Long before he became Associate Editor of a hit comic book line from Dynamite Entertainment, I met Joseph P. Rybandt on my first day as Associate Editor of Gemstone Publishing. It was back in April 1995, and I had been hired to work on Overstreet’s FAN, a monthly glossy magazine akin to Wizard. Joe had been hired before me, so he was there when I walked in and discovered the magazine’s first issue was already behind schedule.
Since I was coming from a management background with plenty of scheduling experience, I knew the problems were fixable; we just had to find out where everyone was coming from and what they were bringing to the table. We gathered everyone together and created an assignment board that indicated what was completed and what wasn’t. Then everyone started discussing everything.
Toward lunch time it was getting pretty heated and at least fairly stupid (“fairly stupid” in the way that Custer’s battle plan at Little Big Horn was “slightly deficient”). I was certainly wondering why I’d chucked my career at Avis Rent a Car and moved across the country to write about comics.
“Okay, I think we should we should break for lunch in just a bit…” I said, as some argument or another got a little more heated. I waited a moment, rubbed my eyes, looked at the floor, and said, “I just have one question…”
“No, we’re not f—ing going to do ‘Stonehenge!’” Joe snapped back. I really think about two other (out of twelve) people in that small room got the This is Spinal Tap reference, but it certainly made me happier about my choice of where to work and gave me a degree of instant respect for Joe.
Over the next two years, I got to see Joe become a passionate and early supporter of James Robinson and Tony Harris’s Starman at DC Comics (he even arranged for Harris to do a Justice League cover for The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #26), Drew Hayes’ Poison Elves at Sirius, and a number of other projects.
By asking “Is that our Jeff Fun Fact for the day?” in an offhanded way one day, he created a phrase that hasn’t left my vocabulary since (so, if you know me personally, blame Joe for that one).
We butted heads on a number of subjects, but Joe could usually back up his opinions with sound reasoning even if we disagreed. So, when FAN ended, I was sorry to see him depart.
When he finally ended up with Dynamite Entertainment, I knew Nick Barrucci and company had found themselves a strong voice for good comics and looked forward to seeing what they’d come out with.
The steady stream of comics from the company that were good, popular or both caught many by surprise. The successes include Red Sonja, Project Superpowers, Army of Darkness, Battlestar Galactica, Terminator 2, The Boys, and Painkiller Jane, as well as a trio of licensed westerns The Lone Ranger, Zorro, and The Man With No Name, among others.
As he’ll detail in the course of this interview, many of these projects have brought him into working contact with some of the top creators in the industry.
“In the old school sense, the editor was seen as the representative agent of the various publishers--overseeing the use of the company's various copyrighted characters and, in many cases, guiding the course of how those characters were used. In fact, at Marvel and DC, that's still often the case. Joe falls into the newer category of editorship; he's basically the case manager and facilitator of all the various books he helms,” said Matt Wagner, creator, writer and artist of Grendel and Mage, who writes and serves as cover artist and Art Director for Dynamite’s Zorro title. “That's especially important with a company like Dynamite that deals with so many licensed characters. In addition to handling the day-to-day organization of getting the books produced (no easy task, believe me), he's also got to be the company liaison to the many different licensors with whom Dynamite works.”
He said Joe's job is to see that everything runs smoothly and on time and meets with the licensor's approval.
“Again, no easy task,” he said, “especially considering how many books he handles in this regard.”
But what’s Joe like to work with from the creator’s perspective?
“I really don't see how it could be any better. From what I can tell, Joe is fairly unflappable. He always maintains his cool and yet never loses the sense of urgency that comes with producing monthly comics. That ship's gotta sail on time, every month, and Joe just seems really capable on every level in that regard. Additionally, I always feel like Joe's got my back in the creative sense. He's consistently followed the directions I feel this latest interpretation of Zorro should take in order to appeal to a modern audience and he's relentless in following up on every little detail,” Wagner said.
“Again, part of the challenge in this sort of venture is dealing with a licensor--sometimes that can get tricky and, in this case, there have been a few rounds of head-butting over certain aspects of the book and our handling of the character. To his credit, whenever these situations arise, Joe's the perfect conduit to seeing these situations resolved. He knows which points are worth fighting for and, if it's an issue I feel strongly about, he's always ready to back me up. I can't stress enough what a great aspect that is to have in your working relationship with an editor,” he said.
