Between the Panels: Editor/Writer Bobby Curnow on Being Tenacious, Working with Licensors, and Trusting His Team

“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly interview series focusing on comic book creators of all experience levels, seeking to examine not just what each individual creates, but how they go about creating it.

Bobby Curnow’s path into the comics world was marked by a major leap of faith. Since he first walked through the door at IDW Publishing as an intern, he’s risen through the company ranks to Group Editor, guiding a variety of titles through the creation process. Aside from those responsibilities, Bobby has taken the plunge into writing on both established properties (Battle Beasts) and original stories (Ghost Tree).

First off, the basics…

Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Group Editor at IDW Publishing; Writer

Your home base: San Diego, CA

Social Media:
Instagram: Bobby_curnow
Twitter: @thedisastrix

Current project title(s):
Ghost Tree (IDW)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (IDW)




Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: I open with the same big question for everyone: Why comics? What attracts you to making comics specifically over other artforms?

Bobby Curnow: There's a lot to love about the medium that is completely unique —the pacing, the visual shorthand, the interplay between what's on the page and what's in the reader's mind. Speaking as a creator, it's without a doubt the freedom the medium gives you. I went to film school and was in that world for ten years, and what I ultimately got fed up with was the endless need for money, or compromise, to get anything off the ground. With comics, you can do anything for a fraction of the cost that it would take in film. I think that control allows for more creative freedom which results in work that is, in general, more honest and unique than you find elsewhere. I think that's part of the reason that Hollywood keeps going back to comic books for source material.

KS: What role did comics play in your life growing up?

BC: I started reading comics when I was in grade school, and I just loved that what I was seeing in those comics was so different than what I was seeing in TV, books, or films. I loved getting to grow with the characters and talk about the latest issues with a couple other friends that read comics. They're the first media I remember discussing with other people and forming real opinions on.

KS: Did you gravitate to any favorite characters or titles in those younger days?

BC: I primarily read Marvel titles, especially Spider-Man, as well as Batman and TMNT.

KS: Jumping ahead, what was your first pro gig in comics? How did you go from film to this?

BC: As mentioned earlier, I had become disillusioned with [the film world]. I had always been into comics, so I wanted to learn more about making them. I took some classes in NYC with Andy Schmidt and his Comics Experience classes. I enjoyed them and, eventually, Andy left NYC for San Diego and IDW Publishing. I was looking to learn more about the industry, so after he went to IDW I asked Andy what he would recommend to further my education. He suggested I apply for an internship at the company. I don't know what motivated me to move across country at age 28 to do an unpaid internship, but for some reason I thought it was a good idea! I ended up really enjoying editing and found I wasn't bad at it. After the internship, I was offered an Assistant Editor position and worked my way up from there. So, what I thought was just going to be an educational experience ended up turning into a career almost ten years old now!

KS: Would college-age Bobby be surprised at where the current you ended up?

BC: I don't think I'd be surprised to know I'm working in a creative field, but working on My Little Pony comics? Talking every week to my childhood hero, TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman? No, I definitely wouldn't have imagined any of that at the time!




KS: Since you’ve now seen the business from both the writer’s and editor’s perspectives, what’s something you’ve learned about “making the sausage” when it comes to comics collaboration that maybe you didn’t know when looking in from the outside?
 
BC: I think a lot of it comes down to trusting the other people on your team. Generally, the more I see people trying to control all elements of a project, the more stifling the work environment and poorer the project. You have to be willing to accept, and welcome, what the rest of the team is bringing. Related, the more clear-headed, concise, and communicative you are about what you are going for, the more the others on your team will get it.

That, and understanding that this isn't a competition and there's generally not a whole lot of money to be made. I think a lot of people get into this business for recognition, and that just seems to be a very poor motivator to me.

KS: Editorial is one of the more misunderstood aspects of comics from a fan perspective. What does it mean to you when you hear that someone has a reputation as a “good editor?”

BC: Every project is different, so it changes from book to book. Sometimes, an editor is there with the writer, helping to break the story. Other times, their primary function is shepherding the project through licensing approvals. Sometimes, when someone says someone is a good editor, they mean they're just friends and they enjoy working on a project with that person because it's an easygoing, fun experience. So, I think first and foremost a good editor needs to understand what the specific needs are for a given project and tailor their efforts to those needs. Your approach to one project shouldn't necessarily be the same for another. But speaking very broadly, I think all good editors are organized, communicative, and understand that it's not about them and can put their ego aside to let the creative team shine.

