[This is a response of sorts to musings by The League on the abysmal relationship between creators and editors in the US comic book industry.]
In the summer of 1997, I spent six weeks in Tokyo interning at the publisher Kodansha. For the second half of that period, I worked in the non-fiction translated straight-to-paperback department. In the first half, however, I spent each week interning at a different "Magajin," or manga magazine.
One of the most interesting of these was Weekly Shonen Magazine, or 週刊少年マガジン. "Shonen" here means something like "young men's" (literally = "few years"), and I believe the readership was largely young men ranging in age from 15 to 30 or so. This experience was interesting partly because, at the time, Weekly Shonen Magazine was the best selling manga publication in Japan, selling significantly over 2 million copies every single week. Each issue of the magazine was something like 300 pages long, comprising 20 page episodes in serials by a different creative teams.
That's right, contributors to Weekly Shonen Magazine generated 20 pages of a story every single week.
At the time, the chief editor for Weekly Shonen Magazine was Ishii-sensei (I believe, I hope my memory isn't going out on me here, but if anyone knows differently, please correct me). Ishii-sensei had previously edited Monthly Shonen Magazine, and his particular editorial style had succeed in pulling that magazine out of a long term slump and rocketing it to relative popularity. This success prompted his promotion to editor-in-chief-ship of Weekly Shonen Magazine, and it was under his direction that the magazine moved into the most popular slot, against its long time competitor, Weekly Shonen Jump.
Now, what was Ishii-sensei's strategy for extracting 20 pages of story each from a large number of creative teams such that the combined product would be read by millions of young men every single week? The answer is of interest in the context of the present state of US comics as it involved intrusive and overbearing editorial oversight.
Of course, I didn't see Ishii-sensei himself engage in this process, but I witnessed it multiple times by his underlings in various meetings with manga artists.
First, the basic schedule. My understanding is that scripts were worked out one week in advance, and I assume editorial intervention worked the same way during that stage of the process, although I never witnessed it. The artists received the script at the start of their week. Two days later, they met with the editor assigned to their story. On the basis of these meetings, they'd spend the next couple days finalizing pencils, then perhaps go through a final meeting before spending the rest of the week inking.
(Yes, these artists worked hard! I remember talking to one who worked at home, but still complained he never got to see his kids. Editorial meetings with artists might happen any time of day or night, as needed to meet the deadline.)
OK, so what happened in an initial meeting? The editorial intervention was complete and domineering. Change the shape of the panels on this page; show an event from this angle, not that one; give us more of this kind of feeling (usually: excitement, urgency, passion, whatever). No aspect of what the artist had done was immune to editorial intervention. The 20 pages generated at the end of that 2 week period (one for writing, the other for drawing) was very much a team effort, as much the product of the editors' tastes and vision as of the writer and illustrator.
So, why is this interesting? Well, as The League has pointed out, a similar kind of editorial interventionism has been having a disastrous effect on US comics. Titles have been killed, good ideas shelved, bad ideas promoted—all because the editors put their decisions about comic book writing / illustrating on a higher plane than that of the creators.
OK, so what was different in the Weekly Shonen Magazine case, as opposed to (oh, I don't know, say) the current state of DC comics?
Well, the answer is really very simple. One thing which was patently obvious from observing the editors under Ishii-sensei at Weekly Shonen Magazine is that they were all themselves ultra hardcore manga fans.
I mean, these guys were hardcore. If not ultra-otaku, then some kind of refined badass version of the comic fan, high on his power. Not because it was mere power, but because it was power over comics.
I remember, for example, one afternoon, I was traveling around with an editor, and we had an hour to kill before a meeting with an artist. What did we do? Stop at a nearby toy and model store, so he could browse through large scale robot / godzilla / ultraman models. Here, work and play coincided.
Another incident, an editor (much less otaku, more badass) meeting with an artist at midnight in a cafe, then talking to her for hours about the comic, pushing her to improve the art, layout, the "kanji," or "feeling," conveyed by every single page.
Do you think Dan DiDio spends his spare time buying Giant Robot toys? Does he meet with creators in the middle of the night for as long as it takes?
So, I think the difference here is attitude. Interest. Caring.
The interventionist editors for Weekly Shonen Magazine didn't intervene on the basis of some idea about what would sell, or imagination about what goes on in the mind of a teenager. They intervened on the basis of their own fandom, on the basis of what they wanted to read personally, themselves, for real.
This does not seem to be the case for some of the "Big Two" editorial horror stories we've heard in the US.
Not that I'm entirely in favor of interventionism—I'm in general very much a fan of creator control, and letting the idea man (or woman) follow his (or her) vision.
But I also think editorial oversight can be good. Editors can make a novel—or a comicbook!—better . . . so long as their feedback comes from the right place (genuine knowledge and caring) rather than mere fantasy and greed.