Part One

Welcome back to week #59 of What Th--? The Column That Keeps On Giving! A few of the standards first. I still need more questions that I can answer in this column. I don’t generally review comics, and I don’t talk politics here. I talk writing. Art. Comics. TV. Movies. And a few other things that interest me. So it helps if you send in topics you’d like me to discuss.

Second, I want to remind everyone about the What The Hey message board. I sign on every week or so (when permissions don’t stop me from posting, as they often do) and join the gabfest.

Third, I want to remind everyone about my own website, marvwolfman.com. I keep adding new pages that might be of interest. The latest is a Questions and Answers page as well as, for Titans fans, the original page I typed out in 1980 as I was assembling the team. It gives alternate names for the characters, other ideas, and villain groups I never used. But, perhaps more interestingly, it also features my first drawings of Titans Tower. I also have Todays Views, an irregular weblog that I update a few times a week. Take a look.

And now, let’s get going.

What’s an editor? Good question. I’m glad I asked. The answer may assure I’ll never work with another editor again, but What The Hey--? (plug!)
It used to be that editors were concerned with A: Getting books out on schedule, and B: Getting the books to be as good as they could be. That’s changed.
Without being facetiously glib, making sure a book comes out on schedule is a thing of the past. These days, books come out when they come out. There can be a gap of months between issues of DK2, for instance, or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Danger Girl or The Ultimates. There was a time when Common Wisdom said if a book is late readers will give up on it. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Why? Because readers today have grown up in a time when schedules are, well, flexible.

This isn’t only in comics. Movies are regularly rescheduled. They can be advertised to come out at one time and then the ads change to indicate they’re coming out six months later. Don’t believe me? The Russell Crowe pirate movie, Master and Commander was supposed to come out this summer. They changed their mind and now it’s coming out in the fall – long after it was advertised. TV shows come and go without explanation. You might have four new shows followed by four reruns followed by one new episode, followed by a month of reruns, etc. And unless you have your TiVo set to record first run shows only, which I do, you can easily miss a new episode of your favorites.

When I grew up, back before the cavemen thought to invent remote controls and people were only in black and white, there were 39 original episodes of every TV show, and they appeared, as clockwork, week after week, with only Christmas off. At the end of 39 weeks, we went into 13 weeks of reruns. Bang! Bang! Bang! On schedule. Today, there are usually 22 episodes of most shows, and 13 episodes of original cable shows like The Shield, Sex And The City, the Sopranos and others. Some shows, like “Sex” and Farscape, run part of their season during the summer and the next part in January, when the Networks go on winter vacation. Shows like Sopranos can take a year and a half off and then return with higher ratings than before. The wait between shows is now part of the game. It builds the anticipation.

Comics didn’t create the death of schedules, but it certainly fell victim to it. So that part of the editor’s job has taken on less significance. Frank Miller, or whoever, will hand in his stories when he’s ready, and the major companies, suffering from five digit sales and less, know it won’t affect sales. These days, a good selling product late is better than a badly selling product on time. And they all have enough of the latter. Besides, since the real money today is made on the collections, deadlines are less crucial; books are now on sale forever, as they should be, and not for just a week or two as before.

So what is an editor and why are they there? I’ve worked with some excellent editors and some, well, to be charitable, not so excellent editors. Of course, if you’re an editor who is reading this column, you’re one of the excellent ones. That goes without saying, which is, of course, why I had to say it.

A good editor serves multiple purposes whereas a bad editor serves one: to make sure your material goes out with as many mistakes as possible. Don’t laugh. Anyone who is in the industry knows that to be true. They won’t find typos. They won’t correct coloring errors. They won’t send pages back to an artist if the story telling sucks. They won’t demand a re-write if the story makes no sense. No. Wait. Writers are interchangeable. They will ask the writer for rewrites. Either they don’t recognize that there are problems (aside from continuity errors which they almost always catch) or they don’t care to spend the time to make the necessary changes. I know of many cases where the talent supplied a list of corrections (not changes, I mean a list correcting mistakes that sneaked in during production) only to have the editor ignore them all, so the mistakes, including misspellings, balloon pointers going to the wrong people, panels out of order, balloons dropped out, people with three hands, etc. make it to print.

Anyway, those are the bad editors and they should be fired. But the good editors, and there are plenty of them, they somehow, almost magically, bring out the best in the talent. They can set or help set the direction of a book and they guide the talent – and no matter how good a writer and artist (as well as colorist and letterer) may be, we all need guidance to produce better work than we would on our own. Good editors know how to shmooze the talent, to make the talent dig deeper into their bag of tricks and to come up with ideas they might not have thought of alone. A good editor knows how to create a bond between him and his talent. When you’re working with creative folk, and the best of us are flaky only 60% of the time, you need someone to trust.

That’s another benefit from working with a good editor.
A good editor makes sure the color not only works, it enhances the story. That the lettering is not only readable, but it fits with the project and that the

balloons lead the readers eye in the right direction.
Beyond that, a good editor knows how to work with the company. He (or she, but I don’t want to keep changing pronoun genders) will find ways to get his books promoted. He’ll work to push his titles, to speak to the fans, to create a buzz around a title that ordinarily might not be talked about. He’ll find ways to keep his talent happy, but he’ll also serve the company and, when called upon, can make hard decisions and yet not anger the people doing the book. That takes finesse. That takes something beyond the ability to see story flaws or knowing when perspective is off and needs to be fixed.

You hire an editor for his taste even more than his skills. Assistants, proof-readers, the talent themselves, might find some of the errors that still manage to squeeze through, but nobody, and I do mean nobody, can replace an editor with taste. They’ll know when to work with the talent to make them better, and conversely, they know when to step back and let the talent do their thing and butt in only when needed. They’ll instinctively know what works and what doesn’t, and is willing to try something that is screaming its way out of the box because he knows this is something worth pursuing. Taste allows him to fight for what is right even when other editors think its wrong.

A good editor has to have enough ego to know he’s good, but also enough not to have to constantly prove it.

I’ve been blessed with a number of really good editors, even if I didn’t always let them know it, and even when I edited myself (the late, lamented writer/editor programs at DC and Marvel) I always made certain my assistants knew they could act as editors and not just assistants. But then, I’ve hired good assistants, the proof being that all of them went on to become editor-in-chiefs at other companies. Of course, they were also smart enough not to then hire me, but, hey…

So you have the good editor and the bad editor. Now, the question is, what do they have in common?

Well, they both have the job, as my friend, Mark Evanier always says. It’s true – ask him a question: Mark, do you think the California recall election is a good idea, and he’ll answer, “Good editors and bad editors both have the job.” He uses that to answer any question, no matter what it is.
By the way, the above is the reason why we need good editors. They would remove that paragraph in a blink.

So, besides both having the job, what else do they have in common? There is only one answer! Good and bad editors are willing to move to the city where the company is.

And this, my friends, this is the crux of the problem.

And we’ll solve it next week.

See you in seven.

Marv Wolfman

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