Comic Book Editors?
By Craig &
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SBC’s The Panel, a chance for you to put your burning
questions – comics-related or otherwise – to a group of comics
The Panel lives or dies by your
contributions; please email them to [email protected]
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This week’s question comes
from Freddy Nunez and is as follows:-
“What is the
point of comic book Editors? Should they really have supreme power
over storylines (a la Marvel & DC), are they just there as a
production manager, a guide to continuity – or something
An editor is
just part of the ruck. I don't know why anyone would want an editor.
Useless hyenas, scavenging off somebody else's kill.
so now I have one. I've just become the semi-volunteer (kicking and
screaming) stringer for the Peninsula Daily News out here on the
West End. And they've published my first article. And didn't change
AGH! Donna Barr is now Hildy Johnson. No one is
safe. It's like the time Dan gave me a chain saw for Valentine's
Day. There was wringing of hands and worra worra worra.
Anyway, although that may not seem like a recommendation for
his native common sense, he's a very good editor. He proofs, and
catches punctuation, and gets the nuts-n-bolts all cleaned up. He
doesn't butt into the sense of the story, and he listens to me when
I argue the intent of my prose. Most of the time, I win. Cuz I
usually know what I'm doing, and I have my reasons. And I understand
nuance. But he does a damn good job making sure I don't fluff the
basics while having fun with the writing, and I am eternally
Dan does not, however, start puffing and blowing
about "Editorial powers" or "Editorial "Perogatives" like he is some
kind of Officer of State or "get his back up" as though he had the
right to do that (and we KNOW whom I mean when I say this, but I've
already mentioned names, and you'll just go have to hunt them down
yourselves, nyah nyah). One would-be editor used to cram latinate
phrases into Ed.'s own writing, and it was obvious Ed. had no
blinking idea what the hell Ed. was doing. It had the ignorant gall
to walk up to me one day, put its hand on my shoulder and say, very
seriously, "Donna, I want to talk to you about your writing."
"Fine," I snapped. "Doesn't mean I'm going to listen." I
finished up the data base I'd been building for Ed.'s co-op (oh, I
am hellish fast on zee keyboard), took an old Mac as payment, and
This person had done ONE -- count 'em -- ONE
well-known story years ago, and the only reason this person sits and
signs in front of long lines is because everybody is drooling over
the artist's story. The artist is well known. It is the kind of mind
that becomes an editor who hyenas off somebody else's fame and work,
and then tries to push others around on it. The do-nothing or
do-little middleman who has power issues. The genre writer who
refuses to recognize that the REASON their work is so well-received
is because thousands of other artists and writers have done the
leg-work and the PR, building a market for decades, and perhaps a
market is so thirsty for that genre that they'll take anybody, no
matter how half-assed, and they look down their replaceable noses at
people who have been in the biz for 30 years and still have to do
janitorial work because they're 30 years ahead of the market and
what the market can sell (Donald Duck has been around for 80 years,
and at one point Disney was bankrupt (and the Diz got thrown in the
slammer after WWI for buying helmets off German soldiers and faking
them up as bloody war souvenirs, so his show-biz and tourism
instincts were always good)).
And I'm not talking about me.
I'm talking about amazing colleagues who have more than paid their
dues and don't get pay-back, and whose shoes the biz should be
Anyway, the Bad Editor -- the kind of mind that not
only gives no credit, but scarfs up everybody else's. I've seen
editors who poke their little know-nothing hands into projects just
so they could say they'd been on it and to back up their usually
overblown paycheck. Snakes. Creeps.
And they treat the
working artists and writers like dirt. Like the actual creators who
have the brains and do the hard work OWE them something, the useless
replaceable scumbags. Oh, the things they've done to my colleagues.
They should be strangled at birth.
Don't get me started. No,
just DON't get me started. You don't want to hear my real opinion.
