An editor's messy desk, perhaps

Editors: They Don’t All Suck

(A previous version of this article appeared in Pipeline Commentary and Review in September 2012.)

The picture at the top of this article is what I picture a Marvel editor’s desk to look like during the bankruptcy period 18-20 years ago.  Lots of bills, folders, and Gateway 2K computers…

 

The Reality of Being a Comic Book Editor

Of all the jobs in comics, I think people understand the role of the editor the least. They’re the grunts who make all the decisions and all the moves that we don’t hear about and likely never will. They face the reality of creator management and availability. They battle the internal politics quietly; they don’t discuss them at convention panels or on message boards. They catch mistakes long before we would see any of them, and then we never hear about them.

The only times we hear about the jobs they do is when they goof something up and we all blame them (rightfully or wrongfully), or a creator blows his stack about something related to an editorial decision.

I bet there are even specific personality types that become editors that make their jobs completely different. Some are more creative, some are more administrative, some are more political, some are more gland-handling. There’s no way for any of us to know one from the other by peering through the curtain. That curtain doesn’t open very wide very often. It’s a wall of silence necessary to keep jobs in the industry.

The platonic ideal editor's desk

This is the platonic ideal of an editor’s office set-up. It even has the couch for the creator to relax on and confess their sins.

The Editor’s Job

I get the feeling the editor’s role is more political than anything any of us will imagine or could deal with. Negotiating peace between creators, or between upper management and creators, or between themselves and those above them or on their creative teams — it’s all part of the job. Every single day.

The jobs you imagine them doing of tracking pages through the system, catching typos in the lettering, and making sure the costumes are colored correctly? It’s the least of their tasks.  Often, I bet it’s grunt work that the assistants do, if they’re around.

But on Friday night when the printer is waiting for the files to get the books on store shelves on schedule, it’s the editors who stay behind in the office.

I don’t stop to think about the editor too much. No reader does, and few reviewers.  There’s not much need to review their role in a book review, you know? In a longer-form review it might be useful, but if you think letterers and colorists get the short end of the stick in comic reviews, please note that there is rarely an “Editor” credit in any comics reviews on-line.  (The Assistant Editors are completely invisible.)

Charles Dickens at his desk

This is Charles Dickens. He, too, wrote serialized drama that was later collected. . Contrary to popular opinion, he was not paid by the word.)

 

Things Can Go Wrong

This isn’t to say that a bad editor can’t screw things up or that you’re always wrong for blaming the editor. Stuff happens. I just think that we never really know what goes on that far behind the scenes.

For that matter, we don’t always know what goes on with the creative teams, either.  Decisions are often made for good reasons that result in bad products and things just can’t be helped. In “Modern Masters: Eric Powell,” Powell recounted an issue of “Angel” he drew in a week and a half to help keep the book on schedule. He didn’t do his best work for obvious reasons. Reviews of it weren’t good, internally and externally.  He believes it’s the reason Dark Horse stopped giving him work at the time.

That’s just one of the behind the scenes things that reviewers don’t mention because (A) it’s not known and (B) it ultimately shouldn’t matter to a reviewer who is reviewing the work and not the process.

Even if there is a good reason a book wasn’t enjoyable, it still wasn’t enjoyable.  That’s all that counts, in the end.

 

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Life is compromise. There are always consequences, whether from well-intentioned decisions or not.  And the road to hell, etc. etc.

It’s the editor’s job so often to balance the art and commerce side of comics, and none of those decisions will make everybody happy.  An editor’s life is a daily Kobayashi Maru.

There is a lot about the comics world we do not know. I learn that every time I talk to a professional comic creator. And that’s part of the reason we all need to be a little more careful about the assumptions we jump to.

Tom Brevoort's desk

This is what I picture Tom Brevoort’s desk to look like. Old school, and with a hat.

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The platonic ideal of an editor's desk set-up.

 

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