Meanwhile, After Nine Years, Gary Spencer Millidge’s Strangehaven Is Back…

millidge-web-hiGary Spencer Millidge‘s Strangehaven may well be the best comic you’ve never read. Originally self-published in eighteen issues over the course of ten years, between 1995 and 2005 (with three collected editions, Arcadia, Brotherhood, and Conspiracies), it has been on what seemed like a permanent hiatus since then, despite the plaintiff pleas of tear-drenched fans like myself. Now, though, Strangehaven has returned in the pages of Soaring Penguin Press‘s anthology magazine Meanwhile…, whose first issue has just been published, which very nicely suimmarises the story to date, for all you new readers.

Briefly, Strangehaven is the story of a man who crashes his car in deepest rural England, and wakes up to find himself in a small village called Strangehaven. From there on, strange things happen. Very strange things. Not only does Strangehaven have a compelling and nicely convoluted storyline, with all sorts of odd and interesting characters, but Gary Spencer Millidge’s art is beautiful too, being a gorgeous photo-realistic depiction of the people, their lives, and the village they live in. If you’re wondering where you heard Gary’s name before, you probably heard it as the author of 2011’s Alan Moore: Storyteller, or of 2009’s Comic Book Design: The Essential Guide to Creating Great Comics and Graphic Novels, both of which come recommended. Since I started reading Strangehaven myself, I’m corresponded with, met, and got to know Gary, the creator of the book, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to ask him a few questions about it…

Meanwhile 1

Pádraig Ó Méalóid: for those arriving late to the party, gave you give us a brief, bullet-point synopsis of what Strangehaven is about?

Gary Spencer Millidge: Not really. This is the one question every interviewer used to start with when I first started self-publishing Strangehaven in 1995, and I used to hate it with a passion. Partly because I didn’t know how to answer it. I didn’t know what Strangehaven was about for a couple of years, and giving a brief synopsis of the plot would, I felt, reveal too much about it. I also hated repeating myself in every interview, and I used to churn out the same, “Strangehaven is a village on the edge of Dartmoor in the rural south-west of England, blah, blah, blah” until I realised I could actually answer the question any way I damn pleased.

InfluencesSo what I’d want to say about Strangehaven today is that it’s a number of storylines that weave in and out of each other concerning the lives of the inhabitants of an improbably isolated village, very much in the vein of British ‘60s television like The Avengers and The Prisoner, but was also inspired by Twin Peaks. At the time, I was reading the new vein of naturalistic comics like Heartbreak Soup, Big Numbers, Dave McKean’s Cages, Strangers in Paradise, and I think you can probably spot various influences from those in my work as well. [Not to mention on this noticeboard, from the first volume, Arcadia – PÓM]

I originally called it a surreal soap opera, but I think that turned out to be off-base, and it might be better to describe it as a magical reality mystery, or something. I wanted to reflect real life rather than clichéd and predictable soap opera plotting even if many of my characters were tongue-in-cheek archetypes.

As for what it’s actually about, I’d say it’s about the perception of reality, but that sounds terribly pompous and dull.

PÓM: There are three previous volumes of Strangehaven – is this storyline going to be the fourth and final one?

GSM: The short answer is yes. There is a twinge of regret and uncertainty when I say that, but that probably is the case, if only for the sake of my long-suffering readers.

I was very much inspired by Dave Sim and Gerhard’s Cerebus, which for those that don’t know, was self-published monthly for 300 issues. I always loved the ongoing serial aspect of the comic book, but even by the late 1990s, this was changing. Trade paperback collections were beginning to emerge as a viable business model, and it was hard to convince new readers to join the party at issue 11 or whatever. Paperback collections were the answer to a degree, but the difficulty then was keeping all the books in print. There was no print-on-demand, and for a self-publisher to have to print at least 1000 copies at a time pretty much absorbed any profit the endeavour was making.

Not only that, but new readers invariably had to be pointed towards the first book, which for obvious reasons contained some of the weakest material (certainly art-wise). So at what became the halfway point, I decided a four volume series would be symmetrically and structurally pleasing.

PÓM: Have you known from the start how it’s all going to end?

GSM: There wasn’t ever meant to be an end. I wasn’t sure how the first issue was going to end when I started, to be honest. The first issue alone was more comics pages than I had ever drawn in my life before, put together. As I say, it was intended to be an ongoing, open-ended series. I figured that there could be collected editions by character arc – e.g. a Megaron and Chippy one, and Alex and Janey one and so on. I had imagined Strangehaven as a sort of anthology of different stories set in the same village, at the same time.

But pretty soon, the characters had increasingly become such large parts of each other’s story arcs that I abandoned this idea. Strangehaven was never meant to be built around a single plot. What I ended up with was numerous plotlines and characters that entangled themselves so intricately that I couldn’t pick them apart; which satisfied my perverse desire to be unconventional, but made Strangehaven a hard sell to foreign publishers and film producers and the like.

strangehaven_brother_lgSo, way back in 1999, after I had completed volume two, I decided that Strangehaven really needed to be a finite series and sat down and plotted out the next two books there and then. That’s pretty much the template I’ve been following ever since, and that’s when the ending (such as it is) was cast in stone.

PÓM: Is it rude of me to ask how long it’s going to take to get to the end of volume four, if you’re doing sixteen pages every two months? Call me cynical, but I’m just wondering how long it’ll be before I can sit down and read the entire things through, in actual book form…

GSM: Most episodes will be a tad shorter than that, about 13-14 pages. Essentially, it’s about half an old Strangehaven issue’s worth per Meanwhile… issue. Twelve episodes in all. Assuming that Meanwhile… maintains its intended bimonthly basis, it’ll take two years before the last episode’s published.

How soon after that any collection is published is dependent on a couple of factors; there are contractual considerations and so on, and of course, that’s all dependent on everything going smoothly, which, looking back over the previous twenty years, isn’t a given.

PÓM: Have you given any thought to re-releasing the first three volumes of Strangehaven, or are they still readily available?

GSM: They are, and have always been, in print, and theoretically available to order from comic stores, book shops and the usual Internet retail outlets, as well as directly from my own website, or from Top Shelf in the USA.

I say theoretically because there have been various distribution hiccups, one in particular that led to Amazon claiming volume three was out of print and only ‘available from these sellers’ for a couple of years, one of which was testing the waters by offering copies at £150 each. And it’s an incredibly difficult task to get Amazon to change factual errors, especially when going through a third party distributor.

conspiraciesI do believe all those wrinkles have now been ironed out (at least for the time being), so you should be able to order a copy in any of those places. Or if you’re lucky enough to live in Nottingham, Page 45 always stocks them.

PÓM: Do you have any misgivings about this new work being in colour, seeing as the work up to now was in good old black & white?

GSM: Well no, I wouldn’t say ‘misgivings’ exactly. Certainly when I originally signed up to producing new episodes for Meanwhile… I was expecting to do them in monochrome. John the publisher had floated the idea of colour in the early stages of negotiation, but I had dismissed it out of hand. I thought it would add an unnecessary additional stage to production and cause a potential conundrum for any future collected editions. And I am possibly correct about both those things.

But as plans for the anthology developed, it became apparent that John would be very keen to see these new episodes in colour, and after thinking about it, I thought it may be worth adding that string to my bow, especially as the cost of the colour printing wouldn’t be coming out of my pocket. I thought it might also possibly broaden the appeal of the series.

But it has been difficult to settle upon a technique that I could implement fairly quickly and yet keep the familiar look and feel of Strangehaven. I’m still finishing the art in grey wash tones, the same method with which the previous volume was produced, and adding colour digitally at a later stage. I’m fairly happy with the way it looks on the SEQUENTIAL digital edition, but the printed version of the first issue has turned out a little dark and desaturated. That’s something I’m looking to correct for future episodes. Not that anyone’s commented upon it anyway.

PÓM: Seeing as you were saying that you originally intended this to be ongoing, are there any plans for further Strangehaven stories, after you’ve finished up this initial storyline. Hope springs eternal, etc!

GSM: I’m not sure if anyone will be hoping for more Strangehaven once I finish this fourth volume; it may be the last thing anyone wants. From a personal point of view, after working on this behemoth for twenty years, and trying to get the damn thing resurrected for so long, it would certainly be refreshing to work on something different. I have enough ideas for comics already to keep me busy for the rest of my days, and I’m starting to feel a little restricted by the format I initially devised all that time ago.

