Kickstarting Comics: Talking With Shelly Bond About ‘Fast Times In Comic Book Editing’

Currently funding on Kickstarter, editor extraordinaire, Shelly Bond’s new book is an outrageous autobiographical account, in a graphic novel/prose hybrid format, of her life as a New York based DC Comics editor working on such seminal titles for Vertigo as The Sandman, The Invisibles, iZombie, Shade the Changing Man and so much more. And at a time when publishing was dominated by men. I was intrigued by this book – a must for all comic book fans, surely? – so got in contact with Shelly to ask her more about this fascinating book and her fascinating life; the highs, the lows, and everything in-between.
Olly MacNamee: So, Fast Times in Comic Book Editing is currently running as a Kickstarter and aims to regal your colourful career in comics. Would I be right in saying that this book sounds like a rather riotous account of your time working on the likes of The Sandman, The Invisibles and other iconic ‘90s titles?
Shelly Bond: Absolutely! It’s a view from the trenches during the halcyon days of Vertigo Comics. Vertigo was the extension of Karen Berger’s incredible line of late ‘80s social, political horror and dark fantasy comic books. I was the final editorial hire in December ’92. Vertigo ignited a neo comics revolution with its subversive take on genre fiction thanks to a invasion of brilliant British scribes including Jamie Delano, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaimanand Peter Milligan, plus visual architects Dave McKean, Frank Quitely, and Duncan Fegredo.
OM: The book features a series of short comic strips, which is highly appropriate, rather than a typical prose account, with a rather impressive list of collaborators. I get the feeling that it wasn’t too hard to get the likes of Tess Fowler, Chris Weston and Neil Gaiman involved in this collection of vignettes from a rather illustrious career?
SB: FAST TIMES is a mix of short comics, photo/visual maps and timelines, prose and experimental art. I liken it to a linear tour of my life in the ‘90s: Down and Out in New York and London, from living and working in publishing in New York City, to fun times at UK conventions. I’ve been an anglophile since I spent a college semester studying in London (or hanging around Camden Market, depending on who you ask), so I loved the same indie films, fashion, and music as many of my freelance contemporaries. It was a great time for pop culture on a global scale, and I was lucky to have a boss who trusted me to travel to major conventions and get things done—which usually meant double-time on booth duty, covering for a drunken editor who blew off their shift, or staying until the last round at the hotel bar to pick up the tab.
I can’t exactly call FAST TIMES a graphic memoir. Terry Pratchett once said he preferred fiction to non-fiction because you can lie. I stand by that quote, because visual embellishments are always welcome if the character and story warrant it. But make no mistake: this is not an exposé. It’s a love letter to an era, and how exhilarating it was to be a part of something so epic that it blew the doors off expectations of what the comics medium could achieve, as a storytelling medium and an art-form. Just check out the Netflix adaptation of The Sandman, #1 in 80 countries, and “Bodies” by the late Si Spencer and a host of epic artists, being filmed for British TV as we speak.
As for format, I’ve been a fan of anthologies since I pitched Vertigo’s Winter’s Edge in the mid ‘90s. It gives me the chance to curate a book featuring established favorite creatives alongside fresh talents like Imogen Mangle.
OM: The ‘90s was a heady, hedonistic and experimental time to be alive, let alone to be working at DC Comics’s Vertigo imprint too. How do you go about coordinating and creating a book of this magnitude and vision, and where do you pull your punches without sacrificing too much of your story? I mean, you know where all the bodies are buried, right?
SB: Working with chaos magicians and surrealistic bon vivants like Morrison and Milligan was a psychedelic experience on the page and from the sidelines but someone had to pay attention to the pagination, and to check that the color opacity wouldn’t print too heavy and resemble mud. I made sure that my freelancers had nice meals at conventions, and were energized and working to the best of their abilities on deadline. The only raving I was doing was about the comics I was editing.
 
