It's been a cranky and unpleasant week here in the Hatcher household, all things considered. Some of this crankiness is comics-related; some is not. In an effort to alleviate at least the comics-related part of it, I'm going to snarl about it and you all get to listen. Amazingly, I didn't plan this with Greg Burgas, it must just be some sort of astrological convergence thing or something. It's Angry Greg week here at Comics Should Be Good. Buckle up.
First up: editorial mandates. Tadhg touched on this in an earlier post but I'll amplify his kvetch a bit here, having dealt with it first hand. Good stories come from writers. Bad stories? Well, some of those are from writers too, but I will bet you a year's pay against a jelly doughnut that the vast majority of them come from editors who SCREW with writers. I have done a lot of magazine work over the last ten years and the times the story went sour were because some idiot editor called me and said, "Yeah, loved it, we need you to add this." Or subtract that. Or whatever. It's never actual criticism on the merits -- that stuff I listen to and will cheerfully use to make the piece better, I'm a pro, okay, I know better than to go all prima donna over stuff like that.
No, I'm talking about things like yeah, it's a great job but we have a lot of subscribers in Canada so we need you to add a Canadian angle. Or Your work is amazingly strong; incredibly powerful emotion in this piece... but our typesetter was a little freaked out by the bad language, now we're worried, can you cut all that out? Or this story is one of the best things I've ever read, it's going to be great, but we need you to cut it by forty percent because advertising just told us they sold an extra two pages. These things have all really happened to me. Those are exact quotes. And I don't even write full-time for crying out loud.
I just had my first brush with what this can mean when you are taking brief custody of someone else's character, in a shared-universe, comics-like situation. Without going into details, I had an opportunity to pitch a story to an editor at a fairly large concern for a short-story collection about a company character. After a week and a half of wrestling with various Great-idea-I-like-it-but-our-character-wouldn't-be-in-that-situation e-mails, I've decided that this is like navigating a minefield, but with all the suspense and excitement of double-entry bookkeeping. Except it's less fun. Any enthusiasm I originally had for getting to tell a story about _________ is getting buried under the soul-killing load of rules and restrictions I have to keep in mind when trying to plot out my little whodunit.
Take this kind of editorial-safeguard thinking and project it large-scale. Imagine what it does to stories about icons like Superman or Spider-Man. The miracle is that anything artistic ever happens at all, given the maze of restrictions storytellers have to navigate through. There may be good and valid reasons for these restrictions but can we all at least quit pretending they are ARTISTIC reasons? There's no art involved in suddenly having to cut a third of a story's content to make room for more ads. But it happens.
Yeah, so I'm just another pissed-off writer grumbling about his damn editor and his damn publisher. But the reason these things become cliches is because they are so common. The next time you are annoyed with a writer for screwing up a character or a series' direction, check and see if there's a new editor coming on board. Because as my friend Mary (an award-winning writer of children's fiction, who has her own collection of editorial horror stories that would curl your hair) likes to say, "An editor always likes the taste better if you let him pee in it first."
So I've grumped about editors. Who's next? Fans. Comics fans suck. I'm sorry, but a lot of you are JUST PLAIN GODDAM WEIRD. Especially in person.
This came up because I am trying to prepare my students for another stint at the Emerald City Comics Convention on the first weekend of April, and someone reminded me of the time last year when an odd little man wanted to sign up for my kids' classes. He had that glassy-eyed stare that comes with decades of badgering people to read your slash fan fiction. Somehow he had the idea that, because we had flyers advertising our children's cartooning classes at a community center, we could get him published. It took me a month to get rid of this guy. Hazards of advertising your e-mail on a flyer, but hell, I thought I was pretty clear that these were kid's classes and the published books were a class project. How desperate do you have to be to get into print to think that's a viable option for your erotica?
Then there was the guy who wanted my twelve-year-old students to add to his collection of nude elf sketches. And the guy dressed completely in a collection of belts, bungee cords, and cardboard. And the guy with the tail. And on, and on, and on.
I'm not talking about your garden-variety geek who gets all upset if you say something rude about the X-Men or who will argue for hours about whether or not regular Thor would win over Ultimate Thor. Those guys are fine. Hell, I am one of those guys, and so are half my students, bless their little nerdling hearts. No, I'm talking about the REALLY WEIRD fans, the guys that even the furries are a little skeeved about running into. Comics attract a lot of these people. More than SF conventions or Star Trek conventions or even -- though some will argue this -- Doctor Who conventions. Why, I don't know, but we really wish you'd go away. At least leave my kids alone at the show next month, okay?
(Everyone else should come and say hello if you're in Seattle, though. We'll be right up front, between Dark Horse and Image, sharing a booth with Brandon Hanvey of thegeekout.com. My students will be thrilled to sign a book for you and probably even throw in a sketch. As long as it's not of, say, a nude elf.)
Who else in comics got on my nerves this week? Publishers. Publishers, you're on notice. If you're going to pay somebody to scan old comics into Photoshop so you can reprint them, pay them enough to do it RIGHT. Here's a tip -- if you can't read the final printed piece, they didn't do it right. I'm not talking about muddy art (though that sucked too) I'm talking about captions and word balloons that are illegible. I remember when these stories first appeared on cheap newsprint that soaked up ink the way a paper towel would, I own a few, and I still can read those books easier than your sucky reprint job. Take the time to get page proofs and a goddamn press check. Your printer's your pal, he makes you look good, work with him. The job is done when it comes OFF the press, not when you e-mail it off to the printshop, so don't be lazy about it. Look at a proof. For the gouger's prices you charge for these books retail, I think being able to READ them is a fair expectation. That means clear printing, pages that don't fall out, the whole nine yards. And hey, here's an idea -- print the pages in order, too.
Marvel is far and away the worst offender here but I've seen bad printing from all comics publishers -- bad plates, bad binding, pages out of order, you name it -- with one exception. Oni Press. Their books -- at least the ones I own, which is the entire trade run of Queen and Country, both Whiteout collections, and a Jingle Belle trade -- are uniformly gorgeous. So Oni gets a pass from me. The rest of you, get your act together.
There were a lot of other things that annoyed me this week too, but school accountants and the community center's art fair administrative committee and the church ladies bugging me about building their website don't really fall into column territory, so I guess that's it.
See you next week. In a better mood, one hopes. Grrrr