But I will add again that a hard-working,
layout-critiqueing, production-managing, continuity-following editor
is worth his or her weight in gold. I don't know what else to say.
They make things go so smoothly you never notice them. They don't
get enough credit.
Okay, I'll credit one right here. Edd
Vick of MU/Aeon Press. Who keeps swearing up and down he'll stop
publishing, but cannot get off the ink. He's gold. He's sterling.
And Joey Manley at http://www.moderntales.com/
-- Pure platinum, set with diamonds. I can't say enough good about
either one of them.
We just don't have enough of 'em. Is
there any way we can clone them -- and kill all the others?
Donna Barr has books and original art at www.stinz.com,
webcomics at www.moderntales.com, www.girlamatic.com, and has POD at
www.booksurge.com Nothing she won't try, at least once.
Comics editors on books that feature
licensed characters or company owned properties are there to protect
the integrity of the franchise (to make it baldly industrial). This
means overseeing storylines and maintaining continuity. I don't
think things have changed much in that respect for decades. Some
editors are more hands on- actually directing plots and events,
others work with the writer and artist to move things along. I don't
see this as a bad thing: it's just a commercial reality. You work in
that arena, those are the rules.
In creator owned books, the
editor is there as the link between the creators and the company,
serving the production manager role. Clearing copyright on say, song
lyrics used in a story, or checking on payment schedules.
Mike Collins is currently artist on 'American Gothic' for
2000AD, and producing a crime fiction graphic novel for Westwind in
Norway, as well as providing regular illustrations for Future
Publications and Doctor Who Monthly.
Wow, what a question to get a freelancer into
Well, if you're talking about an editor at one of
the majors (Marvel and DC), then you are talking about the
representative of that company. The company owns those characters
and has certain ways they want the characters represented. So that
editor is the guardian of the company's interest and desires.
Meaning they do have control over the stories and how the characters
are portrayed. No avoiding that. You can have trouble in this
situation when the company isn't sure what they want done or when
the creative personnel have ideas that they know they can't do with
Otherwise, I feel editors do whatever job is
asked of them. For some indy titles, that editor may be little more
than a production manager. Or someone to bounce ideas off
The job of an editor ultimately depends upon what the
creative situation is. I've acted as editor for friends trying to
create comics, where I felt it was my job to make sure they got
their point across in as clear a fashion as possible, with the
minimal number of changes. I'm also dealing with a situation where
I'm being edited more tightly, in order to achieve the company's
goals for the story. So I'm seeing editing in new ways all the
Vince Moore is the writer of Platinum Publishing’s
upcoming book, Kid Victory & The Funky Hammer
Some editors are the devil that just want
to create the same machine that brings in money and others make sure
all the words are correct. I think there should be a balance between
the two. However, they are very important to the
Alonzo Washington is the creator of Omega Man
and a noted black rights campaigner
The editor is the "cushion" between freelance and publisher.
The editor is--or should be--the freelances’ champion in the ongoing
battle against work-for-hire publishers. The editor not the
writer/artist takes full responsibility for everything that goes
into his comic. He has to make everything run on schedule. He has to
understand that his title needs to make a profit, and be able to
work within often derisory budgets to produce the best title he
It's the editor's job to come up with new storylines and
characters to feed to his freelances; he also needs the ability to
inspire them when they require it. He should be willing--and
able--to rewrite the work of any contributor (at least if they don't
want to do it themselves). He needs to have the bottle to say to
even the greatest writer or artist "That's pish. You can do
He handles the production of the comic, all mail and
telephone enquiries, liaises with printers, reviews artists' work,
tries to help would-be writers attain their potential, and
represents the comic in the media or elsewhere whenever called upon.
He handles all of the production/trafficking work. It's his job to
establish rapport with his readers.
When these qualities come
together in a good editor--Pat Mills on 2000AD, Denny O'Neil on the
Batman titles--we get good comics from happy creators.
freelance writer for 25 years, I'd argue that a (good) editor is
worth more to a comic than any writer or artist (at least where an
anthology comic is concerned).
