Who Edits the Editmen?

howardthe duck 16Spring 1977: after an intense winter of juggling projects at Marvel, Howard the Duck creator Steve Gerber packs up a van and begins his move from New York City to Las Vegas despite being behind on his deadlines before the first box was loaded. He has just ended Howard the Duck #15 on a cliffhanger and given artist Gene Colan a rough idea of what #16 is about, but it quickly becomes clear to him that this issue is not getting done any time soon, certainly not in time to meet the schedule. Marvel is going to have to run a reprint, despite the fact that the book is so new that any true fans of it will have certainly just finished buying that same content scant months before.

(I used to think, “What is this ‘late books’ crap? We didn’t have ‘late books’ when I was a kid,” only to discover that’s because publishers used to deal with blown deadlines by pulling some old pages out of a drawer and slapping a cover on them. This discovery robbed me of my innocence forever, but at least it explained that issue of Thor I bought where he fought a green Hulk despite the fact that the Hulk hadn’t been green in years. Ah, youth.)

What the hell was going to happen to Howard?

Somewhere around Columbia, Missouri (go Tigers!) Steve Gerber has an epiphany. Issue #16 will begin where the cliffhanger left off before immediately crashing through the fourth wall and confessing that it isn’t ready. The rest of the issue will be a rambling text essay about writing, the difficulty of churning out product for the masses in the hit-smash-kill culture of work-for-hire comics, and the challenges the author faces living with all the other people on the planet and vice versa. Each page of the essay will feature a pin-up illustration by a different artist, so Marvel can work on ten pages at once and crank the sucker out in time to see print. One page, the Obligatory Fight Scene, will feature an ostrich and a Las Vegas chorus girl versus the Killer Lampshade. The last page of the book will be a “fan letter” to Steve Gerber from Steve Gerber that begins, “If Edison’s experiments had worked out as badly as this one, I’d be penning this letter by gaslight,” and ends, “…a fill-in issue is a fill-in issue is a fill-in issue.”

This book is finished on time and sees print as-is. One imagines Marvel editorial having a massive group apoplexy over this kind of nonsense, but these are the seventies; the book sails to the printer with a thumbs-up from its editor, an up-and-comer by the name of Mr. Steve Gerber.

Killing JokeSummer 2013: it is almost literally impossible to imagine Howard the Duck #16 seeing print today. Sometimes, I will hear about the annual Marvel writers’ retreat, where the big editors and the big Architects get together and hash out how all of their books are going to interlock with all of their other books between now and 2017, and map out how everything they’re doing now will line up and lead up to everything they’ll need to be doing then. I will think about that, and suddenly I will think of Howard the Duck #16, and I will laugh out loud in a public place for no reason I could ever hope to explain.

They don’t let the writers edit their own books these days, oh no indeed sir. Jim Shooter put a stop to that hooey and applesauce long before we had Disney and Time Warner and “corporate mindset” to blame. Still, the pendulum has swung so far the other way now that it sounds like it is turning reasonable adults into complete insane-os. Did you catch Paul Jenkins the other day on Bleeding Cool or Word Balloon? He’s walking away from the corporate trough for the time being, and when discussing why he offered up this delightful example of editorial oversight:

I would like to relay an editorial comment that I received near the end of my time writing the Dark Knight New 52 series. In one scene, I had written that Batman is sitting on a rooftop during an intense conversation, close to a person who has been injured. The editorial comment: “We’re not sure you are ‘getting’ the character because it’s common knowledge that Batman never sits down.”

Did you all know that? I’m pretty common, and it was news to me.

You want to talk about laughing out loud in public? That story cheered me up for days. I’d be in line at the bank or something, and suddenly my brain would whisper, “We’re not sure you’re ‘getting’ Batman, with all your ‘chairs'” and I would go “BWA!” into the back of the head of the old woman in front of me.

