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October 4, 2009

What Ever Happened to Copyediting?


My first job after college was as a copy editor, and even now, I manage to supplement my income with some copyediting jobs here and there. That’s the first full-disclosure part, and here’s the second: I by no means claim that this site is error-free. People make mistakes all the time, be they silly, embarrassing, or even unnoticeable (and sometimes those “mistakes” are not really errors at all—style decisions and differences in opinions can account for a lot of things that catch people’s eyes. For example, I prefer to use serial commas, but I have no problem splitting infinitives or ending a sentence with a preposition—this latter preference is one many would disagree with).

All that aside, I have this to say: Comics and manga need to be copyedited. That includes not only the interior panels of the work, but also the front and back covers, the cover flaps, the introduction, the foreword, the afterword…all of it. We need to own up to the fact that many of the books going out into the public arena today contain quite a few grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors that could have easily been caught by a professional. Errors here and there are easy to overlook—they happen, and it’s obnoxious to point them out, which is why I’m not going to give any examples here. But when there are an abundance of them, or when the error is right on the cover of the book, it suggests that copyediting is not happening or that the process is given short shrift in the production of the material.
I realize that it’s probably tough for a small, independent publisher to employ a professional copy editor, or even for bigger houses in this tough economy, but this is an area that needs to be made a priority (and I can safely vouch that a copy editor’s hourly rate is not all that high at all). Magazines big and small do it, as do publishers big and small. In fact, it’s one of the easiest ways to distinguish a professional piece of printed matter from an unprofessional one. When I was a magazine editor, review copies of books were sent to me daily. Just a quick look at them helped me distinguish the sloppily edited ones from the “real” ones. Guess what happened to the ones that obviously had never passed before the eyes of a copy editor.
As comics and manga seek greater status in the cultural hierarchy, getting the respect of the community at large may at least in part hinge on how seriously we take the language. It’s noticed by many. But in an industry with such wildly inventive and innovative writing, such wonderful artistry and graphics, and the ever-increasing quality of the production values, there is one aspect that still needs to catch up. It’s a worthy investment.