Michael Moccio ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Executive Editor
Official Description: BOOM! Studios creators Paul Jenkins (Fairy Quest), James Tynion IV (The Woods), Megan Hutchison (An Aurora Grimeon Story: Will O’ the Wisp), Christopher Sebela (Dead Letters), and Frank Barbiere (Black Market), along with BOOM! Studios editor-in-chief Matt Gagnon and editor Dafna Pleban, look into the editing secrets of one of the comic book industry’s leading independent publishers and discuss editing dos and don’ts.
Matt Gagnon introduced everyone and got everything going in a Q&A Format. He first asked what editing means to each of the panelists and what their experiences with editorial are.
Paul Jenkins: It taught me to write and collaborate with my editors. It’s always been helpful to my career. To me, a good editor is someone who understands how to get the best from the talent, whether they understand it or not. Generally, the poor example of editing is saying, “I don’t like pages 3 – 7, so change them.” Good editors know how to listen. The trick is to serve the story, and when you do that, it’s going to go well.
Christopher Sebela: I find for myself, especially because I started out with high crimes, which I edit myself. The editors I work with are very helpful getting my head straight, especially when I start drifting off the path. I’ve gotten scripts back with all caps, so sometimes it feels like the editors are yelling at me! [He laughs, joking.] Working in tandem with my editors at BOOM! has been really rewarding. When I pitched Dead Letters, I only had the barebones concept, and they loved it.
Frank Barbiere: It’s very scary transitioning. Good editing is so far beyond just checking grammar–it’s a conversation where you as an individual understand your editor wants the best work possible and go in with no ego. It’s really a conversation to generate the best work. At BOOM! Studios, it’s wonderful to have someone there who comes in at the ground level and that’s where the discussion is. When you all understand the intent, there’s a lot for the discussion and conversation. An editor’s job isn’t to rewrite you, it’s to get the book to be the best it can be and ask those hard questions. It’s been a wonderful experience at BOOM! I would much rather hear about it from my Editor than a journalist after the fact.
Dafna Pleban: So many of the projects we do, it’s something we want to do. We’re here to work as collaborators and bring the work to the front–we exist here to polish it, to bring it into the light. To be an editor, we’re not the writers. We’re not hired to rewrite you, we’re here to help tell the story you want to tell. I work on both franchise properties and original properties, and what I love about both is that everyone comes in with some degree of setting aside their ego to work with a collaborative vision.
Megan Hutchison: Having an open communication and open dialogue is imperative. We were just constantly going back and forth and there was an equal level of communication. I think that’s really important, because you can make really beautiful art, but if it isn’t working in sync with what’s been written, it’s not going to work with the piece. My writing partner and I fed off each other and our editor facilitated that.
James Tynion IV: Every editor has a completely different way of handling things. I’ve worked with two editors over at DC–Mike Marts and Mark Doyle, and it’s interesting to see how different editors collaborate and become a part of the process. With BOOM!, that’s one of the things that’s made it very special. It’s the connection and the synchronicity–I can call up my editors at BOOM! whenever and we’re all immediately on the same page. With DC, they can say “no” in a different way when it’s the company’s property–I could come up with something I think is brilliant to do with Batman, and they’ll say, “We can’t do that with Batman.” But with something like The Woods that’s coming out of my own head, I can change things and have the editors be like, “Cool!” It’s fascinating to compare and contrast editing styles.
One of the challenges Editor-in-Chief Matt Gagnon faced when making BOOM! Studios was “creating the editorial team, answering questions about what kind of editorial team and department do we want to be? I always found editing very rewarding, and I wanted a team where we would support our creators and be that support structure that creators want: that sound board. And all that starts with trust between the two people working together. I think that’s critical, and trust is something you have to earn.”
Gagnon went on to ask for more specifics about the editorial process and what these panelists have been through.
Jenkins talked about the good synchronicity between a writer and editor, how it’s their job to ask them the difficult questions. He expanded on the dangers of the editorial and how the editors being positive or negative will seriously affect the writer’s confidence. It’s the job of the editor to build the writer up–not tear their ideas apart.
