We are proud to bring you the next installment of the Pop Culture SquadCast: Interview Edition.
This episode we caught up with comics editor Heather Antos.
She began her career as an assistant editor at Marvel Comics and is currently a Senior Editor at Valiant Entertainment. Heather’s secret origin story was recently chronicled by Kat Calamia at Newsarama.
We talked to her about a bunch of different topics including: assembling talent, editing covers, diversity in comics, the Fabulous Flo Steinberg, and much more.
We transcribed a good portion of the interview below, but there is plenty more in podcast.
You can find the audio recording of our discussion below. We hope you enjoy the conversation.
Pop Culture Squad: Let’s dive in to your work with Valiant these days. As a comic book consumer, I have enjoyed the fresh takes on the classic Valiant characters that you have been producing over the last few years. How does the process of putting together a creative team with a direction work nowadays in that shared universe?
Heather Antos: A great example to start off with would be that when I came in I was handed Livewire. That wasn’t a story that I helped put together. I think Vita (Ayala) and Joe Illidge (the previous editor) did a great job, but that was something where I was finishing it out. I just want to respect the previous work that is done. A lot of what I did there was asking if things made sense and fit in canonically.
The first Valiant book that I launched was Quantum and Woody that came out in January 2020. When I joined Valiant, there were really two books that I knew I wanted, and they were Quantum and Woody and then Shadowman (which is going to be on sale in April finally). Quantum and Woody is whacky odd couple-esque type humor. Coming off of Deadpool for three years at Marvel. That is the kind of book that I excel at, and I knew exactly the creative team to go for.
For me, as an editor, I always like to give the creative teams as much freedom as possible. I am hiring Chris Hastings and Ryan Browne for a reason on Quantum and Woody. The same for Cullen Bunn and Jon Davis-Hunt on Shadowman. I want them to feel as free as possible to tell the story that they want to.
The only time that I will put the gavel down and steer the ship is in the case of something majorly universally oriented. If Quantum and Woody somehow go down to New Orleans in Shadowman’s territory, then we have to play by Shadowman’s rules and whatever is going on in that Shadowman book at that time.
Note: I tried to see if we could get some secrets about the plans for the Valiant universe out of Heather. Listen to the podcast to see if I was successful. (Ouch that is the most shameless plug I have ever written.)
PCS: One of the things that we like to do is get into the process of how comics get made and demystify it a bit. As an editor, what do you do in relation to direction and/or assignment for regular and variant covers?
HA: Every editor has a different philosophy in this regard. There are artists like Mike Del Mundo, and the way they conceptualize and think about things are just so beyond what the average human can do; so, whenever I worked with Mike on a cover I would just say, “Hey Mike? This character. You interested? Go nuts!” He might as a story element or two to work in, but there are absolutely artists who just do their own thing. With them, I trust that it will be good, because they have a track record.
Valiant typically has three or four covers on every issue. The main “A cover”, two variants, and a pre-order. My personal philosophy is to have the main cover have some sort of a story element in it. For example in X-O Manowar #4, we debut his new suit, and so, on that cover, you can see a new suit morphing on him but you can’t quite make it all the way out.
One of the things that I did when I got to Valiant was the Livewire “fashion” covers. They were variants and variant covers as we all know are collectibles. It is a chance to experiment and do something a little different.
The whole arc that we did those covers on was about how the media was portraying her. With those covers, I was thinking about how media makes us think about celebrities. So, I picked four different popular magazines and different artists to depict this superhero as that magazine would style her. It was a lot of fun to come up with the title headers and stuff like that, and when you are designing a cover, you want it to grab someone’s attention in the comic shop.
Note: We continue talking about the attractive nature of covers and how it led to Caspar Wijingaard getting work at Marvel, and there also is a long discussion about her role as a freelance editor and specifically the origins of Redlands.
PCS: You and I first met in person at the first Diversity Con at FIT in New York a few years ago. It is kind of appropriate as I think of you as a champion for diversity in comics. How do you feel that comics today are doing on becoming more reflective of the world we live in?
HA: I think we are getting better. I think we have a long way to go, especially in mainstream superhero comics. The book market has a lot of inclusivity. Superhero comics have been super lacking in inclusivity and it shouldn’t be. We should have a female writer on Batman besides Becky Cloonan and artists as well. It is getting better. It starts at the publishers and editors. Comics, like many other industries, is a “who you know” world. Straight white dudes know straight white dudes, and they’re going to hire straight white dudes. When you are just looking at who is in your immediate circle versus who is actually out there and doing badass work, you are going to end up hiring the same dudes over and over again.
That doesn’t mean that they do bad work. They don’t. But if you want to grow your audience you can’t keep telling the same story to the same audience.
It truly starts with the editors. When I came to Marvel. I didn’t have any power but I did have a voice. I was very fortunate that Jordan White, who was my boss, listened. During that time we did 100-page Deadpool issues. They were anthologies of a bunch of short stories. I remember putting the first one together. All but one of the stories were cast, and they were all white dude writers. I said to Jordan, “What do you think of any of these women to do the last story, just to change it up, and have someone who hasn’t written Deadpool before?” He said. “Sure, why not?” So, it is not all from a position of being against inclusivity, but sometimes from a lack of looking outside your circle.
PCS: With this being Women’s History Month, who are the women in comics that you take inspiration from?
HA: I would have to start with Flo Steinberg. For those who are unfamiliar, Flo was Stan Lee’s secretary/assistant. She is as much a part of Marvel’s history as Stan, Jack, Steve and the rest of them. She was there along the way cracking the whip.
I was very fortunate that, when I worked at Marvel, she still came in to the offices a couple of times a week. She would help with proofreading or just talk to people. She really took all the young women there under her wing, and told us, “Don’t take any shit from any of them.”
Her big thing was that, on Fridays, she would tell everyone to have a chocolate and get some sweets. It was deadline day, but she didn’t want us to forget to treat ourselves.
She was really great and passed away a few years ago, but to know someone who was in the industry as long as it has existed and still wanted to come back every day with a smile on her face, was really heartwarming.
Note: Tune in to the audio SquadCast for more about Heather’s style of editing and we also dive into some nerd culture.
Thanks to Heather for doing this interview.
Heather can be found editing Valiant Comics monthly as well as other independent books.