EDITORIAL SIMULATION Post Mortem

DISCLAIMER: All individuals, sales figures, situations and occurrences involved in this editorial simulation are completely fabricated as part of the game, and do not in any way reflect the actual real-world opinions, viewpoints or situations involving any of the creators or titles named. THIS IS A WORK OF FICTION!

This is the wrap-up week for our EDITORIAL SIMULATION game, and it’s probably a good thing that it is, too. The first thing that I can tell you is that this all seemed to take a lot more time than I remember it taking in the past. I may just be older now, or the game may have been laid out this time to be more complicated. Either way, I wound up devoting a few hours to it every week for the past ten weeks, so while it was fun, I can’t say that I’m not glad that it’s finished.

I’m going to share a couple of things here and answer some questions from our players and the other people who asked in the responses to our final move last week. The first thing that I can tell you that I learned is that, while it was an absolute necessity given the complexity of the build and how time-consuming it was, the game played better in the earlier incarnations where moves happened every day, rather than once a week. If nothing else, in those earlier games I didn’t have to constantly go back and remind myself of what happened two or three moves ago, as I often did this time around. I also feel like having that additional block of time removed some of the pressure from the players–they had a whole week to think on things and figure out how they wanted to react to any of the challenges I presented to them.

I must admit, I was something of a softie this time around, as there were a couple of planned twists and reversals that I decided were just too cruel when it came time to execute them. I’ll only mention one, though, since I may want to keep the others in my pocket for future installments. The GANGBUSTER assignment for DC player Dave was a bit of a trap. Inspired by stories I’ve heard way too often from creators who’ve worked for DC, my intention there was to let him get a certain way into building the project, then letting him know that another editorial office had also been tasked with the same assignment, and the powers-that-be had decided to go with the other office’s pitch. But having pulled the run out from under Dave with the Priest situation on SUPERMAN, I didn’t feel like I could do something else so similar to him right on top of that–even though that’s often how things go when they’re bad.

Speaking of Dave, as the DC player, he had a somewhat different set of objectives than the others. Here then is the e-mail that I sent him at the outset, laying all of this out:

Hello! As the move that just went live should indicate, you have taken on a unique role in our Editorial Simulation this time out, that of an editor for the competition, DC Comics. 

The mechanics of what you’ll be doing as a DC editor aren’t markedly different from what a Marvel editor will deal with, though the apparatus around you will value different things. And also, your victory conditions are a bit different from the other players. I’m here to tell you a little bit about that.

At least until very recently, the manner in which DC fit within the larger WB accounting structure allowed for them to exist as essentially an R & D development operation for other lucrative lines of business. As such, the publishing end was accredited with a certain percentage of the revenue from DC-related films, merchandise  and media that had been created over the same timeframe. What this means in practical terms is that the metrics upon which you are being judged for performance are a bit different.

With all of that ancillary revenue contributing to your bottom line, you don’t need to maintain as aggressive a profit margin per title as Marvel does. In practice, this means that you can afford to spend more on talent, and carry a weak-selling title for longer and lower on your balance sheet before it begins to become a loss-center. But there is a certain metric of prestige that must be maintained in order to keep DC relevant as a player in the world of popular culture.

Your goals, therefore, over the coming ten moves are to put out the top-selling title in the industry at least once, and to increase your market share to the point where it overtakes that of Marvel and Image, again at least once in the timeframe of play. And you have a relatively large war chest to use on talent recruitment, promotion, or anything else that you might be able to come up with. 

At the moment, here are the sales figures on your three titles in the Direct Market:

SUPERMAN – 65,000

ACTION COMICS – 37,000

LEGION – 45,000

As with your Marvel counterparts, your job is to make good comics, increase your sales and market share, and meet any financial goals put forth during the course of the game. It’s also worth noting that institutionally, DC is more rigid in terms of its bureaucracy, so getting the ship to turn will likely take more time and effort than it might elsewhere. 

