NYCC Panel Recap: Publishers Weekly Presents 'How to Edit a Graphic Novel'

By Elizabeth Keenan

Editing a graphic novel can be a very different prospect depending on whether its an OGN, a work-for-hire, or a novel adaptation. Publishers Weekly’s Heidi MacDonald directed her New York Comic Con panel of editors through a variety of scenarios based on books they edited.

MacDonald first asked JuYoun Lee, senior editor at Yen Press, about adapting the novel "Interview with the Vampire" as a graphic novel. Being part of the Hachette Group means that Yen Press had the means to adapt books already in the market. “Graphic novels are about good stories,” Lee said. With "Interview", “it was a no-brainer when the opportunity was presented to us.". But the editing team soon made a decision to focus one character’s perspective.

“We wanted to give it a little twist or spin, and present it in a fresh way,” she said. “We chose Claudia. The book is the same story, the same plot.”

After the story had been decided, Yen Press undertook a long search for an artist. “You do a good job to match the artist to the property." Though happy with the work, there were some challenges because it was the artist’s first book, she said; but everything worked out in the end.

“She did a phenomenal job bringing the characters to life,” Lee said.

Karen Berger, senior vice president and executive editor of Vertigo Comics, described the process of adding more original graphic novels to the Vertigo lineup. Although Vertigo has been publishing comics for over 20 years, only in the past five years has it brought more OGNs to market.

“We felt that, like film and television, there’s a long form and a short form,” she said. “We didn’t want to be constrained by the storytelling.”

The expansion into OGNs is part of the Vertigo outlook. “What we do is expand the reach of what you can do with comic book publishing,” said Berger. “We’re part of DC, which is part of Time Warner, and we’re grateful to have this very large company behind us in publishing books that expand that range.”

MacDonald asked James Lucas Jones, editor in chief of Oni Press, to describe the process of working with "Crogan’s Vengeance" writer and artist Chris Schweizer. When Lucas first met Schweizer, the artist was “really self-conscious about his work” and didn’t advertise that he was an artist. But Jones, noticing that Schweizer was thumbnailing in a sketchbook, engaged with him about the project and became intrigued by the concept of telling boy’s adventure stories through a familial connection.

The editing process has been different for each of the three "Crogan’s" books. The first book arrived as a finished product. “We went back and did some tweaks,” Jones said, “but it was largely done.”

The second book was completed piecemeal, with Schweizer editing and inking sections as he went. “I think there are some things that don’t work, but it’s still a very good read,” Jones said.

For the third book, Jones had Schweizer script the book before setting pencil to paper. “He spent a couple of months hating me,” Jones said, but in the end, he came around to the process.

Carol Burrell’s editing process at Lerner Graphic Universe differs from many of the other panelists due to the company’s primary focus in school and library publishing.

“Part of my editorial process was developing the list and deciding where the list was going to go,” she said. “When I got the job five years ago, the list was very schizophrenic.” Mythology and choose-your-own-adventure dominated. Burrell’s changes to the editorial direction allowed her to bring more mature titles to the line, such as "A Game for Swallows", a memoir comic that describes one night during Lebanon’s civil war.

At other times, Burrell has to pitch properties to the editorial board. Once, at a loss for suggestions, she and another editor came up with a pitch about a Japanese goth girl who communicates only in text, a super genius boy, and a talking dog, who join forces to solve crimes. To Burrell’s surprise, the board loved the idea. And then she had to find a writer and artist for the project, which became the Chicagoland Detective Agency. Fortunately, veteran Trina Robbins approached Burrell because she wanted to work on projects for children. Working with an experienced writer was initially intimidating for Brill, who often held back in her edits for Robbins.

“Finally, she wrote me and said, ‘You hate this, don’t you? You’re not telling me, so you must hate it,’” Brill said.

After that, Brill readjusted her editing style. “Working with her, I think we have managed to make every script the best we can.”

Calista Brill, editor at First Second, described some of the more unusual aspects of editing graphic novels. For Lucy Knisley’s upcoming food-focused memoir "Relish", for example, Brill got to be a test cooker.

“I made Lucy’s mother’s variation on Julia Child’s sautéed mushrooms,” Brill said. “It was phenomenal.”

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