Creators for Creators with C. Spike Trotman

If you haven't heard of it before, Creators for Creators, is a newly-founded non-profit with an all-star founding group of comic creators - many of whom come from Image.

Here's a quick look at the creators involved.

 

Charlie Adlard, Jordie Bellaire, David Brothers, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Nick Dragotta, Leila del Duca, Matt Fraction, Kieron Gillen, Jonathan Hickman, Joe Keatinge, Robert Kirkman, Jamie McKelvie, Rick Remender, Declan Shalvey, Fiona Staples, Eric Stephenson, C. Spike Trotman, and Brian K. Vaughan.

 

It's stated goal is to "help pave the way for the next generation of comics creators by supporting their work financially and through mentorship, as well as providing opportunities for their creations to reach a wide audience."

To this end, they'll be providing $30,000 to one creator (or a writer / artist duo) to finance a "new and original work... between sixty-four and one hundred pages..."

I encourage you to read more about it here before you check out this post.

Spike Trotman

I've been really excited about the grant - and one of these reasons is the involvement of prolific indie creator / self-publisher Spike Trotman, who founded Iron Circus Comics.

I wanted to talk to her about her involvement with Creators for Creators and learn more about the grant.


Hey! Happy to be talking to you today.

So, to dive right in, when news of the grant came out a lot of people got really excited about it. I wanted to kick this off by discussing how the project came together. How did you get involved?

I was asked! By David Brothers of Image Comics, specifically. He knew how I felt about the state of the industry, and what I felt the best choices young creators could make were - namely, to work on their own material as much as possible and establish a body of work independent of superhero work-for-hire gigs, be it self-published or not - and knew I would be down to do something formal if it ever came along and I felt it was a good idea.

In my mind, your career in comics has really shown creators a different way of building a career. I’m all about that and often cite you as a great example of how creators can engage with the evolving comics industry.

I felt that your inclusion in Creators for Creators - as somebody deeply involved with self-publishing and independent publishing - was an extremely important addition. Coming from that perspective, what merit do you see in providing a more formal opportunity like this?

Well, here's the thing. I'm a huge, huge proponent of Kickstarter, but Kickstarter requires an audience to really be a functional part of any independent operator's business model. and building that audience can take years, years that not all creators can afford to sacrifice to the slog through obscurity.

Compounding that, not all artists are good at marketing themselves, or producing material that can easily find an audience online, regardless of how masterful it might be. C4C gets that; it's a leg-up for someone. Someone who might not have the opportunity to produce comics otherwise. It let's someone spend a year or so totally focused on their book; no day job, no worry about reblogs or relatability.

It's a fast-forward button to someone's first book.

This may be a tangent, but I think that the focus you mentioned is pretty essential to creating something great.

Do you feel that the effort involved in building an audience and exploring the business side of comics can detract from the eventual quality of the creative work?

The quality, no, not necessarily. Some of the greatest artists of the modern age were/are salespeople of the highest order. They sell their image, their work, their opinions, their politics. But the time one can devote to creative work of quality can definitely suffer. I know I have less and less time for it myself, which is why I kinda can't wait until 2017; I resolve to hire an assistant editor that year to help share the load and give me more time to write and draw.

That’s a massive milestone for any endeavor! 

To dive back into Creators for Creators, a while ago I wrote a post called “Why Image is Not For You” - which explored the number of new creators Image actually broke in in the previous year. I wrote it to make the case that it’s not Image’s job to break in new creators, as nice as that would be - since I was getting tired of creators feeling like they were owed a chance - as much as I wished more chances were available, despite the open avenue to self-publishing.

I’m happy to admit that the Creators for Creators grant is a step exactly in that direction and it’s great that it seems driven more by the collective will of the individual creators than by an institutional agenda. Do you see value in that distinction?

Definitely. And I agree: Image isn't for greenhorns and newbies. These days, the New Kids are basically expected to make their comics online, and come to publishers with a dowry of a pre-existing audience and a few years of experience under their belt. And that's not necessarily bad, Image has every right to be selective about who and what they publish.

But it can catch creators in that horrible paradox: Not enough experience to land the gig, but not enough gigs to become experienced. Not everyone has a forgiving dayjob or an understanding spouse content to hold down the fort while they break in and become Image-worthy.

Right. I think providing creators a way out of that Catch-22 is one of the reasons this grant has impressed me. There’s also the talent involved, yourself included, and the mentorship opportunity, too.

And then there’s the flexibility provided to the creator in deciding where to publish. That seems essential to setting the right kind of tone for a grant like this. What do you see as the ideal outcome of this grant?

