Editing Graphic Novels: A New Career Choice?

Editing New Media

As an editor, I’ve spent countless hours working with lines and lines of text—it’s hard to think of editing as anything else. But there seems to be an emergent popular interest in a medium that I’ve personally loved for a long time: the graphic novel. As graphic works become more prevalent, there is a growing need for editors in a medium where words are only a small part of the picture. To that end, a few weeks ago I attended a day-long workshop at Ryerson University entitled simply “Graphica: Editorial and Design,” in the hopes of learning how to make the jump from editing text to editing graphic constructions.

Visual Proofreading
The editorial process for the graphic novel has all the elements of traditional editorial work, but it requires the editor to approach these familiar steps from a different space. For example, one of the concepts we discussed in the workshop was “visual proofreading.” Much like the proofing of words, visual proofreading requires us to look for errors and inconsistencies—but, of course, visually. Does a character start off wearing glasses on page one, only to have them disappear by page two? Does a story set in the 1800s have people talking on cell phones?
Editing for Flow
In such an image-heavy medium, the editorial and design processes are inextricably linked, and an aspiring graphic editor will need to consider the two together. For example, a graphic novel’s flow is established through the way the images guide the reader’s eye. During the workshop, we were told to think of the panels as participants in a relay and search for the “hand-off” between them. In other words, what draws our eyes sequentially through the story? In one example, the slope of a staircase leading off to the side pulled our eyes to the next panel; in another, the structure of speech bubbles took our eyes from image to image.
Design as a Textual Element
Everything from the construction of speech bubbles, to the speech’s lettering, to the design of the panels themselves affects the mood of a page. The workshop’s instructors had us experiment with this idea by drawing panel shapes to reflect different moods. (We drew sharp-edged, thick-lined, and highly directional panels to denote an angry mood; softer, less geometric panels for a peaceful tone.)
Graphic media have come a long way in the recent past. From the workshop’s title, the term “Graphica” is a sort of catch-all phrase for the medium; it’s an attempt to escape the confines of the terms “graphic novel”—does it have to be a “novel”?—and “comic”—which has come to carry the stigma of being unserious or “just for kids.” As this genre grows, editors will have to become mindful of how our skills can carry over into this visual, highly designed world.