Writer. Creator. Large mammal.

Writer/Editors – Part 1

The Tenth Level of Hell

The first time I ever heard the term “writer/editor” was shortly after arriving for my first day as associate editor of Marvel Comics on the first working day of January, 1976. At first I thought it must mean a part-time writer who also served as an editor for other writers.

Nope. It meant someone who was the editor of his own work.


That just baffled me. The point of having an editor is having an objective reviewer. All right, it’s way more than that. Of course. An editor is supposed to be a skilled, knowledgeable, interested party whose involvement with the work is not as direct and personal as the writer’s (and, in the case of comics, other creative contributors), and therefore can evaluate the work with some detachment.


The job of a comics editor, as I was taught, is part business, part creative. An editor manages the business directly related to producing the comics: keeping things on schedule and being the first-line overseer of direct expenditures; governing the process of bringing together the art and editorial components and the assembly of same into a ready-to-print package. With regard to the latter, he or she is the “client” of both the art production department, which carries out the physical parts of the preparation of the package, and the manufacturing or print-production department, which produces and delivers to distributors the actual product.

Plus, an editor oversees the creative work and sees to it that the creative goals are achieved. This may include working with the writer to develop the story and contributing creatively, working with the artists to make sure the story is being told effectively, overseeing the creation of the cover and all non-comics editorial, such as letter columns, editorials, additional features, whatever.

So, the editor is something like a film producer/film director, responsible in a project management sense as well as creatively. By director, I don’t mean that the editor should be the “auteur,” though that has happened in comics sometimes. Usually, the editor provides some creative guidance, support and backstopping. He or she is the publisher’s face to the creators.

The ideal situation is when the creators involved on a project don’t need any guidance, support or backstopping. They’re that good and that on the mark. Then, the editor can just watch and applaud—except for the nuts-and-bolts making it print-ready part. That never goes away.

Near ideal is when the creator enjoys or needs some collegial involvement and the editor gets to chime in a little, helping the creator to bring his or her vision to light. That’s often more fun than just watching the latest effort of Miller’s or Simonson’s sail through.

After that, with lesser creators (even if still very good, or strong in some areas) it gets more challenging.

The Editor in Chief oversees the editors. Among other things, he or she sets the aforementioned “creative goals,” or represents the company’s position regarding same.

Apropos of my “collegial involvement” scenario, somewhere around here I have a copy of The Wasteland: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound, which shows T.S. Eliot’s manuscript, Pound’s edits and the final poem as published. It’s fascinating, seeing what Eliot wrote, Pound’s notes and the accord they reached. Some things Eliot changed, per Pound’s advice, some problems he solved in a novel way, not the way Pound advised, and some things were left unchanged. Wow. I recommend the book, though it’s expensive.

Anyway, I had trouble grasping the concept of writer/editors. But, at that point in what I laughingly call a career, mine not to reason why.

Roy Thomas was the first Marvel writer/editor, unless you count Stan, who was so by virtue of being more-or-less on his own. Len Wein was next. Then, three months or so after I started, when he left staff to write full time, Marv Wolfman. Three weeks or so later, Marv’s replacement as Editor in Chief, Gerry Conway, left staff and also became a writer/editor. Nineteen months later, when Archie quit, he, too, became a writer/editor.

So, it seemed to be that once one was EIC, even for a few weeks, one was qualified to become a writer/editor. The theory, I believe, was that no one at Marvel except maybe Stan himself could possibly be capable of editing someone so wonderful as to have achieved the lofty position of EIC. Not even the current EIC.

To some extent, that was sound logic.

Looking around Marvel, I could appreciate why someone like Roy would have serious doubts about having what I considered the normal writer to editor relationship with any of the extant editorial staff members, all “assistant editors” except for me, by the way. No offense to the assistant editors, they were all very smart people, but qualified to work with someone as accomplished, talented and skilled as Roy in the manner described a few ‘graphs ago? Not by my reckoning. Not trained, not experienced, not ready for sure.

As for the current EIC, there was pretty much a revolving door on that office at the time, so who knew whom you might be dealing with?

Ever have a bad editor?

It is the Tenth Level of Hell.

To that point, I’d had three editors. As a sidebar to the subsequent parts of this series, I will regale you with the ups and downs of dealing with Mort Weisinger (things not yet discussed), Julie Schwartz and Murray Boltinoff. Each came with his own set of nightmares.

And yet, they were only seventh or eighth level at worst. I could imagine the darker depths of Hell, though.

A bad editor misunderstands your intent. Misses mistakes that might have been corrected. Inserts additional mistakes, thinking, wrongly, that he or she is correcting or improving something. Lines the book up wrong, putting pages out of order. Is oblivious to bad or inappropriate art and lame storytelling. Allows or even encourages terrible coloring. Ruins the work you poured your heart into. And no one ever suspects they’re to blame. The readers think you “can’t write.”

In later years, I suffered such Tenth Level butchers, I mean editors. Roy and the others were right to be afraid.