Ideally? An unpublished creator who might have otherwise never had the opportunity to "go pro" gets the opportunity to do so, years ahead of schedule. They buckle down and show up at the doors of Iron Circus or Oni Press or First Second (or Kickstarter!) with their very first graphic novel finished, something that might have otherwise taken three years of their divided attention, finished in one. And the mentorship C4C offers guides them through self-promotion, sending out review copies, doing the con circuit. and maybe you're interviewing them in a year or two.

[C4C] is a fast-forward button to someone’s first book.

I’d love that!

On the grant page it says that the creator who’s chosen will have been selected according to a rigorous criteria - can you comment on this criteria and what the selection committee (separate from the founding board?) is hoping to see?

Mmmmn I dunno. It's tough. We've talked about this as a group and the only thing we're solid on is we want to help publish an unheard voice.

Naturally, I'm biased in favor of a single creator or small team, maybe a writer and an artist. But if someone submitted a proposal with a classic Big Two assembly line line-up, a writer and penciller and inker and colorist and letterer, we wouldn't NOT look at it. (We'd wonder how they planned on making the $30,000 last a year under those circumstances, but maybe they'd have an answer for that.)

Subject matter is open, so long as it's original.

Is the $30,000 grant then predicated on taking that time to focus fully on the comic? So those with commitments would need to leave their jobs or otherwise make themselves available to commit “enough” time?

I understand the importance of that, if that’s the case, I’d just like to clarify.

They wouldn't be REQUIRED to quit their day job or anything, but the point of the money is to provide flexibility. Time is such a valuable resource. When I was young, I quit my cashier job at an art supply store to focus full-time on my webcomic. That could have blown up in my face easily. but I felt I had to; I wanted to be a cartoonist, and I came home from work every day too exhausted to draw. I'd just lie on the couch, totally wiped. If I'd only had to work, say,  every other day instead of every day, because I'd been given a 30k grant? That would have made a world of difference.

That makes a lot of sense. I think one struggle a lot of creators definitely do deal with is exactly that… time.

Definitely. that's honestly been a guiding principle for me: "What do I wish had been available when I was starting out?"

That’s a key principle for me at Creator At Large, too.

Another part of the application requirements that I’d like to bring up is one that people have been discussing: “Any non-anthology industry publication is unacceptable.”

A lot of the concerns I’ve read seemed to figure that this ruled out a lot of creators who were still “new” but may have been published by small publishers and still don’t feel like they’ve had their chance.

Can you elaborate on the decision to go in that direction? 

The group has been talking about this a lot, actually. We've been getting a lot of good, fair questions about it.  A guy who was a Big Two inker ten years ago, but left the industry, he wants to know: Can he apply? And what about the woman with a comic on Tapastic? or the person who signed on with a small publisher, but the book run was unsellable or lost or pulped? And the publisher's gone under? There are so many things we didn't think about.

And honestly, the best response we can give is "We'll play it by ear." We're not looking to rules-lawyer anyone out of a chance. We won't pull and toss your submission if we find out you have some forgettable credit in a long-lost work somewhere. We just want to make it clear; this is to give someone who hasn't had a big chance, a big chance.

Their own, independent work.

We don't want established folks - and calling someone "established" is like the Supreme Court defining pornography, "Y'know it when you see it" - grabbing this grant. It's not for them, because they don't NEED it. And folks who don't need it / by and large, they KNOW they don't.

So we're hoping everyone can be a good sport about this. if you have some wibbly, forgettable credit years back, that will NOT disqualify you.

I think that’s a great way to put it.

Another piece that caught my eye was that CreatorsforCreators.org will become a resource to “educate creators by way of testimonials, advice, and more from established creators.” That seems to refer to additional education opportunities for creators on the website besides the mentorship of the winning creator. Is that right?

That's completely right. That bit is still in the planning stages, so I can't go into detail right now, but I'm excited!

I’m excited to hear more about it, though. I’m glad more information will be put out.

So, as we start to wind this down, I understand the submission period is open now and will last until November 1st. For those interested in submitting do you have any advice or input to offer?

Be as complete as possible, submission-wise. Follow the rules. Have a friend or two read over your submission before you send it. SPELLCHECK. Don't submit something you don't feel passionate about spending a whole year on or seeing through until the end, just because you assume it's more likely to get the win. And DON'T TAKE THE RESULTS PERSONALLY. Rejection is part of making comics. It's something everyone on the C4C board has contended with in their career. It didn't stop us, and it shouldn't stop you.

Persevere!

Persevere!

I think that’s a great note to end on! Thanks for taking the time!

No problem, thank YOU!


Applications for the Creators for Creators grant are open through November 1st. You can submit, or learn more about the process, by clicking here.

If you're applying, I wish you the best of luck! This is not only a great opportunity, but C4C also seems like the start of a really fantastic resource for creators looking to build their career in comics and I'm excited to see what comes of it.