This month's topic is courtesy of Frank J. Milos of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Frank asks: How much input does an editor have on the stories a writer writes for him (or her)? The answer is two-fold. First, the editor has as much input as he (or she) wants to have. And second, it all depends on the working relationship that the specific writer and editor develop. The editor is the person who signs the writer's pay vouchers. That means it is in the writer's best interests to submit material that pleases the editor, or else that writer will soon find him or herself out of an assignment. If there's ever a serious disagreement between a writer and an editor, the editor always wins. (This is no idle posturing on my part as an editor. I'm also a freelance writer for Marvel, and the same applies to my editors.)
As far as working relationships go, every writer-editor team is different. All my writers are capable and accomplished (why else would I have hired them?) and can come up with a 22-page story without any input whatsoever from me. But, as editor, I insist that they verbally run the outline of the story by me before committing the synopsis to paper so I can spot-check for glitches in logic, consistency, dramatic structure, characterization-- you name it. It's a good system. Every writer (myself included) benefits from a second opinion. Nobody can simultaneously be close enough to his/her work to make it intense and have enough aesthetic distance from it to see if it indeed accomplished what it was supposed to.
Believe it or not, the fun part of being an editor is not shuffling papers and making phone calls, it's the creative kibitzing with writers and artists. I make it my job to throw out to my writers any ideas that may occur to me. If I throw out an idea a writer can't use or make work, and he or she explains to me why, fine. No harm done. There are no wasted ideas. It may work better somewhere else. If a writer does decide to run with an idea of mine, it's up to him or her how to handle it. The writer's job is to make it work. My job is to make sure it works. Beyond specific story points and ideas, I do have a major say in the long-term direction of a series. If I feel the direction is inappropriate for a given character or book, it won't happen.
So that, in general terms, is how much creative input an editor has. The main reason I'm still an editor after almost nine years of the grind is I'd rather have a little input in a lot of the books than a lot of input into just a few books, which is what I'd have as a full-time writer.
If you have general questions you'd like me to answer in this space, write and let me know.
Occasionally I get a letter that reads something to this effect: "Why don't you get (name of favorite artist) to do (name of book in question)- I guarantee you the book will look and sell better." A variation on the same theme goes: "Why did you let (name of favorite artist) leave (name of book in question)- he was perfect for the book and you'll never get anyone half as good." I have a two word answer to both of these questions: "Free will." You see, you can offer an artist (or writer) an assignment or beg him or her not to leave the assignment he or she is on, but as long as he or she has free will, he or she will do just what he or she pleases.
Top artists and writers are seldom desperate for work or will take just any assignment or keep just any assignment because it means steady work and income. No, because they are top talents they get to pick and choose among what is offered them. And, being creative types, they will often get a hankering to do something new, or will get bored with a given assignment, or will have always lusted to do a given series that has just opened up or to collaborate with a certain other talent who is available, and, wham! that's the assignment they're doing this month. Gone are the days, it seems, where a creative team like say, Lee and Kirby, stay on a title like say, the FANTASTIC FOUR, for 102 consecutive issues. Now it's an accomplishment to get someone to stay with a book for more than a year. (Let's be thankful for guys like Chris Claremont who's stuck with the X-MEN through thick and thin for over 100 issues. Is Chris currently Marvel's record holder for the longest creative stint on one title? Someone let me know.) There's a clever expression in the business which aptly illustrates the desire for variety when it comes to assignments. I usually hear it in reference to inkers, but (so the inkers of the world don't think I'm picking on them), it could easily apply to writers and pencilers. The term is "cafeteria inker", and it is used to describe a person who say, "Let's see, I'll do one of these, and one of these, and oh, maybe two of these", picking inking jobs like they were food items at a cafeteria. So that's why some creative types move from book to book so much!
Right now I have dream teams on my three main book, Stern-Buscema-Palmer on AVENGERS, Englehart-Milgrom-Sinnott on WEST COAST AVENGERS, and Michelinie-Bright-Layton on IRON MAN. In the four years I've been a full-fledged editor I've strived to get creative teams as good as the ones I got now. Do I think they'll last forever? Nope-- something will come up, something always comes up. I can do my darndest to make work conditions as warm and supportive as possible. But when one of my guys get the urge to split, that'll be it, and I'll be forced to scramble and replace him with the best available person I can get. Such is life in this creative business called comics.