Good luck!

It must be said that the one thing I was hoping to accomplish with the structure of this game that didn’t really come through (especially with the disappearance of our Image player) was to create an environment of competition. I was hoping to be able to set up scenarios where the players at the assorted different companies vied against one another for talent and sales. We had a couple of mock-creators change companies during the course of play, but none of the players were really thinking about things in this manner, and so that aspect fell by the wayside a little bit. Ah, maybe next time.

Speaking of the Image player, here’s what I told the Image player that was different from teh above e-mail to teh DC player (though there were some bits that both e-mails had in common; I’ve gotten rid of those for expediency’s sake here):

The mechanics of what you’ll be doing as an Image editor are a bit different from what a Marvel editor will deal with,as it is a creator-owned company. And so, your victory conditions are a bit different from the other players. I’m here to tell you a little bit about that.

As I’m sure you’re aware, Image is entirely based around the concept of creator-ownership. The Image deal gives creators the right to own their work and provides both an exposure platform and services in the form of group discount rates on printing and distribution, a plum promotional spot in a massive distributor’s catalog, and the benefit of an established accounting system. But what they don’t do, except in rare instances, is underwrite the costs of producing the books that they release, and they do not take any greater piece than a standard fee for Image Central for their efforts. What this boils down to in practice is that you can have any three Image Comics that you want, and regardless of what they sell, Image Central will bring in the same amount of revenue to keep the lights on.

But this is a double-edged sword. Without top-selling titles, Image cannot attract the kinds of creators that they need to remain relevant in the field, which means that they will occasionally strike a deal to underwrite the costs of production on a series in order to be able to use the release of that series to maintain and increase their prestige as a place that creators want to go with their projects. As such, a title by relatively new creators would be produced completely out of pocket by those creators and they would see no return on the work until the book made a profit–at which point the whole of that profit, large or small, would be shared among those creators minus the standard Image fee. With big-name creators, agreements may have been reached where Image agrees to pay a particular page rate to all of the creators as the work is being produced. Typically, this is set up as an advance against eventual royalties, but in essence Image acts as a bank for those creators during the production of the books.

What does this all mean for you?

Well, it means that you do have a certain amount of a war chest to go after big-name creators in the field. And it means that the metric that you will be judged upon relies on relevance and prestige. Additionally, you want to maintain a market share of around 10% for the entirety of the game. You don’t need to increase it, but you cannot let it fall too far before Image loses its favored-nation status at the front of the Previews catalog.

At the moment, all of the Image titles presently in the mix have run their course, so you have a blank slate to begin with. The sales recorded for the last month were:

WALKING DEAD – 97,000

Image Title 2 – 26,000

Image Title 3 – 18,000

All right, from here, I want to respond to some of the thoughts and questions that people posted this past week:

Kurt asked:

Something I’d be really curious to see is if any of the creators who were fictionally portrayed here have any reaction to their simulated counterparts and what happened with them.

I can’t speak to the real world completely, but none of the creators whose names were invoked here ever reached out to me–so if they were aware to being used as faux players in this game, they kept it to themselves, at least where I was concerned.

Kyle asked:

It wasn’t the simulation I was expecting. It ended up feeling more like Editorial Fantasy Football, to me, with all of us constantly casting and re-casting our respective series while dealing with a few other problems, and I didn’t really understand how the time scaled. Some things that we spent 2-3 moves on felt like they should only take a couple of days in real time, and then in the next move or two the comic would be out even though I think that would take 2-3 months in real time.

The time scaling was a problem that I just dealt with on the fly, honestly. When this was a daily game, the problem was never that apparent, but in a weekly format, people were often making moves that either needed or inspired a response or counter-move, even if that took events further out than when I had originally intended. So I just adjusted things as we went to deal with those cases as they came up.

