Seth Versus Editors


Monday, November 23, 2009

Just to continue this flurry of posts on Canadians, I thought I’d put up this quote from the cartoonist Seth that I found interesting. He’s responding to Dave Sim’s question about critiquing other people’s work. It made me think of a couple of previous posts about editors we did a while back.

The quote is from Following Cerebus #5.

Seth: […] I prefer the idea of an artist struggling to learn on his own and figure it out on his own, rather than, you know, being part of a gang that’s supplementing each other’s work with critique. I guess that’s just because my inclination is, I’m attracted to the image of the artist working alone and producing this complete work. For example, I don’t know how anyone can stand to work with an editor. I don’t really know how fiction writers have become used to that idea. I can understand working with a proofreader: that makes sense to me. But even working as a prose writer, if there was someone changing around all the sentences in an article I had written and as a result of that it turned out to be a better-written article, I’d have to conclude at the end that I wasn’t much of a writer.

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19 Responses to “Seth Versus Editors”
  1. Sophie Yanow says:

    I posed a question at this year's Comic Con to a panel including Jason Lutes, Derek Kirk Kim, Gene Yang, Seth, Lewis Trondheim (and Bryan Lee O'Malley, but he only showed up for the last half). Jason, who is a teacher, was rather pro Editor, considering it to be a learning relationship. Seth was, of course, entirely opposed to the idea. Somebody recorded the panel… I'll try to find it some where. I had no idea my little question would take over the rest of the time…

  2. Anonymous says:

    When you wrote all those things being positive about edition it sounded so strange to me. I always prefered what you said to Tom Spurgeon 2 years ago. That´s what was always so inspiring about your work: it seems to have killed the editors.
    I totally agree with Seth.

  3. Frank Santoro says:

    Yah, I'm changing my mind back to wanting to kill all the editors.

    But, seriously, this quote gets closer to the heart of the matter.

    Also, I encourage everyone to read Yummy Fur #19 and #20. The former is the story and the latter is "the making of" the story. I think it's quite relevant to quote I posted.

    I always wanted to copy these two stories like I was copying an Old Master painting.

  4. Charlie Gavin says:

    I gotta disagree. I don't really have time to explain why, but I'll be back this afternoon.

  5. Anonymous says:

    In my experience with editors never has an editor willy-nilly run rampant through my prose changing sentences on a whim. A good editor leaves the writing to the author and gently nudges him or her into improving the work.

  6. Mark P Hensel says:

    Stephen King recently reviewed a biography of Raymond Carver, and he discuss an editor that Carver had near the end of his life who would completely rewrite his stories, changing titles, even completely removing and reworking endings: I had no idea that an editor could have that much leeway with an author's work.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I once killed an editor. His body can be found at–aarrggh!! My heart…


  8. Benjamin Marra says:

    It seems impossible to me that a writer or comic artist could be totally aware of the readability or efficacy of communicating their ideas and stories through their work without the assistance of another pair of eyes. We are often judged by the things we do we aren't conscious of. It seems logical to have someone who could point out things in a story don't work or are inconsistent that the creator might not recognize. That being said, I don't have a strong desire to work with an editor.

  9. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that some people get a lot of use out of an editor and other people get no use out of an editor at all.

    The level of utility and the quality of the editor both vary.

  10. Nate says:

    As the comments so far suggest, an editor can perform any number of tasks, from providing a second set of eyes to acting as a coauthor. An editor will likely be more hands on when there is a house-style in effect, and the visual/verbal elements of a story need to follow a strict set of conventions.
    Seth's disdain for editors is amusing given that many of the cartoonists he lionizes worked according to strict editorial edicts. That said, I can't say his work has suffered from his lone-wolf working methods.

  11. Mark P Hensel says:

    I've got to say that I find a second set of eyes invaluable. Usually when I make something I'm way too close to it to see where transitions are ineffective or things just don't make any sense.

  12. ULAND says:

    I'm with Benjamin. I think it's really difficult, when deep into a work, for the creator to step back enough to see everything for what it will be read as.
    Also, an editor doesn't necessarily have to have bad taste, or want to commercialize everything.
    This equation with making things "safe" is pretty silly. I mean, how many great, challenging works of literature have been created with an editor as a part of the process?
    I do think it's quite possible that Tom is right, too; some just won't get anything out of it. But I suspect that at least a few of the anti-editor types work could improve through that process, or employ a similar one already.

  13. Cricket says:

    All I know is, there is definitely and certainly a correct answer which applies to all artists!

  14. Sophie Yanow says:

    The audio of the panel I was talking about was right under my nose at the Comics Journal website (with Seth, Jason, Derek, Gene, Lewis, and Bryan). At about 33:20 I ask the question about Editors vs Teachers that sends the conversation spiraling… somewhere. Have a listen:

  15. Tom Devlin says:

    That Stephen King piece on Raymond Carver was interesting not because King was necessarily right but that he had such an axe to grind. It could have probably used some editing. Har har.

    My experience is that an editor is not one thing. Some are very hands off and some are hands on. Some just foster a relationship that allows the artist to create–perhaps something as simple as throwing a freelance job to the artist that will help pay the rent for a few months while they work on their real art or pointing out other artists of interest that might inspire them while in a creative doldrum.

    Seth has an editor in Chris Oliveros, a very light-handed editor who provides the support that Seth needs to create–in Seth's case, Chris provides a home for his work, work that is always welcome regardless of Seth's occasional lack-of-confidence in its worthiness. And that's all Seth needs.

  16. Brad Mackay says:

    This is an interesting topic, since editing comics is potentially a more process that editing prose.

    As much as I respect Seth as an artist and an individual I reject the notion of the "lone creator"; a cloistered genius churning out gems all alone. One of the best things about my career to date was being subject to the keen eye of an editor while working as a report at a daily newspaper.

    While its part of a writer's nature to react poorly to being edited, I've found that most of the time (85%?) any changes made have been judicious, fair and have improved the integrity of the piece. (This is assuming the editor is qualified; i.e., has written a lot themselves.)

    I don't think anyone operates in a vacuum – nor should they. I think if you asked Seth, he probably does confer with others (best bet: his wife, or Chester) about the flow or content of his stories. And that still counts as editing to me.

  17. Brian Fies says:

    I'm with the droll Mr. Spurgeon. In my journalism and cartooning careers, I've had bad editors who made my work worse and good editors who made it better. Even a bad editor can provide a valuable second set of eyes. I will say I finally considered myself a professional writer when I realized I could work with an editor I respected to slice my work into smoking tatters without taking it personally. The "respect" part of that sentence is important.

  18. Anonymous says:

    That was pretty interesting issue. Every interview was well worth reading.
    -blake sims

  19. Robert Boyd says:

    I won't claim I was a good editor, but as an editor, I did a lot of "holding hands" with writers and artists. Sometimes they needed someone to talk to, and I was a lot cheaper than a shrink (I paid them). My degree of involvement depended on how much I felt the artist needed my involvement, as well as how much the artist was willing to countenance it. Part of it was simply ongoing dialogue and encouragement. An artist might get an idea through talking with a sympathetic editor, even though the editor is not necessarily trying to give the artist ideas. Because creating comics is a fairly lonely job and the feedback is usually long-delayed, some artists need a sounding board–even if that sounding board is just having someone who loves your work and is willing to publish it, as Tom mentions.

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