Imagine getting that note after your third or fourth pass on a script. No! Actually, imagine the guy who wrote that note. He’s a grown-up person at a desk, with all the stresses and responsibilities that entails, and some days it seems like he is just surrounded by idiots, and the frickin’ Batman thing finally comes in, and this guy—are you kidding me with this?—has got Batman sitting down. Sitting down! And he is just so irritated at this point, he has to remind himself to be diplomatic and professional as he’s typing the e-mail, remind himself not to pound into the keys, “How do you get to be a Batman writer and think that Batman can sit down??” Then maybe he takes a big pull of bourbon out of a bottle he keeps in his drawer and thinks about going back for his MBA. Batman, sitting down. Christ.

Over the past several days, this imagined moment has entertained me more than any comic book I have ever read.

There has to be a happy medium between the Gerber thumbs-up and serious e-mails about the orientation of Bruce Wayne’s ass. If I opened a comic this week and it turned out to be an illustrated essay off the top of the writer’s head, I would tear it up and throw it away (conditioning!) but the way things are now can’t be good for anybody. Can it?

Jim Mroczkowski has started having a recurring dream where he has to go on The Howard Stern Show every week to discuss the latest iFanboy column, but cannot think of a thing to say.


  1. As soon as I read the headline of this article I immediately thought of the Paul Jenkins interview. A part of me doesn’t want to believe the story and that things haven’t got so tense with micro managing of books, yet I do believe Jenkins take on things. He also made a point that stuck with me. There was a time that Marvel and DC needed writers like him, but the success of Avengers and Batman at the box office has flipped everything around.

    As far as putting out stories like Howard the Duck, it’ll never happen. Those days are long gone.

    • Hey Jim, what about last weeks Hawkeye? It was a story from the big two that featured the POV of a dog and had little dialogue and plot. Loved it? Or hated it (due to conditioning)?

  2. Wow. Notes like that go a long way in solving the mystery of so many creators jumping ship at DC.

    I hesitate to mention this, but as a long time Batman fan, I can’t recall a single time he sat down next to a victim on a rooftop. I dunno if it would necessarily stand out to me as bad characterization, but it is unusual.

    I’m part of the problem, aren’t I? … I’ll show myself out.

  3. What the heck is Batman doing in the Batcave in front of those computers if not sitting?

  4. Batman never sits down? So THAT is why he traded in the Batmobile for the Bat-Segway!

  5. The story in Batman #663 was delayed for four months and had a ton of foreshadowing and “black glove” metaphors. So, pretty sure Morrison didn’t write it “off the top of his head”.

    I see what you’re saying with everything else, though, and I agree. It makes me want to track down the curious artifact that is Howard the Duck #16.

    • And I though that issue of Batman was pretty well hated.

      But I have never heard of Howard the Duck #16 and it’s wackiness. Totally sounds like something Gerber would do. DC and Marvel are a little too corporate and uptight these days, but I don’t think it’s that bad.

  6. I would love to see iFanboy do some interviews with editors. There are times when I read a comic and scratch my head as to how this story got through. When I write a story, I *hope* the editors have my back and prevent me from making a stupid mistake. That’s what they are for. But I wonder how often they get a chance to say, “hey, would this happen like this? Did you mean to have this impossible thing happen?” Or is there too much pressure to get the scripts to the artist ASAP put a damper on that. Or, shudder, does it go to the artist first, and the editor doesn’t see it until later?

    Obviously, that note that Jenkins got was idiotic, but editors do have an important role. We have plenty of examples of famous people getting to do insane things because no one around them said it was a bad idea.

    • M.Night being the most famious example I think. I tell him which ideas are bad for free, just for the simple joy that he stops putting out crappy movies.

    • Editors are amazing, talented people who are the lifeblood of the publishing industry.

      Wait, let me rephrase that, GOOD editors who KNOW THEIR JOB are amazing, talented people who are the lifeblood of the publishing industry.

      Think about Denny O’Neil…He had an ending in mind for ‘No Man’s Land’, but his freelancers came up with a better one…So he rolled with it. He trusted them to do good work. That’s an editor.