At the same time, clearer rules around what was expected from us as editors might have curbed that. I felt that, as the editor, it was my role to talk to creators about the concepts and characters I wanted them to work on, and let them craft the story, so I didn’t get into specific story details in my moves even though I saw the other editors doing it. I’m curious how often an editor would go to a writer with “I want you to write a Captain America book where he works with the Heroes for Hire to fight Vampires and build it into a crossover about the Kree while you’re at it,” versus how often a writer would pitch the idea they have and the editor would fine-tune it but not go so specific as to dictate guest stars, villains, etc. I know IRL there are editorial summits where stories get pitched, so I’m wondering if that is something that was just too hard to simulate here.

Well, the purpose of this Simulation was to try to put you all into the role of an actual functioning comic book editor of 2020 and have you deal with what the genuine editors deal with every day. That does sometimes include coming up with story ideas, but as you just experienced, it also includes dealing with a lot of stuff not directly related to the manufacturing of comic book stories. Part of the way this game came about grew out of me being frustrated with fan Fantasy Football scenarios, where they would cast Alan Moore and George Perez on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN regardless of the utter impossibility of being able to do so. So this simulation was at the outset designed to be an antidote to those sorts of games. By that same token, I needed the player-editors to come up with any and all story material because, quite frankly, I do that all day anyway and I didn’t really want to do any of it. So yeah, we really couldn’t have simulated an actual creative retreat in the game as it is structured–although that’s an interesting notion for a different game/simulation. Something worth thinking about.

Lastly, as a DM, I thought Tom did a very fair job of giving everyone a chance to succeed and have fun, but I almost wanted him to be a bit meaner. No one ever had “the sales on your book are so low you need to cancel it” or “you’ve ignored a specific request from one of the VPs yet again and now they’re talking about whether or not you’re the ‘right fit’ here.” I think Dave over at DC got the worst of it, although reality showed us it could be worse.

As I said, I was a bit of a soft touch this time out. The weekly schedule definitely made that more the case. In the future, though, people shouldn’t expect the same kind of behavior.

Frequent poster BSERUM said

I find the role of an editor to be both fascinating and mysterious. Editors seem to be a frequent whipping boy amongst messageboard rants (and even from disgruntled creators at times) and I wonder if part of the job is to just grin and take it because responding can be a career-endangering activity.

At Marvel, I have a saying, one that I try to drill into the minds of the younger editors coming up: Creators get the Credit; Editors get the Blame. That’s not a complaint, it’s just a statement of fact. The creators are the stars of the movie, the guys out front with their faces on screen. The editors are the people behind the scenes, running the curtains and managing the costume-changes and so forth. If you’re going to be an editor, you need to accept for your ego that you’re not going to be beloved, that it’s appropriate for your creators to get the accolades both for what they do and anything you may have contributed to it, and that the opposite is also true when things go bad. Editors are not supposed to be famous.

I’m also curious about how much the broad strokes of a title’s run is defined by the editorial vs. creative, though I have to imagine this varies wildly depending on the title, creative, and editors involved. I just wonder if there is anything resembling “typical.” Or if that even changes from year-to-year or decade-to-decade.

I can only authoritatively speak for Marvel here, but while I might come up with ideas and directions for characters and series, and the EIC might, or Joe Quesada might, or whomever, most all of the time it is the creators who are driving the bus in terms of the stories they are telling and the directions of the series hey are working on. The editors are there as guard rails, to keep them from driving off the road, and that means there are occasionally conflicts. But most often, those are settled through some manner of compromise. There’s no point in having a creator on a title just to dictate the story to them, and editors who operate that way don’t tend to do well at Marvel at least; it’s not our culture.

At Marvel, do editors get placed on titles or in offices they have knowledge or attachment to? Or is it simply up to them to get up to speed and in love with wherever they’re slotted?

