The Column: Issue #16

Fri, December 20th, 2002 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Mark Millar, Columnist

THE SEVEN TYPES OF COMIC-BOOK EDITORS

We've all seen the books and the articles on how to write, draw, letter and colour comics, but there's precious little advice out there regarding the one name in the credit box who actually enjoys a regular wage and a company dental plan. Editors have the power to hire and fire whoever they like. They're a law unto themselves and get paid for reading all your favourite books two or three months before you do. They have direct access to all the top pros and, best of all, they can charge beer to their expense accounts at those sweaty Summer shows. A very well-paid pro said to me last year that we couldn't go out for dinner yet because we still had to track down an editor to foot the bill at the end of the night. That's how powerful EDITORIAL is, baby.

How to get INTO editing is something I just don't know. Whether it requires English degrees or cock-sucking skills, I just can't say, but I'm inclined to think that it's a combination of both. Where do these people come from? What do the companies look for when they're interviewing prospective Spider-Man editors? Personally, I haven't a clue, folks. But what I will tell you about is my EXPERIENCE of editors and what they can add or subtract to that hot, fresh comic you hold in your hands on a Wednesday morning. Counting assistants and associates, I've worked with forty-nine editors in total during my relatively young career; some good, some bad and some, I'm sorry to say, completely insane. For the benefit of any aspiring editors reading this column, I've outlined below what I've learned from my masters over these brief years and hope this helps you avoid the pitfalls. For the benefit of any aspiring creators out there, here's a breakdown of who to court and who should be avoided like HIV.

1/ THE DRIVE-THROUGH EDITOR

This was a term coined by Mark Waid and it brilliantly describes the guy who sits there and stamps the script without even reading it. I always like the drive-through guy because he's a slacker and I admire slackers. Anyone who draws a cheque for doing nothing is A-OK in my book and right up there with my cousin who works as a ticket-inspector on the railways. Ever since he left school, he's been on the Glasgow to Fort William line and collecting tickets on an empty train. How cool is that? It's four hours up and four hours back and the only passengers he sees are a few Americans in the Summer. The Drive-Though Editor is the comic book equivalent of my dozy cousin and can often be found chatting on the phone to his friends all day and saying very, very little at meetings. Like I said, I admire these guys, but they're pretty dangerous if you don't know what you're doing and will nimbly leap to safety if your sales go over the edge of a cliff. They also have a habit of missing art mistakes, poor grammar and any clunky plotting which is prone to spring from everyone's lack of attention. Is that a price worth paying just to avoid a few rewrites?

2/ THE DELEGATOR

Everyone working in the field will know who I'm talking about here when I mention The Delegator. He's often a much-loved figure in the industry, preferably with a track record as a freelancer, who clocks in, inspires the troops and then pretty much takes the rest of the day off. The Delegator has a brilliant attitude to life because it treats him well and he surrounds himself with three or four bodyguards who not only do all his work for him, but who will protect both his job and his reputation with ferocity because they've been raised to know and love this man. The danger for The Delegator is taking too much credit for success because the assistants and associates doing all the work start to get pissed off. That said; they usually like him so much that they don't mind the fact he's earning two, three or five times as much money as they are and hope, in their hearts, that they TOO can delegate to others some day.

3/ THE NEUROTIC

Neurotics are surprisingly rare in this business, despite the fact that our creative and editorial talent is almost exclusively hand-picked from the most fanatical of our fan-base (and I include myself in this). Most people in comics are pretty hard-working, but know where to draw the line and appease their inner-slacker. Not The Neurotic. The Neurotic will always have his mobile switched on, never be more than ten steps away from the office, will arrive before you do and leave after everyone else has gone home. He will boast about how his hours now exceed those of a junior doctor and how he doesn't have time for a regular relationship because he's always working and, as everyone else in the office knows, he's heading for a heart attack. A neurotic can be good because they're genuinely into the book you're working on, but the danger is that their neurosis is contagious. I remember two neurotic editors who were working with a freelancer at the same time and he counted up the amount of time and calls they took him away from his scripts one day. Between their editorial tag-teaming, they had called this guy fifteen times in a twenty four hour period and this amounted to six hours worth of calls regarding everything from the letters page to colour notes. And this wasn't particularly unusual. The Neurotic can also worry so much about your script or art that they can completely nickel-and-dime (another great expression of Waid's) your material to the point where it's been so meticulously re-examined and tweaked that there's nothing organic about it at all anymore. But at least they cut checks on time. And they always, always, ALWAYS catch that spelling.

4/ THE ASPIRING WRITER

These guys are nice, but potentially deadly to any new kid on the block. I had an Asp Writ a couple of years back and alarms bells immediately started ringing when he started talking about OUR scripts. Our PROJECT: yeah. Our BOOK: sure. Our ART-BITCH: of course. But OUR SCRIPTS? Kiss my ass, white-boy.

