Outré is a little-known but very well-polished anthology series that releases new issues twice a year, free on their website and for $0.99 on ComiXology. Even though they receive relatively few submissions, the stories have a consistent and impressive level of quality. Intrigued by it, I spoke to one of the editors, Glenn Moane, about the process of putting Outré together.
What led to the creation of Outré?
When we tabled together at Oslo Comics Expo back in 2012, Magnus and I started talking about anthologies and how it’d be nice if there were more theme-oriented ones around, as opposed to just random collections of comic short stories. Not that we had anything against the latter, but it wasn’t what were looking for, so we came to the conclusion that we had to create one ourselves. We also wanted the anthology to feature work by up-and-coming creators, so in order to get as many eyes on their work as possible, it made sense to offer each issue for free. After settling on the theme for the first installment we put out the call for submissions from both writers and artists. After choosing the strongest story submission and getting their scripts into the right shape, we teamed the writers up with the artists we felt would be a good fit and got the ball rolling from there. After a period of time Outré #1: Responsibility was a reality, and we’ve been repeating the process twice a year ever since.
You receive pitches for stories instead of completed ones. How does that work better than asking for finished comics?
Since we want to put out a quality product, it makes sense for us to get involved right from the start and try to make a writer’s scripts the best it can be. Sometimes a story is ready to go after the first draft and sometimes it takes three. Both Magnus and I have been writing comics for a few years now, and if it’s one thing we learned it’s that it is always healthy to get some feedback on our scripts before we send it off to be illustrated. Also, some of the writers who pitch to Outré are just starting out, and they may not yet have established a network of creators to work with. So if a new writer comes up with a great idea for a story after seeing what theme we’ve chosen for an upcoming issue, presenting it to us is the way to go. Now, for our latest issue we asked for pitches with a creative team intact, and those we picked got produced in the time leading up until the release.
The inherent risk is some stories won’t turn out as good as they appear on paper. Have you ever had to accept a pitch but reject the finished product?
Not yet. We’ve had artists bail on us, but fortunately we’ve always been able to bring in a suitable replacement before the deadline was up.
I assume the name of the comic is, in addition to a word of its own (meaning “unusual and startling”), a play on the word auteur. How do you keep the quality level high while still letting creators feel like they are true auteurs with full ownership over the material?
In addition to pushing the writer to make his script as solid as possible, we do the same with the remaining members of a story’s creative team. The creators who contact us are hungry as hell to get their work out there and in front of readers, and motivated by the fact that the finished product will be available on our site forever. And we don’t own any of the stories. They belong to the creators, who can do whatever they like with them after an issue is released.
Creatively and practically, what are the appeals of including one-page, one-image stories?
When the idea for Outré was conceived we wanted to create a full and satisfying package that could resemble a magazine. We used to feature two interviews in each issue, one with an industry professional and the other with a creator whose work was featured within. To add stand alone illustrations that revolved around the issue’s theme made sense, and it was also a nice way to get more creators involved. And some of these illustrations look really good as well. Practically, overseeing the production of a single illustration is a less time-consuming than getting a whole short story done. Contacting a creator and throwing the theme his or her way was usually enough, and after a while we had a nice illustration in our inbox.
Why don’t you charge for Outré?
To attract as many people to the anthology as possible, also readers who may not read comics on a regular basis like you and me. By offering each
issue for free, there should be really no incentive not to download it and check it out at some point, unless the reader is allergic to the theme in question and/or only interested in a specific genre. Anthologies are a tough sell in the Direct Market, but since we love the format and want more readers to get excited about it, the free and digital option was the way to go. A seasoned comics fan may be reluctant to pick up a book featuring work by creators he’s never heard of before, but if all it costs is a couple of taps to read the issue on his or her tablet, why shouldn’t s/he?
Do you ever worry that offering it for free might diminish its value in some people’s eyes?
I’m sure it’s happened. We try to market Outré as a professional-looking anthology filled with quality stories, and 95% of the reviews we’ve received have been more than positive. But I’m sure there are plenty of readers who don’t bother reading those reviews in the first place, and unfortunately I’ve yet to see an anthology making a huge comics news splash across the board. That’s just the way it is.
But recently Outré made its debut on Comixology, where it’s not possible to offer products for free unless it’s part of special campaign. So we priced each issue at $0.99, and told our regular readers that one could pick them up if they wanted to experience the stories in the cool function that is Guided View. I’m certain a good handful of the customers who bought the issues weren’t aware of our anthology in the first place, so we’ve probably reached a few more readers, which is great.
Not only that, a couple of days ago I found out that Outré #1 & 2 had been uploaded on a torrent site, along with several other new comics. Since those issues are the only ones available on Comixology as of now (#3 & 4 are on their way), the uploader more than likely got them through that digital platform. Now, if piracy leads to Outré getting in the hands of more readers – readers who may be unfamiliar with the creators and their work, then I’m all for it in this particular case.
As a not-for-profit business, is it difficult to keep a regular publishing schedule?
Releasing an issue twice a year has proven to be the best for us. With no budget to speak of, we can only rely on the passion of the creators we work with, and that they have the time and opportunity to work on the stories in their free time. This is why we give our creators long deadlines, and a story greenlit in December won’t be released until June. The creative team then has about six months to get their 8 or 10-pager done in this time period, which should be enough. I say “should”, because life and other opportunities can pop up, and if an artist has to take a break from working on a Outré story because of a paid job offer, we’re the first to understand. But the work gets done, even if some stories take longer than others.
So yeah, two issues each year is enough. When we began toying with the idea we did actually talk of a quarterly schedule, but we see now that we then had to produce two issues more or less at the same time, and handle twice as many creative teams. And right now the anthology business doesn’t pay well enough for us to even consider it.
What motivates you to publish Outré, since profit’s not a real factor?
It’s a pleasure to feel a script coming together and to see it come to life at the hands of a talented and passionate artist. That never gets old. And whenever an issue is finished it gives us a sense of satisfaction, and we take pride in the fact that we managed to pull it off once again, fueled only by us and the creators’ passion for comics.
Outré has also proven to be a great way for us to connect with other creators. I got to know colorist K. Michael Russell and artist/letterer Sean Rinehart through this anthology, who both helped me out on two of my own projects. Not to mention Brett Uren, whose story “Torsobear” in Outré #2: Hopelessness led to a whole anthology of its own, which I co-edited with Brett and wrote a story for. The first volume was uccessfully funded through Kickstarter last year and the campaign for the second one is currently ongoing.
Editing an issue of Outré takes time, but it’s also really fun. We’ve just began to talk about the next issue, and there’s a chance the theme this time around will be something horror-related. So we’re pretty excited about the stories this will lead to.
MATT CHATS is a weekly interview series with a person of prominence and/or value in the comic book industry. Find its author, Matt O’Keefe, on Twitter and Tumblr. Email him with questions, comments, complaints or maybe even praise at firstname.lastname@example.org.