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Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Behind the Heroes Part 2 : The Editor

Behind the Heroes Pt 2, A conversation with editor Steven Forbes 

We’ve all seen credits in comics, magazines and books that list who edited the work, so we are familiar with editors; but do people realize what the editor’s role really is?

While it is true that an editors reply or report to a piece of work they are editing may cause a dent in one’s ego, the truth is that a good editor is worth their weight in gold. 

Rather than attempting to describe the editor’s role from referenced sources I spoke with editor Steven Forbes who was able to take some time to answer my questions.

Forbes started by saying  “I've been reading comics basically since I could read, and have been studying everything I could about how they're made, what makes a good comic, what bad comics are, and anything that could help me be a better creator for a very long time. Basically, for me, it is wanting to help others tell the best story they can that motivates me to be the best editor I can be.” Forbes said  Qualifications? I don't think there are any. Sure, a degree in English or Journalism may help some, but as a medium, comics have so many moving parts, and each project is so different from the next, that saying "you must learn this" is almost absurd to me. 

There are some things you have to know, though. You have to know your medium. You have to know how it works. You have to know how to deal with creators. You have to know how a story works within the medium. And above all, you must know how to be flexible. 

I don't think that answers the question you were asking. I don't think there really is one. I learned the craft, and I continue to learn my craft. 

My next question was whether Forbes had consciously decided to become an editor “I didn't set out to be an editor. I set out to be a writer. However, as I learned my craft, I found a lot of new writers who were trying to break in making extremely bad decisions with their stories, or just not able to tell a story well to begin with. I thought I could help, so I started commenting on scripts, giving my thoughts on them through the lens of what I learned. Others agreed with what I said. The more I commented, the better I got at seeing mistakes others were making, as well as my own. So I kind of fell into editing.

While he also draws from his own experience as a writer, Forbes also talks about how his work as an editor has helped his writing “I tell better stories now, and I have a vision as to how I want my story to flow.
I wrote a story once, and the editor wanted me to change some things. Some things I was okay with, because I really didn't care, but other things I stood my ground on. I know how to tell a story, and better yet, I know how to tell my story. If your change doesn't make sense, I'm not going to go for it.” 

Forbes views the role of editor on different levels “I see the role of the editor as a duality. First and foremost, the editor is there to make the creators look like the geniuses they believe they are. This has to show in the work. Secondly, the editor is the first, last, and only advocate for the reader. The former helps the latter.

After that, it's a lot of playing traffic cop and checking in to make things are going well and on time (if the creator has/wants a schedule to adhere to). I try to stay as involved as the creator needs me to be.”

Word programs with spellcheck and grammar editors were once expensive additional software that had to be purchased and installed separately; but now are standard in computers, tablets and phones.
So has the wide spread availability of these programs impacted the editors role at all?
From a writing standpoint, yes. I have to look hard to make sure the writer is saying what they're attempting to say. Some creators don't know the difference between two, too, and to, but they want to write a story. Sometimes, it doesn't impact the panel descriptions where it will make a difference to the artist, so I don't lose my mind over those.” Forbes said, “Computers aren't used to their potential, though. Very often, they're seen as shortcuts, so that some parts of the team can be cut out. This is generally due to budgetary costs, and I can understand it, but at the same time, if a creator is going to take on multiple jobs, then they need to learn how to do that job as thoroughly as possible.
 The best/worst example of this is the writer learning how to letter. I'm all for it. Lettering your own book can save you a few hundred dollars--but only if you do it well. There are books out there, tutorials, and all kinds of reference materials to help you be a fair letterer. Take advantage of them! However, don't think that you're going to get by me with bad lettering. Not if I can help it.

