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REVIEW: Slate's Working Series

Slate's Working podcast is a series of interviews with people in all kinds of professions, from clown to nuclear nonproliferation expert, and in 2017 host Jacob Brogan spoke with eight people in comics or comics-related jobs.

Working podcast
Jacob Brogan, host
Slate Magazine, 2017
"How Does a Batman Comic Book Writer Work?" with Tom King
"How Does a Batman Comic Book Penciler Work?" with David Finch
"How Does a Batman Comic Book Inker Work?" with Seth Mann
"How Does a Comic Book Colorist Work?" with Dean White
"How Does a Comic Book Letterer Work?" with Deron Bennett
"How Does an Independent Comics Artist Work?" with Benjamin Frisch
"How Does a Comic Book Store Owner Work?" with Jared Smith
"How Does a Comic Book Librarian Work?" with Caitlin McGurk

The first five interviews represent the basic steps of creating a mainstream comic book: writing, penciling, inking, coloring, and lettering. As the guests point out, there are variations on this formula, but it's a common enough arrangement that it can be understood as the norm. Along with of information on each step, the creators talk at length about how their contribution fits into the whole process, like how colorist Dean White needs to refer to the script for narrative and emotional context rather than only thinking about the inked artwork he's given to work from.

The sixth interview looks at the whole process again, but this time with an independent cartoonist who does all five steps himself, revealing notable differences in the creative and practical aspects independent and mainstream work. The seventh episode is an interview with a comic book store owner, which yields a surprising amount of relevant information for librarians on topics like customer service, collection development, and reader's advisory (though he has a different vocabulary for these activities).

The final interview with Caitlin McGurk of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University is surely the pinnacle for anyone reading this. McGurk is Associate Curator for Outreach and Assistant Professor at the library, a job that includes connecting with donors, providing materials for courses in various departments, curation, promotion, and much more. Her work is squarely in the academic archival setting, but parts of her responsibilities will probably have relevance any variety of librarian who works with comics. For many of us, McGurk's position will represent a dream job, or at least a sign of hope that this kind of thing exists out there in such a high-profile way.

While these interviews are awkward at times -- the guests aren't here for there oratorial skills  -- it can help illustrate the idea of "this is just what I do" and even adds some weight to the information they're relaying since they're not concerned with sounding impressive. There is some jargon in the conversations, but Brogan or the guest generally catch it and clarify, which then adds to the usefulness of the discussion. I recommend this series to every comics librarian (and honestly to anyone else!) for its breadth, depth, and quality of information on the comics industry, and even more for the chance to hear what it's like to be a working comics librarian.

Image of Caitlin McGurk from