At both Marvel and DC, editorial assignments are ultimately handed out by the EIC/Executive Editor/Publisher. An editor doesn’t get to choose what titles they’re working on, though they can pitch books that they’d want to make, and they can certainly let it be known what books they’d be interested in editing–back around 2000, for example, I made it very clear to both Bob Harras and thereafter Joe Quesada that, should FANTASTIC FOUR become free and need an editor and not come my way, I would start breaking people’s fingers.

Kevin Chiat asked:

1) In the last two weeks, Sal kept mistakenly writing Kate Foster rather than Jane Foster in his moves. Did Tom pick up on that, and if so were you tempted to hit him with a last-minute lettering/printing fiasco?

I saw that, and I could have done something like that, certainly. But especially at the end of the Simulation, I was pretty tired, so the amount of complications I wound up throwing at people really decreased. Earlier on, I might have taken advantage of something like this just as you say.

2) What sort of role did you have planned for the Image player? I figured that they would be based out of Image Central rather than one of the imprints like Top Cow or McFarlane that regularly run work-for-hire books; most creator-owned books at Image seem to be a case where creators hire their own editors (like Chrissy Williams on Kieron Gillen’s books or Will Dennis editing the new Snyder/Daniel book). Would the role of the Image player be more about trying to convince creators to work through Image, rather than a competitor like DC, Boom or IDW?

Hopefully the e-mail excerpted above gives you a sense of what may have been in store for the Image player. But I’m not going to comment on that further, as there might be an opportunity to use those ideas in another game in the future.

3) Any chance of the original Blah Blah Blog editorial sims being uploaded to this blog?

The problem there is that I don’t have copies of all of the entries, and I have none of the player responses> I was hoping at one point that I’d be able to edit together what I do still have into a kind of “best of” clips post, but I don’t really think that’s workable, alas.

Since it came up with the X-Men office, how deeply involved are editors in responding to PR issues like the example with the Wolverine accidental racist image in the simulation or is that something that is more directly handled by the publisher’s communications team.

Everything that played out here had its basis in reality, so whatever methodology I indicated for how these things would typically be handled reflected the real-world as much as possible.

Tim Pervious asked:

How were sales figures measured in this? Based on what? The writers & artist’s previous track records, factored in with a character’s sales history? Curious to know.

I’m not going to give away everything, but I measured sales figures based on my own three-decade experience at doing this job in terms of having an understanding of what was likely to affect orders in the marketplace, especially in how Retailers order product. There were some random factors as well, to help simulate the story or project that just unexpectedly hits the zeitgeist, or the must-have project that fails to ignite on launch. But generally, the by-and-large of things was determined by my gut instinct.

Dave asked:

how close to reality do things like this happen to editors? I’m not sure how contract work really plays into people jumping on and off titles (and I know when you’ve played this in the past the turns go much faster, so I imagine that’s a harder game due to quick thinking as opposed to plotting and planning over a day or two). I actually imagined more of having to correct errors, stop printing lines before mistakes go out (something is colored the wrong color in a panel, something spelled wrong, etc), so the dynamics of the game was an interesting twist I didn’t quite expect. Also, how often do editors get together to plan out storylines that aren’t cross-title? I imagine the Action Comics editor would tell the EIC, but would it be part of the yearly editor planning meetings I’ve heard about, or would it just be between that editor and the EIC? Planning giant crossovers is always fun in our minds, but I can see now the logistical nightmare of getting all the parts moving in the same direction at the same time. I actually had 3 big crossover ideas I kept meaning to bring up (I believe the Mongul story was the best/most fun, so I went with that one), but our turns kept steering me in other directions (which was also part of the fun, trying to keep things on track, adjusting to blind-side twists, pushing for my teams, etc).

Situations with things like contracts can happen like this all the time. Things tend to be handled differently at each of the different companies based on what I understand. I like to think Marvel does it the best, but I’m sure my DC counterparts think their methodology is superior, and my Image counterpart thinks both of us are morons. So it goes. But contracting for talent is a responsibility that entails more than just the work on that month’s issue, it’s a promise of work-stability and creative growth, and so that’s something that everybody takes very seriously, even though there are often times when things just don’t work out as planned.

