Thursday, February 11, 2016

Interview with Spike Trotman

C. Spike Trotman was born in DC, grew up in MD, and lives in IL. She runs Iron Circus Comics, Chicago’s largest comics publisher, and is responsible for Poorcraft, The Sleep of Reason, New World, the Smut Peddler series, and the webcomic Templar, Arizona.

A Kickstarter early adopter, her projects have raised nearly half a million dollars in funding and earned multiple awards. Her achievements are just of few of many like it in the independent publishing world, a world reinvigorated by online comics, diversifying audiences, increased access and crowdfunding. In case you couldn’t tell, she’s a big fan of where things are going. She talks a lot, thinks a lot, means well, and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
Our thanks to Ms. Trotman for taking time to speak with us!

In 10 years, you've gone from starting your first webcomic, Templar, Arizona, to being able to call yourself "Chicago's largest comics publisher." What drove you to expand from being a cartoonist to also become a publisher of others' work?

A few things, really. But the most persuasive reasons were probably a combination of wanting to help other cartoonists like myself, folks who were producing the kind of comics I wanted to read but didn't necessarily have the time or inclination to deal with the administrative side of self-publishing, and just plain not seeing on enough of the kind of comics I wanted to read in the world. This isn't a slam against other publishers, far from it. But all publishers, major league and small press alike, have finite budgets and editorial preferences. And I decided to stop wishing a publisher somewhere out there would publish books to my taste and just MAKE one.

Your Iron Circus Comics pioneered the practice of including bonuses for the creators involved in your Kickstarter projects. The current Smut Peddler Double Header Kickstarter (note: as you might imagine, this link may be NSFW) upped the ante by putting the bonus into an increased page rate instead of a flat rate per participant. What made you decide to try this model?

Well, I'm all about being fair, and artists on the projects I organize being rewarded in accordance with how much work they put in seems to be the fairest, most equitable way to go about things. Frankly, the way I structured the previous bonuses simply didn't take into account how much some a Smut Peddler Kickstarter could make, and while I love paying my participants, paying folks more if they DID more is the superior approach. 

Since this Kickstarter has been such a success, how does it feel to be able to pay the creators what will be a very competitive page rate for indie comics? (At this writing, $105 per page and rising!) Do you think other crowdfunded comics will follow your example?

I love it, I'm thrilled! And if I can set an example for others to follow, do things they maybe haven't thought of doing and prove they're viable, that's just icing on the cake. It's ridiculous that professional comic projects—high-budget, high profile, for-profit webcomic and anthology projects—can get away with payment-optional models. It genuinely disgusts me. Artists and writers are why comics get to exist at all, and too often, they're exploited. "Aren't you lucky to work on this project? Isn't it a privilege? Won't it be great exposure?" Ech. This is something I harp on constantly because I know what it's like to be undervalued and ripped off and told I should love it, this is just the way things are. I never want anyone who works for me to feel that way.

Your next project, writing and drawing Black Pearl: The Graphic Life of Josephine Baker, was announced recently. What drew you to tell Josephine Baker's story?

It was a happy accident, actually! I've been a fan of Baker since college. I tell people I had a poster of her on my dorm room wall, but that's not accurate; I had a poster of her leaning against my dorm room wall, still shrink-wrapped to its cardboard backing, because I didn't want to ruin it by removing it from its packaging and pinning it up. THAT'S how I felt about her. I loved the idea of a woman who told an entire nation to kiss her ass and sought her fortune thousands of miles abroad. (I'll admit, I had the pop-culture, detail-light perception of her life back then.) And then, twenty years later, First Second wrote me and asked me if I might be interested in working on a biography about her! Luck and being in the right place at the right time played a big part. I'd made it clear in the past that I'd love to work with First Second, and they just happened to propose a project I felt REALLY strongly about!

Since Black Pearl will not be specifically erotica, do you hope it will be carried by more mainstream comic shops and bookstores that might shy away from carrying Smut Peddler, for instance?

Oh sure, obviously! That's the big advantage of publishing with someone else, isn't it? The resources they can bring to the table. Someone else to handle promotion, distribution, printing, pre-press. It'll be an adventure, for me! And while non-pornographic work is nothing new, non-pornographic work someone else will be handling the nuts-and-bolts aspects for is. I'm kinda excited to see how a big-deal publisher takes care of its creatives. I mean, do I get a book tour? I've never had one of those. That would be nice!

This is your first time as a guest at STAPLE!, but not your first trip to Austin. Is there anything you're particularly looking forward to while you're in town (other than the con itself)?

Ha, is it shallow to say "friends and food?" I have a few pals in and around Austin, like cartoonists E.K. Weaver, and since she's a local, she knows all the good places to eat. Last time she took me to an amazing ramen place, I'm hoping for a repeat performance!

Annie Bulloch is co-owner of 8th Dimension Comics & Games in Houston, Texas, and a contributor to Women Write About Comics. "She's also totally awesome!", declares Uncle Staple. 

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