Welcome to the 63rd installment of What Th--? We’re going to the mailbag this week. As I mentioned, because of my computer crash, I have lost a large number of questions you guys have sent me. Please resend them if you can, or write new ones.

The big news right now is that Len Wein and I just wrote an episode of “Wild Card,” an hour drama for Lifetime TV. It’s their Halloween episode and will be aired, I assume, near Halloween. Unless there’s any last minute changes, I’ll remind you to tune in before then.

Now to the mail:

From: Rupert Griffin <griffin_rupert_@hotmail.com>
This is a question to do with writing. What do you think of ageing comics characters in real time? Do you think it preferable that they remain ageless and deathless, or that they do end up growing old, and even dying, and some sort of generational succession taking place?

I think this can be a mixed bag. I aged the Titans, from 16 or so to about 21, but I took sixteen years to do it. Real time can’t exist in comics unless every story takes place on specific dates. Some stories I’ve written take place in one day, some take months. The creators would then have to go back and actually chart the growth on a story-by-story basis.

A second problem exists when you want heroes to meet other heroes. If Superman is frozen in age at 27, how would Nightwing react if he started at 9 and was now 40? You have to make the decision up front either to let characters all grow up together or not.

A third problem comes from defining any dates in comics. Did Stan Lee realize The Fantastic Four would still be around 43 years after he and Jack created it? The answer is no. If he had, would he have ever put Reed Richards in World War Two. At the most conservative estimate, that would make Reed almost 80 today. Yet, if you don’t tie in characters to some current reality, you also can make them irrelevant.

No matter how much Superman learns in any current issue, in five years he’s got to essentially go back to being the same. Superman will continue to ask himself the same questions, will make minor changes that will later be reversed, etc. So will Batman, Spider-Man, and the rest of them. You can kill off Superman today and he’ll be back. You can change Spider-Man’s costume, but it will probably change back. The only way you can effect any serious change is to change the hero: Hal Jordan goes away for Kyle Raynor. But Hal, being one of a corps of heroes, is by concept replaceable. Whereas Robin was replaceable (since the original just moved on to become Nightwing) a brand new Superman would probably not sell.

I believe there needs to be a two-tier system. There should be company characters and independent characters, no matter who publishes them. Superman, Spider-Man, etc. can age very slowly or not at all. But then, other characters, like those in “Gasoline Alley” or the wonderful “For Better Or For Worse” comic strip, can age in somewhat real time. This allows a certain amount of growth and change that regular characters, no matter how well done they are, can’t have. I’d love to see characters that do evolve and change and don’t go back.
I tried to do that with Tomb of Dracula and would have loved to have done that with super-heroes, but the system that existed back in the 80s and 90s would not permit that, since everything was pretty much tied into that awful ‘C’ word – continuity. Today, we could create characters that could grow – assuming they catch on in sales in the first place. But these characters should probably not be part of any established universe. And since I’m pretty much against company-wide continuity – my view is that blind adherence to continuity puts the best writer at a company hostage to the worst - I would hail such a book.

Does that answer your question?

From: "Dan Condon-Jones" <Dan.Condon-Jones@landmark-information.co.uk>
I was always under the impression that a major importance of an editor is to have a second pair of eyes look over the script. In Crisis on Infinite Earths, you were credited as both writer and editor, which would seem to negate this role to a degree. I just wondered how that differs from writing a book without an editor (other than the fact that you needed to boss the artists around).

Another thing I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on is this. In your column, your description of a bad editor seems to be one who doesn't poke their nose in enough. The usual descriptions I hear of bad editors is of wannabe writers who take it upon themselves to rewrite chunks of the script against the writer's wishes. Obviously either extreme is probably a bad thing, but it was curious to see that your description of a bad editor is basically the opposite of the usual one I hear.


Actually, I never believed being the editor meant I was able to boss the artists around. It meant that we would all be working to produce a singular shared vision.

An Editor serves many purposes; they see the mistakes a writer or artist makes and has the talent correct them. They make sure the stories fit within the company guidelines. They work with their talent to bring out the best in them. These are the best editors, and as I’ve said, when you have one of them your book is so much better than what you’d do on your own. But not every editor fits in the category of best editor. They may be good at managing their people, or getting the books out on time, but they might not have a vision. Others are frustrated writers and want the stories to be done as if they were writing them instead.

A writer-editor, and not everyone can be a writer-editor, doesn’t mean there aren’t people looking over your shoulder, correcting you. You have associate editors working with you and if you’re any good, you’ll listen to them. But being a writer-editor gives you the freedom to try things that more conservative editors will stop you from doing.

A good example is The Titans. I had a very specific vision for that book. It allowed me to go off on a dozen different directions as I kept experimenting with ideas. When I was no longer the writer-editor, and other editors were appointed to the book, all of them Titans fans, quality-wise good or bad (and, truly, there was only one horrendously bad editor in the bunch) they all came to the title liking one specific aspect of the comic. Something that had spoken to them as a fan. Some liked the teen angst. Some liked the action. Some liked the villains. Some liked the seriousness. Some liked the comedy. Nobody, but me, wanted it all.

I believed in going everywhere and doing everything I could. I felt the Titans was the sum of all my different interests, not just one isolated thought. So the editors wanted what they specifically liked but, to my thinking, ignored the wider audience who may have liked things I did that the editor didn’t. It was no wonder that sales dropped precipitously. It’s no wonder the quality dropped. I was unable to do just this or just that. I liked the freedom of doing it all. As soon as I got bored, I liked going off in another direction. And when you’re not the editor, and if you’re not Alan Moore or Frank Miller of a handful of others, you have to do what the editor wants, even if you were the creator and part of the reason the book sold.

So, to me, the writer (or artist)-editor, when you have one who understands what he’s doing, is the best way of getting a singular vision instead of a corporate one.

Here is a list of a very few people who were writer-editors or are de-facto writer-editors because nobody interferes with them. I think you’ll see a pattern here. Will Eisner. Harvey Kurtzman. Al Feldstein, Stan Lee. Roy Thomas. Frank Miller. Alan Moore. Jeff Smith. Neil Gaiman. Me: (Dracula, Early Titans. Crisis, etc.). Most of the Independent Comics people. Almost 99% of all the great comic strip creators. These and others are the people who created and had a vision and followed through on that vision. I believe when you have the right person, that is the way to go. It is extremely rare when real vision is dictated by a company, any company.

As for part two of your question, I only talked about those editors who were simply managers. The problem is that all too many editors are editors only because they have the job. But, if you’ve got a really good editor, and there are many very good ones, then you want their opinions. You want them to make your stories better. These are the editors you cherish.

See you in seven

Marv Wolfman

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