Sweden’s Peow Launches its 2016 Line-Up Through Kickstarter [Interview]
The launch and rise of Peow, a Swedish publisher that was nominated for three Ignatz Awards this year, is one of the most encouraging success stories of 2015. Founded by Patrick Crotty, Olle Forsslöf and Elliot Alfredius, the studio started with three artists and a risograph machine, but has now established a reputation for bright, vibrant, and funny works that are unlike anything else in the industry.
Peow has now turned to Kickstarter to fund its Spring/Summer 2016 line-up, featuring new work from creators including Guillaume Singelin, Wai Wai Pang, Mathilde Kitteh, Luca Oliveri, Mackenzie Schubert,and Patrick Crotty himself. It looks as though next year will see Peow grow even further, so we sat down with Crotty to take a closer look at the publisher's history and its hopes for the future.
ComicsAlliance: When did Peow start, and what was your ambition when you first set up the publisher?
Patrick Crotty: We started really getting into making books about three years ago. At that time we weren't really into the rest of the comics being published in Sweden. The stuff we liked just wasn't getting published here. At the annual International Comics Festival in Stockholm, we would actually import books from Nobrow and Koyama Press, and other zines from people liked because nobody knew what that was in Sweden, and surprisingly, those books sold super well. People wanted nice looking books, but nobody in Sweden knew where to get it.
We couldn't start by making big books, because we didn't have any money, but we could at least try to make colorful zines with people we liked.
We set out to make self-contained strange sci-fi and fantasy stories, and doing the "world comics" thing full on, drawing a lot of inspiration from western, French and Japanese comics altogether.
A lot of those zines were riso-printed. We were unfamiliar with that printing method, because nobody had it in Sweden, but it seemed like a relatively cheap alternative to start printing with, and it looked a lot nicer and different from regular digital printing. So we looked around and actually found our own risograph machine, and kinda from there opened Sweden's first riso-print shop and started making our books. Our plan was super basic then, we just wanted to make books we wanted to read because nobody else was making them here.
CA: What do you think makes Peow stand apart? What kind of identity do you feel you have have as a publisher?
PC: So when we started making books, there were a few things we thought were extra important --- and these things have followed with us since the start too! But it's to: make colorful books, with nice paper, and give a high percentage of the profits to the author.
The last point was especially important, because all of us had been doing freelance illustration works too, and in comics, it happens a lot that you get offers to do work for free just "for exposure" or "for fun" but... if it's what you want to be working with, you should be getting paid. If there is no artist behind the book, then you won't even have a book to make.
We are still young for a publisher, but I know that we are always trying to make books also with young people and we are very picky on who and what we publish. We don't make too many books a year, so every one is super duper special.
But for all three of us, when we decide to make a book, the artwork is always very very important, and we always have tried to do what we can to make sure the artists has a chance to do something fun with the printing process and format of their books also. I don't think we have any books just printed in black ink haha.
CA: Peow is now one of the most well-known comics publishers from Sweden --- what's the Swedish comics scene like, as a whole?
PC: Sweden has a lot of black and white, and a lot of autobiographical work about white people with depression or anxiety, or political commentary comics. Text heavy work that don't focus too much on the drawing aspect of comic. ... A lot of Swedish people like reading this kind of stuff though! There are some other publishers that make more fantasy stuff or kinda manga, but they aren't very big, and most comic production is dependant on grants and state funding to stay afloat.
I also feel that Swedish comics just focus on Sweden. It's closed in, and we don't see many comics being published in other languages and getting traction outside of Sweden.
That's kind of why we are more... well known, because people are able to read our books all over the place, we go to comic festivals and we're out there, you know! And we hang out on the internet a lot more than our Swedish counterparts.
But in Sweden, we are so.. not famous, hahaha. People like what we do when they see it, but we aren't really included in the swedish comic scene it feels like. Because there are a lot of "old dudes" working with Swedish comics academia and comics society stuff. It's just old guys who are out of tune with what is going on in the comics scene.
CA: How do you find people to work with, people to publish? What kinds of comics do you want to celebrate, and promote?
PC: We find people either on Tumblr or at festivals. It turns out that a lot of people that we have been working with have some sort of background in animation. When we find someone we like, we just want things to go well for them and we try to help them make the best book that they can make. But we also want the final result to feel cool in the end for everyone reading. and we want our results to be weird but accessible, like in that feeling where its like, "wow I've never seen anything like this before but it's so amazing plz dont stop"
CA: The last year has seen your profile rise and rise --- is it difficult to keep that momentum going? What's it like as an independent publisher in 2015?
PC: When we started moving more in to making comics, we didn't have this idea of doing comic publishing full time. We did it as a fun side thing, and we had the print shop running and doing freelance stuff. But a couple years later, making comics is what we like the most, and what has been the most rewarding. It's our favorite thing! But the whole ride has been a learning process, and we have to figure out stuff all the time, especially to keep up with making more books so that... people can actually read them!