Though Roy’s books weren’t given to me to edit in earlier stages because of Roy’s writer/editor status, they did come to the editorial room to be proofread before going to the printer. Because I was officer of the deck, when possible, I proofread Roy’s books myself. Why? Because I thought that if editorial had only one crack at them, I ought to be the one to take it. Also, rightly or wrongly, I felt that I would do the best job, and had the best chance of catching mistakes. Also, because Roy was, probably still is, a major fussbudget and detail tweezer, and if there was going to be any heat for a screw-up on our end, I figured that I should be the one to take it.

Aside from the occasional letterer’s mistake or small art glitch, Roy’s books were almost always pristine. Only a few times did I ever call Roy to ask him about something or make a suggestion. Roy was always friendly and reasonable. I think. He talked so fast I always ended up three or four sentences behind, comprehension wise.

(ASIDE: Once Howard Chaykin came into the editorial room, sat down at an empty desk and called Roy to discuss something. We all heard Howard’s side of the conversation, which went something like this:

“Hello, R….



In seconds, Roy apparently signed off and hung up. Howard said to all in earshot, “Why did Roy just read me War and Peace?”)

Anyway, no problems back in the early days between and Roy and I that I remember.

Sticking with the Roy example for now—we’ll get to the others tomorrow—yes, I understood the concerns he might have ceding any responsibility, much less authority to people unknown, or of dubious qualifications.

And his work was generally outstanding.

So what was the problem?

NEXT: The Problem


Fatal Five design drawings, 1966


Writer/Editors – Part 2


  1. Anonymous

    If i gave a dollar for the amount of great articles you've got written you would be rich. Just thought i would let you know how grateful i am.

  2. Anonymous

    RIP Gene Colan, my favourite US comic-book artist, but I’m always surprised that fans seem to lean on his work for Drac and similar, rather than his superb sixties work for Marvel on Daredevil, Doctor Strange, etc. Why does no-one seem to recall the fantastic “lights-out” issue with Cobra and Hyde (or is it just me?)

  3. Anonymous

    Re: < A bad editor misunderstands your intent… Inserts additional mistakes, thinking, wrongly, that he or she is correcting or improving… ruins the work you poured your heart into…’

    This includes dashing off a line in place of the one you’ve labored over for some time. I’ve always been uncomfortable with situations where the tradition of the sub-editor is to rewrite stuff in his/her own style, rather than handing it back to the originator so that he/she can change it him/herself, according to the critique, and thus become better developed..

    While working for the British version of an American humor mag (shouldn’t be hard to identify!) I’ve had word balloons savagely reduced, removing the bits that were supposed to be funny.

    Re: < For one company, the publisher CALLED himself an editor but didn't do any actual editing >

    One guy got typesetting (rather than hand-lettering) done at a local quick-print shop; the guy at the shop regularly transcribed the stuff wrongly, the “ed” failed or omitted to have it proofed, and the first I saw was the excruciatingly wrong version in the printed issue. This included rhyming couplets which no longer scanned correctly – a personal bête noir.

  4. Casting. I like that. Brilliant.

  5. Jim, O'Neil once said in an interview that he considered his best skill as an editor to be "casting," i.e., getting the right folks on the right books. This seems to go with both your comment above (August 13, 9:13am), and your earlier comparison of an editor with a movie producer, finding the right people for the right position and then finding the balance between supervising and letting them do their work.

  6. As I've said several times, ideally, an editor finds great creators and then stays out of their way. Still plenty to do just seeing the book through preparation and catching the occasional tyypo. : )

  7. I consider Denny O'Neil's Iron Man to be second after the the Michelinie/Layton runs. I was surprised when I read awhile back that he slacked off as an editor, but when you look at some of the creative teams he had (Byrne on Alpha Flight, Miller, and then Miller and Mazzucchelli on Daredevil, etc…) it was probably a good thing that he didn't get involved. The books were great and shipped on time, which was all I cared about.

    He had a long and successful career at DC after he left Marvel, too, including editing the Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, The Killing Joke, and Death in the Family, which are still to this day considered the seminal Batman stories. I think people may not have agreed with his system, but as a reader and consumer, the results that came out of his office speak for themselves, so his adventures as a bad editor again prove that there are more ways than one to produce great comics!

  8. Denny O'Neil at Marvel? Well, I'm not crazy about the Iron Man run, although I can certainly understand why most folks like it.
    Off the top of my head, I enjoy:
    Daredevil w/Mazzucchelli, especially #s 215, w/Ringo Kid! or #218 w/Jester & Cyrano de Bergerac (w/Sal Buscema)
    Amazing Spider-Man Annual #s 14 and 15 – w/Frank Miller art
    Bizarre Adventures – overall editorship and story in #31.
    When it comes to Denny O'Neil, everyone praises (and justifiably so) Batman & GL/GA, but he's written a lot of little-known or barely-discussed gems too. Like a lot of writers, who produced work on a strict, monthly schedule, usually in bulk so as to make a decent living, there have been turkeys, but the good is pretty damn good.

