Scott Dunbier has a career that started as an original art dealer back in the 1980s, which led to him being hired as editor at Wildstorm, formerly Jim Lee’s part of Image Comics. When Wildstorm was sold to DC, Dunbier went with them and while at Wildstorm, he was responsible for Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics line and creating the oversized Absolute Editions which are still a part of DC’s graphic novel list. He joined IDW Publishing as Special Projects Editor in 2008 and he has brought his expertise to bear at IDW, creating the Artist’s Edition format, which has represented a range of classic comic series like Joe Kubert’s Tarzan, Walt Simonson’s Thor and Miller and Mazzuchelli’s Daredevil: Born Again to name but a few in the unique Artist’s Edition format. Tripwire caught up with Dunbier to talk to him about the genesis of the Artist’s Editions, how particular series or stories get picked and much more…
TRIPWIRE: What was the genesis of the Artists Edition idea?
SCOTT DUNBIER: Years ago I was in an original art APA. APA stands for Amateur Press Association and it’s a very small, private publication, they can range from as few as 20 members to as many as 100 or more. Each member contributes a set number of pages each issue on a variety of topics related to the main theme—for this APA the theme is usually by artist—and sends a central collator 60 copies. The collator then sorts through and makes 60 issues from all the contributions and then mails them out to everyone. It’s a true labor of love kind of thing. So in 1995 an APA dedicated to Neal Adams was announced. I’m a life-long fan of his work and I conducted a fairly long interview with Adams for the issue. Additionally, I made copies of a number of pieces in my art collection by Neal for inclusion. But the photocopies looked lousy, especially the ones of his lovely pencil work. So I decided to do something a bit silly—I made 600 color copies (10 pages x 60) and included them in my contribution. Remember, this was in 1995, color copies were expensive, it cost hundreds of dollars. But the end result was so much better than it would have been… it was worth it to me. I sort of feel like that was my first Artist’s Edition.
A couple of years later a book came out called Batman Collected, by Chip Kidd. In it there was a page, coincidentally, of Neal Adams art from one of his classic Batman stories. It had been photographed in color and you could see the white out, the blue pencil editorial notes, and random stains—it was great—and it made me remember my earlier APA effort. After that it was only a matter of time before I found a way to do a book like this.
TW: What’s interesting is that other companies seem to have taken a similar approach to their books now too. Why do you think the idea of this format appeals to readers and aficionados of comic material?
SD: I think everyone who loves comic art, whether they buy the books or not, likes the idea of them. Being able to see art in its rawest form, almost an exact replica of the original, and with all the little nuances and intricate details that makes a page unique—it’s sort of irresistible on some level. That’s the appeal to me, at least.
TW: When selecting a project or series for an Artists Edition, what is your criteria?
SD: Basically it boils down to whether or not I can find the art, the complete stories, and if the rights can be attained from the copyright holder. The rest of it is purely subjective—my personal tastes.
TW: You have put out quite a cross section of material already. Was it always your intention to make it this diverse?
SD: Absolutely. I have far-reaching tastes and I think that is reflected in the Artist’s Editions we’ve done. I love all kinds of comics and there are so many artists whose work resonates with me—honestly, it’s more a question of how could I not make it this diverse?
TW: You have had a career first as an art dealer and then as an editor in comics. How much did your impressive career in comics help to get the range and reputation of the creators and companies on board to make these books happen?
SD: Art dealing has been of immeasurable help. My former career put me in touch with a vast number of collectors and dealers, many whom are close friends of mine to this day. Very often, if I don’t know where something is, I know someone who does. I can’t stress enough how helpful collectors and dealers have been in making these books a reality. As far as editorially, I had pitched the Artist’s Edition line to my previous employer, before I came to IDW, but was turned down. And that is completely understandable, I was asking them to trust me to do an unproven format of a book that would be $100 bucks to buy… looking back, it does sound like a stretch, doesn’t it? But I believed in the idea, I thought there would be a market for it. Luckily, when I came to IDW, Ted Adams believed in me enough to let me do it. He and Greg Goldstein (and everyone at IDW) have been very supportive of the line since day one, and for that I will always be thankful.
TW: As well as the Artists Editions, you have also put together Artifact Editions. What factors dictate whether a book is an artifact or an artists edition?
SD: An Artist’s Edition collects complete stories and an Artifact Edition has individual pages by an artist. John Byrne was happy with the way his Fantastic Four book came out and suggested I do an X-Men volume. I told him there weren’t any complete stories of his X-Men work, that they had all been broken up and the originals scattered. He said, “Why does it have to have complete stories?” And I thought, “he’s right.” so thanks for helping me see the light, John.
TW: You have already been involved with a very impressive range of titles in the line. Have there been any projects that you have been unable to bring to market in this format as yet?
SD: Plenty, I would love to do something with Corben, Jaime Hernandez, Frazetta, Jack Cole, Crumb, the list stretches on and on. Some artist’s aren’t interested in doing an Artist’s Edition, but usually it just boils down to not being able to find the work.
TW: Each project looks like a massive undertaking in terms of sourcing material and then all the cleanup work to make the art work in this format. As someone who has come from a more traditional publishing background, as an editor who commissioned new material from current creators, what is the appeal for yourself for working on something like an Artists Edition?
SD: Well, I come from a mixed background… comic book art dealer and comic book editor, so it’s the best of both worlds for me. There’s nothing like reading a great comic story by creators at the top of their game, but to read it from the original art (or something very close to it), well, that’s just a huge kick for a guy like me. Actually, a funny story… I was a big fan of Preacher from the first issue. But I’ve only ever read one of the Preacher comic books—After reading the first issue and laughing my butt off, I called up Steve Dillon and struck a deal to buy all the Preacher art from then on. And I read each story from the original art—each one was like my own private Artist’s Edition!
TW: You have become an archivist, preserving and presenting some of the best and most significant series in comics history. How important is it for you to make people aware of the body of work of creators like Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert and Wally Wood?
SD: As a lover of comic art it is extremely important to me. These books, I hope, introduce artists and fans to a new world. It’s like when I was a kid and saw the Steranko History of Comics, or the old Big Apple Comix EC reprints in the early 1970s—those two things broadened my comic horizons tremendously. I hope Artist’s Editions have a similar impact on fans who may not have been exposed to classic original art. We have a unique, rich history, and it’s important to make it available everyone.
TW: What other Artists and Archival Editions can we look forward to for the rest of this year and beyond?
SD: Herb Trimpe’s Incredible Hulk Artist’s Edition, Joe Kubert’s The Return of Tarzan Artist’s Edition, Star Wars Artifact Edition, and Sam Kieth’s Maxx Artist’s Edition are all scheduled to come out in 2015—yikes, I better get back to work!
JOE KUBERT’S TARZAN OF THE APES ARTIST’S EDITION HC JOE KUBERT’S ENEMY ACE ARTIST’S EDITION HC JOE KUBERT’S ENEMY ACE ARTIST’S EDITION HC JOE KUBERT’S TOR ARTIST’S EDITION HC The Mighty Thor: The Artist’s Edition JACK KIRBY’S NEW GODS ARTIST’S EDITION HC