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Between the Panels: Writer/Editor Brittany Matter on the Joy of Newspaper Comic Pages, the Importance of Patience, and the Desire to Inspire

“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly interview series focusing on comic book creators of all experience levels, seeking to examine not just what each individual creates, but how they go about creating it.

The old saying about there not being just one way to break into any field is a cliché because of its underlying truth — take Brittany Matter, for example. A realization in college that her chosen field of study may not have been a good match after all sent her down a comics path that led to interning, convention work, editing, and ultimately writing her own stories.

 
First off, the basics…
 
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Writer and Editor
 
Your home base: Olympia, WA
 
Website: www.brittanymatter.com
 
Social Media
 
Instagram: @comicbookreadhanded
 
Twitter: @brittanymatter

Ko-Fi: ko-fi.com/brittanymatter/shop

Substack: brittanymatter.substack.com
 
 



 
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: Why comics? In your case, what attracts you to working in comics over, say, traditional book editing?
 
Brittany Matter: Comics are such a fantastic and, dare I say, a novel medium, bordering on cinematic with the marriage of visuals and words to tell a story. That marriage is what attracts me and being a small part of the comics-making cog, helping creators polish their work and feel more confident about it before going to print.
 
KS: When did the idea of some kind of a writing-centric career come to you? Was that an interest from a young age or did it develop later?
 
BM: I think it developed in the back of my mind a long time ago without my knowledge. When I was little, my mom was an editor for a music newsletter, and I always said I wanted to be just like her… and yet I went off to school to study astronomy! It wasn’t until I was reading comics in college that I realized editing, and later writing, were options.
 
KS: How aware were you of what your mom did as an editor? Being a writer or artist is a more "visible" role, whereas editing work is the opposite of that.

BM: I remember watching [her] set up the newsletter’s layout in some kind of design software back in the ‘90s. She showed me how she would place the text and images, which I thought was akin to magic. That’s so true — editing is less visible for sure, and there are roles within the role, including what she was doing: design and layout, directing the art, and project management… a.k.a. herding cats to submit stories and being a sounding board to writers, copyediting, and proofreading, to name a few.

KS: What school did you attend for your astronomy studies? Was that a full degree or just the major you initially started on?

BM: I studied at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. Astronomy was initially just a major and a class during my first quarter of my freshman year. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I realized the math bit was harder for me and that maybe astronomy as a career wasn’t my strong suit, and it was more of a hobby interest. Now, I try to incorporate outer space in my writing which is loads of fun —and doesn’t require math.




KS: Would you say you were you were more a regular or occasional comics reader as a kid?
 
BM: As a kid, I read strip comics like Garfield, Peanuts, and Hägar The Horrible. I was an occasional reader, whenever my dad and I would go out to eat, he’d hand me the comics section while he’d read about sports.
 
KS: Do you remember which strips were your favorites? I used to devour the whole comics page but definitely gravitated more towards certain titles.

BM: I also read the whole thing! I wish I could remember specific strips but, alas, it was a long time ago. I do, however, recall focusing on other comics more so as I grew older, such as Dilbert and Cathy. Looking back more critically, I may have inadvertently gravitated toward Cathy — it was the only real-world strip about a woman’s experience, that I recall, in the world and working world. I don’t think it’s totally representative of every woman’s experience, but I recall there was a lot that I related to, concerning relationships, work, eating, and commentary regarding women’s liberation, like the battle of the sexes in the mid-1970s and the expectations society placed — and still places — on women to be a certain way. This strip was the first time I was exposed to these concepts, which I would grow to understand later in my college studies and in my own life.

KS: Aside from the newspaper, how about actual comics? Did you have easy access to “floppies?”

BM: I did have access to floppies at a gas station out in the country where I grew up, but I rarely bought any because I was too interested in candy.

KS: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums.  To that end, what’s a particular comic story that really impacted you as a reader?
 
BM: Marian Churchland’s Beast impacted me a great deal and opened my eyes to the possibilities that the medium offers. Before that and while in college, I had been reading the more mainstream books, such as Batman: The Long Halloween, V for Vendetta, and Watchmen, which were all fantastic in their own ways — dark and moody, ample text, but then I read Beast and it blew me away. I loved how quiet it was, that it used the art to show the story and still leave some things to the imagination.
 
KS: Can you pinpoint why that was the right story for the right reader at the right time?
 
BM: I think [because] I was still young in the comics community. I was getting my feet wet, soaking up everything from editing and marketing comics to learning how to tell a story in a different way in combination with an artist, since I write but I don’t draw. Beast was such an immersive experience that I no longer felt like a reader reading… I felt like I was part of the story, and afterward wanted to inspire that same feeling in others in my own stories.
 
KS: Talk a little about the stops on your professional journey to this point. For example, you had internships, as well as various paid gigs. Did you have an overarching career strategy in mind when you took on these roles, or were you more trying to assemble as much varied experience as possible?

BM: I didn’t have a strategy really, besides wanting to learn about the ins and outs of comics publishing. I started as an intern at Fantagraphics Books, then Image, and then worked at conventions. Those early days in my career were so much fun, talking to people about comic books and getting them excited about reading; it was the best. It’s something I still love and hope I’m doing in my career still, mostly on Twitter and through my newsletter, haha!

