For as long as humans have been breathing there has been art, and just as it was in the beginning, art’s connection to the world is vital. It can be therapeutic. It can be political. It can be satirical or scathing. But whatever it is, it is timely and necessary. For an anthology like A Wave Blue World’s Embodied, the art and poetry come together seamlessly for a socially conscious and important creation.

Editor, author, and co-publisher of A Wave Blue World Wendy Chin-Tanner talked with us about the unique and incredibly timely anthology.

Deanna Destito: How did the idea to combine poetry and sequential art come about?

Wendy Chin-Tanner: When I’m not making comics for A Wave Blue World, I’m a poet. Poetry is my first love. I’m the author of two poetry collections–Turn, which was a finalist for an Oregon Book Award, and Anyone Will Tell You— and I’ve been a poetry editor at the literary magazine The Nervous Breakdown since 2010. So when we were coming up with ideas for our next anthology at AWBW, my co-publisher (and spouse) Tyler and I decided to combine my literary experience and network with his background in comics and anthology curation.

Tyler and I founded AWBW in 2005, the same year we got married, and we’ve worked together on many projects since then, but this is our first collaboration involving poetry. I like to think of Embodied as a natural consequence of our creative relationship, a marriage of our skill sets. Editing this book during the pandemic while homeschooling our two daughters and taking care of my elderly, high-risk parents was challenging, but also exceptionally intimate and rewarding. I’m so grateful that we had this opportunity to make something beautiful and uplifting at such an ugly and scary time.

Destito: Why is a work such as this so vital right now?

Chin-Tanner: AWBW’s mission has always been socially and politically conscious and at this moment in our country, the rights of people of marginalized genders and identities have been more under threat than they have ever been in my lifetime, even under our new administration. Look at the transphobic legislation that just passed in Arkansas. Look at the resurgence of anti-Black and anti-Asian hate. Look at our continuing refugee crisis. In the past few years, as part of my literary activist work, I had already been curating intersectional feminist poetry readings and panel discussions, so editing an anthology with that mission and ethos seemed like a natural next step.

“Tapestry” by Khaty Xiong, art by Morgan Beem

Destito: How did you gather all the creative teams?

Chin-Tanner: From the networks that Tyler and I have built in our many years in the comics and poetry businesses, we assembled the most regionally, generationally, and ethnically diverse array of non-cis male poets and artists we could possibly find, in order to recognize the full breadth of intersectional feminism. This includes all our colorists and letterers, too. As a guiding principle, we have emphasized the inclusivity of underrepresented voices and as a result, many of our contributors are BIPOC and LGBTQ+.

Embodied is an example of the comics poetry form and is the first anthology of its kind, not only in the fact that our contributors are all non-cis male poets and artists, but in our interpretation of the form itself. Rather than illustrating the poems or simply depicting images drawn from them, we chose to adapt each poem into its own sequential art narrative. In collaboration with the poets and artists to varying degrees, Tyler and I came up with the scripts, oversaw how they were interpreted, and then decided along with the letterers how to lay out the verse so that the poem and the art would amplify each other, making each story greater than the sum of its parts. Each poem is printed in its original form at the end of each story in order to showcase the process of transformation it underwent. We also have process drawings at the end, giving even more insight into how each story was created.

Recently, one of our amazing contributors, Vanessa Villarreal, who received an NEA fellowship this year, described her story as a “poem turned into a graphic experience.” I really love that. Embodied is a collection of graphic poetry experiences.

“Half Girl, Then Elegy” by Omotara James, art by Aysegul Sinav

Destito: What is your favorite? I know it’s like picking a child.

Chin-Tanner: This is a super tough call, but I will name two stories that never fail to give me a feeling of delight whenever I look at them–“Tapestry,” which has major Miyazaki vibes, and “Half Girl, Then Elegy,” which has big Maurice Sendack energy.

Destito: What are the pros and cons of anthologies and why do they work?

Chin-Tanner: Embodied has something for everyone. Whether you identify with what you’re reading or you’re encountering an experience that’s entirely new to you, the stories in this anthology provide an opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes. The stylistic range of the stories also reflects the diversity of its contributors. That’s part of the beauty of anthologies on the whole–they are inherently diverse. Readers get a balanced diet of things they already love and new things they can try.

Anthologies can be complicated to produce because they have so many moving parts. In the editorial process, we have to come to each story on its own terms while maintaining an awareness of the book as a whole. That means everything from aesthetic concerns around theme and narrative to technical components like formatting and page size. Embodied is AWBW’s seventh anthology, so we have our process down, but each one has its unique flavor and challenges.

I love seeing what the comics medium can do and I love the way anthologies allow us to take risks as editors and experiment with everything from new concepts to new talent. I think anthologies are a great way to practice good literary citizenship because they can provide a platform for a larger number of emerging and underrepresented creators.

Destito: Would you consider another volume or something similar?

Chin-Tanner: Absolutely! I’m very interested in hybrid forms and pushing the boundaries of genres, so if Embodied whets readers’ appetite for more comics poetry, I would be delighted to keep cooking it up for them!

A Wave Blue World’s Embodied anthology arrives in stores on Wednesday, May 5th. A percentage of the proceeds will benefit the International Women’s Health Coalition.