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Between the Panels: Editor Christina Harrington on Corporate Comics, the Communication Game, and One Life-Changing Moment

“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.

It’s been said that no two people break into comics the same way. Take Christina Harrington: on track in college to become a librarian before jumping ship to creative writing. If her story stopped there, we might be discussing her work at bookstore readings or in literary journals, but she had one more trick to pull off — making a name for herself in comics editorial.

First off, the basics…

Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Editor

Your home base: Hudson Valley, NY

Social Media

Twitter: @Coelacanthkiss




Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: What’s the appeal of the comics field for you? Specifically in your case, why this over traditional publishing as an editor?

Christina Harrington: There was never going to be anything else but comics for me. It was the only thing I had my eye set on since college. I've been reading comics since I was really little, like, flipping through 'em since before I could read, really.

There is some sort of magic to comics, and I think anybody that loves comics understands what that magic feels like. I started a comic book club when I was in college, where we sat around once a week and talked about the comics we loved and went to our comic book shop once a month together — I went to college in the middle of nowhere, so we'd have to all carpool out and stuff. Then, I went to the grad school I went to because there was a comics writing course by Scott Snyder, and it was close to the city, and I was hoping I could get an internship at Marvel. And I did.

I've always been interested in the industry and working with the people that make them, because if you can create that kind of magic, you must be worth being around and learning from. I always wanted to be an editor, but comic book editing just kind of grabbed me and never let go. Comics in general have kind of grabbed me and have never, ever let go.




KS: You brought up a few things in there that we're definitely going to touch on, but first I want to ask a big-picture question: When you hear somebody in comics described as a “good editor,” what does that mean to you?

CH: Oh, that's a good question. I think there are lots of different ways to be a good editor. I think there are lots of different skills that you need to have to be an editor.

Being an editor isn't just one thing, right? In comics, it’s mostly project management, which means that you were working with every single level of the comic book. And you're working with other elements outside of making the comic book. You're working with sales and marketing to make sure like you can market the book.

You're working with other editorial members within your team and outside of your team to make sure you're not brushing up against anything that you shouldn't be, and that you are executing the plan that you need to be executing in order to make your book successful, your company successful, et cetera, et cetera.

There's a lot of moving parts in comic book editing, so I don't think there's one way to be exceptional at it, but I think there is one thing that you have to be really good at — that I've seen every really good comic book editor do — and that's being able to communicate clearly and often. That is a thing that makes a comic book editor good, is that you're able to not only talk to the writer about the project, but that you can talk to every single person involved in it and the numerous people that are outside of it within your own company in order to make the pathway to “yes” for your creators open. That requires a lot of different communicating; editing is just a communications game.

That's all it is. You have to be able to talk to people, know what they want to do, and then help them get there. At Marvel it's slightly different, but for my experience working in indie comics, it's always, “How do I get my creator to tell the story that they want to be telling? How can I open that path to yes for them?”

KS: Do you think in general that fans understand what editorial is in comics? I wonder if there's a sense that the script and the art come in, and an editor proofreads it then sends it on to print.

CH: Yeah, I don't think that fans know at all what editors do. I don't know if a lot of people in the industry know what editors do well, even the creators that you're working with, because they really only see you working with them on their project. They don't really see what you do behind the scenes, but yeah, it's a complicated job and you have to wear a lot of hats in it and those hats are gonna change over the course of your career.

I didn't know what an editor did in comics until I was in grad school talking to editors at Marvel, and was an intern and was literally watching them do their jobs. Editors have been doing this since Stan [Lee]. They've been doing this since before Stan. They've been the people behind these comics, casting these people, discovering new artists and writers, and pulling the best stories out of them. Sometimes, giving them the stories to write — that's a big thing that happens at Marvel a lot is that editors are the ones that come up with the idea and then they find a team to execute that idea. Editors are the people that are holding up the scaffolding of the industry.

KS: Maybe it’s not essential for a reader looking in from the outside to fully grasp who did what behind the scenes on the book they’re holding.

CH: Yeah, I don't think so. I don't think you even need to know who the writer is that's working on the book, or who the artist is. I think that's all gatekeeping nonsense. Like, do you like the story? Do you like the character? Do you like the artwork? You don't have to know who does it. I didn't know who did it back when I was a kid. I never followed any [creators], I followed the characters. If you want to get into the industry as a writer, colorist, letterer, artist, or whatever, you should probably figure out who the editors are that are currently in the game, and you should talk to them at cons and stuff like that. [Otherwise] I'd rather them care about the book that they're reading in their hands than know who I am or what I've done to be on it.




