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September 22, 2010

Behind the Scenes with Jackie Estrada

Posted by tom

Jackie Estrada has been a staple in the comics industry for decades now. If you’ve attended the annual Eisner Awards ceremony at San Diego Comic-Con, you’ve witnessed her running the show as its administrator (she’s also done more behind-the-scenes work for the show, such as creating the Artists’ Alley). She’s worked as an editor of several comics and books about comics, and she’s a cofounder (along with her husband, author Batton Lash) of Exhibit A Press. With such an impressive résumé, Estrada was someone we wanted to find out a little more about. So we did!

Do you remember your first comic book or graphic novel?
The first comic I remember reading was Bill Woggon’s Katy Keene. This was when I was a kid back in the 1950s. The great thing about that book (and all its spinoffs and variations) was that readers could send in their designs for characters’ clothes and even for things like cars and rocketships. I know I spent hours trying to draw outfits (including a gorgeous ballgown) from those comics. I was also a Mad reader; I purchased my issue each month at the local Speedee Mart for “35 cents cheap.”

What do you love about the graphic novel as a format for storytelling?
Its great versatility! In what other medium do you get the variety of works that you find in comics/graphic novels? In subject matter, you’ve got memoirs, ghost stories, intergalactic battles, zombies, medical dramas, teenage angst, funny animals, reworked fairy tales, biographies of scientists…I could go on and on. Some works are from a single vision and others are collaborations. Fiction books can vary in typeface and maybe have a few illustrations, but graphic novels can vary in an incredibly wide range of art styles, page layouts, and storytelling techniques. Even the book format can vary in size, shape, and presentation to adapt to the topic and style, from tiny paperbacks like Jordan Crane’s Last Lonely Saturday to gigantic hardbacks like Seth’s George Sprott. And whereas reading for most other types of books is passive, the reader has to more actively engage in reading a graphic novel, using perceptive skills to wed the words and images and fill in the “missing information” between the panels. As David Mazzucchelli showed with Asterios Polyp, the boundaries of the graphic novel medium seem to be limitless.
Whose work do you admire?
All the old-time greats: Eisner, Kirby, Ditko, Kurtzman, Barks, Stanley, Toth, Wood, Williamson…the list goes on and on. Each creator brings something different to the table, whether it’s wonderful covers, a well-crafted story structure, laugh-out-loud gags, gorgeous line art, or larger-than-life characters. Of currently working creators, I will pick up anything new by Lynda Barry, Paul Pope, Eddie Campbell, Rick Geary, Joann Sfar, Posy Simmonds, Frank Miller, Tony Millionaire, or Michel Rabagliati. I think Carol Tyler’s current three-volume tribute to her dad (A Good and Decent Man) is absolutely amazing in its honesty, storytelling, and artwork. I admire Stan Sakai for continuing to put out high-quality work on Usagi Yojimbo on a regular basis for so many years. I look forward to reading anything Ian Boothby writes for Simpsons comics. And closer to home, I think Batton Lash (my husband) has done a great job creating the Archie: Freshman Year series and follow-ups, being true to the Archie characters and yet filling in a “hole” in the Archie canon.
Who do you read outside of the graphic novel format?
I love hardboiled detective stuff. I read all of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux novels and anything by Ruth Rendell. I’m working my way through F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack novels. I just finished Horns, by Joe Hill, and I’m currently reading John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In (the movie was a great adaptation).
How many graphic novels do you read a month? How many of those are manga?
Depends on how you define “graphic novel.” If it includes strip collections (like Moomin or Mary Perkins Onstage)and archival works (like Eerie or Melvin Monster) then I’d say a dozen a month in slow months and several dozen a month in December through March, when all the submissions come in for the Eisner Awards. My manga reading varies. Year-round I follow any series by Urasawa or Taniguchi and look for horror-type books like Uzumaki or Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. In “Eisner Awards season,” I read lots more!
How did you first get involved in the field professionally?
By profession, I am an editor. I have edited college textbooks (and lots of other kinds of books) for the last 40 years, mostly as a freelancer. I became a comics fan back in the 1960s while still in high school. As a college journalism major (San Diego State), I took a magazine article writing class that required each student to market eight articles and sell at least one. I sold all eight (to places like College Store News) and one of them was about Burt Blum, proprietor of the comics store within Cherokee Books on Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles. That sold to Grit: The Family Newspaper, whose ads were ubiquitous on the backs of old comic books—which was only fitting. I continued my freelance writing after college and into the 1970s. Many of my articles were about comics and were part of a syndicated newspaper column aimed at college students (I recall doing one on Stan Lee and his success on the college lecture circuit). I was at the first San Diego Comic-Con in 1970 and went to all the subsequent shows. In 1975 I tried to interest Rolling Stone in an article on Comic-Con and got a tentative go-ahead. So I attended some planning meetings for the show. Long story short, the article fell through but I ended up volunteering to do PR and edit articles for the Souvenir Book. By 1977 I was in charge of the book. Over the years I edited the book several times, put out the Progress Reports, served as official photographer, ran Artists’ Alley, handled guests and pro registration, and did lots of other stuff on a volunteer basis. Then in 1990 I was asked to become the administrator of the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, which came with nominal pay. So I guess you could say that was my first “professional” work in the industry, even though I was involved in fan/volunteer activities for 20 years prior.
What kind of reaction do you get when you tell people what you do?
When I say I work for Comic-Con, most people go nuts! “You work for Comic-Con? That is so cool!” Of course, other people I meet have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about.
Do you collect comics? What is the most valuable piece of art, graphic novel, or comic book in your collection?
I have a ton of comics and graphic novels but I can’t actually say that I “collect” them, since I stopped doing that in any systematic way decades ago. As far as “valuable” is concerned, I have a five-page Ditko story that’s probably worth something, and a Frazetta Johnny Comet daily. I have a lot of Carl Barks, John Stanley, and Walt Kelly comics, but they’re not in the best condition—they’ve been read a lot!
Is there something you covet adding to your collection?
I’ve sort of gotten beyond that point. A few years ago I found a Bill Woggon Katy Keene page for a reasonable price at Comic-Con, and that pretty much satisfied my “collecting” need. I have originals from a lot of my favorite creators (some of whom are no longer with us) that are signed to me, and that’s what’s I find important these days.