Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The power of editors

Recently I read the first compilation volume of Grant Morrison's recent (read: issues published beginning in November of 2011, collected some time in 2012, has been sitting on my to-read shelf since middle of last year) run on Action Comics, aka the adventures of rookie Superman. As with most things Morrisonian, I enjoyed it quite a bit. But, of course, I have to nitpick a little.

Here's a panel from issue #3, depicting an industrialist with dubious ethics being interviewed by young Clark Kent. (Sorry about the way the text gets blurry towards the right edge; it's challenging to scan hardcovers.)

Click for reverse-Kandorization

It's a perfectly serviceable exchange of dialogue, except the part where Clark calls out the heartless robber baron on his "redundancies". We don't call them that here in the States, do we? I've never heard them called that. The only reason I even know what that means in this context is because once upon a time I Netflixed the UK version of The Office. Across the pond they call them "redundancies" but us Yanks call them "lay-offs".

Now, Grant Morrison is Scottish, so some form of English is his first language. It's just not American English. And Superman is meant to be an icon of the best in humanity, not necessarily merely a paragon of American exceptionalism (NB: I concede there is room for debate on this, certainly in the overarching historical record, but still). Nevertheless, the rocket landed in Kansas, Clark Kent grew up in the heartland, and Metropolis might be an analogue for New York City or might be its own idealized shining city somewhere in the wherever-the-narrative-demands mid-Atlantic, but either way it's a U.S. city. Clark Kent would say "lay-offs", not "redundancies".

(And not to beat a dead horse but "redundancy" strikes me as one of those euphemistically polite words along the same lines as "downsizing" or "right-sizing" (blurg) and in the context of this story Clark is working for a liberal muckraking paper and actively interested in sticking it to The Man. "Lay-offs" is a bit more of a kick in the gut.)

So where was the editor when this script was submitted? I know Grant Morrison is a godlike rock star in the superhero comics field (you'll have to trust me on that) and Action Comics is a high-profile gig that was surely under incredible deadline pressures. But I still find it odd that dialogue coming out of Clark Kent's mouth with such a glaring Britishism just sailed right through production. I can't really fault Morrison for instinctively reaching for the most natural word to his ear. But I am tsk-tsk'ing the editor for not correcting it.

Incidentally, I must be in a real backseat-editing kind of mood lately, because I found myself asking similar questions reading the prologue of Mr. Mercedes as well. Extremely similar, as it happens. A character introduces himself thusly: 'August Odenkirk. Augie. I was recently downsized. That's the twenty-first-century way of saying I got canned.'

Oh, Steve, Steve, Steve. Do you really think people weren't talking about downsizing and well aware of what it meant in the '90's? Or even the '80's? I know by then you were pretty much already a gazillionaire and working at home completely outside the middle class corporate hierarchies, but come on. Augie is supposed to be a guy in his 30's as far as I can tell, but that one snippet of dialogue makes him sound like an old geezer, shaking his head at these kids today and their modern (decades-old) slang. Weird.

Even Homer nods, but that's when editors are supposed to jostle them back to attention, right? To all the editors out there broaching the awkward subject of missteps made by hotshot authors on a tear, I applaud your efforts. And to those who are slacking off riding the hotshots' coattails, I humbly request that you get it together.

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