THE BIG INTERVIEW: Grayhaven Comics Editor James O'Callaghan Speaks To ICN

ICN is delighted to present a talk with Grayhaven Comics lead editor James O’Callaghan. Irish born and bred James got published as a writer with Grayhaven before being thrust into the role of editorial. James graciously gave his time to tell of his experiences getting to where he is at Grayhaven to us and with Grayhaven Comics touting themselves as ‘By Creators, For Creators’ this is one interview that budding creators dare not miss.
David O’Leary: Hi James, thanks for joining us for a chat.
James O’Callaghan: No problem David, happy to be here.
DO’L: As a lead editor at Grayhaven Comics, you got the position after being published in The Gathering Volume 4. Firstly, how did the job for volume 4 come about and what was the story?
JO’C: Well originally I was supposed to be a part of volume 2 but had to back out due to personal problems. When submissions started up for volume 4 things had died down a little for me, so I decided to jump back in and pitched directly to our publisher, Andrew Goletz who was the sole editor at the time. Andrew picked the pitches he liked the most and the rest is history.
The story was part of our first horror anthology. I wanted to go with something that used to scare me as a kid. Being trapped somewhere with no way to get myself free and no help coming. So the story was about the aftermath of a car accident near a small town. A guy flips his car after swerving to avoid a kid that suddenly runs in front of him and gets trapped. At first he figures help will come from the town, but none does. As the story goes on we find out why, which I won’t spoil here, hahaha.
DO’L: Did that volume represent your first time published?
JO’C: It was my first proper published comic work. The first time I’ve been published on paper. I’ve had a few one page comics published online on the IDW forums for the Transformers Mosaics project, but those were just spur of the moment kinds of things. The Gathering was my first serious gig.
DO’L: The same volume was notable for being the return to comics for former Spectacular Spider-Man writer and Marvel editor Glenn Greenburg. Did having that calibre of talent on the issue make being published at that time that bit extra special?
JO’C: I’ll be honest. Originally I missed a lot of the announcements Andrew had given because at the time I only interacted with him in the DC Comics megathread on the Brian Bendis messageboard, so I didn’t know when I pitched that Glenn Greenburg was in the issue too until near the time for the script deadline when Andrew mentioned it one day. But once I found out, I half froze, half did a little boogie. I’d enjoyed what I’d read of Glenn’s work, mainly his Rampaging Hulk. And I’m a huge Marvel fanboy. So being in an issue with him was a huge pleasure, and definitely one of the special highlights of working on the issue. He even joined us for a signing at New York Comic Con and the guy was a blast to talk to.
DO’L: It is an achievement to move from contributing to a book to editing a book in one swift move. What were the circumstances of that move to editorial?
JO’C: It’s a bit of a long story actually. At first the Adventure issue was to be an anthology just like the rest, edited by Andrew as the others had been. It was going to be many creators doing their own story. Everything self contained. So I pitched and again got accepted. A little while afterwards though, Andrew sent a message to a few of us telling us that he was thinking of cancelling the issue and going with something else. Of the themes we’d done and were planning to do, Adventure wasn’t getting as much love from people as he’d hoped. Even with the few people that were showing interest there wouldn’t have been enough meat to the issue. So Andrew floated the idea of cutting the issue and we could move our stories to another volume, or keeping it and trying something different like making it one cohesive story. But considering some of the stories seriously conflicted with each other he didn’t think that was doable.
I asked the people he’d included in the message to see their pitches and managed to work out a way to keep almost everyone who’d initially been accepted. A few moved on to other volumes, a few tweaked their ideas, but in the end it looked like it could work. Andrew liked what I’d managed on such short notice and said he wanted me to take the lead on the issue. Not long after that he sent me an email telling me he wanted to bring me on board officially as an editor and I gladly accepted.
DO’L: You are editing the Adventure and Dark volumes for Grayhaven this year. How are you finding the process of finding and guiding projects so far?
JO’C: Stressful. My long, luxuries locks are about two tugs away from leaving me bald, hahaha. Jokes aside, it’s been great. Both projects have been completely different animals, so their insanity isn’t too bad. Adventure required a lot of work to make the stories connect. And there was a lot of last minute “Oh crap, I didn’t even think about this!” emails from people. Mostly me. Stuff that would be completely obvious in general but with so much back and forth got lost in the shuffle. But once everything got sorted out, the teams did a fantastic job.
And with Dark, we’re back to our standard anthology. Since this is a special oneshot, not part of The Gathering itself, things are a little different. We’re going for a more mature type of book. When I’d discussed it with Andrew at first I described it as more mature like 2000AD than mature like Punisher MAX or Preacher. So creators are working at a nice, comfortable pace for themselves. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some new people on this issue and so far everyone is doing great work. Final script deadline is coming up soon, so soon I’m looking forward to the artists getting a chance to get started. In some ways this is a lot easier to manage than Adventure, but at the same time, once we’re closer to the printing deadline, I’m sure the same stresses will start to show and my hair will suffer again.
DO’L: Are you content editing for the moment or will you have you a project upcoming?
