I was asked recently how I felt having acquired Ooligan Press’ first comic book. I meant to say excited or hopeful, or perhaps confident. What came out of my mouth surprised me and elicited laughter from the roomful of editors I was addressing. “I’m terrified,” I answered. And it was the honest to goodness truth.
In theory, bringing Ooligan into the world of comics makes perfect sense. Portland has a thriving comics community with several well-known, successful publishers based here. Many of our alums have gone on to work for these houses. Portland State University has a Comics Studies program. And above all, we are a learning press. Producing a comic presents tremendous learning opportunities to supplement the skills we’ve gained producing books for trade publication, particularly in the editing, digital, and design departments. So then why am I terrified? I’m glad you asked.
When people learn about what we’re doing, entering the world of comics with no experience, with only logical reasoning and a sincere desire to learn spurring us on, I generally get two reactions: enthusiastic delight or doubtful dissuasion. Either way, you’re facing something unsettling. Those who love comics and think it’s great for us to infiltrate this industry could wind up disappointed. And those who think we should stick to what we know because we’re going to fall flat on our faces going down this hostile road could wind up being right! For transparency’s sake, and to reassure our supporters and, maybe not silence, but soften our critics, let me share with you how seriously we are taking this.
Before the pitch, I consulted with our publisher and the director of the publishing program, and together, we consulted with the director of the Comics Studies program, Dr. Susan Kirtley. She provided guidance and resources and agreed that this project would be a great educational opportunity for our departments to work collaboratively. I also consulted with an editor at Dark Horse, who graduated from the publishing program a few years ago, for my first lesson on comics editing. It became apparent after speaking with them and a few other experts that I was in over my head! All of these experts, while incredibly supportive, warned of the dire consequences of not doing this right. Comics makers and readers are passionate about the craft and will take you to task when you get it wrong. But that simply meant I had a lot to learn and little time to learn it, so I got right to work despite the fear creeping in.
During and after acquisition, we have been working with the author, Henry L. Miller, to raise funds to pay for the intensive illustration work (it costs a lot of money). Artist Jeff Parker will be illustrating this project, and he is an incredibly skilled, experienced professional, who is lovely to work with. He didn’t shame me or make me feel bad for being new to comics, or not knowing the difference between a word balloon (it’s balloon, not bubble) and a caption box. His willingness and ability to work with a first time author and an amateur comics editor is the only reason we were able to take on this new medium as a press.
Aside from reading a bunch of comics and books about comics, I’m also taking the Comics Editing course at PSU, taught this term by comics editor extraordinaire, Shelly Bond, who literally wrote the book on the subject. Not only have I learned about the rules, about word balloons and caption boxes, panels, tiers, and gutters, shots and angles, roughs, pencillers, letterers, inkers, and all the rest; I’ve also learned about creating harmony, among your creative team as well as on the page.
What does this all mean for Ooligan’s first foray into comics? Well, I’ll be passing along what I’ve learned to the person taking over the editorial role after I graduate in June. And continued collaboration with the Comics Studies program, particularly the editing course, will be highly encouraged if the press doesn’t want this first comic to be our last. After all, there’s a changing of the guard every year. Thankfully many students are participating in both programs just to be part of this project, which is a promising sign!
So what have I done acquiring Ooligan’s first comic? I can honestly say I have done my best.