Jeph explains how a fan like him got to turn pro, and managed to make for himself one of the coolest jobs in comics:
You once told me that you got hired by Marvel because of your posts on the Marvel Masterworks Fan Site boards – could you elaborate?
Sure! I started posting on Rhett [John Rhett Thomas, a.k.a. Gormuu]’s Marvel Masterworks boards back in 2004 – the Masterworks HCs had just relaunched, and Rhett had developed a friendly relationship with Marvel’s Collected Editions Department. In 2006, they hired him to produce the Marvel Spotlight interview magazine, and after a few months he decided that he needed a staff. He got in touch with a few board members, including me, who had impressed him with their writing skill and their passion/knowledge of Marvel books – and he offered us contracts to interview creators, write short articles, and so on. I’ve been a Marvel fan since I was 8, so I jumped at it.
“The Onslaught books were my first taste of trade-paperback building.”
My first job was transcribing audiotapes of Rhett’s interviews. He’d mail me cassettes, I’d type them up for hours on end and mail them back. (I’m sure Rhett would like me to point out here that I was horrible at meeting deadlines!) I went on to write several articles and interviews, but my real passion was Marvel’s collected editions – I was bursting with ideas on how to reprint certain titles, story arcs, or crossovers.
Then a few things happened in rapid succession. Marvel solicited a 4-volume collection of the Onslaught crossover, and I noticed that the issues were being collected in the wrong order. I wrote an (embarrassingly long) email to the editors, and to my surprise they emailed back and asked what I recommended they do instead. Granted, I was already a contracted freelancer for their department – that’s probably the only reason they asked for my input – but I sent back a revised pitch, and they went with it! The Onslaught books were my first taste of trade-paperback building.
Shortly after that, I was contacted by the writers of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe – another freelance group handled by the CE Department – and offered a job on their staff. They knew about my love of Marvel minutiae from my years posting at the Marvel Chronology Project website – and again, being under contract already helped quite a bit. I wrote a few test entries for them (Hellion and Icarus of the New X-Men, I believe) and they took me on. This was late 2007 or early 2008.
“I’d write some text on a Saturday, then see it being proofed in the office the next Monday – it was kind of surreal.”
At that time, I was working on a graduate degree in publishing at the Harvard Extension School, and one of the requirements was an internship. I had a brainstorm, and emailed the Collected Editions Department to ask if I could intern there. The email conversation was hilarious: “Wait, we pay you to work for us, and you want to come do more work for free? You’re hired.” So in the summer of 2008 I interned there, and got some valuable face time with the staff.
The arrangement was fun. Three days a week, I’d go in and work as an intern, proofing and fact-checking and filing and the like – then the other four days I’d go back to my rented room and produce paying work. By then, Rhett had branched out from Spotlight and started producing one-shots that tied into Marvel’s big events. He was doing a Secret Invasion tie-in called “Skrulls!”, and since I had Handbook-style experience, he pulled me in to help write profiles on all the major Marvel Universe Skrulls. I’d write some text on a Saturday, then see it being proofed in the office the next Monday – it was kind of surreal. I even got to kibbitz on the layout a little bit.
One day as I was filing, I overheard a conversation about reprinting the Captain Britain by Alan Moore & Alan Davis TPB. I poked my head in and suggested that they should also include Alan Davis’ pre-Moore material this time around (the original TPB began with Moore’s first issue, which was midway through a Davis-drawn storyline). They asked me to explain, and that conversation rolled into a request for an official pitch. I came back the next day with spreadsheets and ideas, and the book eventually became the Captain Britain Omnibus HC.
The Captain Britain Omnibus hardcover.
I did the same thing with the X-Men: Inferno TPB: I overheard a reprint being discussed, suggested that they reorder the issues and add some tie-ins, and the eventual result was the massive X-Men: Inferno 2-volume hardcover set. Not bad for a nosy intern!
So I guess I was the right guy at the right time, because senior editor Jeff Youngquist took my love of collected-edition creation, plus my ties to the Handbook staff, plus the fact that I was physically there in the office, and he put me to work coordinating the 2009 trade-paperback research.
Basically, every year the department draws up a list of what they plan/hope/intend to publish in the coming year, and then they employ the Handbook staff to figure out the fine details of each book. Exactly what issues should be included, if there are any relevant bonus features, how many pages each book will end up being, etc., etc. I became the liaison between Marvel and the Handbook staff: I handed out the research assignments, answered (or forwarded) the Handbook folks’ questions, tweaked and fine-tuned the contents as we went along, collected and fact-checked all the research spreadsheets, and finally presented them all to Marvel.
I guess they liked how that system worked, because I’ve been in charge of the research every year since. (We’re working on the 2013 books right now, in fact!) In addition to managing the group, I research a lot of books myself. I take a lot of pride, and put a lot of thought, into trying to make each book the best it can be. Trying to make books work not only as an individual standalone volume, but as part of a larger series. Casting a wide net for interesting bonus features. Pitching sequel/prequel/tie-in/companion volumes. I still consider myself a lucky fan, not a hardened pro – so in everything I do, I try my best to combine Marvel’s needs, and the framework they give me to work within, with what I think other fans will want from the product.
I’ve seen you credited variously as Research or Layout on some Marvel collected editions, and Writer on some Marvel projects (like the Official Marvel Index); you’ve submitted project proposals to Marvel; and I think you’ve mentioned that you write some solicitation copy. So what exactly do all of your credits mean? And how did you Continue reading