Interview: Women of BOOM! – Hannah Nance Partlow

Hannah Nance PartlowIt’s the third week of our “Women of BOOM!” feature, spotlighting the many kick-ass women that work at BOOM!, Archaia and KaBOOM! We’re focusing on everyone, editors, designers, writers, artists, you name it! We’re making sure to include the hard-working folks whose contributions are often overlooked in the process.

BOOM! (and KaBOOM! and Archaia) has given us unprecedented access and the chance to ask questions to their staff, and creative teams, to find out why the publisher is so successful in hiring women and their experiences in the comic industry as women.

Up this week is Hannah Nance Partlow, an in-house production designer and freelancer who has hand-lettered such comics as Adventure Time: Candy Capers.

Graphic Policy: How did you get involved in the comic book industry?

Hannah Nance Partlow: I’m sure everyone says this, but “it’s complicated.”

My background is in art – I double-majored in Fine Arts (painting/printmaking) and Graphic Design in college (hence my focus/obsession with lettering and typography), and when I started dating comic book writer Eric M. Esquivel, I naturally started experimenting with the comic medium. It’s the perfect union of visual art and text (referencing my educational background). He and I began collaborating on a few things, and I started attending cons with him right after graduating college. I wasn’t feeling a whole lot of graphic design love at the time, but the comic industry was incredibly warm and inclusive, so I started gravitating more and more toward that. I saw that there was a niche that wasn’t really being filled at the time with lettering – this medium has so much potential to utilize really illustrative lettering and I didn’t see a lot of that – but I wanted to. I started hustling lettering work in comics by talking to creators and publishers, and …here I am.

GP: Did you read comics growing up? Do you read them now?

HNP: Absolutely! I’ve been reading Betty & Veronica comics since I was little. I used to buy the Double Digests from the grocery store every week. I’ve read newspaper comic strips my whole life, and when I was in middle school I started reading manga. I think I read Azumanga Daioh and Chobits first, and Archie comics always. My current pull list is a bit more extensive and diverse: I read Fraction’s Hawkeye, I LOVE the new Batman ’66 series, everything by Daniel Clowes, Francesco Francavilla’s work, Jim Rugg’s work, webcomics, Kochalka, Dorkin, lots of Bongo comics, VizKids’ Hello Kitty line, and of course all of the Adventure Time and Bravest Warriors comics. As a visual artist I’m always drawn to creator-owned and indie/artsy/handmade comics, too.

GP: How did you come to work with BOOM!/Archaia?

HNP: I started working with Boom as a freelancer first. I met Ross Richie at the Amazing Arizona Comic Con in January of this year (Eric was a guest of BOOM! at the show promoting Freelancers, and I was exhibiting in Artist Alley). I literally handed Ross a drawing I’d done on a postal sticker, my business cards and some cutesy leave-behinds (custom drawings and screen-printed stickers, just fun stuff) and introduced myself. I gave some things to Vince Frederick (our former Convention Organizer) and he told me he’d pass it along to Shannon for me.

I met Shannon, Jasmine, and some of the other editorial staff in Seattle at ECCC this year, and passed around my business cards, a few tiny screenprints, personalized ink drawings, watercolor doodles (cutesy leave-behinds are kinda my thing, apparently) . I kept in touch via Twitter, and a few weeks later I got an email from Jasmine Amiri, one of our assistant editors. I’d just finished a project with Marlo Meekins and I think Jasmine saw our Twitter convo, then hit me up to see if I’d ever be interested in hand-lettering for Kaboom. I accepted that invite, tested for Adventure Time work, then got an email from Whitney Leopard (Kaboom’s assistant editor) offering me a job for an Adventure Time mini-series. I was still working in Arizona at the time. Not long after that, maybe a month, I got a Facebook message from Kassandra Heller (a Cartoon Network artist now, she used to have my position at BOOM!) asking if I’d be interested in taking over her position as a designer at BOOM! since she was leaving. She set me up with Shannon’s email… and I sent in a resume. After a few weeks of Skype convos (super colloquial), BOOM! offered me a position and moving incentive, and I packed my bags and moved to Los Angeles.

GP: How would you describe your job for people?

HNP: By day – I’m an in-house graphic designer at BOOM!’s office in LA. I work on trade dress for new comics, print production stuff for singles, comic con displays, business card designs, all kinds of things… BOOM! has pretty diverse needs these days, especially since the release of 2 Guns.

