Secret Identities: Son of Hitler Scribe Anthony Del Col on Managing Pop Stars

Comic creators aren’t made: they’re forged. The women and men who devote their lives to sequential storytelling contain a pandora’s box of stories all their own, often reflected in their comics. In Secret Identities, we quiz creators on the most noteworthy, bizarre, and outlandish gigs.

Anthony Del Col is the writer behind Kill Shakespeare and the upcoming Son of Hitler with artist Jeff McComsey. After obtaining an Honors Bachelor of Business Administration at Wilfrid Laurier University, Del Col studied at the Canadian Film Centre and Sundance Institute. That combination of pragmatic business and arts enthusiasm led to a management gig at Chris Smith Management, where ubiquitous aughties pop star Nelly Furtado was a client among other international entertainers. We mined Del Col for stories of tour-bus decadence and whether he can still tolerate songs he’s heard hundreds of times.

You were a manager for a Grammy/Juno-winning pop star who’s sold an obscene number of albums. What did your day to day consist of? How long were you involved?
My entertainment career has taken a lot of turns along the way. Yes, I somehow found my way into one of Canada’s top music management companies, at which I worked for about five years. They initially brought me on board for some finance and funding assistance, and before you know it… there I was, in the music industry!

What was great about Chris Smith Management was that it was a place where everyone would do a bit of everything. I was offered the chance to go on the road with the artists, but I chose to stay at home and work in the office. But that didn’t stop me from getting calls or emails at 3 a.m. when crises would happen (I won’t say what, but let’s just say that a lot of clichés about rock bands are true…).

It was an amazing time—my rock and roll days. Or, perhaps “pop music and hip hop days”? Yes, I helped to manage one of Canada’s greatest musicians, though I notice you didn’t mention her by name. Perhaps this is the Q&A policy? Okay, let’s just call her “Melly Vurtado.” I was part of the team when she released her album in 2006, selling over 8 million albums worldwide and 15 million downloads. I have a number of gold and platinum record plaques with my name on them that I’ll treasure forever.

What was the biggest 3 a.m. crisis you faced?
Alas, I can’t share with you the name of the performer or any of those involved. However, let’s say that it involved a very young back-up band, a big fight, a trashed hotel room, and the local detentions center.

There’s this massive divide between more intimate concert-hall shows and stadium outings, this XY axis where quality of life and complexity correlate, but romance declines. Did you experience that evolution? Do you have a preference?
I was in the industry at a very interesting time. The industry was already changing—hell, it was kicked into changing—because of downloading. This was also just as streaming was about to come into place. So what I found interesting was that artists were looking more at touring as an important element of revenue, not just an “additional” source that would supplement album sales. Okay, I just realized I talked like a businessman there. Perhaps I actually DID attend some classes in business school…

As for the venue size, I’ve always had more exposure to the smaller venues (both in my time in the industry and as a concert-goer). I think performers always preferred the smaller venues because of their intimacy and a closer vibe with the audience. But hey, the dream for everyone is a large stadium show, right? I prefer the smaller locations myself. Glenn Gould (a Canadian pianist) always argued that the ideal performer-audience relationship was 1-to-1 (so, basically, recordings), and I also think there’s some validity to that.

Ultimately, you and Furtado both provide the same service: storytelling. How big a role does music play in your own creative process?
Ah, we are allowed to use names! It’s out! I was part of Nelly Furtado’s management team. You’re absolutely right. A four-minute song is similar to a 22-page comic or a two-hour movie. It’s all entertainment, and it’s all telling a story and making someone feel something. I grew up as the son of a piano teacher, so music’s always been big in my life. Whenever I write, I have music playing (often film scores), and that dramatically affects me as I write, enhancing and sharpening the mood of the particular piece.

Did any of those managerial skill sets translate to creating comics? E.g., keeping elusive talent on deadline, prioritizing expediency over perfection?
Managing “elusive” talent? Oh, I see you now want to talk about my Son of Hitler co-creator Jeff McComsey, I see… Oh, sorry—I thought you said “eccentric talent...”
I learned a lot from my time in the music industry. The man who ran the company, Chris Smith (now the manager of Alessia Cara, who just won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist), was a master marketer, and I’ve applied a lot from my time with him to my ventures, determining exactly what my product is, who will want to purchase/experience it, etc. The other big skill I pried from my time there was, yes, dealing with artists. We/they are all different and have our strengths and weaknesses. It’s all about allowing them to focus on what they do best and figure out how to get the rest of it done.

“I’m Like a Bird” comes on in the elevator. Does your face glaze over with sweet nostalgia, or do you pry open the doors and launch yourself onto the nearest support beam? Be honest.
I feel like you want me to say the latter, right…? But alas, I can’t. Every time one of Nelly’s songs come on the radio, I point it out to whoever I’m with. My wife has gotten quite good at rolling her eyes—she knows exactly when I’m gonna say: “Recognize the song?” In fact, at my wedding a couple years ago, a lot of the music played during dinner was from talent that I helped to manage. It was a glorious little touch. Oh great, now you have me all sentimental and weepy… Perhaps the only way to save face at this point and stop the sentimentality is to pry open the doors and launch myself into the nearest support beam…

(Editor’s Note: Anthony suddenly disappeared at this point in the interview and hasn’t been heard from since…)