Five Questions with Janelle Siegel

DC Comics assistant editor Janelle Siegel has already made quite a name for herself in her career so far and she’s definitely an up-and-coming star in the comic book industry.

Siegel grew up around Omaha, Neb., graduated from high school in Malvern, Iowa, and attended Southern New Hampshire University. She’s about to start on her Master’s of Science in Publishing at Pace University. She lives in New York.

Siegel gives some great answers via email about she got started in comics and what her job entails.

(Full disclosure: I know Siegel online, but I was delighted to have her answers my questions.)

Comicsgirl: When did you first start reading comics?

Janelle Siegel: I first bought a comic when I was 10, and it was Spider-Man Annual #9, featuring the Cadre! I don’t know why I chose that one, but it was on a rack in a gas station while my family and I were on our way to the Black Hills in South Dakota. I had watched the Spider-Man and X-Men cartoons and really enjoyed both and my older brother had a few comics here and there that I had picked up, but comics were just not something that were easily obtained for a 10 year old kid in a town with no comic shop.

On that very vacation, I ended up buying a whole bunch of comics including some other Spidey books, some X-Men stuff, and the Rogue mini-series, because I have always loved Rogue.

So I read for about a year, but the fact was that I had a hard time really figuring out comics. No one in the shops would talk to me, because I was a 10-year-old girl and I didn’t really get how the numbering and stories went. I stopped reading for a long time, until I was about 19 and I started dating someone who was nerdy like me. One day I mentioned that comics weren’t abhorrent to me, and next thing I knew, we were sharing a $200 a month comic book habit. That was really when I got fully into the world of comic books. I started with the X-Men books I had already been interested in, and then moved through pretty much every Marvel series at the time. Eventually I made the jump to reading DC stuff, starting with Birds of Prey by Gail Simone and then stuff like Green Arrow and Young Justice. And even later I started trying out indie stuff and branching beyond superhero books. But superheroes are always going to be my main comic book love.

CG: How did you end up working for DC Comics?

JS: Well, about 5 years ago I realized that editing was what I wanted to do and that perhaps I could combine that desire and my love of comics and be a comic book editor! I started going to conventions and really immersing myself in the comic book world. I basically just talked to as many people in the industry as I could. I have a rather ridiculous collection of friends from all walks of life who all share one thing, a love of and desire to create comics. Through this collection of friends I met people like Troy Brownfield, who asked me to join the Best Shots @ Newsarama team and later the Fangoria Comics editorial staff as a part time assistant editor. However, after endlessly sending out my resume and trying to get my foot more firmly in the door, I realized that unless I lived in the same city as a comic book company, it was going to be really hard to get a job. So I decided to move to New York! Once the plans were in place, I started really working to find out what job openings there were at the big two. There were some openings at DC, so I submitted my resume, and now here I am! It’s all made even better by the fact that the group editor I now assist, Mike Marts, was the first editor I met, years ago at a convention, and who gave me advice about being an editor!

CG: I’ve always been curious about what editors (and assistant editors) for comic books do. What’s your typical work day like? (If you have a typical work day.)

JS: Oy, a typical work day, huh? Well, not much of it is typical, but let’s see. First, I grab a Diet Coke and chug half of it as fast as possible to wake up. :) There are really only two things that happen on a mostly regular schedule every day – one is that I meet with Mike around 10:30 and the other is that I eat lunch around 1. Everything else is really based on urgency. For instance, in the morning I might get in and see an email that some inked pages are in that desperately need to get to the colorist. The first thing I’ll do is ask our production department for printouts of them so I can turn them in. Once they get turned in they eventually make their way back down to production, who sees them as “approved” and sends them to the colorist. Other mornings, I read a script that I never find time to read in the afternoon and get my notes together. Or I proofread lettering on a book and mark up my copy to add to the other copies floating about our office. Or I get together vouchers for an artist or writer that just started working with us. But honestly, a lot of my day revolves around my email. What comes in there can completely change what I’m working on from moment to moment.

Some other stuff that editors (or at least this assistant editor at DC!) deal with are getting artists and writers paid, putting together paperwork to get a new series approved or get a new artist or writer set up with a rate, talking to writers or artists on the phone about what they’re up to or what they might need, signing off on the different steps of the publishing process from lettering to the final version that goes to the printer, and ummm … even more paperwork for routing lettering, artwork, etc. And of course then there are meetings to talk about the future of our group of books or the entire DCU, which involve either just the Bat-group or, of course, all of DCU editorial. I feel like I’m not making it sound very exciting, but I have to say, it’s very fast paced and I find it endlessly thrilling. I am a geek, after all. We have weekly deadlines but beyond getting those books out the door, we’re also planning far into the future. It’s a lot of juggling, but ultimately it’s worth it to not only be working to put the best books out in the now but also planning for the best books in the future.

CG: What DC Comics titles are your favorites right now?

JS: Here’s a guilty admission – the one book that I have to read as soon as it comes in my stack every month is Tiny Titans. MAN that book is good. :) And of course, honestly, I really do love all of the books I work on. For the curious, the monthlies I work on would be: Batman and Robin, Batman, Red Robin, Batman: Streets of Gotham (featuring the Manhunter co-feature edited by yours truly!), Gotham City Sirens, Azrael, Batman: The Widening Gyre, and Batman Confidential. I’m also currently working on the Arkham Reborn mini and have a couple of upcoming projects that I can admit are my favorites when I can talk about them. :) Outside of the Bat-group, like everyone else, I’m enjoying the Blackest Night stuff, although it is giving me nightmares a little bit. JSA vs. Kobra and Secret Six are other books I really enjoy.

CG: Any advice for young women who’d like to work in the comics industry?

JS: Learn your craft and the industry and find your place, but most importantly, don’t give up and don’t believe the naysayers! This industry may be “male dominated” but that doesn’t mean it will stay that way, and in order for it to not stay that way, women have to be willing to take a chance to work in comics. Even since I first read comics, things have changed and changed for the better. I have had an amazing experience working in comics and I have never been made to feel weird because I’m a woman. I know not everyone has that experience, but that has been my experience, and I don’t see any reason why it can’t be repeated for others.

I think if you are a woman and you’re trying to break into comics, focus on the work you want to do and the industry, not your gender. If you’re an artist, become the best damn artist you can be; ditto if you’re a writer or an editor. Learn your craft and also learn the industry. It’s important to find your place, because not everyone is suited to doing the same thing. Certain art styles work better at different publishers and certain people are less comfortable in big corporations. That’s true in whatever industry you work in. But ultimately, the important thing is to not be distracted by the gender of the people in the industry but instead focus on the work.

Instead of linking to a Web site, I’m just going to recommend you pick up any (or all!) or the books Siegel works on.

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