Last year AdHouse Books published their first anthology, "Project: Telstar," dedicated to stories about robots and space. It was an ambitious project that was well received by critics. Not content to rest on their laurels, AdHouse has plans for a follow-up anthology, "Project: Superior." Shipping in February, this 288-page anthology will feature stories with a super hero theme.
AdHouse's Chris Pitzer has pulled together a huge list of independent and mainstream creators for this project, which includes contributions from Nick Abadzis, Graham Annable, Tim Biskup, Jeffrey Brown, J. Chris Campbell, Scott Campbell, John Cassaday, Ronnie del Carmen, Victor Cayro, Martin Cendreda, Tony Consiglio, J. W. Cotter, Farel Dalrymple, Mike Dawson, Doug Fraser, Paul Hornschemeier, James Jean, R. Kikuo Johnson, Nathan Jurevicius, Dean Haspiel, Seonna Hong, John Kerschbaum , Daniel Krall, Jason Lex, John Lucas, Jim Mahfood, Brian Maruca, Tara McPherson, Scott Morse, Bryan Lee O'Malley, Onsmith, Chris Pitzer, Paul Pope, Joel Priddy, Ragnar, Paul Rivoche, Jim Rugg, Jay Ryan, Fermin Solis, Zack Soto, Jeremy Tankard, Jamie Tanner, Rob Ullman, Megan Whitmarsh, & Brian Wood. Whew. CBR News spoke with Chris Pitzer, the editor of "Project: Superior," to learn a bit more about this book.
"When I started 'Project: Telstar,' it was originally about robots, and then space was added later. The same happened with 'Project: Superior.' Originally, it was going to be about comics," Pitzer told CBR News. "Comics about comics. However, I thought that was too vague, so with the urging of Dean Haspiel and Scott Morse, we morphed it into an anthology about super heroes. (All of this falls under my ego-centric masterplan to do at least three AdHouse anthologies that chart my course of fascinations.) Over 45 indy, mainstream, alternative, art-crowd and other creators doing their take on what a hero means to them."
As you can see from the list above, it's an impressive assortment of talent. Pitzer talked about bringing this diverse group together for "Project: Superior."
"At first, I started a list that was my wanting to work with people I hadn't had a chance to work with yet," admitted Pitzer. "Then when Dean and Scott came on as assistant editors, they brought their lists of people they thought would make great super hero comics. We even did a conference call! So after we had a big monster list (did you see there are over 40 people in this book?), we divided it up and started contacting them either by email or at shows. For instance, Scott talked to a bunch of people at [the Alternative Press Expo 2004]. I think I even made up little invites that he could hand out."
While "Project: Telstar's" list of creators may have been dominated by mostly independent cartoonists, "Project: Superior's" line-up of creators run the gamut of relative unknown to mainstream superstar. Pitzer says that wasn't by design, it just worked out that way.
"If we had the space in the book, and they showed interest, and we all like their comics, it was a go," said Pitzer. "In my mind, the benefit to having the mainstreamers in 'Superior' is the possibility that someone will check out 'Superior' because of them. And, if by checking 'Superior' out, they discover some new creators that they like, I'm all types of happy. The same also goes for any other type of artist...from the 'art' crowd to the 'toy' crowd."
While parents never like to say which child is their favorite, when pressed for an answer Pitzer did say that there are a couple of stories in "Project: Superior" that stand out.
"I always worry about questions like these! But to give you an answer, yeah, there are a few that are special," said Pitzer. "Afrodisiac by Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca (aka the "Street Angel" team) was an early surprise. They hit the nail on the head with that story. Almost everyone who sees it, gets a kick out of it. The James Jean story is pretty special, too. I mean, we all know that James can draw like a madman, but he turns in a fantastic story! And the new talent spotlight would have to shine on R. Kikuo Johnson. He's been making great comics here and there, and he wowed me with his 'Thrustman' comic."
You've probably read it a number of times already, but putting together an anthology is one of the more difficult projects an editor or publisher can be involved in. Coordinating writers and artists, keeping them on deadline, etc., it's not an easy job under the best of circumstances. Ask most any editor who has worked on an anthology and they'll tell you that it's hard work, albeit very rewarding.
"Yeah, anthologies are that weird love/hate relationship," said Pitzer. "I mean, I love them for what they are. I grew up reading great anthologies like 'Fly in My Eye,' 'Taboo' and the early 'Drawn and Quarterly.' As far as process and hiccups, we had originally planned to have the book out by this fall, which as you can see, has been bumped back a bit. Things happen, deadlines change, and I find myself juggling different aspects of the book along the way. I hate bugging contributors about when I might be seeing their stories, but I guess that's part of the job.
"One of the other tougher aspects of this book is the production. Dividing the book up into three sections of different color printing proved challenging in both organization and production. Happy moments come when I get to see the gems that are sent in. Nothing like seeing a newborn comic from a talented creator."
As Pitzer pointed out, "Project: Superior" boasts not only a diverse group of creators, but also a unique approach to production.