You can never say never of course, and I suppose, there’s always the possibility of a ‘twenty-eight years later’ story emerging at some point, but let me finish this damn volume four first, okay?

PÓM: What sort of ideas for comics, do tell?

GSM: Maybe it would be advisable for me to attempt something a little less ambitious than an open-ended ongoing series with a cast of thousands, maybe a self-contained graphic novel to start off with. Obviously I don’t want to say too much about any potential ideas as it’ll be a while before I’d be able to start any serious work on anything new; plans are always shifting and morphing, and I don’t want to get anyone excited about something that may or may not happen.

But I will say I have a couple of well-developed projects that I’ve been fiddling around with for as long as I’ve been doing Strangehaven. In fact one pre-dates Strangehaven; after my Dad unexpectedly died in the late 1980s I wanted to do a memoir in comic book form celebrating his life and I even started work on it, but I soon realised that I didn’t have the chops at that time. So that’s always been on the back burner.

There’s also a globe-spanning Hitchcockian mystery/thriller and a time travel/moral paradox story that I’d like to get done, although I wouldn’t necessarily choose to draw either of those. I have come to the conclusion over recent years that I’m not likely to live long enough to draw all the comics I want to draw and working with a high quality artist would be a good compromise. That would probably mean that I’d need to get a publisher involved, so those projects are a few steps away from happening.

I’ve also become intrigued with the atheist/deist/theist debate and how that relates to current scientific theories about the creation of the universe and quantum mechanics and so on and I think I have a pretty strong idea for a vehicle that could explore that a little bit. That’s not all by any means, but you get the idea.

PÓM: One of my brothers lives on a small island off the south-west coast of Ireland, which has a population of 124, more than half of whom are non-natives, originally not only from various parts of Ireland, but from Germany, Scotland, Canada and elsewhere, so it seems to have that same sort of geographic gravity as Strangehaven does, although possibly not as inescapable. Are we ever going to get any sort of explanation for that?

GSM: That sounds like an interesting island to live, or even visit. Does your brother have any explanation for the diverse nature of the immigrants to his island? Is there one or sixty different explanations? As far as Strangehaven’s concerned, I think it’s pretty well established that it does have an apparent ‘geographic gravity’ as you’ve characterised it, or at least some of the inhabitants seem to think so. Whether it’s relevant to the central themes of the series (if there are any) may or may not be explored in future episodes.

But it is essentially the backbone of the series; it enables me to have a disparate cast with substantially different back stories to explore. At the highest of high altitude maps, Strangehaven is a simply a place full of weird people with their own views on the world.

PÓM: Does it not do your head in having to wrote Adam Douglas’s dialogue? [A character who claims that he’s from another planet – PÓM]

GSM: I’d say no, not really. It’s hardly Hob’s Hog*. You come up with the character, and his speech patterns, and if it’s difficult to write, then that’s part of the challenge of being a writer. It’s probably easier for me than it is for the reader as I know what he is supposed to sound like. Adam’s character is defined well enough in my head to let him ramble on while I merely transcribe what he’s saying.

I have to admit that I introduced Adam as a bit of a novelty, but I immediately became aware that he was a hugely popular character and as a result has become an increasingly important cast member.

Ronnie did say in one issue that she thought he was from Düsseldorf which suggests a Teutonic accent. But some astute readers may wonder why his distinctive use of grammar isn’t entirely consistent – is it because of the writer’s lack of skill, or is Adam not being entirely honest about his origins?

PÓM: I believe that the publication date for Meanwhile… #1 is a bit complicated. What can you tell me?

GSM: For a definitive answer, you would have to ask my publisher, Soaring Penguin Press. They’re essentially a book and graphic novel publisher, and they tend to have different publication dates for the UK and the US. Obviously the direct comics market is a bit different in that periodicals tend to get published simultaneously worldwide. There are some contractual concerns regarding dates which may have complicated things as well, and two British comics festivals – The Lakes and Thought Bubble – were close enough together in the calendar this autumn to make it an irresistible time to launch the anthology in the UK. So it’s been available in the UK at selected outlets since October, but will be getting its full international direct market distribution as from February. (Meanwhile… #1 is listed in the December issue of Diamond Comics’ Previews and can be ordered from your favourite comics retailer from that point. It’s also available on the SEQUENTIAL digital platform as well.)

Screenshot-2014-10-14-23.13.56PÓM: Thanks for taking the time to answer all these, Gary. And I’ll just mention here that we’re part of the way through a longer interview, which might even get finished before Volume 4 of Strangehaven runs its course!

GSM: Well thank you for wading through all that drivel that I’ve supplied in lieu of proper answers to your respectful and pertinent questions. Let’s hope it entertains someone somewhere who’s lost their internet connection and only has this one page to read. And as far as the ‘other’ interview is going, well let’s resolve to have a race to see who finishes first.

[*Obligatory obscure Alan Moore reference.]

Want some valuable comics? Try these rare small press books

Well, sort of. It’s well known that some used book prices on Amazon are just kind of…loony. Take for instance, Monsters by Ken Dahl, an excellent book about a guy who thinks he has herpes by Ken Dahl, published by Secret Acres but now out of print. (A new edition is planned for next year.) In the meantime, you can get a used copy for a mere $394.94… or brand new for $11,964.08.

$11,964.08

Is this real? I doubt it. I know most of these books mentioned below can be found placidly waiting in bargain boxes at cons. Paging Frank Santoro!

I know a lot of old manga books do legit go for some high prices. For instance, TokyoPop’s Rave Master (4,5,6,7,8,9) in a nice set, goes for $168 in library binding (that’s hardcover) and
but $8,038.21 used. And they wonder why people turn to piracy! 


Some other pricey old books: Battle Royale Ultimate Edition Volume 5 (v. 5) = $499.00

Julie Doucet & Michel Go W/DVD – $173.16

The recent Passion of Gengoroh Tagame by now defunct Picturebox is listed at $226.73 used, and $598.77 new. I know this book does have a loyal fetish following so…supply and demand.

Another Picturebox book, C.F.: Powr Mastrs Vol. 1 by Fort Thunder alum CF is listed at $134.62 used, $154.47 new. Glad I saved my copies!

TeratoidHeights.jpg

Digging around some more long gone publishers, I found this from Highwater, Mat Brinkman’s Teratoid Heights at $220.00. That was a great book!

And then there’s Buenaventura Press, which published Souvlaki Circus by finnish artist Amanda Vähämäki $265.35 used, or $331.68 new/

Oddly, the book that you’d think would be the most valuable, the huge epic Kramers Ergot 7 goes for a mere $140.00 used and only $112.50 new! The retail price was $125 so this is a bargain. Some people in the comments mention copies going for $1000 back in the day—the print run was destroyed by mold under mysterious circumstances—but obviously now its just another large, beautiful object to keep around the house.

Not just out of business publishers. I checked Dark Horse and found The Hellboy Collection: The Story So Far Volumes 1-7 Bundle going for $2,881.50. I used to have all these but I think I sold them to the Strand for $20. =(

The moral of the story? Never throw anything out! I don’t!

Consortium distributing more graphic novel publishers

Wendy_FEATOver at PW I reported on Consortium starting to distribute Alternative Comics and Secret Acres to bookstores. They currently distribute Uncivilized, Toon Books, Nobrow and Koyama Press, as well as publishers such as Fulcrum and Enchanted Lion who put out a lot of graphic novel material. (And a lot of other distinguished small press publishers as well.)

I understand that Consortium has been very important for publishers like Uncivilized and Koyama—and that Consortium is pretty aggressive about bringing new comics publishers into their fold. At CAB I also heard a bunch of griping about Diamond—mostly shipping dates catalog listing and so on. Small things, and Diamond is pretty much the rock of the industry, but if people are getting better service elsewhere they are likely to move.

