Howdy comics fans and creators. I’ve occasionally been asked various questions about aspects of editing comics collections and thought perhaps it was time to cobble together some notes from my VAST EXPERIENCE in this area, to let you know what has worked for me in the past and what hasn’t. In fact, not a bad idea to have this around as a reminder for myself for future anthology projects (in fact, I’m planning a new one for later this year called PRATFALL). Anyway, here are some Rob Recommendations for a smoother, more-fun-less-frustration experience in putting together your anthology. Let’s start where else but at the beginning……
1. Your concept. Okay, you want to do an anthology of comics about say, Food. Great. But maybe you better decide how general or specific you want your focus to be. There are pros and cons to each end of the spectrum. Food is certainly an open topic - you know, everyone eats. But making the topic too broad, without a general editorial slant, could result in an unfocused collection. You want your anthology to be as cohesive as possible. There are ways to bring a broader topic into sharper focus (more on that below), but say you decide to make your topic more specific. Say your book will be comics all about Vegan Food. Cool! There are pros and cons here as well: Vegans will be a niche audience and probably a good one too - those comics readers who are vegan (or at least dabblers) will undoubtedly be looking in your collection’s direction. Hopefully there will be enough cartoonists in your targeted creator pool to fill up those pages. You may also want a humor focus or go with recipe-oriented or an educational viewpoint. Decide what’s most important to you - trust your instincts and go for it.
2. Your format and general stats. I’m less concerned here with selection of printers and whatnot (my advice is the same as everybody else’s: shop around, compare prices, blah blah blah) than it is to decide on the physical size, quality and dimensions of your comic book. You have to figure this out first and foremost before anyone does anything - digest size or half legal or something else? B&W or color? Or perhaps both? Get all that squared before you proceed to the next step and contact…
3. Your contributors. When I was just starting out I put out open calls for submissions, i.e. asking anyone interested in contributing to do so. This is a great way to make new friends and connections and besides, if you’re new, fresh off the turnip truck, it really can pay to be more open at this stage of the game. Go for it, I say. Later on, as I got to know large numbers of creators and got much more focused in my goals and aesthetics I became a curator-slash-editor. I have very clear notions of what I want to achieve with my anthologies, and I now only seek out specific people. Others prefer an organic the-more-the-merrier approach. Decide which is more you. By the way, when you tell contributors the stats Be Very Specific. Don’t say 8.5 x 5.5 - say 8.5 (long) x 5.5 (wide). Tell them these stats over and over. And then tell them one more time. Trust me on this one (he said from bitter experience).
4. Compensation. Figure this out ahead of time too. How are you compensating your artists? In contributor copies? Money? Both? What? Be clear at the outset. I confess, I can be lame in this area because I often don’t want to think about such things. Last fall I wasn’t quite clear with my QU33R artists at the outset and there was some confusion, mainly due to the kickstarter campaign that my publisher built around the book that mentioned nothing about compensation. One of the artists called me on this (“I thought we were getting paid?”) and I felt bad about it. (I hasten to add that yes, I did pay the artists - still am paying them and as a matter of fact I’m 2/3 of the way done!). If you don’t have a Paypal account, get one. It’s free. Using the e-payment method facilitates paying folks a lot quicker and with greater ease. Some people STILL in this year of 2014 don’t have an e-paying account (2 out of the 32 people of QU33R don’t) so figure out something else with those folks (and pay them last for being so behind the times!)
I just realized writing this section that I didn’t set up payment with PRATFALL either yet (goddammit!); however, with smaller scale projects like this there’s much less pressure around remuneration. The main payment with a labor of love such as PRATFALL or my tabling zine from last year TABLEGEDDON, is enjoying the spirit of camaraderie in creating something cool. But I decided a while ago I would pay all my contributors something for all my projects. Sometimes it is extremely nominal, as my budget is limited, but some compensation is important. You’ll feel better about yourself. Your contributors will feel better too!
5. Deadlines. This is where it gets fun (not really). Deadlines are usually your biggest hurdle. I hate to admit this but when I tell you right off the bat that I need those 5 color pages by June 1st, I am lying to your face. Just flat-out. This is not because I’m a pathological untruth-teller, I’m simply exercising the concept of the Soft Deadline (aka the Fake Deadline).This soft deadline is your very good friend. About half of the contributors to any anthology will simply not make your soft deadline. Guaranteed. Some may be just a day or so late, or a week, but there will always be folks who will delay you time and time again, inspiring occasional violent thoughts (no names, please). Anyway, the soft deadline at least sets a general timeline that can (and will) be adjusted. For example, my “final” June 1st, 2013 deadline last year for QU33R was really July 1st. Turned out unsurprisingly that several of my artists couldn’t even make the July date. But in the end, with some patience, some frustration, and lots of adult beverages to take the edge off, it all worked out. It will for you too, just expect some bumps in the road.