KS: How has your role as editor, collaborating with other writers, informed the work you do as a writer yourself? Is there a little Editor Bobby sitting on Writer Bobby’s shoulder while he works?

BC: Every script I get as an editor, I'm examining what works and what doesn't, so it's a little education every day. I hope that rubs off a bit! But writing is editing. I wouldn't call myself a particularly good writer, but I'm a pretty good editor… which means I can whittle away a lot of the fat on a script, hopefully just leaving the good parts. I like writing relatively sparsely in general, but more often than not it's just because I cut out a bunch of lines or panels that were garbage.

KS: IDW is known for their comics featuring licensed characters. Can you give us an idea of what kinds of challenges can arise when working on those types of properties?

BC: It depends on the licensor. Some aren't too invested, and some are very involved in every aspect of the process. I think the most difficult challenge is when that relationship is first being established, figuring out what the licensor is looking for and how well they understand the process of making comics. Some licensors don't say much, but what they do say is a pain in the neck. Others have a lot to say but maybe it's all really good and makes the project better. Or maybe it doesn't. It's different every time. Figuring out what makes the relationship go smoothly can be an up-and-down process, but, for the most part, it does get figured out, and then it's much the same as any other project. In general, licensed books do require more coordination and communication.  




KS: Moving from licensed to original, talk a little about the journey of bringing Ghost Tree into the world. Had this story been in the back of your mind, waiting for the right time?

BC: I honestly don't get a whole lot of enjoyment out of the act of writing. So, when I do write, it's because it's something I feel I have to, that won't get out of my head until it's down on paper. With Ghost Tree, I had this image of an old man standing under a willow tree. Then, other images would form and lodge in my mind until I could start piecing a story together. I never really know what a story is about until I'm done with it. But now that it's all done, I think it was definitely me working through issues I have with letting go of the past and figuring out how to move forward.

KS: What were the first concrete steps on your end that got this moving toward being a reality?

BC: I'm kinda weird in that when I know I want to do something, I just do it, regardless of what chances it has for wider success. I'm making it for me first and foremost. So, I wrote Ghost Tree and brought Simon [Gane, artist] and Ian [Herring, colorist] on board before I had shown it to any publishers. The entire series was completed before I submitted it.




KS: Do you have to go through the process of pitching a new series?

BC: While I work at IDW, I still have to go through an anonymous submission process with our Review Committee like any other book that would come to us. But I do think I had an advantage in having the entire series done. I don't know if a pitch alone, or with just a couple pages, would have sold the series, as it's not very flashy. But I think folks being able to see the complete project and what I was going for with the ending helped a lot.

KS: What’s one word that’s important for being successful in this business? The word may also apply to life in general…

BC: Tenacity. There's a bunch of other factors of course like talent and friendliness, but those all vary from project to project. I don't know of any comic, or success in general, that was gained without sticking through a bunch of ups and downs.

KS: Shout out a comic or graphic novel by someone else  that you look at as an example of the craft at its highest form.

BC: Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli is a book that makes me think every time I read it and is an absolute stunner in terms of what it's doing visually and narratively. I would immediately retire if I did anything nearing that level of quality.

And I'd also say the American Splendor books by Harvey Pekar and a variety of artists. I don't think those are examples of the craft at its highest form, but what I think they do show is that anyone with a unique voice or perspective can be a creator. Harvey was a file clerk in a hospital but felt the need to get his voice out there even though he had no comic writing experience or drawing ability. But he didn't care, he just believed in the stories he had to tell.  I think we're way too results-driven in this industry and society at large. Just doing the thing, expressing yourself, sharing your story however you can — that's what's important and there's a real therapeutic value to it.




KS: Finally, what should we be on the lookout for in terms of your upcoming projects?

BC: TMNT #100 will be out in November and is the culmination of over eight years' worth of work, so that's big for me even though it's not something I created.  Hoping to have a new personal project out in 2020, but it's too early to say anything about that yet!






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