What turtle soup did to me as a kid.
I’m gonna get a little personal, are you ready? Normally I try to keep my updates brief and mostly visual. That’s what works best for me personally so that’s my habit in sharing. However it occurs to me that unless they haven’t been showing up for you, you’ve no doubt seen the countless daily posts I’ve been making about our latest project The BECOMING Anthology…But, I might not have really told you what it is, or why I’m so excited about it. There is actually a personal and even vulnerable story behind all of this. It goes back to when I was a small kid growing up split between broken homes with not a lot of money to go around, but one heck of an imagination to pull me through.
First of all, let’s not assume that everyone understands exactly what a comics anthology even is.
The first thing I want to point out that many people have a mistaken impression about is that comics are a genre. Often when people think of comics, they think of popular Marvel and DC characters. They either are, or are not into that genre, and they apply that preference to comics as a whole. But actually just like movies, books, and tv… comics are not a genre, they are a medium. You can have comics in any genre including scif-fi, fantasy, family drama, horror, crime noir, buddy comedy, what-have-you… If it’s a book, or movie genre, it can also be a comics genre. Comics are simply a story being told with sequential illustrations. Dialogue or narration, if any, is superimposed on top of the images. That’s it. If Bob Ross were alive today and so inclined, Bob Ross could make an oil painting comic about happily little trees and their happy little friends. There are no boundaries.
What is essential to an anthology?
Okay so we know what comics are, do we know what anthologies are? Well, maybe… but let’s not assume. Sure we’ve heard the word thrown around, from albums to pros, short-story-collections and maybe even comics… but what is essential to an anthology? Essentially, an anthology is simply a collection of music, poems, or stories in similar form, a similar time, or about a similar subject manner, but by various authors. That’s it. So any given anthology can be wildly different from another anthology. Similarities you may notice, are simply trends in what’s popular, which are often guided by practicality.
So we’ve cleared up two things: a comic can be anything, and an anthology can be anything.
So we’ve cleared up two things: a comic can be anything, and an anthology can be anything. So when someone mentions a comics anthology, you can’t assume that you know what they’re talking about specifically. Only that they’re categorically referring to a collection of stories told with sequential illustration from various creators. Well heck, that doesn’t clear up anything, does it? We’ve just drastically broadened the parameters of what a comics anthology can be… Well, good, that will help with my story.
I vividly remember having my very first encounter with a comics anthology in the late 80s. It was Eastman and Laird’s “Turtle Soup” from Mirage Comics. My recently deceased father was, at the time, a self-employed general contractor doing home improvements. A client of his had a kid slightly older than me who had already read through a stack of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comics and was getting rid of them. My dad snagged them for me. He was always getting me the coolest stuff. I didn’t care that it was second-hand and a bit tattered, the content was gold. As I still do to this day, I flipped through it quickly at first before reading to glean a little overview. I noticed something that at first really disturbed me. Every few pages the art style and setting would change… like drastically. What the heck? Were Eastman and Laird okay? Should someone check on them? I had to put it down and come back to it later. It was too weird. I didn’t understand.
After pillaging and reading through the rest of the stack of comics I’d received, I came back to Turtle Soup. What was this abomination? There was a foreword signed “Peter.” Okay, I guess Peter Laird was going to explain himself here. He sure did. The following words changed who I am. “The book you now hold in your hands represents an idea which I hope someday becomes commonplace in the comics industry.” He went on to list a bunch of people I had as of yet never heard of and the cool things they had done, and how cool it is to have them all working on different short stories featuring him and Kevin Eastman’s characters, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That first sentence though… I reread it a few times. Was this going to change the industry? So I started forward on my journey into reading Turtle Soup trepidatiously. Not knowing how drastically it would change me.
I remember after reading it, sort of just sitting stunned. What had just happened? Did I love it? Did I hate it? It made no sense. How could all of these completely different stories by completely different creative teams, with completely different styles, fit together in one complete book? I think I hated how much I loved it. I have it sitting next to me right now as I write this. It changed me. At a tender young age I was broken of the horrendous false notion that art is competition. I was gifted with the insight that our differences are complementary, and that collaboration can create things greater than the sum of their parts. In my better moments, I try my best to apply that wisdom to all aspects of life.
My next encounter with the anthology concept was similarly a stack of second-hand comics from another of my father’s client’s kids. It was a box of Heavy Metal Magazine. A periodical collection of various European comics. Some were installments from ongoing comics, some were short one-offs. All of them were metal AF. Unlike Turtle Soup, Heavy Metal had a much looser theme: Bad-Ass, Sexy, Dangerous, Beautiful, and Metal AF. That was it. Stories in Heavy Metal Magazine ranged all over the place, some of them straight-up blew my pubescent mind. I reread every issue in that box till I could quote half the stories from memory. I practiced drawing from them, imitating all of the various art styles as best I could. I needed more. Every time I was with my dad and we passed a yard sale or a second-hand store, I’d beg him to stop so we could hunt for whatever issues I was missing. I had to complete my collection, I needed them all. And at one point I had several bookshelves of a rather complete collection. Almost all of them were tattered when I got them. Some were missing covers or had pages torn out. It didn’t matter, I studied them. I learned an appreciation for different types of stories being told in different styles that compliment the narrative… From that I learned how to draw in different styles, based on what I’m trying to convey. You can see that in various series that I illustrate now. They all have their own unique style that I developed for that specific series.
