After the terrific success of their first Beyond queer comics anthology, co-editors Sfé Monster and Taneka Stotts have returned to launch Beyond Vol 2, a Kickstarter-funded collection of stories themed around science fiction and fantasy. Beyond features some of the fastest rising stars in both comics writing and penciling, and comes with a driving goal: to bring queer comics stories and storytellers to the forefront, and give them a space where these stories can be told and shared.
The success of the first anthology on Kickstarter has helped spur a succession of other projects which have seen queer comics creatives get to tell their stories — and get paid — including Elements: Fire and Power & Magic, with Stotts and Monster proving to be part of a wider catalyst which is helping bring focus towards new and upcoming talent.
With the second anthology now well past the original funding target — at more than $67,000 in pledges as of publication, from a $45,000 goal — CBR spoke to the editorial team about how this all came together, and what it was that first motivated them to make the project a reality.
CBR: When did you first have the idea for Beyond? What drove you to want to bring this book to life?
Sfé Monster: I had the idea for Beyond back in September 2013. I have always been a fan of the sci-fi and and fantasy genres, but am consistently disappointed by how overwhelmingly cis and straight the majority of genre stories are, so one day I impulsively made a tweet that said something along the lines of “I want to read a collection of queer sci-fi and fantasy comics. Someone should make that anthology so I can be in it.”
The response I got was, “You should make that, Sfé,” and after literally no consideration I agreed that, OK, yeah — I will! Based on that I began putting the idea for the first Beyond anthology together, and through Beyond I met Taneka, and that is how we began working together going into Beyond 2.
What stories are the focus of Beyond? What types of stories did you want to tell, and what kinds of genres or styles are going to appear in the new book?
Monster: Queer characters are the central focus of Beyond, and the stars of their own stories. More than anything the stories in Beyond are a positive celebration of the diversity of gender and sexuality — I wanted the issues and conflicts that the characters encounter in their lives to be about things other than whether or not they would find love, acceptance, validation and happiness. The first volume of Beyond was classic science fiction and fantasy, but for the second volume we’ve gone into post apocalyptic and urban fantasy settings.
Taneka Stotts: When Sfé said Post-Apocalyptic, my mind was like, urban fantasy! I had just come off the heels of editing stories for Elements: Fire, and I wanted to see more fiction written by creators that posed realities that were not constrained to the same status quo of stories that we’re usually allowed to inject into the mainstream. Urban Fantasy is a genre that, to me, our voices and stories have been utilized in, but we have not been given a chance to express ourselves in the same genre. So this one was very important to me.
Who will we see in this second volume — and how did you bring in the various writers and artists who’re joining you this time round?
Monster: The second volume features a few familiar faces from the first volume of Beyond — both Taneka and myself will have our own stories in the anthology, and it was wonderful to work with Reed Black again. We’re also featuring a familiar face in a new role: our incredible cover artist Levi Hastings will be contributing a comic of his own!
Stotts: Being open for submissions (as we are with all volumes) allows us the opportunity to uncover and discover voices that might have gone unheard had we just picked from a line of familiar face. We have seasoned veterans mixed with first-time comic creators, and you know what? It’s fantastic. For me, I want to do what traditional publishing is always excusing themselves from doing by taking the “risky bet,” because we’re actually people with stories to tell.
What kind of approach do you take as editors on a project like this? Do you try to get hands-on, or do you see your role more as curators?
Monster: It’s a mixed bag, and varies from story to story. I am a very hands-on editor, and work with our contributors through each step of the comic-making process. However, because a lot of stories on Beyond are extensions of the creator’s own identity they are already so skilled and have such strong voices, so I like to let the stories speak for themselves. Still, there are also a lot of specific requirements for Beyond, in terms of language and representation, so sometimes you need to go in with an editorial hand to make sure the story we end up with in the anthology is the absolute best it can possibly be.