KS: Speaking of you as a kid, perfect segue… You mentioned flipping through comics before you even knew how to read. Where did you grow up?

CH: I grew up in a small town in Connecticut, and there really wasn't a whole lot to do there. I'm one of four kids, the second oldest. The first comic book I ever found was my older brother's comic book. It was one of those “two in one” comics with Ghost Rider on one side and when you flipped it over it was Iron Fist on the other.

I never actually read it, but I loved it. I loved it so much. I actually found it a couple of years ago in a comic book shop and I bought it

KS: Did you have easy access to comics, either from siblings or a store or newspaper strips? How did comics get to you or, or vice versa?

CH: Loved the Sunday funnies. Those were so great for me when I was a kid; my dad used to save them aside for me, so I could read 'em later after school. Finding comics was actually relatively easy in my town. There were two comic book shops. The [one]I used to go to was called Matt's Nostalgia Shop. It was down this big hill from my house, so I'd go down the hill on my bike, buy the comics that I wanted, I put in my backpack, and then struggle to get back to my house.

KS: What were the early titles you gravitated toward?

CH: I liked the X-Men, so I'd buy the X-Men comics that were on the shelves or easily accessible. I wasn't memorizing people's names in these books or anything like that. I would also go to yard sales in the summer, and I once found a huge box full of a whole bunch of X-Men comics that all went in a row, which I was just like, “Oh my god, there's like two dozen comics here that are all one story!” [laughter] That was amazing to me. That was probably like the thing that kept drawing me back was that it was one story, but it was being told in segments and it was just building on itself and building on itself. That's such a wonderful thing that this medium does in general, that DC and Marvel and other companies have been able to do, is just build these stories.

KS: Was this passion shared among the other siblings at all?

CH: None of [them] really took to comics ever, and I think it really perplexed my mother why I liked these so much. They would be like, “We're not gonna get you any comics for your birthday, but if you get money, you can go buy them yourself.” We used to convince my friends to ride down to Matt's and they'd buy Beanie Babies and I’d buy a bunch of comics. Matt finally figured out. This kid just keeps coming to my shop and buying comics. One year he just gave me a stack of comics for free. I was with my mom and mentioned that it was my birthday and he was like, “Oh, you just have 'em.” That’s a golden memory of mine: Somebody recognized that I loved a thing.

KS: Did Matt ever find out that you’d made it into the big time?

CH: No, I never actually went back and talked to him about it. He moved locations when I was in college [and] I could never figure out where he had moved. I always meant to and then I just never did. Man, I wish I had, because he was such a nice guy.

KS: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums.  During your younger years of reading, was there a particular comic story you encountered that really had an impact on you?

CH: Probably those late ‘90s X-Men comics, which aren't really talked about very often. We talk about the Claremont stuff a lot, and the stuff that came after the Morrison stuff, but [those ‘90s ones] were just so cheesy and good. I loved the Onslaught era — somebody's mentor going bad and ruining everything. For some reason I just really got into that. And then, there's this one issue that's after the Onslaught era that takes place in the half ruined X-mansion … it starts with Cyclops waking up, Beast is stuck in the bathtub or something, Jean is making pancakes, Pietro’s upset because his sister's dead again. There's a huge crater outside and Wolverine's all gross and nasty. And Charles Xavier's so angsty about it because he’s like, “I messed up and ruined everything.”

KS: What was your attachment to that particular issue?

CH: I used to take that comic book with me anywhere. If I had to go get a shot at the doctors or something like that, or I had to go to the dentist, that comic book came with me and I read it. It was just so comforting to have like this thing where there's this disparate group of people who [are] definitely a family and they refer to each other as a family. There's something comforting about that issue in particular. And I still have it. But that Onslaught run, I think, is so fun.

KS: Look out, you’d found your first event comic.

CH: It was the first time that I saw the way that the Marvel comics universe comes together and they do a big event. That was super exciting to me, to see a whole bunch of these characters that I don't interact with ever — the Avengers were showing up, the Fantastic Four were there, Spidey was there. That was such a fascinating, compelling idea to me.  I think if you go back and read Onslaught, it's been really, I think, eclipsed by the stuff that came before and after it, but that that event in particular has a huge, huge soft spot in my heart.




KS: Switching up from you as a consumer to your creative life … You went to college for creative writing, but, growing up, did you have the writing bug all along?

CH: Yeah. I've been writing my entire life since I was like a kid. Most of it was super derivative, whatever I was currently reading. You know what I mean?

KS: Oh yeah. Guilty. What did your writing look like back then?

