Kevin Jay Stanton and Annie Stoll Raise ‘1001 Knights’ on Kickstarter [Back Pages]
Crowdfunding has become an important part of how comics get made, allowing creators to pitch their work directly to readers, and providing opportunities for comics that traditional publishers may not consider. With Back Pages, ComicsAlliance hopes to provide a spotlight for some of the best comics crowdfunding projects we can find.
With 1001 Knights, editors Annie Stoll and Kevin Jay Stanton are bringing a staggeringly colossal, magnificently giant work of titanically stonking proportions to Kickstarter. Made of three volumes each representing a noble trait of knighthood, the project sees a stunning array of artists, writers, poets, and artistic types gathered together to tell stories about a diverse range of knights. Starting life as a zine --- before rapidly racing off into a far grander project --- 1001 Knights has already flown past its funding target. ComicsAlliance spoke to Stoll and Stanton about the anthologies.
CA: What’s the basic premise of the anthologies?
Annie Stoll: 1001 Knights is a massive three-volume anthology project focusing on creating people-positive characters with feminist overtones.
CA: What was the genesis of the project? How long have you wanted to get this up and running?
Kevin Jay Stanton: Annie and I started talking in 2014, after seeing Olivia Huynh’s Awake and Brienne’s terrific fight in the Game of Thrones finale. So almost two years now!
AS: Kevin and I were talking about how cool it would be to work on something together --- Kevin had just come off working on Fezzine and I on Hana Doki Kira (a shojo anthology). We both were talking about how much we love ladyknights and decided we should do a small zine about them. What started out as a small call for art (we figured we’d maybe get five or six people respond) in one day turned into 100 people asking to be in on it. And all 100 of those people were absolutely amazing artists --- we couldn’t say no.
And we really realized that this was about something much more than even lady knights and GoT --- but it was this real desire by everyone involved to create meaningful, strong, and diverse characters. So we moved away from "only women" and embraced a people-positive approach to be inclusive of all creators and characters. We’ve been working on this for almost two years and it’s really been great to collaborate with Kevin and see the project come together now with over 250 artists!
CA: You describe this as being "people-positive" --- can you talk about what you mean by that term?
KJS: People-positive means accepting of all people, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or creed. The artists who contributed to 1001 Knights are a diverse group themselves, and we all we asked of them was to develop strong characters that aspire to feminist ideals. What we got was an incredible array of characters from all walks of life, not just ladyknights but queer knights and trans knights and straight male knights. For good measure there are also some cacti knights in there too!
AS: And people-positivity is about uplifting personhood to avoid stereotypes and recognize individuality. We believe that by creating a positive and accepting environment, we are able to forge peace and understanding that carries over from our artistic community into society as a whole.
We’ve found that creating a space for artists who are often spoken over to express themselves freely, as well as championing these ideals has made for some of the most fantastic and creative art! We hope that this spirit and the art in 1001 Knights will in turn inspire readers to make the world a better place through art, dialogue, and action in their own lives! And yes --- even cacti knights are loved and embraced in this anthology!
CA: The volumes are split into three themes: wisdom, fellowship, and courage. How did you choose those traits to represent each of the volumes?
KJS: Originally Annie and I wanted to make one enormous book. When we realized it could have been 800+ pages, we decided to split it into three books for feasibility. And that gave us the opportunity to name each book after the traits we feel are integral to being a good knight. The Courage to stand up for your beliefs, the Wisdom to know right from wrong, and the Fellowship of your peers and loved ones.
AS: Splitting the books helped us enormously on several fronts. First, like Kevin said, we had grown too big for one book, so three smaller volumes that make up one whole anthology solves a page count problem. But also second, thematically and spiritually, it helps us bring order and cohesion to the anthology as a whole. When you ask a group of people to work off a general concept, you’ll find that there are certain tropes and themes that begin to form patterns across the work.
By sorting the artists into these houses of Wisdom, Fellowship, and Courage, we can give context and a better flow to the anthology all while redefining the ideals of knighthood on the side. As far as why these specific traits, Kevin and I had several brainstorm sessions about it. I think that from the beginning Courage and Wisdom were very obvious to us, but Fellowship was one of those spontaneous Eureka! moments that came to us and pulled 1001 Knights together.
CA: There's a mix of content within each book, including comics and illustration, but also prose and poetry. As this is ComicsAlliance, let's dwell on the former --- what can we expect from the comics in 1001 Knights?
AS: The range of stories is so very exciting --- as is the range of artistic styles within the comics in this anthology. There is truly something for everyone and hopefully readers will also discover and love some new art they had not considered before. I love that several of the comics in 1001 Knights are not about traditional knights in shining armor --- there are kids playing pretend, biker girl gangs, enchanted forests and more!
