Whether you’re here because you want to be a comic book editor or whether you’re just curious about what exactly it can entail, welcome! For this piece, I’m going to speak about my personal experience as a freelance editor, which can differ from what is expected of an editor at a comic book publisher.
Maybe even moreso than writing questions, I get asked about being a comic book editor. When you think of what editing typically entails, you probably think about copyedits – someone to help check through your spelling and grammar – and someone who will help you work out any issues with your story.
Comics editing does involve those things, and can just be those things, but it’s often a lot more comprehensive than you might imagine. Depending on what you’re being hired for, and what you feel comfortable doing, freelance editing also means that you’re essentially a project manager for the book that you’re on. You are responsible for working with the team from start to finish, and keeping everyone on track.
EDITS – SCRIPTING
As mentioned, you are responsible for things like spelling and grammar, but it’s a matter of focusing on the important parts and knowing what matters. For instance, you don’t need to be pedantic and copyedit the panel descriptions; the descriptions are ultimately not going to make it into the story so you don’t have to spend a ton of time trying to tidy that all up. You only need to fix descriptions if they don’t make sense for the artist who will have to interpret them. The captions and dialogue are what’s important there, and ensuring that it flows well, serves the overall story, and doesn’t explain what the art will show.
Having a good sense of page layouts will serve you well since in the beginning (if you’re handling the entire book), you won’t have the images to help guide the story for you. It’ll be part of your job to read the descriptions, captions, and dialogue, and interpret whether or not the story will make sense with what the writer has put on the page. You have to try to also think about what the artist will draw from the description and decide if it’s enough for the reader to understand the story.
Alongside that, you’re also giving overall notes to decide if the story makes sense. It’s always different for each project too. Sometimes you’re working on a graphic novel which needs to tell a complete story in one book. Sometimes you’re working episodically and editing individual issues that come together to tell a complete story arc. If you’re working on the latter, do the individual issues feel satisfying and move the story along? Is there too much crammed into any one issue while other areas feel lighter on story?
In comics, everything has to come together to tell a cohesive story, and things can fall apart at any moment if you’re not on top of it all.
Talking to your team about what they want to convey in the story is also great too. It gives you specific things to look for and provide notes on, especially if it falls outside of the general story and copyedits. Maybe they want to focus on strong themes or big character moments. You can focus on whether or not those shine through, and help give inspiration and motivation whenever they feel like it’s not entirely hitting home.
EDITS – ART
Once you have a complete script done, and supposing you’re on board to edit the entire project, the next step is working with the rest of the creative team to bring the script to life.
An editor should strive to have the art process broken up into various stages, even if the artist you’re working with is doing it all; line art, inks, colours, and letters. Typically I would break the process down into:
Those steps would be scheduled individually, given their own realistic deadlines, and we would work through them all with notes given wherever needed along the way. An artist wouldn’t move on to the next step in the process until it’s compared to the script and approved.
The thumbnails phase should mostly be to layout the page based on the script and number of panels needed. It should also include very loose pencils, with word balloons taken into account for placement on the page. An artist doesn’t want to spend a ton of time on pages and panels where things will largely be covered up with captions and/or dialogue.
Pencils are the next step, and they’re the more refined line art for the story. Different artists will do this step in varying levels of detail which tends to come down to whether or not they’re also doing the inking for their art. Artists (in my experience) will go into a little more detail if they’re passing the work off to an inker.
Inks come next, and this is once again comparing things to the script to make sure that everything matches up, and the story is coming together and laid out correctly. This is the final line art, so it should have a refined look, any black and white shading, and should ultimately look complete even without the colour.
The colouring stage is sometimes broken up into more than one step depending on the artist. Some prefer working with someone who can do the colour flatting on the art, while others like to do it all themselves. But the main gist of things here is to set the atmosphere and tone of the story through colour. You once again have to compare things to the script to make sure that everything makes sense and that there aren’t any inconsistencies.
The final step is to hand the nearly completed pages off to a letterer who will then add in the word balloons, caption boxes, etc. as well as the dialogue that’s meant to be in each spot. ALWAYS HIRE A PROFESSIONAL TO DO THIS. Unless you are trained in lettering, I can almost guarantee you that people will notice if you try to cheap out on this step. If the lettering is good, people (unfortunately) won’t notice. If the lettering is bad, people will definitely notice, and can immediately ruin the book.
Through all the steps, it’s important to, again, make sure that everything matches up with the script.
This is pretty straight-forward now that each of the steps have been outlined. Whether you’re working with one creator who is doing everything or you’re working with several creators who are handling individual parts, you need to have a conversation with every person on your team.
You need to be someone that each creator can come to with any issues, questions, concerns, etc. and more than that, you as an editor need to be familiar with them, how they work, concerns they have, and the best ways to help them bring the story to life. You also need to have a realistic idea of how long it takes for each step to be completed.
I always try to ask the creators I work with how long it takes them to complete one full page of pencils/inks/colours/letters. If they’re able to complete more than one page per day, how many per day can they complete? From there, it’s a matter of asking them how many days per week they work, and then doing some math to estimate how long it will take to complete each step.
You do this for each and every issue (if you’re working on a series), and take into account any issues that might come up, factoring that all in. Ideally, you have a generous schedule that you use to keep the team on track.
I tend to put things in a Google Doc, Calendar, and Spreadsheet for my creators. The Google Doc so that they can reference the dates, the calendar so that they can have it set up to give them reminders, and the spreadsheet so we can check things off as they’re completed.
This is very similar to the Project Management aspect of things but in addition to all of what’s listed above, team management involves trying your best to talk to your creators and making sure that they’re doing okay. As friend and fellow editor, Adam P. Knave puts it, you’re also a part-time therapist.
If your creators are stuck at any part of the process, hopefully they feel comfortable enough to come to you and talk. If they’re struggling with a story element, working through it together. If they just need someone to vent to, you can hopefully be there.
It’s okay for creators to fall behind on deadlines, but it’s not okay to ghost on your team. As an editor, trying to have everyone communicate with you is vital. You can rework deadlines and move things around if you know what’s happening, and what to work around. It only gets to be a problem when you don’t hear from someone for ages, and don’t have any way to keep things moving.
You have to be a problem solver and come up with solutions to each unique situation that comes up.
At the end of the day, comics editing can be really intensive and it’s important to know what you’re able to take on. It’s okay to be available to discuss story elements and copyedits (or just one or the other). If you want to just be a project manager, that’s a thing too!
But making sure that you are aware of what you can offer and making sure that your creators are aware of that is key. Communication is what will get you through the journey!
Got anything to add to this? I’m sure I missed some important things along the way, so please feel free to help me add to this, and make it more comprehensive for anyone who is interested and wants to know more about comic book editing.
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