In terms of line-wide planning, at Marvel we do creative summits two or three times a year with a pool of our most crucial talent, and additional editors-only meetings in-between those. But outside of happening to hear about it in the halls, if you’re editing INCREDIBLE HULK, what’s going on in DAREDEVIL may not have any impact on your world for a very long time, practically, so you may be unaware of developments there. That’s really why there’s an EIC–so that there’s somebody in a position to have an aerial view on the whole line and on story development across the entire enterprise.

I also think the word count was a VERY smart move on your part, as I could’ve easily rambled and over-explained what I wanted several times. I do think 500 words cut me off a bit with some of what I was hoping for, but that also taught me to try and be more precise in my answers (and kept me from giving “either/or” answers, which felt kind of like getting two turns in one answer). But, maybe increase the words to 750 if you do this again in the future. Since I ended up with 5 titles (Action, Superman, Legion, Gangbuster, Val Zod), 500 words ran out VERY quickly, ha ha. Or maybe allocate the word count based on how many titles each player is running (if I stayed at the original 3 titles, 500 would have been more than enough…but I was glad to take on the other titles, and I kind of want to see a Gail Simone Gangbuster line now, ha ha).

The word count limitation was there to simulate the amount of time you actually have to get things done in a working day. In any editorial office, there are always more things to do than can be done, and so you have to use your time wisely and allocate it for the best return as much as possible. In all honesty, with the weekly schedule of this game session, I probably should have pared the word count back to 400 words per move, because you and your fellow players got a lot longer to think about things between moves than would typically be the case. Giving you 750 words would be like allowing you to work weekends.

Speaking of, I’m curious how much your responses to our writer/artist ideas were based on what you knew of the people we mentioned and how much was purely made up for the sake of the game? For instance, does Grant Morrison kind of go incommunicado when starting a story? Or does John Romita Jr do things in a “just to be the good soldier” sort of way (he’s such an iconic artist right now, I can honestly see him taking only projects he’d really want to do and not have to “soldier up”, but that very well could be his personality and work ethic, too).

None of what I did in terms of the specific actions of the faux-creators was true, but it was all kind of true; which is to say, it was all incidents and behaviors that I’ve experienced or seen over the years, and which seemed to fit in with the known personalities of the creators being referenced. For example, Donny Cates has never behaved as I had him behave in this simulation, but if you follow him on line, you can see that he can sometimes be a bit manic–so I tried to capture that in guiding the responses of fake-Donny in the game, so it felt to people like they weren’t dealing with a different creator who also happened to be named Donny Cates (and so whatever knowledge they had about Donny would still be relevant in the game.)

That’s a wrap for this session. Thanks for playing, everybody!

SIMULATION ENDS.

4 thoughts on “EDITORIAL SIMULATION Post Mortem

  1. Thanks again for running the game Tom. Strikes me that Dave was maybe always a little off on his goal of trying to have the top selling book in the industry and leaned too hard on the relevance part of the brief. Though I think taking the Superman books and trying to hit the top spot is a much tougher proposition than had you given him the Bat-office.

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  2. Thanks for the game, gentlemen! I loved every minute of it (and every mistake, too). Thank you, Tom, for putting this all together. I know it was time consuming, and I’m sure you get enough of this in the real world, so it truly was a treat to be able to participate in this! Having only done editing by way of proofing people’s college papers and short stories for publication submissions, this was a very compelling and eye-opening look at the editorial world as a profession. I have to say, if this is what the job is like, then it’s one of the best jobs in the world! I am pretty curious about the harder hitting game and the challenges that would bring! Anyway, we’ve taken up enough of your time, good sir, so one last thank you, and I look forward to reading your other blog posts and tweets!

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