What Women Want: A Womanthology Interview

coverWhen editor Renae De Liz (IDW Publishing's The Last Unicorn) set her goal of $25,000 on crowdsourcing website kickstarter.com, she thought it would be a long struggle to achieve and make her dream a reality. To her grateful surprise, comics fandom responded overwhelmingly, donating over $100,000 to the Womanthology project and its associated charity. 

Arriving in stores in late January, Womanthology (AUG118042, $50.00) is Renae’s unique project — an oversized anthology by dozens of women creators funded through Kickstarter and published by IDW Publishing. 

As part of PREVIEWS "Women in Comics" month, Renae De Liz spoke with PREVIEWS about Womanthology, crowdfunding, and women creators in the comics industry.

PREVIEWS (P): Womanthology is unique in several ways. What motivated you to spearhead an anthology of comics from exclusively female creators?

Renae De Liz (RDL): It really was a build up over time. I started noticing on social sites that there were a lot of women interested in comics (and I mean a lot!) but most were scattered and didn't know each other. I noticed a lot didn't know how to take their love of creating comics to the next level from something casual to actually pursuing a career. I thought it would just bet fun to gather together as women in comics and do something fun for a good cause.  Artist Jessica Hickman finally kept saying "Hey, do an all girl Anthology." so finally I sent out a tweet to see if there were any interest. That day I had over 100 interested women. I had absolutely NO idea it would become what it did, or garner so much attention. From there the purpose branched out for me, as I came to realize just how much good a project like this could do in so many different ways.

WOM001-045_Page23P: You've funded the project through Kickstarter.  Why did you decide to use crowdfunding?  What benefits did crowdfunding bring to the project?

RDL: I decided on Kickstarter because I had to gather enough funding to pay for production of the book (as though IDW was kind enough to publish it, being all proceeds for Charity, the funding still needed to be raised). I had heard fantastic things about Kickstarter, and did a huge amount of research prior to develop a campaign that would hopefully have a good shot. I felt it would be a good way for the comics’ community to support women in comics if they were so interested. And boy were they!

P: Your Kickstarter goal was $25,000, and you raised over $100,000.  Did you expect that kind of response?  How gratified were you by the comics’ community's overwhelming response to Womanthology?  Beyond the increase in Womanthology's print run from 1,500 copies to 5,500 copies because of the Kickstarter response, how has the response affected the book? 

RDL: I absolutely did not expect the overwhelming response. We were all buckled down for a long, difficult, month-long climb to $25,000. I had a plan, we had a schedule of when to do things. We were ready to make it happen! However, after 19 hours we made the $25,000 goal and it continued to climb. I cannot convey the extreme shock I was in that first day (and still am actually). All my plans and calculations were out the window, and it suddenly became a struggle to keep up with questions from backers, interviews, and taking care of lining up rewards offered from amazing supporters from all across the comics industry. It was one of the most amazing and most crazy times of my life. I am so very grateful I had Laura Morley (Assistant Project Manager) right there with me. She's been taking care of questions, and handling organization. She's absolutely amazing, so if anyone ever gets a chance too, give her a big thank you!

WOM001-063As for funding, the $100,000 is amazing, however having pre-sold so many copies of the book and other things, a lot of that is for fulfilling the 2,000 rewards that were pledged for. However it has affected the project in positive ways in that it helped keep the book at a large 330+ pages (which is expensive to print) and we can also now print a lot more books, while also getting some into libraries.  I was also able to send out comp copies of the book and sketchbook to contributors, something I really wanted to do from the beginning. There're some other things I hope to do by the end that will help out contributors on the book and more women in comics. It's an "all proceeds for charity" project as it's been since the beginning. So everything done is with that ultimate goal in mind.

P: Womanthology features both establishing and up-and-coming female creators.  How were creators recruited for the project?  Some parts of the book feature unusual creator pairings; how were they matched together, and were you satisfied by the results?  Which creators' work for Womanthology was most surprising to you?

RDL: I wanted to make this project so that level of experience was not an issue, and everyone was accepted.  I feel every level of skill is special and important in its own way, and equally as important to support.  I personally think women (me included) struggle with feeling like we're not good enough. I cannot tell you how many of those initial emails showing interest from the ladies included lines like "I don't think I'm good enough, but..." or “If you don't want me on project I'll understand...". I felt every single person was worth it, and I wanted to show them they were. Each woman was so individual and special in their own way in how they created comics, and I wanted to highlight all of them. In the end we had contributors ranging from age 5 to over age 70. From kids who are just starting out drawing their own characters, to ladies who have been doing comic work for decades. I am entirely happy with the huge range of age and skill we ended up with. 