One thing about the publishers picked up by Consortium—they may be small presses that publish a lot of indie cartoonists, but many of their books aren’t necessarily limited in audience to hardcore indie comics readers. For instance, Wendy, shown above, is a popular webcomic and a devastating take on socialite culture. Sam Henderson’s books are just funny gags, Nobrow puts out a ton of books that are just great to look at, Uncivilized books are smart and accessible, Edie Fake’s work has gotten acclaim many places, Toon Books are award winning crowd pleasers and so on. Getting better distribution seems to be a very important move for all these publishers and I expect we’ll hear more about this in 2015

Robyn Chapman has some thoughts about this and what it means to micro presses here.

Nobrow announces Spring catalog with Bosma, Hussenot, Lee and more

It’s that time of year when we start thinking about NEXT year, and publishers nveil their schedules. And few unveilings are as pretty as those from Nobrow—their books are routinely gorgeous and display a level of artistry few other publishers can match. ANd next year’s line-up (through August) are as gorgeous as you’d expect. Among the goodies: a full color expansion of Sam Bosma’s award winning Fantasy Basketball, and the print debut of Jen Lee, whose webcomics Thunderpaw we’ve long been fans of.  The latter is part of a relaunch of Nobrow’s 17X23 line of “pamphlets”—24 pages long and priced at $5.95. The line also includes two french full length graphic novels. Definitely some good reading to come.
the spectators hussenot
The Spectators, by Victor Hussenot 
April 2015, 128 pages, hardcover, full color
What if we are merely shadows of our choices? If our characters are defined by simple inflections of light and chance? What if, instead of actors, we are mere spectators? Awash in subtle color, gently carrying the narrative and allowing readers to envelop themselves in the lyricism of the work, this 128 page graphic novel by one of France’s hottest young cartoonists is a beautiful watercolor story that will demand as much attention as it will reward with its poetic and philosophical introspection of man.  Reminiscent of French New Wave cinema with its clipped dialog, gentle pacing and departure from a classic narrative structure, The Spectators is a gorgeous, forward-looking example of what comics has become and what the artform can share.
 fantasy sports bosma
Fantasy Sports, by Sam Bosma
July 2015, 56 pages, hardcover, full color
 An oversized graphic novel expanding the Ignatz-award winning Fantasy Basketball to feature length and full color, Fantasy Sports tells the story of a young explorer and her musclebound friend on their trip treasure hunting in a mummy’s tomb. Brooklyn’s own Sam Bosma blends the flavor of 1960’s sports manga with the boldness of a Mike Mignola line, and the hilarity begins when their bandaged adversary demands a game of hoops! With riches in the wings (and eternal entombment as possible consequence), it all comes down to one intrepid young woman and her slam dunk skills in this YA adventure.
750 Years in Paris, by Vincent Mahé
750 Years in Paris, by Vincent Mahé
August 2015, 120 pages, hardcover, full color
War. Revolution. Architecture. Art. If you could stand still and just look for 750 years, what could you learn about the world? In August, it will be time to find out in this unique graphic novel that tells the story of one single Parisian building over the course of seven and a half centuries through all the upheavals of French history. Following his work in Nobrow 8: Hysteria, 750 Years in Paris finds Vincent Mahé grappling with the edges of communication that illustration allows in this hypnotic study of time and place.
vacancy jen lee
Vacancy, by Jen Lee
April 2015, 24 pages, saddle stitched, full color
Jen Lee (the cartooning powerhouse from an Idaho farmhouse responsible for the popular webcomic Thunderpaw) is coming to print for the relaunch of Nobrow’s 17X23 single issue comic line. Now with a new, much lower price ($5.95), the 17X23 line that launched the careers of Luke Pearson (Hildafolk) and Rob Hunter (The New Ghost) will see five new releases in 2015, starting with Vacancy—the story of a dog in a hoodie and glasses who might not be ready to live in the wild, no matter how much the post-apocalypse might need him to. A funny (and best of all, kind) take on Homeward Bound if all the animals were millennials and all the people were dead, Vacancy is the sort of comic that you’d hand to someone who just woke up from a coma—by they time they finished it, they’d be all caught up on what today’s culture gets right.
the hunter joe sparrow
The Hunter, by Joe Sparrow
May 2015, 24 pages, saddle stitched, full color
The Hunter, the second release in the 17X23 line sees Joe Sparrow taking a cue from Frozen and Super Nintendo with his 16 bit remix of a long, long time ago. In this acerbic fairy tale, one arrogant young hunter has grown tired of the simple bloodsport that occupies his friendless days. But when he hears of a mythical beast that sounds strangely like the animals he’s already conquered, mania takes hold. Can our (anti) hero survive with his arrogance intact? There will be (video game style) blood!
Golemchik, by William Exley
Golemchik, by William Exley
June 2015, 24 pages, saddle stitched, full color
Abandoned by his friends, one young boy goes searching for fun – and finds a golem on the hunt for the same, in this 17X23 comic by British cartoonist William Exley. But as the two go about living out their dreams of having the best summer ever, the boy realizes that golems don’t know how to take it easy! To save his town, he’ll have to get his new friend under control…or else everybody else in the neighborhood is going to do it for him!
Lost Property, by Andy Poyiadgi
Lost Property, by Andy Poyiadgi
July 2015, 24 pages, saddle stitched, full color
From the pen of British cartoonist Andy Poyiadgi, Lost Property is the story of a young mailman named Gerald who comes across something pretty fantastic: a small shop, packed to the brim with everything in his life he has ever misplaced. From socks to yearbooks, this surreal repository of his life sends our confused friend into the maelstrom of memory, whisking him back through the crossroads that shaped his life. But what really matters, of course, is what he decides to do next!
Cyber Realm
Cyber Realm, by Wren McDonald
August 2015, 24 pages, saddle stitched, full color
Wren McDonald—another Brooklynite, this one by way of Florida—brings us the darkly hilarious story of a father’s revenge in a cybernetic world of horror. In a dismal future ruled by a tyrannical nerd who has taken all technology for himself, one man is making his way through the type of trials that usually face a Liam Neeson kind of guy. But instead of relying on a gravely voice and guns, our protagonist enlists the help of whatever old piece of robotics he can attach to his sweaty torso, in the hopes of an earth-shattering, revenge-earning brawl.

Albert Monteys Shoots for the Stars with Universe! #1 at Panel Syndicate

by Zachary Clemente

universe_01_big

Well, this is a wonderful surprise! Panel Syndicate announced today that a new digital comic by Albert Monteys (of El Jueves fame) is being hosted on their platform. Panel Syndicate, launched by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin with the purpose of hosting their spectacular 10-issue series The Private Eye with colorist Muntsa Vicente, is holding true to their word and opening up the publishing platform up to other creators.

The reason this is super-noteworthy (other than gracing us with more of Montey’s wonderful work) is what makes Panel Syndicate’s platform so unique. Their comics are digital-only, DRM-free, widescreen-oriented, and available in multiple file formats costing as much as you’re willing to pay. This digital pay-what-you-want method, while undoubtedly around previously, was popularized when UK music group Radiohead released their acclaimed In Rainbows album in 2007 self-produced on their website.

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For me, Panel Syndicate’s method is one of the best available – for those willing to take the risk. If you receive enough purchases from readers, there is literally nothing standing between you and the full payment other than the costs of hosting and the time spent making the work. It goes without saying that The Private Eye has been a smash hit as it was launched soon after it became clear that Saga was well on its way to becoming the titan it is today, but I’m thrilled that we’re getting work from a creator who is less known in the United States. I didn’t consider the possibility of a place like Panel Syndicate being leverages as a way to expose the US audience to comics from other countries, but it makes so much damned sense. If Monteys wants Universe! available in Spanish, Catalan, and English; that’s an easy option, no second printing needed. It’s ultimate control for the creator with nothing but gain for the reader, so long as we have an open heart and open mind when choosing what we buy.

You can find the first issue of Universe! and all released issues (8 0f 10) of The Private Eye at Panel Syndicate.

Koyama Press Teams with Sequential for Digital GNs

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Koyama Press is making many of its current and past graphic novels available in digital editions via the Sequential app. The titles available are yet to be announced, but according to the PR it will include some titles that have been out of print.

“From cosmic art critiques to despondent, down-on-their luck cats, we’ve got you covered.”

