Greg: There’s one clear through-line: I was a writer-editor for my high school newspaper and then a writer-editor for my college student arts magazine. So I’ve been lucky enough to continue that progression.
Another, more roundabout answer: I grew up consuming stories that commented on other stories. Watching The Simpsons constantly, which would reference other TV shows again and again; seeing Spaceballs before I saw Star Wars; memorizing Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and its riffs on the road movie. And in book form, of course, I was at the exact-right age for Stinky Cheese Man and those James Marshall fairy-tale subversions. These things don’t all make for a serious literary pedigree, but I have a theory that the stuff gave me—at a very young age—the urge to open up stories and see how they work. So maybe the through-line begins there.
2. How did you get your start at Lerner?
Greg: I started as an editorial intern in the summer of 2009 and joined the house full-time later that year.
3. What are some of your favorite graphic novels and why?
|Gabrielle Bell’s sketch of Greg
Greg: Hmmm … that, naturally, is a very hard question, and I’m going to cheat and open it up to the larger comics medium. Among reasonably recent stuff: Kevin Huizenga’s Ganges series is this sustained, understated, beautifully-drawn exploration of the life of the mind. Sammy Harkham’s Crickets series is always evolving, always surprising, and right now it’s in the midst of a story about the margins of the film industry in the 1970s. I think Lilli Carré’s Heads or Tails is maybe the most underrated short story collection of the last decade. Gabrielle Bell and MariNaomi are two very different, very talented cartoonists who have drawn great graphic memoirs. Prophet by Brandon Graham and company is epic weirdo space-opera stuff. And Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez are national treasures.
Earlier than that? Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, Ernie Bushmiller on Nancy, and George Herriman’s Krazy Kat are three amazing, foundational works that live up to the accolades.
Greg: Editing a graphic novel means saying the serenity prayer a little more often. At the last-possible stage, an editor can strike a lingering adverb from a prose middle-grade novel. A paragraph ought to be rearranged with care, but it can be rearranged. Whereas any significant edit to a graphic novel requires more time and coordination. The cartooning does so much of the storytelling work—is the story, in many respects—and can also take so much longer to revise that, once you’re past the scripting stage, editorial notes have to be more selective and targeted.
But—the goals, I think, are the same in either medium. Honor the creator/creators’ vision, refine what’s already there, give an outside consideration of what works. To paraphrase an earlier post about this
, for the editing of any story, you need something like the tough love of a Judge Judy and the versatility of a Blade the Vampire Hunter.
5. What is your vision for Graphic Universe?
Greg: In a word, balance. Season by season, a small mix of graphic novels for early, middle-grade, and young-adult readers. And from a range of creators—that part’s essential. I recently did an open submissions call aimed at the general public, in the interest of avoiding some of the usual problems of access, and I was just amazed at the quality of the proposals.
Graphic novels are not only an excellent literacy tool for developing readers but also the place where some of the most exciting YA and MG work is happening. The opportunity to publish these different types of books is very exciting. Likewise, the opportunity to publish work from North American artists and work from overseas.
One other great thing about graphic novels: In my biased opinion, they’re the best type of book to publish in translation, because so much of the storytelling, so much of the voice, is preserved in the line-work alone! [First Man and I Remember Beirut are two graphic novels Lerner has published in translation.]
Numerous hubs around the world have robust, diverse comics cultures all their own. Just from Japan or from the Franco-Belgian tradition—to name only two—you could publish enough quality work to last an imprint a lifetime.
6. When you’re not editing, you’re…
|Avid reader/cat Wolfie
A couple times a month, I pop popcorn and tear tickets as a volunteer at Minneapolis’s Trylon Microcinema, a nonprofit movie house that’s screened everything from Late Spring to Robocop. It is a wonderful community hub full of good films and nice people. I have a doglike cat named Wolfie, and we bro out a lot. I frequently find myself chopping vegetables while listening to The Best Show. Minneapolis has a vibrant donut-making scene, so I’m into that. Which necessitates some running and some yoga.
Lastly, playing Malcolm Young’s rhythm guitar parts in an AC/DC cover band (Bon Scott era, primarily) has been on my bucket list for many years now, and that project is inching toward reality—I hope. Fits and starts. It’s still essentially hypothetical, but everyone needs to have a dream.