Michael Petranek is the hard-working Associate Editor for Papercutz, where he’s involved in the production of some of the funnest comics being published today.
Michael, as much of your comics work thus far has been targeted to younger readers, what sort of kid were you yourself way back when? Which of the Breakfast Club could you most identify with as a teen?
I was a good student, mostly… Never really got into much trouble other than running around my friend’s neighborhood with a universal remote control and changing the channel on people’s TVs from their front yard, ha ha! I ran with both the geekier kids and the popular kids when I was young. I was really into grunge, soccer, video games, and comics. I picked up bass guitar in the 6th grade at age 12 and specifically remember 1993-95 being filled with learning every Nirvana and Red Hot Chili Peppers song I could along with going to my LCS (Lonestar Comics in Dallas, TX) to try and pick up every issue of the Batman: Knightfall/Knightsend/Knightquest saga. As a teen in High School I’d probably identify most with the Ally Sheedy character. After my family moved from Dallas to Houston when I was 14 I definitely felt like the outsider at my new school— a lot of my friends went to another school down the street! In High School I had long hair, drove a minivan, and played in a Pink Floyd-inspired metal band, which kind of says it all.
Was your family accepting of you pursuing creative fields, or was there room for multiple black sheep?
My family was VERY supportive. My mother and I shared a love of the Beatles that continues to this day. My father, who was actually a very talented athlete in High School, always stressed the importance of academic and creative pursuits over sports. I started directing plays when I was 17 and my parents sent me to the theater Summer Intern program with New York Stage and Film the summer before my senior year of High School. My sister and I liked a lot of the same bands and she was always super-supportive of me. They all still are now that I’m 32! They supported me when I decided I wanted to go to a theater conservatory for college, too.
Oh, wow. Are you still involved in theater? Is directing still a big interest for you?
You know, I’m really not into directing anymore. I feel like I haven’t even hit my stride yet in comics, like I’m nowhere near being in my prime yet and that there are lots more great things to come for me and Papercutz, so that takes pretty much all of my creative energy and time! I’ll never rule out returning to directing (or music, for that matter) but it’s really not on my radar. Spending five hours in rehearsals after ten hours in the office doesn’t really appeal to me right now— I’d rather go to the gym, put on a record, and watch some baseball with my cats. I know, I know, I’m a party animal.
I’ve actually wondered at the similarities between directing and comic book editing, drama queens aside. You started at Papercutz as an Assistant Editor, and have really grown with the label. How exactly did you sign on with that gang? What was your very first assignment there?
I actually started as an Editorial Assistant, not an Assistant Editor. A little lower on the totem pole! I wanted to work in comics badly after working in theater and film here in NYC. The low wages being offered for entry level positions in comics were still more than I was making in theater, and honestly I don’t think I was all that good! Or, I was much better on paper and theory than execution, I’ll say that.
I started working at Papercutz in 2008. I was in the midst of a temp job stocking sodas— I’d literally go from floor to floor just making sure that all the workers had enough sodas and snacks in their large fridges at this very posh hedge fund in Midtown Manhattan to pay my bills. I had nothing to lose, so I cold-called every comics publisher big or small here in New York that Spring. It was a months-long process. I told them I’d do anything— make copies, sort their mail— whatever. Terry Nantier (Papercutz publisher) was looking for an Editorial Assistant for Jim Salicrup, and I somehow got his attention. I got in for an interview and I showed them my theatrical and film directing portfolio. I believe it had script analysis, storyboards, and photos of past productions. They knew I could tell a story and would be willing to work hard, and that’s how I got the job. I was an editorial assistant for about 3 years, then was promoted to Associate Editor. After a couple of years of that, Jim and Terry began turning series over for me to edit on my own, which is where I’m at now.
The first graphic novel I worked on was HARDY BOYS #14 “Haley Danielle’s Top Eight!” It was written by Scott Lobdell, so my very first comics job I was working with him and Jim Salicrup. Pretty crazy now that I think about it. I think I mostly typed up corrections for the letterer, Mark Lerer, and for production. I also printed stuff out for Jim and watched as he would go through it all and make edits. I did a lot of “watch and learn” then. PH Marcondes was the artist on that, and he and I have grown pretty close. I’ve watched him get married, start a family… He was good then, but he’s even better now. He’s really grown as an artist since those days. He’s on MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS now, a series I edit. He also drew the first two and part of the third NINJAGO graphic novels.
