Joining The Fray – CB Cebulski And Editors-As-Writers

by Hannah Means Shannon

If you’ve been following the strange saga of newly named Editor In Chief at Marvel, CB Cebulski’s revelations that he has written for Marvel Comics in the past during a time when he was also an editor for them, but under an assumed name, you may be pondering the pros and cons of a comics editor also writing comics.

Here’s a run-down of the information at hand for those to whom this topic is confusing and/or new:

In the early to mid 2000s, a writer was hired to Marvel after a brief stint writing at Dark Horse, by the name of Akira Yoshida. The subject, stories, and themes he often wrote about reflected elements of his Japanese heritage. He wrote Thor: Son Of Asgard, X-Men: Age Of Apocalypse,  X-Men: Fantastic Four, and several other miniseries. His work was well received.

After rumors for some time, rumors which Marvel apparently denied, Cebulski has come forward as the writer behind the pen name Akira Yoshida.

Why would a well-established editor write under a pen name? In this case, it was expressly forbidden at the time for a Marvel editor to also write Marvel comics, or more specifically to be paid for that work. This policy was strictly enforced. What’s surprising is that Cebulski would risk his career in this way if his bosses at Marvel did not, in fact, know of the ruse.

Relevant Context:

-Marvel Comics, as well as many other many publishers, have allowed their editors to also write comics at their company in the past. Publishers who currently allow this are: IDW (Chris Ryall), Dark Horse (Scott Allie, Randy Stradley, Mike Richardson), and Skybound (Sean Mackiewicz), to start with. This is by no means an illegal thing, or particularly frowned up. There are several other publishers who have allowed people holding non-editorial roles in the company to write or co-write their comics, too.

-If an editor writes a comic, their publisher might want “first look” to approve or turn down the comic before someone who works for them is seen to be going to another publisher.

-If an editor works on a licensed property at a publisher, they may know the desires of a licensor in more detail than an outsider, and when provided with a strict outline by a property owner, be more able to work with the needs of that owner, needs which can often be exacting, making allowing an editor to write a comic project for a publisher an attractive idea.

The Pros and Cons:

-In this case, Cebulski broke company policy and apparently created a cover to do that, receiving pay in the process.

-In this case, Cebulski used a pen name that indicated Japanese heritage and perspective, when that was, in fact, not the case.

-When an editor writes a comic at their employing publisher, who edits them? Usually it’s a fellow editor. That can become conflicted or produce less edited work as friends and co-workers might go easy on each other or not follow through as exactingly as they normally would.

-Because multiple professional relationships are existing at the same time, when an editor writes a comic at a publisher, it could drift into the realm of favors or rewards, without keeping those roles separate. Especially since there is a financial component to both editing and writing jobs.

-And editor might, on a case by case basis, be a very good comics writer because of their own personal creativity and knowledge of the medium. Should they just never write comics because they are pursuing a career as an editor?

-Given that comics writing is often freelance, while editing is usually a salary position, it is possible to do both.

The Nitty Gritty

What I’ve seen of the comics writing work of editors is that their writing is actually very good, and shows a lot of thought and expertise, so I don’t know of any specific examples where a writing gig went to an editor, who then did sub-par work, suggesting that they were just in it for the extra money. As human beings who love comics, we can easily imagine that working in comics for a number of years would make you want to try to write a script or two, and seeing it published could be very rewarding.

But in this case, there’s outcry against the breaking of a company policy by subterfuge, and the dubious choice of posing as someone from an ethnicity that is not one’s own, and those points are hard to argue against.

In the first case, Marvel has wavered in its policy of allowing editors to write comics over the years, so that might help explain the risk that Cebulski took, but in the second case, the ruse seems like a terrible idea, generally. He could easily have chosen a more appropriate pen name.

Clearly, a number of companies do not have a problem with editors writing their comics from time to time, though if this were a widespread phenomenon, it might have a harmful effect on the comics community as more and more work done “in house” at publishers means less work for professional comics writers pursuing a career.

This also lessens the professional connections that a publisher can develop, and may result in lost opportunities to push comics in new directions by failing to hire challenging new creators working in comics far from the editorial office.

As a matter of personal opinion, I find it hard to believe that no one working at Marvel knew of Cebulski’s use of a pen name to write comics for Marvel, and it may be that there was some sympathy for his aspirations within the publishing company.

However, there’s no mistaking the fact that deception of this kind looks bad at the beginning of a new tenure for Marvel and Cebulski is no doubt seriously rethinking his past decisions at this point.

Cebulski has made the following statement to Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool:

I stopped writing under the pseudonym Akira Yoshida after about a year. It wasn’t transparent, but it taught me a lot about writing, communication and pressure. I was young and naïve and had a lot to learn back then. But this is all old news that has been dealt with, and now as Marvel’s new Editor-in-Chief, I’m turning a new page and am excited to start sharing all my Marvel experiences with up and coming talent around the globe.