Heather Antos established her professional reputation at Marvel Comics, where she edited an array of titles including the Star Wars and Deadpool lines, and, of course, the runaway sensation that is Gwenpool. In 2019, she’s stepped into a new role as editor at Valiant Comics.
First off, the basics…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Editor
Your home base: New York City
Current project title(s) (either already released or upcoming):
Bitter Root (Image)
X-O Manowar (Valiant)
Kevin Sharp, Fanbase Press Contributor: What attracts you to making comics specifically over other artforms?
Heather Antos: I think what excites me the most about making comics is the fact that anything is possible with this medium. The only budget is the creator’s skillset and imagination. No need to wait for technology to catch up to the mind’s eye. If you can think it, it can be written…it can be drawn.
KS: Strictly from an editorial perspective, why did you choose this path instead of, say, traditional book editing?
HA: The collaborative aspect of comics creation is also a huge draw for me as an editor. Not to say that I don’t enjoy the one-on-one editorial experience of working in a traditional novel setting, that is. But there’s a real art in the alchemy of the collaborative experience in comics. Pairing Writer A with Penciller B and Inker C with Colorist D to tell a story about Characters X & Y with Concept Z…it’s truly a fascinating experiment. No two pairings will produce the same comic, same character, same story, what-have-you. And that is truly what makes comics so special to me.
KS: What’s something that comics readers may not understand about the role of an editor?
HA: Each editor’s approach is very different. I have always leaned towards the “no two books are the same, and neither are any two creators” approach myself. Basically, I see it as my job to adapt my approach to whatever specific needs the creators I’m working with have. Sometimes, that means scheduling time for a quick check-in call once a week, sometimes, that means sending a follow-up email every day, and, sometimes, that means being the constant reassurance that, “Yes, that looks great!” on Impostor Syndrome Tuesday.
Just like no two comics are the same, neither are the creators making them. It’s my belief that as an editor, my job is to take as much outside stress away that I can, so all a creator has to focus on is just that: creating.
KS: I’ve heard fans blame some monolithic “editorial” for a variety of problems: late books, storylines that drastically change on a dime, sudden creative team turnover, etc. Generally speaking, is that fair or not?
HA: Sometimes, things happen that are just out of an editor’s (or a creator’s) control. Corporate needs change, family emergencies occur, environmental threats mean an artist loses power or needs to evacuate. And God forbid the one time a freelancer of mine had an appendix burst…
When things don’t go “right,” everyone always wants to point the finger. We feel better about ourselves when there’s a mustache-twirling villain with evil maniacal plans to ruin the industry to blame. After all, this is comics! We love superfluous bad guys! However, sometimes the biggest villain is just…bad luck.
KS: Do you have a set daily or nightly work routine?
HA: Uh… active procrastination and a whole lot of coffee!
KS: Let’s backtrack to younger you. At what age did reading comics first become an important part of your life?
HA: As my parents will attest, my brothers and I used to fight over the comics section of the Sunday paper every weekend. From Bloom County to Peanuts, Cathy to Garfield, Calvin and Hobbes to The Family Circus, I was obsessed with the comics strips, the “funnies” in the daily news.
It wasn’t until college, however, that I began reading comics and graphic novels proper, however. I didn’t have a local comic shop near me growing up. My only consumption of superheroes and their stories was through the various television shows and movies – granted, I was obsessed with them, too. I proudly state that Chris O’Donnell as Robin was my first celebrity crush as a child – even with the nipples. A “Literature of the 20th Century” class had Neil Gaiman’s Sandman on the syllabus, and though we were only to read the first volume for the class, I consumed all ten like my life depended on it. From there on, I moved to other Vertigo classics such as Hellblazer, Transmetropolitan, and Y: The Last Man. I didn’t get into superhero comics until the 2011 Green Lantern movie, but that’s a story for a different time…
KS: We’ll leave poor Green Lantern for that different time. Do you have a specific early memory where a comic made you say “Wow?”
HA: I mean, the easiest answer would be “every single panel of Sandman, especially the 24-hour diner and the serial killer convention…” because just…whoa! Right? That entire series was moment after moment of “I can’t believe this is possible in comics” and “you know it’s good when a story makes me squirm.”