The launch is kicking off with a sale on Koyama Press titles this weekend, just in time for CAB. In a statement, Koyama Press wrote:

As always, we remain dedicated to making high-quality and highly awesome print books, but we are excited to be working with SEQUENTIAL creators Panel Nine who share the same alternative and artists-first mindset as us. SEQUENTIAL’s founder, Russell Willis, said, “We’re really delighted to have Koyama Press coming on board. They represent some of the most exciting and innovative comics coming out of the small press scene, and they’re a fantastic and valuable addition to SEQUENTIAL’s expanding lineup.”
 
Print is the cornerstone of Koyama Press, but we are really excited about its new digital companion. Moreover, this is just the first batch of Koyama Press digital editions, so keep your eyes and apps open for more exciting releases!


It’s encouraging to see a publisher with such a high print standard finding a digital partner with Sequential, which has similar taste about superior digital presentation. While the beauty of print remains a priority for many comics publishers, the audience building opportunities of digital are a tool that more and more are opening up to.

NYCC ’14 panels you missed: Geeks of Color Go Pro

by Edie Nugent

From L to R: Diana Pho, LeSean Thomas, Alice Meichi Li, Daniel Jose Older, I.W. Gregorio and Tracey J. John

From L to R: Diana Pho, LeSean Thomas, Alice Meichi Li, Daniel Jose Older, I.W. Gregorio and Tracey J. John

The main stage spectacles of NYCC saw panels filled with celebrity actors and moderators alike, whipping thousands of screaming audience members into a frenzy. No less intense or enthusiastic, however, were the panels scheduled towards the end of the night in the smaller conference rooms at the Javits Center. Once such panel—Geeks of Color Go Pro—filled its room to capacity with a diverse audience of fans and comic book industry hopefuls cheering just as passionately as fans in the rooms twice its size.

“Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo,” declared Tracy J. John, writer for such marquee video game franchises as Oregon Trail and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  This comment, which came later in the proceedings, proved to be a kind of mission statement for the panel as a whole. Moderated by Tor Books editor Diana Pho, the panel participants represented a diversity of gender, race, and sexual orientation.

Pho opened by asking the panel to tell their “origin stories,” referring to how they arrived at their current careers within an industry that has long suffered from a dearth of diversity.  Tracey J. John kicked things off, saying: “a long long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…I went to NYU and got a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies.” She went on to say that she garnered an internship at MTV News, which led to a job working for MTV.com. “We wrote about these things called ‘music videos,’” she joked. This job placed her in the perfect spot to capitalize on her World of Warcraft addiction when MTV looked to launch a video game focused section of its website. She recalled thinking, “whoa, I can get paid to write about video games?” She later turned to freelance work for Wired, NY Post, and Playstation Magazine. Desirous of a more stable paycheck, she turned to a job at Gameloft and worked in game development. Recently she decided to shake things up again, and has returned to freelance work.

I.W. Gregorio, who claimed she’s still getting used to being addressed by the pen name her day job requires, opened by speaking the question on the minds of many an audience member:  “How did a urologist end up being a YA author?” She went on to explain she felt the better question to be “why would an aspiring author become a doctor?” She spoke of her racially isolated childhood where she knew immediately she wanted to be a writer, but felt family pressure “like a lot of kids of color” to enter either law or medicine to be deemed a ‘success’ culturally. Her talents in math and science led her to choose the path of medicine, “enough people had told me that I wanted to be a doctor that I ended up being one.” She did attempt, in her words, to “try to have my cake and eat it too” also studying English while in college. She went on to pursue medicine and take a 10 year break from writing before her passion was reignited during her residency. She was grateful to be a doctor because she felt it enables her “writing career…and gives me a lot of stories.” She described how her new book None of the Above was inspired by an intersex teenager she treated during her residency.

Daniel Jose Older, author of the upcoming Half-Resurrection Blues, the first book in what is to be an ongoing urban fantasy series for Penguin Book’s Roc imprint, began by saying that Gregorio’s story “actually really connects to mine. In 2009 I was a paramedic and community organizer doing work on gender violence and intersections of racism. I was trying how to figure out how to have a voice and what that meant as a writer.” He  explained that he loved Star Wars and Harry Potter, but that he and the kids of color he was working work didn’t see themselves in those stories, “and there was a disconnect.” This inspired him to “sit down and write Shadowshaper which got picked up by the folks at Scholastic that put out Harry Potter, so it was this really big dream come true.” He explained that the process of publishing his first work took over 6 years and that “publishing will make you learn patience” which drew a big laugh from the crowd. He continued to work on stories during that time, and work on adult fiction, which led him to Half-Resurrection Blues, due out in 2015. His background as a paramedic inspired the new book: “a lot of this comes from being on the front lines…dealing with life and death.”

Author Alice Meichi Li knew she wanted to be an artist since the age of five. “I grew up in a Chinese restaurant in a really rough part of Detroit,” she said. She explained how this kept her indoors for her own safety, drawing on the back of the placemats of her parents’ restaurant. She also felt pushed towards a career in more economically dependable fields like law, medicine, or IT technologies. “When faced with the prospect of applying for college, all I could think about was arts school,” she said. “I was in Army Junior ROTC and my Staff Sargent saw some of my art and he said: what are you doing here? You should be taking art class, you should be pursuing this.” She eagerly took his advice, worrying her family members regarding her future. She graduated High School at the top of her class and her family told her she should be making “six-figures somewhere”—not becoming a starving artist. She conceded that’s “pretty much what happened,” to the amusement of the audience. “I did have to end up balancing a day job,” she said, with her art career: she worked at the well-known comic book store Forbidden Planet. “But I was doing Artist’s Alleys and that’s how I made a lot of my connections. If you’re trying to be an artist in comics that’s pretty much your best bet.”

“Everybody’s got all these cool stories,” remarked Black Dynamite producer and director LeSean Thomas. “I was born and raised in the South Bronx, John Adams projects at 152nd Street,” he said. Some in the crowd applauded this mention—then laughed as Thomas joked that he was in the part of the Bronx that exists “past Yankee Stadium” where most New Yorkers’ familiarity with the Bronx begins and ends. “I grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons, reading comic books, “ he recalled. He said he felt comic books were a more realistic career path for him, as the tools used to produce comics were more affordable than those of cartoon animation: “they don’t sell light-boxes at the bodegas,” he quipped.

Thomas ended up in a High School arts program called Talent Unlimited. Following High School he took a job at a sporting goods store to make ends meet. While working there, he was spotted sketching by his store manager whose wife worked at a children’s accessories company. The company quickly employed him to work on designs for accessories featuring licensed characters. Through his work there, he met Joe Rodgers who mentored the young artist and eventually “I became a flash artist/storyboard artist on this web-cartoon called WorldGirl, and it got picked up by Showtime, I think it was the first cartoon to get picked up by a major network,” he said. His success there led to him meeting Carl Jones, who moved to Los Angeles and teamed with The Boondocks creator Aaron MacGruder on the now famous Cartoon Network series based on MacGruder’s comic strip of the same name. “He [Jones] needed people who could understand Hip-Hop culture, Anime, and social/political/racial satire, and it was very hard to find that kind of talent in Hollywood,” he paused as the crowd laughed before putting it bluntly: “let alone somebody who could draw a black person.” This led him to move to Los Angeles to work on the show, which he feared would soon be canceled due to its controversial and sometimes “wildly inappropriate” content.

The series proved a critical and ratings success for Cartoon Network, and Thomas said he felt liberated by the mostly black racial makeup of The Boondocks’ creative team. “I grew up in a society where the White male was the dominant character…to be able to work on a show where my boss was Black, the characters we were creating were Black and we were saying the things we wanted to say without caring what other people thought, Black or White, was really liberating,” he said,  “and was one of the best experiences for me.” He went on to comment that his experience working on The Boondocks “catapulted his career,” gave him the chance to move overseas, opening many career opportunities for him—not the least of which was his teaming up producer Carl Jones to produce the Adult Swim series Black Dynamite. He noted how rare it was to have three shows in a row to his credit that found him working under Black people, on shows starting Black characters: The Boondocks, Legend of Korra, and Black Dynamite.