  9. Dear Brian,

    I'll re-read those issues (if I can find them among all these boxes) and see what comes to mind. Thanks.

  10. I don't know if I'd say Denny O'Neil did "nothing" between the mid-seventies and late eighties– I am actually a big fan of his run on IRON MAN (1982-86), and still think it's a rich, strange (in a good way) emotional high point for the character, which has had a large impact on how the character has since been written (current IM writer Matt Fraction has explicitly acknowledged the debt). Jim, do you have any good stories to share about that particular run on the title?

  11. Dear Vince,

    Thanks for chiming in. And thanks for including me on your Avengers writers list along with some very talented people.

  12. Dear Rick,

    Marv was never considered for EPIC Illustrated, much less courted.

  13. Regarding Denny O'Neil, the conception that he was "a burnout" was most likely due to his problems with alcohol at the time. Since he himself has discussed this publicly on several occasions, I figure it's okay to mention it here. At any rate, from what I've read the problems with Legion being behind schedule (in the late 70s) were more due to Levitz being overextended and artist Jim Sherman being slow, rather than any failings of Denny's. Most of the fill-in issues and the one reprint came during Al Milgrom's tenure, btw.

    I don't know anything about Lynn Graeme, but in one way she is appropriate to bring up in a thread about writer/editors. She stuck her own strip "Street Peeple" in the backup slot of the Howard the Duck magazine, and I've always wondered how that slipped by the general "no writer/editors" rule that Jim Shooter instituted. Street Peeple was downright awful, and I doubt any editor except Lynn Graeme would have accepted the work writer Lynn Graeme turned in on it.

  14. Rick,

    Raulo seems to be the nickname for spanish artist Francisco Raúl Cáceres Anillo:

    I've never seen anyone whose real name was Raulo.

    (Paulo – portuguese for Paul – is a fairly common name, on the other hand)

    Hunter (Pedro Bouça – translates as "Peter Heath")

  15. Yes i was Jim sorry i forgot to mention his name.

  16. Good luck with the belligerent water heater, Jim – hope you didn't lose anything irreplaceable in the flooding.

  17. Vince F

    As someone who's been reading comics steadily since 1987, and off and on before that as a kid, I've seen great comics and horrible ones (most of the '90s comes to mind). It's an interesting topic to debate whose good and whose not in terms of writers. Those who generally get high praise (i.e. Ellis and Millar) leave me scratching my head. I don't think I've ever really enjoyed ANYTHING they've ever written. Morrison who so many praise has done nothing I've enjoyed since his Animal Man run which I thoroughly enjoyed.

    Bendis seems to be a lightning rod for criticism, but it was his Daredevil that got me into the character. I continue to read it to this day and while not all of it has been good (Shadowland, anyone?), I really enjoyed Bendis' run and have gone back via the Essential phonebooks and am reading all the issues I've missed.

    As a long-time Avengers fan, dating back to when I was 9 or 10 (and thanks to Jim for his work on that series), I've enjoyed Bendis work. Is it on par with what Thomas, Englehart, Stern, Shooter or Micheline did? No, but I'm okay with what he's done. It's been enjoyable for the most part. In fact, the only run on Avengers I think I've truly disliked was after Bob Harras completed his run (maybe around #379 or so)? At that point, it became completely sub-par with one of those interchangeable artists inspired by Image, and writers (Terry Kavanaugh? Glenn Herdling?) who haven't been seen since those days…

    I'm rambling but thought I'd chime something in.

  18. Anonymous

    Dear Jim,
    I never heard anything about Denny being burned out, but I considered that he was. As soon as he wrote his last Green Lantern-Green Arrow story, he never produced anything worthwhile until he did The Question in the late '80s. Following that entertaining Sandman Saga, his very next Superman story was the pits. Not to mention Batman and everything he did next. He might've been better for an editorial position and he messed that up as Superboy/Legion fell badly behind schedule so fill-ins and even a reprint were needed. Although editor Al Milgrom and writer Paul Levitz may also be to blame for that.

    Speaking of Marv, he mentioned that he was being courted to be the editor of Epic Illustrated as a way to replace his writer/editor position. Instead, he opted to go to DC.

    Thanks for allowing and answering these comments. As always…

    Cheers, all.
    –Rick Dee

  19. ja

    Anonymous said… "What Was … The Problem? (bum ba bum)"

    Wow, I didn't know William Shatner was reading this blog.

  20. Plumbing troubles, specifically an incontinent hot water heater. A certain Blog Elf with the initials "J.J." was supposed to post an explanation but didn't because of having to go to the movies or something.

  21. Anonymous

    I thought he was just building suspense.

    What Was … The Problem? (bum ba bum)

  22. Anonymous

    Thanks a bunch for the answer. A physician I once met told me Raul is a very common name in Romania. So it is in the Phillipines. But I was thinking of Avatar Press artist Raulo (Cazares, may be the last name; it escapes me right now).

