Cartozia Tales brings together a number of artists and writers, including Lucy Bellwood, Dylan Horrocks, Jen Vaughn, and Jon Lewis, to tell stories set within a huge map. Each artist starts off telling a story set in a specific part of the map --- so they could be in a jungle, up a mountain, in a lake, anywhere --- but then rotate at random, so each issue sees different writers and artists creating an interconnected world and telling all-new stories with the characters created in issue #1.

It's a great idea, and recently the Cartozia team launched a Kickstarter to reprint that crucial first issue for anyone who may have missed it the first time round. To check in on how things are going, and to learn more about Cartozia itself, ComicsAlliance spoke to project editor Isaac Cates.


ComicsAlliance: What’s the basic premise of Cartozia Tales?

Isaac Cates: You know how cool it is to pore over a map that comes at the beginning of a fantasy novel like Lord of the Rings or Wizard of Oz, imagining the stories that are unfolding all over that world? And then the disappointment that you only get to see one or two lines of movement traced across that big two-dimensional map? Cartozia Tales tries to make the whole map come alive.

Or, to put it another way: Cartozia Tales harnesses the storytelling imagination and visual talent of dozens of the best cartoonists in indie comics, and brings them all together to make one world — a world of many stories.

Or, maybe more succinctly: it's a cool, quirky all-ages fantasy book like no other, where the creators take turns looking into different corners of the world map.




Each issue has nine stories, all drawn by different people, who set the stories in different parts of the same world. But when we get ready to make the next issue, everyone is assigned at random to a section of the map he or she hasn't drawn in before — so you don't get to continue on with your own characters, but you do get to play with someone else's.

CA: What was the genesis of the project, way back when?

IC: With a few of my friends, I had tried a collaborative storytelling experiment I called a "MapJam" --- you can see more about it here --- and I thought it was a really promising method, but one that would require a little more work and commitment than we could really muster for an experiment.

A few years later, I was thinking about really wanting to collaborate with a few of my cartoonist friends to make a fantasy world, because I'd been immersing myself in [Lewis] Trondheim & [Joann] Sfar's Dungeon series, and I'd really caught that bug. It's a really wonderful thing, to imagine a world with your friends — to share a fiction that you can all have in common. If you've played D&D, you know what I'm talking about.

Somehow, between sort of longing to invent a world my friends could share, and noticing that there weren't enough kid-friendly indie comics (or, really, enough kid-friendly comics of any sort), I started thinking about the project that would take the form of Cartozia Tales. I remember at one SPX I kept asking my friend Sarah Becan to help me figure out reasons why I shouldn't try to do it — because I could see it would be a ton of work — but we kept dreamily coming back to the idea of making something really humane and awesome and inventive and smart that kids (and adults) could immerse themselves in. And I couldn't convince myself to drop it.


Lucy Bellwood
Lucy Bellwood


CA: What was it about this project which made you want to put it together? How did this go from an idea to reality?

IC: Honestly, I think it was just thinking about what sorts of comics I wanted to put into my son's hands. I wanted to make something — or to participate in the making of something — that would do for him what the Oz books (and a bunch of other fantasy series) did for me when I was in elementary school. I know there are thousands of kids out there (I mean, at least thousands) who would love to dive headfirst into a strange fantasy world that isn't built out of inherited mythology and corporate properties, but really bears the marks of particular imaginations. I wanted a scruffy, quirky, smart fiction that would be ready for my son (and kids like him) when he was old enough to read it.

I like to collaborate, and as I started to lay the groundwork for Cartozia Tales, I kept getting exciting news about people who were going to work on the project. I think once I knew Jon Lewis and Dylan Horrocks were going to draw stories for our first issue, I knew this was going to be a really cool thing. I remember getting the title logo from my friend Leah Palmer Preiss --- who also painted the cover of the first issue --- and thinking, "Okay. This is not just a minicomic idea any more. This is really a big, serious thing."

Even now, I get confirmation from people who are about to contribute — or I see finished pages that are going into the book — and I am just amazed at how much everyone is putting into the project, how richly imagined it is.

CA: How did you find the people who joined you for the stories?

IC: Well, there's a good bit of story there, because I know each of these contributors in different ways or for different reasons. Some of them have been my friends for a long time — like, going back to the very first moment when I started making minicomics, in 2001, with my friend Mike Wenthe — and although we met in different ways I've been friends with some of the core contributors for more than a decade now. And some of them were recruited on purpose for this comic. I'd never met Lucy Bellwood face to face, for instance, until after we'd published six issues of Cartozia. I still haven't met Caitlin Lehman in person, and we collaborate pretty densely on most of her drawings.

