The folks at the Toronto Comics Anthology are at it again! Four volumes of this annual showcase of up and coming comic creators have 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 5, Toronto Comics: Osgoode as Gold will launch March 1st, 2018.
I sat down with the publisher, Steven Andrews, lead editor Stephanie Cooke and editor Megan Purdy to discuss Volume 5.
Martin Boruta: For anyone new to the idea, what exactly is the Toronto Comics Anthology?
Stephanie Cooke: The Toronto Comics Anthology is a collection of stories in a comic form that celebrate the city we live in. They can be virtually any genre imaginable as long as the story is visibly set within Toronto. The idea behind the book is to give the people of Toronto a collection of stories that tell a variety of stories from as many perspectives as possible to truly capture the essence of what the city means to each respective person.
Megan Purdy: The Toronto Comics Anthology is an annual book dedicated to showcasing our city’s incredible comics talent. We publish experienced and new creators who are from, living in, or have a strong connection to the city. Like, they lived here once – not people who watched Flashpoint or Rookie Blue and visited the CN Tower one time. Toronto has an incredible comics community. Some of the best cartoonists, writers, and artists in the business live and work here, and with so many art schools in the city and the GTA, there are always more graduating. Our conventions and festivals draw guests and talent from all over the world. Toronto Comics Anthology tries to capture some of what makes the comics scene here special and put it on the page.
Martin: I see some of the editorial staff have changed. What else is new in this volume that sets it apart from the volumes that have come before?
Megan: Early on in the process, Stephanie, Malcolm, and I decided that we wanted to do our best to represent all of the city, not just the part of it we live in. We wanted Osgoode As Gold to reflect the diversity of the city’s neighbourhoods and the people who live here. Comics has a history of excluding marginalized creators, and sometimes that means you get a submission queue full of comics by straight, white men. Representing all of Toronto was one of our most important goals for this book so reached out to women, people of colour and LGBTQ creators directly and encouraged them to submit pitches – and it worked.
Stephanie: For this volume, we actively tried to really target new creators, especially when it came to women and minorities. We wanted this volume to tell stories from new perspectives and new parts of the city that hadn’t really been touched on before.
Martin: Why continue the “Toronto” Comics Anthology? Why not tackle a “Canadian Comics Anthology”?
Steven Andrews: In 1972, the CBC held a contest to complete the sentence “As Canadian as…” The winner was “As Canadian as possible, under the circumstances.” The Canadian identity is always a little hard to pin down, and I feel like keeping it Toronto-center helps define us.
Koyama, Fantagraphics, Cloudscape, Bedside Press, Chapterhouse and AH Comics! are all Canadian publishers focussed on a different part of the Canadian identity, and my personal branding approach has been to find a mix of Identity and Theme. With TO Comix, the identity is Torontonians, and the Theme is newcomers. With Wayward Sisters, it was women/non-binary creators and the Theme was monsters. We’ll do a wide Canada audience book in the next few years, but it’ll be Canada + Pirates, Canada + Food, or Canada + Coffee or something.
Martin: Since it is in the title I am going to assume a Toronto element is mandatory. Were you specifically looking for stories set in Toronto or just from Toronto-based creators?
Megan: Both, actually! Toronto Comics Anthology primarily publishes Toronto-based creators telling Toronto stories. It’s not like every story has the CN Tower in the background. Only like, 50% of them. We looked for stories set at some of the city’s most recognizable landmarks, of course, but also stories about our history, stories that capture what it’s like to live at Jane and Finch, or Church and Wellesley, and even great stories that happen to take place in Toronto.
Stephanie: A little bit of both! We accept a wide variety of stories but they do need to be visibly set within Toronto (or the GTA). Therefore people with a knowledge of the city have a big advantage when it comes to pitching a story that we can see being in the book.
Ideally, we’d love to showcase talent specifically from Toronto and GTA whenever possible, but sometimes an amazing story comes from a creator that has only visited Toronto. If it fits within our vision of the book, we definitely want it to be something to consider.
Martin: Volume 5, so I am assuming creator response to the book continues to be positive?
