Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Small Favor of Colleen Coover’s Small Press Comics

Staplegator by Colleen Coover
With lighthearted and playful art that portrays a wide range of emotions, Colleen Coover style can seem deceptively simple, but her Eisner Award-winning comics all came from the heart.

“I grew up reading comics,” Coover said. “I basically was reading comics straight out of the womb.”

When she and her older sister were young, they would collect and read the “returned” comics from their grandmother’s five-and-dime store. Before back issues became the norm, stores would remove covers and return them to publishers for refunds, throwing away the comic interiors, but Coover and her sister saved the junked comics from the trash.

“I was a voracious reader as a kid,” Coover said. “I just always naturally wanted to do comics, and I could draw a lot.”

While she initially struggled with the writing aspect of comic creation, she picked up skills when she met her future husband Paul Tobin. While they worked at a comic shop, he would develop his scripting skills while Coover developed her storytelling abilities.

“Once we got together as a couple, we did some short pieces together on a book called ‘Attitude Lad’ that came out from Slave Labor Graphics,” she said. “I’d prefer that people forget it, because it’s really rough.”
"Small Favors"
She also noticed a need in the comic book industry. Women would order adult comics just as men would, from Roman Dirge's “Lenore, the Cute Little Dead Girl” and Jhonen Vasquez's "Johnny the Homicidal Maniac" to more mature fair, but there was no existing “girly porno,” as she put it.

“This was adult entertainment for men to read,” Coover explained. “Women could enjoy it if they wanted, but it was with the understanding that they were peeking into the male gaze. I thought, ‘surely this could be done with women in mind.’”

This realization encouraged her to tell the story of curious Annie and magical Nibbil in “Small Favors,” recently collected and back in print. While she began with an inspiration from male-centric adult comics, the story morphed into a playful romance.

“Just having happy sex and having fun,” she laughed.
"X-Men: First Class Special"
From there, Tobin and Coover created the more family friendly “Banana Sunday,” which will soon be republished in color from Oni Press, and some work for Marvel, including the all-ages book “X-Men: First Class.”

Coover said it was important to her she not be pigeonholed as an “adult comics” artist, but she and Tobin didn’t want to leave the indie scene behind either.

“Together we did an ‘art film’ kind of graphic novel called ‘Gingerbread Girl,’” Coover said. “That was us keeping one foot in the alternate comics genre.”

The couple’s current project is “Bandette,” a love letter of sorts to European comics they both admire.

“We wanted sort of a Nancy Drew with friends kind of character, but we didn’t want to make her a detective, we made her a thief,” Coover said.

While they were unaware of the French heroine Fantômette, they were honored when French readers said the good-natured thief Bandette reminded them of the classic heroine.

“We tried to make the most European comic that americans who don’t speak French could make,” Coover said. “She lives in kind of a not-Paris, and she fights international organizations while helping out the police while helping herself to priceless art and artifacts.”

Coover and Tobin’s “Bandette” stories can be found on ComiXology, but will be printed in hardcover through Dark Horse Comics.

“The great thing about digital publishing is that there’s no overhead,” Coover said. “When I started out way back in the ‘90s, you could sell comics but … you could expect to spend money and not make anything back.”

Coover added she’s excited to be headed to Staple! Independent Media Expo, her first Texas convention in years.