There are very few praises I will sing for Mark Waid, and while this may sound as though I’m preparing to lambaste the current Daredevil scribe once again, I’m not. To his credit he has been a driving force behind the comic book industry’s evolution as it steps towards its digital age, understanding what it is we’re on the precipice of and making an effort to embrace it. A second point I give him credit for is the crux of a post he made in 2009 on the very necessity of the comic book editor.
No matter the industry, be it journalistic or the literary realm, the editor has a very specific role in the publishing of content. They’re the ones who set deadlines and outline plans of action, assigning items to writers and artists (where applicable). They keep their team on deadline and ultimately copy edit the final version of any content prior to publication, followed by final proofreading “idiot checks,” once the proofs are back to make sure there are no mistakes. It sounds simple, but trust me, it isn’t.
Waid details a number of different tasks that need to be completed, but there is one line in Waid’s blog post that stuck out to me when I accidentally stumbled onto it some time ago.
“What makes a good editor is staying the hell out of the way as much as possible.”
The funny thing with comics is that the editor’s job is effectively a marriage between two trains of thought: you must work to offer guidance and direction, keeping everyone on task (as an editor should), while additionally giving the team room to breathe and create. Essentially, they act as the General throughout the editorial/creative process. Given the recent editorial shake up with the Batwoman title, originally reported to be over something of very little consequence really, I suppose we must wonder the extent of creative freedom DC creators have to create.
Upon publication of the breaking story last week of J.H Williams and W. Haden Blackman’s departure from Batwoman over a variety of last minute editorial changes to the pair’s story arc, Gutters & Panels compiled a list of editorial upheavals and creative team departures over a three year period which you can read here.
It’s difficult to really surmise what’s going on behind the scenes at DC, but their track record in recent years with creative teams leaving often over a lack of editorial and creative freedom speaks for itself. The complexity of the issue isn’t really that straightforward, as I agree moderately with both sides of the argument. Yet, while I agree in principle with Waid’s statement, as an editor you can’t really truly step away; they need to be there as facilitators of process, or where comics are concerned they must work to ensure the actual quality of the comics meet the expected standard. While Waid is correct, I find myself also seeing the point of view of the company itself.
In August 2013 Jim Lee, DC Comics’ co-publisher, said:
“To me it’s the normal course of business in that not everyone’s going to agree creatively what to do with a book. The company has to reserve the right to control the destiny and the futures of the characters, and the creators have to decide if they’re willing to work in an environment where they’re telling their story but in the framework of a universe that has continuity and you have to work with all of these other different creators and editors that would want to control the directions of the characters.”
As the Gutters & Panels article points out, the statement doesn’t explain how those same creators are able to easily collaborate elsewhere. Where does the grand truth lie in DC’s editorial problems over the last three years? I feel as though the answer is somewhere in the middle between Jim Lee and Mark Waid’s statements, as both arguments have weight, but are problematic due to their respective laissez-faire and totalitarian dynamics. Speaking from experience, the best measure of creative collaboration is an environment where the writers, artists and editors engage in an open dialogue about the direction of a series. The writer has the freedom to create based off of specific editorial parameters, while the editor is there to make sure the copy is perfect, deadlines are met, creators are kept on task and that the comic itself is representative of the total vision of the brand. The answer to the best creative process, especially in comics, is that middle ground between being too controlling and backing away altogether. Yet, it would seem given the company’s track record over the last little while, things are certainly looking bleak among DC Comics’ leading editorial staff.