At its core, the work of creating comics has predominantly been a collaborative effort: a writer and an artist work together to produce a visual and textual narrative. Often, even more people are involved, such as editors, or separate artists for inking, colouring, or lettering. As creative software and self-publishing has grown, this collaborative approach has become less common outside of large publishing companies, but the communal spirit is still found in the wider industry in the rise of collective comic anthologies, where the stories of many creators appearing in the same book. The launching of comic anthology projects has become so common that there is even a Twitter account, @anthologycomics, which specialises in helping creators to find running anthology projects.
Typically, a comics anthology begins with a common theme: the Toronto Comics Anthology contains stories based in Toronto; RISE: Comics Against Bullying centres on stories that speak against bullying, and the Miss Anthology publishes stories from female and LGBTQIA2S+ creators to give them to “a firm understanding and head start on their careers.” Funding for anthologies is primarily collected through crowdfunding campaigns, on sites such as Kickstarter. Submissions are selected for inclusion by the project’s creators, which depending on the project may come before or after funding is secured, and, finally, the anthology is published. Throughout the process, the cost and workload are shared between the creators, the editorial team and the supporters/readers.
The true power of collective works comes from the fact that they offer a wider, more stable platform for creators who might otherwise struggle to find the audience for their work. Anthologies are often created by people who want to tackle a topic that is under or misrepresented in the mainstream comics industry, such as non-stereotypical queer narratives or culturally accurate narratives of different cultural backgrounds. H-P Lehkonen, a comics creator and the CEO of QueerWebComic, explained when I interviewed him that, “There were no queer anthologies in Finland... so I decided to make my own with the help of Raakel Hokkanen and Laura Haapamäki.” Kugali, a Pan-African comic book anthology publisher, is another successful example.
Bringing fresh voices into a highly competitive industry such as comics can be difficult, but anthologies do it well: they spread the risk of publishing lesser known creators and allow the contributors creators to gain experience and be treated as professionals. Working side by side with experienced editors, young comic creators can learn in an atmosphere of camaraderie and experience. Alison O’Toole, an anthology editor and contributor, explains, “Working with an editorial team, especially early in your career, is invaluable as a learning tool … As creators ourselves, we understand how important it is to have published work to show potential publishers down the line.”
Anthologies also help to promote community. Self-publishing makes a career as a comics creator more accessible but also potentially more isolating. Anthologies allow diverse and multivocal storytelling to be expressed by multiple creators on the same topic. Creators can connect with other contributors to an anthology; by realising that others have similar career aspirations, similar concerns and struggles, they are drawn closer, as if they are magnetically charged by a sense of solidarity. As Lehkonen described in our interview, “smaller anthologies will only end up in the hands of other creators, so that's why I'm saying creators benefit more [from anthologies]. The best way to network is to work together on a project.”
But the impact of comics anthologies does not end with its creators. Perhaps the most important result of collective comics anthologies is their critical contribution to establishing a healthier and more diverse comics culture. When I interviewed Bharath Murphy, the founder and editor of the Vérité, a manga anthology published in India, he, said, “My idea is that the Vérité magazine can help catalyse and bring together the diverging areas of literature and illustration and cartooning. This I hope will produce a new comics literature.” Vérité planted the seeds for a manga culture to be cultivated in India, a country familiar with comics and cartooning, but not acquainted with the manga style. By inviting creators from Japan, India and all over the world to contribute, Murphy hopes that each creator will imbue the manga-genre comic they submit with their own cultural and personal touch. That means that through reading a single volume based on one genre, the reader of Vérité will be exposed to many unconventional narratives, building a deeper understanding of how manga and comics work. As Murphy comments,
“I think voices from other nationalities, and a wide range of abilities to express in the medium, if clashed together with a certain editorial vision, can produce interesting results. I think I want to create a space for people who draw outside the institutionalized 'art world'… I think comics is a people's medium, and extremely powerful for that reason. A dialogue and discourse through drawing comics can bypass both the art world and the popular movie world.”
Comic anthologies can have a huge impact on the industry and on their readers, but their reach depends on the creators and all the effort they put behind the stories that they want to see published. Their impact relies on every reader who goes out of his way to discover interesting new anthologies to support, and new creators who will bring them stories that are not worn and plots that are not exhausted. Their influence can be found in both creators and readers, who are exposed to diverse voices of a possibly all-inclusive storytelling medium And if any of our voices can be given the chance to be heard, telling the new or too long unheard stories side by side with other great voices, then we can ask ourselves “Who is going to stop me now?”
If you want to learn more, the interviews quoted here will be going up on the site over the next month. Or check out @anthologiescomics on Twitter to discover which projects you can get involved in, or want to support.