There are no rules cast in stone as to how every edit should be done, while there are guidelines and general standards of practice there are different approaches each editor will take.
I do have a set approach, but I tend to vary that approach by what individual creators/projects need. Some need a stronger hand, some not so strong.” Forbes said, “I try to always start with the feeling of a ground rule, though: this isn't my book, it's yours (the creator's). You hired me to help you tell the best story you can. That's what I'm going to do. I'm not going to tell your story for you, and if I feel your story needs a new direction or approach, I'm going to tell you, and I'll go so far as to give you an outline that I highly suggest you follow. But in the end, I work for you.

But do not think that the editor is there to hold your hand “My approach to scripting is simple (and I often find that it is the writer who needs the most help): I'm not going to write the script for you. I'll help you fix your spelling and grammar, clearing it up the best I can, asking questions when necessary, but I'm not going to write the script for you. The writer will have to do all the research. The writer will have to do the rewriting. The writer will have to do the work.

Forbes believes that part of the editor’s role is to guide the creators in learning from their mistakes “I also believe that editors should be teachers. I'm suggesting/making this change, and this is the reason why. This way, I believe, creators understand why the change was made, and they don't get their back up or their feelings hurt. 

Finally, I have to be available. Sometimes, it's just to bounce ideas off of other times it's being the pressure valve that the creator can vent to. Availability is important. It's all important, really.” 

Does that mean Forbes sees times where he overlooks what is seen as ‘right’ in favor of the flow and rhythm of a piece?
There is no such thing as a "right way." The only "right way" is the way that works for the project. As long as the piece arrives at a standard of quality that I have in my head, then I'm happy. There is a minimum level there, of course, but that depends on the creator. Not all creators are equal in their storytelling prowess. 
The only things I can't overlook are the things that will take the reader out of the story. If that happens, I'm not doing my job, and should be promptly fired.” 

What is it like for an editor to try and enjoy a comic, movie or a book?
 Does the editor part of the brain ever turn off?
Never. I never turn off the editor portion of my head. That's part of how I learn, and it is also part of how I decide if a story is worth my time and money,” said Forbes, “I recently bought some comics, going on a tear. Six months of one particular book, because I'd heard some things about it. 
It was a waste of money. The story wasn't as coherent as it could have been, and it definitely didn't move as well as it could have. Lots of pages with a low panel count as well as a low word count per panel. It was upsetting. The editor of the book should have asked where the story was, because it was missing.

I watch a lot of movies. I find that the older the movie, the more substance it has. Today's films lack gravitas, for the most part. I can tell what's going to happen or pick them apart with ease. Or, if it's supposed to just be fun, I'll turn off my entire head and go along for the ride. 

But in my entertainment consumption, I'm always looking for a new way to tell a story. If I'm absorbed in something, I'll ask myself why, and then think about it, and hope to put that in my toolbox either as a writer or an editor, so that I can use it later.

In a perfect world, everything goes in the toolbox. Nothing should ever be thrown out, because everything should be able to teach you something.

Sometimes people have to assume different roles when working on a project; some people like this approach while others prefer not to wear multiple hats at the same time.
I asked Forbes if he often assumes different roles during the course of a project “None. If I've been hired as the editor, that's all I'm doing.” Forbes replied, “Most of my clients are trying to get their work submitted to another company, so part of one of my packages is to point them in the direction of a company that may be interested in the project. Very few of my clients are trying to self-publish.” 

I asked Forbes what were some of the things he looks for before committing to a project “The story has to have merit. I don't want to work on a story that has screwed up characters and a screwed up worldview because that's the story the creator wants to tell. What are the merits of the story? Why does this particular story need to be told?
The more a creator is able to interest me in their work, the better I'll be able to help them.

A good editor will help nudge a creator in the right direction without injecting their ideas into what the creator is trying to bring to life, they help the creator clarify and define what they are creating to produce as good of an end result as the team is capable of.

If you feel that your work is just fine and you don’t need an editor then hopefully this article has shown you why you may want to rethink that approach. However if you have yet to work with an editor and feel that it is time to make your work more professional then this article will have shown you some of what to expect, and things to consider before approaching an editor.

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