Megan: We had over 150 story pitches and over 50 artist applications, and our in-person pitch sessions were pretty well attended. It was… an almost overwhelming amount of submissions to deal with but in the best of ways. There were so many good stories that we couldn’t include. I think that the Toronto Comics Anthology series has garnered a lot of goodwill over the years, having been the first step in many young artists careers.
Stephanie: The Toronto Comics Anthology has really cultivated a fantastic reputation with creators, I believe. We work really hard to help develop the work of creators at every level in order to help them get a story that they want to tell out into the world. TCA has a nice little community within it as well, which I think helps encourages more creativity and discussion amongst peers, which is wonderful to see.
Martin: I am also going to equally assume that with the release of four volumes so far that reader response has been equally as great?
Megan: As I’m writing this, we’re about 40% of the way toward our goal in our first week of crowdfunding, and the response on social media has been great too. But, more personally, when I told my friends I’d be working on the book this year they were incredibly excited because they love the series.
Stephanie: It has been! I’ve only been with the book for a couple of years (Vol 4 as a writer and Vol 5 as Lead Editor) but the outpouring of support from people all over (not just within and around Toronto) has been fantastic. The stories are relatable to so many different people, and I believe that the new talent coming on board and creating these stories encourages others to try their hand at writing or drawing comics.
Martin: What is next for the Toronto Comics Anthology Volume 5, Osgoode As Gold? How complete is the book?
Megan: We’re in the last stages of putting the book together. Artists are finishing up colours and lettering, and then in the next few weeks the editorial team will complete our last edits. Then Steven puts the book together and gets it ready to print. It’s been incredibly satisfying watching these stories go from pitch, to script, to pencilled pages, to now, completed stories.
Stephanie: We’re nearly done with the book as of today. We have a few stories left to send in their final art with colours but essentially by the time the Kickstarter launches, we’ll have a book that’s ready to go. It’s been a crazy ride but I’m so excited to have it come to life.
I think that as long as creators and fans keep enjoying what we’re doing, we’ll keep making the books and telling as many different stories that showcase Toronto and new talent. This year, Toronto Comics also released Wayward Sisters: A Monstrous Anthology, which is obviously a different theme than the regular anthology of Toronto stories. I can’t speak for Steven, but I think a goal is to continue diversifying the brand and just bringing great stories to the table.
Martin: What are your biggest challenges as editors of an anthology like this?
Megan: On a book with so many moving parts, a lot of the work is project management: making sure all of our creators and we as editors meet our deadlines. And with such short deadlines, the submissions process is key – we need to make sure to pick creators we know are going to deliver incredible work, on time – and then we need to do the same for them.
Stephanie: I think the biggest challenge is helping these creators convey the story that they really want to tell. Because the creators are at all different levels when it comes to making comics, doing our best to ensure that the vision for the story is the same across the board for the editors, artists, and of course, readers is incredibly important.
That and to try to be able to sleep during the month while our Kickstarter is running.
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!
Stephanie: My pick is SHIFT by Ardo Omer (writer) and Katherine Olenic (artist) is such a delightful story about two young girls who are responsible for guarding an interdimensional portal. They think that they’re really good at their jobs when in fact, they could probably do with paying a little bit more attention to what’s going on around them as things come through the portal on their watch.
Martin: Volume 1 was financed by the writers with the artists donating their work, volumes 2, 3 and 4 were on Kickstarter. What has the Kickstarter experience like? Any plans to explore a different funding model?
Steven: Kickstarter is a wild ride, and I find the urgency helps push a marketing campaign. More than just the money, it’s about promoting your brand and getting your name out there. It’s extremely exhausting, but can be very rewarding!
In 2017 we broke into the retail market through the Chapters Indigo bookstore chain, and now 10% of our annual revenue comes from retail sales. I’m hoping to really push that figure in 2018, which will let us take on riskier projects.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the previous volumes and found them to be a fun comic anthology celebrating the world class city of Toronto. Back issues are available at http://www.tocomix.com/ and the Kickstarter is active at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tocomixpress/toronto-comics-osgoode-as-gold. Almost halfway to reaching the funding goal these folks have a proven track record of delivering the goods. Head on over and show your support.