The Editors of ‘Ladies Night’ Invite you to ‘Eat It Up’ [Back Pages]
Ladies' Night is a comics book club for women that grew into a collective determined to make their own comics. That vision was realized in the form of a series of anthologies, with three volumes currently in print. Now the fourth Ladies' Night anthology is raising money on Kickstarter. The project is a huge undertaking, and one that has built up a dedicated and passionate following. Back Pages spoke to editors Lauren Burke, Megan Byrd, Summer Sparacin and Caitlin Rosberg about what to expect from volume four, "Eat it Up!"
ComicsAlliance: What was the genesis of Ladies' Night? When did it first set up, and how has it developed?
Lauren Burke: Inspired by the Ladies’ Night at Strange Adventures in Halifax, Hannah K. Chapman founded our monthly Ladies’ Night at Graham Crackers Comics in early 2012. It was primarily a discussion group that featured guest speakers. When she left to go back to England, and run Comic Book Slumber Party, Megan Byrd took over the reigns.
Ladies’ Night formed just after Womanthology debuted, and attracted loads of local creators, so the idea to create our own anthology formed organically.
Megan Byrd: I was a full-time retail employee of Graham Crackers Comics when Ladies’ Night started, and was thrilled when Hannah came to our store with the proposal for Ladies’ Night, especially knowing how many women were shopping at the store. There was a community there already, it was just a matter of bringing us all together, and for that we are eternally grateful to Hannah.
Lauren is being modest as well; she was a contributor to Womanthology! Her knowledge and experience with that anthology, as well as being a webcomic creator on P.I. Jane, really helped give us the courage to start our own book.
The rest of our editorial team brought their unique expertise to the table, Summer being experienced in online community management as an organizer of Geek Girl Pen Pal Club, and Caitlin Rosberg is an accomplished project manager, numbers monkey, and all around geek queen to boot.
CA: What made you want to create this collective, where female creatives can get together to make new works?
LB: When I started working on comics about 10 years ago, the scene was very different. As a woman, a writer, and someone who gravitated more toward indie comics than the "Big Two," I struggled to find a community, mentors, and collaborators. Ladies’ Night offers that support to emerging creators and fans alike. You don’t have to have read every issue of Detective Comics to come talk Batman with us, and you don’t need to have years of experience under your belt to make comics with us. You just need to have passion and enthusiasm.
Summer Sparacin: I contributed to the first two anthologies as a writer before joining the team as an editor. As a fan, I’d always enjoyed reading comics, but I had never thought about writing comics before. The anthology gave me a safe space to explore writing in a new medium for the first time. My artists and editors were able to provide constructive feedback that was invaluable.
CA: The fourth anthology is called Eat It Up. Does it have a particular theme relating to food, or is it a collection of stories about any and everything?
MB: Every year, we try to pick a theme that will be intriguing for readers but also broad enough for creators to be inspired to bring a variety of interpretations. The more specific it is, the more likely we are to see similar story pitches and genres. With Eat It Up, we requested story and art pitches featuring “all the things you crave and consume,” so it was really up to the creators if they wanted to explore food, sex, love, hobbies, anything you want to consume. Most of the pitches we received were food centric, but many of the stories are driven by other desires, or a combination of indulgences.
SS: Many of the stories also explore what it feels like when you are prevented --- whether by courage, distance, society, or even allergies --- from consuming those things you so desperately want. I’m always impressed with how we receive such a wide range of stories from the same prompt.
CA: How did you find people to join you for the anthology? Who are some of the people involved with the project?
Caitlin Rosberg: We post announcements calling for pitches every year around the same time in December and January. There are a slew of groups on Facebook and forums where people post about opportunities to participate in different projects, so it’s pretty easy to spread the word. The really great part is that now we have alums from previous volumes who help in our recruiting efforts, and we’ve built a reputation that helps attract really great, talented women to the anthology.
In the past we’ve had talents like Anissa Espinosa (Bee and Puppycat, Beyond Anthology), Brittany Peer (TMNT: Casey & April), Kat Leyh (Supercakes, Lumberjanes), Monica Ras (Touching Evil, The World Ends With Us), and Shawnee & Shawnelle Gibbs (The Invention of E. J. Whitaker).
For Eat It Up, we’ve got a really impressive roster of 19 women involved. Jenn St-Onge did our cover and is also doing a variant for Betty & Veronica #1, Suzanne Walker is the co-creator of the webcomic Mooncakes, Al Rosenberg contributes to Women Write About Comics, Kata Kane created the comic Altar Girl, Katy Rex has contributed to comics like Strange Wit and wrote the recently released Jade Street Protection Services, Becca Hillburn created art for the Bravest Warriors: The Search for Catbug book... we could probably spend the rest of the interview just telling you about the amazing stuff all these women are working on.
MB: Seeing our creators go on to bigger projects is one of the most rewarding aspects of being an editor of the anthology. Hearing that someone is too busy to submit again is the best thing we can hope for.
CA: Did you find that it was difficult to get people to submit pitches to you --- or was it actually the opposite, that you had way more submissions than you were expecting?