Alan Grant, writer of
Dredd, Batman, and the slightly mad Doomlord, can be seen currently
with Arthur Ranson on Judge Anderson in the Judge Dredd Megazine,
and the superb Com.X trade collection of The Last
An editor is, potentially, the best friend
you can have in mainstream comic production at the major publishing
In addition to taking care of an almost endless
amount of trafficking (made all the more necessary and complex by
the number of people generally involved with the creation of a
comic), a good editor can inspire a creator to find his or her
unique voice and produce his or her unique vision. A good editor
will promote team spirit among the creative personnel and champion
them to the publishing house administration (usually one or, at
most, two people higher up the food chain who, in my experience, are
often much more responsible for and guilty of the sins we attribute
to bad editors, such as misplaced creative ambition and a
detrimental insistence on fiercely homogenized material). A good
editor is knowledgeable in the mechanical aspects of both writing
and art, can clearly explain his or her company’s objectives to the
creators responsible for carrying them out, and is responsible for
maintaining not just an awareness of continuity and individual
character status quo, but a sense of how the status quo was created
and what purpose it may be serving (which is to say, a good editor
does not insist on change just for the sake of “shaking things up,”
nor on conformity just because “that’s the way it’s always been,”).
A good editor is willing to push him or herself, his or her
creators, and his or her company past comfort zones, and is also
capable of reigning things in when need be. Editors have access to
the pulse points of the creative talent, the management, and also
the readers, and the opportunity to use this information to broaden
their own ideas about character, story, and product potential. They
are in position to be mediators, advisors, advocates, superhuman
office assistants, muses, and, yes, traffic cops. At their best,
they carry and promote a vision for the books with which they are
associated by hiring and supporting a creative team they trust and
believe in (not, of course, by dictating or making typists out of
their writers). They understand the structure, strengths, and
limitations of the medium, and are confident that their
behind-the-scenes support is influential without feeling the
additional need to “add their mark” to every script and art piece,
or suggest arbitrary changes to stories just to feel as though
they’ve justified or asserted their presence. A good editor is
nearly invisible, and as such, underappreciated and over worked. And
although like all best friends they are also, potentially, worst
enemies, their worth becomes clear pretty quickly the minute you
attempt to remove them from the equation. Believe me, the same thing
cannot be said for some of the other players we regularly laud.
Devin Grayson writes exclusively for DC, the
reinvigorated Nightwing being amongst her current crop of
Editors aren't what they used to be ... so
the writers always say. There's a bit of truth in that though. My
favorite editors are the ones who collaborate with me, and who let
the story be my vision while they ride herd on things that they
can't allow as a publishing company. Depending on the house, some
can't swear, some only want your characters in a thong, some want a
no-kill policy on their heroes ... you get the picture. A good
editor will let me tell my story without insisting that it be told
their way. Facilitating a story and wanting to write a story are not
the same thing at all.
When I edit another author, I'm not
after the story I would tell. If I wanted that, I'd write it myself.
I'm interested in letting the author tell the story they want to
tell. I was a continuity editor on Babylon 5 for a couple of years
and the concept of lording over storylines was never an issue.
Mostly because the writers like Greg Keyes and Jeanne Cavelos would
come in with their homework done. They'd have researched continuity
and crafted a tale that was their own but that bowed to what had
come before. We had a saying as archaeologists that the goal was to
stand on the shoulders of our predecessors without defecating on
their foreheads. That's what a good writer and editor do with each
other when it comes to keeping things in continuity.
Avery created No Honor at Top Cow, and currently writes Amazing
Fantasy for Marvel, issue #1 available this week.
An editor’s job should be to commission
someone based on an appreciation of their skills.
itself requires a strong degree of sharp judgement, but after that,
If they want to write, they should submit a
I’ll read anything written, for
example, by Diana Schutz, but when reading any given comic, I want
to read its writer, not its editor.
