Scott Allie Shoots from the Hip

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Straight-forward. No-nonsense and knows what he wants because he’s had skin in the game for a long time now. I imagine that’s how I’d describe Dark Horse Editor-in-Chief Scott Allie. A guy who believes in doing the work, in making good comics. An editor and a writer. A proponent of bad coffee.

BROKEN FRONTIER: "I am a wanderer on the face of the earth and have no destination." That's such an epic quote. Scott, why do you think Solomon Kane--a gun wielding puritan--is so agreeable with the comic book market?

SCOTT ALLIE: Comics readers like antiheroes, and Kane is a very Shakespearean sort of antihero. A very overblown sense of drama, brooding and sullen, with epic adventures, and a lot of monsters. That's the part of him that works for comics, and there's no other character like him.

BF: He seems to carry this weight around, like he's searching for something, but can't find it. So, what can we expect in "Death's Black Riders"...? Does Solomon find what he's looking for?

SA: Over the course of these first two minis, he's defining his mission. With Christ as his hero, he'd like to be a savior, but he's better at killing things. It's the events of the first two minis that, in the third one, allow him to really understand and maybe articulate what he's out there doing, what he has to contribute. 

BF: Without giving too much away, what all can you tell about the premise behind "Death's Black Riders"? What will Solomon be facing? Besides defining his mission, what's his goal in the particular mini?

SA: At first he's just continuing his exploration of the Black Forest, trying to do good and save people from the things he finds there. But he starts seeing his limitations--not that he expresses them, but he sees them--and conversations with this priest character and running low on funds make him want to head back to England, if he can get out alive.

BF: As an avid reader, I always enjoy the dynamic theme of internal versus external struggle. And to me, Solomon represents that quality; and possibly, as you mentioned earlier, that may be the reason he's that overblown antihero.

Speaking of writing, it obviously takes up quite a bit of your time--do you find that in your editorial duties you lean more towards the writing aesthetics, or the art duties? 

SA: As an editor, my focus is sort of evenly split. I can't draw much, so in editing I can work with artists to get ideas across that I can't get out myself. With writing, I can use Kane or Exurbia to try out ideas. With art, I look for openings with the artists I have good rapport with to try to do it. Jo Chen, Guy Davis, Georges, Dave Stewart, the Twins—it’s great working with people like this that I can bounce ideas off and try things out.

This is sort of the reason why I wanted to write Kane. Had I edited another writer on that, I might have done so with an unnecessarily heavy hand, but instead I really felt like I got that out of my system here. So I'm not looking to get my writing ideas out in some other title I edit. Of course, if one of my writers is reading this, he's thinking, "Bullshit, guy's a goddamn dictator..."     

BF:  The experience I've had with editors, there seems to be two types--ones that let you be autonomous, and ones that have a bit of an opinion on every panel of every page.

Both bring value-added to the overall process, I think; but it sounds like you're somewhere in-between. Is that right--or do you lean one way more than another? That being said, is there a title you're currently editing for 2010 that you're looking forward to? 

SA: I honestly love all my books--maybe not equally—so I've got a lot to look forward to. Hellboy's gonna be great this year. Great stuff with Corben, who's more than half done with May's Mexico one-shot. But the main event for 2010 is The Storm by Mike and Duncan, which is pretty epic, in just 3 issues. Buffy's gonna be monumental. The Goon is coming back strong after a light year.

As for how heavy or light I am--on some books I'm real heavy, on others I can be pretty hands off. Like Beasts of Burden--that's possibly the lightest touch I take. I give Evan some feedback on scripts, but he's pretty solid. I give Jill very little feedback. We collaborate a lot on cover ideas, that sort of thing. But that's the extreme light end of things for me.  

BF: So with all this going on, what's an average day look like, Scott? Are you afforded one?

SA: Most days feel like a race to the finish. But it's fun. Lot of meetings--we're forging some long term marketing plans right now. Tying to solidify some publishing plans around Hellboy, Conan. It's always a daily struggle to keep any monthly book on schedule, and Buffy is especially challenging, so there's always some panic there. I try to get on the phone with Mignola once a day, because that's been my touchstone for fifteen years, makes me feel directly connected to the pure comics good stuff. I don't surf the web too much, haven't been on Myspace in a while, never signed up for Facebook. No Deviant Art, that sort of thing.

I tweet, but not a lot. I do most of my tweeting while traveling, so if things go bad they'll know where to start looking. I brawl with Lia, the Art Director, because we're both very high energy and opinionated, and we can go at it without being mad at each other later. If I want to get a script read, I go down the street to this 1960s-style diner, Libbies, and guzzle coffee. Never been a fan of "good" coffee, which is abundant in Portland, so I'm happy with the office sludge or the stuff at the diner. The diner, by the way, is neither hip nor retro. It's just the real, old deal. Andy Serwin from Wizard came out to the offices once and was real impressed by this old west town, this Portland suburb we work in. He helped me see it in a new light. It really is like Lumberton from Blue Velvet.   

