He's the man who tells Batman what to do, and his career has taken him from Comico to Dark Horse to Oni to DC. Ninth Art talks to one of the biggest movers and shakers in the industry, Bob Schreck.
21 March 2005

Bob Schreck is one of the most significant editors in contemporary comics. He built his reputation developing creator-owned works at Comico in the 80s and Dark Horse in the 90s, and edited the anthology DARK HORSE PRESENTS for a number of years. In 1997 he started Oni Press with Joe Nozemack, but he stepped down as Oni's editor-in-chief in 1999 when he was hired by DC Comics to take over for retiring Denny O'Neil as group editor of the Batman group of titles.

Since joining DC he has worked on a huge number of titles, including BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN, the re-launch of GREEN ARROW, and CAPER, and he's currently editing DC's new horror anthology, TOE TAGS. We sat down in his office in the Time Warner building in New York City to talk about his life and times in comics.

"I started editing comics because I woke up one day and I was swimming in comic book people," Schreck explains. "I was working at Creation Conventions for many years, running shows all over the country. Hanging out with the likes of Archie Goodwin, Bob Layton, Jim Shooter, Gene Colan, Neal Adams, Frank Miller, and Carol Kalish. I got to know everybody that worked in every aspect of the industry, retailers, fans, artists, writers, editors, and business executives. In my position at Creation I had to interact with everyone.

"And I'm not really very shy, so if we all saw a movie I would say, 'That was crap!' or 'I loved it!' After a while I guess a few of them thought that this kid might know what he's talking about. When the movie ALIEN came out, so many were raving about its unique story, while I was screaming, 'It's a rip off of IT, THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE, and Mario Bava's PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES'. And I think everyone thought I was crazy until they did some research, they saw what I was talking about. The HR Giger designs, the Scott direction, the acting and special effects are all amazing, but the story's been done to death

Schreck joined Comico to work on the marketing and business side of things, but he soon became interested in the editing side of things. At the time, he was living with Comico editor Diana Schutz.

"It was Diana and I who had the idea to do a GUMBY SUMMER FUN SPECIAL ... so we called Art Clokey and asked if could we do a color comic and hire Bob Burden to "ruin" his characters. Just kidding, of course, because it won an Eisner for the best single-issue comic of that year. I stand by it to this day as one of the most magical books ever.

"And Diana and I were fought by one of Comico's publishers at the time when we said we should do a Gumby comic. He said it was the stupidest idea he'd ever heard. And that very same person - the moment we were getting Arthur Adams pages at the office - he was touting that they were the best pages to walk through Comico's halls... Diana and I were baffled.

When Schreck moved from Comico to Dark Horse, he intended to take on a more editorial responsibility, but the company was growing so fast that he inevitably found himself caught up primarily in the marketing aspects of the business. It was three years before he made the jump to full-time editing.

"I left Dark Horse because the company was changing and going in a direction that I was less and less comfortable with. It killed me to have to leave there, because I was really enjoying the creators I was working with. They were a great, great group of people and very talented. And I had pretty much free reign, but as a perfect example of some of my frustration, I couldn't work with Kevin Smith.

''Creators know that when I tell them something, they can count on it.'' "Kevin approached me while I was working on DARK HORSE PRESENTS, the perfect place to do some Jay and Silent Bob material, and Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson just didn't get it. I think his quote to me was, 'I have three young daughters and Kevin Smith promotes drug abuse.' To which I responded, 'No, life promotes drug abuse, Kevin just talks about it'.

"But that was his prerogative, it was his company. After Joe Nozemack and I started Oni Press, Joe spent the first three months kicking me under the table, going, 'Call Kevin, Call Kevin'. Little did I know Kevin was in New Jersey wondering, where the hell did that Schreck guy go? So that worked out great, we ended up making a real big noise with that."

Kevin Smith is one of many creators to have followed Schreck from one company to another over the years, with others including Matt Wagner, Frank Miller, Greg Rucka and Judd Winick. Miller has said that one of the reasons he was willing to make THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN was because of Schreck.

"I think it's because they know that when I tell them something, they can count on it. And if by some weird horrible set of circumstances what I've committed to them is no longer possible, because things have changed without my knowledge and I might not be able to deliver, they know that I will be, as Jerry Lewis once said, 'like a pit bull on a fat lady's ass'. It's a horrible expression, but you get the picture.

"If I believe the company had empowered me to offer something and then for whatever reason the winds of change come in, then I will fight tooth and nail, screaming, saying, 'I, as your representative, I committed to this and we've got to hold up this commitment'. And I've had that situation just about everywhere I've been and it's a very rare moment when I have to make that call and go, 'I was wrong and I'm sorry', because usually you don't want me mad and fighting in that fight. So I pretty much deliver on what I tell them.

"I spend most of time editorially making sure that when it comes to the writer's story that I'm not imposing my own agenda into their story. I tend to act like a house inspector and just go around and kick the struts. I don't try to invest any of my own personal or editorial idiosyncratic views on their story. ... I try to tell them when I honestly think they're doing great things and when I honestly think they've missed the point that they were trying to communicate.

