Publishing During A Pandemic: Daniel Elkin interviews Patrick Crotty from Peow Studio

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 Peow Studio.

Peow was founded a few years ago by Elliot Alfredius, Olle Forsslöf, and Patrick Crotty in Stockholm, Sweden. Originally, Sweden’s very first dedicated Risograph print shop, Peow Studio evolved into one of the most exciting publishers in the country.

You can find out more about Peow Studio by visiting their website or by following them on Twitter or Instagram. I thought I’d send Patrick Crotty 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?

We keep seeing artists that we want to make books with — haha. That’s why we keep making stuff. 

How has the world of comics publishing been impacted by the pandemic?

If you are just asking us, it’s been… more OK than we thought it would be. We thought this year was going to be really bad, especially with no festivals to go to, but we’ve managed okay. A lot of money gets spent on going to festivals, so even if we are selling fewer books, the fact that we don’t have to pay to go to any shows has evened things out quite a lot. It’s just more boring of a year because we don’t get to see friends (we miss hanging out with ppl!).

I also work at a big publisher, and I can say that books have been selling surprisingly well during the pandemic. Book sales have remained relatively the same, or gone up in certain areas, I guess because people want more things to do at home right?

Most other entertainment, concerts, movie, food, theatre, it’s a problem to do that now since it’s hard to do that with social distance. But books are not a thing you need to read in a group.

I guess book signings are kinda gone, but experiencing a brand new book, it’s something

you can order online and read at home at a very safe social distance, so I think people are still very happy to enjoy comics.  So, overall, publishing hasn’t been impacted as much as the distribution and sales channels (i.e. physical bookstores). 

Minicomic publishing is way down though (or.. I’m just not looking hard enough?). I know… a LOT of minicomics get made because of book festivals. If you ask someone making a minicomic, most of them will say “oh I’m making this for Blah blah blah festival”. People rely on festivals as their big platform to get things out there and, without them, there’s less of an incentive to make fun little books. I do know there are still ones getting made (I did get a new self-pub book by saicoink, it’s the first zine I’ve bought all year. ), but there are so much less. But these are things that. I’m not sure if anybody is financially impacted by making or not-making minicomics, since quite often the goal with minicomics, or going to shows, is just to “break even”…

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? 

The big thing that happened is that the price of air-shipping the books from the printers is like 4x more expensive. But other than that, we’ve been very fortunate. We expected much worse, but everything has been mostly the same as what we planned for. Sorry, we don’t have a shocking revelation here.

Mail is a bit slower than usual, but books are still arriving. We had one big problem that was not Covid-related, and had to find two new shipping partners, but that’s over now so it’s pretty smooth.

Ooh, actually, at one point, we thought we had lost a huge box of Kickstarter rewards! It was actually quite scary, but it just turned out that it got lost in the mail, and showed up two months late.

What would you say is the ethos of Peow Studios? Are there particular types of books you look to publish?  

The freedom and carefree style of zines, but with really high production value and more pages.

We’ve always said that the books we publish are the ones we (Patrick, Olle) want to read the most, so the catalog is usually our personal taste, very much art-focused, and not so many American artists. We like to work with artists that we can boost up, so if someone is already successfully making comics on their own, or with other pubs, it’s less likely that we would work with them because they’ve already figured out how to make comics.

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?

I’m not sure. This is a pretty unique situation, but honestly, I think it’s probably going to be the same. I think a lot of small press people all have other jobs, and they work out of their homes, So this taking a year or so off is more like a forced vacation from their side hustles. I think the majority of people involved in the small press and self-pub community are doing things out of the love of it (not for the money), no matter what happens, that community isn’t going anywhere, it’s just hibernating right now. The relationships people have built up are still there and I’m sure everyone will want to keep on doing what they really enjoy when this is all over. 

For PEOW, taking time off has given us time to think about making other things, though. I know I definitely want to try and make things that aren’t physical objects. Figuring out things that we can do that don’t need to be sent in the mail is something that we really want to do, as long as we get to work with artists we like, that’s our main drive. It’s very exciting for us to be learning new things and this pandemic has given us some extra time to do just that. 

How do you all find the people you work with? Do you offer mentoring or other services to those people? 

Mostly online or at festivals. I think. If you count publishing and editing as a “service,” then, yes, that’s part of what we offer to them. I don’t like the idea of mentoring because we are not some master experts of making books, and we do a lot of things in an “incorrect” way, so someone trying to learn industry-standard might be let down. It’s like in kung-fu movies, the drunken masters are good at fighting, but you don’t necessarily want them as your mentor because they are so untraditional and need to be drunk all the time. I’m not saying we’re drunk all the time tho. Haha.  I think we make really great books, but we also do a lot of stuff in a very unique, nontraditional way. Lots of informed guesswork, experimentation, and playfulness is what makes us special, and I don’t think we can teach that. 

Are you considering inequities or other historical considerations (for example, working with cartoonists of color and LGBTQ+ cartoonists) as you determine your publishing slate?

Of course we do. I think it’s weird if you weren’t.

Thanks so much for your time and your words. Any last thoughts you’d like to leave with?

We have one new book coming out in December! It’s our last title for the year, so.. keep your eyes peeled and check it out!

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