If you loved the DC/Vertigo comics of the last 15 years, particularly the imprint’s crime books, you probably owe a debt of gratitude to Will Dennis. As the editor of titles like 100 Bullets, DMZ, Scalped and a plethora of others, he was a big part of Vertigo’s recent past and overall legacy. He recently left DC Entertainment, and soon after announced his next project, Moonshine, by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, coming soon to Image Comics. I interviewed Dennis about his role in the project, the transition from DC to working at Image and how he’s moving forward as a free agent.
How did Moonshine come together?
Brian was hit by the lightning bolt of the name. One of those “A-ha” moments when worlds collide….How had no one combined werewolves with moonshiners? He told me the name and I immediately said “Don’t tell anyone else!” He’s always looking to work with Eduardo and I was fortunate that they asked me along.
Azzarello and Risso have been collaborating for over a decade now. When working with a team that has that kind of history, are you more prone to step back a little?
For sure. Only an idiot — and by “idiot” I mean too many editors in comics — would try and get in the middle of what these two do together. Working with them is the easiest job in the world. That is, once Brian sends in the scripts. He’s a little busy lately (cough DKIII cough) so there’s occasional wait-time for the pages. But then Eduardo gets the script, goes radio silent for a couple of weeks and, “viola!” beautiful pages start to appear in our inbox. It’s a little bit scary.
You’ve been working with them for a long time, as well. How do those years together impact the final product?
It cuts out a lot of the back-and-forth that you sometimes have to deal with on other projects. They just get each other. I believe that Brian writes all of his scripts with Eduardo’s art in mind and so when he’s actually working with Eduardo, it comes more smoothly. In the old days at Vertigo when we were simultaneously doing 100 Bullets and Loveless and Superman and Lex Luthor and on and on, Brian used to long for the week he’d set aside to write 100 Bullets. He always said it was “like coming home.”
Do you feel like you’re more involved in the creation or production of Moonshine?
I’m definitely more involved in the production than I was at DC. It’s a big adjustment to not have a staff and other departments like Pre-Press, Lettering, Publicity, Marketing, etc. I used to bitch about all those layers at DC but now I miss them! Always the way, right?
It’s hard to say how involved I am in the creation of it…usually Brian gets his ideas on his own and by the time he’s ready to share them, they are pretty fully formed. My role has always been to be the “first reader.” To be open to the ideas and either confirm the rightness of his thinking or ask some questions and make him adjust.
I definitely give my feedback on the overall approach of the story, the look of the characters, the references in terms of movies, tv, etc.
And in this particular case, I was a big help with the names of the characters. I live about a block from Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn and often walk there during the quiet afternoons and take pictures of interesting tombstones or names of people buried there. I sent a bunch to Brian and he used a lot of them.
How is your job as an editor of an Image title different from the work you’d do for a Vertigo series?
Now, I spend a lot more time working on the actual book and a lot less time having to internally sell the idea of it to the various departments within DC. That’s something a lot of freelancers could never fully grasp when they pitched me ideas at Vertigo… I could totally love it, but I still needed to sell many internal people/departments on the idea before we got a green light. Image basically leaves us alone until we deliver the finished product. That’s really refreshing but it’s also scary because there’s no place to hide if mistakes are made or the book is a disaster! I guess we’ll find out in October.
Do you think the role of comic book editors is in a transition period given the success of Image and independent comics?
I think so. I see the value in what I contribute and creators who have had good experiences with editors do too. But honestly, many “editors” are just traffickers…implementing the ideas of the higher ups or the marquee talent and trying hard not to rock the boat. I was fortunate to learn the craft in a strong editorial environment at Vertigo where we treated the creators like collaborators and not just cogs in the machine. I worry that sort of teaching doesn’t really happen as much as it used to at the larger companies and many creators go without an editor because of a bad experience. I honestly think a good editor makes a book better.
What’s next for you in comics, now that you’re not tied to any one publisher?
Well I’m really playing the field. I have Moonshine at Image and a couple of other comic book projects that I’ll be shopping around in the near future. I wrote a book too! The Art of Jock, which is a coffee table art book being put out by Insight Editions and Mondo this September. It’s beautiful and if you’re a fan of Jock’s art, I hope you will overlook my “writing” and buy it for the lovely pictures. I recently taught a class on comic book writing at NYU and hope to do more of that.
So I’m on the hustle and trying to avoid taking too many naps. Working from home ain’t all gravy but now I totally “get” the freelancer lifestyle!
Follow Will Dennis on Twitter @ThrillioD. Moonshine #1 is available to pre-order in the August Previews with the order code AUG160556.
MATT CHATS is a weekly interview series that goes live every Tuesday, conducted between Matt O’Keefe and a creator and/or player in the comic book industry, diving deep into industry, process and creative topics.
Great interview! Loved Will Dennis’ stuff at Vertigo (DMZ especially, and Vertigo Crime) and always interested in learning about Vertigo from the original editors there. Please do more.
By the way, up top, Will Dennis says “viola!” Did he intend that or is it a typo (voila!)?
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