Published December 10, 2011
Thanks, Andrew, for agreeing to do an interview. I’ve been keeping my eye on your website GrayHavenComics.com since it was pointed out to me as a venue that has featured all-female teams in certain comics. Why don’t you tell us a bit about GrayHaven Comics?
It’s my pleasure. GrayHaven Comics started back in January 2010. I had been part of comic writer Brian Michael Bendis’ Jinxworld forums for years and made a lot of friends through my interactions on the forums. I had done some freelance work writing for the Marvel Handbooks and had done a few short comic stories years ago, but really wanted to try my own thing. So many anthologies seem great in concept but fall apart before the book sees print. I figured, ego well in check, that if I had complete control I’d make sure it got off the ground one way or another. Back in the late ’90s I published a fanzine called GrayHaven Magazine so I figured if I was going to do comics I’d resurrect the GrayHaven name. GrayHaven is the company name and The Gathering is our ongoing anthology, a book which I hope one day will be just one of many we publish.
2012 will see The Gathering go monthly, Ever After (our first mini-series) continue, and two self-contained one shots debut. We are trying to be as diverse as possible and the website has helped that goal along, as well. Last year we featured four ongoing webcomics that proved to be very popular with fans. They recently went on a short hiatus while we’re in the midst of a thirteen week Try Out with seven new webcomics, the most popular of which will come back with full runs in 2012. In addition to the webcomics we’re doing interviews with creators, articles on the process of making the comics, and some cool behind the scenes stuff. I want the site to be very content heavy and user friendly, allowing people to find out what we’re all about and sample some stories for free.
You describe The Gathering as a vanity project that grew into something bigger after “critical acclaim from sites like Aint it Cool and Wired and professionals like Gail Simone taking an interest.” What was your original vision for The Gathering, and what do you see it to be now?
The vision has remained the same. We’re looking to give up-and-coming writers and artists an opportunity to have their work printed. There are a ton of talented people out there who have stories to tell and may not have the means to get it out in the public eye, so we try and help. There are a lot of creators who started with us way back on issue one who’ve done multiple stores across several volumes and accumulated almost a full comic’s worth of work. We also remain committed to making sure that at least half our output includes new creators who’ve never worked for us.
The contributions from comics professionals was a pleasant surprise. Gail got the ball rolling by agreeing to doing a short in our second issue and that sort of opened the door for other pros to want to do a short. We don’t want to take any focus away from the dozen or so new creators in each issue, but a black and white anthology with unknown creators is a tough sell in any market, so getting to advertise that someone like Gail or Sterling Gates or John Jackson Miller has a story gets people’s attention.
It’s been a tremendous learning experience for me to work with the pros and see their creative process. And it’s a very cool perk for others contributing in that they’re in a published comic alongside the likes of Gail or Sterling or John or whichever pro helps out for an issue.
I’m fond of the learn-as-you-go process. I think in the right situations and for the right people it can make the product stronger. What are a couple of things you have learned about the publication process that you didn’t know going in? And do you find it’s changing with the rise of the digital age?
It’s a constant learning process and I’m still learning. Having had friends in the industry and done a bit of freelancing years ago, I wasn’t completely blind to the trials and tribulations of publishing. But when it’s all on your shoulders… well, that is a wake-up call. Probably the biggest thing was making sure we got the books out on time. An anthology is a tough sell no matter who is on it or who is publishing. People supported us thanks to strong word of mouth and great reviews early on, and then we hit a several month delay with issue two. That was almost the end of the whole thing. We aren’t in comic shops across the country so when so much time and effort is spent letting people know you exist and then they actually buy the book and hope that the next one will be out in three months like promised, you lose a lot of readers when it takes twice that long to come out. Luckily issue two was pretty darn good and it had a short story by Gail Simone so there was some heavy buzz. Switching from quarterly to monthly in 2012 is a risk, but in the second half of 2011 we were able to put out four issues plus the first issue of a mini series, and the new editors helped divide the workload, so I think we’re as prepared as we’ll ever be.
I’m stubborn when it comes to digital comics. I don’t want them, haha. Music moving from CD to iPods or what have you makes sense. You’re still listening over speakers. Watching movies on your computer is still viewing something on a screen. But for me, a book is meant to be held and pages turned with that distinct smell of paper.
Regardless of preference, the big problem now is those who want digital don’t like the pricing of new comics and those who want only print think offering new digital releases at a cheaper price will kill the local comic shop which in turn will kill the industry. I don’t think it can be all-or-nothing, and publishers need to get creative. Some publishers have offered digital codes in their print comics and I know Marvel recently has a deal where if you download a digital comic, you get a five dollar coupon to use in a comic store on a print book. Things are in flux as everyone tries to figure out the best way they want to go about their business in the new age.
I’ve already poured through The Gathering: Volume #3: Heroes and Volume #4: Love Letters. This is my first comic anthology. It’s like wine tasting, in my mind, or a buffet of appetizers. There’s literally something for everyone. For the creators, though, it seems like a great way to learn about the process of storytelling. How have you seen the writers and artists grow?
When the first issue came out I thought it was the greatest thing ever created. I held that book in my hands and stared at it seemingly for hours, reading and reading the contents in somewhat disbelief that this was mine. Now, eight issues later I can’t stand to look at it, haha. Every little flaw sticks out at me.
