Blah Blah Blog – Editing vs Writing

Here’s a post from the old blog on the currency of ideas and what the requirements for a Editor might be. it also includes a concept that was later turned into a FANTASTIC FOUR Special by Dwayne McDuffie.

Editing Vs. Writing

April 28, 2007 | 1:00 AM | By Tom_Brevoort | In General

The graphics interface isn’t working quite right today, so I can’t upload images–which means that I can’t talk about what I was going to talk about. So let’s do something else instead.

Yesterday, in response to my post about the story idea that eventually morphed into a FANTASTIC FOUR SPECIAL (albeit in a greatly modified form) somebody asked if it bothered me at all that this kind of thing happened. And the answer is, not a bit. In fact, it’s the nature of the job, and something you’d better be prepared to do if you want to be an editor of comics. You’re going to be called upon to throw out dozens of ideas, and to fix problems and plotholes in other peoples’ ideas on a day-to-day basis. And, in the end, ideas themselves aren’t all that valuable–it’s what you do with them that really counts. So if you’re going to be so frugal with your concepts and your notions, then you’re not going to be able to get very far in this business as an editor.

At the same time, the editor shouldn’t be writing the books from the back seat, which is a temptation that I’ve seen torpedo assorted editors over the years. As much as possible, you’ve got to make it your mantra that Creators Get The Credit, Editors Get The Blame. And it’s your job to help make the creators look good, but not by doing their job for them. So while it’s good to put various ideas in the air, you also want to give the creators enough freedom to make of them what they will, to improve on them as they’re able to. In the case of that FF Special, Dwayne didn’t simply write my idea–he took it as a springboard from which he built a story that worked for him, and which came from his imagination far more so than mine. As a means of illustrating this, here’s my description of that story concept, from an e-mail to Mark Waid dated 2/5/02, and which I later sent to Dwayne as a starting point in thinking about that Special. As you’ll see if you read the finished story in question, it isn’t the same as what follows:

I’ve also got another idea for a FF story–possibly even for #60, though it may be too involved for that (and let me say right off the bat that I’m in no way looking to backseat write the book–I’m just tossing all of these crazy ideas out so that they go into the overall hopper, and then we figure out what makes sense and what we want to do. So if anything I suggest sounds awful or lame or dumb, just say so). I was somewhat inspired by, of all things, a really nice issue of ULTIMATE X-MEN that I read out today, the narrative wraparound for which was Professor X writing an article about his position on the place of mutants in the world, and his particular efforts in that arena. It had a number of good bits in it, and structurally was so different from what I’m used to seeing in an X-Men story that it made a real impact. And that’s the sort of thing we’re going for with our run, so…

What if we lead off with “My Dinner With Doom.”

Let’s postulate that Reed has been invited to a banquet at the Latverian Embassy by Doom. It’s a day of truce–perhaps the birthday of Doom’s mother, or some particular Latverian holiday or custom that compels the cease-fire.
So it’s a gourmet meal, with a tour of Doom’s personal art collection, recitals, and whatnot–a meeting of cultured, “civilized” men that serves as a backdrop to point/counterpoint their respective points of view, methodologies, and personalities. But what’s really going on outside of the Embassy is a chess game of sorts between Doom and Reed–one in which all of the moves on both sides have been made and put into motion before Reed even arrived. In essence, Doom’s putting some kind of plan into effect, either taking some ground on the global front in some way, or a more directed attack against the FF. And the other members of the FF are all in position to neutralize Doom’s offensive–Reed deduced and anticipated Doom’s every move in the broad sense, and sent his team into the field to counter-punch where necessary while he and Doom met over the truce table.

By the end of the meal, as Doom’s offensive has been thwarted and his internal temperature has been building behind his cool facade, he says words to the effect of, “There is nothing you can do that I cannot!” And Reed says that he at least can stand and meet Doom face to face, eye to eye, with no barriers between them.

And Doom reaches up to take off his Iron Mask, to rise to Reed’s challenge.

And he can’t. He can’t do it. He just cannot get himself to remove his mask and uncover his personal blemish before his foe. And Reed finishes his wine, thanks Doom for the evening, and departs–with Doom seething, and a renewed vow of vengeance in the offing.

Anything there?

As you can see, Dwayne kept the basic idea of the Latverian day of celebration but he made it specific and thematic to the whole piece, he took the notion of the metaphoric chess game and made it an actual chess game that Doom and Reed had been playing in their heads since college, he added all of the action set-pieces and changed the basic structure of the idea, he added in the locket that belonged to Doom’s mother that he was trying to recover from Reed, and he totally changed the end beat. And what he did made for a different, and hopefully better, story.

More later.

Tom B

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