Should Editors "Edit" Art

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Title: Should Editors "Edit" Art
Creator: Charlie Kirby
Date(s): February 1993
Medium: print
Fandom: multifandom
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Should Editors "Edit" Art is a 1993 essay by Charlie Kirby.

It was published in A Writers' Exchange #6.

Some Topics Discussed

  • differences between changing other people's words and changing other people's fanart without their permission
  • the sacredness of one's art, as opposed to one's words

The Essay

For your consideration:

"You know, Vincent, that sunflower picture is okay, but I think it should be roses instead...."

"I worry about you, Pablo, why do all your models have three eyes? Do you need glasses?"

"That last supper painting is sort of unbalanced, Leonardo. Could you shorten the table a little and get rid of a few of those disciples?"

Right, all very silly and easy to laugh about, but scary at the same time. Melody Rondeau raised in the last issue of Writers' Exchange: Why is artwork considered 'sacred' when we belabor writers for rewrites?" My response to that question is: AAARRRGGGHHH, HOW CAN YOU EVEN ASK THAT??!!

Okay, that was my first response, but it goes a lot deeper than that. I can already hear people screaming with this next one, but here it goes. 1 think art requires more skill than writing. With a little luck and training, you can be an adequate writer. It helps to have imagination or talent, but it's not necessary. Look at all the non-fiction material that is printed. There's a definite lack of imagination or talent in some of that. However, with art, you can't decide to be an artist and POOF! the Magic Cat Fairy of Art blesses you with talent. It takes more than schooling to be an artist-it takes an in-born talent that some people have and others don't.

With writing, there is a definite structure that must be used. It's called the English language and with it, the Rules of Grammar apply. There's no getting around them. To write, you must adhere to them. Not everyone has the imagination to write, but they may have an excellent grasp of sentence structure. They may not be able to write their way out of a paper sack, but they know what is and ain't good English. We call them editors and they make us better writers. This is not to say, of course, that all editors can't write. It's just that some are better at editing than writing.

However, with art, there are no confining rules or regulations. When you do a piece of art, you are doing more than laying strokes to a page, you are attempting to capture the soul of the subject or the feeling of a scene. Certainly writers attempt that as well, but they have pages and pages as opposed to the artist's single attempt. Not always does the finished product resemble the model or the sample photo, but it is a rendition of how the artist 'sees' it. Colors, symbols, broad brush strokes or thin carefully measured lines, these are how an artist communicates with their audience. An editor is usually not trained as an artist or a teacher of art. On the contrary, one can pick up a suitable amount of information during the course of a normal education to become a competent editor.

Rewrites are normal for editors to request from their writers. Whoever heard of a redraw or re-ink or re-paint? An artist does not redo a piece of art, you have to start all over again with usually quite a different end result. A single word can alter a sentence or even a paragraph, although it usually doesn't have an effect on an entire story (with the exception of the printer who did a Latin version of the bible, but instead of using 'sine' (without) he used 'sin' instead. From what I recall, he killed himself upon learning of his mistake.). However, a single line can entirely change an illo, altering it or destroying it entirely. Hours and days of work down the drain.

The old line of "I don't understand it, but I know what I like" is very applicable to art. It is this intangibility that permits five different artists to render the same illo five different ways. Technically, the same is true with writers, but a character should react the same way in a given situation. If the writers know their characters, then there will be a conformity with writing that you won't find with illos.

These are two very different mediums and there are different rules that apply to each. I don't care if you are Michelangelo or Rembrandt, no one has the right to 'touch up,' alter or in any way manipulate a piece of art. It is sacred. If it isn't your piece of art, then leave it alone. If you as an editor don't like it, then you need to return the art with a letter of explanation. An artist will understand if someone misinterpret her/his art - hell, it's expected. Obviously, I'm also not referring to enlarging or shrinking an illo via a Xerox machine to make it fit or putting a border around the outside. But speaking as an artist, if I ever hear of an editor 'improving' my art, I'll break his/her bloody fingers! With pliers!

