The Rapid Rise of "Womanthology"

In the week leading up to Comic-Con International in San Diego, an unexpected star emerged on the comics scene, as a previously unannounced, female-produced anthology began a fundraising project on Kickstarter.com.

"Womanthology," developed by artist Renae De Liz and scheduled for a December release from IDW Publishing, sought pledges totaling $25,000 to cover production costs of the book; the project surpassed that goal in less than 24 hours and has now more than doubled it, raising in excess of $56,000 at this writing. Creators involved in "Womanthology" include such notables as Gail Simone, Barbara Kesel, Ann Nocenti, Trina Robbins, Devin Grayson, Camille d'Errico, Ming Doyle, Colleen Doran, Fiona Staples and many, many more, plus newcomers who will be published for the first time. Comic Book Resources spoke with De Liz, IDW editor/writer Mariah Huehner and Fiona Staples about the goals of "Womanthology" and the experience of putting the project together.

The subjects of women in comics and comics for women have been hot topics recently, despite the fact that many of the issues being discussed have existed for quite some time. For De Liz, "Womanthology" began with a sense of community. "I started this because I just wanted to gather a bunch of women and create something fun together," De Liz told CBR News. "For me it's not really about the issues or what's wrong with comics concerning women, like so many are talking about. I'm focused on the positive aspects of doing this, like showcasing how many talented women are in comics, how many would love to get in, and showcasing the love young girls and teens have for creating their own comics. I just felt like there were so many positive things that could come from it, that I should try to make it happen. And I am so very happy it will!

"I started this book to support, create and have fun," De Liz continued. "If the end results helps out with some issues, then it's just an added bonus!"

Though her inspiration was positive, De Liz's project grew out of a perceived need, growing from her view of artists on social media. "Over time online (Twitter, specifically), I saw so many women artists that were so very talented but not published, when they should have been. Most were scattered and didn't know each other. I kept voicing that I would like to someday do something with all of those talented women, and artist (and now artist/editor on 'Womanthology') Jessica Hickman kept suggesting to me that I should do an all female anthology," De Liz remembered. "It just seemed too big of an idea for me to handle at the time, so I kept it as a 'someday' project. But after Jessica mentioned it to me several more times over a couple months, I finally asked online if any women would be interested in doing an anthology, and that day there were over 100 contributors! At that point I figured I should just take the leap and run with the idea.

"There are people that signed on and some that I personally contacted and invited. One of my many goals for this is to find those super-talented women that have not really been recognized yet."

To that end, De Liz has recruited not only some of the top female creators in the business, but also lesser-known and unpublished writers and artists. Asked why this was important, De Liz said, "I always go to conventions and see kids, teens and women who talk to me about their love of comics and how much they love creating them. It's that passion and enthusiasm I wanted to showcase on the book, and I think it's incredibly important to support and cultivate that passion. Every other comic is pros working with other pros; I wanted this book to be about them, as well as the women who are already successful."

The theme for "Womanthology" is "heroic," with individual creators left to decide what this means to them. "I really wanted something bold that relates to comics really well but could be interpreted in many other ways," De Liz said. "Heroic is a positive, powerful term that could have a lot of different creative interpretations. I'm very excited for people to see how they've run with it. One story, for example, by writer Joamette Gil and artist Katie Shanahan, is about two feuding grannies that climb a mountain with their reluctant male nurse in tow to save someone. I love the creativity there, and I cannot wait to see it finished!"

Given De Liz's working relationship with IDW, which has recently included stints on "The Last Unicorn" and illustrating the upcoming Anne Rice adaptation "The Servant of Bones," it's not surprising that "Womanthology" found a home with the publisher. "I've worked with them over the last few years -- in fact, my first published work ('Rogue Angel') was through them a while back," De Liz said. "I just really like them, so we approached them with the idea, and they agreed to it. I think it's incredible of them because they were willing to think outside the box to support such an unconventional idea. I hope people appreciate what IDW Publishing did, giving all of these women a chance when they didn't have to. This is a great show of support not only for women creators but for fans of comics in general. People like IDW, who are willing to accept new ideas like this, are what's really going to move comics into a new positive direction. So thank you, IDW!"

