(This entry posted on behalf of Robin Mayhall, copyeditor for several Graphic Universe titles and author of Twisted Journeys #17—title still top secret! GU uses in-house proofreaders as well as the occasional freelancer when things get really busy. Any typos in this post are not Robin’s faullt,!)
In 20 years as a copyeditor and proofreader, I’ve worked on a wide variety of projects—from business and journalistic writing to novels, a movie script, short stories, and even poetry.
I came a bit late to copyediting graphic novels and comics, but I’ve done it for about five years now. Copyediting a graphic novel is very much like editing an article or story composed only of words. I carefully proofread the grammar, spelling, and punctuation. I go over every caption, thought or speech balloon, and word to check for typos, missing or misspelled words, or unintentional transpositions of letters or words.
But with a comic, a copyeditor has to be willing to break or at least bend a few rules. The author might misspell words on purpose to show dialect, emotion, illness, a foreign language the protagonist doesn’t understand . . . a technique used in prose as well.
When it comes to sound effects, well . . . depending on the story and the audience, I can live with multiple exclamation points. Let’s face it: in an action-packed sequence, words you won’t find in a dictionary—BIFF! ZZZOT! KER-R-RUNCH!!—are a lot more fun and effective than a perfectly grammatical description of a fistfight.
There’s wiggle room like this in poetry and other types of writing, too. What separates true copyediting from proofreading is the ability to use one’s experience, good judgment, and sense of humor to let authors exercise their creativity and their own judgment.
Part of the job is to make sure the writing makes sense. Copyeditors think about continuity (wasn’t the boyfriend named Justin in Chapter 2?) and catch problems that would confuse a reader. Continuity and clarity are just as important in graphic novels as in other types of writing, and I find it helpful to create a mini-index (style sheet) for myself. That way I can be sure we’ve spelled ZZZOT! the same way each time . . . or spelled it differently on purpose.
The obvious element that sets graphic stories apart is the artwork. The writer does not need to point out everything in text that is portrayed in the art, but sometimes text can clarify the art or complement it. Again, the copyeditor must use his or her judgment to see where clarification or even trimming is needed.
Graphic novels are gaining in popularity, and I think there will always be a demand for copyeditors. In the end, readers expect and enjoy quality writing, whether it’s in a local newspaper column, or accompanied by a ZZZOT! or two.