Bring up a comic book title with another reader and you might get asked who wrote it or who drew it. It’s very rare, if ever, that you will hear a book referred to by the name of the colorist, letterer, or editor. The rest of the team if even remembered is often relegated the status of hired help: paid to neither be seen or heard. Though comic book culture tends to elevate one job over the other, editor Desiree Rodriguez points out that it is more than just a one person effort. “Every part of the team is important,” Rodriguez says. “The most obvious aspects of a comic – the art and storytelling – get a lot of focus which is completely understandable, but lettering, colors, and editing all play a huge part in the creation of that book”
Rodriguez, a Boricua and New Jersey native, knows exactly what she is talking about: her job as editor is to orchestrate the team, the story and art of a comic book story. “I believe a good editor is there to make the book better, to help enhance the story,” she says. Rodriguez is an editor for Lion Forge’s Catalyst Prime line, was co-editor for the Puerto Rican Strong anthology, and wrote a story that is included in the Ricanstruction anthology. She not only helps to shape plot lines and characters in comics but is also helping to shape and promote the Latinx narrative in comic books. She has spoken on and written a number of journalistic pieces centered around Latinx identity and even coined a hashtag, #BeingLatinxinComics, to further the discussion online. I got in touch with Rodriguez to find out more about the importance of an editor in the comic book creation process and to discuss Latinx creators in comic books today.
Chris C. Hernandez: Tell me about your relationship with comic books.
Desiree Rodriguez: When I started reading comic books it was more stuff like Fruits Basket, Rurouni Kenshin, Red River, that was the stuff I grew up on. As I got older I started reading more DC trades with some X-Men and Avengers stuff thrown in.
I had always loved western comic stories, I grew up watching Spider-man, Teen Titans, Justice League, Static Shock. The entire DC animated universe was really formative for me in the same way anime shows like Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, Yu Yu Hakusho all were. They told these stories of heroes, fighting against incredible odds with optimism and compassion.
My favorite sort of character was always the one who was kind, compassionate, even in the face of their own traumas. You know the ones people always say are boring or naïve or dumb? Those were my favorite characters. Also, Scott Summers but people give me a lot of grief for that. But those characters always inspired me the most.
CH: When did you decide to make comic books a career?
DR: Oh gosh, like most Latinas I was always taught to get a stable job, stable career, get married and have kids. I was originally going to be a teacher and treat writing online as a side gig. You can’t make an actual living writing is what I always told myself. But when I moved, I sort of restarted my life a little bit. And with it, decided, what the heck I’ll really put my all into making a career out of doing something in comics. So I wrote, and wrote about comics, movies, television but always about the characters and stories I grew up loving.
I can’t say there was a single point in time when I was like, “yes I’m going to make comics my career” because there wasn’t. It was a slow-going process, a lot of learning, a lot of work, and a bit of luck. Joe Illidge gave me my first job as his part-time assistant working at Lion Forge on the Catalyst Prime line. I was honestly shocked. I always tell people that when he called me I thought we were going to talk about Batman and instead he offered me a job! Now I’ve been at Lion Forge for two years, working full time, editing my own books, I’ve been blessed really.
CH: Why is an editor an important part of the comic book creation team?
DR: Every part of the team is important, the most obvious aspects of a comic – the art and storytelling – get a lot of focus which is completely understandable. But lettering, colors, and editing all play a huge part in the creation of that book.
For editing, a good editor will try to enhance a story’s potential. Where can the story be improved? Let’s change the art here a bit to enhance this scene. Maybe change this character a bit to add some more diversity to the cast. Stuff like that. As well as keeping the team together, keeping the flow of communication moving, getting that book to print so it hits the shelves and gets into the hands of the readers.
But I believe a good editor is there to make the book better, to help enhance the story, but not be the writer, or the artist, or the colorist. I respect every aspect of creating a comic because I respect the time, effort, and craft that goes into that part of the work.
CH: Tell me about some of the different aspects of being an editor? At what point do you come into the comic book making process?
DR: We’re there right at the beginning. When a writer pitches an idea or a story we’re there to help form that idea into a fully fleshed out story or suggest ways it could be better. Maybe there’s a story beat that’s missing, or one that could be expanded upon.
CH: What skills or qualities should a person have to become an editor? What do you have to study to become an editor?
DR: I was lucky, I had a good mentor in Joe, and I can still ask him for advice today. He’s been someone I really respect and admire whose helped me in my career a lot. Then there’s all the amazing editors I work with at Lion Forge.
One thing in particular I love is there’s so many women editors I work with, from Senior level to Assistants, it makes for this great unique environment where you don’t feel like the only woman in the room. Which has happened for most of my time in comics.
There’s also many editors in the industry I really admire like Joamette Gil, Kat Fajardo and Tanaka Slotts. All three are amazing women of color who have award winning books under their belts that didn’t require any big publisher help. They’re telling stories that are wide-spread about various marginalized communities and killing it.
