by Melanie Burke

Images courtesy of Northwest Press

“It’s like an after school special but it’s a good one,” says Adam Pruett of the anti-bullying comics anthology RISE. “I’m not just saying that because it’s my book and I want to promote it—I actually believe in the material.”

Born from a frustration with caustic attitudes and gatekeeper mentalities within the comics community, RISE is the collaborative effort of editors Joey Esposito, Adam Pruett, Erica Schultz and Kristopher White. With hundreds of different contributors from all over the globe, the book currently has two issues out with Northwest Press and a third is slated for digital release this summer.

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“Out of that [frustration] came this idea, ‘Let’s do an anthology of celebrating being yourself’ and if there’s any place where that should be acceptable it’s the comics community,” says Esposito of the book’s initial inception.

The editorial team began working together in 2012 and approached Northwest Press several years later, launching a Kickstarter to fund printing costs in October of 2014. The Kickstarter platform, in addition to the for-sale issues on the Northwest Press website, made it possible to fund a book that is largely given away for free.

In addition to being available for free download at risecomics.org, RISE is distributed at all-ages events and school tours by Stand for the Silent and Prism Comics.

“It feels like we’re contributing to society,” says Esposito. “In a small but important way.”

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Part of the goal for the editorial team was to approach the issue of bullying from all sides—hence the power of an anthology that delivers such a diverse voice and wide range of art styles. The individual narratives range from tales of redemption and forgiveness between reformed bullies and their former targets to frustrated scientists with singing plants to aliens admonishing their peers for participating in late-night cow tipping.

“It’s not us and them, it’s not good guys and bad guys,” says publisher Charles “Zan” Christensen.“I think that the stories do a good job of showing that it’s not just there are bad people who do bad things, but that people sometimes do bad things.People can change, people can learn and do the right thing in the future.”

Tackling such a sensitive subject in a grand-scale way produced its own unique challenges—like coordinating such a large group of contributors.

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“We’re working on four different time zones, two or three continents, god knows how many countries,” says Schultz.“You’ll send an email off [and it] will be the end of the night, and then the next person who gets it is replying the equivalent of 2am for me.”

“It’s like herding cats,” says Esposito, laughing.

Additionally, the team had to make decisions regarding language and content for a young audience, without sacrificing the sometimes brutal realities depicted within the anthologies.

“That process was really illuminating,” says Christenson.“It was good to have those discussions and figure out how to strike that balance.”

Schultz says that the trade off to the chaos is “being introduced to creators who I wasn’t familiar with. And not just comic creators but people who work in different mediums as well coming on to write comics. That’s always great, getting to meet new people, getting exposed to different styles.”

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For Esposito, the excitement from contributors helped fuel the process. “[Seeing] the enthusiasm from everybody but seeing these really established creators come on board—donating their time and artistic talent to do something like this—was really exciting for me.”

The third and last issue of RISE will release sometime late June or early July of this year. After that, the team hopes to see the project continue in any variety of ways—potentially a once-a-year anthology.

“I hope it takes on a life of its own,” says Schultz.

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