CH: I have vague memories of a fantasy novel.  Every nerd as preteen or a teenager is like, “I'm gonna write the next great dragon novel.” [laughter] I was absolutely there in the trenches writing about fire magic, super excited about different stones that held different power. I took a creative writing course when I was a [high school] senior and I would write stupid stuff, but I knew how to write a sentence, you know what I mean? I knew how to write a sentence that was interesting and that at least felt, if not entirely new, sort of new. There were quite a few other talented people in that class, as well, and quite a few of my friends did the same thing that I was doing — ‘cause I was friends with a bunch of nerds. We would all write these ridiculous, stupid, big fantasy stories. But that was knowing what I wanted to do, and getting those stories down was so exciting to me.

KS: Was it a direct line from there to being a creative writing major?

CH: I initially went to school for history, and I spent a couple of years as a history major. I think that stuff is still really fascinating, but I was living in Boston and commuting to school, and on the bus one day I was looking out the window and I was just like, "This is not what I wanted my college experience to be." I was working at the library on campus and they [had told me], “We'll send you to grad school to become a librarian if you work here afterwards.” And I was like, “Yeah, okay, that sounds fine.” I'm working in the periodical section, I really like the group that I work with, I was borrowing comics constantly. But in that one moment … This isn't what I want to do. It's not what I always saw myself doing. I saw myself writing and I've never taken a conventional writing course before, so I’ve got to figure something out.

That week I called around a bunch of schools that I’d liked. There was one in particular called Susquehanna University, and I called their writing department and I got ahold of the head of the writing department. His name is Gary Fink and he’s amazing. He's an amazing memoirist and and poet and people should check out his stuff. Gary said, “You really wanna do this? Write a story, 10 pages, send it to me this weekend.” And I did, and he called me and said, “You're in, just send over your transcripts, let's get this done.” So, I spent an extra year in college to do that, to switch majors and write.

KS: When you're sitting on the bus, do you know right then that's a life-changing moment? Often, these things creep up on us and maybe we only see the significance in hindsight, but I'm wondering if you knew you were living one of those moments in real time.

CH: I had to change my life because I did not like the path I was headed down. It was a perfectly fine path, it would've led to a perfectly fine life and job and I would've been very fulfilled. It would've been great, but it wasn't the thing that I wanted. I was incredibly depressed. I was super lonely. I was just like, I don't want to do this anymore. I want to find my people. I want to find the group that I belong to. Absolutely in the moment, the thought was so clear. I'm lucky enough that I can change it, I'm privileged enough, I've gotten good grades, I know that if I apply to certain scholarships I can make this work. My family will support me and will do whatever it takes to get me into this new life. It was a cognizant change. Librarians are awesome and wonderful and they're such huge, huge supporters of the comic book industry. But I wanted to write, and I had to give myself that chance. I had to do it.

KS: Where did trying comics writing enter your thinking?

CH: I read somewhere that Scott Snyder taught a class at Sarah Lawrence for graduate students, so I applied to Sarah Lawrence and somehow — I don't know how — tricked them into letting me into the fiction program. I have an undergraduate degree in fiction and then I have a graduate degree in fiction, too.

Got to take the class with Scott. It was great. It was amazing

KS: Readers will know Scott the writer, but tell us about Scott the teacher. What's something that you came out of that class with a grasp of, or knowledge of, that you didn't have when you went into it?

CH: Oh, gosh, so, so much. A lot about the way that scripting is even just formatted. Being collaborative with other people. Scott spoke very, very highly of the people that he worked with — artists, colorists, editors. He reiterated to us over and over again that it is not a solo gig, which was really important to tell, to fiction prose writers, because that is a solo gig. If you're writing a novel, you're doing that by yourself. You might have an editor who you were lucky enough to bounce ideas off of, or an agent that is giving you deadlines and giving you feedback, but for the most part, you're going it alone. That is not the case in comics. Every single thing that you do in comics eventually leads to somebody else. That idea that storytelling could be collaborative was a huge takeaway from that class and something that was incredibly beneficial walking into my career as an editor.

KS: You're a student studying creative writing, then you take a comics writing class, and then comes… Marvel?

CH: It was an internship when I was in grad school. I applied to work in brand assurance, because a friend of mine also had that internship at grad school. He was a year ahead of me and he had that internship and he said, “Listen, you love comics as much as I do, this is a thing you can do, you can intern at Marvel.” I applied for that position because I thought it was the only spot that had internships. I went in and interviewed with the brand assurance people, and they were like, “We were looking at your resume and you edit stuff, right? Would you like to interview with editorial for an internship spot?” Yeah, of course, I would love to do that. My second year of grad school, I had an internship that whole year, then I ended up running that internship program when I was an assistant editor at Marvel — kind of a full-circle moment.