CR: The first year, we personally knew most of the people who participated. But since then we’ve grown to the point that we consistently get three times as many people sending us pitches as we can fit into the book. There are two things that makes Ladies’ Night Anthology pretty unique and appealing to people: first, we explicitly and intentionally ask for newcomers. We really do want people who have never created a comic, or never collaborated, to come to us. A lot of what we do is education, and the editors are there to help every step of the way.
Secondly, we ask for artists and writers to pitch us separately. Most anthologies expect a team to show up fully formed, or for people to be able to both write and draw. Because we pair people up ourselves, taking into account style and story, we tend to get a lot of people who might otherwise hesitated to pitch an anthology coming to us for their first experience. We’ve had participants go on to form long-lasting creative partnerships after they were first introduced through an LNA assignment, which is really great!
MB: The number of comic anthologies, specifically catering to women-identifying individuals, has really grown in the last five years. We understand that in order to maintain the interest of emerging creators, we have to offer something unique. Our anthology is designed to give an experience close to what creators would have making comics for a publisher, but with a lot of support along the way. That means we give editorial feedback at every stage of production, and have set deadlines for each task as well. We ask for story outlines, script drafts, and character descriptions from the writers, and artists are asked to submit character sketches, thumbnails, pencils, final art and lettering.
And we really encourage everyone to be communicative throughout the process; it’s not a relay race, no one hands off their work and waits for the next person to finish. We host creator workshops for every anthology as well; this year Mike Norton was our guest mentor and everyone was really excited to get direct feedback on their comics from a working professional. We hope that after completing their submissions, creators have a project they can present from start to finish to future collaborators and editors.
So even our more experienced creators that make their own comics, but have never created sequential comics with another creator, get to learn something new from the process.
CA: Having put together four anthologies at this point, what advice would you give for anybody else who might be looking to set up their first project?
MB: Knowing what you want to bring to the marketplace is a good start, and then accept any help from others willing to make that goal a reality. And don’t be afraid to fail! Something will inevitably go off course, but there are plenty of people out there willing to offer advice if you run into issues. As the community of comic creators becomes larger and more interactive, so does the number of individuals doing self-publishing as well. If anyone came to Ladies’ Night and asked how to start their own anthology or collective, we’d happily answer questions! We’ve even presented panels at conventions on how to group self-publish, and how to organize inclusive events.
CA: Why take the anthology to Kickstarter this time round?
CR: There were two main reasons for switching to Kickstarter for volume four, both of them sort of boring --- they’re all about practicality. First of all, Kickstarter handles the back end of sending out messages and managing supporter responses differently, and makes shipping a lot easier to handle, so from a purely selfish point of view it requires a little less effort for us to get things sent out.
On the front end, Kickstarter also does a better job of helping to spread the word to people who may not have heard of Ladies’ Night Anthology before. We’re trying to raise over 300% more money than in years past because we need to get reprints of our previous volumes, and Kickstarter uses a bunch of different methods to automatically help attract new supporters to our campaign. We’re competing with a lot of other great anthologies for people’s attention and money, so we know that the more people who see us, the more successful we’ll be.
CA: What stage are you at with the final book? How much has already been completed?
MB: At this point, a few of the stories are still being lettered, but the final art is complete. We will be featuring preview artwork on our social media throughout the remainder of the Kickstarter campaign.
SS: My favorite part of the process is when the four of us get together to look over the finished pieces and create the final book layout. It’s such a rewarding and exciting moment to see the anthology finally come together.
CA: If you achieve your goal, what’s your estimated delivery on the final project?
CR: We’re targeting October to get everything into people’s hands. One of the benefits of having done this four times before is that we’ve got it pretty much down to a science. Three of our four editors have been in that role since the first volume and the final editor has been involved since the beginning too, though previously as a writer. We know the best ways to set up our shipping and we’ve got relationships with vendors already, so we run like a well-oiled machine.
CA: And outside of the Kickstarter, what can we expect from Ladies' Night Anthology going forward? Do you have further projects and events lined up?
LB: So. Many. Projects. And I’m sorry to say that most of them are top secret at the moment! I will say this, however, 2017 is going to be a great year for LNA. Not only do we have some extra special events in the works, but we’ll also drop our fifth volume, and we have big plans for this book!
Until then, we will carry on with our monthly discussion group at Graham Cracker Comics. We also have some secondary events planned like a Drink ‘n Draw later this month, and a party at Third Coast Comics in August. This fall, we hope to host a workshop series for LNA Alum, connecting them with industry professionals to help further their skills and connections. This is definitely something we’d like to expand into a retreat or mini-con next year for all, if we make our stretch goals for our campaign.
MB: Our community of contributors and readers are growing every year, so really the next step is utilizing the connections we’ve made to bring more opportunities to our creators. I wish we could talk more about what that looks like, but as Lauren said, we have to keep things under wraps until things are finalized. When we do have details, we’ll be sure to let you all know!
The Ladies' Night Anthology will run on Kickstarter until Saturday 13 August 2016, looking for a funding target of $7,000. You can find the project here!