It seems to me that the books can go one of two ways, with many varying shades in between of course. On the one hand, you have a story or even a full fledged book that originates with a writer or artist or both, or one person doing both. That’s where most creator owned and independent work lies. Which is of course implied in the term “creator owned”, duh. In this case, the writer and artist are in complete control of their creation and, presumably, the editors role is mostly to keep everybody on course and hitting their deadlines. They might take creative input from their editor, but when it comes to the creative content, the creators are the final word. In the case of a company owned book, a Marvel or DC character or something like that, it would be a bit different. If the editor chooses, they can allow the talent to steer the ship. However, the editor still has final say on what can and cannot be done on the book. They would be much more of a collaborator (if they wanted) and they can veto creative decisions. In this situation, they are responsible to the company they work for on all decisions made on their books. When the s— hits the fan, they are the ones that take the heat. Which is probably why a lot of them might choose to go the other way.
In a truly editorially driven book, the creative direction of the book is mandated by editorial. In some cases it comes from above them on the company food chain. They basically tell the writers what they want and where the book needs to go. Some people have complained that the editor basically wants a typist. That could be oversimplifying it, but I could definitely see how frustrating it could be for a writer. You have decided to create for a living and now someone is telling you what to create and how to create it. Unless you’re Grant Morrison apparently; but then he presumably makes that part of his contract, and the powers that be feel his sales warrant that situation. My opinion? I think the better editors find some sort of happy medium. Especially when you are working in an established, company owned universe. First off, there are rules you have to follow. These are company assets, you can’t do whatever you want. Many say though, that having rules imposed makes you work harder (and often better) to find a way to work around the rules.
Quite often filmmakers speak about how they had to come up with alternatives because of budget constraints and their alternate choices made the film better. Hell, the main reason you don’t see the shark through most of Jaws is because it didn’t work. That choice to work around the shark made it much more terrifying. Many musicians do their best work when others are producing. When they are given the reins a lot of them never quite match the quality of their earlier output. Some do, don’t get me wrong. I think the challenges imposed on some writers have created a lot of great work.
So to move back to comics, an editor that knows he can trust his writer will let his writer loose. Within reason. Also, as long as the people above you are trusting you to do your job, you are more likely to trust the people below you. Just as having constraints put upon you can make you work harder and more creatively, knowing you are being entrusted to care for these iconic and (to the company) important properties might just motivate you to put your best foot forward. A lot of these “editorial” complaints from the folks working for DC seem to indicate the real mess is above editorials pay grade. It’s unfortunate. I always felt that if I was paying someone to do a job, I should let them do it.
So which way is the better way? Whichever one produces the best story, honestly. Some classic comics have come from both styles, and every shade in between. Remember, Alan Moore made Watchmen at a big company with an editor who was in charge. He also made League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with little to no editorial input, and that turned out pretty damn well too. However, I really do think that the best editors int he business have always found a balance. A way to serve both sides of the equation. You can have happy bosses and happy creatives. It is possible. I would never fault anyone for the style of management they choose, as long as it was a job well done. Sometimes I think it’s best if those of us outside the system don’t hear about it. Hey, you don’t want to know how hot dogs are made. You may never eat one again.
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