KS: How did you do once you got in the door as an intern? What were you good at that made them keep you around?

CH: I'd spend a lot of time reading stories and giving feedback on stories. I already knew how to do that in a way that didn't hurt another person's feelings; I could recognize the fact that even if you were offering criticism from a good place, it’s still criticism and it can still cut very deeply. A huge part of any editor's job is making sure that you are giving constructive feedback in as kindly a way as possible. I could do that because I had already taken years and years of workshops in my undergraduate degree. Then, I had been taking another level up in my graduate degree. I could read a script and tell you what was wrong with it, or I could read a script and tell you what was good about it. I knew grammar because I came from a writing background. I could write copy, which surprised some of the editors that I worked for the first time I did some recaps and they didn't have to rewrite it — suddenly, I was writing a bunch of recaps, because I was the intern that could do that. I was also very quiet, which must have been nice for people and a shock when they got used to me when I was hired. [laughter]

KS: For most people, I imagine getting in at Marvel or DC would be like arriving at the Emerald City. For you, was there a sense of “I’ve made it, I'm at Marvel, this is my career?” Obviously, you’re no longer at Marvel, but at that time…

CH: When I left my internship on the last day, I looked back at the mural right by the elevator banks. I was like, "This is not the last time I'm gonna be in this building. I'm not gonna let that happen. I'm going to be back here." Luckily enough, only a few months later, Marvel was doing a huge editorial hire for assistants. They hired, like, five people over the course of one year — which is huge for Marvel. They don't do that. So, I left in May and I was back by February the next year. That was like: Don't mess this up. Whatever you do, Harrington, you can't mess this up.

KS: How different was working there “for real” as opposed to interning?

CH: There was a lot of stress for the first month, and Tom Breevort is not shy with the new hires. He's like, “There are a thousand people who want your job and can do it, so do it.”  Luckily, there's a lot that's thrown at you in like the first couple of weeks, the first couple of months… you're learning a lot on the job, you're having to memorize people's names, all these different things that maybe you don't know about. A lot of art terms, a lot of coloring terms. I was so lucky to start there; it was an incredible learning opportunity. People talk about work being a family, but Marvel was like a family back then. Being an intern, watching these editors interact with each other, they were each other's like best friends. They loved each other. It was very obvious when everybody there had everybody else's back [and] was also able to offer criticism and help each other get better.

KS: Was it scary to leave your first professional home?

CH: No. Leaving the people behind was the hardest part, but I was ready to move on and to do something else. I didn't really like how much Marvel was in the spotlight. I was doing the Women in Marvel podcast. They put their editors in front of cameras and stuff like that, a lot on panels, and that comes with some negative blowback sometimes. I kind of decided I didn't want to deal with that anymore. I also didn't really wanna be editing superhero comics — I was kind of bored with superheroes at that point. It felt a little bit like I was in a factory and I was putting together a car, you know. This bit goes here, this bit goes here, paint, out the door. I [wanted] to do something a little bit more hands-on, a little bit more creative, telling different kinds of stories or helping people tell different kinds of stories.

So, it was never really kind of scary a few weeks afterwards. I still think it was the right choice for me and, and for my career and for the kinds of stories that I wanted to help tell.

KS: Talk a bit about the difference from an editorial perspective between a — I don't know if “monolithic” is the right word — company like Marvel and a place like AfterShock. Not the product they put out, but the experience in the trenches.

CH: Yeah, corporate comics. Ultimately, a lot of the skills and a lot of the day-to-day stuff is, is, you know, making sure people hit deadlines, reading scripts, blah, blah, blah. Very similar. But at Marvel, these are established characters. This is an established brand. Those characters have built-in back stories you cannot break. And editor's job at Marvel is to make sure those characters are preserved and that they're not broken in any way that leads to irreparable damage. Your Peter Parker has to be Peter Parker at the end of the day, he can't become the Punisher or something. In indie comics, you're not working with characters that have existed for 70, 80 years — you're working with brand-new stuff and with people from the ground up to build the thing. You're trying to create the story that they want to tell, but they have a lot more freedom with what they want to do with it, because it's their story. It's their characters.

At Marvel, I think there's a lot more leeway to put your foot down and go, “That is not the way this character would act. We are not doing that. Think of something else.” You don't swear in Marvel comics. We can swear in AfterShock comics. Our demographic is adult, you know, readers who are looking for something that's for adults. Marvel comics are for adults, but they're written so children can also pick them up, because children are very, very aware of who Spider-Man is. If you're saying the “F word” in a comic, that's probably a bad thing. I think you ultimately end up with very similar products, but that's the different approaches.




