13 March 2013

Powers that Comics Editors Need

Comic Book Resources carried an interesting dialogue between Louise Simonson and Ann Nocenti, two comics writers who first edited superhero comics for Marvel in the 1980s.

It included this discussion of editing methods:

Nocenti: I worked with Jim Shooter first and, whatever ill things you want to say about him, he was obsessed with basic Aristotelian plot structure: introduce a character visually, introduce a conflict, what’s the theme? He had a really good grounding in how to tell a story.

Then I worked with Al Milgrom, and what was great about Milgrom was, he’d take the pages that came in and put a piece of tracing paper over them and physically scribble over and re-do the artist’s layouts to show how you could do them better.

Then, when I worked with Weezie, I learned—this is one of the biggest things I learned from you, Weezie—how to get what you want from the writers and artists and have them leave the office with their tails wagging, not realizing they had to re-do everything!

Simonson: [Laughs] I think that's just a legend. I can’t believe I actually did that!

Nocenti: You did! You would sit there and say, “This is really great, this plot is great, but maybe you should make sure this happens,” and they would be like, “Oh yeah!” And then they’d go home and rewrite! We used to say that Weezie’s superpower was she had the power to cloud men’s minds.
Did Simonson’s kindness toward creators grow from her upbringing as a woman at a particular time in the twentieth century? Certainly there were male editors notorious for treating creators badly.

Later Nocenti talks about the different experiences of editing comic books for one of the big companies and creating them for pay:
As an editor, you just have to get something to the printer. You have to make tough decisions, you have to fire people, it has to sell. Then, as a freelancer, you’re at home and you’re lonely and you’re writing by yourself. You’re scared and you don’t know what’s going on with all the corporate people above you. So if you’ve been on both sides, you’re a better editor and a freelancer.
That’s one way to develop empathy if you don’t have it already.

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