    –Rick Dee

  23. Jim had to deal with a broken hot water heater that flooded his place while he was at a meeting in the city. It's fixed now and he'll get a new blog post up later today. We tweeted it, but I should have put a notice on the blog.

  24. PC

    Raoul or Raul are both cognates of Ralf and Ralph, derived from the old Germanic Radulf, according to behindthename.com. The Spanish spelling is Raúl with a diacritic, in Portuguese it's without a diacritic. Raoul is the French spelling.

    Incidentally, while North American writers like to use the misspelled "Raoul" as a standard name for stereotypical macho-type Latin Americans, the name is not popular in either Portugal, Spain or any Latin American country.

    Of the top of my head, I can name four people named Raul (a deceased Mozambican singer, a retired Portuguese news anchor, a retired Portuguese soccer coach and a retired Brazilian racing driver), but that's only because it stands out as uncommon. I'm pretty sure I've never personally met anyone with that name.

    By the way, Jim, are you having computer troubles? You didn't post anything on Tuesday.

  25. Jeff Zoslaw

    I remember a lot of emotional upset in fan circles surrounding Marv leaving Dracula. This came after the huge relief we all felt at the series continuing in magazine form(cancellation of the regular series was looming for quite a bit of time up til then, along with talk of Colan quitting). The few magazine issues they did lacked the greatness of the color series, but there was comfort in knowing Marv and Gene were still on the job. Marv's exit turned me off to comics for awhile but the material Frank Miller was doing drew me back. The Denny and Lynn stuff came from a close friend of Mark Gruenwald's who seemed to know what he was talking about. Great to get another perspective on these events from 32 years ago!

  26. Anonymous

    Thank you for clearing that up. RAOUL is the way is spelled in the Manhunter story. By the way, where does RAULO come from?

    Cheers, all.
    –Rick Dee

  27. Dear Jeff Z,

    Marv didn't like having an editor, I believe that is true.

    I never hired anyone to "lure" anyone else to Marvel. I think you're speaking of Lynn Graeme. I didn't need to lure Denny. He came to me on his own. DC had refused to renew his contract and cut him loose. He needed a gig. He came to see me and asked for writing work. I needed an editor and talked him into considering it. A few people that Denny thinks of as friends, comic book notables, came to me discreetly to warn me not to hire him, saying he was a burn-out and had other issues that need not be discussed here, which is why DC got rid of him. I considered him then, and still do, one of the all-time greats. For that alone, for all he'd done, for the tremendous difference he'd made, he deserved a chance. I gave him a chance. Though, years later, it ended messily, for his work with Frank Miller all by itself made the journey worthwhile. And he did many other wonderful things besides.

    Marv was certainly more valuable to DC than Marvel. Marv is a world-class creator, and, God, they needed some, then. We had a bunch, and more coming up.

  28. Dear Pariah,

    Are you talking about Marv? If so, stay tuned, I'll get to that.

  29. Dear Jeff,

    Gene didn't collaborate in the sense of the word you mean. He just drew the pictures, on TOD, especially brilliantly.

  30. Rick Dee, I can't recall how it was spelled on the book itself, but the name is spelled R-A-U-L in portuguese (and, of course, brazilian portuguese). Raoul is the french language spelling for the same name.

    Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

  31. Jeff Zoslaw

    (It was Rick Marschall who was replaced by Lynn Graeme, not Tom Palmer- to avoid any confusion)

  32. Jeff Zoslaw

    From what I recall, Wolfman was extremely resentful about having editors imposed on him when Tomb of Dracula became a magazine. Rich Marschall kept Tom Palmer from inking the first issue and then was replaced by someone with no experience (I had heard she was Dennis O'Neil's girlfriend and was hired in order to help lure O'Neil to Marvel). After Wolfman's departure, Shooter remarked in a Comics Journal interview that Marv would be more of an asset to DC than he was to Marvel (which undeniably turned out to be true, but Marv might not have liked Shooter saying it).

  33. file:///C:/Users/curefreak/Desktop/Titans%20Companion%20-%20Google%20Books.htm

  34. Dear Jim i hope i'm not stirring "the hornets nest", but i just came across an interview online in twomorrow's book about the Teen Titans.
    and it seems like he almost calls you out by name saying that it was someone he originally hired and then rose up thru the ranks to become EIC and saying he didn't want to work with this person and then mentioning the exact thing you are mentioning now about the writer/editor thing, and then saying he then almost immediately went over to DC after that.

    I was just curious why he made it seem like such a personal beef instead of just a disagreement about how things should be done?

    Anyways here is the link in case anyone hasn't seen it or read it.

  35. GePop said…

    I would argue that Marv Wolfman's very best work in the 70s was TOMB OF DRACULA, and for a good part of that run, his editor was Roy Thomas. And while I believe Marv did assume the editor's mantle on the book later on, I think it's important to remember that he did have a collaborator in Gene Colan, with whom he bounced ideas back and forth and worked through plot problems. So, in a sense, it was almost as if Gene were the co-editor, which meant that Marv did not work in the sort of creative vacuum which other writer/editors may have.