"So hopefully those two things combined are the reasons they keep coming back to work with me. I've known Matt [Wagner] through Creation since he was a sophomore at college. Comico hadn't even started at that time. He and other people would sit down and draw X-DUCKS. ... They would charge five bucks a pop. They needed to make money to eat, you know. So that's how far Matt and I go back. We are brothers. The genes aren't the same, but that's just a technicality."

After spending so many years at Dark Horse and Oni editing a monthly anthology, Schreck admits that he misses it, but not as much as people might think.

"I don't sit at home at nights screaming, 'I need another anthology book'. That's a whole other dance and it becomes its own grind. How am I going to come up with something great for the next issue in only eight pages? With DHP I know there were times when Jamie Rich or Scott Allie and I would look at what was coming up and felt that for two months there was nothing exceptional happening, but the book's got to come out. It doesn't mean it's garbage, just that it wasn't that absolute gem you were looking for. So you just move forward and hope that gem will be running later.

''I tend to act like a house inspector and just go around and kick the struts.'' "I think one of my proudest achievements was that I had Paul Pope for twelve months and he did not skip one month. Eight pages a month for twelve months. I ended that year thinking, 'I can do anything now, I'm Superman'.

One of the advantages of anthologies is that they can provide opportunities for up-and-coming talents, but that's not something Schreck has abandoned.

"I'm still trying to introduce new talent into the field, and I'm aided by Matt Idelson, Michael Wright and Nachie Castro, who continue to bring people to my attention like Jeff Parker and Brad Walker, among others. There're a couple young gents in Spain who are not anywhere near young in terms of their ability.

"So I do get to spend some of my time getting to watch new people grow. One of the big perks is being able to see somebody's work and realize that that person's really not ready yet, but if we just let them run for a couple years... and sure enough... they make it.

Schreck admits, however, that it's much easier to give people a leg up or to provide them with exposure by offering them work on anthologies or at smaller companies.

"Nobody's perfect right out of the gate. Matt Wagner to this day still gets that old COMICO PRIMER with Grendel in it and his whole body just collapses. He's says, 'I thought I signed the last one of these, I couldn't even draw when I did this'. To this day I look at it and I just think of how cool that was when we first saw it. We knew there was some whole cloth in that and we were all right. Well, all twelve of us, you know, 'cause it didn't sell very well.

"So yes, it's the best part of the job to be able to extend a hand out and watch somebody grow. If you're not helping somebody learn their skills and find their dream, then why are you getting up in the morning? I might as well work in a tire factory. There's no excitement to it if you're not aggravating people and/or giving people a chance.

Greg Rucka got his start in comics when DC's Patty Jeres recommended him to Schreck during his time at Oni. "He and Scott Nybakken went to high school or college together, I can't remember which. And Scott turned Patty Jeres on to Greg's novels. Scott suggested that she should meet him because he knew Patty's artistic tastes and sensibilities. Patty, in turn, then pulled me aside and suggested that I talk with him as he was great writer and interested in comics.

"And I went up to the top of the San Diego convention center and sat in the sun and talked to Greg for about an hour and found that he was a really nice guy and he really knew comics, so Joe Nozemack and I gave his novel a read. He was indeed a great writer and the rest is history.

"That's really how so many of these things happen. One person says one thing to another person and if it strikes your fancy you give it a shot. The rest of that tale was that at the time Greg didn't really understand the art angle of things ... and left that up to me. I was at a con in Portland and I'd known and worked with Steve Lieber before. I showed Rucka Steve's amazing art and Greg trusted my judgment.

"I had worked with Steve on Dark Horse's MEDAL OF HONOR series, and you couldn't want a more fully researched, dedicated and super talented guy on a book. He leaves nothing out. He really researches everything he does, but he doesn't leave out any of the magic. And that was WHITEOUT. Sure there were little bumps as you're putting it together, but those four issues were a blast to watch come together.

"It was the same thing with Brad Meltzer. Judd [Winick] and Meltzer went to college together. Judd didn't come to me and say, 'You must hire Brad Meltzer, he loves GREEN ARROW, he must be the one to follow Kevin Smith'. It took three or four years to come together. I met Brad at San Diego for maybe two minutes and then I met him again at Judd and Pam's wedding. And the day I had a gun to my head as I was trying to figure out who was going take over GREEN ARROW after Kevin, I just sat in my living room and looked up and saw Brad's novel. I took it down and read it that night.

"That was the testament to his quality writing right there, I couldn't stop, it was so damn good. Brad really makes each character just spring to life. So literally, three and a half, four years later, I called Judd first for Brad's number and asked Judd if he thought Brad would want to write GREEN ARROW. I literally did not learn that Green Arrow was his favourite character until well after he agreed write the series. I honestly didn't know. I knew he was a big comics fan and a big DC fan.

"Again, you go with your gut. I didn't hire him because he was a New York Times best selling writer or because he was somebody's friend. I know a lot of friends who can't write. And have you read some of the books on the bestseller list? It's a combination of many different elements."

Next week, in Part Two: Working at DC, the BATMAN books and TOE TAGS.

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