It's no stretch of the imagination so say we've gone 100% absolutely bananas over Black Hammer. The series is innovative, taking Silver Age tropes and analyzing them through the lens of modern comic realism. The art is dark and moody, reflecting the strange mystery surrounding the group of former heroes. In general, it's like an award-winning film with each person involved churning out an all-world effort.
One of the people most critical to this book's overall success is Dark Horse editor Daniel Chabon, and he spent some time with us answering questions with candor, and also letting us behind the scenes on what may be the best superhero book on the shelf.
With the talent involved, how hands-on were you during Black Hammer’s development? How did this book evolve from pitch to production to now?
I actually was not there at all during the development. In fact, this project has a long, complicated history.
Black Hammer began in 2007 when Jeff was working on Essex County at Top Shelf. This was before Jeff started to work with mainstream superheroes at Marvel and DC and he was not sure if he’d ever get to work on those characters. So he decided to create his own versions that pushed his interests in stories about family and small-town life.
Jeff initially pitched the project to former Dark Horse editor Diana Schutz and it was accepted. This was to be Jeff’s next project after Essex County, but Jeff also had Sweet Tooth kicking around in his head at the same time and shifted over to draw forty issues of that at Vertigo.
Come 2014, Jeff returned to Black Hammer. Diana had retired from Dark Horse, and Brendan Wright had taken over as editor. Jeff knew he would not be able to draw the book with his busy schedule. He had been following Dean Ormston’s work for years and met him for the first time at the Thought Bubble comic festival in 2011. When Jeff finally wanted to bring Black Hammer back, he brought Dean, who was really a perfect fit for the story—his unique art style pushes the book to really stand out among all the other titles that feature superheroes. Dave Stewart was brought in for colors and Todd Klein for letters, and at that point you had this amazing rock star ensemble of comic book creators.
Then came another challenge: after the book was announced and the first issue had been drawn, Dean suffered a brain hemorrhage and became paralyzed on his right side—the side that included his drawing hand. The series was delayed, and it was unknown whether or not Dean was going to be able to recover. Time went by. Brendan left Dark Horse to pursue freelance editing, and I was assigned this book. It had been several months since Dean had the hemorrhage and he had been going through rehab. After some time Dean appeared to be getting better and was starting to draw Black Hammer again. After getting a good portion of the art in for subsequent issues, we built a release schedule that gave Dean some breathing room so he would be able to get the book out. Now Dean seems to be doing a lot better—he’s currently drawing issue #10!
Did you expect this book to be so well received?
When the book was assigned to me, I knew it was great. I had already read the finished first issue and loved it. I believe there were about seven script drafts already written at that point and I read them all in one sitting and thought that it was one of the best comics—if not the best comic—that Jeff had ever written. I was blown away. I knew there was an audience for this book and it would do well.
Do you guys have anything special planned for the collected editions of Black Hammer? (Wink wink nudge nudge.)
There will be lots of bonus material. The first trade features a short history of the project, Marvel Universe–style character profiles, and character and cover designs.
For new readers or curious fans, what kind of work does an editor do in comics?
It varies from company to company. A Dark Horse editor has multiple roles. The editor is managing the project from the beginning of a book to the end. I usually handle my own acquisitions; I will go after a certain book or a creator that I think would be a good fit for Dark Horse or has an amazing idea for a story. I pitch the book to our publisher Mike Richardson. After a book is approved, I work with the creator on a schedule, and then I give feedback on each stage of the project: the plot summary, issue breakdowns, scripts, covers, layouts, pencils, inks, colors, and letters for each issue. I also work on prepping solicitation info for each issue, and I work with the book designer and instruct them on how to put the initial design together before it is run by the creator for notes, revisions, and approval.
I don’t tend to be a bossy editor—for a creator-owned project I like to give the creator breathing room to maintain their vision of the story, while at the same time providing them with feedback that I think will be helpful to them and to a reader.
How did you get your start at Dark Horse?
I moved to Portland, OR, from Kansas City, MO, around 2007 to get my master’s degree in writing and book publishing. While in school I had been talking to a few folks at Dark Horse about how to become an editor there—I had to wait for a seat to open up first. I waited several months, and then a position opened up. I began as an intern and then was promoted to work on the Hellboy universe books, where I learned everything I know. When I was promoted to editor I focused mostly on creator-owned titles, as those tend to be the books that I like to read and work on the most.
How would you encourage someone to get into editing, and what advice would you impart?
I think you need to be a good reader to be a good writer or editor. It’d help to have knowledge of the industry—staying up to date on what’s coming out and some of the fundamental works from the past as well. I’d taken editorial classes in college—they actually made us read the Chicago Manual of Style, which was a bit grueling, but I learned a lot from doing that. After you feel confident in your editorial skills, make connections with editors, creators, and publishers at comic or publishing conventions.
Seriously, how does this group of heroes get out of the farm?
Keep reading. :)
Be sure to check out Black Hammer from Dark Horse, which you should have done by now unless you've been living in an undersea cavern.