OM: Reading through the Kickstarter, this is more than just the trials and tribulations of a comic book editor. Living in New York must have been such a blast. How much of this social side to your life is explored in this book?
SB: The weeks were full-on with making comics. In those days, assistant and associate editors worked in tandem with editors on 4-5 monthlies and 1-2 original graphic novels. If they were lucky, assistants also had a few projects in development of their own. I was so lucky to work with Neil Gaiman and Jill Thompson on the end of The Sandman: Brief Lives, as well as Sandman Mystery Theatre, and Shade with Peter Milligan and Chris Bachalo. It was a non-stop hustle to keep every team moving forward — creating their best art and most important — nailing the deadlines. On a typical Monday through Friday, I was way too tired for any meaningful nightlife unless there was a Paul Weller or The Cure show at Roseland Ballroom, on the same block as my midtown apartment.
Weekends were a different story. I’d take advantage of the amazing cultural landmarks like the Guggenheim, MoMa, and ICP, the International Center for Photography, as well as skipping through the Market on 4th and Broadway and buying the best 5” platforms on 8th Street. My final destination on a typical Saturday was St. Marks Comics for midnight. There’s a comic in FAST TIMES illustrated by Gen Mangle that’s part editor’s love fest and part horror show, that reveals how much I treasured my hours there, safe from the frenzy of tourist chaos on St. Marks. If you’re thinking Junji Ito meets Charles Burns with a soundtrack by Pulp and Oasis, you’re close to living it.
OM: And what are some of your own personal stand-out moments from a life and career, chock-full of such moments and experiences?
SB: Watching Chris Bachalo’s artistic evolution from Shade #1 through issue #50 is one of the best lessons in sequential storytelling. It’s what everyone should aspire to in comics — if you have talent, getting on a monthly series will make you soar — if you work with a solid creative team and a good editor has your back. You learn how critical it is to hit your deadlines and keep apace. That’s one of the problems people tend to face when they don’t have an editor. How do you know when to call a page finished. You really need to stick to the page-a-day ratio. Anything that stops the forward flow in making or reading comics for that matter should be obliterated. Or at least reconsidered.
 
OM: Right, well this is a Kickstarter, so I suppose I should ask at least one question about the rewards folks can still get their hands on after a rather successful campaign this far. So, erm, what can folks can still get their hands?
SB: FAST TIMES is a 160-page neon portal back to the Britpop ‘90s! $15 for a digital copy, $25 for the softcover, $45 for the hardcover. And our stretch goals are part of the ‘90s theme. I’ve asked some of my favorite freelancers to join me for one-hour Video Team Reunions that will be recorded for a very Vertigo Bingewatch before Xmas. So far we have Mike Carey and Peter Gross from LUCIFER, Paul Popecartoonist of HEAVY LIQUID, and SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE’s Matt Wagner and Steven T. Seagle lined up. But Grant Morrison and a secret Invisible cell of artists are within reach once we crush 45K. And Neil Gaiman has agreed to reunite some of The Sandman creatives if we reach 50K.
OM: Shelly, it’s always enjoyable to catch up with you. It’s been a while. But, I have heard you’ll be at this year’s Thought Bubble. So, maybe you’ll also have copies of Fast Times in Comic Book Editing with you?
SB: And great to catch up with you! FAST TIMES will reach backers next March, but I’ll see you with a case of FILTH & GRAMMAR: THE COMIC BOOK EDITOR’S (SECRET) HANDBOOK with my collaborators Imogen Mangle and Laura Hole, as well as those charming GEEZER lads, William Potter and Philip Bond. We’ll bring the choice swag AND buy you a round or two.
OM: Well, in that case, onwards and upwards and I’ll see you at the bar in Harrogate, Shelly. Mine’s a double!
SB: I’ll be the one in a turtleneck! I’ve earned my stripes!
And you can back Fast Times in Comic Book Editing here now.

Currently funding on Kickstarter, editor extraordinaire, Shelly Bond’s new book is an outrageous autobiographical account, in a graphic novel/prose hybridCOMICONRead More

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