Cartozia is not your typical “fantasy” setting, because it’s loaded with the peculiar creations of several cartoonists’ active imaginations. I mean, I guess there are technically elves and sea serpents in Cartozia, but they don’t act like the ones you’re familiar with. We avoid the standard set-dressing of inherited folklore and high fantasy in favor of philosopher birds, phibbits, wind-up men, underdraaks, mask bears, and shambling towers. We keep the tone light enough to allow puns and other silly hijinks, while still keeping the stakes high enough that the adventures really need to be resolved.
2. We do “all-ages” right.
We write stories that will be engaging for grown-ups, but not awkward to read with kids. There’s more to say about this (and a Tumblr post that says it), but I think what it boils down to is that we know kids and adults respond to the same things about a good story. And we know that kids can tell when they’re being condescended to, so we don’t dumb things down.
3. Maps. Seriously.
One of the inspirations for this project is the narrative potential of a map — the way that a thousand different stories could unfold as characters’ paths crisscross on a shared piece of terrain. When you open a fantasy novel and see a map before the table of contents, that’s a passport into a whole world, though most novels can only draw a single line onto the two-dimensional map of the world. At Cartozia Tales, we try to make the whole map come alive.
Each issue has nine stories in it, all set in different parts of Cartozia, and each new issue adds more detail to the map, more spaces in between the places we’ve seen already. Because, as our modern (Google) maps remind us, every map codes a sort of infinite potential resolution, from infinite possible points of view.
4. We know how to collaborate.
There’s a lot to say about this, and really we’re planning to write a little pamphlet about it before the end of the summer. But to sum up: Cartozia Tales is a densely, richly collaborative project, with dozens of creative people pulling toward a shared goal. And we are all happy to hand our characters and plots over to our colleagues, and to play with our collaborators’ toys in return.
If you’re an artist, you’ll see a lot of potential for ways to share your work with your compatriots. If you’re a parent, you’ll see a model for a way kids can play imaginatively together.
All these, In every issue, and working together brilliantly: that by itself would be enough to make this book a prize of any indie-cartooning collection. But then there’s…
6. Our astounding guest stars.
If the regular crew of cartoonists isn’t enough to draw you in, imagine a world co-created by James Kochalka and Kelly Sue Deconnick, by Maris Wicks and Luke Pearson, by Jon Chad and Dylan Horrocks and Jon Lewis and Meredith Gran and Pete Wartman and Corinne Mucha. Every one of those awesome storytellers builds on the material we’re building together, and the result is something surprising and wonderful.
Plus, you are almost guaranteed to discover some cartoonist in Cartozia Tales whose work you’ll want to dig deeper into. If you’re new to indie comics, we’re a great starting point.
7. We’re feminist, though we don’t make a big deal about it.
More than half of our regular contributors are women, and strong girl characters are at the center of several of the main Cartozia stories. We don’t talk a lot about it, probably because we don’t think it’s something we should have to call attention to — like, in a better world, no one would be surprised that an all-ages comic was appealing to both girls and boys, both women and men. And I don’t want to make a big deal of it now. But we try to set a good example.
And I think that’s a big part of Cartozia’s flavor in the final analysis: just as we want to open up the narrative potential of a map by telling stories with lots of different geographical centers, we also want to a range of personalities and identities for our protagonists. Smart, fearful, capable, willful, tricky, open-hearted, foolish, or mysterious — these are traits that can define either a boy or a girl (though not all in the same character).
Why not include everyone?
8. The comics are really nice physical objects.
You can get Cartozia Talesas a PDF for a pretty low price, and this is probably your best option if you’re on a tight budget, or if you’re in another country and want to avoid the crazy cost of overseas shipping. But if you have a chance to hold the actual books in your hands, you won’t regret buying them. We use creamy, sumptuous, high-quality paper, so the books feel good in your hands and will stand up to a lot of re-reading. We offset print the whole thing locally so the editor can do a press check on every color cover. We put little things into each issue that exploit the physical form of the book — paper dolls, board games, mazes and so forth. It’s meant to be a book that takes a while to read, and a book you return to.
9. We need your help.
We successfully raised a lot of money (and found a lot of readers) on Kickstarter two years ago, but that money was never supposed to reach all the way to the end of our ten-issue run. The piggy bank is almost empty, with three issues left to pay for. We have plenty of comics to sell to new readers, and we’re running a sale right now to make it easy for you to decide whether to jump in.
Go ahead and download our first issue for free or our first three issues for $2.50. You won’t regret it. And if you like those stories, sign on for the rest of the series. You’ll be supporting a beautiful thing, and you’ll get to read some of the best-looking and smartest indie storytelling out there today.