“I am continually frustrated that Joe does not get the ‘editor’ credit he deserves,” Jim Krueger said. In addition to creating The Foot Soldiers and numerous other properties, Krueger (with artist Alex Ross) developed and writes Project Superpowers for Dynamite as a vehicle to bring back a significant number of Golden Age characters that have languished for years. He also wrote the Avengers/Invaders crossover Dynamite produced for Marvel.
“I've worked with a lot of people, and Joe's one of the best,” he said. “His ability to be both diplomat and editor is amazingly well-honed. He's a really good guy to work with.”
Now it’s time for the 20 Questions:
JCV: How did you get started reading comics? What was your first exposure to them?
Joe Rybandt: I distinctly remember that it was in the fourth grade and the nerdy little group of misfits I hung with liked the X-Men. And one of them, either at school or a playdate of some sort, had a reprint of Uncanny X-Men #4 (Brotherhood of Evil mutants) and some of the early Byrne issues. From there I was hooked and the first comic I remember buying was Uncanny X-Men #138 – which was an awesome issue to buy off the rack because it had the entire history of the X-Men retold in one issue. They don’t do it like that way anymore, that’s for sure…
JCV: What were your early favorites?
Joe Rybandt: Easily the X-Men and scattered Marvel issues. I was only allowed to buy one comic a month. I made it the X-Men. I eventually figured out a way around that rule and went nuts… There’s still stuff today that I’ll buy single issues of, or a collection, because during that one-a-month period I missed a lot of great stuff (late ‘70s Marvels mainly).
JCV: How did your tastes evolve as you got further into collecting?
Joe Rybandt: I was in high school when things like Hellblazer and Sandman were getting started. I also discovered Grendel and Mage and all this incredible stuff that was going on outside of Marvel and DC. I transitioned into that stuff as well, while keeping up with the superhero stuff. I like any comic if it’s a good comic, superhero or not; I still do to this day.
JCV: Since I’ve known you, you always seemed to have a feel for the indy titles, but never completely disregarded superhero comics the way some indy fans do. Is that an accurate assessment or would you describe your tastes another way?
Joe Rybandt: That’s pretty accurate, I’ll buy and read most anything, a good comic’s a good comic whether it’s indy or not. This last year alone, the latest issue of Acme Novelty Library and Geoff Johns/Gary Frank’s Action Comics were both on my best-of list…
JCV: What was your first job in the industry and how did that come about?
Joe Rybandt: I worked in a comic book store while I went to school. It was a local chain in the western suburbs of Chicago that no longer exists, More Fun Comics. I spent about five years doing that while I waited for my life to get moving in one direction or the other. It did and I found myself on the East Coast… but it was those five years in the store that really ingrained a lot of things that are still with me (including friendships with the guys I worked with) to this day. I mean, I was there for the boom and the bust and I think that helps me look at the market today with a careful eye.
JCV: What led you to your gig at Gemstone Publishing, working on Overstreet’s FAN and The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide?
Joe Rybandt: Right place, right time for sure. I moved out to the east coast with no job and no prospects (except a place to live and someone to live with, who’s now my wife). Kristen (my wife) bought me a copy of Baltimore magazine. Now, I knew who Steve Geppi was (owned Baltimore magazine) and what Diamond Comic Distributors was, and it was my hope to try for a job at Diamond. Anyway, in that issue, there was an ad for the Diamond International Galleries, which was opening and I called the number in that ad really just looking to go check out the gallery. I n the course of the call I found out Overstreet had just moved in and was hiring. Two interviews later and I was in. I think I started as a Research Editor and was a Price Guide Editor and then a Staff Writer by the time my gig was up. I learned a lot on that job though, how to write, work under a deadline and stuff that still serves me well to this day.
JCV: We did a lot of things wrong back then. What did we do right?