"At some point, I thought it would be a neat thing to print 'Superior' in different sections of color, dedicated to the printing process and earlier super hero costumes. So, one section would be black
and red (or magenta), another black and blue (cyan) and so on. So, once everything started to solidify a bit more, I organized it into thirds: black/blue, black/red and four color. Then you have to think about the signatures (groups of pages printed at one time, in this case 32 pages). It's more cost effective to print a signature in one of these color groupings. So, not only do I have the organization of bringing in each creator's story, but then I have to nail them down on their page count, and make it work within the self-imposed puzzle that is a combination of three processes of printing. Fun, fun, fun!"
With one anthology under his wing, one might expect that the second time around would be smooth sailing. Not exactly.
"You would think the second time around would be easier, but that's not always the case," admitted Pitzer. "With 'Superior,' we've almost doubled the page count! So, while some aspects have streamlined a bit, that gets offset by the amount of pages and creators involved. It's all fun, though. And, in regards to lessons, the only thing I can think of off the top of my head is our not doing a travelling art show with 'Superior.' While I really liked the concept, they're kind of cost prohibitive."
Just one of the contributors to "Project: Superior" is cartoonist J. Chris Campbell. Campbell was very impressed by "Project: Telstar," but wasn't a part of that first anthology. Felling like he missed out, in the story he crafted for "Project: Superior" he decided his story would include both super heroes as well as robots. "That's where I started," said Campbell. "A mad scientist would have all these
cool robots to defend him against whoever tried to stop his evil plan. Which was to rid the world of pollen. It's called 'The Pollen Predicament,' and yes, I have really bad allergies.
"I found out it was going to be in the red section of the book and decided to make the hero's costume red. Then I started thinking about what kind of super hero would have a red suit. So using my highly powered intellectual reasoning I figured, 'Hey apples are red.' The next thing I knew the Apple Dumpler was born and with his 'Juice of Justice' he thwarts the plans of evil scientists everywhere."
Campbell bought "Project: Telstar" off the stands and was blown away by the design of the book. So, he sent some of his mini-comics to Pitzer just to say thanks and to make an introduction.
"So, later that year I went to SPX and was able to corner him and force him to listen to me ramble on about nothing for hours," said Campbell. "He's a nice guy so there was nothing he could do about it except stand there. His only defense was to get lost in the crowd and hope I wouldn't find him. Which he later did with great success, I didn't see him again until this year. He came down to Charlotte for the Heroes Convention and I got to hang with him some more. As much as I can figure he has a super power that allows him to tolerate total idiots for an extended amount of time and for that I'm extremely grateful."
That introduction gave way to a working relationship. In addition to his "Project: Superior: contribution, Campbell has a new series coming from AdHouse next July called "Zig Zag."
"'Zig Zag' will be an ongoing series that will mainly deal with The Attic Bugs," said Campbell. "A story about two bugs and their everyday life in a setting that's more like a surreal miniature of our world than a bug world. The rest of the book will be smaller stories about whatever pops into my head that issue. For example, a character named Uncle Jabby will appear in issue two. As the name might imply, he is constantly stabbing his nephew with a knife. It's all real topnotch humor with a punch. I can't give you too much else about it right now, but it's going to be the smash hit of 2005 and I don't want to spoil the surprise. Mostly because I'm still ironing out all the details and this is really the most I've ever written about it, but don't tell Pitzer that."
The 32 year old Campbell calls Greenville, South Carolina his home where for the past eight years he's worked in the graphic arts field as a newspaper designer, illustrator, graphic designer and freelancer. In 2000 he started doing a comic strip for the local alternative news weekly, eventually moving on to making his own mini-comics.
"I've collected and read comics for a long time, excluding a period of time during the early 90's when they stopped making comics, well at least good ones," said Campbell. "Thankfully, that's around the time when I got turned on to the neater, more artsy underground and alternative stuff. When I finally started going back to big conventions I ran across Chris Staros and Top Shelf and that's when everything really changed for me. I had never seen such cool books and mini comics. I was addicted to mini comics and that's the main reason I started doing 'Wide Awake.' It's a comic/zine anthology of artists from South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia. Mainly people from Greenville that I grew up with.
"All the Wide Awake books are very hands on. They have screen printed covers and we assembled most of them ourselves. Number five is the last one and it has a three-color cover of a big foot. It has scratch and sniff toenails that were hand cut and applied by most of the same people who have work in the book. They were all cursing me, but for some reason happily applied all 2500 toenails. They are the best and I still owe them big time. I've got a few still available at www.wideawakepress.com."
In addition to producing comics, Campbell's had a hand in producing something a bit more personal - a newborn baby boy. Campbell and his wife welcomed their first child this past October.
"Man, I've got to tell you and anyone that's reading this thing, if you plan on having a kid then you better clear your plate beforehand. It's a full time job for 2 people," said Campbell. "His name is Foster and I think he eats and poops at least 809 times a day and twice as much at night. I took out a home equity loan to pay for the millions of diapers he's going to be using over the next few years. Luckily we've had a lot of help with our families or I wouldn't be able to get anything done. I have noticed that the lack of sleep really does help the creative process. Or at least it helps in making you think you're being more creative. Either way I'm a genius."
Look for "Project: Superior" from AdHouse Books in comics shops February, 2004.