Small Press Expo (or SPX) is a nonprofit created in 1994 to promote artists and publishers who produce independent comics. It’s mission is to “To provide a forum to showcase new and emerging talent in the fields of comics, graphic novels and political cartooning”. In the spirit of this mission, the Comics Beat has conducted a series of interview with some of the phenomenal cartoonists in attendance at this year’s Small Press Expo. We hope that these interviews will improve our understanding of these creators voices, techniques, interests and influences.
In this final SPX 2017 interview, we talked with Annie Stoll. Annie is a comic artist and art director at Sony Music. I first came across her work with the crowdfunded anthology 1001 Knights. Her art and mastery of colour is wonderful. She’s a very prolific artist and I’ve had the pleasure to chat with her about her latest projects, her webcomics Ode and the upcoming volume of Hana Doki Kira.
Philippe Leblanc: For those readers who may not be familiar with you and your work, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Annie Stoll: Hey! Well thanks for talking with me– my name is Annie and I’m an art director at Sony Music. I work on all kinds of music most recently for the queer pop duo, Superfruit. I also love to draw, create comics, illustrate. I’m the artist & co-creator of Ode comic written by Tim Ferrara. I’m a big fan of anthologies and have really enjoyed putting together projects like Hana Doki Kira w/ the women of the Year 85 Group and 1001 Knights with my co-curator, Kevin Jay Stanton.
PL: You’ve provided art direction on Hana Doki Kira, a shojo manga and illustration anthology you created with the year 85 group that was published in 2014. You’re revisiting this with a second volume. Obviously, that enthusiasm for those influences wasn’t fulfilled with a single volume. Are you excited to revisit this and what do you have in store for this volume?
AS: We’re all super excited for HDK vol 2! The idea of Hana Doki Kira is that each of those words represent an aspect of the shojo genre (Hana = flower, Doki = the sound of a beating heart, Kira = idea of sparkling beauty). And really the idea of the anthology is to show how the shojo genre has influenced the creators within– this leaves room for many diverse styles and perspectives and is honestly pretty endless in the possibilities. Each volume will have a general theme, united by a single spot color. We’re thinking about a bright pink color and exploring theme of love on all levels for the next volume- so please look forward to it!
PL: Let’s talk about Ode, your fantasy web comic you’ve been working on with Tim Ferrara that began in 2013 and concluded in 2016. You’re still working on adjacent projects (1001 Knights), but now that you’ve concluded Ode, I’m curious to know if you feel like you’ve accomplished what you set out to do with this series?
AS: Aw! I have SO much more I want to do. Ode is not dead!! I promise. It’s been in a deep hibernation. When I set out to work on 1001 Knights, Ode went on hiatus becaus I couldn’t’ consistently update it. Tim (Ferrara) had a lot of it already written and collabing with him is great- he’s a natural editor as well as writer and it’s great to have someone help keep me on task and to collab with on story. We each created one of the main characters and it’s been cool to see how they interact. It has been difficult to have a regular update schedule with my day job and all the travel I do for that.
My hope is to return to Ode because there is so much more to the story and so many more characters readers will meet! Tim and I have talked about how the strategy for the next round is to build a really big buffer so it can update without interruption.
I think I’ve changed a bit as an artist and Ode has been a really great way for me to experiment and learn and express myself with an amazing writer. It had started as this personal project because I love lady knights and now lady knights have really taken over my life in the best way possible. I can’t wait to get back into it. And I so very much appreciate everyone who has supported and encouraged me along the way. I’ve been working on some zines exploring some other interests and evolving my style (Glitchzine and Halcyon Dreamz are gonna be at SPX this weekend) and when the dust settles I’m really looking forward to coming at Ode a bit older, wiser, and confident.
PL: You’re working on 1001 Knights, an ambitious medieval fantasy project in 3 volumes depicting no less than 1001 characters featuring the work of over 250 creators. With a project so vast, how do you remain grounded and focused?
AS: A big part of that is working with amazing people who I can rely on and talk to. Mainly my co-creator Kevin Jay Stanton and also my partner, Tim Ferrara. Working with Kevin on 1001 Knights has been amazing because we collaborate so well together. He is such a dear friend and together there isn’t anything we can’t do. I know what my strengths and weaknesses are and Kevin is a great compliment and when we put our minds to it, we find a way. And Tim is amazing because he is a neutral person who knows me really well and isn’t afraid to tell it like it is– it’s important to have people who love you, but ground you.
And beyond that all the artists in 1001 Knights are spectacular and so engaged within this community we have built– they are great with feedback and encouragement. There is also a lot to be said to “measure twice, cut once” meaning everything we do is planned, we discuss it, and we talk with the artists as well. We are able to focus on what we need to do to accomplish our goals.
PL: You’re often gravitating towards medieval fantasy. What is it about this genre that makes you want to return to it in your different projects?
AS : It’s certainly been my favorite genre I would read as I grew up. That said medieval fantasy can be problematic, so often times my fascination is my own take on how I want to see a story in this world of castles, unicorns and swords. I love the image of a woman in armor- it’s empowering and really cool, but I want to see that armor be functional and I want to see men/women/NB people of all sizes and color in roles of knighthood. And my love of ancient swords and lore isn’t limited to Arthurian legends- there are forms of knighthood across history and cultures. That’s why projects like 1001 Knights are so dear to my heart– it’s putting back into the world what I want to see– opportunities for creators of color, representation of all kinds of characters, and knowing that being a knight doesn’t necessarily mean armor– it’s a lot bigger than that.
PL: You’ve worn different hats over the course of your career, whether it’s art director, curator, artist, freelance artist. How do you feel those experiences are fulfilling you as an artist?
AS: Art is unlimited. Imagination and creativity can be endless. I don’t want to fit into just one label or one genre because my identity is not one thing, it’s a lot of things coming together to make up who I am. And as an artist I want to keep growing and learning. I’ve never fit perfectly into any category whether that is who I am, how I look, or what/who I like. And instead of being ashamed of not just “finding my one niche” I think it’s been good to keep growing and expanding my horizons and skills sets. To be in art is to never be completely fulfilled, but it is to become shaped and transformed by your journey for the better.
PL: What do you want readers to take with them once they’ve finished reading your comics?
AS: I hope it brings them some joy. I very much hope that the anthologies I’ve been involved in can not only be a platform for the artists involved and help boost their voices, but also be a way to inspire readers through inclusive and feminist ideals to be people-positive in their everyday life. There’s so many negative things out in the world and I feel like shouting at people never really makes much of a difference, but give someone a book- something visual that presents a better world and ways to be more positive and inclusive & those thoughts and images have the power to open minds and start conversations. Whatever the future holds for me, I want to make sure that I am always be aware of this and know that in all aspects of my work, I can use its impact to put more positivity out into the universe.
Thanks so much for speaking with me!
You can follow Annie’s work on her website or on her tumblr. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram. She will be at SPX this weekend at table N7 with her latest comics (including Halcyon Dreamz). She’s looking forward to meeting you!
Philippe Leblanc is a Canadian comics journalist. In his regular life, he improves Canadian medical education, and is the co-host of the Ottawa Comic Book Club. He reads alternative, indie and art comics at night and write about them for the Comics Beat.