Former Vertigo Executive Editor Shelly Bond on Her "Dark and Demented" Return to Comics

Her new IDW imprint Black Crown will be "comics with rock and roll swagger," says the editor.
Philip Bond/IDW Publishing

Shelly Bond, the former executive editor of DC Entertainment's Vertigo imprint, is returning to comics after leaving the publisher in April last year — and she's doing so with no little swagger.

As was announced at Emerald City Comic Con Friday afternoon, Bond will be joining San Diego-based IDW Publishing with the title of senior editor, but she's there to launch a new creator-owned imprint of titles she'll oversee, called Black Crown. While details about creators and titles remain under wraps for now, Bond talked to Heat Vision about the new imprint, teasing a mix of familiar creators, new voices and comics that will be, in her words, "deep and dark and demented."

So, what can you say about Black Crown at this point?

After I left DC, I had my first summer off since 198-[cough], and I really enjoyed it. I spent a lot of time with my family, we spent a lot of time traveling. We went to a lot of conventions, because I love comics and I still wanted to see what was happening. I loved being on the other side; when you're an editor for a quarter century, you read for a living — and it's a joy, it's great — but when suddenly you're not editing every day full time, it's interesting to get the other perspective. So I went to shows, I met a lot of people through Twitter, I was reading voraciously. I also took design classes — everything on a Shelly Bond comic is completely edited, and the design aesthetic is very important to me, so I put my money where my mouth is and took an Adobe Design Studio class. Now I feel like I'm really well rounded.

After spending the summer having fun, I really wanted to start my own imprint. I knew that I was not going to leave comics, and I felt like it was a really good time for me to dig deep and wonder, what kind of imprint would it be if I was to dig deep and do something that I could just shape myself and present it to people and see who's interested? It was exciting because the shackles were off — I was at Vertigo for 23-and-a-half years, and I always had a boss. It was exciting to think, if I was left to my own devices, what kind of mayhem could I cook up? That's Black Crown.

What kind of mayhem can you cook up?

Basically, Black Crown is comics with rock and roll swagger. It exists at the cross street of comics and chaos; they're comics that are smart and frenetic, deep and dark and demented with amazing soundtracks. One of the things I really love to do is rip the patina off the human condition, so these books have bite. They have gravitas, they'll really make their own statement, and as far as the artists and writers I'm inviting in, I think you'll see a lot of familiar faces. I won't name names, but I'll tell you that a lot of the creators that you love are going to be back, bigger and better than ever, with books that will blow your mind.

And what's also nice is that I've had the luxury of scouting talent of my own, so I'm going to be bringing a lot of fierce new voices. One of my favorite things to do is take a seasoned veteran and match them up with someone who's a bit newer. It's a fascinating thing to watch, because if they're the right talent to collaborate, you see magic happen on the page because they're both imbuing new things to each other, and as an editor, it's one of my greatest joys. Although I have to say that, as an editor, one of my favorite things to do is boss people around. (Laughs)

Did having time off, and going back to reading comics as a reader as opposed to an editor, change the way you approach comics?

No, not at all. I went back to my early days of reading comics, and two of the books that really grabbed me and never let go were Love and Rockets by the amazing Hernandez Brothers — I discovered comics in college through a screenwriting class, and my teacher was showing us storyboarding through comics, and a kid in my class said 'Hey, there's a comic book store in town, I'll show you,' and I followed him there like Dorothy in Oz. I discovered all these books; it was the late '80s and there were all these amazing books. So I picked up Love and Rockets and Grendel. It must be said that Matt Wagner's Grendel issues 16 and 17 blew my tiny mind. I didn't know comics could be so literary, and so smart. I wasn't into superheroes and I wasn't into Archie Comics as a kid; my closest connection to comics was Peanuts. I loved Charlie Brown.

