Cartozia Tales’ Editor Isaac Cates
Swords, Sorcery, and Indie Comics Sensibilities Wrapped Up in True All-ages Fantasy Anthology
Aug 22, 2013 Web Exclusive
At its simplest, Cartozia Tales is an anthology of fantasy stories created by independent cartoonists. Which, generally speaking, is enough to get my vote (such as Elf World, another project of a similar vein).
At its most complex, Cartozia Tales is a "mapjam," or "a collaborative, serialized experiment in world-building," requiring an editorial vision and participant cohesion beyond most anthology titles. It's a case where the imaginations of many are more than the sum of the parts. That may be part of the straw stirring the drink in Cartozia Tales issue 1, which I described to series editor Isaac Cates as an "an irresistible appetizer" because the first issue is wholly enjoyable, but damn it, we need more.
Cates and his co-creators on the project are seeking to do just that via Kickstarter, with pledge prizes aplenty sweetening their effort to raise funds for a 10-issue run.
The "core creators," in addition to Cates, are Sarah Becan, Lucy Bellwood, Shawn Cheng, Lupi McGinty, Tom Motley, and Jen Vaughn. There are also guests on each issue, such as Dylan Horrocks and Jon Lewis in issue 1, Adam Koford and Kochalka in issue 2, and Kevin Cannon, creator behind Crater XV—my book of the year thus far—is slated to be in issue 3.
Cates took some time out of his schedule to discuss the group's goals, both artistic and fundraising.
Jeremy Nisen (Under the Radar): What's your background in creating in comics? How did Cartozia Tales get started?
Isaac Cates: I started drawing comics in 2001 when I taught my first college-level course on the graphic novel. I knew I'd be able to understand the cartoonists' decisions better if I'd tried making comics myself. My friend Mike Wenthe and I started collaborating on Satisfactory Comics, and I sort of caught the bug. The first time I tried this sort of geographical collaboration was several years ago, and we only made it to the second issue because it was too hard for anyone (myself included) to prioritize a strange experiment over their own work. You can see a description of that project if you search the Satisfactory Comics blog for "mapjam." [ed.: or just click this here link]
About a year ago, after doing a couple of serious weekly drawing projects, I started thinking about doing some collaborative work in small doses, and thinking about how to make a new version of the "mapjam" work better. (Money was part of the trick.) I have always enjoyed working collaboratively (I did a lot of theater in high school and college), and I'm pretty good at organizing things. I was also noticing that there seemed to be a real need for more fun all-ages adventure stories—a comic you could put into the hands of anyone who liked Harry Potter or Bone. And then I got overwhelmed with this idea and spent six months gathering my team, then six more months imagining the world with them.
Why fantasy? Why a shared world?
Why fantasy? Well, I wanted the book and the world to be able to include some pretty big flights of imagination, and to be able to accommodate drastic shifts of setting from one place to another. I think the fantasy genre is fun. I also think it needs to be examined and questioned by anyone who is working in it—any genre does. But when I was a kid, books like the Oz and Xanth books attracted me because I wanted to enter into their worlds and learn all about them. That's sort of what I want to offer to our kid readers: a world to enter, imaginatively, and explore.
Can you share a little detail on the "team gathering" and how you all collaborated on imagining the world, and from such diverse geographies?
Gathering the team really did feel (for me) like the first act of Seven Samurai or The Magnificent Seven: I was looking for people I knew I could trust, who would be interested in the project, bring it the right sensibility, and not duplicate too much of what I'd already lined up. Some of the core group are people I've known for a long time—Shawn was a student of mine in the fall of 2001, and I've been in touch with Tom for at least a decade—and others are more recently met (I recruited Lucy based on reading a few of her minis, and I still haven't met her face-to-face). When the last couple of team members said yes, I realized we were really going to do this thing, and it felt like a small triumph to have put the band together. After that point, we started communicating by email and in some immense Google Docs about the creatures and people of Cartozia. I collected names for the map, then drew up a couple of continents that seemed to make sense in terms of geology, trade winds, and so forth. Even from the really early stages I could see that we were all responding really well to each other's imaginations, which was thrilling.
What's the process for grabbing guest stars?
Guest stars have come in by a variety of paths. Some of them are friends of mine (I've known Jon for almost as long as I've been drawing comics); some are people I've approached timidly who have still said yes. I try to recruit people who I think will bring some of their own vision to the project, while still working generously with the plots and characters we've already got in play. We've got almost eight issues' worth of guest stars figured out; I have my sights set on one or two other people who haven't quite confirmed yet.
Speaking of collaboration, how does your own collaboration with Mike Wenthe work logistically?
Mike and I are collaborating on our stories by whatever means will work. If we can contrive to be in the same town at the same time, we try to work at the same table; otherwise, we pass Google docs and scanned pencils and whatever else back and forth electronically. We're used to working together; even when we're essentially working solo we feel like we're collaborating with the other guy.
Back to project goals: I imagine that the map can never be fully explored, but is there some quantified story goal for the to-be-Kickstarted 10-issue run? Any plans to publish a complete volume once the 10-issue run is complete?
I think we're going to use the ninth and tenth issues to try to draw the plots (or at least the major plots, as they emerge) to a close. I'd like to feel like there's enough closure after 10 issues that we could collect it into a (400+ page) book. Maybe we can get a publisher interested in it; that would be nice. I'd also be willing to explore self-publishing that collection. And I'd be very happy if the subscribers were engaged enough that we wound up going into a second year, but I'd still prefer "volume 1" to have a sense of closure.
I think you guys really nailed the all-ages aspect in issue 1—is there a challenge in writing/creating toward such an audience? What about all-ages marketing (which to me seems the greater challenge)?
I think that writing for all-ages is a lot easier than it might seem. Basically, we just try to think of stories that have a real plot, driven by the desires of characters who have a certain degree of complexity—in other words, exactly the stuff you'd see in grown-up plots and characters. I don't think kid readers like being condescended to. When I was a kid, I learned a lot of words for the first time because I saw them in the books I was reading; I read stories with some pretty high stakes for the protagonists. There just wasn't any explicit sex or unsettling violence or cussing in the stories.
I loved A Wrinkle in Time when I was a kid. I used that book, to an extent, when I was thinking about the character and the stakes in "Lost in the Footprint." I wanted Minnaig to have a real reason to want to find her father, and I wanted her danger with the constrictor orchid to feel like real danger. I don't think that story is written for a seven-year-old—maybe a reader older than that?—but I wouldn't feel anxious about reading it to my own kid, who is a lot younger.
I'd really love to get this comic into the hands of some parents who would not normally pick up a comic as reading material for their kids. I think it's got the potential to charm a lot of kids who would find most comics ugly or confusing or harsh. A few of our readers have sent pictures of themselves reading the book with their kids, which I think is great—I want it to appeal to multiple generations of readers. But most of those backers are already comics fans. Will we find our audience? I really hope so.
We do too—Isaac, thank you for your time and best of luck on the Kickstarter funding project.