Ferguson’s 7 Questions With… James O’Callaghan
I’ve had a lot of creators on 7 questions but this is the first time I’ve asked one about editing. Up this time is editor, and writer, James O’Callaghan.
What was the first comic work you did that was published?
The first published story I wrote was a two page story for the second Horror themed issue of The Gathering for Grayhaven Comics. My first editing gig was for the Adventure issue of The Gathering, which I’d actually submitted a written story to, but ended up in charge of it after it after publisher, Andrew Goletz emailed everyone who had been accepted and said since interest in the book was so low, he’d either have to scrap it, or figure out something to do with it, like making it a single story. He didn’t think, due to the several different styles at play, that that was doable. A few minutes later he got an email off me, showing him how it could work, and he asked me to take charge of the issue immediately. Not long afterwards, he asked if I’d be interested in taking a full editor’s position, which I happily accepted.
What is the biggest thing you have learned since that book?
From a writing stand point, I’ve discovered that I work much better having a co-writer to play off. I personally think my writing is stronger when I have that option. I have a few people in my life who disagree with me on that, but it’s how I feel I work best.
From the editing side of things, I’ve learned so much. I’ve edited so many different books now, and changed my ways as I have either because a relationship with a certain writer got to the point where I could offer more suggestions and less guidence, or because I was working with a first time writer who had no clue what they were doing and needed a lot of help, it’s hard for me to even remember how I managed it back when I edited Adventure. It was also such a different book to anything else Grayhaven had done to that point, or than I’ve edited since that it’s hard to pin down, given that it was initially just an anthology like the rest of our books, and then evolved into an attempt to tell a single, cohesive story by multiple creators.
What’s your process for writing/editing a comic book?
For writing, these days I tend to focus on dialogue and pacing, while my good friend Sean Leonard comes up with a particular story. Sometimes we’ll brainstorm, and an idea will come to me that I’ll throw in, but in general, the stories come from him. So once he sends me the breakdown of an issue, I’ll start writing rough scripts, using common phrases or terminology. Most of what we’ve written together has been set many years in the past, so that dialogue is just put there for me, so I can make sure the story is flowing correctly. I’ll finish, and we’ll both sit down and go over what I’ve written and Sean will correct things to make it more appropriate for a given time frame.
For editing, my processes vary. For anthologies, usually I’ll read through the script on my laptop a few times, then slowly go through it and catch whatever spelling or grammar mistakes I can and mark them in red. I’ll then go through again and mark in red any panels or scenes that I think are affecting the flow of the story, or just don’t work for whatever reason, and include an explanation as to why I want a change made. I try never to just make changes myself, rather letting the writer do those either because they’re new and just need the guidence, or if they want to make a case for something I’ve marked, so we can discuss it. I think it’s good practice, so the writer can learn to catch those mistakes themselves the more they write. Sometimes I’ll agree with what they’re saying if they make a case, and help them tweak a scene to make what they want more apparent. Sometimes I’ll tell them what they want just won’t work for whatever reason. I’ve been fairly lucky over the years, with only a very small handful of people getting angry and instantly combative about changes and utterly refusing to make edits. In those few cases, I give the option to make the edit, or withdraw the story. Thankfully that’s not something I’ve had to do very often.
For non-anthology work, originally my editing style was the same as the anthologies. Sometimes I’ll still edit a script, in that manner. I’ve mostly worked with the same writer, Erica Heflin, for several years now, and when she sends me a script, and I feel heavy changes or additions are needed, I’ll email or Skype with her and discuss the scenes in question, we’ll make notes and she’ll send me an updated script if needed. Once the final script is sent to me an the story flows as well as we think it can, I’ll go through to make the dialogue and spelling fixes it might needed, and include them on an email so she can go through and fix them herself. Any one I work with one-on-one for a prolonged period of time on a big project, that’s how I’d approach it once a rapport had been built.
What is the biggest influence on your work?
Questions like this I always find tough, since there have been so many. I love many of the obvious ones. Growing up I loved the Wolverine run by Larry Hama and X-Men work of Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Mark Waid, then creators like Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis with Preacher and Transmetropolitan. In recent years, writers like Terry Moore, Ed Brubaker, Jason Aaron, Scott Snyder and Kurtis Wiebe stand out. And I love well written tv, so Aaron Sorkin, Joss Whedon, Vince Gilligan, Kurt Sutter. There’s just too many. I could be here naming writers all day. I used to draw a lot as a child, up until my early 20’s too, so I’d pick up books by Jim Lee, John Romita Jr, Adam and Andy Kubert, Mark Bagley. Just anyone who caught my eye.
What are you working on right now?
Currently my workload is mainly editing work. I’m assistant editor to Erica Heflin for the Kaiju OGN and Lil Kaiju kids book for Grayhaven Comics. I’m also editing several books for her that she’s written for Grayhaven and Inverse Press. I’ve just finished edits on issue 4 of The Black Hand, which will be released in digital format through Alterna Comics, and in print through Inverse Press. I also just finished script edits on chapter 4 of an OGN that’ll also be released through Inverse Press, called Antithesis. And just after sending back my edits for that, I finished edits on another oneshot she has planned, that’s a bit early in the process to discuss, but is a creepy project I think people will enjoy.
What do you out now or coming out next?
Sean and I wrapped up a script last year, for a book called The Village which is coming out through Grayhaven, which is a supernatural tale set during the Winter War, which was between Russia and Finland shortly before World War 2. We’d planned to have released by this year, but the chosen artist’s workload resulted in it being severely delayed. So to ease his workload, we’ve brought on a new artist from Cork, Damien Duncan, who did the cover for the upcoming Cork Sci-Fi Comic. So far we’ve seen Damien’s roughs for some of the scenes, and they blew us away. That guy is amazingly talented.
Beyond that, the books I’ve edited above are all in various states of completion, so they’ll be out within the year. I don’t have release dates yet for most, but the final issue of Flesh of White (issue 4), written by Erica and drawn by the awesome Amanda Rachels, will be launched on kickstarter around June. If people are interested, announcements and links to the books always go up at Grayhaven and Inverse‘s sites, and I post links to whatever books we have coming out on my Facebook and twitter profiles.
What is your favourite Irish comic?
I’ll be honest, I’ve not had as much chance to check out most of the Irish comics as I’d like until very recently, so I’m still making my way through most of them, but I’m loving what the guys at Turncoat Press are doing. I’m Awake, I’m Alive was a great book, with a lot of really talented people involved. Even the production on the book was top notch, and that’s not something a lot of indie creators can claim. I’ve been thrilled with the work they’ve been producing, and the Cork Sci-Fi Comic is promising to be excellent.