A post from my old Marvel blog concerning the art and science of editing.
Let’s talk about the secrets of good comic book editing for a little bit.
It’s a strange and misunderstood science, editing comic books. Nobody’s written any books about it, and few in the outside world know all that much about it. Typically, when you hear people talking about the editor, they’re usually saying one of two things: 1) The editor is too intrusive. He’s preventing the creative team from doing what they want to do. Why won’t he leave them alone? 2) The editor’s not doing enough! He needs to stop that crazy creative team from doing what they want and ruining the characters and the books that way. When’s he going to get off his ass?
The reality of the situation is a little bit from column A and a little bit from column B, and a bunch of stuff you don’t even think about from over in column Q.
The first thing you should understand if you’re thinking about being a comic book editor is the following rule, one that I tend to toss off an awful lot around the office: CREATORS GET THE CREDIT; EDITORS GET THE BLAME. That’s not meant as a complaint, but rather as a statement of fact–a statement that you’d better get used to and come to terms with if you want to do this professionally. The editor’s really supposed to be the invisible guy guiding the production from behind the scenes–he’s not meant to be seen directly. Stan Lee changed that perception somewhat, but I’d be willing to wager that the change he made wouldn’t have been effective if he hadn’t simultaneously been the writer on all of those comics at the same time.
The editor is the most put-upon of all the people in the production chain of making a comic book, in that he gets to hear it from both sides. The creators will complain about short deadlines and sleepless nights and prior commitments, and the publishers will come down on him for late books, or drooping sales, or bad relations with the talent.
Which brings us to rule number two, something that Mark Gruenwald used to say when he taught at Assistant Editor’s school a decade ago: THE EDITOR TAKES THE CRAP, SO THE EDITOR MAKES THE RULES. The editor is the voice of the company to the creators, he’s the one that signs the vouchers and gets people paid, so it makes sense to be respectful towards him. At the same time, the editor is the advocate for the creators in their dealings with the company, whether in a case where somebody’s payment got screwed up, or when somebody has a particular story they want to tell with a given character.
The trick to assembling a good comic book starts with the selection of the creative team. If you get this right, then 90% of your job is done. And finding the right people for the right books takes a special sort of insight. It’s always revealing when fans play backseat editor in those “What would you do if you ran Marvel” threads, in that there tend to be three outcomes: 1) The only people a given fan wants to see on a given book are old favorites who’ve worked on the series years ago, 2) The fan has a handful of creators who are favorites and will put them on assignments without much rhyme or reason, without careful consideration of a connection between the creator and the series, and 3) The fan puts together creative teams that simply wouldn’t work in real life (Alex Ross painting any book monthly, or Peter David and John Byrne working on a series together.) Editors are mighty, but we don’t possess strange mind-control powers.