BF: I think with your workload, I'd throw on a pair of headphones--you know, the ones that cover up the top half of your brain--and have a constant IV of good coffee flowing into my veins. But I find it a little odd you don't surf the web too much. Reason being, I'd imagine that's where you find some of the up and coming talent. Or is that a whole different process?

SA: I get so many links and samples sent to me, I barely have time to look at each one, much less surf at random a site like Deviant Art. I keep my feelers out for recommendations. Like Patric Reynolds, who I've used a bunch in the last eight months. Duncan recommended him. Surfing the web feels like diving into a bottomless pit.

BF: Being an editor, and being a writer, you must have some advice for up-and-comings. Whether that is how to handle criticism, properly conduct oneself at a convention, etc. Care to share some knowledge gained through the years?

SA: The one key bit of advice I'd offer, and this is as much writers as artists, is do a lot of work before trying to show it to editors. I get a lot of people pitching me when they've never written a comic script before, but have read a bunch. A lot of artists want to get jobs when they've literally done only dozens of comic pages. It's an art form like any other, in that if it's worth trying to do, it's worth devoting yourself to, and taking the time to develop the unique skills required.

Don't bust out six pages of Wolverine pages in June and then run to San Diego and say you're ready to be hired. You should be drawing year round, and lots of it, and wait until you have a big stack to leave in the basement before trying to get editors to look at it. Show it to other artists, and get their feedback. But an editor's feedback isn't that valuable; what you want from an editor is a job.

So, wait to approach us until you're maybe ready for one. Work obsessively at your craft, and then maybe you'll get good enough to steal a job away from a professional. It's a more competitive industry all the time, so you have to really want it, and if you can't demonstrate that desire through working hard before you're being paid for it, you probably don't want it bad enough.

BF: Ooph. Yeah, that hits close to home. When I started going to conventions, I handed an editor a 50 page script. No notice, no prior exchange, zero published work--just "Here's this awesome idea, Mr. Editor." He was kind enough to humor me for the moment, but I'm sure my coffee table, book-of-a-script ended up as a beer coaster at the Hyatt. But I'm curious, how did you break into comics, Scott?

SA: I did comics all the time in high school, college, and after. In college, I was one of the sort of star pupils, so an advisor suggested I major in comics. I did that, and put all my extra curricular energy into the campus publishing group. That taught me that I wanted to work in publishing—whatever else I was gonna do, I would pursue a career in publishing. I saw that I was cut out to be an editor.

So, when I got out of school and moved out here, I pounded the pavement looking for a job in publishing. Any kind of publishing. I would gladly have settled for putting together pamphlets for the water bureau. It was 1991, and it was a deep recession, like today. Maybe not as bad as today, I guess, but it felt bleak. And I lucked out and got a job as an assistant editor at a great literary magazine, one of the best, Glimmer Train Stories.

I did well there, and they paid well, so I socked my money away, and after a couple years I left Glimmer Train and started self-publishing. I'd been doing a lot of comics, writing stuff for others, drawing it myself, just obsessively working on comics. And drinking—I wasn't just working, but I did put in a lot of work. I lived off my savings for a little while and published Sick Smiles, my little horror anthology.

It was doing that that introduced me to Kevin McGovern, who drew the first Exurbia story in the second issue of Sick Smiles. In the course of trying to promote Sick Smiles, I met a lot of people at Dark Horse, because I was in the same town here in Portland.

And when I was running out of money, and Dark Horse was looking to hire an assistant editor, I was an ideal candidate—had proven my ability to get comics out, had a resume at a respected lit mag, and a college education in publishing. Because I'd done Sick Smiles, they knew I could write, or they knew to what extent I could write, I guess. So when some possibilities came up a little later, first in Dark Horse Presents, I had a track record for that too. So that's how I broke in.

BF: Hell of a journey...but it proves your point earlier: show editors you're READY. What comics would you recommend to a casual reader, and what comics would you recommend to a new reader?

SA: Right now I'm reading that massive Walking Dead compendium. That's fantastic. I love reading comics like this, being able to read the same book for days before getting to the end. I've been reading and liking Hack/Slash, Criminal, and Locke and Key from IDW.

As far as new readers, any readers, I'd recommend based on what movies they like, or books, or whatever else they get into. A new comics reader, I might recommend the above titles, as well as Blankets, Peter Bagge's Hate, Watchmen, Ex Machina, Umbrella Academy, Mom's Cancer, Buffy, Harvey Kurtzman's original Mad and Frontline Combat. For horror buffs, I'd have a lot more recommendations.


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