KS: To take Fantagraphics as an example, what kind of intern were you? I don't mean quality but rather what your role was.

BM: I was an editorial intern at Fantagraphics in both 2007 and 2010. I did a variety of things for them, including transcription and proofreading content for The Comics Journal; I offered my design opinions on covers for it; and I also did some marketing, from ad placements in the back of Peter Bagge’s Buddy Does Jersey to writing book club questions based off their books. I remember organizing files for Kim Thompson and creating spreadsheets… for what I don’t know now, haha.
 
KS: So, what was your first paid job in comics?
 
BM: [It] was as an editor on Kurtis J. Wiebe and Scott Kowalchuck’s series, The Intrepids #3-6. I met them in 2012 at Emerald City Comic Con and saw that their first couple issues didn’t have an editor in the credits, so I offered them my editing services, and they said yes! I’m so grateful to them for giving me my first gig.




KS: Had you decided at that point that being an editor was your sweet spot, or did you see yourself more as a "Jill of all trades" and that was just where you could contribute in one particular situation?  

BM: At that time, I saw myself as an editor, more accurately a proofreader. I really didn’t know a ton about being part of making comics, I just knew that I could edit the captions. As I edited more books, I found there was a lot more to being an editor and I could expand my services.
 
KS: What would have been an acceptable career Plan B if all this hadn’t come to pass?
 
BM: I would most likely be in the nonprofit sector full-time, advocating for the environment or civil rights, my other passions. I worked at an environmental advocacy nonprofit in Washington, D.C., Friends of the Earth, U.S., and during my time there, I gained a deeper understanding of what impacts our climate, from policies to corporations. I also learned a great deal about environmental justice and intersectionality, how they’re interconnected and, particularly, how climate change disproportionately impacts marginalized communities. To be honest, if it’s not a hobby, it's still a Plan B for me! 
 
KS: Given all the comics projects you’ve had a hand in, what’s something you’ve learned about making comics that you might have not known, or fully understood, when looking in from the outside as a fan?
 
BM: I wouldn’t know the sheer love, passion, and commitment that’s poured into these books and the amount of teamwork that it can take to produce comics. People talk of raising babies and how it takes a village — it’s more often than not the same with comics, if comics were the babies.
 
KS: Tell us one word that you feel is a necessary trait for succeeding in comics. The word may also apply to life in general.

BM:  Patience. Making comics takes time, and things don’t always happen according to plan, so I’d say patience is a virtue in this case for succeeding in comics, and life really! There can be a lot of potential hurdles to manage and overcome, but if you’re patient with that process, however it turns out, it makes things a little less stressful.

KS: Looking back over your varied career thus far, is there a particular moment of professional pride or joy that stands out?
 
BM: Writing for Image+ stands out for sure. It was such an honor and pleasure working on it with editor David Brothers, who gave me a lot of freedom which I had never had before in a job, and seeing it come to life with designer Sasha E. Head’s gorgeous layouts was pure joy. Plus, reading all the other articles from the other contributors, like Sam Stone and Vernon Miles, was always inspiring.
 
KS: How did you get involved in Image+?

BM: I had lost my job in early 2017 and decided to pursue a career in comics full time. I reached out to David — having worked with him at conventions — to see if he needed a freelance writer, and he did! Ask and you shall receive — sometimes!




KS: What did the freedom you'd never had before look like as far as the specific work you were doing?
 
BM: The freedom David offered included writing whatever questions that I had — I had been a copywriter for several years prior and had to follow a fairly strict outline at the company I worked for, but with Image+ I could ask creators whatever came to me. Occasionally, David would give me something to focus the interview around, but most of the time, he just let me work, which was amazing. Scary for me at first but it allowed me to be more creative than with an outline.

KS: Is there a hobby of yours totally unrelated to what you do for a living?
 
BM: This question is always a tough one for me to answer because comics are basically my lifeblood… next to coffee… but I suppose it’s cooking. I love making delicious food that’s simple and whole, so that usually means a lot of vegetables. The process of making the food is particularly satisfying even if I’m exhausted from the duties of the day, maybe it’s the methodical nature of it, chopping, stirring, etc.
 
KS: What’s a comic or graphic novel by someone else that you look at with admiration?

BM: Well, I already mentioned Beast, so I’d have to say that without a doubt, I admire David “DB” Andry and Paul Schultz’s The Wild Uncertain. It’s so real and raw and beautiful. I hope to make stories that stick with me as much as it did. 
 
KS: Finally, tell us what you’re working on now, where we can find you, and what you’ve got upcoming for 2022.
 
BM: I’m working on work mostly, writing for Marvel.com, drumming up new comic book clients, and beta reading novels. I also joined Tim Daniel and David “DB” Andry’s Second Rocket Creative Services, a studio where I offer editing services.

You’re catching me after a successful crowdfunding campaign on Zoop for Dead Dreams: The Lucid Chronicles #1, a sci-fi thriller that I wrote with art by Dailen Ogden, letters by Gabriela Downie, and edits by Heather Ayres. Since that campaign recently closed, I’ll soon get back to writing comics and penning my weekly newsletter, “A Matter of Fiction,” on Substack where I interview creators about their process. I can be found there or on Twitter.