Originally published in August 1999. Stuart had been an editor with DC/Vertigo and had recently left. I often try to grab interview with those people because sometimes they’ve got an ax to grind and reveal some behind the scenes info when asked. I also wanted to interview Stuart because he came across as an intelligent guy in my online dealings with him and Vertigo was such a popular line at the time.
An Interview With Stuart Moore
Stuart Moore was an editor for DC’s Vertigo books and was also behind the Helix line that brought us Warren Ellis’s Transmet. He has recently resigned from DC and is now working on a new venture. In this interview, we get Stuart to answer some questions about recent Vertigo controversies and get some info about the job of an an editor.
Jamie: What are the differences between editing a Vertigo book vs. a normal superhero comic?
Stuart Moore: I’ve only ever edited a handful of superhero comics, so I may not be the best person to ask. You certainly have to put on a different set of mental filters when you’re editing a “mature readers” book, because different kinds of material are allowable and appropriate. There are all kinds of superhero comics, and I don’t like to generalize about them too much, but certainly the subject matter dictates that there’ll be more action and usually a faster pace than in Vertigo titles. Vertigo books are also almost always written full-script, as opposed to the Marvel-style plot-first method used often in superhero titles.
Jamie: Some retailers report that Vertigo gets more female readers than normal superhero comics. Did you plan or foresee this?
Stuart Moore: I’ve always wanted that and worked toward it, and I know Karen Berger has. To be honest, though, I’m not sure it’s true, except for a few books like SANDMAN which clearly have large female readerships.
Jamie: Preacher is very far away from typical mainstream comics, how did it manage to get approved?
Stuart Moore: I walked straight into management with the proposal in my hand and four big guys with boards and rusty nails behind me, and I said, “Boys, we got somethin’ to discuss.”
Seriously…it’s an extreme title in many ways, and that was clear from the start. But Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon were coming right off a highly acclaimed and commercially successful run on HELLBLAZER, so everybody trusted them to produce a good book. It’s very much to DC’s credit that they both approved a title like that in the first place, and stuck with it.
Jamie: It’s known that Garth Ennis does not use the internet. Does this make things more difficult for an editor?
Stuart Moore: Actually, no. Garth’s an extremely conscientious guy and he faxes most of his scripts in. He’s always accessible.
Jamie: Some editors at Marvel have to handle several titles all at once, what do you think is the ideal number a books for an editor to take on?
Stuart Moore: There’s no simple answer to that, because each book takes up a different amount of time (if you’re doing your job right). Rule of thumb at DC is that an editor should be producing about four books a month. That seems right to me; I’ve done more, and it gets a little hairy, but I could handle it when I had a really good assistant who was up to speed on everything, like Julie Rottenberg was for a while and like Cliff Chiang was for a year or so before I left. It’s kind of tricky at Vertigo, though, because the imprint is more heavily weighted toward miniseries than most comics operations — so you can have a hell of a lot of minis in the works for a long time without much actually coming out, and then everything gets published at once.
Jamie: As an editor you must get a large number of proposals for new series pitched to you by professionals. How do you decide which ones will become published?
Stuart Moore: Well, obviously you look for something interesting, something with a point, something different. I’ve always liked fiction of any kind — movies, books, TV, comics — where there’s an author showing me something I’ve never seen before, or telling me something I’ve never thought of. Recently I was also trying to keep an eye on what might be commercial, how to establish a GOOD writer as a COMMERCIAL writer, how to get new readers in to Vertigo.
I also place a lot of importance on people who want to work together; if I can see that a writer and an artist are clicking on something, that means a lot to me. Beyond that, Karen does all the approvals at Vertigo, and she has some very specific ideas about what’s appropriate for the imprint, so that was always foremost in my mind.
Jamie: How do you deal with the ‘slush pile’; the submissions and proposals mailed in from comic fans?
Stuart Moore: Well, I always meant to be better about that than I was. I instituted something we used to do in book publishing called a “slush party,” where we’d all stay late and go through a big pile of submissions, but in practice what it meant was you’d end up putting aside anything interesting and never getting to it anyway. You always want to be good about this stuff, but in practice it becomes a very low priority because your first job is to put the books out — and that work expands quickly to fill the available time. That said, the internet’s been a big help to me. We never accepted e-mailed submissions at Vertigo, but it sure made it easier to jot off a quick note in reply.
Jamie: Have there been any titles published at Helix or Vertigo that came about through mail-in proposals?
Stuart Moore: That’s a tough one…I was developing one, but I never got it together. I’m sure there have been, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head.
Jamie: I know editors don’t read fan fiction, but does doing it and meeting deadlines help writers when looking for freelance work?