Fan Comments

I don't agree that artwork shouldn't be edited (DON'T SHOOT!), but with a caveat-artwork should be edited before the artist touches ink to paper. An editor edits artwork through the process of choosing one particular artist over another (assuming the editor is lucky enough to know more than one good artist in fandom). You know the style a particular artist chooses and you discuss the specifics of an assignment in terms of format (splash page, interior illos and size, cover), media (ink, pencil, color-you have to know how to reproduce it, right?), and content (portrait, conceptual, action illustrative, lettering, etc.).

I do think Charlene hit a few things head on and justly so - if you don't like a piece of artwork or it isn't acceptable, you contact the artist and see if another piece can be created or the current piece adapted by the artist. Granted, there is a certain leeway provided by layout-such as necessary reduction-but care should be taken in enlarging a piece because pen and pencil strokes can become very awkward and very visible when a piece of artwork is taken beyond its original dimensions. And, personally, I advise an artist that a border will be needed and give the artist the option of producing or choosing one, as well as offer some clip art alternatives, before making a choice myself. [1]

Why is art "untouchable" and any editor who (God Forbid) suggests changes or asks it be redone is seen as unreasonable? Granted, there is room for individual interpretation, and (while) I usually let the artists run with whatever scenes strike their fancy, I am not above making suggestions. I have never rejected a piece of art, except in the case where it was clearly plagiarized. I would never dream of putting my hands on someone's art to 'enhance' it and I've suffered from this same indignity myself. Same goes for a manuscript - I'll correct grammar mistakes, but wouldn't dream of altering the text without consulting the author.

I don't know that I agree that anyone can be a writer. Not everyone can be a gifted writer, true, but like art, I think writing is a talent, one which has to be honed through diligent practice. I am an adequate writer, thought not often an inspired one and I KNOW how hard it can be to make that story coherent.

Sadly, we seem to buy into that us-vs.-them mentality and everyone rushes to choose sides in the artist/writer debate. Maybe it's easier to pick on the writer since the artist is perceived as having a more "delicate" mental state and few editors are artists themselves, where the bulk of them would appear to be writers or at least dabblers in that craft. [2]

I agree what Charlene Kirby says about editing art-very good comments. But as an editor, artist and consumer, I have a few things to add. With the exceptions that Charlene mentions, an editor should never alter a piece of art. I do like putting borders around some artwork. Sometimes it grounds it better on the page. Sometimes, when you are using more than one artist's work to illo a single story, it can pull them together stylistically. I also have a rule that all artwork goes in the zine vertically. (This is arbitrary, but I hate turning a zine around to look at artwork. You wouldn't do it in a professional magazine unless you are trying to make a specific point.) Be assured that I tell my artists this when I "hire" them, but not everyone responds with vertical art. Borders can help these pieces, too.

Moving along, perhaps an editor shouldn't "edit," but some should definitely be more selective. How many times have you heard a zine reader say, "I'd rather there was no art in this zine (or story) that the stuff that was used." Okay, perhaps some art is a matter of taste, but some is just bad! Period. You don't accept a bad story. You may accept a not-so-good story because it has an interesting idea or makes you think, or has other redeeming qualities. The same with art. As Charlene says, a likeness of the characters is not the only criterion in art. An illo can have good composition, mood, spirit, great lines, be technically exciting or evoke an emotion. Accept these. But a drawing can have none of the above. Just because the bodies have two arms and two legs; faces have two eyes, a nose and a mouth - just because you as editor "can't draw a straight line with a ruler" doesn't mean it's good art. And just as editors don't have to be writers, you don't have to be an artist to recognize good art.

And what about an artist that you know is good, who you've asked to send you art, who sends you junk? Perhaps you can find out why; did their cat die? Did they overextend themselves and not have time? Are they trying something new? Or did they just not care? There's no excuse-the proof is in the zine. Is this a piece of art you are proud to have in your zine? Or - equally as important - is this a worthwhile effort from a person you are proud to have in your zine?

I have been lucky. The one piece of art that I received that I thought was an insult to my judgment - from a good artist - also came to me after deadline and I was able to send it back on that reason. I'd like to think I'd use these guidelines. [3]


  1. ^ Susan M. Garrett in A Writers' Exchange #7 (September 1993)
  2. ^ Melody Rondeau in A Writers' Exchange #7 (September 1993)
  3. ^ Kate Nuernberg in A Writers' Exchange #7 (September 1993)