As traditional children’s publishers issue material in comics form, their editors are being challenged to develop new skills and working methods. A couple of web interviews this month gave hints at managing the creative process.
First, at the Brown Bookshelf, Randy DuBurke describes his work on Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty, scripted by G. Neri. With experience drawing mainstream comics that goes back to DC in the late 1980s (I think I have some of the issues of Action Comics that he contributed to), DuBurke was the veteran on this project:
Jennifer Fox at Lee and Low Books…contacted me partly because this was their first foray into graphic novels and since I had experience in doing comics they thought it would be a good idea if I worked on the project. . . .Meanwhile, over at Cynsations, artist Neil Numberman writes about creating the art for the Joey Fly, Private Eye comics, scripted by Aaron Reynolds. One of his responsibilities is “to thumbnail the entire book”:
Before I started, I told my editor I would need to make changes along the way, which is not unusual when doing stories for comics. Comic book stories are collaborations between the artist and writer. I did change some scenes to strengthen the visual impact. Once the page art was completed, Greg and our editor would do a rewrite to accommodate the changes if necessary.
There’s a good reason they call these sketches "thumbnails," but even though they’re super tiny, they do give me a number of things I need to know before starting the real sketches. They help me pace out the entire book, to make sure scenes and act breaks end at the end of a page or spread. I also need to roughly figure out where everyone in the scene will be and their word balloons, in each panel. . . .That step was especially important in this project because Reynolds did not specify page turns, as his sample script shows. That’s how picture books are created; it’s up to the artist to decide what goes on which page. In contrast, comics scripts usually state where the page breaks fall, and often other details about page layout.
Our editor, Reka Simonsen, always requests to see these little thumbnails. I love that she wants to be so involved in the process, and she claims she loves looking at my thumbnails, but I have no idea how she gets anything from these sloppy little drawings.
It struck me that neither DuBurke nor Numberman mentions interacting directly with their scripters. For example, Numberman describes a later stage like this:
So, after the sketch stage, I hand ’em over to Reka, and she hangs onto them for a month or two, making notes and passing them around to other folks at the publisher, so when I get it back, I have a giant printout of the entire book, with little stickie notes on them.The editors of these two books appear to be working as children’s-book editors have usually done, standing between author and artist. In contrast, writers in mainstream comics—at least the more successful ones who get asked to write introductions to their collections—often describe direct interaction with their artists. They sometimes approach publishers as a team, and comics scripts can contain notes directly to the artist, though the editor is always in the loop.
There’s no evidence to suggest that one method is preferable to the other, or usually produces better results. Rather, these two parts of the publishing industry have different cultures, but now they’re starting to overlap.