I’ve heard that, inadvertently or not, Jim Salicrup has served as a mentor and teacher to many comickers over the years. What would you say has been the most difficult lesson for you yourself to pick up?
First off, I can’t say enough good things about Jim. I’ve only had one other boss in my lifetime (shout-out to Jen and Cory Cope of Flyspace Productions in Pittsburgh) who’s shown such a genuine interest in my well-being and happiness. He’s just a terrific guy and one of the all-time greats in comic book history. There’s a reason so many people come up to our booths at conventions and ask “where’s Jim?”
The most difficult thing for me to pick-up has been the balancing act. There are so many things that must be tended to at all stages of a comic. You’ve got to make sure that what the writer is asking from the artist is fair and can be accomplished within our budget and timeframe. Make sure that this is something people will want to read and is a compelling story. Guide the storytelling in the artwork. Keep it all-ages friendly. Stay true to the franchise for which you’re making comics. Make sure everyone hits their deadlines. So on and so forth. It’s easy to do one or two of these things well on a comic, but it can be difficult to stay strong in all of these areas.
I realize that Papercutz, like many mid-range to small publishers today, really runs on a skeleton crew, so you’re not kidding about the levels of multi-tasking there as everyone needs to bring their big game. Yet you still found the time to become a letterer along the way. Was that out of necessity, or did you just get the bug to blow up word balloons like so?
Becoming a letterer was something I wanted to do for a couple of reasons. First off, I love the craft and was intrigued by it. Second, I found giving corrections to letterers was one of the hardest things I had to do early on. It was so hard to explain what we had marked up on the page in a typed email to a freelancer, and I didn’t have a scanner or a smart phone back then to take a photo and show them what I meant. I felt the best way to learn to communicate with the letterers better was to learn how to do it myself. It wasn’t really a necessity when I started doing it, though there have been times when we needed something lettered over the weekend so I just went ahead and did it myself. We have some of the best letterers in comics— Janice Chiang, Rick Parker, Tom Orzechowski, Bryan Senka… That’s a pretty daunting list. I just really wanted to do it for my own personal enjoyment and I felt that learning the basics of the craft would make me a better editor, and I believe it has. I am almost 100% self taught, though Martin Satryb (the art director for NBM Publishing and a personal friend) gave me lot of help.
Do you find yourself feeling a stronger degree of proprietorship for issues where you both letter and edit? And when are we going to see you get a writing credit?
As a rule I never letter a book that I’m the main editor on because I think it would disrupt my objectivity. I do put some of the books together for which I’m the main editor, though. I find it saves a lot of production time if I just come up with a rough design in my head or on a blank piece of paper and then throw everything together in InDesign. It lets me play around with what works and what doesn’t work in the span of an hour or so, whereas with a freelancer doing the production we could go back and forth for days.
I have some ideas for scripts kicking around in my head, definitely! The only problem is we don’t have a deal for those properties right now, ha ha! Plus, with Stefan Petrucha, Greg Farshtey, Eric Esquivel, Mick Foley and Shane Riches and many other insanely talented writers on board I don’t know how much my skills are needed… I guess my answer is “someday, maybe sooner, maybe later!”
Greg Farshtey in particular is one I’ve become a fan of. His work on Ninjago stood out loudly for me, like in a totally unexpected manner. I’ve heard handling licensed materials can offer up all kinds of headaches, but I guess as far as that property goes there really isn’t anyone on the planet who could deliver the necessarily equal parts of adventure and absurd humor as well as he has. And that title is a compelling example that “all-ages” does not have to mean “kids-only” whatsoever. Was that always the mission plan in the Papercutz bible, in assembling the talent on these books, or was it the luck of the draw that so many of your guys and gals write on so many levels?