But getting back to your question, I realized that the comics that moved me most of all had a real indie vibe, and they married music and comics. That's what the Hernandez Brothers have always done, and that's why I've enjoyed working with Gilbert throughout the years; we have similar musical taste. We have a great love for Bowie and glam rock. When I was reading for pleasure, I realized I was going back to the guys that got me started. And that includes Charles Burns. When I picked up the last part of his latest trilogy, it just knocked me to the floor and reminded me why I needed comics and why I wanted to be part of comics.

You have such a history in comics, but as you said, you always "had a boss." What does it feel like, heading up your own imprint?

Oh, it's liberating. I mean, I had no idea I'd be with a corporate company for so many years, but [Vertigo founder and former executive editor] Karen Berger was my greatest champion. I interviewed with Karen for the position of assistant editor, which I felt I was overqualified for because at [previous publisher] Comico, I had been a full editor. She said, I don't have another position right now, but come in as my assistant and when a position is available, I won't stop you. True to her word, as soon as I was ready, she let me take over Shade the Changing Man, and the rest is history.

Something that was obvious from Shade, and across all of your Vertigo books, is that you're a very present editor. You push creators outside their comfort zone.

I like to see them elevate their art. Comics as an art form is an astounding thing. To put words and pictures on the page and create this motion is an honor, an energy that is unlike any other. You're creating a soundtrack to what people are seeing on the page. The greatest questions are, what do you see, what do you show, what do you leave for the reader to deduce? That, for me, is the fine art of comic book editing. It's my job as the editor is to ask the right questions. That's the secret to editing.

How did you end up with IDW?

On the day that I left DC, I got an email from [then-IDW editor-in-chief, now IDW CCO] Chris Ryall, and I had never met Chris — I have friends who'd worked with him, I had a former assistant who'd worked with him, so I'd heard he was a good guy. The email said, "Bummed to hear you're leaving Vertigo, but if you're staying in comics, get in touch." I was really touched by that, so I responded immediately and said, "I have to take some time off but when I'm ready, you're going to get my first resume."

And I sent him my first resume, and we chatted, and we have a similar point of view for comics and music and fun. I interviewed with a few different companies, but IDW was the only place for Black Crown because they really understood my vision. And not only that, but they were really going to champion my vision, so working with Chris has been amazing. We really have a simpatico feeling about art and comics, and when you think about music and comics, you think about passion.

When you think about the music you love, it feels written just for you. Black Crown comics are precisely like that. They're currated by me, and Chris, and they're made for people like you, like us — stories that are riddled with trouble and desire, that shake up the status quo and grab you by the eyes and throat and never let you go.

Is there a preferred format for the books?

I feel pretty comfortable saying that it'll be periodicals that will be collected. We'd like to have some [ongoing] monthlies, we'd like to have some mini-series. I'm a periodical purist. I love the rhythm and vitality of knowing that, in 30 days, you'll get the next chapter.

One of the things I love about being an editor is that my storytelling chops have gone up 12 notches because I've worked with storytellers like Chris Bachalo, Peter Gross and Mark Buckingham and I've learned from them. When you're on a monthly comic, people who are good get the chance to be great. You see that with Vertigo; years ago, Ed Brubaker was an indie guy, and I think [former Vertigo editor] Lou Strathis was the first to get him to write for Vertigo, and then I grabbed him. Ed and I shared a love for crime books, and I introduced him to Michael Lark — it was this wonderful feeling and sharing and osmosis of talent. That's the feeling I'm hoping for with Black Crown.

It's a coterie of exceptional writers and artists, both familiar faces and neophytes, who I've discovered over the last few months and I can't wait to get my hands — and my red pens — all over them.

You seem really excited about this. That's something that comes across.

It's game changing, there's no doubt about it. This is the best time to be in comics, there's so much talent out there, the industry is electric. There's such a vibe right now, and Black Crown is going to take that verve, that energy and mold it all together to make this incredible line of comics that have bravado and will blow your mind.

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