Stuart Moore: If by fan fiction you mean prose works about comics characters, probably not (at least in the kind of comics I do). If you mean small press or self-published comics, definitely yes. I always encourage prospective writers to just get something published, even if you do it yourself and even if you’re not working with the best artist in the world. It gives you something to show around that shows you can work in the medium, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to get an overworked editor to read a comic book than to read a script or a proposal.
Jamie: Was there any cancelled Helix or Vertigo book that you thought was well above average and should have done really well?
Stuart Moore: Well, most of the Helix line was pretty dear to me. I had really high hopes for VERMILLION — I think the second half of that run, in particular, holds up beautifully — and GEMINI BLOOD was really hitting its stride, too, after a slightly shaky start.
Jamie: If you had total control over the Vertigo line, would you have removed the letter pages for more ad space?
Stuart Moore: Well, I understand the move, but no. I think the space could have been made available on a when-necessary basis. But the ads are crucial these days.
Jamie: Should the industry move towards doing returnable comics for the direct market?
Stuart Moore: That’s a big question. The direct market’s a funny beast; it wasn’t designed to function under the current market conditions. I think there’s probably a sort of record-industry-style middle ground of partial returnability that might benefit everyone in the long run; but with most publishers scraping by, it’s understandable that they don’t want to give on this. People think the major publishers are short-sighted, but — well, Marvel’s a whole unique, weird situation, but I don’t think that’s a fair description of DC at all, otherwise they wouldn’t be publishing the variety of material they do.
I think it’s probably a better use of everyone’s time to explore alternative distribution and delivery systems than to try to “fix” the direct market. There are a lot of great retailers, and they’re absolutely crucial to comics publishing. But you also need to think about other ways of getting comics out to people. Of course, there are also direct market retailers involved in internet sales ventures themselves, and that’s great too.
Jamie: Recently there have been a number of changes on both DC and Vertigo books because of a possible media/public backlash. Would you have made those same changes? (why or why not?)
Stuart Moore: I haven’t read Warren Ellis’s unpublished HELLBLAZER issue, so I can’t really comment on that. I thought the decision to replace the PREACHER cover made sense — it wasn’t exactly a crucial scene in the series, and given the timing, it’s an image that very easily could have been taken out of context. And I’ve said repeatedly, as have the creators, that the FINALS situation has been blown way out of proportion – the editor suggested a change based on how the book would be perceived in the light of the Columbine shootings, the creators agreed, and the creators came up with a scene that worked better for the book.
In a larger sense, though, I certainly wouldn’t shy away from controversy the way DC management does. But they also have pressures on them that I, or a smaller company, wouldn’t. It’s the tradeoff you make for working at, or being published by, a company with deep pockets and a reliable record of actually publishing your work.
Jamie: Did the decision to make a 5th week event featuring pre-Vertigo characters as a superhero team influnce your decision to leave?
Stuart Moore: Considering it was my idea, no. Actually, the fifth-week event, V2K, is a series of millennial-themed one-shots and miniseries, of which the book you’re talking about, TOTEMS, is one. (The others are creator-owned.) TOTEMS is great; Tom Peyer really came through on the script, and Duncan Fegredo and Richard Case are doing the art. It’s sort of a gift to Vertigo’s long-time fans. Tom jumped at it, since he was one of the founding Vertigo editors. (And the characters aren’t EXACTLY a superhero team.)
Jamie: Some people worry about the fate of Vertigo once Preacher ends. Do you think another key title will be found in time to draw readers to the line?
Stuart Moore: The big gamble about a line like Vertigo is that its success is tied very strongly to specific projects controlled by specific creators. There’s no X-MEN franchise to keep it going once Garth and Steve decide PREACHER is over. That said, Vertigo’s had a pretty strong record, and there are a lot of new monthlies about to start up, so there are a lot of possibilities.
Jamie: Can you tell us about what freelancing projects you still have left at DC.
Stuart Moore: I’m working on a miniseries I can’t talk about yet. I just wrote the chapter introductions for the MYSTERY IN SPACE trade paperback, reprinting old DC sf stories. That was a fun little gig.
Jamie: You’ve already said the new venture your working on will be doing comics and multimedia, will the comics be similar content to the Vertigo and Helix books you edited at DC Comics?
Stuart Moore: I can’t really talk about the new venture yet.
Jamie: What do you think the likelihood is of a Vertigo comic being made into a movie?
Stuart Moore: There are a hundred answers to that. About a year ago, there was a lot of motion on various Vertigo projects; then they all seemed to kind of stall, all for different reasons. But as I always tell people, even when I was on staff at Vertigo, I would usually find out about this stuff from WIZARD or ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY.
I do hope Garth and Steve can pull off that PREACHER movie, though they don’t seem too optimistic about it right now. And Warren Ellis has had some very promising interest in TRANSMET. But you never know. If there’s a crazier business than comics, it’s got to be Hollywood.