You all now what a comic book editor does. I’ve devoted at least one installment of this column to the subject. Patrick Coyle of Hartford, CT wants to know how you get to be a comic book editor – or more, specifically, what are the qualifications to become one?
First, let it be known that there’s no such thing as a comic book editor school or even a course on comic book editing in a school that has cartooning or comic illustration as part of the curriculum. Second, there is no strict set of credentials that one needs in order to apply for the job. Marvel’s stable of editors has diverse backgrounds in terms of education, experience in publishing, knowledge of the medium, and so on. But they obviously impressed someone that they knew how to edit comic books, or they wouldn’t have been hired.
That said, let me offer you my advice on what an aspiring comic book editor ought to learn. 1) Grammar, spelling, punctuation, and basic English skills are absolutely essential. One of an editor’s prime responsibilities to the reading public is turning out literate material. Writers may be able to slide on some of the rules, but editors have to know this stuff. (I found that taking Latin for three years improved my English skill – go figure.) 2) Creative writing skills should also be nurtured. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that every good editor must have the potential to be a good writer. In order to help your writers do work that you like, you have to know how to do their job. There’s no better way to get expertise than by writing. Take all the creative writing courses you can find. 3) Journalism is a special kind of writing, but I’d encourage future editors to learn as much as they can about it. Journalistic writing tends to be highly structured, like comic book writing. Becoming proficient at one discipline will help you become proficient at related ones. Working under deadline pressure is also great preparation for the comic book life. 4) Knowledge of the medium is necessary, but since there are not many courses that teach the theory behind communicating through a sequence of pictures and words, you’re left to your own devices to figure out the craft and its techniques. I’d recommend studying film since that medium has many similarities to comic art. 5) Knowledge of the material (what the stories are about rather than how they work) is helpful but not essential. It will give you a head start on your homework if you’re familiar with material in advance. Finally 6) Management skills are very helpful to acquire. An editor has to deal with all sorts of people, including creative types who have a tendency to be (shall we say) temperamental, and frequently one’s powers of diplomacy are called upon. I would suggest finding employment in some area where you have to deal with the public on a regular basis as good preparation. Working in a fast food joint would be ideal since that will also teach you to work efficiently under pressure. (I worked in a record store myself.)
Those are my tips. Hope they’re useful, Patrick.