Joe Rybandt: I think that we were a nice, well-rounded group of fan-professionals, meaning that there was a wide range of tastes and viewpoints that were given the creative freedom to preach goodness to the masses… and that goodness came in all forms from all different types of creators and comics, true diversity. There was also a good sense of history about the medium in there as well, a nice overall package for sure… No wonder we couldn’t compete! Also, expanding into other areas of popular culture didn’t get us many new readers, but it’s what everyone is doing now and did after… I think for our little corner of the world, that was a good move.
JCV: How did your career progress after Gemstone and before you went to work for Nick Barrucci?
Joe Rybandt: I ended up spending some time in the online commerce world, still dealing with comics at the core, but expanding into other “collectibles” and toys and stuff with the company that became AnotherUniverse.com (before it all went to crap) and then onto SciFi.com. These both involved two moves, one to Virginia and the other to Jersey and I learned a lot about the online space in doing so. It had zip to do with the previous creative energies of the magazine work previous (although that’s what got me hired at AU.com, long story there!), but it was during the online boom and put a couple of roofs over our heads.
JCV: When Dynamite Entertainment started up, did you foresee the presence it would have in such a short time?
Joe Rybandt: I started with the company when it was Dynamic Forces. At that time, the company was doing anything but make comics and I did a little bit of everything as people in smaller companies find themselves doing. The creative started to creep back in to some extent, but I did not imagine that I’d be sitting here working for a top comic book company in any way, shape or form. It was never a goal of mine or anything I pursued. I guess it just never occurred to me…
JCV: What do you do in your current position?
Joe Rybandt: My main responsibility is the comic you hold in your hands with a Dynamite logo on it. From start to finish I’m there (not solo of course, but helping to steer the ship with the talent and then the production team on our end) and that involves visioning the property or license, working to find the right talent to enact that vision, then the art team and right on through to working with the licensors on changes and proofing the book before it goes to press. Week in and week out… I like what I do for sure and get to work with a fantastic array of talent, from the big guns like Matt Wagner, Alex Ross, Garth Ennis and more to the up n’ comers we’re working with like artists Edgar Salazar, Carlos Rafael and others…
JCV: What is an average day like for you, if there is such a thing?
Joe Rybandt: Yeah, there is such a thing, it’s all about routine for me. I have several disciplines that get me through and let me start with those:
Always keep a clear inbox
Always respond to an email immediately when able to do so.
Always end the day with everything for that day in some sort of motion.
So, I’m an early riser (two young kids will do that to you) and up and 6:00 AM and in the office at around 8:30 and the first thing is the morning email and new gathering. From there, it’s a constant motion of juggling new incoming issues and moving the other parts along for the week’s printing and next week’s printing etc. It never stops. It’s kind of terrifying actually now that I dissect it here in this interview. I mean, I’m heading to Disney for a vacation this month and I can’t even think about leaving the laptop at home… The amount of work that’d pile up in my absence would send me off the nearest bridge, and I live near plenty of bridges…
I do try to keep up with things outside comics, I’m very political and like mindless entertainment as much as the next guy, but comics are my world and I owe it to my job to be as educated in that world as I can be. I still hit the local comics shop every week and local comics shows and stuff like that to keep an eye on the world outside my desk…
JCV: Dynamite’s line runs the gamut from licensed titles like Battlestar Galactica to creator-owned such as The Boys. With Project Superpowers, you now have a company-owned component as well. What requirements are different with each of these different types of comics? How does your job change for each?
Joe Rybandt: It’s really all a matter of routing: licensed stuff has input from licensors and that adds a layer for sure to the routing, but once you get past the pitch it’s really a matter of routine, very little deviation from the licensors end. Some licensors are more active in the process and some more “corporate” in their handling of the material. With company-owned stuff like Superpowers has input from us, the company and the talent (Alex and Jim), but it’s a much more creative process as I detail below. The Boys is all Garth and Darick, though there’s always some talk about can we do this or what would this look like that way, etc. Those conversations are the best. Garth is great, so’s Darick…
JCV: When Dynamite started out, you guys attracted quite a few names to work on titles. Now that you have a track record and a pretty impressive list of talent on the roster, is it easier to get high profile creators to work with you? Do you find more of them headed your way without having to chase after them?
Joe Rybandt: Everyone and everything is different, some things fell into place and some things take a lot of work back and forth. I think we are in a place that we attract a certain amount of attention from the fan base, retailers and talent pool but we don’t take that for granted at all. It’s a tough market out there and we’re very lucky that Nick has been such a force in the industry as long as he has and made so many friends and partners over the years that like him and want to work with him creatively.
