If you are active in the Toronto comic scene up here in Canada, you have no doubt grabbed a copy of the Toronto Comics Anthology. Three volumes of this annual showcase of up and coming comic creators has been published garnering nominations for the Joe Shuster “Excellence in Self-Publishing” Award two years in a row. With previous volumes of the Toronto Comic Anthology being such a critical success a Kickstarter campaign for Volume 4 will launch March 1st, 2017.
In anticipation of the new Volume 4, Toronto Comics: Younge at Heart, I had a chance to chat with Steven Andrews and Aaron Feldman. Along with Allison O’Toole, Andrew and Aaron are the editors herding this volume to completion.
Martin Boruta: Gents! Thank you so much for taking a few moments to answer some questions. Let’s start off with the basics. What exactly is the Toronto Comics Anthology?
Steven Andrews: It’s a platform for new creators to get their first steps into the industry. Creators tell a short comic set in and inspired by Toronto, and we try to capture a little of the city’s zeitgeist. We’ve got stories about Minotaurs who guard department stores, tales of romance and true crime, and deeply personal stories from trans creators who just want to pee in safety.
We try to cover a wide range of genres, so that our writers and artists can display the very best of what the city has to offer.
Aaron Feldman: The Toronto Comics Anthology is a collection of comic book short stories set in or featuring the city of Toronto. The majority of the stories are made by local creators, eager to explore the city through various lenses and genres.
Martin: How did the idea for a project of this scope come about?
Steven: In 2014, three of Ty Templeton’s comics students got together at a pub, and decided that to understand comics, we had to go out and make them. We recruited our fellow students, with writers pitching in to cover print costs and artists donating their time, and made our first book.
I remember selling only 50 copies in 2014, and wondering if I should just give up. But we got a lot of encouragement from the community, and with the Kickstarter success of Volume 2, we started getting some real momentum. Now, we’re on our fourth book, we’ve sold over a thousand Vol 1s, and we’re looking to expand with some brand-new anthology series!
Martin: Why specifically the “Toronto” Comics Anthology? Why not the “Canadian Comics Anthology”?
Steven: Our original 2014 pitch was actually for a Pirates Sword & Sorcery anthology! But when we pitched that to Ty Templeton, he suggested we focus on the city instead. He was right; locals want to see themselves and their culture represented, and others want to meet people from exotic locales.
With Toronto Comics, we get to both ground our stories in familiar places with familiar faces, and then still go wild with the stories. Sometimes the wildest stories are the true ones, like how our modern police force was created due to a riot between firefighters and clowns. Over a brothel.
Martin: Since it is in the title I am going to assume a Toronto local to a submitted story is mandatory?
Steven: We ask that folks have some life experience with the city, but living here isn’t compulsory; we have some creators from South Korea and the States with interesting stories to share.
Aaron: I think having some connection to the city – whether you’ve lived here or have spent some time here – will only help your ability to write about it. That being said, it’s not strictly speaking mandatory. We do have a few international contributors who were excited to tell a story about the city.
Martin: I noticed that as the volumes progressed they got thicker with more stories and more creators involved. Can I assume creator response to the book has been positive?
Steven: Every year we get more pitches, and more artists looking to be a part of the series. We’ve worked hard to build a reputation for transparency, organization, and treating our creators well, and I think that people respond well to that. We also publish our finances so folks can see we’re not exploiting anyone. Most importantly we pay our page rates on time!
Aaron: Yeah, I’ve definitely found that to be the case, just based on the number of submissions we’ve been getting alone. Whereas with volumes 1 and 2, the creative team largely consisted of a group of friends and classmates, it’s since expanded in scope to the point where we’re only able to accept a small fraction of the submissions we receive.
Martin: I am also going to assume that with the release of three volumes that reader response has been equally as great?
Steven: It really has! I’m always excited when a familiar face returns to our convention table to buy a copy of our new book. I haven’t had anyone ask for a refund yet, so we must be doing something right! We have a few regulars who drop by every convention to see if they can get the book signed by every creator on the book, which is great to see. I really love seeing someone I helped publish building their own fan base, and starting to table at cons themselves.
Aaron: The feedback we’ve received seems to be unanimously positive. At least that’s been my experience. It’s possible that Andrew’s been shielding me from a host of scathing reviews and angry reader e-mails so as not to damage my ego. But the feedback he has allowed me to see has been great!
