What comes to mind when you think of the comic book editor? Often, it is the management of deadlines that comes to mind. Representing just about every mainstream industry publisher and editing hundreds of titles, Barbara Kesel, Shannon Eric Denton, Kris Simon, Matt Hawkins, and Vince Hernandez convened for the #MakeComics panel “America’s Best Editors” hosted by Long Beach Comic Expo this past Saturday. For an hour, the five leading editors shed light on the position of editor within the comic book industry today, and they revealed that there are several facets to that role.
During the discussion, three aspects of the editor’s position were discussed. The first discussion point was from the perspective of the writer/creator who is seeking to work with an editor at a publishing company. Hawkins stated that editors want to see an example of work, so he advised creating approximately eight consecutive sequential pages of one story. This means assembling a creative team to produce a comic book. Initially, it sounds like a daunting and insurmountable task; however, as Denton and Kesel explained, with the ease of self-publishing, the team can realize a physical copy by utilizing print-on-demand as a way of keeping costs down.
The next step is getting the comic book in front of the editors. Simon conveyed the importance of networking, so comic conventions can provide a wealth of opportunities for getting in front of editors. To be noticed, Denton said to use the measurement of “I have to better than ______.” Hernandez stated that he is always listening to the buzz; for example, who is being talked about in the industry. He did add that he has found writers/artists through webcomics, DeviantArt, and image posts at Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Hawkins and Denton agreed that social media does play an important role in getting noticed. For artists seeking out editors, Kesel recommended David Chelsea’s book, Perspective! For Comic Book Artists: How to Achieve a Professional Look in Your Artwork. All of the panelists were in agreement they could look at someone’s art and quickly assess if their skills are at the appropriate level. And, Hawkins added that he looks for technical proficiency via the difficult illustrations that require a higher degree of skill to be successful, such as forced perspectives.
The second aspect of an editor explored the role and expectations of the position. Beyond managing a project’s deadlines as mentioned above, the editor keeps the writer feeling safe and content; however, it was noted that the editor must balance that with the need to champion the company’s own goals. The editor typically juggles several titles each month from inception to conclusion and often wears multiple hats in addition to that of editor. For example, Hernandez and Hawkins are writers as well as editors for Aspen Comics and Top Cow, respectively. (Note: Hawkins is also President and COO of Top Cow, and a physicist!) As Hawkins stated, it is often a “hurry up and wait” game since editors are not always immediately available.
What are some tips to be a successful editor? Simon stated that when asked to edit a story, she cautioned to not feel that you have to change something just to earn your editorial fee. Denton added that as an editor, if there are ways to reduce costs, then suggest them. This is often known by having an understanding of the various parts and processes associated with producing a comic book, said Kesel. Hawkins said he found it helps to read the dialogue out loud to determine if the text flows smoothly.
One of the heavily stressed expectations that the editor has is that the creator will make their deadline and stay in touch if unable to make the project timeline. All the panelists strongly stressed staying in communication with the editor. Simon stated to be honest and don’t give excuses, especially repeatedly; editors do not want to hear excuses. Denton warned that editors may go looking at the creator’s social media to see what they have been doing. Hernandez chimed in and said that editors also realize that economics is a factor and understand that a creator may put a better-paying project ahead of their own.
As the hour was wrapping up, the last aspect that was touched on was how to become an editor. Denton mentioned that the bigger publishers advertise their positions; however, like creators, an aspiring editor needs to show they can do the work. So, that means putting together a creative team or seeking out a project in which an editor is being sought, and producing a product (comic book) that can be submitted. Kesel advised telling the creative team up front that you are seeking editorial experience and make sure that the creators retain the rights to their work. And, as with writers and artists, aspiring editors need to network, too.