“I guess I should pitch in about myself, and I thought: oh, I’m the moderator—just sit here and look pretty,” joked Diana Pho, before continuing:  “I grew up in New England, in a very White town. I was always the only Asian girl in my class and my family is from Vietnam: no one knew where Vietnam was, because actually in my High School they never talked about the Vietnam War.” This statement elicited shocked sounds from the assembled crowd, but also some knowing murmurs that appeared to understand all too well the sort of erasure her statement described. Pho explained that she found escape from her outsider status through books, especially science fiction and fantasy novels. While studying English at college, she felt her options for employment were limited to work as a teacher, continuing her studies of Russian—her minor field—in order to obtain a Master’s Degree in it, or something else. “I chose something else,” she said, “and that was publishing.”

She explained she felt publishing to be a small field, insular in nature-and a field where it: “has to do with the connections you make, that’s what I learned,” she said. Her first job involved editing test books for college admissions for a summer. “What it did provide me was internship experience in marketing,” Pho said, explaining that this led to her getting a job with Hachette Press. She worked there in sales and marketing for several years before a colleague recommended her for a position at the Science Fiction Book Club making catalogues. She ended up following this with a Master’s in Performance Studies—doing her thesis in Steampunk performance—and graduated to assume her current role at Tor Books.

The panel then opened up for questions from the audience where Pho asked that the questions be “tweet-sized” to try and get to everyone’s question, but the line for the microphone grew long enough that the panel was forced to wrap up with audience members still on line. One asked: “what was one thing that you wish you knew when you started out that you know now?” Gregorio explained that as a representative of the We Need Diverse Books campaign (weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com): “I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that there are obviously challenges for diverse authors, the first book I wrote had and Asian-American multicultural protagonist-and three different editors said: oh, it’s too similar to another book with an Asian-American character.” She explained that she knew other authors of color who had run into enough of the same problem that they feared they might have to only write about White characters going forward. “The We Need Diverse Books campaign is most effective because it’s been showing the gatekeepers that they are wrong. Fifty percent of children in schools today are children of color, but only ten percent of books have minority protagonists.” She also called upon the audience to open up their wallets and support works by authors of color and/or featuring main characters of color.

John added on to Gregorio’s comments by telling the audience to not be afraid of the status quo, and gave an example of her work in gaming journalism. “Things that I did…aside from asking the questions I needed to do my job, I’d throw in some poignant questions—I’ve asked Shigeru Miyamoto: why does Princess Peach need saving again? Didn’t she get some self-defense classes by then?” John continued: “or the developer of a family game why there wasn’t an option to be a Black person, they just had different tans? Ask those kinds of questions. It can be intimidating: Oh I have this opportunity to interview a game developer, I don’t want to screw it up. I’d say ask the normal questions and then save those for the end.”

Older replied: “when you’re starting out as a writer there’s a lot of advice given out to you, like: you have to build your platform, you have to network! And there’s this very common, very White Western narrative of breaking out as an author,” he said, “where you’re that singular rocket ship that flies away to become famous overnight…what it requires us to do, especially as writers and creators of color, is to really reimagine what success means to us anytime we’re entering into any kind of project or career.” He went on to emphasize the need to build community, outside of what he called a “putting points on your resume” style of thinking. “What will sustain you is unity. That’s what will have your back when things are hard,” he said, “and things will be hard.” He noted that more than fans, writers need people who will tell them the truth—people who will give them the “hard critique.” He also said he wanted to shout-out to: fanbros.com, nerdgasmnoire.net as well as blackgirlnerds.com, saying of the organizations: “these groups are collectives of people of color, proudly nerds, proudly of color, talking about racism, talking about Sleepy Hollow,” he said, “we need to talk about these things because that’s community” drawing many loud cheers from the audience.

Li wished to add a piece of advice she claimed to hear often:  “you are the average of the five people you interact with most in life,” she said, “so if you have a bunch of people who are ambitious, who are trying to do what you’re trying to do you’re going to kind of automatically get lifted up with them. You want at least three of them to be in a place where you aspire to be.” She paused, then continued:  “I add that you should look for someone who is: 1) an older mentor, to get advice from, 2) an equal, that you can be a comrade-at-arms with and share you career path with and 3) someone you can mentor, because you can learn a lot from teaching.”

“The thing that I wish I’d known before getting into animation, that I do now is that all the animation jobs are in California,” said Thomas, to loud laughter from the crowd. Thomas clearly meant the comment seriously, adding: “I wouldn’t have stayed in New York as long if I’d have known there were no real animation jobs in New York the way there are in California…I probably would’ve made my pilgrimage a lot sooner.”

Another attendee asked how the artists dealt with accusations of racism. “I just got called racist the other day, so that was fun,” recounted Older, saying that because the bad guys in a story were White he’d had the accusation leveled at him. “There’s no easy answer, but you have to go with your gut and trust your instincts because when the shit flies, you have to be able to stand up for your work. I know what I did in that story—and I have much worse stories about White people than that,” he said, laughing.

Gregorio added: “publishing is a team sport, you’re going to have editors and marketing people—they’ll catch anything really bad,” she said, “and also you have to realize we’re all going to get criticism. Haters are gonna’ hate, it’s alright!”

A reporter asked if the panel felt any responsibility towards social justice storylines. Thomas replied: “you know on Black Dynamite me and Carl Jones, the executive producer, always used to joke that we were like social workers in animation, not to belittle social work, but we liked to joke that because we were one of the few [shows] that touched on those issues,” he said.  “The most important thing for us is that it has to be funny, that’s the golden rule. The second rule is that it has to be genuine. If it’s honest, if it comes from a good place there’s always humor in it….and the third is to make people uncomfortable, not in a negative way but to make them think outside what they normally expect.”

The final question came from a Bleeding Cool reporter who asked, “Why are we still having this conversation? I feel like we’re constantly having the same conversation: do you see an end to it, do you think? Where we’re not going to need to have ‘Geeks of Color’ in the corner at 8:00pm?”

“So you’re saying Geeks of Color needs to be at noon, is what you’re saying? I agree I think it should be much earlier.” Thomas joked.

Pho added: “we’re going to keep having this conversation until we hit critical mass,” she said. Pho explained that critical mass was not when people stopped asking questions, but rather that: “we need a critical mass of answers from all over the place, not just from us but from you guys—not just from you guys but from everyone at this convention, and not just this convention—about how pop culture functions, how media functions,” she said, “we all have to hit that critical mass point and that’s when the conversation stops.”

“I feel your point a lot,” Older added, indicating the reporter, “we do need this and part of the reason is the industry is still very racist, still very White, and so we need to have these conversations…the job and the struggle and the challenge for us is to push the conversation forward so it’s not so circular,” he said. “So that’s why we need diverse books, which is such an important way to get everyone together. We need to talk about power analysis.” Older also stressed that he felt there were necessary conversations that weren’t had before this generation of creators and it was important to recognize those that came before him. “We’re here because the folks before us fought their fight,” he said, “so we’re fighting our fight for the next generation of artists of color, writers of color…and that involves getting together and having ‘geeks of color’ panels which makes people uncomfortable, which is good, as it should.”

31 Days of Halloween Preview: UR by Eric Haven

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I’m pretty sure we’ve posted some of Eric Haven’s creepy cool Mancat comics before. But not it’s all being collected by AdHouse, in UR. The publisher describes these comics as “Dark, absurdist, and deadpan, these stories reflect the apocalyptic undercurrent of the modern era. Also included is Haven’s long-running comic strip “Race Murdock” which appeared in The Believer magazine.”

Haven is among those cartoonist’s whose work is just inherently spooky. In the past his work has appeared in various anthologies, but when he isn’t cartooning he’s producing the TV Show Mythbusters. A real hyphenate for the season.

This book was accidentally left out out Previews a few times but THIS IS THE PROPER INFORMATION to order and make your customers happy:

48 FC pages
6 ” x 9 ” SC w/ DJ
$14.95 US funds
ISBN 978-1-935233-30-5
Shipping January 2015
Diamond Order Code: NOV14 0925

 

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Magnetic to publish their first original title: POET by Angels & Airwaves’ Tom DeLonge

Magnetic Press has essayed it’s maiden year pretty well with a steady stream of gorgeous books imported from France, a successful debut at San Diego and more. And now they are adding to their portfolio with their first NEW title, POET, a new graphic novel written by  Tom DeLonge, the  frontman of Blink-182 and Angels & Airwaves and a very successful reocrdo producer in his own right.

The series involves” Poet Anderson, a “Dream Walker” who roams the realm of dreams, protecting sleepers from dark terrors that threaten to cross over into the waking world.”