I think some of the skills of a good editor include: good communication skills, respect for others, networking, and understanding the medium top to bottom. You have to understand how an artist works, and the work that goes into drawing a page or a cover for example. I can’t draw, but I’ve been studying just, basics ya know? So I can understand how they work, from line art to colors to letters. I’m still learning though, which I think is another important skill to have, the wiliness to learn. You’ll never know everything and that’s okay, be open to learning new things.
Oh, and technology, keep up with the tech it’ll help you stay organized.
CH: Of course, language adds another aspect to the process of editing a Latinx-centric comic book, but are there any other differences?
DR: I would say the cultural aspect. I’m proudly Puerto Rican, but if I’m editing a book with say, a Mexican-American lead that doesn’t mean I automatically know everything there is to know about what it’s like to be Mexican-American. Sure, there’s crossover, but I haven’t lived that particularly experience. Just like an editor who may be Mexican won’t know the exact experience of what it’s like being Puerto Rican. There’s nuances there you have to respect, learn, and research.
CH: What is your opinion of the current state of Latinx comic books?
DR: I think it could be better, that’s not to say we haven’t made progress, we have. There’s more Latinx characters, creators, and stories in the industry today then say ten or twenty years ago, but we can’t settle. We can do better, and we should always strive to be better.
I’m really excited to see that the La Raza Anthology was recently nominated for an Ignatz Award, and I’m so happy to see Eric Esquivel writing a Vertigo book called Border Town of all things. Like that shit right there is dope, that’s the stuff I want to see. Then you have brands like LatinxGeeks that go to cons, run panels, organize hashtags, promote Latinx written and centric books, comics, TV shows, movies everything.
So, there’s certainly been huge improvement and I think what needs to happen is the continuation of that improvement. We need more Latinx voices within the industry from top to bottom – editors, writers, artists, design, etc. And those voices need to be diverse voices, Afro-Latinx voices especially tend to be drown out or forgotten when discussing Latinx creators or Latinx representation in general. But we can’t have true inclusion nor true, honest, and real representation until we acknowledge all parts of our community and work to uplift the entire community.
So, we’ve made progress, we’re making progress, but we still have a long way to go and grow.
CH: In reviewing and writing about Latinx comic books I’ve noticed that there appears to be a lack of Latina comic book creators that are telling their stories as well. What do you think can be done to change this?
DR: I think it’s not so much there’s a lack of Latina creators, more so there’s a lack of opportunities provided to them. When we were putting together Puerto Rico Strong, one of the things we all pushed for and agreed upon was that a majority of the talent would be Latinx. We also made it a point to reach out to Latina and Latinx creators. They exist, there out there, you just have to look, and give them the opportunity.
I’m a part of a really great Facebook group for Latinx creators and there’s tons of women in the group, heck it was started by a Latina! It’s just a matter of putting in the effort of looking. It’s easier, I think, to create a Latinx character and say, hey my friend – who happens to be a white guy – is a great writer he should be on this book as an editor. And that guy probably is a great writer! I’m not discounting that, but was there any effort to find a Latina to write that character? When the topic comes up,
I’ve seen a lot of arguments that amount to “well there just aren’t any Latinas out there” or some fans will go “well the job went to the best person (who happens to be white)”. It rings false to me because I know there are talented Latina writers out there who are making great indie comics and just haven’t been given the chance to break into the larger industry. No fault of their own, they’re talented as hell, they’re just not being looked at. I don’t think it’s straight up refusal, more like soft ignorance. This is why it’s important to have these discussions, to uplift the community, to learn more about the untapped talent and audience pool at hand.
I firmly believe there are two ways to cure ignorance, one is education the other is empathy. You have to learn about a marginalized community to understand the specific oppressions they’ve faced and still face, but you also have to have empathy for them and want to learn and be a real ally. When it comes to comics, we have to expand our horizons both on the page but also behind it. We have to have creators of all backgrounds existing in various places in comics. And not just as Editors but higher up as well, so we can get the best stories that can be as inclusive and true as possible.
CH: What are some good books that you recommend reading for people wanting to expand their experience with Latinx comics?
DR: Okay so I already mentioned the La Raza Anthonlogy, so that one for sure. Power and Magic isn’t strictly a Latinx comic book but a publisher run by an Afro-Cuban editor so I would support them and their books which are all fantastic.
Frederick Luis Aldama has an entire library of great books that talk about Latinx representation in comics so if you’re looking for something more academic he’s a great place to start, especially his recent book Latinx Superheroes in Mainstream Comics (Latinx Pop Culture).
Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez is another easy pick with his La Borinqueña series, including his charity anthology with DC, Ricanstruction: Reminiscing & Rebuilding Puerto Rico.
I’m going to throw in some shameless self-promotion and say Puerto Rico Strong, which was a charity anthology Lion Forge published that I worked on as well.
I would also recommend folks check out the #BeingLatinxInComics and #LatinxCreate hashtags on Twitter for more recommendations, and to find more Latinx creators to support.
Learn more about Desiree and her current projects on her website: https://latinasmediamusing.com/