Now that you’ve all read the saga of my second group’s adventures with a disappearing editor, I’m going to take you through the DMG process from an editor’s perspective (or at least mine). Then in part two of this article, I’ll take a look at how this process might compare with that of an industry professional.
Before signing on as an editor with the Digital Manga Guild, I had exactly no experience editing manga. While I think it’s clear that DMG’s targeted labor pool was the scanlation community (perhaps specifically the BL scanlation community), I came in with no background as either a professional or a hobbyist. With that in mind, it my be unsurprising to hear that my first major realization as a new DMG editor (with four deadlines suddenly looming near) was just how little I knew what I was doing.
My second realization was that I was really on my own. There was no managing editor to go to with questions or to catch my mistakes. There was no one to mentor me through my first manga editing job. Translated scripts were simply filling up my inbox, and I had to figure out something to do with them. It reminded me of the stereotypical theater dreams that haunted me (and every young actor) for years, in which I’d find myself opening a brand new show, though I’d never learned my lines or attended a single rehearsal. Only now, the clock was ticking and the consequences were real.
The first book I was assigned to work on (before the group’s original editor vanished completely) was Keiko Kinoshita’s A Lovely Day With Yuri Sensei. The translator on these books, Aaron, worked from raw pages to provide me with a translated script, which I then edited and (when necessary) rewrote while working side-by-side with the raws.
As an example, here’s a fairly simple, straightforward page (#163) from that manga, as delivered to us by DMG.
Aaron translated this page and put it into script format, thusly:
Another thing I learned pretty early on in this process, is that every translator scripts a little differently. While Leighann (translator on Career Gate and What? Sensei) usually makes a large number of editorial choices as she translates (inserting punctuation and so on) Aaron tends to leave those things up to the editor, only inserting things like punctuation when they are specifically included in the Japanese. Though this gives me a lot of leeway for interpretation as an editor, I actually found it pretty intimidating when working on my very first manga script. As I developed my own process, I eventually made a habit of doing an initial “punctuation pass” before looking at any other aspects of the script, so that when I came back to it for rewriting, I felt like I was standing on sturdier ground.
After doing my “punctuation pass,” my next real concern with this page was dealing with gender issues. Though the Japanese language allows for discussion of an individual person without indicating gender, we have no such luxury in English. And though using plural pronouns like “them” and “they” has certainly become part of the common vernacular, in this case, I felt that keeping those in place detracted from the impact of the scene, and that it would be much more effective if we chose a gender for Yuri-sensei’s old friend. After a brief discussion with Aaron, we concluded that given the military context coupled with Yuri’s sexuality, it was probably fair to assume that the person was male, so I chose to use male pronouns in the scene.
Next, there were a couple of sentences I wanted to clean up, just for cadence and flow.
Yuri’s lines in the second panel, “It’s one of those sappy songs they used to play before the war. Someone I knew used to sing it all the time,” felt awkward with the repetition of “used to.” Furthermore, I worried that the dialogue as a whole might be too long for the speech bubbles provided. To resolve my issue with flow (and at least help the issue of length) I rewrote the first sentence as, “It’s one of those sappy songs they played before the war.”
Even after this, I feared that both bubbles would be too crowded. In some instances, I’d have included one or two alternate versions, so that our letterer (Morgan) could choose which fit best, but in this case, I was really fond of the wording as it stood, so I decided to leave it to Morgan to let me know if further shortening/rewording was necessary. I also felt that the lines in the last panel were a bit awkward, and that they’d pack more of an emotional punch with a little simplification.
I submitted the following to the group’s letterer, Morgan:
As it turned out, Morgan was able to fit the longer lines in easily. Here is the final version we submitted to DMG:
Again, this is a fairly simple example, though it required at least one pretty drastic editorial decision on my part. Other pages might require lots of back-and-forth regarding SFX, continuity, translator’s notes, discussion of word length, background text, and so on and so forth.
Once Morgan and I have finalized each chapter, we ask the group’s second editor and letterer (and sometimes the second translator) to go through for proofreading and any other questions they may have, though it’s ultimately up to me to accept or reject their changes. I also do a final re-read of the entire finished volume before submission, at which point I may request small changes in my edited adaption, usually for the purposes of consistency or flow. It’s important to note here that because of the way DMG contracts groups on individual books, members doing proofreading only are not compensated for their work. They are doing it entirely out of the kindness of their hearts, and for the benefit of the group as a whole. We do this in an attempt to decrease the chances that our books are being released with errors (see Erica Friedman’s recent article for insight on how common these errors are). For though there is some kind of QC being done at the DMG level, the evidence isn’t especially reassuring.
While lighter, uh.. porny-er books like Career Gate and (even more so) the upcoming What? Sensei contain a lot of small, crowded panels crammed with as much dialogue, aside text, and sound effects as they can hold, as you can see from the page provided here, the Yuri Sensei books tend to be quieter and a bit more sparse overall. Though it was certainly necessary at times to rewrite sentences for space purposes in these books, I could more often focus on things like tone, cadence, and characterization. And while I was much, much more nervous about editing a (relatively) serious period piece like Yuri Sensei than I was about editing our other titles, the process was also significantly more enjoyable for me, and I found myself eager to do any research or extra work necessary to be sure I was doing right by the series.
However, and I can’t possibly stress this enough, no matter how much extra work and research I was willing to put in (and this was a lot), there was no real way for me to know if I was doing right by the series, because I simply am not qualified to do so.
Though I read a lot of period manga, my knowledge of Japanese history (including this period after World War II and the American occupation) is limited to what little I learned as an American high school student (where WWII and its aftermath are taught almost exclusively from an American point of view) plus whatever I’ve read on my own over the years (more than the average American, but far less than a real student of the period). My knowledge of Japan’s cultural history during this period is even less robust. Furthermore, my Japanese language skills are nonexistent, so regardless of whatever ability I possess as a writer and editor of English, I am not capable of supplementing what is given to me by the translator with any nuances of my own—at least none that are grounded in the original Japanese. And though, luckily, Morgan does have some background in Japanese and I have industry friends to whom I may pose questions from time-to-time, without another fluent professional overseeing our work, there is every possibility that some of my editorial decisions were just plain wrong. I’ve never been a control freak, by any means, but I’ll be honest—I found this prospect terrifying while working on these books and I still do, now that they are up for sale.
As if simply to enhance my terror, a couple of chapters in to Lovely Day, we began noticing some strange things… flashbacks to incidents we’d never seen, quoted dialogue that hadn’t appeared in the previous chapters. Eventually, as the translator worked ahead, he realized that we’d been assigned the books out of order, and that these were references to Yuri Sensei is in a Good Mood Today as Well. Though our deadlines required that we finish the books out of order (Lovely Day‘s deadline was a full month before Good Mood‘s), we requested that DMG wait to release both until Good Mood was finished, so as not to confuse readers in the same way. I still worry that editing the second book first may have caused me to miss some nuances in the text. Reading the final versions, now in order, the second book reads very differently to me than it did originally. I can only hope that I didn’t miss anything vital while editing Aaron’s scripts.
A Lovely Day With Yuri Sensei – Yuri Sensei To Itoshiki Hibi © Keiko Kinoshita. All rights reserved. Original Japanese edition published in 2009 by Taiyoh Tosho Publishing, Co., Ltd. All other material © 2012 by DIGITAL MANGA, Inc., All rights reserved.
Check back soon for part two of “Process, process, process”!