Alex Hoffman Interviews Patrick Crotty and Wren McDonald about Ex.Mag

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Today we have a two-part feature of Peow Studio’s latest project, Ex.Mag. Ex.Mag is a themed, serialized anthology series, and Peow is funding the initial three issues with a Kickstarter campaign. We also have an exclusive preview of a comic from the first volume to share with you today by Jonathan Djob Nkondo.

I sat down with Patrick Crotty, one of the Publishers of Peow, and Wren McDonald, the editor for Ex.Mag, to learn a little bit more about their process and their goals for the anthology.


Alex Hoffman: I want to start with the concept of Ex.Mag. This project feels like a blending of the traditional themed anthologies of small press comics and manga anthologies of Japan like Weekly Shonen Sunday or Harta. Can you talk about how you got to this in-between place?

Wren McDonald: I was a Shonen Jump subscriber as a kid and found Heavy Metal Magazine later on, and both had massive impacts on me. I’ve also always been a big fan of small press anthologies like Chameleon, Kramers Ergot, and Nobrow. Despite connecting with a lot of these indie anthologies, I was always left wanting longer stories with more focused narratives– something more common in magazines like Shonen Jump or Heavy Metal. The original idea for Ex.Mag was actually an indie “action” anthology, but we decided that changing the genre each issue would create the opportunity to work with a wider range of artists. 

But yeah, we intentionally tried to channel a lot of manga magazine vibes. I think many of the artists we’re working with grew up with those influences too. I think the blend comes from working in the indie comics scene, and at the same time being very aware of and influenced by manga.

Patrick Crotty: In terms of a physical object, this is something I want to hold. I want Peow to make this thing that feels great in your hand and looks amazing anywhere you put it, but especially on a bookshelf or in a pile on your desk. Japanese magazines and artbooks from the 80s-90s have are some of my favorite looking books in terms of production, and having that as inspiration for this is very fun. 

We make this type of anthology, Ex.Mag (and TIME CAPSULE, which focuses on less artists, longer stories), to answer the problem we’ve felt towards anthologies. Most anthologies don’t read well when there are a lot of comics, a lot of styles, and all of the stories in them are less than 10 pages. It’s hard to get absorbed by those stories, and it’s even harder to get those styles to match. It’s like each story is a bullet, and the more stories you include, the more shots you are making that might miss the mark (if the mark is the heart and interest of the reader). While the editor loves all the stories, not everyone else will have that same feeling, and we’d rather have a book where we minimize the chance of including a story that will leave a bad impression on the reader.  Does that make sense? People say less is more and that’s the same with anthologies. 

AH: You’ve already blown through your funding goal and some stretch goals, but initially, you (Patrick) seemed a little apprehensive about launching a Kickstarter at the beginning of a new year. Why?

PC:  Honestly I was just worried that people would not be interested in spending money and getting new things right after the holidays, and most articles about “when to do a Kickstarter” say that January is the worst time to run a new Kickstarter project.  

WM: Yeah, we’re so grateful and impressed by the enormous outpouring of support for the project and the artists! 

AH: Why is now a good time to make Ex.Mag?

PC: We had been talking about this for a LONG time. Peow started making anthologies with TIME CAPSULE, but we never continued after the second issue. Wren had previously bounced around the idea of bringing TIME CAPSULE back, and we liked the idea of working on an anthology again, but it was mostly just a time constraint. Olle and I can’t make all the books we want to make in a year. But after opening up and working with other editors like Zainab Ahktar last year, we felt like we could try more collaborations. Wren wanted to handle this project so we were just like… sure. There’s nothing specific about the timing, it’s just something we want to see realized. 

WM: 2020! New year, new genre-based-comics-anthology-magazine! Really though, I see more and more creators out there who are interested in storytelling and have very similar influences, and I wanted to create an outlet for them come together and produce that kind of work. I also just thought it would be cool and fun to make a magazine with our favorite artists and genres. We truly are excited about the lineups for the first three issues! All that, and the timing was just right for Peow. 

AH: You talked about making TIME CAPSULE. That Was back in 2012-2013, right? How does your experience with that anthology inform your process for Ex.Mag?