Martin: What is next in the Toronto Comics Anthology Volume 4, Toronto Comics: Younge at Heart?
Steven: Volume 4 is our first time in colour, and we’ve worked hard to make it our most polished book yet! We try to be a little more ambitious with each book, and I feel like colour was the last element we were missing. There’s 21 great stories here from a great roster of indie vets and talented newcomers, and once it’s funded and published, we launch at Toronto Comic Arts Festival!
Martin: Volume 4 won’t be as big of a book as Volume 3 with “only” 210 pages. Is there a reason for this? Was Volume 3 being so massive a bit too challenging?
Steven: Switching to colour means hiring colourists and a 30% spike in print costs, so we had to balance what we could afford to deliver. We did also find that Volume 3’s 300 pages got a bit overwhelming for us as editors, and, I think, for some audiences. We worked to refine “Yonge at Heart” to be as polished as possible, so that we’re dealing with fewer stories but more refined ones.
Aaron: I think I can answer this set of questions and the last with the same answer. The reason for the decrease in page count isn’t because 3 was so big, but because with volume 4 we’re making the leap from black-and-white to colour. This is a huge and exciting jump for us, but definitely necessitated a bit of a roll-back in terms of page count.
Martin: I see you folks are contributors as well as editors. Let’s talk about the editing first. What are your biggest challenges as editors of an anthology like this?
Steven: Curation is a big challenge, as it can be almost impossible to filter 100+ pitches into just 20 stories. The three of us editors tend to spend quite a few days arguing back and forth as we try to build something that we all love. Each of us has a very different taste, so if we find a piece that all three of us like, we know it’ll appeal to a wide audience.
Some of our newer creators need more supervision as they get started in this medium, but it’s worth it to see them getting their first polished stories out there.
Aaron: To be honest, one of the trickiest elements is to narrow down and curate the list of stories to be included in each book. Narrowing the submissions down is hard enough, but there are many other factors to consider as well. Are we covering a wide enough variety of subjects and genres, or is there too much overlap? Are these the best stories for the book, or just my personal favourites?
Another challenge comes from working with writers who are a bit new to the genre, and – though talented – are unused to the unique language that comic storytelling requires. A bit more hand-holding can be required for these stories, but the results are more than worth the effort!
Martin: How about story writing? Equally as rewarding? Preference?
Steven: I really enjoy writing, but managing the anthology is so time-consuming I can almost never do it! I have a few solo projects on hold, and once this book is complete I’m going to be 110% committed to making them real.
Aaron: Personally, my preference definitely skews towards writing. As rewarding as it can be to help guide a contributor towards telling the best story they can, I find that I much prefer the freedom that comes from creating stories of my own. They definitely go hand-in-hand, though. Both require an understanding of storytelling and its craft.
Martin: I’d like to ask each of you what was your favourite story so far in the published volumes? And no fair picking your own!
Steven: I got a couple! One of my favourites is “Brutal” from our first volume, about an obsessive researcher looking into our widespread brutalist architecture, and the Lovecraftian secrets behind why some of our buildings are so ugly. I also really like “We Were Here” in Vol 2 by Aaron Feldman, about a blind date at the end of the world. I liked that story so much I decided to bring him on as an editor.
Aaron: Well, while I won’t go as far as to single out a favourite story, one great one that quickly comes to mind is Lofty Aspirations from volume 3, written by BC Holmes and illustrated by Xan Grey. It’s about a couple who think their neighbour from down the hall is a fugitive super-villain, and decide to investigate further. It’s a fun and thoughtful piece that takes a surprisingly hard-hitting turn by the end, and it’s a story that feels more and more relevant given the changing political climate.
Martin: Volume 1 was financed by the writers with the artists donating their work, volumes 2 and 3 were on Kickstarter. What was the Kickstarter experience like?
Steven: Both exhilarating and incredibly stressful! The unexpected success of Volume 2’s ( 1,400% funded! ) almost bankrupted me, and Vol 3 was a madhouse of preparing the book for print while simultaneously marketing our lungs out.
We’ve learnt from our past campaigns, and “Yonge at Heart” should run much smoother! I have confidence in the book and our team, and with the community’s support we hope to keep publishing new creators for years to come.
So, there you have it folks, a great comic anthology celebrating the world class city of Toronto. Previous volumes are available at http://www.tocomix.com/ and the Kickstarter should be active by the time you read this at https://tocomix.com/ks. Head on over and show your support.