    I think you might be overestimating Gene's role in working with Marv on Tomb of Dracula. Everything I've read – interviews with Gene's various collaborators – suggest that he didn't have a lot of input, with regards to plots, over-all series direction, etc…..On an issue-by-issue basis, Gene certainly controlled the pacing, as part of the "Marvel Method" of creating comics, but I feel it's an exaggeration to suggest that Gene was a co-editor on anything he worked on, including Tomb of Dracula. I am a serious fan of Gene's art, but I just don't see him as a collaborator on the level you suggest. If I am mistaken, please steer me towards a source or sources to correct me; maybe I'm mistaken in thinking that Colan was more "the artist," and less a collaborator or co-editor.

  36. Anonymous

    I agree that Marv's best work was Tomb of Dracula (I never warmed up to his super hero work — not even New Teen Titans, though I admit there were some excellent stories in there). However, in the Marvel Method of doing comics, a penciller will throw in some ideas (Kirby's Silver Surfer, for instance), but what about the mistakes that pop up in the script?

    Archie and Walt worked the Marvel Method on Manhunter (and I revere that series, and Archie, and Walt), yet there were a few scripting mistakes: Interpol based in Zurich; as far as I know, it's always been in Paris. Marrakech is mispelled in Chapter 3 as is the Brazilian name Raoul in Chapter 2.

    Little bits like these should've been caught, yet they slipped by because the writer was also the editor.
    Cheers, all.
    –Rick Dee

  37. Dimitris,

    Byrne says that he was forced to have Quasar on the team when he was writing Avengers because Gruenwald was throwing his weight around and wanted the publicity for the Quasar series he was writing, so it's possible he was mandating that Cap become the leader, but that's also at the time that Steve Rogers got stripped of the Captain America identity, so who knows.

  38. Anonymous, that's not why Stern left. They even both discuss the reason in the letters page, so I don't know where your info came from. Gruenwald and Stern had hammered out details on a direction for the series that Gruenwald wanted, and after trying to make it work, Stern told Mark that he couldn't go that route because he didn't see it serving the characters. Gruenwald decided to replace Stern instead of trust him.

  39. Damien, I have read the following reason for Stern leaving Avengers:

    "This was all fine and good, but in 1988, Avengers editor, Mark Gruenwald, had different ideas about the character. He wanted Captain America to become the leader of the team (conspiracy theories abound that since Gruenwald was the writer of Captain America’s book, that he wanted Cap to lead the Avengers to aid in publicizing Captain America’s title…which I do not think is fair to Gruenwald. It is just as likely that he just decided that it was better for the book for it to go down like this).

    However, Gruenwald did not just want to have Captain America become the leader, he also wanted Captain Marvel to be shown as an inferior leader before she was taken off the team (presumably to further show how adept Captain America is at the role).

    Stern, creator of the character, reasonably balked at this change, as he felt such a move would be hard to do without looking racist or sexist, and therefore, Stern, who had been writing the title for the past 60 issues or so, was taken off the book, and replaced by Ralph Macchio and then Walt Simonson, who both basically followed Gruenwald’s prescribed plot path (until Simonson then took the book in his own direction)."


    I think I have seen Stern confirm that but I can't find it on the internet yet so don't take it for granted.

  40. Anonymous

    This post is great and points out what is wrong with so many modern comics. These days, most of the editors at DC and Marvel aren't doing the job Shooter describes here. Instead, they're essentially talent scouts, begging big name artists like Morrison or Miller to work for the company.

  41. Anonymous

    Piperson- Stern left Avengers because the last issue of the X-Men/Avengers series was rejected after it had already been approved. Mark Gruenwald was the editor, but I think it is more significant that the series was begun (and presumably approved) with Jim Shooter as E-I-C and finished with Tom DeFalco as E-I-C. When you combine this with the fact that the final issue was written by Tom DeFalco, I don't think you can blame Mark Gruenwald.


  42. Firestone

    Well, yes, it could have also used a line editor. Different function entirely.

  43. I know what you mean. I've been following Morrison's stuff for years, so I'm used to him when he goes a bit strange. It generally makes sense to me, but I can see how it wouldn't if you hadn't been following his stuff for years.

    But the project could have done with some editors to make sure that the events in the lead up (Death of the New Gods, Countdown etc) actually matched up with what happened at the start of Final Crisis. You know, like exactly what didn't happen.

    Still, could have been worse. Could have been like a contemporary Marvel crossover.

  44. Firestone

    The thing about Final Crisis is that it had some interesting bones in it. It was clearly meant to be a tribute to the Silver Age, through a classically British lens. (Much of Morrison's work is, I feel, influenced strongly by those 50s and 60s stories you'd get at Christmas in perfectbound books there.)

    It just… needed an editor so very obviously.

  45. Firestone

    Yes, I meant Final Crisis. I need an editor myself, on occasion.

