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Dark Horse Comics pioneer leads popular PCC class
Photos and Story by James Hill
She is Frank Miller’s editor and worked with him on “300” and various “Sin City” graphic novels. She also serves as editor to countless other well-known authors. And since 2002, Diana Schutz of Dark Horse Comics in Milwaukie has been a Portland Community College instructor.
The 30-year veteran in the comics industry teaches the credit course “Art 217: Understanding Comics Art.” It studies the evolution of comics through the years, looking at cartoonists like Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, and Art Spiegelman, to name just a few, while analyzing how the artwork contributes to the story’s narrative.
“Comics are all about telling stories with pictures,” Schutz said. “And, yes, students do get to read comic books for their homework! My longtime career in comics means I have many contacts in the industry, and I bring in at least one cartoonist during the term to talk to the students about actually making comics. So if Frank Miller were to come see his editor sometime in the next couple months, I’d certainly draft him into a guest lecture.”
As an executive editor at Dark Horse, she is a project manager who is hands-on, overseeing each project from start to finish. She nurtures the process from the story’s initial idea all the way to the printed comic book on the racks. In addition, there’s planning for the future—scoping out new creators, new projects, and new formats, constantly reading new proposals—as well as being actively involved in scheduling and promotion of her books.
“I constantly interface with the freelance writers and artists who actually create the stories, as well as with the other departments at Dark Horse—in terms of the design, production, printing, marketing of the books—to create the most favorable publishing environment possible for the work,” Schutz said. “As a teacher, I try to distill for my students 30-plus years of accumulated knowledge, both of the history of comics and of the mechanics of the art form.”
In her work, Schutz said she has been blessed to work with some of the brightest talents this industry, including the late Eisner, creator of “The Spirit” and generally considered the godfather of American comics. In addition to Frank Miller’s work, she edits Matt Wagner’s “Grendel,” Stan Sakai’s “Usagi Yojimbo,” and Paul Chadwick’s “Concrete,” among others. In addition, she has worked with Neil Gaiman, the author of ‘Coraline’ and recent winner of the Newbery Medal; Michael Chabon, the Pulitzer-winning author of ‘The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay’; and Harlan Ellison, who is known for his writing on the original ‘Star Trek’ television show.
“I was Harvey Pekar’s editor for 10 years on ‘American Splendor,’ before the comic became a movie,” she said. “When you’re working with that caliber of talent, the work is exceptional—and immediately rewarding.”
The genesis for her teaching started when Dark Horse Comics moved Schutz to Portland in 1990. She decided it was a perfect time to go back to graduate school to tailor a degree around her career in comics. While working full-time—as editor, then managing editor, and for a few years editor in chief at Dark Horse—she pursued a master’s degree in communication studies at the University of Portland.
Her thesis advisor was Steve Ward, then-department chair of Communication Studies at UP and now division dean of Visual and Performing Arts at PCC. She also served as Ward’s teaching assistant for a couple classes at UP.
“Steve and I stayed in touch after I graduated,” Schutz said. “So, when I got this nutty idea to teach a course on comics, I approached him. He introduced me to Jim Hicks, the chair of the Art Department, and the next thing I knew, I was teaching. Both Steve and Jim are, and have been, incredibly supportive of my efforts. I couldn’t have done this without their help, really.
“Teaching is a true labor of love,” she added. “I love seeing the light go on in a student’s mind; I love sharing my passion for great comics with my students, and if that passion becomes their own, it’s very rewarding to a teacher.”
And Ward, along with Hicks, is pleased to have her aboard.
“I knew her to be an extremely thorough and careful grader as a teaching assistant for me,” Ward said. “I knew she had great qualities to be a teacher. She is a pioneer in academic study of graphic novels.”