August 7th, 2010 at 4:50 pm
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The blogosphere had some fun with this little gaffe recently, and well they should have:
I don’t agree with the overreactions I’ve seen here and there in (naturally) the comment threads calling for heads to roll; children shouldn’t be deprived of food or a place to live just because Mom or Dad didn’t catch a typo on the cover of a comic book. But it does make Marvel look stupid, and I hope sufficient displeasure is expressed to keep it from happening again. Comics aren’t required to teach us anything, but we should draw the line at their making us any dumber.
When I was editing at Kitchen Sink years ago, I frequently found myself doing last-minute corrections on completed work just before it went to the printers. As publishers of creator-owned comics, we didn’t have anything resembling the system used by the work-for-hire companies; our creators would write and draw their books without any corporate input and we didn’t get the pages until the book was done. At that point, if I found a misspelling or some story point that required correction, I had to send it back if there was time and ask the creator to make the fix; or, if the printing deadline was imminent, I’d get the creator’s permission to have lettering changes done in-house.
Editing under the gun like that was occasionally frustrating, but I had it easy compared to the editors at houses like Marvel and DC. Not only is there a huge volume of material constantly passing across their desks, they have to deal with many of those projects at various stages of completion. It’s their job to eyeball not just the spelling and grammar, but continuity issues and the art, too. In the course of a day, something’s bound to get through which should have been fixed. Like this:
No spelling errors here – but who the hell is the waitress looking at? Maybe at someone outside the window, maybe at the reader, but certainly not anyone who’s actually in the scene. This could have been corrected easily enough, and we wouldn’t be pulled out of the moment by a minor character who’s accidentally breaking the fourth wall. But it slipped right past whoever was in charge of this relatively high-profile story.
It’s slipshod and annoying, but what bothers me more than this, even more than “Issac Newton,” is the exchange below:
What the Beast means to say, of course, is “one and the same.” The phrase “one in the same” is as slapdash and meaningless as “could of,” “all of the sudden,” “big of a deal.” Granted, this is Marvel Comics, home of aggressively blue-collar pidgin-English catchphrases, but this isn’t Ben Grimm or Wolverine speaking; this is a character who’s consistently written as too articulate and self-consciously fastidious in speech ever to speak like a dashed-off thought on Twitter.
(I should note that I’m not singling out this particular comic book or its writer and editor, whoever they are; it was the first example that jumped out at me, but hardly the only one out there.)
Who knows? Maybe the writer got it right originally and the fault is the letterer’s; it’s happened before. But editors aren’t just traffic cops, not even in the factory line set-ups of DC and Marvel. An editor’s most important job is to protect the integrity of a project, from simple matters like correcting typos to insuring that characterizations are consistent. “Issac Newton” is a dumb and embarrassing mistake; “one in the same” is much worse, an admission that no one involved in the project has sufficient command of the English language to call him- or herself a professional writer or editor.
But boneheaded lapses like this occur pretty frequently, and as far as I can tell, no one in the endlessly snarky blogosphere ever calls them out at all, let alone to the degree that “Issac” has been mocked. Here’s a clue, kids: “bad writing” in comics doesn’t begin and end with continuity errors, and it’s okay to expect the people who provide our art and entertainment to have a working grasp of the fundamentals of their own disciplines. I get it that most people don’t want to be the jerk who drops into a comment thread to point out that some blogger left an “N” out of a word…but I’m thinking that there’s still a wide line between pedantry and idiocracy.
There’s a distinction between getting paid and being a professional, and a large part of it is simply taking the time and trouble to do it right. I wouldn’t hire a carpenter who pounds screws in with a hammer, and I have little time (or discretionary income) for writers who don’t appear to know how to use their own tools. Editors can make all the difference in the world, but only if they stay awake at the switch and actually edit.