Stephen Holland runs
Page 45, a comic shop in Nottingham, with Mark Simpson & Tom
Rosin. He has a monthly column in Comics International.
If an editor is working with a licensed
property, their job is to protect it and know it inside and out. So,
when I'm writing Marvin the Martian, and I have him say, "That's a
bummer!", my editor should correct me and get me to write something
along the lines of "That makes me so very, very angry!" In this kind
of situation, the writer doesn't have a whole lot of leeway when it
comes to who wins a disagreement. The writer can either do things
the editor's way, or walk away if it's unacceptable. After all,
you're playing with the editor's toys at their house.
Creator-owned projects are another story altogether. The
writer and editor must have a close working relationship. They must
be able to discuss story arcs, how each issue ends, possible
confusing dialog or plot twists, and so forth. The editor should
never edit and let the work go to print without consulting the
creator first. In this situation, the writer and editor must develop
a trust in one another for it to work right.
the way it should work. I've worked with editors who were
mainly traffic control officers, making sure the work is in by the
deadline. This is a terrible situation. Some of these editors don't
even bother to make sure things are spell-checked correctly. You
feel like a jerk with no back-up when you make a simple error and it
reaches print for all the world to see.
Jesse Leon McCann
is a New York Times Best-selling Author. He's currently editing the
fourth Simpsons TV Episode Guide for Bongo Comics/Harper Perennial,
and writing stories for DC Comics' Looney Tunes and Cartoon
I've only just begun working with editors, so I don't have too much
to say on the subject. I've had good experience with one more than
another, and here's my ideas:
One, they should let the
writer write, but rein them in when they get out of hand...whatever
that may entail for that company.
Two, they should be there
to help cultivate the talent.
Vito Delsante's creator
owned mini-series, "The Mercury Chronicles", with artist Jim Muniz,
is now in development with Image Comics and will hit stands late
this year. "Batman Adventures Vol 2: Shadows and Masks" (DC Comics)
is out now! He will next be seen in Reflux Comics #3 (August) and in
X-Men Unlimited #5 (October).
Editors have quite possibly THE most
important job in comics. They have the ability to steer the
direction of the titles they edit, and if you think about any great
creative run that hits a work-for-hire project (Morrison on X-Men,
Bendis on Daredevil, anything early Marvel Knights, etc.) it starts
at least somewhere on the editorial level.
While probably no
one, even the creator, should enjoy "supreme power" over storylines
for titles that aren't creator owned, I think a lot of people have
this bad feeling about the prospect of editors "writing" their
books, or holding such a strong idea about its direction, that they
might as well be. Really nothing can be done about this, because
they serve as the gatekeepers, and like anything, you can only hope
that they're taking as many creative chances as their companies are
allowing them to.
Great power, great responsibility, and all
Brandon Thomas is one of the writers of
Spider-Man Unlimited #3, scripter of Youngblood, creator of Cross
and long-time Ambidextrous columnist.
I can remember the power held by editors when
I was first breaking in. It was around 1992/93 and these chaps felt
they were the bees knees. Never in my lifetime had I come across
such an arrogant group of folks. It was then that I decided to go on
my own. Once at a Con an editor for Marvel (who shall remain
nameless,) totally embarrassed me to his peers by holding up my
portfolio and screaming, "if I see another fight in a warehouse, I'm
going to kill someone." Funny thing is that he gave me a call a few
years later asking for a job!
But more to the point, editors
are the quarterbacks for the industry. Dave Land at Dark Horse has
been nothing short of a saint, dealing with me and putting my
erratic work procedures into a cohesive final project that makes me
look pretty gosh-darn good.
I owe him so much it isn't
I didn't answer the question at all did
2004 Celebrates Billy and Shi's 10th Anniversary with a
new bi-monthly mini-series from Dark Horse "Ju-Nen" beginning this
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