KS: Your current title at AfterShock is managing editor. Could you explain for people reading what that is? We see names in comics — assistant editor, associate editor, editor, group editor even — but not managing editor. What's different about your day to day work?

CH: I think it's different for every publishing house you go to. I think that managing editor is sort of like a catchall position, but for me at AfterShock, I work on all of the books that we put out. I read all the scripts. I look at all the art. I communicate with all of the creators that we work with. I work very closely with Mike Marts, our editor-in-chief, and Teddy Leo, who's our associate editor. I'm still giving lots of notes and making sure that, you know, pages are coming in on time and things like that.

I work on overall scheduling with Mike — we look at deadlines and try to figure out where books can fit in our upcoming schedule. I communicate with our printers about when things are going to be coming in. I'm also the person that communicates with, with Diamond a great deal, as well. It's more of a production-focused, more of a scheduling-focused side, which I find to be really interesting … sort of looking at the industry in a different way than if I was just doing creative stuff.

KS: It doesn’t sound like somebody walks in the door and into that role, but more that it takes advantage of skills you were adding to your utility belt as you climbed the ladder.

CH: Mike hired me in to have feet in both worlds, so I can speak to that creative side with a bunch of other departments. As I've stayed on, I've taken on more responsibility and, like I said, with scheduling, with trying to figure out where things can land and how to best optimize our launches, that kind of thing. I [also] get to look at things from a retailer perspective, which I really didn't have to before as an editor. There's always something new to learn about the industry.

KS: Let’s hit some lightning-round questions in the time we have left. Who’s a person anywhere along your comics journey who either opened a door for you, gave you a key piece of advice, or took you under their wing? One name who was helpful in getting you where you are.

CH: There's a lot. You're gonna get me in so much trouble.

KS: For the record, I'm forcing Christina to pick just one. I’ll take the blame.

CH: Dan Edington has been such a huge help in my career and my life. He’s the managing editor at Marvel, and he has the unenviable position of keeping editors on task and on deadline. Where someone else might think of this as being in conflict with editorial, Dan has always approached it from a place of empathy and helpfulness. He’s taught me to be cool and collected in high-stress moments and has always been there to offer up much-needed advice. He was so excited when I took on the role of managing editor at AfterShock. I wouldn’t be the editor I am today without him.

KS: Would your teenage self, if she looked through a time portal right now, be surprised at where you ended up in life?

CH: I think she would be absolutely shocked. Pleasantly, I think. I hope.

KS: Are you able to sit back these days and read comics as a fan for fun, or is your editorial brain always on?

CH: Unfortunately, my editorial brain is always on, so I find it very difficult to read comics these days. I’ve found that the best way to read comics is to read old stuff.

KS: You mentioned that you still do some writing on the side. To what degree does the editorial Christina inform writer Christina?

CH: Oh, I feel like I've grown so much as a writer since being an editor, mostly because I'm very, very, very privileged and lucky to read a lot of scripts and to work with a lot of writers. Doing that has helped me take certain tools and certain advice and watch how people do certain things and adapt it into my own work.

KS: Final question: What’s a comic or graphic novel from any era that you would hold up as an example of the medium at its finest?

CH: Mike Mignola’s Hellboy is exceptional comics. It is probably my favorite comics. His artwork and his storytelling and that character and the world that he's built around it — exceptional, exceptional work. I would hold that up as the best kind of story and the best story maybe ever.

KS: The floor is now yours to tell us what you've got coming out this year or beyond from AfterShock. What should fans be on the lookout for that you’ve got your fingerprints on?

CH: Coming up in October, we're doing an OGN with Ted Anderson and Tara O'Connor called Side Effects. We've been working on this for a long time, so I'm really excited for that book to be out in the world. It's about a young woman who's a freshman in college coming to terms with her mental health and trying to treat her mental illness — but all of her medication keeps giving her superpowers. It’s a YA story. It’s literally been a thing that I've been working on for years, and I am so proud of Ted and Tara. It is an incredible piece of work. Dave Sharpe is our letterer. Tara's coloring herself. And it is, it's just wonderful. So, on October 5th, you can find it in comic book shops everywhere, and, hopefully, we'll have it at New York Comic Con. That's the big thing that I'm really excited for and very proud of.

[Author’s Note: For more on artist Tara O’Connor, see our chat here.]





This interview was edited for length.