Robin Hererra Interview

Robin Hererra

Senior Editor - Oni Press

Tell us about your career and how you got started in the comic book industry.

It definitely started with an interest in comics. As a teen, I read whatever I could get my hands on. Mostly webcomics, which were free. I read a lot of what my friends were reading, which was manga and indie stuff, and at a certain point I began to feel pretty well-versed in comics. So in 2012, when Oni Press put out a call for interns, I applied. I didn't think I'd be accepted, and I definitely didn't think it'd lead to a job, but at the end of my internship, there was an opening for an Admin Assistant, and they hired me! A year later when my mentor Jill Beaton had to leave, I took over her books and became an Editor.

What are some of your main responsibilities as Senior Editor at Oni Press?

My main responsibilities are acquiring, editing, and managing books. With Acquiring, I look through pitches I receive and decide which ones I'd like to work on. At that point I need to make sure the rest of Editorial feels as strongly about the book as I do. If they do, we move the book up the acquisitions ladder, and when it's been approved at all levels, we can contract and start working! That's when the editing begins, though I also often edit pitches before I know if they're going to be accepted. I start with script - that's where most of my notes come in. Is the story clear, and is it working? Is there an internal and external arc for our main character(s)? Is the book in any way problematic or insensitive? Once final script is in, the artist begins layouts. These are rough sketches of how the artist plans to lay out panels, as well as how the artist plans to stage panels. I also give a good number of notes at this stage. Finally, we get to pencils and inks, before letters and colors (unless it's a black and white book). And once all assets are complete, then the third leg of editing begins: managing. I schedule the book with our Managing Editor, then make sure our Production department gets the pages and has enough time to prep them for print. We get a cover done, I write solicit text and usually the back cover text as well (though my creators are free to suggest or edit as they see fit!). I make sure all the assets are in that we need to print the book. And then, the hard part's over! Though I do have to carefully check the proofs that come back from the printer to make sure they look okay.

Can you tell us about a current project you're working on?

Sure! Right now I'm editing several different things, which is the great part of working at Oni—I can edit children's books in addition to adult and young adult. One of my adult titles is called Made Men, written by Paul Tobin, illustrated by Arjuna Susini, colored by Gonzalo Duarte, and lettered by Saida Temofonte. It's a great genre mash-up book about a woman named Jutte Shelley, a Detroit police officer whose entire squad is gunned down by assassins. Jutte is actually descended from the Frankensteins, though, so she brings her team back to life. So it's a fun, funny team book with mystery and conspiracy and a dash of horror - one of Jutte's teammates is without a head, so she gives him the head of a male lion. It makes for some great visuals. 

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Oni Press is passionate about fighting for diversity in comics. Tell us more about this idea using examples from your eclectic and varied list.

We are very passionate. Fellow editor (who doesn't work at Oni) Taneka Stotts put it best for me: We need diverse creators. To me, that is more important than whether the book has diverse content or not. Don't get me wrong, I think books with diverse content are very important. But I also think having diverse creators behind those books—and behind many other books—is important. That was a big reason why we opened our submissions back in 2015—to open ourselves to a wider audience of creators and stories. I was very happy with the books we picked up through our open submissions. There are several books coming out next year I'm very excited about, but I'll mention one in particular: Archival Quality, a gothic-feeling mystery set in a very creepy museum (lots and lots of skulls) written by Ivy Noelle Weir and illustrated by Steenz. It's got a diverse cast of characters, and one of the things I truly love about the book is the connection between Cel, the main character, and the ghost of a young woman she interacts with when she starts working at the museum. Cel discovers that the museum was once an asylum, and that her ghost was a patient there—which is especially poignant for Cel, who's dealing with her own depression and anxiety.

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What makes a great comic book character?

You know that old adage "show, don't tell"? That is basically what a comic book is. The more you can show, on the page, the less you need to tell in dialogue and narration. So a great comic character is someone you feel like you know just from their appearance and actions. You're not going to have a lot of internal monologue, so you have to make things clear externally instead.

Other than that, I feel like a great comic book character is similar to a great novel character: they're layered, they have a desire or want, and they incite someone to want to learn more about them. I don't believe a great comic book character needs to be likable - there are plenty of unlikable or flawed characters I love reading about, like Marko and Alana from Saga, or Gert from I Hate Fairyland. I also love the characters in YokaidenAya of Yop City, and Awkward and Brave.

What would make an illustrator's portfolio really stand out for you?

The big thing that makes it stand out is sequential art samples. Preferably a 6-8 page sequence with lots of shot variation, and a combination of dialogue and action. I love seeing things like fully realized backgrounds that are as detailed as the characters, or leaving plenty of room for lettering without awkwardly staging a panel. I also look for consistency—do characters look the same from panel to panel? Do characters stand out from each other? Are there a variety of body types and ethnicities represented? Is the storytelling clear and easy to follow? These are questions I ask myself when I look at portfolios.

Are there particular genres you're interested in at the moment?

Always! The two big ones right now are science fiction (MG and YA) and realistic fiction (MG), which we don't have much of in our line. I'm also always interested in cooking comics, being a big fan of manga like Food Wars! and Kitchen Princess.

What are some of the challenges of illustrating for comic books?

There are several things that make comic books particularly challenging for illustrators. A 32-page picture book normally has about 28-32 illustrations, whereas a 32-page comic book can have 4 times that number or more—because every panel is an illustration, and needs as much consideration for layout and composition. There's also the fact that in comics, you're often having to convey a lot of the story in the pictures, so you have to make sure things read crystal clear—that a lamp in the background doesn't end up looking like a vase, for example, or an expression of joy isn't confused for one of shock. On top of all that, you've got to make sure there's room for the letters!

That said, not every panel needs to be perfect—it's much more important to create panels that work and convey their meaning. No need to spend hours on every panel. Save that level of detail for a splash page!

Which comic books from your own childhood made a lasting impression?

I believe the first comic I ever read—aside from Garfield in the comics section of the newspaper—was Bone, which was serialized in Disney Adventures magazine for a while. But the comics that made a lasting impression were the ones I read as a teenager: Blue MondayAvalonParasyteLevelRPG WorldReturn to SenderSaturnalia—lots of webcomics. 

Which new title would you select to highlight to our audience?

Katie O'Neill's new book, The Tea Dragon Society. It's a gorgeous and exciting example of everything that's great about the comics medium. 

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What can we expect from Oni Press over the coming months?

A lot more books! Trade collections of our comics, announcements of new graphic novels and comic series, and many more kids and YA graphic novels. 

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