PC: The original idea from that carried over to Ex.Mag, in which we wanted to have an anthology with less artists, and longer comics. I think around that time (2012) we had been seeing a lot of anthologies like the NOBROW ones— but even [insert random fandom]-ZINE, long list of great artists, good production value, and really short comics! Like I mentioned previously we just wanted to see some more pages devoted to the stories, so that’s what we did with Time Capsule and that’s what we are doing again with Ex.Mag

I think a secondary thing is choosing colors for each issue, which is a think that we did with risograph before. Now with offset, we could just go ham and let everyone do four-color and print CMYK, but we are still keeping it tight with just 2 colors per volume, and we are picking pantones that we think would be nice for each theme. 

WM: Yeah, I actually had a comic in the second issue of TIME CAPSULE and I remember being thrilled to contribute. It was refreshing to see an anthology that had a focus on longer sci-fi narratives, was Risograph printed in limited color, and featured artists that I was excited about. It was a great mix of content and creators and I enjoyed getting to know the Peow team through that experience. TIME CAPSULE helped to show me what was possible with a comics anthology, and I want Ex.Mag to follow that same trajectory. 

AH: The first issue of Ex.Mag (01: FULL METAL DREAMLAND) is cyberpunk-themed. Can you talk about the choice of your first three themes, and why they fit your vision as a publisher?

PC: We’re at that point where so many broad genre anthologies exist that it makes the most sense to take one step to what feels like maybe the first tier of sub-genres. None of these genres are SUUUPER specific, but they are still a bit more defined than just “fantasy” or “romance.” It helps give a better framework [for the comics in the anthology] and also sets up a kind of endless list of genres we’d love to explore. Wren had a big list of genres when he was pitching this to us including a rollerblade themed issue, but we started with these three because with a new project we don’t want to start off too specific. It’s nice to show people what we can do, and then once everybody is on board and trusts us, that’s when we can release the Rollerblade issue.

WM: We wanted to come out of the gate strong and I think a genre like Cyberpunk can allow for that. It’s campy, fun, and more relevant than ever. It’s also one of my favorite genres and one that a lot of my personal work focuses on. We wanted to mix it up with the first three issues so that we could bring in a wide variety of artists under the same umbrella. Also, I just want to see more indie Cyberpunk, Paranormal Romance, and Dark Fantasy comics. Also more rollerblade comics.

AH: Tell me a little more about the artists you’ve recruited for the anthology. What was your guiding principle for seeking people out? Was it structured or more organic?

WM: Our goal was to recruit a mix of creators that would bring a diversity of work while still complementing each other and fitting within the genre. We also wanted a mix of new and established cartoonists. One thing we discussed was not wanting to resort entirely to artists strictly working within each genre. For example, with the Cyberpunk issue, we invited a number of artists who haven’t necessarily worked within the genre but who we could see as having the potential to create really interesting Cyberpunk stories. So it was the idea of pushing someone a bit outside of their comfort zone but not entirely off the deep end. The lineups were all selected in collaboration between Peow and me. 

PC: It’s a mix of Peow favorites, like, we love all the artists we’ve published and want to continue working with them so whenever we can figure out good fit, we want to have them on board. There are also new artists we’ve just really enjoyed work from — definitely artists that we’ve been talking with but just have never been able to work out a project. Also, Wren was a great motivator for this project and reached out to a lot of established comic artists that we feel are like “we love them but they are too cool for us.” Because of that, we have a handful of creators on this project that are like a dream for us to work with, not only because we’re fanboys, but also because we’re getting to see these artists work on comics in genres that we wouldn’t see them do anywhere else. I’m very grateful for all the artists involved and Wren for pulling this together. 

If there is a principle [for which artists get approached], Peow always wants to work with artists that we feel excitement over and also artists that we look up to as people.

AH: Is the plan for Ex.Mag to be an ongoing project for PEOW after the first three issues?

PC: Well, we have that rollerblade issue to make. So, yes, we will continue, but we just haven’t figured out specifics. I think it’s because we wanted to see if we can complete the Kickstarter first before we get ahead of ourselves. There are three books to make right now, so let’s get that done first.  

WM: Yeah!


Thanks to Patrick and Wren for the interview. We discussed their latest anthology Ex.Mag, which is going through a funding campaign for the initial three issues on Kickstarter.

Alex Hoffman is the Publisher of SOLRAD and the Secretary/Treasurer of its parent nonprofit organization, Fieldmouse Press. He has been a comics critic for Manga Widget, Comics Village, Sequential State, The Comics Journal, Comics MNT, and others.

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