  46. G Bob

    In any creative endeavor, an artist needs somebody to be able to tell them "no, that's a bad idea". This is, I believe, the reason why so much creative output tends to decline in quality as the artist becomes more well known. Craft may increase, but the structure and framework is weaker and weaker. Early on, an artist will have to deal with either editors or clients. As they mature, the editor or client will have less and less impact on the work, and it shows.

  47. Will Eisner, the best artist imho, said he needed an editor for his graphic novels. He said it was not easy to have one but he needed it
    'nuff said?
    btw Mister Shooter, thanks for this blog. So interesting

  48. PC

    Another problem that might have made the concept of writer/editor unfeasable at Marvel was the presence of the first fans-turned-pros.

    We're talking about people who claim that an undestanding of the characters from years of reading them makes them experts on how to write them. That's okay, but they also clearly understood it as becoming experts on how to write period.

    As a journalist, I would never consider working without an editor. And don't anybody think for a minute it's different. Sure, it's informative writing, but even journalists are in love with their own writing.

    I believe everyone who wants to be a writer of whatever should spend some time as a journalist. It teaches you how to get a message across in a limited amount of space, the importance of investigation to make sure you know what you're talking about, and, more important, how to handle an editor hanging over your shoulder on a daily basis. In print media, the editor will criticize your work more often and he is always right. You develop a thicker skin to criticism and learn to defend your work (if you bother to explain your intent to your editor, he'll at least understand the message you want to convey), instead of storming out the door yelling "I quit! How dare the editor criticize me, he is such a nazi!".

  49. Anonymous

    Marc Miyake said…
    "Dear Jim, Thanks for explaining what an editor does. I used to think it was just proofreading."

    You are not alone in that assumption, my friend. I'm an accredited editor myself and come up against that misconception all the time.

    -Pete Marko

  50. Marv Wolfman became writer/editor of Tomb of Dracula with issue #38, which if I'm calculating correctly was literally the midpoint of his 64-issue run. But based on what I've read about how Marvel worked in the mid-70's, he was likely the de facto editor of all the issues before that too. Neither Roy Thomas nor Len Wein were hands-on editors, and writers were generally left to their own devices as long as the books sold all right. The sense I get is that for the most part everybody was a de facto writer/editor at Marvel in the 70's until Shooter took over.

  51. GePop


    I would argue that Marv Wolfman's very best work in the 70s was TOMB OF DRACULA, and for a good part of that run, his editor was Roy Thomas. And while I believe Marv did assume the editor's mantle on the book later on, I think it's important to remember that he did have a collaborator in Gene Colan, with whom he bounced ideas back and forth and worked through plot problems. So, in a sense, it was almost as if Gene were the co-editor, which meant that Marv did not work in the sort of creative vacuum which other writer/editors may have.

  52. Dear Rick,

    I don't think Brin Londo was mine. The others you mention I made up. I did use friends' names, usually modified a bit, for incidental and civilian characters sometimes. Nelson never provided any names for me.

  53. Dear blacjack,

    It was just meant to be wacky fun. Larry Hama proposed it. I said why not?

  54. Jesus Chambrot

    I learned my first day in animation class that a TV ANIMATION DIRECTOR was the person in charge of timing out the boards(also called slugging). He controlled how long a shot would remain on screen. The creative duties are done by the writers and story artists with minimal input from the Director. Go figure.

  55. I suspect an editor might have put the kibosh on Howard the Duck #16 (the "special album issue"). I absolutely loved that thing when I first read it at age 11, and I still love it now, but I can see where a lot of people may not have liked it. Aside from that, there doesn't seem to be a lot of difference between the issues edited by Archie Goodwin (#1-8) and the ones Gerber edited himself (the rest of his run).

  56. Anonymous

    I just finished reading the Essential HOWARD the DUCK (yeah, I HAVE the issues, but the "phone book" is a more convenient package) and Steve Gerber was "writer/editor" for much of it.

    As J.S. had stated in earlier posts, Gerber was a meticulous craftsman, but still… I have no idea if a proper editor would have served the series better (or worse).

  57. I come down on the same side as Dusty… sometimes an editor is needed, sometimes one is not. Writer/Editors are not a concept unique to 70's Marvel, and I can name quite a few outstanding comics produced under a writer/editor system:

    1. At least half of Eisner's Spirit sections
    2. About 90% of the EC Comics published during their classic "New Trend" period (everything written by Al Feldstein or Harvey Kurtzman)
    3. Archie Goodwin's work on Creepy, Eerie, and Blazing Combat circa 1965-67
    4. Stan Lee's entire output, including all his 60's Marvel work
    5. Joe Kubert's Tarzan
    6. Archie Goodwin's brief run on Detective Comics in 1974-75, writing Batman and Manhunter
    7. Roy Thomas's Conan

    Any reasonable list of the best comics of all time would include most if not all of the above, and I'd venture to say none of them would have been improved by having a separate editor.

