Long ago in the Before Time, I was an editor at a comic book publisher. When I arrived there, the only way to edit that I knew was the way I edited a prose novel or story: look at the words, look at the characters, look at the plot, look at the underpinnings, make notes, return the whole to the author with the request that my comments be addressed in some fashion.
Okay: I knew that the words were often not key here, since a comic book script has words that will be translated into images (and dialogue is privileged… though I frequently queried things along the lines of “are you sure that’s what Our Hero means to say?”). So I was mostly, after a while, looking at plot, characterization (particularly of the corporate properties–which is to say, the heroes and heroines of our lines), and underpinnings. My arch enemies were the phrases “the Kids’ll Love It,” and “It doesn’t matter, it’s a comic book.” Because I thought, and still think, that it does matter a lot.
I worked with a number of comics writers, some famous, some not so much. And it is of two of them I would speak. I worked with them when I was pretty new to comics, and still testing what I was doing and how I was doing it. And I had a Biggish-Name writer assigned to one of my books, and a house-favorite younger guy assigned to another. So: each of them turned in a script. Writer A, who had been a staff editor and colorist and knew the characters inside and out, had turned in a pretty good script which, to my mind, needed some tweaks. I marked it up and returned it to him, and he asked “what is this?” Not in an affronted way, but with genuine curiosity.
“Editorial comments. For you to look over and address.”
He paged through, reading my notes, then smiled. “This is great. No one ever did this for me before.”
Well, of course I was relieved. I was new in comics, and hoping I’d done it right, and apparently I had. And he explained why he thought a couple of things were okay as they were, and we talked about it, and he turned in a second draft that both of us agreed was much stronger. I loved working with Writer A.
And then there was Writer B. The script he turned in needed a touch of tweaking in terms of maintaining the character of the characters, as it were. He worked for different companies, so that didn’t seem to bother him. But I also thought it was pretty lackluster, and it had at its heart one huge–and needless–scientific flaw. So I marked it up and sent it back to him… and other than fixing the character details, he totally refused to entertain the idea of changing anything. I don’t know if he felt he wasn’t being paid enough (he was being paid exactly what everyone else was being paid) or if he was too important to be edited, or simply that no one had ever done this for/to him before. We went back and forth. I attempted to keep my temper and my cool as he absolutely refused to change anything. I could have done it; it was work-for-hire. But I didn’t want to unless I had to.
The big bone of contention was the scientific error. Changing one word throughout would have solved the problem (bacteria for virus). But this was just when The Hot Zone was big, and he insisted it had to be a virus, despite the fact that viruses don’t work the way he was saying they did. “Doesn’t matter,” he kept telling me. “No one cares.”
You know that full-body seeing-red flush that comes over you when you’re just stunned with frustration and anger, but have to be the grown-up and not be cranky? No? Maybe it’s just me. I did not scream I CARE AND SO SHOULD YOU!!! But I was a woman in a male-dominated field, and I didn’t want Writer B to use the “she’s a girl so she just doesn’t get it” plaint with me, or use me as an example of how “women get too emotional”. Finally, I let the book go out as he’d written it, with the adjustments to our proprietary characters and all the lackluster left in, under his byline. He refused to work with me again, which was fine on both sides.
But I changed virus to bacteria. Lackluster is one thing. Facts are another.