  7. This is why I miss comics from the 70s, the writers could have been tripping on acid the night before but the story they turned in got printed and was so off the wall it was incredible. I’m not an advocate of Illicit substances, but if it works for you ROCK ON!

    Jim’s on a roll, another article in a row where I agree with him. And not begrugingly, this is funny and I agree with the point. Who the hell says Batman can’t sit down? The last time I can recall off the top of my head is an issue of Superman/Batman. Anyone remember when that series ended? Yeah, that was the last time I can clearly recall Batman sitting. I’m sure there are reasons an editor doesn’t want one of the world’s most popular heroes to look like he ever relaxes in a simple conventional way, but then you tell one of your writers why and I can see why a guy would say “I need a break”.

    I like Paul Jenkins, I haven’t read EVERYTHING he’s ever written and he’s not the first guy I tell others to read, but I’ve read some of his stuff and I think its pretty good. At a certain point, I’d think his editor would say “This guy’s been here a while. Maybe I’ll let him have this”.

    I’m curious to know how some of the Marvel guys deal with their editors making them do stuff in their books. It’s probably put in a fun way; “Hey, can you put Galactus in the last page of your book(s)? Doesn’t have to do anything, just put him in there.”.

    Thinking about this article will make me laugh out loud randomly more than usual.

  8. I think writing/storytelling can almost always benefit from a good editor. But when I think of editors, I think of a collaborator who can provide advice and a secondary point of view (the point of view of the reader as opposed to the writer), not someone who lays down mandates and has the final say in creative decisions. That’s not really an Editor, it’s more like a Director.

    I think of the Walking Dead as being a good example of a successful creators/editor collaboration and Manhattan Projects as a series that might really benefit from having an editor. And Jenkins’ editor on Dark Knight (and perhaps much of DC editorial) is an example of an editor taking the role of a Director instead of a collaborator and sounding board.

    • That’s an excellent way of putting it.

    • I’m glad Jim brought up Jim Shooter. It kinda seems like DC is going through the same kind of thing Shooter’s antics at Marvel caused (as detailed in “Marvel Comics: The Untold Story”, which I’m kinda of fuzzy on). I know everyone is blaming Bob Harris, but after reading that book I feel like he’s channeling Shooter somehow.

    • But that’s where it gets interesting because these days it seems as though MOST editorial jobs are all about laying down mandates. FATALE and SAGA are two books that I can think of off the top of my head that clearly do not require an editor.

  9. Batman is always sitting down. Typically tied to a chair with Robin at his back – also tied up. I’ve seen this on TV.

  10. This article made me laugh a good bit. I hadn’t heard either of those stories yet. Batman doesn’t sit down… What a waste of time.

    I read the Bleeding Cool interview after this and Jenkins actually mentions a couple of pitches he would make that I think editorial absolutely should deny. He would have The Flash lose his leg to a road side bomb and Superman watch Lex Luthor blow his parents brains out. Those sort of overly grim plots are tired and would be the last Flash and Superman stories I’d want to read. My tastes aside, editorial should be there to shepherd the characters for the sake of tone, longevity and to ensure some degree of an all-ages appeal.

    But as Jenkins (and others before him) have suggested, some editors seem to have far exceeded that role in an attempt to micro-manage everything.

  11. Holy shit! Batman never sits down? Then what the hell is he doing in the Batmobile or when he’s in the Batcave in front of that gigantic computer screen? Dumbest shit I’ve heard today. Idiots.

  12. took less than 3 seconds via the googleplex to realize how silly that “Batman never sits” argument is.



    • Or his chair at the JLA table. Or his monitor chair (but that was Morrison’s JLA, and everyone ignores his work).

  13. Reminds me of an interview that Kevin Smith gave, mentioning how – when he was writing “Batman: The Widening Gyre,” I believe – he was floored to get a note from editorial advising him to change a script reference to Batman having facial scruff / 5 o’clock shadow. Apparently, editorial insisted to him that Batman is always clean-shaven. (!!) So of course all I could notice for the next six months were comics past & present of Batman shown with scruff or stubble. lol

    • Having only read his previous book, “Batman: Cacophony”; Smith should be thankful if that was the only note he got. Lucky even.