JCV: What creators have you worked with that in your estimation are underappreciated?
Joe Rybandt: Honestly, I think anyone that’s working is well-appreciated, but I know what you’re saying. These a lot of guys that are so reliable and steady and solid that I’m always happy to have them on a project: Mike Raicht, Brandon Jerwa, James Kuhoric, Leah Moore, John Reppion… and a new guy that we put together with Jerwa on a cross-over that really did an awesome job for a “newbie,” Elliott Serrano.
And on the art side, guys that we appreciate a lot that the fan base are going to appreciate more and more: Carlos Rafael, Carlos Paul, Edgar Salazar, Scott Cohn, Jackson Herbert, etc.
I know each and every one of our colorists is unappreciated because of the work they do under an always tight deadline…
But, morseo than creators, I think characters and titles can be unappreciated due to the hard work that goes into each and every one and how casual it is to dismiss them without appreciating all that work. Not to be overly whiny about it or anything…
JCV: In terms of publishing history, your company is still relatively young, but what’s been your best experience in working on the Dynamite line thus far?
Joe Rybandt: Red Sonja and Project Superpowers for sure, because with both of those I was able to get into the property’s and help steer the vision, be a real active participant before the script is written or a page is drawn. For our crossovers, both with DC/Wildstorm and Marvel, I was in there on the ground floor as well, and it’s more fun to be part of the team than just pushing paper around. And on a lot of the licensed books I push a lot of paper because there’s already a lot of structure on what these characters can and can’t do.
JCV: You mentioned before that you weren’t looking to get into editing comics, but now that you’re there, what do you really enjoy about it and what’s the tedious part?
Joe Rybandt: There’s never any downtime and that in itself gets a little tedious, which is a weird reversal. The thing I like the least about the job is hounding people for the work and having to put up a callous veneer when reasons for lateness are personal. It’s also hard because these people become friends and you have to keep all the separate and focus on the job at hand and judge the work for the work, not for anything intangible… in short, there’s nothing tedious per say, but there can be things that are a real grind for sure.
JCV: Following up on that and going back to your time with Overstreet’s FAN and on the websites, how have those experiences helped you get Dynamite’s books on schedule?
Joe Rybandt: Not one bit, because there are so many moving parts to a comic as opposed to anything else that I’ve done, though the magazine comes close….but when I
think about the team on the mag and the team here, the mag had us out-staffed like 3 or 4 to 1. All that said, we have done a lot better with our schedule but there will always be delays. There are only a handful of guys I can say without doubt hit their marks each and every time.
JCV: One of the projects that took the longest to come out from you guys turned out to be well worth the wait, and that’s the American Flagg! hardcover. Do you hear a lot from other creators about how that series influenced them or is it just a nostalgia trip for those of us who loved it the first time around?
Joe Rybandt: I think it’s both, but I think the influence outweighs the nostalgia for sure. As I said earlier, there’s a lot of stuff I’ve never read, and I know I’m not alone and as such, stuff like Flagg – which I had read, though not the entirety of its run – is finding a new audience today as well as a remembrance from its initial go-around… I’ve gotten to meet and spend a bit of time with Howard [Chaykin] in my time here and he’s an incredible guy and I can see the person in him today who created all that great work over the course of his career.
JCV: Back in the FAN days, you worked pretty consistently to improve your writing. Do you ever see yourself writing comics or isn’t that a direction you’d like to go?
Joe Rybandt: I’ve done some writing, but nothing serious. It’s been this way for me for the last 10 years or so, I do a lot of non-personal writing for “work” and don’t find the time or energy to do anything personal. I’d like to, not sure it’d be comics, but it all comes down to time, doesn’t it?
JCV: How do you see Dynamite’s line progressing over the next few years?
Joe Rybandt: I think this year is a good reflection of where I think we should and will be. Things could change, but the mix this year with strong company projects (Superpowers, Super Zombies, Dead Irons, mixed with the powerhouse that is The Boys and strong licenses give us a nice balance and a nice portfolio for both the direct and mass markets.