WOM002-080_Page23As for how people were matched up, I decided it would be best to pair up professional women in comics who were interested, with comics’ creators who were just getting on their feet in the industry. For them, I gave each professional a list of portfolios to look over, and they chose the one they felt they'd like to work with. For the rest of the pairing, some picked their own partners, but in the end artists picked the stories they wanted to work on (as the writers each wrote tag lines of what they had in mind). It was a long process, but I feel it ended up well.

As for most surprising, there were quite a few, and I absolutely love every single thing contributed to the book. However I feel particularly Jean Kang,  Kat Laurange, Stacie Ponder, Tanja Wooten, Caitlyn Vildbrandt, Thalia de la Torre, Ellen Crenshaw, and Meng Zhiang were just a few up and coming artists who astounded me (though again, they ALL did!). Rachel Deering, Joamette Gil and Jody Houser are just a few up-and-coming writers who had great stories. And of course, every single kid/teen contributor wowed me constantly. They each had a level of uniqueness about their work I really enjoyed.

P: How do you see Womanthology fitting into the comics market today? Did you expect it to be a commercial success?

RDL: I honestly had no idea it would be such a success. My goal from the beginning was to create something fun which could help people. I never tried to fit it into the rules of what's marketable and what's not, I only tried to create a project that would mean something to the people involved. I'm often told Womanthology is a book unlike any other, so only time will tell what it will become to the comics industry. The book isn't just an anthology of stories, it's about the passion these ladies have for creating comics, and showcasing each individual who makes up the industry we all love.

WOM002-119P: What was IDW's role in the book?

RDL: IDW is the publisher of the book. I requested a publisher because I really wanted these women to be published in a big way. Everything in the book is creator-owned, and all proceeds are for charity (which is why funding was needed to cover printing costs of the massive book).  

IDW helped with the many details of publishing a large book and getting it distributed worldwide, not to mention lending their name on the book, instantly publishing 170 women by a well known company, and also lending mounds of credibility to the project. Womanthology is an unusual book, so I am intensely thankful to IDW for taking a chance on a new idea to help support women in comics. I truly feel that way of thinking is what will change the comics industry in big ways.

P: Several of the comics news websites have in recent months noted the lack of female creators on books from the major publishers, yet women attend comics conventions in great numbers.  Do you feel there are structural or cultural issues that are inhibiting women from working on major books?

RDL: I personally feel it's a mix of a lot of things. To break it down simply I feel 2 major things are apparent in causing less women creators in comics. 

WOM002-1301.  The types of stories mainly produced now in the largest publishers (I speak mainly about the biggest couple companies as they control most of the comics industry) basically keep women out just by being what it is. The artwork typically sought after is photo realistic (or close to), with perfect technically drawn backgrounds and spot-on anatomy. Women (only generally speaking) do not naturally want to draw that way. We focus on mood, feeling, atmosphere, and draw in more simplistic, rounded styles. This is not what is sought after to hire usually, so many are left out. The publishers are not purposefully doing it, they are only producing what has sold the best before. And in an industry where's it's hard to make money, different styles and story types are not usually taken as they are financial risks. Obviously current types of stories and artwork have their important place in comics, but I feel there's also room for other interpretations. I would like to see our favorite superheroes drawn in softer, more expressive ways without it being labeled a "kids" or "girl" book. Likewise I'd like to see stories written that focus more on the complexities of life and relationships between our favorite superheroes (while still being mixed with the usual awesome action! I don't feel a book should be one or the other) that I feel women can help give whole new perspectives. I truly feel this would be beneficial to not only women in comics, but the publishers as well, as it would bring about that sought-after female audience they've been trying to get a grasp on for so long. 

WOM002-125_Page232. Women in comics need to be more up front! I constantly hear from the large publishers that they only get one, maybe two, submissions from female creators over years! This should not be! I know for a fact that on Womanthology alone, there's a huge love for superheroes. If we want to work in comics, and work on those superhero books, then we need to let these Publishers know our interest en masse and show them what we're capable of doing with their properties. I feel women tend to feel that working hard and doing good work alone will garner them notice, however I feel in comics that's not always the case. The ones that usually get the jobs are professionally outgoing, vocal, and in the forefront with what they want, so we need to work on that.

P: Will a book like Womanthology raise the profile of female creators?

RDL: I hope so! If that was a side effect of the book, it would truly be wonderful. Though I feel the comics industry already appreciates women in comics quite a bit. The huge amount of support shown for Womanthology from Kickstarter, from emails and messages (from both men and women comics readers, publishers, and creators) shows just how much they do want more women in comics.

P: What more needs to be done to level the playing field for female creators?

RDL: Readers need to write to their publishers and let them know they'd like more female creators! Let them know you'd like to branch out in terms of stories and styles!

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