Faith here. A while back I did a blog post about working with editors from a cartoonist’s perspective. Today we have a special treat, as Calista, our editor on Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong is going to provide you with the editor’s perspective on working with cartoonists! I think the insight Calista provides is really important; being able to work with people (especially editors) is a very important skill for a cartoonist to have, and something that maybe gets overlooked. I certainly consider my comics better for having an editor. Anyway, here we go:
Guest blogger Calista here — I’m the editor of Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong. Faith and Prudence asked me to talk a little bit about my job at First Second Books, specifically about working with cartoonists.
Working creatively with ANYONE requires good communication, and that requires:
- The willingness to listen — especially when you don’t agree (or think you don’t agree) with the other person.
- The ability to state your opinion again and again, politely and kindly, until you’re sure it’s been heard and understood. If it’s then disagreed with, so be it! But at least make sure you’re understood.
- Patience and persistence. Sometimes it takes a long time to figure out the best way to move forward on a sticky question. Sometimes it takes several false starts. Don’t panic — and don’t get mad! Well, it can be hard not to get mad. So, don’t act out of your anger when you’re angry. Take a few days to cool down first.
- Kindness. This one is so important, to both the creator and the editor. As an editor, you have a lot of power, and it can be easy to wield it too bluntly, especially when you’re in a hurry. I know I’ve done this without meaning to in the past, and it’s always come back to bite me — either directly, in the form of a less trusting relationship with that cartoonist — or indirectly in any number of ways.
And for the writer/artist, kindness is just as important: it can be easy to forget that the editor carelessly throwing her weight around is still just a person trying her best.
All of the above qualities – good listening, good talking, patience, persistence, kindness — those can all be learned, or at worst faked. But the final ingredient for good editorial communication is chemistry, and that is impossible to fake, and pretty hard to acquire. Either you click with someone or you don’t.
This is one reason that, when I acquire a project I think is going to need a lot of my attention and a lot of intense creative collaboration between me and the cartoonist, I try to make sure we talk a bunch first. You can often (not always! but often) tell if you’re going to be able to find a good vibe in that first conversation.
It’s also why I prefer to work again with someone I already know and can work with than take a chance on someone who I might find I have limited personal sympathy with when it’s too late to back out.
When the editorial relationship works, it’s like magic. Ideally an editor should bring a new viewpoint to a project — an outside perspective; distance. The editor is in a position to see things the cartoonist can’t see — the cartoonist is too close to the project to see what is and isn’t working, often. You can get this kind of objectivity by walking away from a project for a year, but when you don’t have a year to spend, an editor can give you that time.
At the end of the day, the most useful thing an editor can do is ask the right questions.
“Why is this character so angry?”
“Is this the right thing for her to say here?”
“What is this scene trying to accomplish?”
“Why does she love him?”
Basically, an editor is like a slightly (SLIGHTLY) more focused three-year-old. “Why, why, why?”