The editor, of course, has the nuclear codes so you have to play this one carefully. They are the last people to see the lettered pages leave the office and they have absolute control over the content of your book and this is definitely worth remembering. In a crunch, they could make an executive decision to draw cocks all over your favourite heroes and completely rewrite your dialogue so, for God's sake, be nice to them. An Asp-Writ in charge of your book means you're going to get a lot of ideas thrown your way that you're never going to use and a chunk of your day will be spent on the phone trying to tactfully explain why you're going in your own direction. That said, they often can't help themselves and you'll find, once your complimentary copies come back from the printers, that little words have been changed here and there for no good reason other than they like to see their stuff in print. I remember one Asp-Writ (who shall remain nameless) completely re-dialoguing nine pages of a twenty two page script to the point where I couldn't even tell what was happening anymore. I spent four hours on the phone talking him down and the book went out pretty much as I'd intended. When someone from marketing came up to me at a show and said how much they enjoyed the story, my Asp-Writ interrupted and said that it was only so good because he'd been so heavily involved. I shit ye not!

5/ THE PAL

"Hey! Guess What? They've just made me editor of Asshole-Man and you're my new writer, bud!".

It's the words we dream of hearing from a friend when we all start out in the business, but it's also a pretty sharp double-edged sword. Your pal hiring you to write a book can quickly turn into a full-scale nightmare if the quality isn't up to scratch and accusations of jobs-for-the-boys can crucify even the most PROMISING fledgling career. Advice to any new editors thinking about hiring their friends; why don't you wait until the next boom and your company is bringing out two hundred books a month again. This way any shortcomings will never be noticed and accounts will be happy because you can sell a dog-turd whenever comics are booming (providing, of course, it has a three-dimensional, foil-enhanced cover).

6/ THE BULLY

Like I said before, I've worked with forty-nine editors in my career so far and I've genuinely liked forty seven of them. Also as discussed in the past, comic types tend to be fairly easy to get along with and we have much more in common than, for example, two fucking accountants stuck next to each other at Enron. Comic editors tend to be very agreeable sorts so it's quite a shock when you come across one of the bullies. The Bully is always a deadly combination of manic self-doubt and wild arrogance. Like The Neurotic, he'll buzz you first thing in the morning and wake you up in bed at night to go over some last minute script changes. However, unlike The Neurotic, it's often just a power-trip. I've heard of (not always newbie) freelancers going through maybe ten or twelve months of proposal rewrites just to get a knock-back and then The Bully boasting that they were just fucking with them all along. I've dealt with one of these people in the UK (now gone, thankfully) and one in the US (still here, though not for much longer, I'm told) and my advice is to stay away from them. When going through Hell with one of these guys a few years back, an editor at another company suggested stepping out of the ring because, this way, they can't lay a glove on you and it was the best advice I've ever had in my life. Go head to head with the Bully Editor and you'll lose 9.9 times out of 10 because he's an employee and freelancers are always much easier to get fired. Deprive them of whatever you bring to the table and he'll end up starving and gradually fade away. This is the advice I gave to a friend a couple of months ago when they were experiencing something similar with the first New Bully I've heard of in a while.

7/ THE ENTHUSIAST

The Enthusiast is by far the best kind of editor you're ever going to work for. He will make your job a pleasure and bring the best out in your work, not being afraid to tell you where there's a problem, but being just as fast to praise you when you knock the ball out of the park. Some guys think that taking a tough line against freelancers is the best way to make them more productive and to increase the quality of their material, but believe me, nothing could be further from the truth. Telling someone you like what they've done and then suggesting ways around a couple of minor quibbles is always going to go down better than someone telling you a script is crap and you need to take another pass at it. Sensing that an editor is genuinely INTO what you're doing also makes you raise your game a little because you kind of want to beat all previous expectations and get that call or email saying that this script has really raised the bar again.

There's no better feeling than someone actually digging what you're spending long days doing and the best editors always act like they enjoy the fact that they're also your first readers. Ralph Macchio and his team are particularly good in this respect and why, I suspect, his resume boasts such critically-acclaimed runs as Miller's tenure on Daredevil, the entire Ultimate line, Waid and Garney's Captain America, Alias, etc. John Layman also had this down pat for most of our time together on Authority (before the DC high-ups kicked the living snot out of him) and it was her genuine appreciation of the material they were doing that made Moore, Gaiman, Morrison, Delano, Milligan and Ennis both flock to Karen Berger and continue working with her disciples for over a decade now (despite the fact that it's almost always much less lucrative than working elsewhere). Sometimes, when you're working with a BAD editor, you wonder why the fuck these guys are sometimes getting paid up to a hundred and fifty grand a year just to slow down the creative process and rain of everyone's parade. Working with a GOOD editor explains why.

DISCLAIMER to anyone who's ever worked with me: You're all sterling examples of everything right with this world and I put you all in category number seven (to your face, anyway).

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