interview with diana schutz

Published: Thursday, September 1, 2005

Michael Chabon's name may be on the cover of each issue of Michael Chabon Presents: The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist, but without editor Diana Schutz, there's no doubt the series wouldn't be what it is. Schutz, a senior editor at Dark Horse Comics, took over editing the series with issue #3. Dark Horse's website describes her as the "Editor-to-the-Heavies," and fans of the Escapist can probably thank her for much of the amazing tallent featured each issue. Now, Schutz is overseeing the Eisner Award-winning anthology's first on-going storyline, written by Brian K. Vaughan and drawn by Philip Bond. Their run kicks off with Escapist #8, due in stores Nov. 9. Schutz took time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about the new storyline and the series in general.

Max Roth and Case Weaver, stars of "The Escapists," by writer Brian Vaughan and artist Philip Bond. Dave Stewart is currently coloring the pages, which are lettered by Tom Orzechowski.
According to Chabon's site, it was your idea to transform the series by creating a continuing story to kick off each issue. Why did you make this move?

Anthologies are kind of iffy to begin with, in the world of comics publishing, just as short story collections are in the world of prose publishing.  Although we've been lucky to feature many of the best and brightest talents in The Escapist, it seemed to me that after a while, readers would no longer be willing to pay our relatively hefty cover price for a series of disconnected stories, no matter how well done. I wanted to give the readers a reason to come back, each issue, and there's nothing like well-done continuity to arouse reader curiosity and maintain interest.

Was the idea of making the story based in the "real world" rather than in Empire City your idea also?

Not at all! Brian Vaughan is the big brain behind “The Escapists.” I take no credit for his unbelievable cleverness!

Will this new story line have direct ties to the novel?

Yes and no. It certainly references events that take place in the novel, but it's its own story.  When Brian first pitched his idea to me, he noted that the core of Michael's novel is the “real-life” story of Sam Clay and Josef Kavalier, and Brian wanted to do something similar with his own story line. In other words, introduce a latter-day Kavalier and Clay in the characters of Max Roth and Case Weaver, whose “real-life” contemporary experiences would be the main story, but who also create their own version of the Escapist.  And just like the novel, we get to weave in and out of both stories: the “real-life” one and the Escapist comic-book story.

Artist Eduardo Barreto "becomes" Josef Kavalier in order to draw this Golden Age sequence from "The Escapists."
How did you approach Brian K. Vaughan and Philip Bond to work on this series?

Actually, there's an interesting story in regard to Brian. First, I should mention that I've been following Brian's work since his run on Swamp Thing some years ago, I haven't missed an issue of Y: The Last Man, and I'm a huge fan of Ex Machina.  Brian had already written one Escapist story, which the book's original editor Dave Land had the smarts to commission (“To Reign in Hell,” published in issue #3), and I was wowed by it. By the time Brian wrote that script, I had become the editor of the book, and in the course of working with him on the story, I learned that he had worked for a time as an escape artist. So, when I decided the book needed an ongoing story line, Brian was the obvious choice to write it.  But he turned me down! He was too busy, his schedule was too full, he was just about to get married to Ruth.

And that's when I stooped to playing dirty pool.  I asked Michael to call him. I knew Brian would have a much harder time saying no to Michael than to me -- and I was right!  Sneaky, huh?!

Philip was an equally clear choice for our artist, because the story demands a very contemporary look. Also, Case had to be really cute -- and Philip is a natural when it comes to drawing cute girls! He was just finishing up Vimanarama for DC/Vertigo as well as being stay-home dad to his and his wife (DC/Vertigo editor) Shelly's new baby, so this quarterly gig was perfect for Philip in every way.

Beginning in chapter two, the Escapist comic-within-a-comic is drawn by the very talented Jason Alexander, whose work you may have seen in DC's Gotham Central -- or, more recently, in Damn Nation published by Dark Horse. We were really lucky to get Jason for this gig -- his star is on the rise big-time.

By the way, master calligrapher Tom Orzechowski is lettering the story and Dave Stewart is our (Eisner-winning) colorist.  In the first chapter, there are three pages of “Golden Age” Escapist adventures, illustrated in a 1940s kind of Toth/Robbins/Caniff style by the amazing Eduardo Barreto, one of my all-time favorite artists -- and one of my all-time favorite people, too. Most recently, Eduardo drew the entire Mr. Machine Gun issue of Escapist (the one written by
Michael), which takes place in two different time periods, the '70s and the '40s, and Eduardo varied his style perfectly for each period. His '40s look is so authentic that I've decided he is Josef Kavalier, so Señor Barreto will be drawing other “Golden Age” sequences in upcoming stories as well.

