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Monday, October 22, 2012

What Happened to Professionalism in Comic Book Editing?

Dan Didio doesn’t like Stephanie Brown. He didn’t like Ted Kord, Ralph Dibney, The JLI, or just about everything in the DC Universe during the late 80's and 1990's.

So he worked to take those characters out of existence.

Joe Quesada didn’t like Peter Parker being married to Mary Jane Watson. Nor did he like the concept of Spider-Girl.

So he retconned the marriage out of existence by having Spider-Man and Mary Jane make a deal with the devil.

Sorry, but that’s not professionalism.

A Comic book editor’s job is to be objective. Their job is to be fair and impartial when they read a story, and to maintain a level of integrity in a story structure. To make sure that a story has a beginning, a middle and an end. To make sure that a story progresses organically and builds to a satisfying conclusion To make sure that stories follow a series of continuity with other stories in an ongoing series. To make sure the best stories go to print.

Moreover, an editor’s job is to make sure that characters stay true to themselves. To make sure that a character’s current actions remain consistent with their past actions. To make sure that a character’s motivations for acting in such a way follow a logical and natural pattern of behavior. And that their “voice” remains consistent even though different writers tell their stories.

It’s their jobs to reign in writer and artist excesses. To make sure that if multiple writers are working together on a series of connected titles or an event storyline that they’re communicating with each other so that the actions in one book line up congruently in other books.

It’s the editor’s job to read the letters pages. If they’re getting 500 letters saying something isn’t working, they have to be objective enough to say it’s not working and try something different.

It’s not the editor’s job to pick and choose what characters they like. It’s the editor’s job to make sure those writers and artists work with the characters presented to them.

For example, I may not like the New 52 at DC Comics. But if I’m assigned to work with those characters, as much as I hate them, then I have to work with them or find another job. As a professional, I can’t just decide these characters don’t exist or replace them with characters of my personal choosing.

If I’m paid to produce commercial publications with those characters, then I’d have to work with them.

If the editor can’t stay objective in examining other writers and artists’ work then they’re not doing their jobs.

And if they’re picking their favorites they’ve failed in their jobs as editors.

A professional comic book editor doesn’t put their personal preferences into a comic book. A professional understands that they are producing a commercial product for the customer. That they serve the customer, and that the customer doesn’t serve them. That they are the last line of defense for the reader in the face of the creative talent.

And as professional businesspeople it’s their job to make sure comic books are the best products possible.

A professional editor knows it’s their job to answer to the reader. During the creative process they are the reader’s advocate, asking those questions about logic and continuity they would ask. They’re looking at the art to make sure it tells a clear story and making sure it follows what’s written in the script. They’re making suggestions about where a story should go before a story is submitted to the printer for publication.

*Note that I said suggestions. A good editor knows to give their writers and artists SPACE and TIME to work within the guidelines established. Some teams need no guidance, while others need a little more supervision. As long as a team is working within guidelines they should have no problem meeting a standard of quality. There’s never a need to micromanage.*

Examples of professional editors are the late Mark Gruenwald, Julius Schwartz, Tom Defalco and Jim Shooter.

When an editor starts re-shaping a comic book universe to reflect their personal views they’ve put themselves above the customer. They’re making product for themselves, not the reader.

And that’s not professional at all.

It’s clear to me that there’s a need for an editorial regime change at the big two comic book publishers. That there’s no professionalism being performed in the editorial positions at Marvel and DC. That the publishing divisions of both companies are nothing more than frat houses.

Comic books are supposed to be professional commercial fiction, not glorified fanfiction. If the pros can’t maintain a standard of quality in their publications, then what’s the measuring stick between them and the so-called amateurs? 

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