    Of course it's also possible to list a lot of bad comics produced by writer/editors, and also some good ones that could have been notably better with an editor (eg Kirby's Fourth World). I guess my conclusion would be that not everyone is qualified to be a writer/editor, and if a person is unqualified it can create problems. At the same time, I wouldn't condemn the entire concept because there have been people who could do it extremely well and produce excellent work.

  58. sounds like a nice way to get 2 paychecks for doing one job.

  59. Anonymous

    I'm no real fan of the writer/editor program, yet Marv Wolfman insists he did his best job like that. Others argue that a lowly assistant editor couldn't/wouldn't dare criticize a writer/editor. Even the best writers and editors (Archie Goodwin, anyone?) also had mistakes.

    Cheers, all.

    –Rick Dee

  60. Is there any story behind the Obnoxio the Clown vs. the X-Men? I just remember it stuck out like a sore thumb at the time. So I bought it.

  61. John_Dunbar

    Well, this should be an interesting series, and so far, it is. Put me on the side of not being a fan of the writer/editor concept. I have a few theories based on things Mr. Shooter has already said and look forward to seeing if I'm right or wrong.

    Confirmed so far: Stan did it out of necessity, and in my opinion, it was magical. Without Stan's knack for putting the right folks in the right spots, Marvel may well have died not long after FF 1. He absolutely got the most out of what was a skeleton crew in the early days. As a writer, sure, he made all kinds of gaffes – which gave birth to the No-Prize. Talk about turning a negative into a positive!

    Sorta confirmed: Roy Thomas made it work too, because Roy was honest and meticulous enough to make it work. Jim calls Roy a "fussbudget", endearingly I think, and just based on his writing – not just his stories, but (especially) his lettercols – my impression is that Roy's hardest critic would probably be Roy. Editor Thomas would use the blue pencil on writer Thomas the same way that he would use it on anyone else.

    Yet to be confirmed: Well, I don't want to be too harsh but … I think some people collected two paychecks and didn't really do two jobs. A lot of mid 70s Marvel would have benefited from two sets of eyes in my humble opinion. How closely did some people look at their own work, month in, month out? Not to mention the tidbits Jim has already shared: people who were coming in mid-morning, doing freelance work while on company time, going on long lunches not all that long after arriving, mid afternoon board game sessions, hiring spouses as freelancers and having them also be office employees … and I'm sure there's more.

  62. Anonymous – Wasn't aware that I was comparing IC and FC. I was actually trying to clarify whether Firestone had mistakenly attributed IC to Grant Morrison or whether he/she had mixed up the titles.

  63. Anonymous,

    The readers should be the judge and the motivation; it shouldn't be the editor that serves that purpose. Like I said, some writers do need that person involved, but others clearly haven't needed more than an assistant to proof read for typos. Conan has never achieved the sales or critical success with an individual writer and editor that it did with Roy serving both capacities. What other proof for this is required?

  64. Anonymous

    "It was Final Crisis (rather than Infinite Crisis) that Grant Morrison wrote. Not sure if this makes any difference to your argument."

    Fie! Fie, I say! How you can even compare the well-structured awesomeness that was Infinite Crisis with the mess of sauceless spaghetti that was Final Crisis I do not know — IC delivered OMG after OMG, while FC delivered WTF after WTF. FC didn't need an editor. It needed a decoder ring! –MikeAnon

  65. ~P~

    I was a working writer/artist in the comics industry for a few small independent publishers in the late 1980's – mid 1990's and never once had a "real" editor.

    It was maddening!

    For one company, the publisher CALLED himself an editor but didn't do any actual editing (although he DID do a bunch of the "prep for press" work) and when the finished piece hit the stands with a typo or grammatical error, he would call me to task on it.

    Understand, that in my tenure I only let slip 2 or 3 small errors (the one I most recall was an improper usage of a word due to a past participle).

    One major flaw that occurred was purely because the letterer screwed up and neglected to paste in a text box, so a splash page lost its big meaning… but THAT he didn't notice, even after it saw print.

    Still, given the fact that I had only a few weeks to plot, script, pencil, ink AND set up balloon placement for each issue (due to their weird work flow) I'm amazed that I made all my deadlines with so few slip ups.

    Another company I worked for assigned me an editor AFTER I had written a very complex script for a 5-issue, double-size, deluxe-format mini-series… a number of issues and pages that the publisher agreed to before I took pen to paper… and the editor's first comment was that I would have to make it all fit to a 3 issue series of half the pages.
    There was no way to do so without losing EVERYTHING. (Was this something he was instructed to do by the publisher? No idea. Since it took the company months to assign an editor to my project – long enough for me to finish the scripts for the entire series – with me sending in each issue's script for approval – and I was just about to start penciling.)

    Plus, he had no experience in comics, (or even fiction) instead having a background as an article editor for a small wrestling mag (although, wrestling IS fiction, right?).

    Needless to say, I tried to get in touch with the publisher, but when I received no replies, I waited a little bit and within a month got wind that they weren't going to be in business much longer.

    I would have LOVED to have worked with an editor before I got started on the project. Bounced ideas back and forth and collaborated.

