After leaving as executive editor of DC Comics' WildStorm imprint last year, Scott Dunbier's long vacation finally came to an end on April 1, when he joined IDW as special projects editor. Dunbier plans to bring new talent to the publisher and partner with established talent as well, focusing on "quality and accessibility." PW Comics Week recently spoke with Dunbier about his new role and how a poker game helped bring him to IDW.
PWCW: Now that you've had a day or two, what's the atmosphere like in the halls of IDW? What's your office like?
Scott Dunbier: It’s remarkably similar to old WildStorm, back when I first started. There’s a feeling of “we’re all in this together,” which I really like.
My office is a little smaller than the one I had in La Jolla, but it looks much smaller — they gave me a huge desk! I brought a few pieces of art from home, so I have some things on the walls and on my desk. One is a beautiful little watercolor of my kids that Dustin Nguyen surprised me with a couple of years ago.
PWCW: How did you get connected to IDW? What was the time line for all this getting set up?
SD: I’ve known the guys who started IDW for a very long time. They came from WildStorm. Ted Adams, the president of IDW, and I play poker from time to time. Over the summer and fall we went to a couple of games together. On the drive up or over lunch, I would tell Ted about some of the ideas I had for various projects, things I wanted to do. It was just a couple of guys talking, I wasn’t pitching for a job. A couple of months later, Ted called me up and asked if I’d have lunch with him, I figured he wanted to offer me some freelance editing or something similar. But it turned out to be entirely different. We had a couple more lunches and talks, and I believe it was in late October or early November when we agreed in theory that I would go to IDW.
PWCW: What was the deciding factor in taking the position?
SD: I don’t think there was a single deciding factor. I had pretty much made up my mind that I was going to start a new company. Nothing else really appealed to me. It was a scary notion, but it seemed to be the one that made the most sense. Luckily, I have a very supportive wife! I’d been approached by a number of places; some were small editing gigs, offers to package. A couple that were bigger, managerial. But nothing rocked my boat. When Ted first broached that he wanted me to come on at IDW, I was a little dubious. Not because of Ted or IDW, but because, as I said, my mind was made up. But the more we talked the more sense it made. It really boils down to me trusting them and that we think along the same lines.
PWCW: Can you explain what it is your new title—special projects editor—entails?
SD: To me the title suggests that I have a lot of latitude to explore different kinds of projects. Hopefully, each will have two unifying factors: quality and accessibility. Other than that, I don’t want to limit the possibilities. They can be comics, graphic novels, art books, whatever.
PWCW: How hands-on will you be in editing and shaping projects once you've decided what you'll be working on?
SD: It all comes down to the creators and what the book needs. Editing a Darwyn Cooke project is an entirely different experience from a Sam Kieth one. My job is basically to provide as much or as little help and guidance as each creator needs, to facilitate making the best possible final product. I’m speaking of more established talent now. It’s a little different with new guys.
PWCW: Do you have a sense yet of how much work you'll do on existing IDW properties versus developing new ones?
SD: I think it makes more sense for me to work on developing new things rather than on stuff already up and running at IDW. That said, I’d always be happy to pitch in if Chris Ryall needed help on something. It goes back to that “all in it together” thing I mentioned earlier.
PWCW:What do you want to add to IDW, in terms of types of projects? Is there anything they aren't doing that you see as an opportunity for growth?
SD: I’d like to see more creator-owned books and original graphic novels. I’d like to take advantage of the great printing [IDW has access here] and do some art books. Actually, IDW already does some beautiful art books, the Sparrow line. Guys like Kent Williams, Phil Hale, Ash Wood. Great stuff.
PWCW: Looking ahead, what directions do you see IDW taking in the future?
SD: I see IDW expanding in the same directions that have made [it] a strong company, continuing to do new licenses. But I also see IDW becoming a haven for top creators who want to do creator-owned books.When I talk to writers and artists, I tell them not to rush into anything—if you have a book you want to do, give me a call. Maybe it won’t be something we’ll be interested in, maybe you’ll decide it’s better off somewhere else, but what does it hurt to have a discussion?
PWCW: I know it's early, but what are the main differences between WildStorm and IDW as far as your positions within each?
SD: Well, the major differences for me are not running an editorial department anymore and really just concentrating on getting some books put together. Also, cutting out all the red tape that goes with a huge company is very nice. The opportunity to turn on a dime again is very nice. But for me, one of the biggest and best differences is the attitude of being able to go for it. We won’t always succeed, but it’s good to at least be able to give it a shot.
PWCW: Going into a little bit more background—you started out in comics through dealing original art, right? How did you get into that?
SD: I lived near a comic shop when I was nine or ten called Supersnipe, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, in the early '70s. They had a little gallery that displayed and sold original art. It was amazing for me to see the actual hand-drawn pages that I had seen in comics a few months earlier. I sort of caught the art bug from that. Later I started collecting sketches. I used to call up artists and they would mail me drawings—it was great.
Eventually, I started buying and selling pages at shows, I think the first [show] I did was in 1981, when I was 18. I did it part-time until about 1988 and then went into it full blast. It really was great; I traveled to Italy, England, France, Japan to do comics shows. But the best part was being able to look at all the beautiful art that passed through my hands.
Eventually, it got a little too easy, a little too routine, and that led me to accept Jim Lee’s offer to move from New York to San Diego in April of 1995. Sometimes I get nostalgic for selling art, but I really love what I do now.
PWCW:When you first started editing for WildStorm, was that a difficult transition from working with art to developing and shaping stories?
SD: Not really. I was always into sequential storytelling. I love the work of Johnny Craig, Alex Toth, Will Eisner. Following their stuff—and others—for so long gave me an education I never thought I would be able to use. Luckily, I was wrong.
PWCW: What did you learn about editing and developing comics at WildStorm?
SD: There were several people at WildStom who were kind enough to show me the ropes early on. Sarah Becker in particular was very generous with her time and help, I owe her a great debt. Mike Heisler taught me some very important lessons, especially about writers. As far as developing comics, I think I have an okay eye for recognizing good material and talent. I just try to trust my instincts.
PWCW: To give people a sense of your aesthetic tastes, what do you see as the best projects you've worked on?
SD: There are a wide range of projects that I’m very pleased with and proud to have been associated with. In no particular order: Sleeper, Zero Girl, Four Women, the ABC line. Planetary, Desolation Jones, and pretty much anything with Warren Ellis. The early Cliffhanger stuff like Danger Girl, Battle Chasers and Crimson. And The Spirit, that was special. The Watchmen Absolute Edition was a thrill for me to get off the ground, not to mention tough as hell. Someday I’ll write a blog about that.
PWCW: Now that you have the chance to pick out the projects you're interested in, are there any general things you're looking for in choosing what to work on?
SD: Sure, the same thing I always look for: something I like and believe in. Otherwise, what’s the point?
PWCW: I know it's early, but do you have a first project in mind?
SD: I do!