    • Oh trust me, I didn’t like Widening Gyre at all… I just empathize with any writer who gets bullsh-t notes.

    • Still, he got away with alot of stuff in the previous book. I’m not disagreeing it was a bullsh-t note, but if it were me I’d have said “Well, I had sodomy jokes, severed heads, murdered hookers, and dead kids before. I’ll get rid of the shadow on Bats. I’ll let them have this.” Again, thats just me.

    • That’s the editorial mandate over there….”We’re not sure you get the character…no stubble on Batman. It’s totally cool that he PEE’D HIS PANTS though…that’s legit”.

      Just reinforces what a bad editor can bring to a series.

  14. these types of things bring up interesting questions. Are you a “Creator” when you work on a work for hire book? Since there are so many filters to go through, is that work at the end of the day still yours? Its more of an abstract kinda thing but i wonder if a lot of the “problems” stem from the fact that the industry has moved towards the term “creator”? I think that sets up some interesting psychological dynamics and clashes within the entire power structure. Just spitballing here more than anything, but i’ve wondered about that stuff from time to time.

    • HEY! No articulate questions that get to the philosophical heart of the issue!

      In all seriousness, someone mentioned how editors work great as a second opinion and can stand in for ‘the reader’ when necessary to see if something works. That really seems like the issue here. All artists have these kinds of people, be it friends, family, significant others, or actual editors. The issue comics has is that you’ve got licensed characters so instead of the financial interest being that the product succeeds it’s that you preserve the “integrity” (a better word escapes me) of the I.P.

  15. Im left with the impression that the editors believe they are the true architects of comic stories. The writers only being sub-contractors of the corporate “vision” and “idea” machine. This year at the DC panel at Emerald City really brought this to the front. The corporate lackey editor played himself as the lion tamer at the circus, getting the creative folks to chant “buy-it” on command. He more than once raised Kevin Maguire’s ire with non-factual and idiot statements. So i give my thanks to that moron and all like him, whom do not actually edit but ensure that Mr.Gerber continues to pull somersaults from the grave.

  16. This has made my year. Too good.

  17. I bet the DC San Diego Comic Con Panels are going to be awkward

    • There isn’t really enough information out there for most people to get up in front of hundreds of people and be rude to a group of creators.

  18. Here’s the thing – if the editor had a problem with the Sitting panel, why not just tell Jenkins it might look more dynamic or interesting with Batman standing (or looming) over the person he was talking to? To offer up the explanation that it was a common knowledge that Batman never sits was not only wrong, but it sounds like the editor, himself, had been chided by someone else and was passing on his aggravation.

    I may be giving the editor in question more leeway than due, but the phrasing of the comment (which we are getting third hand…) seems a bit passive aggressive.

    • Exactly. It’s not what you say, but how you say it. Part of handling any kind of creative talent is knowing the most effective approach to get the end result you need.

  19. Amazing. There are actually people in this world who won’t let Batman sit down (for fear of ruining the character) and yet still others will ALLOW SUPERMAN TO MURDER HIS ENEMIES. What the hell happened to this world?

    …As an aside, I can tell you that Batman does, in fact, sit down. He sits down at the Bat computer in almost every issue I’ve ever read. In addition, he has also been seen sitting in Gordon’s office on a great many occasions. Perhaps that particular editor just happened to miss, oh, I don’t know, EVERY ISSUE OF BATMAN EVER FUCKING WRITTEN.

  20. As funny as some of the comments and jokes users have made are, this ultimately really makes me sad. I’m so tired of idiot executives (or in this case editors) making stupid decisions and ruining things.

  21. That Killing Joke page needs an editor. The Joker card is facing the Joker on the left side of the panel, and facing Batman on the right side of the panel.

  22. In the Justice League Unlimited episode epilogue, Batman sat. and it was the most touching part of that entire series.