How do you publish and distribute comics during a pandemic? It seems like a Herculean task, to say the least. And yet, there are plenty of small press publishers out there doing just that, right now. One of these publishers is SOARING PENGUIN PRESS.
Established in 2010 by John Anderson, Soaring Penguin Press is an Ignatz and Eisner nominated graphic novel and comic publisher in the UK.
I thought I would send John Anderson some questions about what publishing is like in these strange times, and he was kind enough to answer.
Out of all the things you could possibly be doing with your time, you all decided to publish comics. Why is that?
Every year, there are more and more creators producing more and more exceptional work that we feel deserves to be seen by a wider audience. We publish comics so these stories can be read.
How has the world of comics publishing been impacted by the pandemic?
Oh, where to begin? For a lot of smaller publishers and self-publishers, the only means of getting their title seen had been through comic conventions across the country. Until we’re out of the pandemic, and we have the funds to travel again, our means of reaching an audience is severely curtailed.
Correspondingly, many of us have turned to crowdfunding as a means of raising awareness and generating sales prior to print, so that for any given title, the efforts to produce it isn’t a complete loss. But there are limitations to crowdfunding. As well, a dedicated effort is required which is so much more onerous if you’re doing this by yourself.
What would you say is the ethos of Soaring Penguin Press? Are there particular types of books you look to publish?
We look for good storytelling. That’s it. True, it results in an… eclectic… list but we would like to think there’s a commonality to all our titles: they’re all top quality and you’re unlikely to see them anywhere else.
What is it like working on a major project like trying to fulfill your latest Kickstarter during the COVID-19 pandemic? Has anything changed about your process or your planning?
Fulfillment is the least of our issues. All that is is pasting up the book, getting it to the printers, getting it back from the printers, posting copies out. None of which is impacted by the pandemic. Far more impactful – yet to be fully felt – will be the difficulties in getting work printed in Europe and shipped to the UK once Brexit takes a firmer grip on us economically and politically.
More impactful on our process and planning has been my move to the west coast of Canada (with an 8 hour time difference), and our move to a crowdfunding business model. Our reason for moving to crowdfunding is valid – we want to be able to pay more money sooner to the creators – but the additional administration in working up and running a campaign has meant taking on a lot more things we hadn’t planned to. Fortunately, we found some terrific people to assist us. Big shout out to Katie Cunningham, Yulia Lapko, and Giovani Izidório Cesconetto, each of whom provides invaluable support.
What do you think the world of small press comics looks like when this pandemic is all said and done? What role do you think small presses like yours have in the aftermath of all of this?
The effects of the pandemic will be with us for some time to come. Sadly, a number of creators may have moved on from creating comics in order to pay the bills. Those events that start or restart may well have to struggle with the number of creators wanting tables, and the number of people wanting to attend. This could be dramatically impacted by ongoing limitations to the number of people allowed in a building, for example. We will no longer be able to just invite creators to join us at our table, for example; every creator who attends will mean one less punter who can come in the door.
How do you all find the people you work with? Do you offer mentoring or other services to those people?
Not specifically, although we have worked with a few creators to assist in their work. Tim and I have discussed offering mentorship formally but it would be something we’d have to formally organize to ensure everyone is happy with the results. Also, we recognize that being mentored by a publisher would have to come with a disclaimer that just because we’re mentoring you doesn’t mean we’re going to publish you.
As regards finding people to work with, it’s a combination of keeping our eyes open for material that interests us and having an open door (or email address) for submissions. And then trying to read everything that comes to us.
Are you considering inequities or other historical considerations (for example, working with cartoonists of color and LGBTQ+ cartoonists) as you determine your publishing slate?
Yes. We’re always open to stories by BIPoC or LGBTQ+ creators. But not because of any inequities per se, but rather because they frequently tell stories that haven’t been heard elsewhere. We published Breaks Volume One and Breaks 2: Truth & Dare because we hadn’t seen many stories where being Gay was a cause for celebration. Similarly, Urban Tails (out soon) features two women in a lesbian relationship, but what makes it compelling for us is that it’s the story of a non-nuclear family (two women, two cats) in Tel Aviv. We have a new title for Black History Month this year: Black. It’s an autobiographical story of a young man, second-generation Windrush, who is shunted from pillar to post in UK Social Services in the 1980s. Fascinating, and has not been covered in other narratives.
Thanks so much for your time and your words. Any last thoughts you’d like to leave with?
Only that we currently have a Kickstarter campaign running for the 10th issue of our anthology title, Meanwhile…. We urge you to take a look: https://kck.st/3irizx5. Oh, and if you missed it, Urban Tails is listed in this month’s Previews under code JUN211781.