C. Spike Trotman started Iron Circus Comics 10 years ago as a self-publishing imprint when she was making the webcomic Templar, Arizona. She’s since expanded, putting out books of her own (Poorcraft), along with editing and publishing anthologies ranging from erotica (Smut Peddler) to horror (Sleep of Reason) to science fiction (New World).
This past year was the biggest yet for Trotman and the Chicago-based Iron Circus. The company now has a book distributor and is making inroads into bookstores and other venues. Iron Circus has published a number of great books like Letters for Lucardo, Yes, Roya, As the Crow Flies: Volume One and the upcoming Crossplay, and collectively Trotman has raised more than one million dollars on Kickstarter.
The list of people in comics who are both talented creators, insightful editors and savvy businesspeople is very short, but Trotman is on it, and, as made clear in her conversation with CBR, she isn’t slowing down.
CBR: One reason we wanted to talk is that over the past few years you’ve Kickstarted books and you’ve collectively raised more than one million dollars. Which is a big deal. And the big reason of how you got there is that The Complete Girls with Slingshots has been a really big deal. Although, I’m sure you expected it to be a big deal.
C. Spike Trotman: I knew it was going to be big; I didn’t know it was going to be over a quarter million dollars big. I had my fingers crossed for $200,000, and it just blew completely past that.
You’ve put out a lot of books and you spend time on the production, on taking care of creators, but this is a bigger project for a number of reasons.
It’s something I feel like I’m more prepared for than I ever have been before. It’s a definite step up for the company. We’ve put together some pretty fat anthologies. We’ve put out a 360-page anthology before, but this doubles that. It’s not just an anthology, it has a slipcase. We’re talking about will it be fabric covered or faux-leather covered. It’s going to be full color and sumptuous and the final send off for a beloved project. A lot of care is being put into pre-production. This is not for the person who has a half hour to kill before they head home from their trip to the city and wander into a comic shop. It’s for people who know and love Danielle [Corsetto] and know and love her work and they want something that will last forever, essentially.
Outside of how much you raised for the project, this past year felt like you leveling up in a few different ways.
Very much so. Getting distribution for the first time is such a big deal. It has opened my eyes to traditional publishing because I have no training when it comes to running a publisher. Everything I learned I learned in the trenches. [Laughs] I had no clue about basic publisher stuff because I was very internet focused when it came to promotion and pre-sales. Now I’m being on-boarded to a distributor that’s a division of Ingram called Consortium, and they’re turning me onto things like Netgalley and Edelweiss and galley boxes that are sent to sellers. How every sales rep needs a copy of the book, and if you can’t get them a copy you get them a black-and-white galley and if you can’t get them that you get them a blad, and if you can’t get them that you get them a pdf. How it’s really important to build certain relationships and go to conferences.
I was utterly clueless about that a year ago, because that was completely outside my experience. My experience was comic cons, selling directly to consumers, selling online through Amazon and comiXology and my own personal store. I’m going to change a lot of the ways I do things. I’ve had to reprint three books this year alone. What used to be a big run for me is clearly not that big anymore.
Consortium has been great about walking me through this. One of the things they told me was that in the first year there are no dumb questions, so if there’s something you can’t figure out, just let us know. I’m really going into 2018.
Besides that you have books coming out like the collection of another beloved webcomic, As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman.
I love As the Crow Flies. Melanie draws like no one else in comics right now, and they are making a storyline like no one else in comics right now. I fantasize about some kid in a library seeing this on the shelf. A lot of times that’s my end goal for a lot of what I publish. I want the kid in the library -- that I once was -- to see this stuff on the shelves and be like, "Oh." To have that not necessarily be their first experience with comics, although that would be pretty cool, but a foundational experience in comics.
The first time they see something like that. The first time they see someone like them.
Exactly. Which is why I put what I put on the cover of my books. For that exact reason. I love the covers of a lot of my books because they’re of people who aren’t often represented in what we weirdly call the mainstream of comics.
You started out just self-publishing and then you moved into anthologies and some reprints, and now with As the Crow Flies and Girls with Slingshots, and other projects, you’re doing more.
Very much so. I love anthologies because I’m terrified of descending into fogeydom, for lack of a better term. It’s very natural in comics for people to keep to their peer group. The people you came up with who are your friends are the people you go to for every project you dream up. They’re all within 10-15 years of one another. You were nothing together and now you’re something together, so you hold each other’s hands and help each other out. I like doing that, but I never want to be ignorant as to the crowd that graduated school two years ago and are now paying their dues in artists alley and on Tumblr and on Twitter. Anthologies are an amazing way to find creators I have never heard of because they’re outside my social circle, but they’re amazing .
Comics is art and art in a lot of cases is ego. A lot of people have very fossilized ideas of the industry. Not necessarily how it works, but how they think it should work. There are attempts to freeze people out, but fortunately a lot of these attempts are hilariously besides the point. They close ranks around a subgenre of comics that no one’s really that interested in entering anyway. It’s like throwing yourself over your garbage can and going, no, you can’t have it. OK. That’s fine.
As part of that you have open submissions for your anthologies, and Iron Circus Press has open submissions for books.
I’ve found some great books via open submissions. Letters for Lucardo is a book I got through open submissions and it’s amazing. There are a few other books in the works that I’m really excited for that were just stories people brought me.
I also wanted to ask about Yes, Roya, which is the graphic novel you wrote that came out earlier in the year.
It is about a femdom threesome in 1960’s California. And it stars cartoonists. [Laughs] It’s partially inspired by the origin story of Wonder Woman, which a lot of people are more aware of these days thanks to the biopic Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. Yes, Roya was partially inspired by that and it is about cartoonists who live in a poly relationship in the '60s. I really love the art, which is by Emilee Denich, who’s a fantastic creator. It’s erotica. It was important to me that the storyline is sexy and the relationship is not the problem. Usually when poly groups are depicted, the main plot point is jealousy or how this is not “natural” or it couldn’t possibly work. To me, if it’s going to star cartoonists, the most obvious plot point is stupid cartoonist drama. [Laughs] So while these three people are developing and navigating their way through this relationship and seeing where all their particular pieces fit -- in every sense of the word -- in the meantime, I’m being blacklisted in my own industry because I’m working with you, and you are being blacklisted by these people because they’re suspicious of your work. There’s a lot of industry politics.
I think it’s impossible to write a story about 1960s America and not touch on racial prejudice. One of the plot points of the book is that Roya, the woman who is in the relationship with two men, is an artist. She’s actually the artist of the comic strip her husband takes credit for. Her husband is this blond-haired, blue-eyed Wisconsin farmboy type and he is able to move in social circles that she is simply going to be excluded from, for functionally the rest of her professional life. They understand that and they’re very practical about it. So he goes out with her work and says, "I drew this, isn’t it great?" While she stays at home and does the work and they both benefit. I only mention it briefly because I don’t want that to be the focus of the book, but it’s something that actually happened. Anyone who’s seen the movie Big Eyes can probably recall that the Keanes had something like that, although a much more dysfunctional setup. I have a friend whose grandmother was a children’s book illustrator and whose grandfather took credit for it because it was just easier.