Sebela: When I pitched Dead Letters, it was wildly different than it was now. One of the first processes was to break down the concept and make it better. By and large, I’m a closed off person, but opening up to different people creatively–strangers, by and large–has been difficult. But once I read their notes, I feel like they get it. I’ve never gotten a note from BOOM! like, “Oh, this is garbage.” They’re coming from the same place as I am, that we’re all working to build this story up to its conclusion.
Gagnon: As a writer, you want to find an editor that you can trust. As an editor, you want to find writers who are receptive collaborators and get how this industry works. For us at BOOM!, it’s all about finding the right people. Whether it’s in your personal relationships or your business relationships, you want to find the people you believe in. It happens organically, and that’s the exciting part to me. You find people you believe in and you want to double down. I talk about this a lot in the office–none of us are interested in being an average editorial team. Our mission and goal is to be the best, to do it better than anyone else. To have that point of view and pair it with our wonderful creators, that’s where you get the Lumberjanes and all the other “risky” books can happen.
Gagnon: Editors are part military sergeants and therapists. Editors, can you go into your experiences?
Pleban: In terms of being an editor, it’s always on, but it’s also about making it happen. It’s about deadlines and getting book orders out–we’re the gatekeepers in that sense, to keep the creators on time and so their books can be sold. The day starts with facing your inbox and a couple emails. To put it roughly, you’re always working on a single title with three to four issues at once. You’re working every step of the way for a book, so there are three issues of one book happening at once. On top of that, we’re always looking for new talent. You find an artist you’re really excited about and ask is there something we can work on together. As an editor, you’re part therapist and match maker. Great relationships between writers and artists have struck that way, because they’re vibrating at the same frequency.
Pleban: We’re very much perfectionists. We work long after hours not because we have to, but because we want to.
Gagnon: That’s who we want in the bullpen, too. People who are passionate about what they do–people with high energy. You’re always moving every day. One of my favorite things is when the creators come into the office. George Perez came in and said, “This is what I would feel like when I visited Marvel in the 70’s.”
The panel then turned to a Q&A.
BOOM! has such a huge diversity of titles. Is there a voice that BOOM! has?
Gagnon: Editing the BOOM! way is almost like a corporate culture, supporting the creator and lifting them up. That’s really what you want to help the creator do: achieve their goals and take them to the next level. The diversity of the stuff we publish has always been very important to me. When we have a diverse staff, we want everyone to have a voice. From entry level positions and executives, I want them all to have a voice. When we look at the landscape of comics, everything being published is sort of similar, but we didn’t want to do that. That’s what made merging with Archaia so exciting, to bring in all these new creators we hadn’t worked with. We’re going to take a bunch of swings–sometimes, we’re going to miss, and sometimes we’re going to hit homeruns. That’s just how it is.
When you get pitches, like Dead Letters, what stands out to you and what turns you off?
Gagnon: For Dead Letters specifically, we always love what we call “guys with guns.” It was just a wonderful crime vision that I haven’t seen before. We don’t know where this story is going to go, but Chris is a talented writer. As for turnoffs, I think there’s a misconception that editors are looking at pitches and just passing them off. At BOOM! we don’t accept unsolicited pitches, so it’s us going out and finding people we believe in. Editors at BOOM! look through the world with rose-colored glasses–when you turn in a pitch, I’m always hoping it’s a good pitch. In terms of things that’s a turnoff, it’s when someone pitches something totally different from what we do. People who haven’t done the homework or their research.
Do you work with creators from other countries?
Gagnon: We work with creators all over the world.
Dafna: We work all over email and over the phone. We try to make a personal connection over impersonal mediums. We try to Skype and we try to call, because we want them to hear our tone, where we’re coming from. Everyone’s just everywhere, and that’s the best part about this job–you get to work with people you wouldn’t normally get to work with.
Has there ever been a time when the editor was wrong?
Tynion: Yeah, that’s definitely happened. It hasn’t happened at BOOM! yet, but it’s happened at DC, where I know I’m right and when they see that I feel totally vindicated and great.
Jenkins: It’s a number of things. What happens if you want to stick to your guns as a writer and disagree with the editor. At some point, a decision has to be made. Which decision gets made? You never know. I have a way of doing it myself: I make a suggestion and we see what happens, or I have strong suggestions where we have to do this. There are certain things I know work.
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