JO’C: Right now I’m not planning on returning to writing. It’s been an incredibly rough couple of years for me, and I don’t feel that my head is in it enough to write something I’d want to see published. But I’m slowly working on a script for a webcomic for the Grayhaven website, and I helped out on a script for an anthology our newest editor, Erica Heflin, has been working on in her own time. The story is written by my best friend Sean Leonard, who’s from Bantry in West Cork and he’ll also be in the Dark Anthology, and has some more work coming from Grayhaven down the line too.
I’ll likely start writing. I’m always wanting to. But right now editing is my sole focus and I don’t see that changing, at least not this year.
DO’L: I know you began as an artist and moved to writing. Do you ever plan on picking up a pencil again?
JO’C: Again, I might. But it won’t be for anything other than messing around at home. It’s been a long time since I was able to draw anything good. I’m not sure why, because I used to be quite good according to a lot of people. But these days I’m not even able to draw a stick figure. If I do, I won’t be doing so to make a living or draw a story or anything.
DO’L: Between yourself and fellow Irishman Glenn Matchett, both of you have found your way stateside to Grayhaven. Are you looking to take submissions from new creators from over here for upcoming projects?
JO’C: Oh most definitely. We were extremely fortunate to meet Andrew online and have the chance to be a part of this, but that doesn’t happen for everyone. It can take a lot of work, a lot of years and a lot of traveling to get even the kind of break we’ve gotten with a small publisher, just to get something published to show to an editor at a convention.
Andrew and the rest of the Grayhaven staff are doing what they can to get the book more attention over in the US. Myself and Glenn are doing what we can to get us attention over here. I’ve already contacted what few comic shops I know about to see if they’d be interested in carrying the books and I’m working on attending whatever conventions I can afford too. Glenn’s doing the same. And part of that is to get more Irish creators aware of us so they can pitch to us. Already my girlfriend Christina O’ Donovan and my best friend Sean Leonard have pitched. To other editors, so there’d be no bias on my part before anyone wonders, haha. So they’ll be published over the course of the next year or so. I’m hoping that come next year, we’ll be able to make the convention circuit in Ireland and the UK and make that a regular thing to get more creators interested in working with us, and more people buying the book.
DO’L: Working for a small press publisher in tough economic times, does it put pressure on you to ensure that your books are the best they can be and does it make the stories/creators selection process more selective?
JO’C: Since the company is based out of the US, I honestly don’t tend to think too much about how tough the economy is. I know it is, and I know it’s hitting comics hard, but I don’t think about it. I can barely keep track of what’s going on here in Ireland. I just know that if nothing else I want the books to be the best they can be. The point of Grayhaven is to give people what will most likely be their first published work. And I don’t care who you are, your first work is always going to be rough. So for me, the tough economic times don’t even factor in. All I care about is helping make the books good and doing what I can to help someone new produce a story that while down the line they might want to forget happened, right now they can look at and say “This is my first published work” with a smile on their face. 
As to making things more selective, we are and we’re not. As I said above, we’re all about providing an entry point to the industry for new people. That’s what started The Gathering and that’s what we’ll be on the day the world ends or we close up shop. We’re going to work on making sure the books have a strong set of creative teams between the pages, but the flipside to that is we also want to give new people a chance as often as possible. To be honest though, a lot of the new people that come on board are fairly talented people. So quality wise it’s worked out fairly well for the most part.
However, there are going to be times when we want to produce a special issue, like Dark say, where we might prioritize places to people who have produced solid, consistent work for us or people that are working to improve their craft because they want to make a serious go of it in the industry.
DO’L: Equally, do you find Grayhaven’s vision for the future to be encouraging in what is largely a niche industry?
JO’C: I do. I won’t lie, there are times when the editors are emailing each other and I know two of us want to strangle the others because we disagree on something. But within an exchange or two we’re back on board with each other because at the end of the day, we’re having fun and doing what we can to help people get into an industry that is seriously bloody difficult to get in to. These days it doesn’t matter how much talent you have, you have to either know someone or be lucky enough to get noticed by an editor at a convention. Most companies don’t take submissions these days. They can’t, for legal reasons.
Andrew’s main goal is one shared by the entire staff. We’re all serious about helping creators get noticed, and making some fantastic books along the way. And some of the stuff we have planned or are working towards are really impressive.
DO’L: What is the next opportunity readers will have to get their hands on one of Grayhaven’s books?
JO’C: Our next volumes are actually coming out in fairly quick succession. We had a bit of a post-Christmas snafu, and we’ve been working hard to get back on schedule. So we have Myth and Sci Fi shipping in the next couple weeks. Fairy Tales will be coming out soon after that. And Adventure and Silver Age are pretty much done, so should be ready to ship at the end of March/ start of April.
You can order our comics directly from our website
In the meantime we have regular webcomics running, which are done by creators involved in the issues, including Beacon City Chronicles which is co-written by Editor Glenn Matchett and Ray Goldfield, with art by Kent Holle.
DO’L: Thanks for the time to talk with us James, take care.
JO’C: Thank you for the opportunity, David. It’s been a pleasure.