Max Roth finds his hero.
How much influence does Chabon exert on each issue generally and on this next story arc specifically?

I gotta say…I couldn't do this book without Michael!  He is my guiding light. First of all, he's so smart, it's scary! His command of language is unequalled. And for someone who's won a Pulitzer and therefore deserves to have a huge ego…well, he just doesn't.  Like, not even a little bit.  He's great, and I really love working with him.

Everything for the book is officially submitted, by me, to Michael for approval: plots, scripts, pencil art, inked art, coloring, cover designs, everything.  If we disagree -- which, actually, almost never happens -- we just duke it out until we come to a resolution. 

I can't stress how important it is to me, when you're working closely with a creator, to feel that he or she really respects your opinion and trusts your judgment. That's a sacred trust, and when a creator gives me that -- like Michael does -- I give the work everything I've got, and then some!  And it really is all about the work, and making it just as good as it can possibly be.  

Michael is particularly involved with plots and scripts, which, of course, comprise the critical stage: that of story. And that's where I'm particularly grateful for his help, because I'm not a writer and those aren't my characters -- they're his and he knows them best.

In terms of Brian's story arc…well, Brian's pretty darn good, so it's not like either Michael or I have had a whole lot to say -- other than “Wow!”  Michael did have some particular suggestions in regard to the second chapter, which Brian has taken into account.  

A page from "The Escapist at the Royal Festival of Magic." Story, art, and lettering by Jeff Parker.
When the Escapist debuted, it drew fairly large interest from outside comic book shops by book lovers who had never picked up a comic in their life. How do you, as an editor, work to satisfy both these new readers and the stereotypical fanboy or girl?

I don't. Look, it has to satisfy me -- and I am a difficult girl to please! But I'm also a total comics fangirl and an avid book lover!

What's it like winning an Eisner?

Very cool. Will Eisner gave his illustrious name to those awards, and it's a real honor to win one. 

Leaving San Diego, though, on my way back home to Portland, airport security hauled me aside because they thought my Eisner Award was an explosive!

Any plans to eventually do a story starring Kavalier and Clay themselves?

Actually, the late, great Will Eisner gave small parts to Kavalier and Clay in his Spirit/Escapist story in issue #6, but Michael T. Gilbert (of Mr. Monster fame) has the characters in leading roles, along with the Escapist himself, in an upcoming — and thoroughly delightful — story entitled “Letter Perfect.”  And Jerome Charyn has just completed a strangely haunting, surreal script in which Joe Kavalier shares the stage not only with Tom Mayflower and his cast of characters, but also with the Golem! (Mr. Charyn's comics writing has been primarily published in Europe.  He won the prestigious Prix Alfred in Angouleme for his graphic album The Magician's Wife, drawn by Francois Boucq.)

Harvey Pekar as The Escapist?! Page 1 of "Escape from the Hospital," written by Harvey Pekar, illustrated by Dean Haspiel, and colored by Dan Jackson.
Who are the big-names you're lining up to work on future issues? I see Harvey Pekar is in this next one.

Yes, Harvey wrote a crazy, fun American Splendor-style story drawn by Dean Haspiel, Harvey's collaborator on The Quitter. Award-winning author (and one of my closest friends) Chris Offutt, who gave us “Another Man's Escape” in issue #6, has just written a terrific story entitled “The Last Freedom,” which features the Four Freedoms, another Kavalier & Clay creation from the novel.  Hmm, just off the top of my head, other creators working on stories include Steven Grant and Shawn McManus, Gary Phillips and Paul Gulacy, Matt Wagner and John K. Snyder III, Stuart Moore and Phil Winslade, Mark Ricketts and Dan Brereton, and Howard Chaykin and Jed Dougherty, among others. And I'm thrilled to announce that the incredible Brian Bolland has agreed to become the series' regular cover artist.

Of all the stories that have appeared so far in the series, what's your favorite? 

Now, that would be telling!

Interview conducted by Nate Raymond of the Amazing Website of Kavalier & Clay.

Published September 1, 2005.

Michael Chabon Presents: The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist #8 hits stores November 9 with a price tag of $8.95.

Disclaimer >>> All illustrations accompanying this interview are copyright 2005 Michael Chabon. All rights reserved. The Escapist, Luna Moth, and the likeness of all other characters featured here are trademarks of Michael Chabon. Interview responses copyright 2005 Diana Schutz. Interview itself copyright 2005 Nate Raymond.