I have to say that across the board people have gotten better. Early on we stuck to a two page per story format and the cheat a lot of people found was to try and compress ten pages of story into two, so you’d find a lot of dialogue on the page or choppy jumps in time. We’ve become a bit stricter as editors, and the creators have learned to just tell the right story with the amount of space given. It’s a process we’re all trying to get better with, but I think there is a huge difference in what some of the recurring writers had in the early volumes compared to now. Two of the writers from issue one, Doug Hahner and Glenn Matchett, not only are putting out self-contained one shots this year but they’ve been on the editorial team for the past six months. Their help and support along with other editors James O’Callaghan, John Coker, and Chris Chamberlain, have taken a lot of work off my shoulders and allowed us to go with a more aggressive publishing schedule. The first issue that Glenn worked on debuts in January, the Science Fiction issue with a guest story by John Jackson Miller. The theme was chosen by the fans last year, we had a ton of submissions and contributors and Glenn did a tremendous job keeping it all together.
Can you talk a bit about how a newbie might give comic storytelling a try? Possibly point to resources for an aspiring artist?
In that first issue we were all newbies. The folks that contribute to the book do so for a variety of reasons. Some want to have stories see print and build a portfolio to show editors of larger companies. Some want to have the stories serve as a springboard for their own self-publishing or small-press ventures. For the most part, though, people just have stories that they need to get out. It’s a cathartic experience for them. And we’re there to try and help all of them, no matter what their reasons. We don’t have specific script formats or regulations. Write the way they want to write in order to convey the information to the artists, and in most cases we also match a writer up with an artist since finding an artist to work on their stories is one of the biggest reasons writers won’t publish.
With artists it’s a lot easier to see if you like their work. I say that the art in the book looks a lot better since we first began, and while we want to keep up that level of quality I don’t want to discourage a newer artist from giving it a shot. We still use the two-page story format for newcomers to the book in most cases as it’s a good way to test everyone out. Artists, just like writers, need to hone their craft every day. The best thing to do is to draw and put out their work for others to see. Now, it’s the internet, so many comments will range from ‘lulz it sucks’ to ‘awesome’ without any sort of constructive criticism, but there are people that will let you know their honest opinions and that’s how you grow. Digitial Webbing, Deviant Art, and various comic book message boards are great for finding like-minded individuals and sharing work. It’s how we found most of our artists.
Besides The Gathering anthology, you’ve got the Ever After mini-series and some one shots. Personally, I’m very excited to get my hands on Ever After. It seems like fairy tales are a hot topic right now in the entertainment circles. Was your team for Ever After picking up on a trend? And has the timing helped garner interest?
It’s a complete coincidence and one I tease the guys about a bit. Matt O’Keefe, the writer, is another talent I met on Jinxworld. He had the entire mini written and artist Lee Giles (another Jinxworlder) to start drawing it before he even pitched it to me. I wanted GrayHaven to be about more than just The Gathering and announced two self-contained one shots when Matt asked me about publishing Ever After. I thought the concept was very interesting, and since the first issue was already completed and the guys were well underway on the other issues it was a no-brainer to work with them. When shows like Once Upon a Time and Grimm debuted I thought Matt either had the best or worst timing ever. Ever After is a pretty fantastic story that stands on its own. As the remaining issues come out, I think readers will see just how unique it is from those other projects. But yeah, I can see how people may think the project is just trying to capitalize on the success of those shows. It’s just not the case, though.
Sounds like good timing. I think storytelling trends have natural cycles. Hopefully you’ll be able to capture potential fans who wouldn’t have thought to seek out fairy tales in comics. Speaking of fans, I understand you sold out of comics at New York Comic Con this year. What was the feedback like at the convention?
Interestingly enough, when we were coming up with possible theme ideas last year Fairy Tales was one of the ones we all really wanted to do, and do it as a true young reader book. It doesn’t come out until February, but as pages come in the editors and I are astounded at just how good they are. It sounds cliché but each issue really seems to be better than the last.
NYCC was an incredible experience. Just the fact that we had a booth and six copies of The Gathering and the first issue of Ever After to sell was very cool. And much of the editorial and art staff was able to come. We had ‘Gatherers’ from Canada, Alabama, and even Ireland who made the trip. Hanging out with them for four days would have made for a great con even if no copies were sold but we were very fortunate to have sold a lot of comics. Volume 6, our second Horror issue, sold out of its initial print run there and we were almost wiped out of Volume 4 (Horror 1) and Volume 5 (Romance). The other volumes also did really well. And we were able to have signings from many of the folks who worked on different issues, including pros like Mike Lapinski (Feeding Ground), Brent Peeples (Last of the Greats), and Sterling Gates (Hawk and Dove, Captain Victory), which was amazing.
Finally, where can people find GrayHaven comics in 2012? Any conventions on your schedule?
We’re hoping to have a very big presence in retail shops this year. Since Comixpress is handling our printing, they also have a retailer catalogue so any comic shop can order our books through them at a discount. Fans wanting to purchase the books can do so through our page at GrayHavenComics.com.
No conventions set in stone, but I would love to go back to MoCCA, Baltimore, and New York. Chicago and North Carolina are also real possibilities. As soon as we set anything in stone we’ll let everyone know about it.