The writers and artists behind everyone’s favorite comics typically gobble up most of the attention on the personnel side, but there’s a whole team of hard-working people who labor to get out new books. As quasi team leaders, comic book editors set the schedules and help guide the book from pitch to printer. At this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, comic book editors with experience everywhere from DC to Image hit the stage to talk process and explain just exactly what the editors do.
David Mariotte, an editor at IDW who has worked on original titles and licensed series like Transformers, said he “frequently describe[s] being an editor as being a project manager more than anything else.” In addition to helping writers flesh out their stories, Mariotte said he sets schedules for the books and creators to ensure that things proceed in an organized fashion.
As problem solvers, all the editors insisted that open communication is key to putting out good books. In Sarah Gaydo’s opinion, the worst thing that can happen is “radio silence.” The current editor-in-chief of Oni Press, Gaydo is aware of the “terrible combination” at the heart of comics, the fact that they “move fast and take very long to make.” Before someone’s plot becomes too convoluted or penciling duties back-up, it’s best to inform the editor before it gets hard to “unscrew things up.”
Gaydos said, “Generally, we can make things work if we have communication.”
Building on the value of open communication, Jann Jones, who is currently editing the Detective Pikachu graphic novel at Legendary, believes establishing real, friendly relationships with her talent results in better books. Aware that everything from a family illness to car problems can impact one’s ability to get work done, Jones wants her creators to know that it’s best for them to be open and forthcoming if they may run into deadline issues. The more trust the editors and creators have in one another, the easier it becomes for everyone to do their best work.
“They need to have the confidence that you’re not going to immediately axe them,” Jones said. “They know you have their back.”
Part of building a healthy relationship with an editor or creator is having solid personal skills. Each editor on stage acknowledged that creative work isn’t necessarily a 9:00-5:00 task, meaning they have to be on-call whenever creativity strikes.
Henry Bajaras also insisted that there’s no shame in having a day job when getting started in creative work. In addition to the financial incentives, Bajaras explained that having a day job forces individuals to learn how to communicate professionally and work on a team. Insisting that “relationships matter,” Bajaras said he knows some people in comics who never had a day job and that interacting with them can be quite the experience.
“Having to deal with them is interesting, and there’s no HR department half the time,” he said.
A day job often helps people learn how to build networks, something Gaydos said is essential to succeed in creative work. When she started as a receptionist at Wildstorm during its early days, she said she “could just go learn from different departments all day long” and that she slowly developed the skills and relationships that got her to her current position. Aware that these environments aren’t available to most people, she pushed meeting and working with creators with current goals as a way to rise in the field.
“Community is the way to succeed,” she insisted. “Glom together and rise together.”
Shannon Eric Denton, an editor who has worked on everything from Wildstorm books to the X-Men animated series, reinforced Gaydo’s claim that community is essential to success. People like working with individuals they already have a good relationship with, creators they can trust to turn things in on-time without excuses or major problems, and comic book editors have no problem telling their peers when a creator causes them trouble.
“Comics and sports are very similar in that we get traded to other teams and you may not like the other teams but we have friends at the other team,” Denton said.
Not only does technology make it easier to build a community of like-minded creators, but Denton reminded the audience that it can also help writers and artists “improve [their] craft.” With information rapidly available, people can find research materials and explore historical concepts that can inform their stories.
Mariotte, who’s only been an editor for about three years but grew up around the craft because his dad was also an editor, has already noticed an industry-wide shift towards increased graphic novel publishing. For most of his career, the young editor dealt with single floppies that would build to a larger story over a period of months or years, but now he’s working on more self-contained stories than ever.
“The prevalence of original graphic novels and longer format projects has just exploded, so that has certainly led to some changes in my editorial style,” he said.
For any aspiring creators who want to get a graphic novel made or longer series picked up, Jann has some advice on the pitching side. Instead of shoving every component of the story into one message, dilute it down to what makes it special and make sure you leave the reader wanting more.
“It’s just so jam packed,” she said. “You could have a kernel of a great idea here but I can’t get to it because there’s so much else in the way.”