C. Spike Trotman: Ringmaster of Iron Circus Comics

Both a creator and publisher, C. Spike Trotman has developed a devoted following thanks to "Templar, Arizona," a webcomic about a strange, fictional town and the many characters who inhabit it. As Trotman describes the comic on her website, "This isn't the Arizona you're probably thinking of. This is a different Arizona. This is a slightly irregular Arizona that fell off the back of a truck somewhere, and now all the power outlets are a weird shape and a couple of wars never happened.

"Templar's populated with junkies, fuck-ups, pretty girls, millionaires, hockey teams, weird religions, dumb subcultures, and people in love. So it's a lot like the cities you might already be familiar with, except the air there gives you Miner's Lung and nobody has a cell phone."

Though "Templar" has been on the backburner for the past year, updating only infrequently -- something Trotman profusely apologizes for -- it's become erratic for a reason. The creator has been busy with other projects through her Iron Circus Comics imprint, publishing and editing the anthology "Smut Peddler," and more recently running a Kickstarter for a new horror anthology "The Sleep of Reason." While the campaign has just wrapped up, Trotman was happy to speak to CBR News about the many other projects she has in the works.

CBR News: You've done three Kickstarter projects and the one for the anthology "The Sleep of Reason" is just finishing. What do you like about the site?

C. Spike Trotman: Ha ha -- everything? Like, literally everything?

In all seriousness though, Kickstarter is just the formalization of what webcartoonists have been doing for years. When I published my very first collection of my webcomic, "Templar, Arizona," it was 2007. I stuck a goal meter at the top of my website and hustled for two weeks, calling in favors and begging for plugs and promos from friends. I made about $4,000 in two weeks through Paypal-facilitated pre-orders, and I felt unstoppable.

Kickstarter just centralizes that process. It's one of the few places where a potential audience shows up and says, "Hey, show me your commercial, please. Convince me, I've got my money right here." They clicked the Comics tab, they clicked your project image. They may have never heard of you, but they're still interested in being a customer. "I want to read comics. Convince me I should read yours." Outside of a convention, you'll never have chance at a potential audience, or potential new fans, greater than a Kickstarter project can offer.

And Kickstarter allows creators to opt out, if they so choose, of the publisher submissions process. There's nothing wrong with going with a publisher instead of going it alone -- it's way easier, I'm sure! -- but it's nice for us impatient control freaks with unusual or taboo projects to have that option. 

I really loved your book "Poorcraft." Where did the idea for it come from?

"Poorcraft" was an idea I had for ages. Literally years! I'd always wanted to write the book that I wish someone had handed me the day I went away to college. I know I was hopelessly clueless at 17, and "Poorcraft" is my attempt to alleviate that state in other people. You're gonna mess up when you're out on your own for the first few years, that's inevitable. But "Poorcraft" can help soften the impact. Maybe now, someone's first roommate won't be as awful as my first roomie. maybe someone will pick a more suitable neighborhood to live in because of my suggestions. That's what I'm hoping for.

Recently, the Ventura County School District bought fifty copies of "Porocraft" from me. That rules, that makes me so happy. That was the whole point.

And then there's "Smut Peddler." This was a minicomic anthology that you took over and transformed. 

Thanks in no small part to the original editors of the book! Johanna Draper Carlson and Trisha L. Sebastian! They gave me permission to hijack the name and were the co-editors.

The first "Smut Peddler" was a minicomic, yes, I think it came out in 2003. There were three issues, and then there was a publishing hiatus. I would harass the original "Smut Peddler" participants at cons, asking them when there would be a new issue. I mean, like, ask every time I saw them. Eventually, they said "You do it." I was like, "You sure? Cuz I will." And they were like "Yeah, we'll even help." So, there ya go.

"Smut Peddler" turned out to be an amazing book that everyone involved is super proud of, myself included.

Your latest Kickstarter campaign is for "The Sleep of Reason." What inspired you to start a horror anthology? Are you a big horror fan?

HUGE. I love horror comics, and I don't think they have the big audience they deserve! 

I love comics that inspire dread and disillusionment and disorientation, fear that's about a lack of control and understanding. Fear where the worst part isn't how ugly the monster is or how creatively The Hero dispatches a zombie; to me, gold-medal horror stories don't even get heroes. Charles Burns' "Black Hole, the "Taboo" anthologies edited by Steve Bissette, Junji Ito's "Uzumaki," Emily Carroll's "His Face All Red." Nobody wins there. That's how I like my horror. "The Sleep of Reason" reflects that.

One thing I did want to mention, because I do believe that it bears mentioning, is that contributors to both anthologies get a page rate, and when you exceed the Kickstarter goals, their page rate increases. Why was this important?

I do it for a simple reasons; the first and most important being that artists deserve to be paid for their work. And well. Heck, I wish I could pay more! "I can't pay you, this is comics! There's no money in comics," is a crummy excuse for cheapskates that devalues creatives and their efforts. 

Every once in a while, an article or email makes the rounds online, a tips 'n' tricks summary for 'dealing with creatives' written by some executive. It invariably advises fellow cogs to make sure the artists in their employ are never too appreciated, or make too much money. Because that's the mindset: Convince talented, creative people they're lucky they even get to make a living at it, and they won't make too much noise.

This mindset has a foothold outside the corporate structure, too, because it's a convenient. Screw that.

What future anthology projects are you planning for Iron Circus Comics? I know you mentioned possibly doing another "Smut Peddler" anthology.

