Welcome to SBC’s The Panel, a chance for you to put your burning questions – comics-related or otherwise – to a group of comics professionals.

The Panel lives or dies by your contributions; please email them to [email protected] and we’ll add them to the list…

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 else?”


Donna Barr:

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.

Okay, 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 a word.

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 grateful.

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 walked out.

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 licking.

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, punctuation-and-spelling-catching, publishing-details-examining, 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.


Mike Collins:

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.


Vince Moore:

Wow, what a question to get a freelancer into trouble!

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 the characters.

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 of.

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 time.

Vince Moore is the writer of Platinum Publishing’s upcoming book, Kid Victory & The Funky Hammer


Alonzo Washington:

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 industry.

Alonzo Washington is the creator of Omega Man and a noted black rights campaigner.


Alan Grant:

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 can.

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 better.”

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.

As a 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 American.


Devin Grayson:

An editor is, potentially, the best friend you can have in mainstream comic production at the major publishing houses.

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 books.


Fiona Avery:

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.

Fiona Avery created No Honor at Top Cow, and currently writes Amazing Fantasy for Marvel, issue #1 available this week.


Stephen Holland:

An editor’s job should be to commission someone based on an appreciation of their skills.

This in itself requires a strong degree of sharp judgement, but after that, hands-off.

If they want to write, they should submit a proposal themselves.

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.


Jesse Leon McCann:

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.

Anyway, that’s 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 Cartoons.


Vito Delsante:

Well, 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).


Brandon Thomas:

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 of that.

Brandon Thomas is one of the writers of Spider-Man Unlimited #3, scripter of Youngblood, creator of Cross and long-time Ambidextrous columnist.


William Tucci:

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 funny.

I didn’t answer the question at all did I?

2004 Celebrates Billy and Shi’s 10th Anniversary with a new bi-monthly mini-series from Dark Horse “Ju-Nen” beginning this May.

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