Blah Blah Blog – The Mechanics of Comic Book Editing

Here’s another post from my old Marvel blog about the process of editing.

Okay, howsabout we start off today with a little bit of chatter on the mechanics of comic book editing.

Every editor does things a little bit differently, so this is really just a breakdown of how I go about it. And even with that, the particular approach varies depending on the writer. Some guys like to start off with a detailed conversation in which we break down the story in some detail before a word is written. Some guys like to do a beat-sheet outline, a concise skeleton of the scenes in a given issue mostly designed to analyze structure, before writing a full script. And some guys like to just dive in and start with a first draft script. All of these are viable options.

I tend to look at the final comic book as the goal, so when dealing with a script, I don’t get too hung up on things like dialogue polish–that’s something that can wait until later on in the process. At the script stage, what I’m looking at generally is structure and story. Does each scene work? Are the characters reasonably in character? Does the issue build correctly? Does it have a strong opening? A strong close? Does it progress the overall storyline far enough? In general, most scripts go at least one revision draft–though for many of them, the revisons are minor. There’s usually a problem when we have to grind our way through multiple drafts on a given script (though that’s most likely on a first issue, both because there’s usually more lead time, and because you want to make absolutely certain that your first at-bat is strong–you’re never going to have a better oportunity to attract an audience.)

Once the script is in shape, it goes off to the artist to draw, the inker to ink, and the colorist to color. I’ll typically be keeping an eye on it at these stages to some degree, but especially at the penciling stage, not totally scrutinizing every page. It’s not uncommon for me to see a given page for the first time at the lettering stage–keeping an oversight on that sort of thing is one of the functions carried out by my assistants.

It’s at the lettering stage that I do my real work on an issue, in that this is where there’s maximum control over the final end product, and I can react to the text and the artwork in its proper juxtaposition. And it’s in that interplay where disconnects happen most often. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had an excellent script, and excellent-looking artwork arriving, but when you put it all together, the gears weren’t meshing properly. (I had an instance of this just yesterday with a book in the production pipeline.) So this is the time when I’m best equipped to fix these problems.

Things I tend to look for include: are all the characters named? Are they introduced clearly–can you understand who they are and what they are? Do transitions between scenes work–do we know when and where a given scene is taking place? If balloons are coming from off-panel, is it clear who’s speaking? (This is a common problem with modern comics–sometimes you’ll have three panels in a row where the majority of the text is coming from a speaker out of frame, often multiple speakers, and it’s confusing as hell.)

How do these things get corrected? A variety of ways, depending on the circumstances. Sometimes it’s as easy as dropping in a “locator caption” to tell the reader exactly where the scene takes place. In other instances, dialogue needs to be revised to be more clear, and to better interface with the art. Also, balloon placement can be adjusted–English readers read from left-to-right, top-to-bottom, so making sure that the balloons get read in the correct order is also something to keep an eye on–and guiding the reader’s eye through the page using the balloon track is one of the tools at our disposal.

And in certain instances, I may even opt to swap pages and sequences around in a given story, so that the sequence of events makes more sense. The most recent time I did this was in CIVIL WAR FRONT LINE #1–I’d expect that people could suss out which pages were re-ordered now that you’ve been made aware of it, but I’d also be willing to bet that no readers noticed the switch, because the sequence flows better in the current configuration.

More later.

Tom B

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