Like last month's installment, I'm going to use this space to answer an interesting question posed by Chris Jam of Seattle, Washington. Chris asks: "When do you use inventory stories? How many do you have to pick from and what criteria do you use to choose one? Do you pick those that are unusual or ones that feature writers and artists who aren't usually associated with the title?" Good questions, Chris, particularly so since this month, for the first time, an inventory story appears in these pages.
Here's the scoop. Editors use inventory stories when and only when the regular creative team can't deliver the finished book by the final deadline. (Completed books are supposed to be sent to the printers at eight weeks before the date they're supposed to be shipped to the newsstands, but can still make the shipdate up to about three weeks before. So the final deadline is somewhere between three and eight weeks, depending on how conscientious a given editor is.) Reasons why creative people can't deliver their work on time are numerous (and worth a whole column to themselves).
How many inventory stories does an editor have to pick from? It varies. For my part, I never assign more than one at a given time (meaning I don't assign a second until I run the first) unless I have advance knowledge of some really big deadline snafu in the offing. The reason why I don't is evident in my track record for using inventories. Here in WEST COAST, we've gone two and a half years without needing one. In the other AVENGERS book, I had a four year run before sticking in an inventory story. I don't assign what I don't need. And with the ever-changing rosters of such team books as the Avengers, one can't have an inventory story sitting in the drawer for a couple of years and expect it to have the right team members in it when it comes out.
What criteria do I use for choosing an inventory story? The same critical standards as any story with these additions: 1) It must be a self-contained story and resolve all of the plot threads it brings up, 2) It has to be a one part story, and 3) It cannot mess with the on-going status quo of the book.
As for who I get to do it...it depends on who's available. An editor always tries for the best people around. In the case of this issue, I managed to squeeze a tale out of regular penciler Al Milgrom, who's no slouch in the writing department. Thanks for another topic to write about, Chris!
You all know what a comic book editor does. I've devoted at least one installment of this column to the subject. Patrick Coyle of Hartford, CT wants to konw how you get to be a comic book editor-- or more specifically, what are the qualifications to become one?
First, let it be known that there's no such thing as a comic book editor school of even a course on comic book editing in a school that has cartooning or comic illustration as part of the curriculum. Second, there is no strict set of credentials that one needs in order to apply for the job. Marvel's stable of editors has diverse backgrounds in publishing, knowledge of the medium, and so on. But they obviously impressed someone that they knew how to edit comic books, or they wouldn't have been hired.
That said, let me offer you my advice on what an aspiring comic book editor ought to learn. 1) Grammar, spelling, punctuation, and basic English skills are absolutely essential. One of an editor's prime responsibilities to the reading public is turning out literate material. Writers may be able to slide on some of the rules, but editors have to know this stuff. (I found that taking Latin for three years improved my English skill-- go figure.) 2) Creative writing skills should also be nutured. I wouldn't go so far as to say that every good editor must have the potential to be a good writer. In order to help your writers do work that you like, you have to know how to do their job. There's no better way to get expertise than by writing. Take all the creative writing courses you can find. 3) Journalism is a special kind of writing, but I'd encourage future editors to learn as much as they can about it. Journalistic writing tends to be highly structured, like comic book writing. Becoming proficient at one discipline will help you become proficient at related ones. Working under deadline pressure is also great preparation for the comic book life. 4) Knowledge of the medium is necessary, but since there are not many courses that teach the theory behind communicating through a sequence of pictures and words, you're left to your own devices to figure out the craft and its techniques. I'd recommend studying film since that medium has many similarities to comic art. 5) Knowledge of the material (what the stories are about rather than how they work) is helpful but not essential. It will give you a head start on your homework if you're familiar with the material in advance. Finally 6) Management skills are very helpful to acquire. An editor has to deal with all sorts of people, including creative types who have a tendency to be (shall we say) tempermental, and frequently one's powers of diplomacy are called upon. I would suggest finding employment in some area where you have to deal with the public on a regular basis as good preparation. Working in a fast food joint would be ideal since that will also teach you to work efficiently under pressure. (I worked in a record store myself.)
Those are my tips. Hope they're useful, Patrick.
Occasionally, I get requests from aspiring writers who want to know exactly what format we like to see plots in. While there's no strict universally-accepted format (as there is for movie and TV scripts), the basic rule of thumb is this: to double space, put your name/title/book and issue number/page at the top of each page, and to break down the plot page by page. Still confused? All right, here's an example...the actual plot of the first two pages of this issue's lead story, which our artist drew the story from!
SOLO AVENGERS #4
"The Great Escape"
Plot for 11 pages
Submitted: June 15, 1987
1: Splash panel/credits/title copy/indicia: We open this chapter in the continuing saga of the life of the world's greatest archer just as our hero is being tossed in the clink. We are deep within a very ornate castle which is located somewhere in France. The "clink" is not quite a dungeon room, but it does have bars on its windows...and the only piece of furniture is a bed. A heavy wooden door will bar the place.
In the opening scene, Hawkeye is being shoved into the room by a few members of Silver Sable's WILD PACK. (These agents all wear a distinctive costume.) Silver Sable coldly watches the action. Behind Silver is a well-dressed member of the French government. Hawkeye is wearing his mask and his pants. (His boots, gloves, tunic, shirt and weapons have all been confiscated.) In this first panel, Silver will be apologizing for the accomodatiosn, but she hopes Hawkeye will understand...after all, he has been arrested for murder. (The murder of Trick Shot.)
2. Hawk claims he's innocent and demands a lawyer.
Silver responds that they are keeping him here...until the French government can sort out all of the messy legal issues...what with Hawk being an Avenger and all. She hopes he'll enjoy his stay, and the door is slammed on him. No sooner does the door slam, than Hawk looks around the room, and at the bed. It should be real obvious to our readers that he's already planning his escape. We will follow Silver and her people to a large gym (Please show an outside view of castle before we begin the workout.) where she begins on of her classic work outs. Perhaps we should have her fighting five guys with swords...or, if you prefer, staffs...in any event, Silver will be involved in a practice session...one filled with a lot of dangerous action. Check her previous appearances for reference. And, while she is so occupied, we'll get in some exposition, and bring our readers up-to-date on what's happening...because she'll be having a conversation throughout the entire scene. She will be conversing with the representative of the French government. It seems the French have hired Silver to get Trick Shot...
And that's how it's done. Thanks, Tom-- this is the easiest M's Rems I've yet to write!