“Edit This!”
Part Two

A Fable For Our Time!


Welcome back to What Th--? Column #60. Next week we’ll be bringing you my interview with Ted Elliott, co-writer (with Terry Rossio) of what is arguably the best movie of the summer and perhaps the year so far, Pirates of The Caribbean , as well as Shrek , Mark of Zorro and many other really fun movies. Make sure you come back next Sunday.

If you haven’t read part one of Edit This click on the link, then return for part two.

Once upon a time there was a place called New York City. It was a bustling metropolis with nearly eight million people. New York was the center of business and industry. One of the industries that thrived in New York was the publishing industry. All sorts of books and magazines were published in New York, from hardcover novels to popular magazines like Life and Saturday Evening Post which were read by nearly everyone. Also published in New York were black and white pamphlets that were between 64-72 pages long that some people called comic books.

At first, these comic books featured reprints of popular newspaper comic strips, like Mutt and Jeff and The Captain And The Kids , but then one publisher said “Shazam” – I mean, he said “Eureka! I’ve got it!” This man decided to put new material into these comic books things and to print them in color.

What was so strange is that the material he put into these books was not comic at all. There was hardly a laugh in all those stories about crime and detectives and oriental masterminds and master magicians. These uncomic books sold all right, but then two young men from somewhere that was not New York City decided they had to write and draw stories about a man from another world who dressed in very tight clothing and could fly and bend steel in his bare hands. For some reason, the people buying these comic books, most of them kids, really loved the adventures of this flying man and very soon there were hundreds of comic books featuring stories about different people in very tight clothing, many of whom could fly.

When there was only one comic book about a flying man, it didn’t matter that the writer and artist lived in a faraway place called Cleveland. After all, they created the flying man and they knew better than anyone how to write and draw his stories. But when there was a demand for more flying men uncomic books, it was believed best if everyone lived in New York City. That way, the companies said, the writers and artists could consult with the company’s editors and work out the stories in very long meetings. The artists could bring their artwork, which was drawn large on special paper, to the editor who could then ask him then and there to make changes if changes were needed. The editor could then have the person who lettered the comic book come into the office to do his job, and after that the person who colored the comic book could pick up the Photostats and make the art look like a rainbow with 63 colors.

For a very long time this is how it worked. After all, New York was the center of publishing, and the very best editors lived and worked there, and had for many years. Writers would come into the office to work out their stories, then they would come back some time later with the typewritten pages. The artists would pick up the story then return their finished art. Everyone lived in New York so the editors had everyone come to them. This way the editor spent his day working face-to-face with his people.

It went on this way, with very few exceptions, for more than 50 years, and everybody was happy. The writers lived in New York. The artists lived in New York. The companies were in New York. And, if people wanted work, they had to come to New York to get their assignments, as they always did. The center of power was in New York and the people in charge thought that was the way it should always be.

But things changed. Writers and artists decided they didn’t always want to live in New York, and who could blame them? It was a dirty, crowded city, and even when they cleaned up the dirt it was still crowded. And noisy. And don’t get me started on the weather. Shazam! I mean, Yikes!

People moved away so they now spoke to their editors over the phone. And guess what? The stories were still good. And the artists mailed their art and their lettering and their coloring. And guess what again? They were still good, too, even though they didn’t come into the office. Even though they lived in places that were not New York.

Once the editor got the finished comic book page, he brought it to his production department to make corrections, which also was good. The seat of power was still in New York.

But then some people decided they wanted to publish comics and they didn’t want to be in New York. So comic book companies opened everywhere around the country and the people they hired to edit the comic books moved to where the companies were so they could do their job. The power was no longer only in New York, but it was still with the company. If you wanted to write or draw or letter or color, you could now live anywhere in the world, even a faraway place called England where they drive on the wrong side of the street. But if you wanted to edit comic books, you had to live where the company was. Why? Because that was the way it had always been done. And because that way the power could remain with the company.

As the years passed, the company hired some very good people, and many of these people were trained to become new editors. There is so much to know in order to be a good editor. But as the companies needed more and more editors there weren’t always people who could train them. The older editors retired and some of the next generation of editors moved away because why should they live in hot New York or humid Florida or rainy Portland? Maybe they wanted to live in crazy Minnesota or even sunny, nearly perfect Los Angeles ( kaf kaf – damn smog! ). All they knew was that even though what they did was very, very good, they didn’t want to live where the companies were.

Well, the companies hired many people who became good, and they hired many people who would never become good. But they only hired the people who came to them. After all, you can’t hire really good editors who didn’t live where the company was. Could you? Editors have to work in the office, didn’t they? They have to be there to talk with their writers and artists who, as they always did, would come up to the office - oops! The writers and artists no longer lived where the companies were. The editors spoke to them over the phone. Or communicated with them by email. Writers and artists not only no longer lived in the same city or State as the company; many didn’t even live in the same country. But the quality of their writing and art didn’t go away just because they lived elsewhere. Instead, the companies were now allowed to hire the best talent they could find no matter where they lived.

And everybody was happy. The end.

***

Okay. So the fable’s over. So why does the editor have to work in the office? To get packages delivered to them? No. Packages can be delivered anywhere. And most artists and writers now send their work to their editors electronically.