For the most part, it's very basic boring stuff that we do more of. Figuring out where to keep all of our books, how to ship bigger boxes, larger distribution, all that kinda stuff. Emails, emails, emails, and writing about the books! All that stuff you never think about when you start this as a hobby. But that's what you gotta do! And now, it's cooler beause we are getting into offset, and it gives us infinitely more options for bookmaking. But its learning a whole new style of production, but so far it's hella exciting!
The most difficult thing has been balancing making books with all our other day-to-day ish. We all have other part-time jobs for basic money, and then the whole print shop and then doing workshops for schools and stuff, so there is a lot distracting us from just doing the books. But again, that's why we are doing this Kickstarter, to ease the transition into making books full time. Most people who get into publishing have a big back-up reservoir of money to let them build things up, but..... we don't. But it is really important for indie publishers, especially young ones!
It feels weird and sh---y to have to think so much about money, but its really really important to plan that stuff out!! You can't pretend like "money doesn't matter" because it really does. You gotta be pro businessy! Since we want to be doing this full-time, the Kickstarter will really help us shift closer to that. We finally had a big serious business day where we went thought economics and budget planning and actually figured out what we need to have as goals to actually be fully sustainable by just making books and still pay our artists a good amount. So, we have very concrete goals and we know exactly what we need to do to be what we want to be.
It's spooky but also fun because, well, we never expected people to like the stuff we make as much as they do. It's fantastic.
CA: If the Kickstarter is funded, you'll be able to fully print your Spring/Summer 2016 line-up. Who will be involved in your 2016 comic releases?
The Kickstarter is funded!!! Since we are funded, we are going to try to bring over some of these artists to upcoming festivals, but especially try and bring some of the artists from Europe over to the US, because that doesn't happen so often, and its great for everyone!
The Kickstarter covers books by Guillaume Singelin, Mathilde Kitteh, Luca Oliveri, Wai Wai Pang, Mackenzie Schubert, and then me. So with Guillaume we are making a beautiful 200+ artworks book that will really be a treat to look at. Mathilde and Luca are doing somthing we've been wanting for a long time; it's a sci-fi romance story! Then we have a really interesting detective book from UK artist Wai Wai Pang. Mackenzie has a interesting and offbeat "fantasy" --- you can't put his book in a genre! --- book, and I'm working on Internal Affairs 3.
But again, we have more stuff coming out in 2016, like a new book with Jane Mai, Olle Forsslöf & Rui Tenreiro, then there is this new person we are working with on Tumblr named Turn de Casette, but she is Swedish actually. And there is even more, but. yeah, we're expecting a bunch of good things to come out!
CA: Can you tell us a little more about your own comic?
Yeah, so Internal Affairs is a series I've been working on for a a while now; it follows a character named Onion, who is an intern at a mid sized "cool company." Think of a horrible trend-following, soulless, insecure, bragging advertising agency, but instead of working with ads they work with driving around flashy bipedal vehicles to be cool. So it's a lot about being an intern and having your dreams slowly eroded when you see that... some companies are never as good as you want them to be.
The first parts are really goofy and silly, and this third and final book is also gonna be goofy and silly, but also more action! And I am trying to be a bit more serious and it's a lot about growing up and working and presenting a lot of problems that are in the modern workplace and the advertising world. I'm trying to be "political," haha.
CA: Why take the Peow project to Kickstarter? What improvements will you be able to make to Peow, should you reach your target?
PC: One of the things in Sweden that is cool is that there are a lot of grants and state funds that you can apply for to help publish books, but they only apply for books written in Swedish. The problem for us is that we publish all of our books in English. We do this because we want more people to be able to read our books, from all over the world. Sadly, this means that our books can't be approved for most state funding
So we had to figure out how to get a bunch of money saved up so we could move over all of our production to offset printing, We are doing Kickstarter because it was the best and smartest way for us to get start-fund to make this next season of books. Before, we have been working from book to book, and we can't plan super far ahead because we don't have the budget secured right away, but now we can be 100% sure that we can print the books the way we want them to be printed, and the right amount too.
The biggest improvement is that we are going to move our production to offset. In our position, using offset printing is much more reliable than printing with the risograph. We can also make bigger books and larger print runs, so that more people can actually get a hold of our books. You'll be able to see our books with totally different colors than previously, and also different sizes, bindings and stuff. We can also do "pro" things like giving advances to our artists, which we were not able to to before. Moving to offset gives us the option to do reprints a lot easier then before too.
CA: What are your goals for the next year of Peow, in general?
PC: Longer books maybe! More books too! And some hardcovers! And new readers too, we want our books to make it to the hands of all different types of people with different interests, because it's' exciting to show people stuff they didn't know they could like.
There are a few dream artists I would love to work with, like Guy Davis, or Kow Yokoyama, so... I wanna aim towards making something big big happen. But I don't know how to navigate that just yet.
There are so many fun book that are waiting to get made so we just want that to happen. We'll see!
Peow's Kickstarter will run until 12 December 2015, and can be found here.