But I deliberately picked people who hadn't worked together much before, and who didn't live in the same places or travel in the same crowds, mostly because I wanted the book to feel like its own thing — a mixture of a variety of voices. And I think that's turned out really well. In my mind, there's a "Cartozia style," even though all of us draw really differently from each other.

I don't talk much about this, but it was also really important to me when I was building the team that most of the cartoonists in our core group of contributors should be women. I don't think it makes a huge difference in the sort of stories we're telling in Cartozia Tales, where the protagonists are both male and female, both insiders and outsiders, and so forth.




But I know that having several female cartoonists in each issue makes a big difference to our kid readers. If I put the book into the hands of a young girl who likes to draw, I know she's going to see role models there in Lupi [McGinty] and Lucy and Sarah and Jen and Caitlin: a variety of ways to draw and to tell stories, all equally cool, and all available for kids' aspirations. That matters, you know — we want to remember that we convey a lot implicitly to those kid readers along with our more direct subject matter.

I also picked people who had, to my mind, different strengths and different qualities — so that one person's drawing chops would compliment another person's heart, or another person's experimental braininess. That's also going really well.

As for our guest stars — the people who do just one story — well, some of them are friends, or people I've known for a while, or people who've been on panels I've moderated at SPX or whatever. But a lot of them are just people I summoned up the guts to ask. I invited lots of people who said no. But the ones who said yes are a pretty amazing group.

CA: What's the experience been like for you, as editor? Getting all these writers and artists to live within the same worlds?

IC: Some of it is tricky — getting everyone to hit a deadline can be a nail-biter — but actually I've been really lucky in that people have mostly played well together in the process of making Cartozia. I mean, there are some instances where someone missed a point of continuity that I had to catch later — like, forgetting that Wizzix lost his pointy hat in his trip through the Cicilumah Caverns and now only has a skullcap — but really everything has clicked together pretty well.

I think that's mostly because our map-based collaborative method makes it hard for us to contradict each other — as long as we read everything that's come before, each of us is in charge of his or her section for that issue.

CA: Why take this to Kickstarter now, for a reprint?

IC: It's because of a miscalculation or two on my part.

I didn't realize how many copies of the first issue we'd need when I printed it, more than two years ago. Our sales model involves (mostly) selling the whole ten-issue run as a subscription or bundle, and that has made for a pretty steady flow of new capital to print the last few issues — the ones that weren't covered by our first Kickstarter. But I can't sell more bundles because I've run out of issue #1, and I can't print more of issue #1 without raising a few thousand dollars through subscription sales: catch-22.

Kickstarter gives me a way out of this problem. We only need about a hundred new "full bundle" readers to cover the ambitious and awesome version of reprinting the first issue. (We'd need fewer still if we were simply reprinting the same book we initially printed. But to make it worth Kickstarting, I have drawn in some more people to increase the awesomeness.) Those new readers can get the new first issue via pre-order, and that'll keep me from taking on debt just to be able to print the rest of the books.


Dylan Horrocks
Dylan Horrocks


CA: Should you achieve your goal, what new material can readers expect?

IC: It's already got nine stories, plus a map in the center spread, and assorted other one-page or two-page strips. The new version will clean up some of the printing errors in the first issue --- stuff I care about, but most readers wouldn't notice --- and add color to a couple of pages. Most importantly, it will add eight pages of new material by a really amazing cluster of guests — friends and fans of the project who are contributing single-page strips or drawings to make the book that much richer.

The new guests are listed on the Kickstarter page. They're sort of amazing — I'd be just dumbstruck to find an anthology that contained work by all these people, much less working together on the same world:

  • Dylan Meconis
  • C. Spike Trotman
  • Tom Kaczynski
  • Roger Langridge
  • Graham Annable
  • Zander Cannon
  • Chris Schweizer

We also have a new cover artist in mind as a "stretch goal." And if we do really well, I know how much it will cost to print the map in the center in color, too.

It's going to be awesome.

CA: What's the future of Cartozia Tales, following the Kickstarter? Are new stories on the horizon?

IC: I know we're not going to move directly into a second volume right after issue #10. Most of our stories will reach a sort of closure by then, though of course there will be more to discover about Cartozia.

I want to figure out a way to publish a more library-friendly version of this "volume" first — something with a spine, like maybe a three-book set — and I'm hoping that will mean working with a publisher. (I don't have room in my basement for printing & distributing a book version of Cartozia Tales.) For now, though, these comics are the only way to get the stories.

I do have a few ideas for sequels or spin-offs that handle the same world and some of the same characters, in a different format and with fewer collaborators. But let's cross that bridge later. Right now I just have to focus on finishing our ten-issue run without going broke. And because of the way we collaborate, I have no idea how these stories are going to end!


Cartozia Tales will run on Kickstarter until Wednesday 4th November 2015, and is looking for a target of $6,600. To find out more, check out the Kickstarter here!


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