The release of the GN will tie in with the news Angels & Airwaves album, called “The Dream Walker,” which drops on December 9th, and serve as a prequel to the tale. There’s also a short animated film based on the album that will premiere as an Official Selection of the 2014 Toronto International ShortFilm Festival. You can watch the trailer at Indiewire …or here:

It looks really great.

More via PR:

The POET comic series will introduce the main character, Jonas Anderson, an imaginative slacker teen who discovers an innate ability to lucid dream, opening the doors to an entire universe of wonders and dangers that effect his waking life in ways that will define his fate forever. With a story by DeLonge and Ben Kull (Mission Hill, The Oblongs), the series will be illustrated by award-winning artist Djet Stéphane, with covers by several comic industry pillars, including Gerald Parel (Iron Man, Captain America) and Bengal (Naja, Avengers).

 “The Dream Walker” album will serve as a concept soundtrack, with songs and tracks exploring facets of lucid dreaming and the Poet universe. The first track, “Paralyzed”, premiered on Rolling Stone and rocketed onto the Top 10 on iTunes’s Alternative Chart. A full-length feature film is also in pre-production, as well as a novelization and various iconic collectibles and attire. The comic book publishing opportunity was brought to Magnetic Press on behalf of To The Stars by Russell Binder at Striker Entertainment, who represents the brand’s entertainment interests.

 “We were immediately captured by the ideas behind POET, and the visual direction set by the animated short just blew us away,” says Magnetic Press’s Publisher, Mike Kennedy. “Working with Tom to help explore this universe he has imagined has been wonderful, and we’re really excited to draw readers into the Dream World with him!”

 The three-issue series will debut both digitally and in print this Spring.

 

Here’s some teaser art from the short:

Poet close Poet on bike Poet punch

Preview: The first nerdlebrity comics company returns with collected Shaolin Cowboy

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While nerdlebrity comics lines are common now—from Shia LaBeouf to DMC—a pioneer in this regard and still one of the best in terms of quality is Burlyman Comics, which is owned by the Wachowskis, the directing siblings behind The Matrix, the much beloved Speed Racer and the upcoming Jupiter Ascending. The company has been around for about a decade and launched about a decade ago with Doc Frankenstein by the Wachowskis and Matrix storyboard artist Steve Scroce, and Shaolin Cowboy by the all around genius Geof Darrow. Burlyman put out 7 issues of Shaolin Cowboy before fading away—the seriesfollow the  adventures of a nameless Shaolin and his mule in an apocalyptic American West—a concept that seems maybe too simple until you know that Darrow is drawing it with all his hallucinogenic detail. The tagline “A buddy picture with a body count” explains it all.

When Burlyman more or less disappeared, Dark Horse picked up the series, starting last year. But now the original 7 issues, long out of print, are coming back in a collected edition…from Burlyman. According to pr, the issue includes “ass-ologues by the Wachowskis” and many other extras—including art and alternative covers (what they used to call variants‚ by Moebius (Jean Giraud), Mike Mignola, Kevin Nowlan, Ricardo Delgado, Scott Gustafson, And John Severin. At a mere $19.99 it sounds like a bargain.

Retailers note, the FOC on this is the 23rd, order code OCT141229. On sale date is December 3rd.

And in case you need any more persuasion here’s a preview—to say it is mind-boggling does not do it justice.

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SPX: Hana Doki Kira – A Beautiful Homage to Shōjo

 

by Zachary Clemente

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While at SPX this year, I was able to grab a quick word with seven amazing cartoonists about their work in Hana Doki Kira, a Shōjo comic and illustration anthology released earlier this year after a rather successful Kickstarter campaign. Not only filled with gorgeous work inspired by Shōjo – a sub-genre of manga covering a wide variety of subjects, often with a strong focus on human and romantic relationships. As the anthology itself describes:

Shōjo is known for its distinctive use of flowery imagery, magical plot devices, and romantic themes. Out book takes its title from three key elements of the Shōjo world: Hana meaning flower, Doki echoing the sound of a pounding heart, and Kira – the impression of sparkling beauty.

Contributors to Hana Doki Kira in attendance at SPX were: Alice Meichi Li, Carey Pietsch, Kris Mukai, Megan Brennan, Rebecca Mock, Tim Ferrara, and Annie Stoll – who served as art director on the project. I asked each their introduction to Shōjo, how it has influenced their work, and what working on an anthology was like.

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Captive of the Roses by Alice Meichi Li

One of the most popular and influential Shōjo series, Sailor Moon was named as a gateway for many not only into the genre, but into comics in general.

When I was very young, one of my babysitters introduced me to Sailor Moon and at the time I had a serious need for stories about ladies and stories about girls who are fully-realized characters who got to be silly and dumb and got to express their wants and needs; but also be powerful and have agency in their own world. That started a life-long love affair. […] I love stories about girls, about things girls love by women – it’s a wonderful thing. – Carey Pietsch

Megan Brennan: I wasn’t really into comics until some of my friends started reading Sailor Moon and other Shōjo comics and I realized that comics could be something completely different and I connected with it [Shōjo] really strongly. It was the only comics I read for a really long time because it was telling these stories I couldn’t get elsewhere; girls were the main characters, girl-things were important, and the things they cared would we life-changing and monumental; it was great. – Megan Brennan

Someone handed me Sailor Moon volume 10 in middle school at a school dance; I sat down, read the whole thing, my life was changed forever and I never looked back. – Rebecca Mock

It’s an understatement that there’s a drought in comics for stories starring or aimed at girls and it seems that many readers left wanted found what they needed in Shōjo such as Sailor Moon. Though he didn’t interact directly with Shōjo until later, Tim Ferrara remarked on how it informs his current work:

I didn’t actually grow up reading Shōjo; it was always a genre I thought should exist but I never knew that it did. […] I’m glad it exists; it’s a needed genre – especially here in the States where we don’t have a lot of things that are representative for that demographic. – Tim Ferrara

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Art by Janet Sung

Each artist is influenced or at least informed by Shōjo, many in the depiction of specific themes or use of ornate illustration.

There’s a lot of tropes that I use – a lot of decorative elements, lots of flowers, lots of sparkly things. […] I also focus a lot on the clothing design and the hair. In Shōjo manga, there’s always beautiful, gorgeous, flowing hair. I love putting that in my art. – Alice Meichi Li

An untranslated copy of Candy Candy volume 10 was one of the earliest comics that I read and absorbed – and since I couldn’t read it, all I could do was look at their facial expressions and try to understand what was going on through the artwork alone. […] One of the earliest things I learned from that was how to do was how to convey an emotion in a comic. – Kris Mukai

I think the themes and the beautiful linework have always been a big influence on me. My style is very sketchy and bold – you might think I would be more drawn to Shōnen, but there’s something beautiful about personal relationships as well as flowing lines that have always captured my heart. You may not think I’m a very Shōjo-inspired person, but I’m always thinking about beautiful lines and interesting stories. – Annie Stoll

It’s easy to latch onto the evocative beauty of how the work, but the influence Shōjo has had goes beyond that – granting an underserved readership access a necessary more.

It’s made me more conscious of writing all characters with agency; that’s something Shōjo manga does well – expanding beyond a traditional, mainstream narrative. I think some of the aesthetic seeps into my work too, I’m a fan of expressive faces and the ability to show emotion very clearly. – Carey Pietsch

It was a way for me to connect with comics. There’s a void in comics. […] There’s comics for young kids and comics for young adults; but theres a gap there for pre-teens and young teens; there aren’t comics that speak to them and specifically not a lot of American comics that speak to girls. Shōjo fills that void, even if it’s cultural appropriation. These comics are coming from Japan – it’s an entirely different culture, we don’t really understand it, but even then there’s something there that we connect to viscerally and you can see how much they’ve caught on in a culture that they weren’t made for; there was such a hunger for that kind of comic. – Rebecca Mock

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Art by Joyce Lee

Lastly, I was happy to hear that all were pleased with the process of working towards an anthology and though many only had the responsibility of working on their own pieces, they came together and pulled off the project with aplomb, befitting an homage a spectrum of manga.