    Instead, it was just me acting as my own writer/editor as best I could, and having a friend (with no writer's experience) to use as a sounding board. Actually, that worked fairly well, as just HEARING the ideas out loud helps you to better form them. He would often just sit – soundless – listening as I asked and answered my own questions. His input was welcome, of course, but it worked well that just having SOMEONE THERE is a help unto itself.

    Today, the position of editor seems to be more of the "prep for press" and "promotion" end of the biz. No one is checking for errors of any kind.

    As for me…
    I would give my right arm (I'm a lefty – so I NEED that one) to work as a continuity editor – for comics, TV, film… whatever. I'm very good at that kind of attention to detail.

  66. Anonymous

    See! Typo! "If find" should be "I find"…

  67. Anonymous

    I think that an editor is always needed, even if they change nothing.

    If find that the mere notion that someone will be judging me and my work is quite motivating.

  68. Roy Thomas wrote some of the greatest comics ever with Conan, so he obviously didn't need anybody running interference. As mentioned, Gruenwald, who I personally consider the best editor ever, screwed up the best Avengers run in history when he refused to trust Roger Stern's instincts, causing Stern to leave. Then there was that awful period in the early 90's where editors who weren't good enough to be writers themselves were trying to live out their comic writing dreams by dictating to writers.

    Today, people like Bendis, Ellis, and Millar, who have absolutely no grasp on Marvel characters, and have read very little of the comics of the past, apparently don't have an editor to make sure they write in character or respect past works. Instead, company "yes men" let them destroy the industry because they are allowed to do whatever they want. Being friends with Quesada has become the most important qualification to write for Marvel and do whatever you want. The sales drop over the last few years has been the result. Not that people at Marvel with ever admit their faults.

    Sometimes, an editor is needed, sometimes, an editor is not.

  69. ja

    Patrick Daniel O'Neill is SO RIGHT about Liefeld. I witnessed him asking an opinion on his work of someone he was friends with once, early in his career. That person responded something to the effect of (I paraphrase), "I'm concerned that people would think you're tracing Arthur Adams' work, drawing everyone in limited poses, all with the same expressions", and a few other helpful criticisms.

    Liefeld ended up never speaking to him again.

    All he wanted to hear was "good job!", and nothing else. The quality of his work I believe demonstrates this attitude, even to this day.

    Not only do you need an editor when you're doing work for a company whose characters they own and you do not, you REALLY need an editor when you're doing your creator-owned work. It's the one thing that can prevent you from boringly contemplating your navel for months and years on end.

    Those who have the 'I don't need an editor' attitude simply refuse to be put in a position to be challenged, not wanting to do the hard work one must in order to make the work great, if not simply good or slighty better.


  70. Firestone – It was Final Crisis (rather than Infinite Crisis) that Grant Morrison wrote. Not sure if this makes any difference to your argument. I suppose it depends which of the two you had more of a problem with.

    Personally, I really enjoyed Final Crisis but have noticed silly little mistakes in some of Morrison's Batbooks, the kind of things that editors used to pick up on. Not major details for sure, but more than a No Prize could explain away, if you get my drift.

    Piperson – I think this kind of thing happened more in the Tom Defalco/Terry Stewart era. Like with X Men, for example.

  71. Oh yes. This is The Goods™ right here, folks. 🙂 Seeya tomorrow.

  72. One side of editing that you didn't touch on is that the editor hires and fires the "talent" and even can suggest or require a writer to write a certain plot or direction.
    I vividly remember when, because of Mark Grunwald's desire to take the Avengers in a certain direction, the amazing run of Roger Stern's Avengers was ended only to leave a disaster in it's wake.

  73. I remember having just this kind of "discussion" (I use the term loosely) with Rob Liefeld not long after he co-founded Image Comics, in the middle of a long article for Wizard. I held the position that one cannot edit one's own work and, further, that the editor cannot be the employee of the creator, or else he has no real authority to insist on changes. Liefeld, of course, felt that an editor was little more than a traffic cop and should not have any authority over the work at all.

  74. I don't work in comics at this point, but as an indie novelist, and let me just say: even I seek out a second pair of eyes.

    Writers need editors when they're just dealing with words.

    When dealing with a penciler, inker, colorist and letterer? Even moreso!

  75. Dear Jim,

    Thanks for explaining what an editor does. I used to think it was just proofreading. Turns out it requires two different kinds of skills that don't necessarily go together.

    I never understood the writer-editor concept, but now I see it might be an unintentional side effect of Stan Lee's legacy.

    You have even more Mort stories? A lot of ups as well as downs, I hope. I would have thought he was tenth level, but then again, looking at the finished product, he couldn't have been.

  76. Firestone

    Personally, I am of the opinion that this is the major problem facing certain writers today. Grant Morrison, specifically. He needs a good editor. Just for clarity. With it, we get the JLA. Without it, we get Infinite Crisis. Which, say what you want, needed a good strong editor's hand for clarity.

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