How about to make changes in the art? They need a production department for that? Well, no. Because much of the work is done electronically, the original artist can make the changes, if available. If not, since there is rarely paper art involved, the editor can email the artwork to the greatest production artist in the world, living, say, in Uganda, who fixes it. Instantly. What about lettering? You need someone right there to fix the lettering, don’t you? No. There are services that do much of the lettering and coloring production in comics. You email the files to them, which is easier to do than walking it to the production department. You can even have contracts with a number of the very best production services out there so if one is busy you can email it to another or another, whereas if your in-house production people are busy the story sits in a bin until someone is available. Of course, if you want, you can still have production departments and have the editors email the electronic pages to them, just as they would if the editor was down the corridor.

And what do you do when the comic book is complete? The company has to mail it out? No. The files are electronic, remember? The comic is once again emailed, this time to the printer.

So why do the editors have to live where the company is? For meetings, right! Companies can’t exist without meetings. Endless meetings. Endless unproductive meetings.

Except that there are videophones. Many very large companies who have offices all around the world already conduct their meetings today by videophone. There is no need anymore for people to sit around an office. And, God help us, we may actually learn that half the meetings that waste entire days are needed. Would that be a bad thing? And even the meetings that are conducted will move faster as there is less likelihood that the meeting will go astray with idle chatter. Work faster and work better. Hmmm?

Come off it. You can’t actually edit comics out of your house using only a high-speed internet connection? Absolutely, you can. I know at least one publisher who already doing that. His sole editor lives three thousand miles from the office and is doing three times the job that anyone could ever hope to do from an office. I also have a good friend who is a CGI animator. He animates for movies and videogames and has a crew of a dozen other top CGI animators working directly for him. Except for my friend, not one of them lives in this country. If animation files, complete with sound, can be emailed around the world without problem, a comic book page can be sent as well. My friend’s overhead is zip, yet he works with great people – who live nowhere near where he does.

Who knows how many thousands of dollars can be saved by working with contracted editors? There is no need for huge office space or an overly large support staff.

But the editor might not work eight hours a day. They’ll shirk their duties. Hah! I got you there. True. The editor, working on his own, might work only three hours today, because his kid has a ball game. Or he’s tired. Or he wants to go see a bad movie. But they might work 15 hours the next day and they might work over the weekend. In fact, they might work 70 hours a week to get the job done, but it will be 70 hours that fits their schedule, giving them the time to do other things as well. Freelancers time-shift, so would editors. If the home-editor (not a freelancer, remember, a contracted employee who just doesn’t go into an office) is responsible - and you should hire responsible editors whether they work in an office or at home - he will find a way to get the job done on time. Even if it means working 80 hours a week.

The entire world is shifting to telecommunications. Statistics have proven that Company productivity is up when the employee can create his own hours. And with so many creators living God knows where around the world, in a dozen different time zones, you need an editor who can adjust his hours as well. I work best 9-6. Others work best from five in the afternoon to three in the morning. These people might be just what the companies need, but since they don’t fit the current paradigm, the industry misses out on their considerable talents.

There is no longer any reason a company must have all their editors in house. You don’t need to be in an office to receive email files from out of country, or even twenty miles away for that matter. You don’t need to be in the office in order to email electronic work to the production department. You don’t even have to be in the office anymore for meetings. When there’s a meeting, set it up - and the editor will be available by videophone or computer conferencing.

Last week I said that there is only one similarity between a good editor and a bad one. And that was that they all live in the city where the company is. But if the companies embrace the 21st century and realize they no longer have to work like it’s still the Golden Age, they could hire the very best editors out there, not just the best editors they can get to move.

I know there are many roadblocks that need to be worked, but this can be done and I believe eventually it will be done. Maybe half the editors will still work in an office. Or maybe those people should all be assistants, learning the ropes before they, too, can edit from Guatemala or wherever. Talent has no boundaries, but archaic traditions set unnecessary borders.

Traditions become entrenched. But we are living in a time where the old paradigms are failing. Costs are out of control. Overhead is ridiculous. There are brilliant people out there, people who can and would revolutionize comics, but for the problem that they simply can’t move, no matter what the reason.
Is this self-service? To an extent, but as the first East Coast comic book writer to buy a computer and modem and tried to convince the powers that be that they should all be on computers and modems – a decade before they finally made the change - I truly believe the technology exists that allows company to save money and hire the best people, wherever they are.

These home-editors will be as loyal to the company as the editors working down the corridor. Actually, because they can work at their own pace, sleep as late as they want, be with their loved ones, take care of their kids in times of trouble, work nights instead of days they will probably be much happier and ultimately more loyal than someone who has to take an hour train ride in from boonies, dig through snow and rain, only to wonder how today’s variety of politics is going to screw up their job.

Whether the companies want to accept the new technology or not, it’s here and it’s only going to improve. Other companies are embracing it and achieving tangible benefits. Considering where we are today, I’d say it’s worth the try. And, fortunately, the worst that can happen if I’m wrong, is we get a few late books (hardly a novelty these days).

This isn’t brain surgery, you know. Because at least with brain surgery you know the chance is you’re getting the best person for the job, not merely the best doctor willing to move to the neighborhood.

See you in seven.
- Marv Wolfman



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