“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.
Lauren Sankovitch was playing in the big leagues from the start of her comics career. As an editor at Marvel, she worked on the Ultimates line, Marvel Zombies, Spider-Woman, and many more titles than we have room to list here. After taking a break to work in TV, she returned to the field as Managing Editor of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction’s production company, Milkfed Criminal Masterminds. The current phase of her professional life finds Lauren doing freelance editing while working toward a Masters degree in Geology. (In her words, “I just love rocks.”)
First off, the basics…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Editor
Your home base: Portland, OR
Current project title(s) (either already released or upcoming):
Pretty Deadly: The Rat (Image)
November (Image; available November 2019)
Adventureman! (Image; available Spring 2020)
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: Let’s start with the big question up front: Why comics? What attracts you to making comics specifically over other artforms?
Lauren Sankovitch: Part of it is that it’s been my job for 12 years. [laughs] I always enjoyed reading; I was a huge bookworm when I was a kid. I stumbled across comic characters through card collecting and also the animated series, particularly X-Men. When I graduated college, I ended up working in academic publishing, and I gravitated toward the editorial aspect of helping books get made. When I had the opportunity to work at Marvel, it was a chance to combine things that I enjoyed: advocating for other people and also making books. Comics was a nice middle ground between visuals and prose, and combining them continues to be a fun challenge.
KS: You came to comics as a reader later in life, but were there any favorite characters that you became aware of as a kid before you knew of their comics iterations?
LS: For most of these characters, I was very aware of their comics iterations through collecting cards. I just didn’t read any of their comics. I memorized all of their stats, however! What’s funny is that a lot of those cards in the ’90s were written by people working in Special Projects at Marvel, one of whom was Tom Breevort who’s now the grand poobah of publishing at Marvel… and I ended up working for him. It was neat to have that continuity, so to speak, from first learning about these characters to then working on them — and working with the person who wrote the information I found compelling enough as a kid to memorize.
KS: Putting you on the spot, who was a favorite?
LS: Probably Quasar. I enjoyed the card. I enjoyed the fact he had this unapologetic mullet.
KS: When you made the transition from civilian to Marvel employee, was that part of a larger career plan or was it more a “Shazam” moment of lightning striking? Had you considered working in comics before that point?
LS: I didn’t have a specific plan of “I’m going to be a comics editor.” I had a friend in college who started working at Marvel straight out of school — Molly Lazer — and she kept me posted on when there were assistant positions open and such. At my academic publishing job, there wasn’t really anywhere for me to go because it was such a small department and I worked directly for the publisher. There happened to be an opening [in Marvel editorial], I applied, and it worked out.
KS: Fans often cast blame on a monolithic “editorial” for any type of problems: late books, storylines that drastically change on a dime, sudden creative team turnover, etc. Generally speaking, is that fair or not?
LS: Like with anything else, in any industry, there are many, many moving parts. We’re all humans making stuff. Someone might’ve gotten sick, so we had to bring in another artist. Or so-and-so had a baby, and it was important they get to spend time with their family. We have to keep the books coming out while also making sure people get to do important life stuff. But sometimes, publishing plans change for whatever reason — and that comes from higher than us — so editorial has to pivot as well as we can. We have to let a lot of criticism roll off our backs, because there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
KS: How much does a shipping schedule play into that?
LS: You work with what you’ve got in a very tight turnaround time. They’re monthly comics — sometimes twice a month. Some books are crazy enough to be weekly, and that’s really, really difficult to maintain. I’ve got nothing but respect for people who can get that done. When you’re not in the middle of it, it’s very easy to pick out individual things to be upset about. You’re totally entitled to your feelings, but there’s usually more to it than just one thing.
KS: Because editorial is largely an invisible craft to outsiders, what does it mean for someone in comics to have a reputation as a “good editor?”