Mariah Huehner, an IDW editor who has also written for their "Angel" and "True Blood" series and will be one of the editors on "Womanthology," is pleased to be working on the project. "Renae contacted me towards the beginning, when she'd started organizing and figuring out exactly what it was going to be," Huehner told CBR. "I was honored to be asked to help edit as the response she was getting just to the idea was already pretty staggering. To be honest, creators just came out of the woodwork once Renae announced it. I don't think anyone really needed to assemble it, it just...came together."

The book is still in the early development stages, but the results already look promising. "We're at the beginning stages of getting work in, really digging into the stories and working with the various teams to put together their stories," Huehner said. "We have a pretty tight schedule, so it's going to happen very quickly. What I've seen so far, even just pinups and concepts, like what Renae used for the cover image, have been incredible. The level of talent, from young and unpublished creators to experienced veterans, is just stunning. I can't wait for it to be put together and for everyone to see it."

One creator eager to dive into her "Womanthology" story is "Mystery Society" and "North 40" artist Fiona Staples. Staples revealed that her contribution will be "a six-page medieval fantasy with magic, creatures and quite a touching little story." "The story is written by Jody Houser, and I'm drawing it with Adriana Blake," she added. "Never worked with either of them before, but looking at Adriana's other work and Jody's script, they're clearly very talented and it should be a fun collaboration!

"I've always felt it's important to push diversity in comics -- it's good for the industry, for the art form, and for the readers -- and having more female creators is a huge part of that," Staples continued. "This anthology is a really great way to give new female creators exposure, experience and an entry point into the industry. I love the collaborative spirit of the book and the positivity and enthusiasm of everyone involved."

IDW's Huehner echoed these sentiments, reflecting on Internet commentators' current -- and longstanding -- call for gender and other diversity. "It's sort of a staple of the comics blogosphere, the never-ending debate how to appeal to the supposedly elusive female audience," Huehner said. "I suspect part of it is because there's really no logical reason to treat stories by women or for women as some kind of anomaly. And it's a huge audience who want to spend money, so from a business perspective it just makes sense to reach out to them and make them feel welcome.

"The issue of women in comics, and comics for women, is an ongoing conversation, part of the overall discussion about diversity in stories and the medium," the editor continued. "It always seems like this problem people want to solve. Sometimes it feels like we're (women) this curious puzzle, and it's not really as complicated as it's made out to be."

Those involved hope "Womanthology" will address this "puzzle" while avoiding the missteps of other recent attempts to bridge the gender gap. "The goal of 'Womanthology' is really to give what women are contributing to this industry right now a showcase all its own, to give them an opportunity to work together and create something special," Huehner said. "This is especially important for new creators because it's so hard to break into comics. Those of us who have feel really lucky, and I think we all want to help other women do the same. Giving them the ability to get published, to have a book with their work in it, is something really important to us. There's no feeling quite like seeing your work in print, to knowing people will see it and respond to it.

"I do think it will appeal to women readers, and some of that is because of who is telling the stories," she continued. "I don't think women will only read or identify with stories by women, but knowing that's the perspective can't hurt. Gender, whether we like it or not, does influence our experiences, and it's one of the most basic ways we define ourselves. To say it doesn't matter would be denying reality. And I think we do like to read stories we identify with, and sometimes that's through the lens of gender. Women as an audience have had to get used to the male perspective in stories, especially in the mainstream, since they're treated as more neutral than stories by or for women. So I think we crave stories from a different perspective, just like other folks crave stories about something other than white people or straight people or rich people. However, it's not like 'Womanthology' is somehow only about female characters or has some kind of agenda in terms of what stories to tell. Male characters, female characters, it's about telling good stories.

"Overall, I think it would really help if we stopped treating work by women, or for women, as some kind of alien, non-universal, 'other.' They aren't. There's nothing about a story created by women or for women that should alienate anyone. They're a part of our shared human experience. A good story is a good story. The more inclusive the industry can be about diversity in general, the more readers it will reach. That's just common sense. And it would be positive for everyone because I think we all want to see comics flourish."