I do participate in a lot of anthologies; I take it as a way of making new friends. I love getting to know new artists and just getting to be part of that group is an honor. – Alice Meichi Li

It was so cool seeing the final book come together because everybody else’s stories fit together but they were all so different. You could see completely different perspectives of the same basic ideas. – Megan Brennan

It was at times exhilarating; we felt very powerful with all the possibilities available to us. At other times, it was very stressful because we were taking on a huge responsibility for no reason other than we sat down one day and decided we wanted to do this. We had to commit to this idea that you just come up with without any set due date, nobody backing you; it was really empowering to know that we were able to create something from nothing. – Rebecca Mock

It was so much fun; we really lucked out with Rebecca [Mock] and Annie [Stoll], and the Year 85 Group is so wonderful. It was so excited to get to see other artists talk about their themes and show sneak-peaks of their process along the way, and they did a wonderful job putting it all together. – Carey Pietsch

It was good having that initial group of six people who were really interested in helping out; everyone had a very unique job or position – it was a little bit like a Shōjo manga honestly. […] It was a really good balance of personalities that all worked together – it never felt like a competition. – Annie Stoll

On the actual process of putting together the Hana Doki Kira anthology, Stoll described how it was born out of love for Shōjo.

There was a core six of us who hung out and drew and once we realized that we all loved Shōjo manga and started talking about making some kind of anthology. We ended up structuring it kind of like a pyramid scheme where each of us would invite two or three more people into it, so before you knew it, we had 26 amazing artists that were all making new friends and talking about Shōjo. – Annie Stoll

Stoll is a seasoned veteran in the world of comic anthologies, contributing in the astronomically successful Valor campaign, actively working on the second volume of Hana Doki Kira, and launching an extraordinarily ambitious project, 1001 Knights - a people-positive, feminist bent collection, aimed at making a tome of illustrations, comics, and unconventional art representing no less than 1001 characters.

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Here is the full list of the Hana Doki Kira contributing artists: Aimee Fleck, Alex Bahena, Alice U. Cheong, Alice Meichi Li, Anna Rose, Annie Stoll, Becca Hillburn, Carey PIetsch, Catarina Sarmento, Catherine, Chelsie Sutherland, Elisa Lau, Endy, Janet Sung, Kaitlin Reid, Kelly / Hkezza, Kris Mukai, Lindsay Cannizzaro, Megan Brennan, Rebecca Mock, Sarah O’Donell, Shelly Rodriquez, Sloane Leong, Stefanie Morin, and Tim Ferrara. For more, check out their Facebook and Tumblr pages!

A new CAF is coming in November: NOCAZ Festival in New Orleans

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Are risographs kill-….oops wrong post. Anyway, the CAF (comic arts festival circuit continues to expand and here’s a new show in New Orleans, called the NOCaZ Festival for “comics and zines” which will be held NOvember 14-15th at the New Orlenas Public Library. According to their mission statement:

NOCAZ is an attempt to make a space for self published artists and thinkers to put their work out in the public sphere and be able to reach other people without the constraints and expense of the commercial publishing industry. Zines are a participatory format and we hope bringing multiple perspectives together under one roof can create dialogue and inspire more people to express themselves through print. We would also like to see more of this D.I.Y. spirit in the world of comics and hopefully make space for sharing knowledge and celebrating work that is existing outside of the tired narratives of mainstream comics and pushing the medium to new limits. And all of this happening at the public library? What a dream! We hope to see you there so please register and make your way to the nearest photocopier.

No tablers announced yet, but they have a Tumblr, a scholarship program, and some reading events seen below. The poster, above, is by Ben Passmore.

AND best of all, they have a forum for ride sharing and couch crashing. EVERY CAF NEEDS THIS.

We’ve heard that NOLa is getting to be a good venue for comics and reading is still big there, and I’m sure this event will have all the charms of New Orleans.

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2015 MoCCA Festival announces first guests and move to a new venue

center548-north-west-side-2After years of awkwardness regarding temperature, comfort and general feng sui, MoCCA is leaving the Lexington Armory for a new venue in 2015. Mocca Fest’s new home is Center 548, which based on the photos on its website, looks like an open, airy modernish venue more like The Puck Building, where MoCCA was born.

The 2015 show is set for April 11-12th and the first GUests of Honor have been announced: Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Scott McCloud, Raina Telgemeier, and J.H. Williams, a nice broad-based, genre spanning list.

In a statement, Society of Illustrators Executive Director Anelle Miller said, “We are so thrilled to usher in a new era for the MoCCA Fest in 2015! Our guests of honor have each left indelible impressions on the comics medium, and how that medium is seen by audiences all over the world. We are proud to host them, as we grow into a new space and an expanded slate of programming that will form a dynamic festival that New York will be proud of. And there’s so much more to come!”

Center 548 is located on West 22nd Street, near the Highline and a bevy or art galleries and other cutting edge cultural institutions that fit in with the MoCCA message. MoCCA Festival will take up three floors of exhibits with on site programming, an art exhibit and a rooftop café. There will be a small reduction in the number of tables available but table prices will remain the same, with applications opening on November 3rd. For those driving in, it’s right next to the West Side Highway.

The new venue will open a new chapter in MoCCA’s history. I’ll definitely miss being able to roll out of bed 10 minutes before a panel, but hey, the nabe just wasn’t the same after Baoguette closed. At the very least the new venue looks to be climate controlled, which is something the Armory wasn’t.

Photo from the Center 548 website.

How to Survive Micro-Press Publishing at SPX

by Zachary Clemente

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This past weekend, the 20th annual Small Press Expo (SPX) brought an explosion of independent and small press comics to the Marriott hotel in Bethesda, MD. Literally overflowing with an abundance of talent, the weekend was filled with amazing creators, signings, panels, even a wedding and a prom. One of the panels, Micro-Press and Beyond, discussed the findings of a study on micro-press comics publishers by moderator Robyn Chapman, who runs mini-comics publisher Paper Rocket, as well as posing the study’s questions to the panel participants. From left to right, the publishers are Chuck Forsman (Oily Comics), Keenan Marshall Keller (Drippy Bone Books), Anne Koyama (Koyama Press), and Raighne Hogan & Justin Skarhus (2D Cloud).

Chapman kicked off the panel by showing her findings, collected in The Tiny Report, a mini-comic she published, based on questions she received from 40 micro-press publishers, which she defines as being “one-person publishing houses”. The purpose of the Tiny Report is to be a “micropress yearbook”, serving to be an aid in understanding and chronicling the comics micro-press movement. One by one, she took the panel through some of the questions she posed for the report, seeing how they affect each representing publisher. While the responses for Forsman, Keller, Hogan, and Skarhus were fairly uniform; Koyama, as a more established publisher had slightly different answers. Although all agreed the major challenge of publishing was funding, seeing it as the root of any other discussed challenges, such as distribution or marketing.

Data Collected by Robyn Chapman

Data Collected by Robyn Chapman

The majority of the panel was an informative and lengthy discussion about how micro-publishing is in essence a massive clustercuss. Selling books to comic stores often requires very precise book-keeping, dealing with printing and shipping costs is a measured act of a madness, running the convention circuit can be emotionally and physically punishing, and even trying managing an online store or crowd-funding campaigns can be a full-time job. Despite all these hurdles, micro-press publishers have been springing up left and right to print minis and floppies, filling the void left by publishers left by publishers like Fantagraphics or Drawn & Quarterly, who now focus more on graphics novels, collections, or art books. Ultimately, the issues voiced come from a lack of steady funding as it’s not uncommon for an independent publisher to see a check for books sent to a store 6 months after the fact.

During the audience Q&A portion, a question I’ve been curious about was raised about artist contracts and compensation. Most of the publishers pay in copies or small royalties, depending from artist to artist and many don’t really bother with formal contracts. Only Koyama utilizes formal, customized contracts and pays a lump sum up front to each artist she works with.

“You’re an angel from Heaven.” – Forsman to Koyama

Data Collected by Robyn Chapman

Data Collected by Robyn Chapman

Lastly, on the word of submitting, all but Koyama takes submissions through email or convention drop-offs – all stating that finished or nearly finished work is ideal. Koyama bemoaned the fact that she often cannot find the names of people on their websites or tumblr pages and won’t be able to contact them. Koyama press rarely takes submissions, only publishing 10 books a year, all handpicked by Anne herself. Everyone agreed that the best possible policy for getting published is just “make a good comic.” When asked about the “Beyond” of micro-publishing, all wished for a climate where sustainable and local printing was a more affordable option, but for now, overseas printing is the most economical option.