LS: For me, it’s someone who really advocates for the people they’re working with. It’s about making sure your creators are able to put out the best work possible with the time they have, particularly in work-for-hire comics. With creator owned, it’s a little different because you [the editor] are the employee — you’re trying to better facilitate the vision of your employers. Staying more organized than everyone else. Being able to talk to everyone in a way that is supportive and constructive. Genuinely wanting to see this product succeed.
KS: Looking back on your time at Marvel, what’s a specific moment of professional joy that stands out?
LS: Some of the most rewarding experiences I had were working with newer artists and newer writers. I was privileged to work with David Marquez on some of his first Marvel work, and then to do an original graphic novel with him and Roberto Sacasa: Fantastic Four Season One. I got to see David growing as an artist, got to know him, and he’s now a friend. Being able to advocate for people and see them succeed is super rewarding.
KS: Can you give readers a sense of the kinds of things that might fill your schedule on typical day at Milkfed — assuming there is such a thing as “typical?” Pick any day of the week…
LS: On Mondays, we’ll have what’s called Monday Meeting, where we sit down and go over our list of projects. Were there any developments over the last week? We make sure we know where artists are on script. We’ll go over the calendar and see the next few weeks. Are there deadlines coming up? Are there specific things we need to prepare for? Our motto for Monday Meeting is, “It’s going to be a crazy week,” because every week’s a crazy week.
Then, I go through email to see if there’s anything pressing. I might have to revise deadlines or create a schedule. I’ll usually end up talking to folks at Image [Milkfed’s publisher], asking marketing questions or approving assets. Or if we have a book that’s in production, looking at a PDFs to make sure that coloring and lettering are set up properly. Then there’s any in-house stuff that comes up. I have many lists. Lots of lists. I figure out what can I do in advance to be kind to my future self.
KS: What would you say is an important trait for being successful in this business?
LS: [long pause] Self-awareness. We can get caught up in working hard, being persistent, never giving up, and getting your name out there. But you also need to be self-aware enough to realize when to back off. Or when to say, “You know what? I’ve failed, and I’m going to learn from that.” If we don’t allow ourselves to get to that point, we’re not going to grow or develop… as artists or as people. Knowing where you are and what you’re capable of, and continually reassessing that is super important and very often overlooked. Have a sense of who you want to be and how you want to come across.
KS: Let’s spread some love. What’s a comic or graphic novel that you look at with admiration?
LS: There are so many to choose from! This is kind of cheating because I worked on it, but I really enjoyed Journey Into Mystery: Sif. I think [the creative team] did 10 issues together. We were a smaller book, and we kind of got to do our own thing with characters like Sif and Beta Ray Bill in ways that were personally very satisfying. We had fun. We got to play — a really wonderful thing you don’t often get to do with corporate comics. That’s a book I look back on with a lot of pleasure and a lot of joy.
I also love Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s Monstress. There’s something so rich and gorgeous and sumptuous about that book. I really appreciate the craft that goes into that; it’s always a fun, enjoyable read.
KS: Finally, can you tell us some recent or upcoming projects to be on the lookout for?
LS: First off, Pretty Deadly Volume 3. [Issue #1 is now available.] It’s gorgeous. We’re leaning into fantasy but also noir — it takes place in 1930s Hollywoodland. It’s a visual feast. It’s stunning and also really thought-provoking. We’re also doing a book club. Materials are going out to retailers — for people who order the book and any retailers who want to participate — where people can come and sit and talk about the book. That’s another series I would just generally recommend.
Next is November with Matt Fraction and Elsa Charretier. It’s going to be three 80-page novellas that come out once every four months over the course of a year. The first volume will be coming out in November. It’s an amazing team and has been a really fun book to work on. [More information HERE.]
The last book is Adventureman! by Matt [Fraction] and Terry Dodson. It’s a book we’ve been working on for a long time; we have 100+ pages banked at this point. It’ll be a little bit different, with oversized issues. It’s an all-ages story with all of the high adventure you can handle — everything from fantasy to pirates to ghosts.