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From Archie to Marvel: An Interview with Tom DeFalco

Tom DeFalco (center left) poses with comics writer and editor Danny Fingeroth (center right) along with “Star Lord,” “Captain America,” and others.
Tom DeFalco (center left) poses with comics writer and editor Danny Fingeroth (center right) along with “Star Lord,” “Captain America,” and others.
Tom DeFalco took time to go on the record with Legendarium Media at the Wizard World Comic Con in Raleigh, NC. He was formerly the editor-in-chief for Marvel Comics from 1987-1994.

Legendarium: You have edited a variety of comics from Marvel regulars to licensed works such as G.I. Joe and a number of different narrative tones as well, from the more serious to the more whimsical. Was that a challenge to balance all of that as General Editor?

Tom DeFalco: Not really. If you’re trained properly as an editor, you can pretty well step into any genre, any type of material, and do whatever job you can do to the best of your abilities.

L. How did you get started as a comics editor?

T.D. I was originally hired by Archie Comics. I worked in their production department and Archie basically taught me how to make comics. I learned them from the ground up. Our first job was opening up the mail for Dear Betty and Veronica and eventually started doing proofreading, and then pay stubs, us putting the logos on covers, and making odd corrections. . .little spelling corrections; and eventually to reading scripts and editing scripts and working on the Archie Digest books. All of the years and all of the knowledge added up.

L. Do you think that [this ground-level] training offered special insight for you as an editor?

T.D. Yes, I think it certainly helped me because not only did I understand the editing process, I understood the other processes involved in putting together a comic book. So if I needed an art correction or a spelling correction, I actually knew what was involved in doing that sort of thing. I understood what to ask for and what not to bother to ask for.

L. What is the difference between an editor and general editor/editor-in-chief in comics?

T.D. Well, when you’re an editor, of a comic book title, basically you’re focused on that title—both the issue you’re doing and the next five or six issues—and that is the scope of what you’re thinking about. Your job is to keep the creative people who are doing those next five issues constantly working, constantly enthused, and constantly at their level best, and that the material is that. As editor-in-chief, we’re not thinking about six months in the future, you’re thinking about two or three years in the future. If I were still the editor-in-chief of Marvel right now, and today is March 14, 2015, I would be able to tell you what Marvel is going to publish in March of 2018. Now, there’s always a chance that between now and 2018 you might add other things to it, but I’d pretty well be able to tell you exactly what’s coming out. And I might even be able to name your storylines. That’s the difference between being an editor and an editor-in-chief.

L. Do you have a favorite project that you have worked on before?

T.D. That’s always hard because in order for me to write any project I have to basically fall in love with all the characters. You guys spend 20 minutes on an issue. I spend two or three weeks on an issue. Having said that, Spider-Girl is very close to my heart, Thunderstrike is close, Thor, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, everything I’ve been on for a long run.

L. Last question: Do you have any advice for anyone hoping to break into comics editing in the current market?

T.D. I basically tell them to learn two things, which is, learn basic editing—which is, learn story structure and learn how the English language works and should work—and then also learn visual storytelling. Take as many film courses as you can, because visual storytelling is very important in comic books.

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