There are so many different jobs in the genre and today we’re highlighting comic book editing! The wonderful Janelle Asselin started as a writer covering and reviewing comics at Newsarama, then became an assistant editor at the now-defunct Fangoria Comics. She became an assistant editor at DC Comics, editing everything from Batman and Detective Comics to Birds of Prey and Knight and Squire. She was then promoted to associate editor. From DC, she moved to Disney Publishing Worldwide in the global magazines and comics department as an editor.
Janelle is a strong voice for women and especially ladies in this industry on the Internet as you can see from her freelance writing for ComicsAlliance, Bitch, and Comic Book Resources as well as her website and Twitter account. She’s recently become a project editor at Sideshow Collectibles. Check out what she has to say about her job, the industry and what got her into the genre below.
Legion of Leia: How did you get involved in editing comics? You’ve worked for DC, Disney and Sideshow. How do they differ and what advice would you give for going after jobs like that?
Janelle Asselin: About a decade ago, a friend gave me a book about a woman who was an editor. It was the first time I saw a job where I could work on stories but that was more tailored to my strengths – primarily organization, collaboration, and nagging. It was only a few months later that I realized all those comics I was reading ALSO had editors so I became determined to be one. A few years later I got the job at DC mostly because of the people I’d met and stayed in touch with at conventions.
All three of those places are like different planets other than the thread of comics and super heroes. Being in DCU editorial was like being on a solid football team that a lot of people hated no matter what they did. There were fans and some made you feel like a rockstar but people were vicious to you for no reason other than where you worked. Meanwhile every direction the team went in was on the orders of the coach(es). It was a small team but it was nevertheless a team where everyone had to be on the same page. The culture there was like a small company, which was really nice. Everyone was very social and hung out after hours. I’m still really close with a lot of the friends I made while I was at DC (I even married a coworker from DC!). Disney was a culture shock for me because it was VERY corporate. There were hours and hours of meetings almost every day, all to agree on the tiniest details of various Disney franchises. People were a bit less sociable but also it was far easier to have a work-life balance at Disney. At DC I would often work 12+ hour days to get everything done and still never be quite caught up. At Disney the workday was almost always 8 hours only and people scolded you to go home beyond that. Disney really has the publishing process locked down and there’s a lot of interaction between groups but it is a massive, massive company so there are usually a ton of people involved in every project. Sideshow is yet again totally different because it’s quite similar to DC in regards to the environment and people but it’s not a publishing company. I’m working with a lot of different people on some aspects of it but for a great deal of it it’s just me. It’s been really interesting to put publishing into the context of a collectibles company.
I think the number one advice for working in comics editorial is to read comics. You should have a solid understanding of the medium from every angle. What’s good storytelling involve from each of the collaborators? What makes a good writer, artist, colorist, letterer? You need to be able to identify talent and also help coach those people along to become even more skilled when necessary. You also should develop thick skin. Editors get blamed for a lot of what goes wrong in comics regardless of if it’s their fault or not. You’ll also have to give difficult notes to your freelancers and sometimes they do not react well, so a thick skin helps there. Other than that, networking is incredibly important for any jobs in comics.
Legion of Leia: How did you get involved in editing comics? You’ve worked for DC, Disney and What’s a typical day at work like for you? Are there actually any typical days at a job like yours?
Janelle Asselin: There are and there aren’t. My number one priority at any editorial job is to make sure my freelancers are taken care of. That means that a lot of my time is spent on email. People need to get notes back on work they’ve sent in or even just get a check in email to keep them on track. After I’ve caught up on email I usually dedicate the rest of the morning to dealing with what’s come in. If there’s art that needs to be pushed to the next step (say, pencils arrived and need to get notes or get sent to the inker) or a script that needs to be reviewed, that’s the time when that happens. I find I’m at the top of my game usually between like 10am and 2pm so that’s when I will ideally handle anything that takes a little more brain power. This is also why my lunch has always been a time for me to work on things outside of my day job – when I was getting my masters, I did homework over lunch and now I work on a lot of my freelance journalism over lunch. Beyond the email and notes there are always meetings. At Sideshow I have a few regular weekly meetings that I attend but I also meet with my boss a lot to go over the work that’s coming in. Ideally in any given day I want to spend almost half my time doing the editing part of the job and half doing the project management part so that everything is getting handled. The current status of whatever I’m working on does change how each day goes, of course.
Legion of Leia: You recently had a very high profile incident that involved getting rape and death threats after publishing a story. I was so happy that you took it on and wrote about it. Can you let people know what happened and how you handled it? I think online harassment is an incredibly important issue, especially for people who are getting into the industry.
Janelle Asselin: Thankfully I got no death threats, only rape threats. Lucky me! Basically, I wrote a critique of the Teen Titans #1 cover that talked about how and why I saw it as poor marketing for a book that shared a title with a cartoon that was immensely popular with teen and older girls. It wasn’t that I was suggesting the book be made into a spin-off of the cartoon, just that a few touches here and there would’ve made the cover far more accessible for those who had been fans of the animated show. Unfortunately, many, many fans saw a paragraph about Wonder Girl’s boobs and stopped reading there to vent their outrage. Eventually that outrage boiled over into a sexual harassment in comics survey I was conducting, which I had made anonymous to protect the people who wanted to come forward about being harassed. It all culminated in someone trying to hack into my bank account, at which point I spoke to the police. For the most part the harassment has tapered off, which I’m grateful for. I know that there are a lot of women online who get harassed non-stop so I don’t know why the trolls backed off, but they did. I received a lot of support from within the industry, which I appreciate a great deal. It was hard knowing how to walk the line between talking about it and not backing down and moving on with my life.
Legion of Leia: What sci-fi or fantasy character or franchise first grabbed you as a kid?
Janelle Asselin: Star Wars and Leia, absolutely. I have a brother who’s 11 years older than me, so he saw all the Star Wars movies in the theater, and by the time I came around, he wanted to indoctrinate me into a love of Star Wars. I literally don’t remember the first time I saw any of the Star Wars movies – they were just always there! My brother would sit me down to watch the movies and lecture me about the importance of the special effects they used and why the movies were amazing. But it was my own love of sassy princesses that made me like Leia so much. She was tough and smart and she wasn’t second fiddle to anyone. I didn’t realize until I got older how amazing that was. She has power and agency and when she DOESN’T have agency she chokes someone to death until she’s free. I think the best thing about Leia is that she’s not strong because she’s not feminine. She’s strong AND feminine. Most of her power comes from diplomacy but she’s not afraid to fight and show her whiny twin brother how it’s done. She is the best.
Legion of Leia: What comics should be be looking out for? And what ladies should we be watching and profiling at Legion of Leia?
Janelle Asselin: Saga is amazing, of course, so I hope everyone is reading it. Lumberjanes and Rat Queens are also fantastic books. Both Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel are great. And for that matter, all the women who work on those books would be great to feature for Legion of Leia!
Legion of Leia: What new projects do you have coming up?
I’ll finally be able to talk about a bit of what I’ve been working on with Sideshow during San Diego Comic-Con, so that’s exciting! I also recently signed with an agent (Maria Vicente of PS Literary Agency) to represent the book I’m working on about increasing sales of comics to women. And of course I have my ongoing column at ComicsAlliance, Hire This Woman.