Having said that, the first moment in a comic that truly hit my in the emotional gut was in Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come. Growing up, I never understood what the big deal was with Superman. I just didn’t get the appeal of an all-powerful dude who always does the right thing just because “it’s the right thing to do.” But here was Clark Kent who is just over it. He’s over giving humanity the benefit of a doubt, he’s over hoping that they will learn, and do better. He’s just over it and wants to live the rest of his life for him, and not for those who just quite plainly don’t seem to give a damn about themselves or their fellow man. And when the rest of the Justice League asks for his help…he says no. All hope seemed lost. And then I turned the page for the most powerful image comics has ever given me – disgruntled Clark Kent in the blue and red suit. And a tear fell down my cheek.
[Author’s Note: Heather is referring to the end of Kingdom Come #1.]
I don’t really know how to explain it other than it was that moment that I got it. That this was Superman. This was the hero we don’t deserve. The man who puts aside his personal issues for the betterment of humanity. This is who we all wish we could be.
And that’s powerful stuff.
KS: What was your very first paid job in the business?
HA: [It] was for a self-published comic written by Mario Candelaria [subject of an upcoming “Between the Panels”]. He was a writer who at the time was working on the anthology that I was self-publishing in order to build myself a resume as an editor to try and get a job with a publisher. One day, out of the blue, he emailed me and asked me what my rates were. All of a sudden, I was now a paid comics pro!
KS: And what was different professionally and/or skills-wise between the you at that point vs. the you of today?
HA: Experience. My first paid job editing comics was just months into my exploration of whether or not this was something I truly wanted to pursue professionally. As much as all professionals say we don’t really know what we’re doing, that it’s all just faking it until you make it, that truly was the case for me at the time. Now, I just fake it better. ?
KS: Looking back now on your time at Marvel, what’s something you’re especially proud of?
HA: Hands down, Gwenpool. She shouldn’t exist – it’s pure chaos that she does, and to have been involved in that process is something that no one can ever take away from me. This is a character that debuted as a variant cover. A mash-up of two popular characters. Within days of the image’s release, fans were cosplaying and creating fanart. Marvel saw an opportunity and came to my office, saying “Make Gwenpool her own book.”
Gwenpool’s fans are some of the most dedicated I have ever encountered. Their love for Gwen, Pig-Gwen, Cecil, Batroc, et al, is so endearing. And having the opportunity to interact with them directly, responding to their fan mail as Gwen herself, and even their tweets when Gwen took over my Twitter account, was some of the most fun I’ve had in my career.
KS: These days, are you able to kick back and read comics for pure pleasure, or is there always some part of your professional mind at work as you turn the pages?
HA: It’s so hard for me to watch even reality television without picking apart the narrative framing and structure and how the shows could be edited and cast better for improved television. But I don’t mind it. I view every consumption of pop culture as a creative learn experience. I love it! I always say one can learn just as much, if not more, out of a bad storytelling experience as one can from the best.
KS: What’s one word that sums up an important trait for being successful in this business?
HA: Honesty. Honesty about schedules. Honesty about deadlines. Honesty about work bandwidth. Honesty with your team. Honesty about skillset.
If an editor doesn’t know what is going on in a creator’s world, there’s no way for the editor to help alleviate stress. Just as if a creator doesn’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, it’s harder for them to trust and know what it is they can do to help create the best work for the publisher’s needs. Trust is a two-way street and it’s crucial when creating comics.
I mean, think about it. There’s a reason we see similar creative pairings over and over again, and it’s because there is a bond and trust there that produces great work. You can’t manufacture that out of bullshit. You need trust.
KS: What’s a comic or graphic novel by someone else that you look at in awe?
HA: I mean, see [the earlier question]. Wash, rinse, repeat. Neil Gaiman does things with storytelling in Sandman that were revolutionary at the time, and with rockstar illustrators in McKean, Keith, and Williams…nothing comes close to what they produced today. And same for Kingdom Come.
KS: Finally, talk a little about your most recent/upcoming project
HA: Though I can’t chat much yet about my upcoming work at Valiant, I am very excited to be working with writer Vita Ayala and artist Kano on the second arc of the Livewire series. Vita is about to be big comics news, and their take on the Valiant universe is one of fresh air. And what I can talk even less about is the upcoming relaunch of Valiant’s one and only X-O Manowar. All I’ll say is this is one creative line-up fans are not going to want to miss out on.
All will be revealed soon…