For De Liz, once again the focus is primarily on designing a fun, supportive experience for creators and readers. "The biggest goals are to support women creators, create something awesome together and have fun doing it. Those things break down into a lot of other smaller hopes I have for this. Like hopefully inspiring and helping those kids and teens out there to keep on loving and creating comics. Or to hopefully open some doors into the comics industry for some of the women on the book that maybe were more or less closed before. So many things. But in the end, if nothing else happened, if we all just had fun doing this, then I'd be happy.

"I also feel what was so appealing about the book is that it's about 'them,'" De Liz said. "It's not just about big professionals getting together to do another book with other professionals. It's about normal people like them who have a passion for comics and art but may not have had the opportunity to do anything with it yet or take it a step further. It's about people's daughters who love more than anything to draw or write comics, and they view this as a way to help encourage them. The point of the book isn't to make profits, or to sell a million books; it's just for the sake of doing it, and giving people opportunities to do things they normally may not have a chance to in a big way. It's just an all-around fun positive thing to be a part of."

Huehner added, "I think the reason 'Womanthology' in particular has struck a chord has a lot to do with the enthusiasm behind it, the need for a book like this to showcase talent from all levels of experience, and a desire to help support something in a fun and direct way."

The Kickstarter project for "Womanthology" exceeded its funding goal of $25,000 in less than 24 hours, and in the days since has more than doubled that goal. "I think credit goes to Renae and Jessica, who came up with this idea and infused it with such a sense of joy," Huehner said. "It's contagious. Everyone involved is excited about it, happy to be a part of it, to do something positive for other women in the industry. That's really what people are responding to. This is a sincere and genuine effort to put out a worthwhile and beautiful book. I'm just so pleased to see the response equal the enthusiasm everyone working on it has for it."

De Liz said she is "still very taken aback by" the massive, rapid fundraising on Kickstarter. "I spent the last seven weeks before starting this under the assumption that once the Kickstarter was launched it would be a slow steady climb to our goal -- I was not prepared for the onrush of support!" De Liz said. "It's been incredible...I don't think I could ever find enough words to thank our backers enough. There are so very many people [whose] dreams [they are making] come true for by supporting this, even beyond 'Womanthology.'"

As momentum around the Kickstarter project grew, new top-level rewards for pledging also became available, including professional writing or art critiques by Barbara Kesel, Ann Nocenti and Devin Grayson and a personalized postcard from Neil Gaiman. "Barbara, Annie and Devin are on the book already, and I asked them if they'd like to give the opportunity to newcomer writers to get a professional's opinion," De Liz said. "For writers especially, it's rough to find anyone to read through a script and give an opinion, so this was one way to get that rare opportunity. I am trying hardest to find fun rewards that present opportunities in comics that you would be hard-pressed to find otherwise. Plus, the funds are all go back to help people and ultimately for charity, so it's great all around.

"Neil Gaiman was just pure luck and insane kindness on his part," De Liz smiled. "He was tweeting about our project and how much he liked it, so I just asked him on there if he'd be interested in offering a reward for it. And he said yes. What a nice guy, and I'm extremely grateful to him! There are two people in the world now that will have a postcard sent to them from Neil Gaiman...that is cool."

While the Kickstarter fundraising will be used to pay production costs, all proceeds from sales of "Womanthology" will be donated to charity. "From the very beginning it was for charity," De Liz said. "I am trying to find opportunity for people at every level of this book. So the best thing to do with the profits was to further help people through charities. Which is why we chose the Global Giving Foundation. GlobalGiving.org is a site that is sort of like the Kickstarter of small charities. They go all over the world finding small charities that otherwise wouldn't have the means to voice their need to the people that want to help. We've been working with Global Giving, and they are just so excited about our project and our choosing them. They are great people."

The Kickstarter video also mentions potential follow-up volumes, though De Liz said it was too early to confirm what form such a project might take. "I had not in my wildest dreams expected to reach the point where I could fund another book (especially this fast!), and now that it looks like I may be able to, I have so many ideas swirling around," De Liz said. "I would like to do another book like this one, but including half women creators and male creators, same structure, inviting people from all levels of experience, showcase kids and teens as well, have pros work with newcomers, and over all just promote finding and giving chances for people to shine. Of course we'd go through Global Giving again as well with the profits. I'd also like to do a volume 2 of 'Womanthology,' but maybe a smaller size. So many ideas, but if you go to check out the third update on the Kickstarter site, you can see some of them!"

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