As a freelancer, I’m currently the letterer for the Adventure Time: Candy Capers mini-series and have a few other projects in the works. I do hand-lettering, so that means I write/draw all of my letters traditionally and scan, clean, and place them on the digital art.

It’s an unusual position to be in, working both in-house and as freelancer for the same publisher. I’m paid separately for each, so I’m LITERALLY living a double-life. Like Batman.

GP: For people who want to pursue a career in what you do, what advice would you give them?

HNP: Just make work. Do whatever it is you ULTIMATELY want to do (if you want to write comic books – write comics. Don’t try to break in through lettering or flatting. If you want to draw comics – draw your own characters and stories first – to show editors and collaborators what style you work in). Build a portfolio that’s representative of what your end goal is, and then you’ll be able to show that to the people who can get you work in comics.

GP: Did you have a mentor to help you break into the industry? Do you mentor anyone yourself?

HNP: I wanted a career mentor so badly at one point in my life – but now, I’m glad I never had one person to go to. I’m the type that if I HAD had a one-woman or one-man mentor, I’d probably have just ended up trying to copy their career path and that never works out well. I think it’s for the best that I’ve had to learn from anyone and everyone, all the time. “The power is yours,” and all that.

I’m not currently, formally, mentoring anyone, though I tend to be somewhat didactic in my social media, so I’d like to think that helps other people struggling with the same career issues and aspirations that and have.

GP: Do you think women have a more difficult time breaking in and making it in the comic industry, if so why? And if yes, how do you think that can be overcome?

HNP: I think there are some issues that women deal with in comics than men historically haven’t had to, but it makes me a little nervous that it’s such a hot topic right now. I say that because the act of analyzing different experiences based on gender is itself polarizing. I think that sexism exists – we all face sexist behaviors professionally, personally. The thing to do about it is not to let it get you down, keep working, keep trying to succeed at whatever it is you want to do, and if you’re good people will see that. Who wants to work for a bigot, anyway?

GP: We notice that when it comes to women in the comic industry, BOOM!/Archaia has a lot of diversity present. Why do you think have they succeeded when so many other publishers struggle with this?

HNP: I think that “BOOMChaia” (as we affectionately joke) has a diverse staff because the goal has always been to be a strong company, and we hire a lot of people who are young in their careers. The management team hires people based on their skill set and personality (ability to fit the company culture), so we end up with people from diverse professional backgrounds coming together to produce the amount of books of companies who have twice the size of our staff. Everyone who is hired is an asset, and we all have flux responsibilities. I don’t know why other companies have a hard time with this — it’s troubling.

I’m super proud of this company, but it’s crazy that this is even something to commend — I can’t believe it isn’t the norm to have a diverse office. I’m proud to work for a company that stands out for being equal, but it’s peculiar that it’s even an issue, know what I mean? I think some other publishers try to stick with hiring people who’ve been in the industry for half a decade already, and as a result they have more homogenous employee stats (whereas BOOM tends to “break a lot of people in”).

GP: We’ve heard horror stories concerning women in the industry, have you ever seen or been discriminated/harassed and if so, how did you handle it?

HNP: I don’t handle comic-industry-related harassment any differently than I handle other situations regarding sexual harassment. I tend to be a pretty outspoken person, so if someone is making me uncomfortable (re: sexism in the comics biz), I always make it a point to tell them so. That said, the “booth babe” comments at conventions do get taxing, and the mere fact that the Bleeding Cool awards have a title named “the Prettiest Person in Comics” (or something similar) is pretty objectifying. In terms of personal experience beyond weird looks or catcalls (which I don’t think is unique to comics), as the partner of another growing name in comics (speaking of writer Eric M. Esquivel), I do sometimes get brushed over as “the girlfriend” rather than someone who has her own respectable career, so I’m sensitive about that. I think the best way to respond to harassment related to gender in comics is just to make good work and get your name out there, and to keep the conversation positive. The more equal the industry becomes, the more outdated those gender-based behaviors will be.

GP: What advice do you have for women looking to break into the comic book industry?

HNP: I have the same advice for everyone: Just make good work and promote yourself. Make the kind of work you want to keep making, and show it to everyone. Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram – use them all. Use new platforms. If you want to become “a name in comics” you can’t afford to be a hipster about which social media you use (as much as I pretend to be). Another important point – actually going to comic cons and meeting the people who can ultimately give you work is invaluable.

The same rules apply in the comic industry that apply to the job force at large – Be proud of your work, be confident, and act professionally. Act like a professional before you are one, and people will treat you as such.