Oh, there is defintely gonna be another "Smut Peddler," if it's up to me. All "Smut Peddler" proved is there is a huge, almost completely ignored market for woman-friendly, sex-positive graphic (nyuk nyuk) erotica out there. I don't want to limit it to future Smut Peddlers, either; if I have my way, ICC will start offering graphic novel erotica for women, as well. 100-200 page original stories, published as one-shot books. I really don't think my radar is off on this one. If someone waved a GN in my face that was a sexy, well-written and beautifully-drawn complete story, with lots of context and tension, I'd wrestle a bear for it. A bear.

You got a little heat over requiring that at least one member of each team contributing a story to "Smut Peddler" be a woman, though I think it's hard to argue with the results. If you made another, would you continue that rule?

I would, and I will. It's my book. Anyone who doesn't like my rules can make their own anthology. I'm not a wizard, it's not magic. Lots of people do it.

I really don't have the time of day for people who sulk about SP's submission guidelines. Complaints about inequality fall pretty flat when the crushing majority of all pornography is made and consumed primarily by and for men. And it's not as if men are even banned from SP; they just need to find a woman to team up with.

Permitting male-only creative teams to participate in "Smut Peddler" wouldn't be equality; a step towards equality would be acknowledging the titanic inequality in porn by allowing my tiny anthology its own ladycentric creative space.

You've been working on all these other projects and more, we haven't seen as many "Templar, Arizona" comics. We will be seeing more of "Templar, Arizona" soon?

Oh, God -- I can't even hear or see anyone mention "TAZ" without a tidal wave of guilt. 

"TAZ" has suffered horribly from my divided attention. "Poorcraft 2" is in production, I'm planning a second webcomic, I'm talking to some folks about ICC becoming their publisher in 2014, "The Sleep of Reason" is inching towards the finish line. but "TAZ" isn't dead, despite the fears of some! It'll return in August, but only as a weekly. That sucks, but until I get a LOT faster, it'll have to do.

"TAZ" will always be my baby, and I will finish it. It's the story I've been wanting to tell since I was a kid. DON'T LOSE HOPE, PEOPLE. I APOLOGIZE, I'M AWFUL AND A FLAKE.

Is bringing "Templar" back as a weekly the your plan for the near future? Anything you want to tease people about what we can expect to see in the coming months?

Oooh, man. Man, it's just only gonna get more screwed up. I wouldn't blame anyone for forgetting, but Ben is still bleeding all over the entryway to his apartment building. A junkie's human lapdog just stole his meds, and high-tailed it with a religious cult in pursuit. The whores just declared Cold War on the commies, with plans to conscript a certain lady who dances naked on TV as a mouthpiece. Sunny, who still can't control his temper, is still an arrest away from possible deportation. And, of course, Scip and Ray have decided to skip romance, dating, sex, and marriage, and go straight ahead to deeply embarrassing public bickering. Always fun, because it gives everyone the wrong idea right away. And it's only going to get worse.

Can you tell us a little about "Poorcraft 2." What did you want to include in a second volume?

Me, personally? Editorial direction!

Ha, I'm not writing this one. I'm nowhere near as qualified as the guy who is! Ryan Estrada is the author, because it's about travel!

Poorcraft 2's formal title is "Poorcraft: Wish You Were Here." Diana Nock will be returning as the artist, and she's already 50 pages in on Ryan's script. Barring disaster, expect the Kickstarter pre-order in December!

Ryan's lived in/been to Japan, Canada, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Burma, Cambodia, India, Mexico, Kenya, Tanzania, Laos, Costa Rica, Panama and currently resides in South Korea. And the dude is not a millionaire; he's a cartoonist! He knows about being a cheapskate and still managing to globe-trot. He's a genuine adventurer, and his script covers everything from exchange rates and the best kind of suitcase to living abroad full-time. It's fantastic. If you've ever wanted to, say, backpack through Europe or spend a summer in Brazil, this book is gonna be a lifesaver.  

As far as ramping up ICC and publishing more books, you mentioned pornography, but are there any other fields/genres you feel are under-represented or you'd like to see more of?

Horror. Sociological Sci-fi. Coming-of-age stories with female protagonists. Completely out there and atypical fantasy, stuff that table-flips Tolkien-inspired, boilerplate fantasy out of the way and forges its own path. I've also been weirdly preoccupied with the idea of an art history series of biographical GNs; I'd wanna do the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood first. (then the Florentine Renaissance, then Futurists perhaps). But who knows if anyone would read that? I mean, I would, but I like art history anyway.

I have to ask, you're launching another webcomic? Will you writing and drawing it? Anything you'd like to share about it?

If everything works out, Sarah Dill will be drawing it, and I'll be writing it. The goal, for me, is to hand her a script at the end of August, and launch the comic itself before the end of the year with a big, exciting month of daily updates, settling into thrice-weekly ones after the debut.

It's a sci-fi story; one that I've literally been writing and drawing about since high school. (I even submitted digest-sized minis of it to "Factsheet Five," if that means anything to anyone.) It's about a pair of alien twins who grew up in a low-tech culture, perhaps something on the cusp of Bronze Age, abandoning their native world for space. They return home a few years later, literally wealthy beyond the comprehension of the people they left, and with a few axes to grind.

It's a "You'll see my name in lights, someday!" story, but instead of visiting the high school reunion on a chartered flight from Hollywood, the nerdy kid no one thought would make it has shown up with nanotech and a starship. And he hasn't forgotten that time you shoved him into a locker.

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