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February 5, 2012


Mike Catron And Preston White Return To Fantagraphics

imageIn an interview last summer on the EC repackaging-by-author project announced at the 2011 Comic-Con International, Gary Groth of art-comics mainstay Fantagraphics hinted that the company would be hiring a new editor and a new designer either in Fall of that year or Winter of this one. That's come to pass, with Fantagraphics co-founder Michael Catron returning to the fold along with longtime, off-and-on art director Preston White. Both are now working in the Seattle offices of the publisher. White has been on hand for about three weeks; Catron just concluded his first.

Catron's hire is intriguing on several levels. One is historical. Catron was there at the company's start and well into its establishment and initial publishing years, leaving in 1985. (If you don't think of Fantagraphics as a company of historical interest, consider that they're coming up on having been around for half of the comic book industry's existence.) It's worth noting that someone returning to the endeavor in which he participated for such a long, vital and crucial time is not a thing that happens a lot in comics, particularly as personal relationships frequently deteriorate when professional partnerships move into new chapters. So I think it's a nice story that way. Another thing I find compelling is that what I understand of Catron's skill set seems perfect for the editorial role he's taking on. Catron knows comics history and has a passion for it; Fantagraphics is working with a lot of historically-driven books these day. He's well-connected with the generation of comics people represented by Groth and Thompson generally, which might lead to opportunities to work on books with some of those cartoonists due collection, historical and archival treatment in the next several years. Catron's reputation when I worked there -- long after he had departed -- was that he was meticulous and disciplined, things that are always welcome at a small publishing house. Catron's also worked at comics companies outside of Fantagraphics (primarily Apple Comics; I think his work with Mike Gold counts on this score, and I apologize if that's not the case), and should be self-reliant in terms of being able to handle complicated projects. I think it's a great hire, and I'm thrilled for everyone involved.

Preston White's hire represents a lot of those same elements. His is a personality that obviously works very well in the Fantagraphics context, and he was there during a lot of the early years and even a great number of the later ones. White worked at the company well before, during and after my late 1990s stint in Seattle. White left the company after his last term to live with his father in Virginia (my recollection is that White and Groth were originally acquainted as Northern Virginia comics fans when White was young enough to be driven to Groth's place by one of his parents), and suffered the 1-2 punch of losing both parents in a short amount of time. As an art director without Internet experience, White then experienced the vagaries of the recession marketplace, for instance finding employment at a San Diego publication that folded six months after he was hired. White's return to Fantagraphics represents a fresh start and a return to the company to which he contributed art direction work on hundreds of publications over the years.

Mostly, though, I find it encouraging that Fantagraphics had a need and ended up being able to fill it with familiar faces.

imageGary Groth told CR that it hadn't been planned that way. "The simultaneous return of Mike Catron and Preston White to Fantagraphics was pure coincidence," he said. "They were both engaged in shady, scrofulous, semi-criminal activities and were looking to get out while the getting was good and were therefore casting around for a stable, legitimate, high-paying position in a respectable profession. This was clearly beyond their grasp, so they broached the subject with me. It just so happened that we've expanded our line sufficiently so that we could use one additional person in our editorial and art departments. In short, they were at the right place at the right time, or the wrong place in the wrong time, depending on how you look at it."

Groth noted the personal connection in each case. "I met both of them when I was publishing a comics fanzine in my teens. Mike co-founded Fantagraphics with me in 1976 when we began publishing The Comics Journal (nee The Nostalgia Journal) and even before that we embarked on a string of entrepreneurial endeavors together and just generally palled around."

Groth was also enthusiastic about what each man brings to the company. "Mike truly loves comics, knows the history, and has sharp editorial skills, which means I'll be handing off a lot of text editing to him. Mike is far better organized than I am -- which isn't saying much -- so we'll be expecting him to help refine our internal structure and streamline the book-making process from conception to printing. Preston has seamlessly re-entered the art department, expanding upon the skills he's developed over the last 30 years to the higher level of production that we've developed over the last decade or so." He added one more advantage. "There wasn't much of a learning curve for either Mike or Preston, they just dove in and have been working continually since they got here."

"It's not unlike living in a combined remake of Cocoon and His Girl Friday," Groth concluded. "We can all stand around the water cooler and talk fondly of the glory days when we weren't ancient." As Catron put it in his Newsmaker interview this morning at CR -- "... all of a sudden, the original four of us are together again, like the fabled Musketeers."
 
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