KJS: The comics in 1001 Knights are pretty diverse --- standing up for innocents, protecting loved ones, the value of non-combat skills like dentistry or gardening. They’re also about hatching eggs and signing treaties and defying orders and righting wrongs and learning from mistakes. It’s a wide range of amazing stories!
CA: How did you find people to join you for the volumes? Which artists and writers will be involved here?
KJS: So at first, we thought of doing a Brienne and Arya zine and put out a pretty casual call for artists. And we were immediately flooded with portfolio submissions from a ton of incredible artists. It was overwhelming! So we sat down and discussed why the response was so strong, and realized that what was really resonating with people was ladyknights specifically. So we regrouped, and came up with 1001 Knights. And we opened it up to a wider range than just ladyknights, giving our artists free rein to create the characters they wanted to see.
AS: Building off what Kevin said, the first half of artists were a call to submissions and once we knew that we were going to make a book and then split that into three, it freed up more space. So we decided to curate the remaining spots and ask artists that really inspired us both. Lo and behold the majority of them said yes (and really the only nos we got were from people who were busy with really amazing projects already!)
It’s a great mix of professional and up-and-coming artists. Everyone in 1001 Knights is absolutely amazing and we encourage readers to check out our full artists list and start discovering your next new favorite artist!
CA: Why take 1001 Knights to Kickstarter?
AS: We wanted to make the coolest, fanciest book we could for the backers right off the get-go. We wanted to also have a special edition of books that would be just for the artists. There’s no way any publisher would have agreed to make this book at the level we wanted to create while still being able to have complete creative freedom over the project.
Kickstarter has really helped many in the comics community self publish at a high level and create great projects. I’ve personally backed countless comics projects on Kickstarter. I’ve used Kickstarter in the past with the Hana Doki Kira shojo anthology that my Year 85 Group girls and I created to great success. There are several artists in 1001 Knights who have also had success in self publishing through Kickstarter as well.
Kickstarter allows us to raise the funds we need to make 1001 Knights as cool of a book as possible (hard cover, cloth bound, full color, and now with push goals we have foil edges and internal bookmark, to name a few) and at the same time we are able to give the artists an even split of all money raised beyond the cost of making the books. Kickstarter also offers us a large platform for many people to discover our artists work. Kevin and I have spent many a night talking about what we can do to make this anthology truly benefit the artists, and really Kickstarter is the platform we felt would be best suited to our needs.
KJS: Crowd-funding with Kickstarter made the most sense right off the bat. Plus the limited time for the campaign builds excitement for the project, I think!
CA: What stage are you at with the books? How much has already been completed?
AS: The books are 90% laid out and the artists had completed their work prior to the Kickstarter going live. The only things left are creating thank you pages, polishing up the indexes, final proofreading, and creating art for the two or three lucky 1001 Tier backers who are now official knights in the book! We’re in a really great place, and a lot of that is the reason it took us so long to get this ready for Kickstarter. I felt very strongly that for an anthology of this size, we needed to have it basically complete before we could ask backers for support.
KJS: Exactly --- we really wanted to be able to have the books all but done by the time the Kickstarter came together so that we could hustle on getting the books printed asap!
CA: What's your background in comics production? As you've mentioned earlier, you've both had experience working on zines?
KJS: Yeah I did a zine called FEZZINE, a tribute to the indie game Fez, which I love. It was much, much smaller than this though (19 artists plus myself). For comics, I’m a pretty big noob, but I’m sloooooooooowly wading in. I’m illustrating Ryan North’s contribution to 1001 Knights as well as working on a pitch with Zach Clemente and Paul Reinwand for a graphic novel tentatively called Azure. I’ve got a few other odds and ends in the works too, on no particular timeline.
AS: I’ve been a huge comics and manga fan my whole life. I’ve created short comics and zines on my own. I’m also one of the founding members of the Year 85 Group and published Hana Doki Kira which is a really lovely shojo anthology! I’ve also had the privilege of being in some really cool zines and anthologies such as Fight Zine and Valor. And lastly, I have an experimental web comic about lady knights called Ode, written & co-created with TIm Ferrara on Hiveworks.
CA: If you achieve your goal, what’s your estimated delivery on the final project?
KJS: July 2016!
AS: Yup look forward to July 2016. It’s going to be your summer reading!
1001 Knights will run on Kickstarter until 26 February 2016, having already tramped the initial target of $70,000. You can find the project's Kickstarter page here!