Editing Comics In The 21st Century, by Mike Gold
As you may know, as part of the ComicMix ruling triumvirate I spend my spare time editing comics published on, and soon by, ComicMix. It’s the most fun part of the job, and I really enjoy the catalytic experience. I’ve been editing for a million years, much of that time editing comics, and I try really hard not to get set in my ways. Having a short attention span helps.
So does working on the Internet. Case in point:
I’ve been working with John Ostrander and/or Timothy Truman since the week before fish crawled out of the ocean. It’s one of my happiest experiences; it’s great fun to work with talented people with whom you share culture, worldview and personal history. But I’m always concerned that creatively we’ll fall into a rut and take things for granted. So far, so good.
Our process (and this differs for each creative team as well as on each project) is simple. Either John or Tim comes up with an idea and we kick it around in an endless series of witty and self-referential e-mails. Eventually Tim decides he’s read enough. John and I continue for a bit just to make sure Tim didn’t change his mind (or maybe just to annoy him; I can’t tell anymore). Then John writes up a plot for the first chunk of story. Before the Internet, that would usually be a 22 – 24 page segment; now, it’s whatever John feels like. We kick it around a tiny bit, and Tim takes it away and draws whatever he feels like drawing. John dialogues it. At each step of the way, I make snarky notes and cultural references that would confound Dennis Miller.
John and Tim usually “get” these awesome bon mots. For example, while working on GrimJack: The Manx Cat earlier today John referenced Lord Cumulus; I replied that the situation didn’t require anybody sleeping with Margot Kidder. If you got that without Googling, congratulations: you are as badly in need of a life as I am. Tim either got it or, more likely, decided it was beneath his dignity.
In the same plot – we were actually re-plotting a sequence that we’re just about to run because John’n’Tim came up with some great new ideas – John set up a fight scene to run three panels. I responded with a request that we add a page and let Tim do some real serious shitkicking. Tim responded by adding two. By the time he draws this (knowing Tim, it’s probably penciled already) it could be three.
And that’s the beauty of the Internet. We can do graphic novels as though they were actual novels. If a scene requires a few extra pages, or a few less, we can do that. We don’t have to fit into a 22 page per month format. We don’t have to shorten another scene in order to make room for the new idea. We just add another page or two. No domino effect.
This might not sound like very much, but let me tell you something: it is completely different from the way comic book stories have been plotted since the mid-1930s. It provides an amazing amount of creative freedom.
It’s pretty damn cool. Mark Wheatley and Bob Tinnell figured this out immediately; when we started EZ Street, we weren’t absolutely certain how many pages the thing would run. I’m not certain we are now. Trevor Von Eeden has been telling his story his way as well: only now do I know how long it’ll run. I still don’t know when it’ll start, because Trev’s inking his work and he needed to pencil and write the entire story first. We didn’t have that freedom in traditional comics, either – at least, not to this extent.
Forgive me if I sound like I’m bragging. I’m just having a swell time.
And I hope you are, too.
Mike Gold is editor-in-chief of ComicMix.