You’ll have to forgive me for this post, it may seem a little off-balance because it’s part-rant, part-nostalgia for me. I also point fingers, but please be aware that more than one company is guilty, and most of the time they’re only guilty because they need to save time and money. Erica Friedman of Okazu has also talked about this point, but how it affects manga production as whole.
The perfect manga editing scenario no longer exists, as far as I know. The last time anything came close for me was in October 2010. But more about that later…
The perfect scenario happens when a script comes back from the adapter (and there is a separate adapter, and they are very good) about six or seven months before print date. This essentially gives the editor at least three whole months to get this puppy done before print deadlines, which are usually three months in advance of the street date.
That gives the editor a good amount of time to spend on the script edit, which is incredibly important. A good script edit and/or a good letterer means way less work in the long run. A bad script edit and/or a bad letterer can cause major problems for the editor later on, but this is the perfect scenario! The letterer is top-notch and knows how to read the instructions left on the script, even if it’s not a great script edit. Even better, the potential lettering problems don’t need to be explained to the letterer in detail. The perfect-scenario letterer will look at how the lettering was done in Japanese and replicate it to the best of their ability.
Of course, there are always little things that any one in the production pipeline doesn’t notice at first. Perhaps the adapter forgets to fix a clunky phrase, the editor doesn’t catch some inconsistencies, the letterer misses a line that should be in a different font. But this is to be expected, no manga comes out perfect on the first round of lettering. That’s what copy-editing is for. In our perfect scenario, there are at least four rounds of copy-edits unless a series turns out not to have too many errors. (Sometimes you just don’t need to copy-edit a manga that much. I find this happens a lot with series that have a lot of sound effects and very little dialogue.) At least one round of copy-editing is done by a separate copy-editor, to catch any little mistakes the editor fails to see.
In the perfect situation here, however, there are two copy-editors.The main editor of the book gets at least two or three rounds of copy-edits before finalizing everything. Four if the book really needs it. Once the covers are checked, the final quality check arrives about two days before it’s due and there is enough time to finish it without it conflicting with other assignments. The result, three months or so later, is your typical volume of manga. There aren’t many editing errors that most readers would notice. Perhaps a few sticklers find a phrase to be too awkward for their taste or think a line has been poorly translated, but the general public is happy with your work. (Although not necessarily the work of the mangaka.)
Like I said, I haven’t come close to this perfect scenario since October 2010. Back then, I was editing for TOKYOPOP and things were decent. We edited everything by hand, on printed sheets of paper. This, of course, was awesome and awful at the same time. Awesome because we had physical trail and physical examples of our work to keep. Awful because of the amount of paper used, and the amount of trips I had to take to the office just to pick up and return my assignments.
Unsurprisingly, TOKYOPOP moved to a digital system in November 2010. However, the big problem wasn’t the switch to digital, I found. It was the outsourcing of lettering to a company in a non-English speaking country and a restriction on the number of copy-edits we could do.
It was a rough transition. The letterers there had a little experience with us because they had done the initial layout of our books from our scripts, but getting them to understand our corrections process was tough. I put out one of my worst books to date, and while I’m partially to blame (the translator’s script being put in instead of my edited script was my fault,) higher ups denied me the chance to fix that mistake.
Since I couldn’t get the book re-lettered, get an extension or do more copy-edits, I wound up putting every single line of the correct script into the computer. It took a very long time and I nearly worked right through Thanksgiving. And then the book came back to me and almost nothing was fixed. I had tried to make some concessions so the letterer would not have to re-do everything, but it was clearly too much for them to handle. The book went to print with a lot of errors and I wanted to cry with shame. Not only was it one of my books, but it was by one of my favorite mangaka. One of the mangaka who had gotten me really into manga as teenager. The only way I could cheer myself up was to tell myself that I’d done absolutely everything possible, and committed to memory everything I learned how to do better during the next rounds of editing.
The next few months were still rough, but eventually the editors and the outsourced letterers found a sort-of happy medium. (Now, I really prefer the digital editing system. It’s much faster and much more freeing for me, as someone who travels a lot.) The only problem with this was that the lettering always came back late, forcing the editors to really push the printer’s deadline.
Then TOKYOPOP switched where the lettering was outsourced to in order to combat the deadline problem, but the change in letterers made things worse. The new letterers didn’t know how to read our scripts, had no experience laying out our scripts, didn’t know any English and didn’t know what to do during the copy-editing process. I was relieved that the final month of TOKYOPOP books I worked on were never published. The problems were just that serious.
After the shutdown, I haven’t worked for too many clients, but unfortunately I’m still seeing a loss of interest in the editing process. Routinely, I don’t get more than one copy-edit and no quality check, which I find ridiculous because it means I’m not the last one to look over a manga before it gets re-lettered once again. This leaves an opening for the letterer to misinterpret any of my corrections. (Sorry, letterers, it’s true. But it’s also not your fault, you’re just trying to do your job.) So basically, I get no guarantee that all the work I just did and was paid for holds up to my standards at all. The only time I can check is when it comes to print, and oftentimes I find my corrections not being made. This means that both my script-edit and my copy-edit are reduced to rough guidelines, not strict standards. And a few times -some very sad times for me- I haven’t been allowed to copy-edit the book at all. The results speak for themselves.
It just makes me mad. Sure, the publisher might be more to blame for not allowing for a better editing process, but my name is on there. This means that I’m also to blame to the public, some of whom think that I’m also responsible for changing company policy. Even worse, potential clients reading might think I don’t do good work. But I want to do good work, I want my manga to be as perfect as I could possibly ever make it. What kind of manga fan would I be if I didn’t want that? What kind of professional would I be? Not the kind with a job in the industry, I think.
There are piecemeal solutions, like making myself go over a script-edit or a copy-edit a few more times before turning it in. While I try do to those things when deadlines allow it, those aren’t real solutions to me. More rounds means I get time to refresh my mind while the letterer works on my corrections, then I can come back to the series and read it as a fan. This really helps the voice and the flow of things. I’ll admit these aren’t my strongest points as an editor, but I’ve no doubt I’ll get better with more practice. If I ever get the chance again. More rounds also means a copy-editor comes in and takes a look at the manga. And while a main editor is necessary to make final decisions and keep things consistent, more eyes on a book is always better.
What sucks even more is the lack of power I have as a freelancer. I’m not there to tell my clients how to run their companies, but I am there to do my job. And it’s been a long time since I felt like I’ve truly done my job. I feel utterly shackled by this inability to oppose anyone, even in the name of personal pride and quality.
It’s high time for someone to destroy the manga-editing status quo because the status is not quo.