Lysa Hawkins’ journey from lifelong comics fan to Valiant senior editor

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Lysa Hawkins has had a long and impressive career as a comic book editor. Starting at Marvel in the ’90s before switching to DC, she’s currently at Valiant, where she was just promoted to Senior Editor (alongside Heather Antos). Her most notable current project may be Bloodshot, Valiant’s strongest seller, and the basis for Valiant’s first major film adaptation.

Yet the new Vin Diesel movie was hardly a subject of conversation when Hawkins served as a guest speaker for New York City’s Comic Arts Workshop, a Meetup group dedicated to fostering a community of up-and-coming creators with guidance from experienced professionals. In a conversation moderated by myself and artist’s agent (plus former Marvel talent scout) Christopher Allo, Hawkins discussed her career, freelancer do’s-and-don’ts, and much more.

Hawkins began by telling her story of breaking into the comics industry. She loved comics since childhood, but it wasn’t until after college, where she studied mythology (“what are comics if not modern myths?”) that she considered working in comics professionally. She was driving back to her parents’ home in New York when she realized she had been stopping at as many comic book stores as she could on the way. It finally clicked when she saw Marvel’s insignia and remembered that they were based in New York City.

Hawkins found work in a bookstore shortly after returning home, but it wasn’t long before she landed a job at Marvel as an assistant to Virginia Romita, the wife of Hawkins’ favorite artist, John Romita Sr. The lifelong Marvel fan was thrilled, but after being given “about ten minutes of work a day,” it became clear that she was a “vanity hire.” At the same time, Marvel was starting their first layoffs in the history of the company, so Hawkins “went around and learned every job in production.” Eventually, she “created a new position” for herself to help the company transition to digital artwork, known as a digital image controller. “Yes, I was a dick!”

Lysa Hawkins and Chris Allo

The job required her to ensure all copy appeared correctly on the page, but it was also crucial to make sure the artists hadn’t snuck in anything inappropriate. “A lot of times, artists think they’re clever… they want to sneak in a blowjob, they want to sneak in an obnoxious book in the bookcase.” She was happy to have a secure job at Marvel, but it was less fun than it may sound.

Luckily, she was determined to break into editorial. It wasn’t easy. Male interns kept getting promoted before her, and with five editors-in-chief running Marvel at the time, the company was in chaos. She befriended many editors (“that’s your first step to getting into editorial. Making friends. Relationships.)” and by the fourth time a position opened, she was hired.

“Then I had to tell them the truth. I was three months pregnant. I thought for sure they’d say ‘hey, male editorial intern! But to my delight, they said ‘so what’.” In fact, Hawkins was the first Marvel employee to get pregnant during their tenure, and she remained at Marvel for many years.

One of her early highlights at Marvel was working with “legend” John Byrne on X-Men: The Hidden Years. Byrne was directly responsible for her promotion to associate editor. “He said, ‘I don’t want to work with the editor. I want to work with you.’” The longtime X-Men fan also created the X-Men Unlimited anthology, which gave her a great deal of freedom to feature new talent alongside “big name artists… a lot of people’s careers took off from that.” One of her favorite stories from this series was a Cyclops tale by Brian Stelfreeze, despite Hawkins initially disliking the character.

She’s also proud to have “brought Mike Deodato back to comics.” She explained how he had fallen out of favor in the industry after being looked at as a “hack” in the 90s, but she helped him make a comeback with the unique new style that he is admired for today. She joined DC when the “Batphone” rang after the publisher made three prior attempts to bring her into the fold. Birds of Prey was one of her first assignments, and it was Hawkins who recruited a young Gail Simone to pen what became a lengthy, fan-favorite run.

She took a hiatus from the industry some years later, having worked on acclaimed comics like Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke’s Catwoman, but she wasn’t happy. She was making more money, but she couldn’t help gravitating back to comics, attending conventions and even teaching a comics class to children. Luckily, an “out-of-the-blue” call from Valiant made her a comics editor once more.

Following the recap of her career, Hawkins answered a number of questions about what it’s like working as an editor, as well as provided advice to the creators in attendance.

Lysa Hawkins

Besides the importance of creating a body of work to help break in, she emphasized the social aspect. “Go to conventions. Become part of the scene. Hang out at bars, even if you don’t drink. Freelancers are there. They hang out, and they drink, and if you get to know them, you have a foot in the door… I can’t stress this enough. It’s who you know. If people get to know you and like you, they’ll put in a good word for you.”

Of course, it takes more than that to sustain a career in comics. “Just like any other industry, it takes luck, talent, and hard work/determination. Two of these things will get your foot in the door. Luck always gets you in. But luck isn’t enough.”

Bloodshot #1 cover by Declan Shalvey

She also stressed that freelancers must not only hit their deadlines, but communicate honestly with editors. “Don’t lie. All freelancers lie. I could tell you stories that are incredible. But your editor is going to know if you’re lying. People aren’t going to want to work with you if you’re untrustworthy, no matter how great you are… if you can’t make a deadline, tell people the truth. Everybody understands. Life gets in the way.”

“If you could go back to when you were starting out and tell young Lysa Hawkins one thing,” I asked her, “what would you tell yourself?”

“Well, hindsight’s 20/20…” she said. “But I don’t know. I feel like I’m a composite of what I’ve learned. From my highs and my lows. I feel very blessed and very lucky to do the job that I love.”

Thanks to Chris Allo for his guidance as co-host and planner, and Lysa Hawkins for lending her time and wisdom.

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