5. Your purpose. Sooner or later you will question your motives for going through all this; for dealing with all these people with their imperfections and tardiness and asking what were those dimensions again? for the 4th time and whatnot. All of which is keeping you from getting your own work done. So why are are you doing this? What is in it for you? Do you remember? Maybe you like fostering a community of like-minded artists. Maybe you have a vision. Maybe you have an obsessive, masochistic need for punishment. For me personally it’s the first two (and I fear occasionally some of the latter!). I really like working with people. But that’s me. A friend of mine did an anthology a few years ago and told me afterward, “Never again.” I remember once another artist telling me that he wanted to helm an anthology “to see where it will take me.” Honestly, I don’t think there’s enough glory in it to take on the challenge unless you make it more about something bigger than yourself.
6. Putting it all together. This means being an Editor, basically. First off, have the artists send you their large stories and large files via a file sharing site like Dropbox or Hightail - if you don’t have an account with one of these get one immediately. When the contributions come in read them carefully. Read them again. And again. Check carefully for spelling and punctuation. Are you happy with the piece? Great! Then read it yet again. Check the dimensions and other stats - make sure the contributor scanned at the right dpi, that the files are in the proper mode (for color use CMYK for print and RGB for web). If anything is amiss tell your artist what you would like corrected and give them a for-real-this-time deadline. I don’t generally edit peoples’ art or panel composition much at all, but nothing bums me out more than multiple typos in a piece. It takes me out of the story. It looks unprofessional.
For your introduction (surely you’re writing one?) state your case for the book and after you spell check, etc. give it to someone else for their take on it (and their spell check). Then put it away and look at it again later. Let your writing sit, let it gel. Don’t rush this stuff.
Sequencing the stories and strips is of vital importance. This is where you get to exercise your skill with crafting a smooth, cohesive collection. I’d written about my editing philosophies last May. I love when artists by serendipity create stories that complement those of others in theme, etc. In QU33R there are little story cycles throughout that I’m really proud of. You may find it expedient to break the collection into chapters. Say for the that Food anthology we talked about earlier you decide in order to make the divergent elements more cohesive to group the comics into four distinct sections, based on what you’ve received: Families and Food, Recipes, Eating Out, & Community. Sectioning that particular broad-based book might be a good idea, actually. For my own anthologies I’ve never opted for that format - most of my collections have been too short - I’ve simply put everything in one continuous story cycle. But I’ve done so with great care and lots of thought. Whatever your chosen format, getting the opening and closing pieces right is paramount. Simply put, the opener should feel like a beginning, something that opens up the reader to all the myriad themes of the rest of the book, while the closer should offer a summing up. Most anthologies have weaker and stronger components. If you mix them together the right way it can flow together, all of a piece.
7. The finished product. You did it! You weathered the pitfalls, the deadlines, the grunt work, all of it! Your anthology is published! Pat yourself on the back and give yourself a round of applause. Creating anything is soul-satisfying to be sure. Next up: get it out there. ESPECIALLY to your contributors. Next to any pre-ordering customers (I’ll write about that part some other time) the contributors should be your #1 priority. After all, the book wouldn’t exist without them. Take any and all gratitude and words of praise from those contributors who offer it (some will, some won’t). Pay everybody what you promised you would. Say thank you and say it to everyone (and that goes for you contributors as well - did you thank your editor? Did you acknowledge receiving payment? Manners always matter and display professionalism as well). Get you some distro (hint: try Tony Shenton). With editing an anthology comes great responsibility - you published these people, so try to do right by them and get the work into the hands of paying customers and readers. Send out review copies (hint: start with High-Low and Optical Sloth). Blog about it on Tumblr and Facebook and Twitter. That may sound elementary but you know, I have this one extremely talented, award-winning cartoonist friend who to this day doesn’t have accounts on any of those sites. Which boggles my mind. But I digress.Talk your zine/book/comic up! If you get a good review trumpet it loud and clear. It feels good to do all this stuff.
Then pat yourself on the back all over again. And hey, make a loved one take you out for a beer or coffee, for dinner or dessert. Celebrate! Hopefully it was all worth it and you’ll go for it all once again….But give yourself a break first, for the love of god. Do something that’s all about you next, how about. Editing an anthology can be a seemingly thankless task but the rewards, though often somewhat more on the ephemeral side, can be considerable.
Below: two of my anthologies: THREE #2 (2011) & QU33R (2014). Cover art for each by Michael Fahy (How’s that for cohesion?)