Talking Comics with Tim | Laura Morley on Womanthology
Pretty much since the Womanthology initiative began, Robot 6 has done its best to cover it. A few weeks back, some questions came about how the money raised for the Womanthology project was to be spent and further questions resulted based on the response to the concerns. Rather than stand on the sidelines as the discussion played out, I contacted Womanthology organizers to see if an email interview was possible. Laura Morley, Womanthology’s project administrator, was willing to take my questions. Thanks to Morley for her time, as well as to Michael May, Sean T. Collins and Graeme McMillan for interview prep support.
Tim O’Shea: Laura, how did you come to be involved with Womanthology?
Laura Morley: I’m an aspiring comics writer, and saw the original tweet Renae De Liz sent out in May, seeking women to contribute comics to an anthology for charity. I hadn’t actually crossed paths with Renae back then, and saw the message via someone else’s retweet – I wish I could remember whose, so I could thank them! It’s been an amazing experience for me. Then, since I’m one of those perverse people who gets a kick out of wrangling spreadsheets, I sent an email offering to help out with admin for the project – from that I wound up coordinating the admin effort, which has meant acting as a first point of contact for our contributors and our Kickstarter backers. You can also hear me sounding British on the Womanthology Kickstarter video.
O’Shea: Can you explain how it came to be that there is a hardback anthology and a sketchbook associated with Womanthology?
Morley: Publishing a hardcover volume was the plan from the beginning. The book is going to be pretty hefty – it’s over 300 pages long, on a 9×12 inch format, and we wanted to make something truly elegant that would serve as a good vehicle for the beautiful work inside. The sketchbook came about, I believe, as an opportunity to showcase some more of the work by our creators. Some contributors preferred to draw pinups than full stories, and some wanted to do both; some writers wanted to share samples from their scripts – we thought this would be a good way to get more of it out to the audience it deserves.
O’Shea: How did IDW come to be involved with Womanthology?
Morley: I believe Renae was in touch with some people there via books of hers they’ve published previously; she approached them once the project got under way. We were always keen to attach a major publisher, both to help us get the book distributed widely and to give readers some quality assurance, and we’re very grateful for IDW’s support for the project. Like the rest of us, they’re not making any money off it.
O’Shea: How are editorial duties being divided up on the project–what’s the timeline for the project?
Morley: We have four editors volunteering their time, each handling about 25 writer/artist teams. All scripts were completed and approved in July and pencils were finished last weekend; we have inking, colouring, and lettering work underway right now. We’ll then spend September collating the other material, including interviews and features, and laying out and setting the book. We’re aiming to wrap production at the start of October, so the book can be published in December. The sketchbook should be ready sooner, during the autumn.
O’Shea: This interview would be incomplete if we did not discuss the recent seeming backlash. Have you been surprised at the derision and increasing skepticism that the project has received in recent weeks? Admittedly most criticism acknowledges the planners’ intentions are well-meaning, while at the same time noting that the numbers seem unrealistic.
Morley: I don’t really think it has been derision and increasing skepticism: I think it’s been critical attention, and no, that’s not really a shock, or a bad thing. Of course, some of it’s been rather … full-bodied critical attention, but you’d have to be pretty new to the cut and thrust of the comics internet to be surprised by that. People are entitled to ask questions, and the vast majority have done so respectfully, and out of concerns that are completely laudable (and that, as someone starting out in making comics, I obviously share). I hope we’ve been able to give answers that reflect what we’ve said all along that we’re trying to do– and that underline the point that every single person on the project chose to join it as a volunteer, because we saw in it some reward other than pay. I would like to think that the early success we’ve had – and that’s gone so far beyond what we expected – makes that decision look more like a good one than a bad one.
Morley: Well, I think people are perfectly entitled to comment on the project without having us turn around and essentially demand “If you’re so smart, why don’t YOU tell us how to run it?” We’ll gladly answer questions, and we’re always happy to get offers of help, but cross-examining each of our critics on how they’d do things instead is probably not the best use of anyone’s time right now.
O’Shea: Editing an anthology is no easy task, has the challenge exceeded your initial expectations or was everyone prepared for the level of challenges inherent with a logistical challenge like this project?
Morley: The editorial and logistical challenges, we were pretty well prepared for: most of our editors also do this professionally, and knew what they were in for. That’s not to say it hasn’t been a huge pile of work – as you can imagine, we’re all pulling very long days to fit this around our paying jobs, and since we’re spread over several timezones it’s fair to say that Womanthology’s been a 24/7 juggernaut for the last few months. We’ve been lucky, though, to have such a dedicated group of contributors, who’ve made those tasks infinitely easier than they might have been. (For example, every single team hit their script and pencilling deadlines.)
Of course, the Kickstarter did far exceed our expectations, and came with more work than I think we’d ever dreamed we would hit. One of my best friends inconveniently got married on the second day of the Kickstarter campaign, and at three a.m. on the night of the wedding you could find me hunched over my netbook, clinging to a single bar of wireless signal on the Welsh coast where the wedding was being held, fielding emails from the over 500 backers we got that weekend. Which… no, that’s not how we’d have planned it!
O’Shea: What is organizers’ response to some folks’ concerns that trying to start an imprint makes the project transition more into a business as opposed to just a charity anthology?
Morley: So as we’ve said, whatever we do with the project, it’ll remain non-profit. Right from day one of the Kickstarter (and as described in the Kickstarter FAQs all along), we’d outlined broad plans for what we’d like to do with extra money if we happened to raise it, and that always included trying to launch more projects along similar lines if the money was available. Anything we are able to get off the ground will work along similar lines to what we’ve done on Womanthology.
O’Shea: Have you all been discouraged by the increased critical eye on the project, or did you expect it on some level, given the successful degree to which the Kickstarter effort raised funds beyond initial expectations?
Morley: No, it’s not discouraging at all: as you suggest, when the project took off so far beyond our expectations, it was inevitable that not all of the attention we got would be from people wanting to shower us with kittens and rainbows. That’s normal, and predictable, and has helped us all I think to get a little bit wiser about what working in comics is like.
O’Shea: As noted in this Portland Press Herald piece, while Renae de Liz is based in Portland, you are based in London. How instrumental has social media been in bringing folks together on this project?
Morley: Actually, I’m 50 miles north of London, in even-more-remote Cambridge! But yes, social media’s been instrumental in this. The whole project got started with a single tweet, which is how most of our creators found us. The efforts of the women running our Twitter, Tumblr, DeviantArt, and Facebook accounts were vital to the success of the Kickstarter campaign, and Twitter in particular has been a major vector for people to find out about the project. It would’ve been totally impossible for this to happen so quickly, and on such a global scale, without these tools.