Later in life, I was working for the esteemed comic book artist Neal Adams at Continuity Studios. I worked for him for many years. I ran his website, and animated his projects, including motion comics for The Astonishing X-Men, a few of his Batman projects, and later his own story BLOOD. At the time, BLOOD was being released in installments in an ongoing comics anthology periodical called Dark Horse Presents. Similar to Heavy Metal Magazine, Dark Horse Presents had a mix of both one-offs and ongoing installments of comics. And, similar to Heavy Metal, the unifying factor wasn’t a specific theme so much as a curation sensibility. They tended to have work that was off the beaten path, a little dark, and often a bit quirky. Certainly less yoked than what you might expect out of a collection from the big 2 (Marvel and DC) but still not quite as out-of-the-box as what you might get from a small-operation indie publisher (like Lynsey and I over at Oneshi Press). Dark Horse Presents compounded with Heavy Metal to reinforce the idea that a collection doesn’t have to be based on a super-specific theme, it can simply be based on a curation sensibility
When Lynsey and I first set out to get Tracy Queen published in 2012, we had a heck of a time trying to find a publisher. Tracy Queen is feminist story about and adult performer who builds a cyborg-clone army to dominate her way to liberation. Woah. Everyone we sent it to loved it, but no one would publish it. Why? It wasn’t explicit enough for the adult shelf, but she’s an adult star so it couldn’t go on the kid shelf. In a lot of ways it was just too weird. Now readers LOVE weird and different. The problem is, companies have to spend A LOT of time and money developing a marketing strategy for their brand… When something doesn’t fit their brand, it can cost them A LOT to try to market it. So as great as Tracy was, and despite all of the wonderfully positive feedback we got about Tracy Queen… no one would take it. We had a few other projects we were working on, including PACK and Children of Gaia. I was still working at Continuity Studios, and Lynsey was working as an editor for Penguin, which had just merged with Random House, becoming the largest publisher in the world. With our knowledge combined, we knew a thing or two about comics and publishing. So we decided to publish our own comics.
Early on, we got to talking and decided that if we were going to build a platform for ourselves, we should extend it to others who were also having the same difficulty as us. Not really fitting on one shelf or another. We didn’t have the money to publish other people’s works outright–we were funding our company by both of us working an unhealthy amount of hours on freelance gigs, and working on Oneshi Press during those hours that healthier people might be taking off and trying to wind down and relax. So, to share our platform, we had to develop a co-op model, which worked right into my love for anthologies. Our first 7 anthologies were quarterly periodicals (published every 3 months). As they got a little more popular, they had started to get thicker and more work intensive. Once they were solidly over 60 pages each, we decided to go all the way and make full-size books out of them. Our anthologies are now once a year and over 120 pages long. Unlike our quarterlies, which followed the Heavy Metal and Dark Horse Presents model of being based on our curation sensibilities rather than a theme, our anthologies now have loose single-word themes. Eg. Anthology 08: Healing, 09: Justice, 10: Origins, and our anthology currently on kickstarter now as I write this, 11: Becoming.
Another quasi-anthology project we have going on is Mr. Guy: Zombie Hunter. A comedy set in the zombie apocalypse in a modern-day high-fantasy world. Think Dungeons and Dragons, or Lord of the Rings, but with cars and smartphones, and then of course zombies. Mr. Guy is a self-important ne’er-do-well who ends up cursed and infected and now has to save the world if he wants to save himself, a quest which transforms him. Similar to Turtle Soup, Mr. Guy is various creators working on one series. Unlike Turtle Soup though, these aren’t different short stories with different writers. Mr. Guy is one continuous story written 100% by me, but every 8-page installation is done by a different illustrator. I wrote the story so that every 8 pages has a different narrative theme, for the most part taking place in a different setting with different supporting characters, but they’re all chronologically sequential. A really fun and refreshing way of pushing the definition of what an anthology can be. Mr. Guy: Zombie Hunter: Act 1 was the closest thing to an anthology that we’d ever tried to kickstart. In fact, we included our 10th Anthology, Origins, as a reward for backing Mr. Guy.
Not including Mr. Guy: Zombie Hunter, which included Anthology 10, our 11th anthology, Becoming, is our first attempt at kickstarting a comics anthology. We had run 8 kickstarter campaigns previously, and 7 of them were complete successes. So far, all of our anthologies had been paid for out of pocket and on credit cards. Most of them we never quite broke even on after expenses were tallied. But we love them, and we love the spirit behind them and the creators whose works are in them. We love the works themselves and want them to reach as many people as possible. As of the time I’m writing this, we still have 9 days left to go and we’re coming up on 145% funded. 50% of everything past our funding goal goes back into the company, and the other 50% gets divided up amongst our creators. Also, our creators all get a free copy, 5 copies at cost of printing, and as many copies as they want at wholesale price that they can turn around and sell at full price to profit on directly.
It’s not only something I love doing, but it’s also helpful for the people we’re doing it with, and it’s starting to look like it may prove to be financially sustainable as well. I can’t help but think back to that opening line from Peter Laird’s foreword in Turtle Soup: “The book you now hold in your hands represents an idea which I hope someday becomes commonplace in the comics industry.” Well heck. With our efforts and your support, that’s exactly what we’re doing. And we’re not alone; there’s a whole slew of indie publishers out there helping each other push the boundaries, break the molds, and illuminate possibilities. That’s exactly what Turtle Soup did for me as a kid.
Safe and swift,
The space between origin and destination, as imagined by 37 diverse creators in 16 short comics.
A comics anthology by Oneshi Press, launching October 18th on Kickstarter.