This was my first time at SPX and it was an exceptional experience. I’ll be back next year and (hopefully) continuing small press coverage!

SPX was lovely, as usual

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The indie comics world and The Beat are recovering from the yearly love in also known as the Small Press Expo. You can see lots of photos on the SPX tumblr including the above of the alt-weekly summit of (clockwise) Derf, Shannon Wheeler, Dan “Tom Tomorrow” Perkins, Charles Burns, Mimi Pond, Keith Knight, Jen Sorenson, Ben Katchor, Lynda Barry and Jules Feiffer. The pound for pound genius in that one photo could probably move the world, given a lever long enough. I’ll have fuller thoughts later, I hope, but in the meantime, the wedding/prom Saturday night was EPIC. I’d be surprised if the prom doesn’t become a regular thing. It was great to see Chris Oarr, who established so many of the great traditions of SPX, back again, and he was greatly impressed to see what the baby had grown to be. Lots of people sold lots of books, lots of love flowed every which way, and it was generally* awesome.

It was so awesome that I started a new sketchbook! I haven’t done one of those since 2002. So many great people to get in it.

There are more photos by Jody Culkin up at PW Comics World. Below, all the lovely badges.

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• I am aware that there were a few sad faces here and there. That wll be covered in a longer report.

“A Cosmic Fairytale” – D.J. Kirkbride incites The Bigger Bang [Interview]

biggerbang Author D.J. Kirkbride has been an important force in the comics’ industry for years now spearheading projects like Amelia Cole for Monkey Brain Comics with Co-Author Adam Knave and artist Nick Brokenshire. As Amelia Cole continued to grow larger, the author then shifted gears along with Adam Knave to work on Never Ending, a book about an immortal superhero. Now the author is going solo, and launching a new title from IDW Comics entitled The Bigger Bang, a story about a second of the fabled Big Bang events spawning a Superhuman golden age type hero. Through the unique vision of artist Vassilis Gogtzilas, the two are likely going to craft a superhero tale unlike any other with The Bigger Bang. Author Kirkbride shared some further insight into the project:

Where did your interest in Superheroes stem from, and what do they mean to you?

There is nary a memory from a time in my life where, if I were being honest, I didn’t wish I was wearing a cape. SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE came out when I was still very new to the world (yeah, I’m old), and it is the basis of my entire outlook on everything somehow. I love heroes, and super ones are, you know, even better. The idea of bigger than life characters helping the regular folk, having epic struggles and battles… what’s not to love?DJ_Pic

After NEVER ENDING, why continue to deconstruct the modern Superhero? Is this going to be a better deconstruction of the superhero than WATCHMEN (no pressure or anything)?

THE BIGGER BANG has nothing to do with WATCHMEN. It is as far from “what if superheroes were real?” as a comic could get. In my notebook, I one time wrote “THE BIGGER BANG: A Cosmic Fairy Tale”. That’s what it really is. It is not a deconstruction of anything. I don’t really like taking things I love apart, to be honest. Superheroes are great. I don’t want to pick at them. People much smarter than me already have.

How did the creative team come together?

Vassilis and I met on some anthologies I was editing. We worked together on a short story for an anthology called TITMOUSE MOOK Vol. 2, along with my co-writer pal Adam P. Knave. It was a lot of fun, and we tried to get some other things going that never worked out for whatever reason. After a while of doing our own things, Vass sent us a picture of a big, amazingly over muscled superhero guy floating in space and asked if we wanted to do a cosmic superhero book with him. Adam and I were (and still are) writing AMELIA COLE together, but he was (and still is) also co-writing a series called ARTFUL DAGGERS, plus who knows how many novels and stories and… the guy’s way more prolific than me. So, he didn’t feel he had time. I had plenty and was hungry to try something new, without the crutch of writing with someone way smarter than me, so I went for it. Vass is obviously very involved in the story piecing and development, visually and thematically, plus our IDW editor Justin Eisinger has helped me a great deal, being a sounding board and a source of ideas. And mainly saying, “LESS WORDS, MAN!” which has worked out well, I think.

Is the group worried about the series possibly touching on religious implications, or is the team instead looking at the incident from an alternate history touchstone?

We do go along with the Big Bang origin of life, but I’d be surprised if there was any controversy or anything. This is a crazy science fantasy adventure with far out ideas and drama so I personally find it pretty funny, but we don’t talk about religion at all, actually.

This is D.J. Kirkbride’s first solo writing effort for a while isn’t it? What was it like to tackle a project with fewer collaborators?

Vass and Justin have really helped guide the story with me, and our letterer, Frank Cvetkovic, has helped keep the words and the art together, the glue, honestly. But, to be perfectly frank, it’s been scary. Aside from a few anthology shorts, I’ve co-written all of my comics’ work with Adam. Doing this without him was a challenge I really felt I needed though. He has read different edits of the first issue, because his feedback means a lot to me, but, yeah, I wrote the words without him. It freaked me out and is still freaking me out. The wacky part is that Adam is far better versed in big cosmic comics than I am, and this kind of huge space opera madness is right up his alley, whereas I tend to lean toward smaller, more personal and dialog-heavy writing. tumblr_static_984bbxonto8wg0k0ck8g8ocsk_1280_v2 How did the team decide that IDW was the right home for the project?

Vass has worked with IDW on a great mini-series called THE ADVENTURES OF AUGUSTA WIND, written by none other than J.M. DeMatteis, one of the best comic writers of all time — no pressure to be his next writer, right? I also work with them on the AMELIA COLE print collections, so it seemed like a good fit. They put out good books, but it wouldn’t have happened without Justin Eisinger. Something about the core of our pitch, the basic idea of this character’s birth causing so much destruction with pseudo-science and fantasy spoke to him, I guess. He championed us, and this book wouldn’t be happening with out that fella.

What does the supporting cast for the book look like?

It’s a diverse group. The lead character, Cosmos, is the only one that looks traditionally human — at least an amazingly muscular human. There’s a kinda heavy, tentacled, green monster in a crown called King Thulu who kind of runs this sector of the multi-verse. His best warrior pilot is a three-eyed darker green lady named Wyan. She’s the character that has maybe the most interesting arc to me, and it grew very organically. There are many other aliens of various shapes and sizes, some of which started with brief descriptions from me, many just visualized from Vass’s amazing mind.

Is it difficult to compress a story into a limited space of pages in four issues after working on the AMELIA COLE series from Monkey Brain?

Actually, AMELIA COLE is the first ongoing series I’ve ever worked on, so that was the challenge at first. Before that, I’d gotten very used to writing really short stories for anthologies. I like stories with endings, even AMELIA COLE will have one someday (hopefully far, FAAAAAAR off into the future), so that’s how we designed and pitched THE BIGGER BANG. We had a story with a beginning, middle, and end. If possible, I’d love to do more one day, but if not, these four issues compose a complete story that I think folks will enjoy. neverending Is Vassilis Gogtzilas’ work completely painted in the title?

No, he is doing pencils, inks, and digital colors for the interiors. The painted covers were his idea, and I love them. It’ll be great seeing it in print and looking at it up close, because he is not a careful, timid painter. You can see the chunks and textures of the paint. It’s really cool. I love all the covers and can’t wait to be able to share them. I think they get better with each issue.

Does his work and style alter from the different projects he draws?

Oh yeah, Vass is eclectic. His style can vary within a project–from page to page. It’s not random. He’s a very emotional artist, and he’s more concerned with how the art FEELS than realism. It’s been an interesting challenge writing for him sometimes because his mind moves so differently than mine. It’s amazing, and I would have never come up with something like this on my own. It is a true collaboration.

When can fans dash out to their local comic book shops to pick up THE BIGGER BANG #1?

Issue 1 is out November 19, 2014. If anyone out there is interested, please pre-order it with item code SEP140487. Pre-orders are way too important, but that’s the way it is. There is a lot of competition for comic shop shelf space, so an indie book like this can use all the pre-help it can get. I’m really excited to see what the reaction will be. We’ve put together something really interesting and fun. I’m happy to get to be a part of it.

Thanks for your time!

Thank YOU, good sir!