Greg really is terrific, and you hit the nail on the head there with the all-ages thing. I get the impression some people see that designation and think “oh that means it’s for young children,” as if the words have no meaning! All-ages means enjoyable by those young, old, and in-between. We want anyone to be able to pick up one of our graphic novels and enjoy it. Now, did Jim assemble these creators with the idea in mind that they could write on so many different levels? I really don’t know for sure. I suppose I could ask, ha ha! I don’t do much of the gathering of creative talent on our series— I pretty much stay out of the way on that front, though he certainly asks my opinion. I do know that great writing tends to appeal to a larger group of people because it doesn’t talk down to the younger members of its audience, and that Jim will always seek out great writers for our graphic novels.
I suppose Papercutz can be hard for some to pin down, as it offers translated comics like Ariol and Benny Breakiron (which I love) and licensed comics like the Smurfs and Tales from the Crypt, but then you also have the “slices” books, parodying pop culture movies. It’s a strange mix, even as it is a big offering of what no other publishers are touching. What, in your mind, differentiates the line from the Super-Genius imprint? I have to say, since this year’s SDCC announcements, Super-Genius has really sparked my own curiosity.
It’s definitely a pretty wide variety of books! Super Genius comics tends to skew a little older, content-wise. Whereas Papercutz titles can be picked up and enjoyed from age 6 and up, Super Genius tends to go 10 and up, though there will be exceptions. You’ll find Papercutz graphic novels in the kids or all-ages section of your bookstore. Super Genius comics can be found in the graphic novel section. Even though Super Genius is directed at a little bit of an older audience we’re still probably not going to be featuring guys getting their brains blown out or disemboweled any time soon. Super Genius has more surprises in store for the future. I’m very excited about the line.
Something I noticed, with the announcement of the pending collection of Neil Gaiman’s Lady Justice comics, is that on the Super-Genius website the IP is still listed as trademarked under Tekno. Which implies, that the deal may be more inclusive than just the Gaiman-related comics Tekno published in the 90s. I don’t know if you’re enabled to speak out on that just yet or not, but the prospect, even if only existing in my fevered dreams, is exciting. That whole label had some grand properties, and from some of the finest talent in the business. But how did Super-Genius come about in the first place?
Oof you are very observant! I can’t comment on it though, or else our VP-Marketing (Sven Larsen) might murder me. I will say that Tekno comics did indeed have some great properties from some of the greatest comics creators around. Super Genius came about from us wanting to expand the properties we publish. Now that bookstores know us, anything with the Papercutz logo is perceived as all-ages. We can’t really have a Lady Justice graphic novel being shelved in the children’s section of a bookstore! Terry (Nantier, publisher), Jim, and I discussed an imprint for years. When WWE SUPERSTARS came about, the time was right.
You’ve long been a face for Papercutz on the convention circuit. What’s your craziest experience from the road?
I’ve got a few, that’s for sure. My favorite has to be last year at New York Comic Con. Mick Foley, Jill Thompson, Dean Haspiel, Michael Golden, and Miran Kim were signing at our booth to promote the launch of WWE SUPERSTARS. Photos were beginning to be taken, and I suggested to Jill and Dean that we flex for them. Jill Thompson is practically an Olympian, and Deano’s in pretty good shape himself.
Well, Dean decided for the next photo with Jim, Michael, and Miran, that he should shed the confines of his shirt. Even Jim started getting pumped up!
This then lead to Dean visiting the lovely people at Abrams Comic Arts across the aisle, who bestowed an ADVENTURE TIME medal upon him.
Thus victorious, Dean returned to the Papercutz booth for a victory pose with Rick Parker.
That was the most fun I’ve ever had at a signing.
And on that wacky note, it has been an absolute gas speaking with you, Michael. Thank you so much for the glimpse behind the curtain. We at CCN are big Papercutz fans.
You never know what the future holds, so I just try to be grateful for the life I have every day. There is stress at this job but it is generally a pretty fantastic life, yes. I try not to think about the pieces falling into place or what might happen in the future— disaster can always strike and it can all go away in an instant. That’s just the nature of life and working in an artistic field. Sure, sometimes I worry about being able to sustain our success but at the end of the day all I can do is show up and try to do my job to the best of my abilities. If anything about my job and my future intimidates me, it’s the acceptance of the things over which I have no control!
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