Stotts: I agree with Sfé. Some people need guidance. Others need the hands-on editor the whole way through. Our contributors have range, which allows us to focus on those who really need us. As editors we have a process and checkpoints the whole way through. From scripts to final pages, we’re with them for the whole process, and we encourage communication if there are any hiccups, because life happens. So I definitely don’t see myself as a curator and I never have, because we care deeply about the end result.
Why was it so important to you to have this be a project which put queer storytellers in the spotlight, and gave them a stage to show off their talents?
Stotts: Why not? We have been denied a voice for so long. Now in a climate where our voices are being commoditized from those who don’t live the experience or care about the end results it’s great for us to say, you know what, maybe don’t, because we’re here to tell our own stories too. It’s great to see unabashedly queer characters take on a role that is no longer the sidekick of the inevitably fridged route so someone can get through some pain or find their own validation. We are the heroes, main characters, and champions of our own reality and so it should be reflected in works that we create.
Monster: I think too often queer characters are relegated to the sidekick and subplot, their identities are parsed into subtext, or worse: their queerness is only depicted in terms of their struggles and failures, and the hardships and difficulty they encounter in their attempts to find love and validation. It’s important for me to create a book like Beyond where love and respect and foundational, and the characters can have a hard time because of a cursed amulet or something, and not struggle because no one in their family will ever accept them for who they are.
The stories of our struggle are important, and reflect a world that is still unkind to us, but it is also important for me to make a book like Beyond where fantasy and sci-fi can mean fantastical escapism for a few pages, and not a world where faeries and dragon exists but homophobia, transphobia and intolerance are still, for whatever reason, foundational to the magical make-believe kingdom.
The first Beyond anthology was a huge success, and this new Kickstarter has already hit its funding target. Clearly there’s a desire for comics about queer characters and lives — but how do you feel the comics industry needs to change in order to bring in readers who didn’t realize they could be represented by comics as a medium?
Monster: I think the best thing we can do in comics is to lead by example. We don’t need to settle for the crumbs of representation we are offered. We can make and tell our own stories, and the industry can catch up to us.
Beyond isn’t the only queer anthology to find success on Kickstarter — the Dates anthology, Power & Magic, The Other Side… there are a lot of stories to tell, and a lot of ways to tell them, and being able to create them on our own terms and demonstrate the power of our voices entirely on our own is the greatest sign of success we can show when we are still so often dismissed as “too niche” or “not relatable enough to be marketable.”
Stotts: The world is changing, queer comics are evolving, but guess what, they’ve always been around. It was by choice or by ignorance that some were not listening or looking for them. We have creators young and old who are still slaying it with storytelling and some are just now being given recognition, while others who have been put on the sidelines are suddenly injected into the mainstream with a vast body of work. It’s an atmosphere that we live in and we respect, so we want to see better and do better for those who exist in it as well.
CWith you having now hit the first target goal, what stretch goals do you have for the book?
Monster: As with the first volume of Beyond, our plans for stretch goals include digital PDFs of more comics, more exclusive mini-art prints, and of course: paying more to our contributing creators.
Stotts: We have a lot of stretch goals planned, but more than anything our artist bonuses are what really make this time amazing! We want to see how far we can push the limits and take it to the highest possible goal for everyone who has joined us in this journey.
What are your hopes for the future of Beyond? I know it’s far away while the current book is still being funded, but could you see future volumes in years to come?
Monster: I have a few ideas for future volumes of Beyond, but I don’t intend for it to last forever. (There won’t be a Beyond 18, is what I mean.) The most exciting thing (for me) to come out of Beyond was the creation of Beyond Press, which Taneka is using to create some really incredible work.
Stotts: With Beyond Press (that we formed after the success of Beyond) we hope to go so much further. I have personally embarked on creating a few new titles: Elements: Fire an anthology by creators of color, and our newly launched Passion Fruit, a queerotica anthology by queer creators.
Our voices are bold, beautiful, and right here, now we implore you to listen.
The Kickstarter for Beyond Vol. 2 will run until June 8, having already hit the funding target of $45,000. To find out more, view the Kickstarter page here.