Eric Reynolds is the associate publisher of Fantagraphics, which means that he’s edited some of the best comics in the world. Throughout his career though he’s had a special interest in anthologies.
His new project is Now, a three-times-a-year anthology with cartoonists well known and not, working in a variety of styles from all over the world. The first issue features work by Gabrielle Bell, Noah Van Sciver and a long story by Eleanor Davis in addition to a number of cartoonists people might not know as well. Reynolds wanted to create a relatively cheap ($9.99) project with a feel and approach he didn’t see anywhere else.
Strictly speaking, a new, three times per year anthology of contemporary comics, focusing on short fiction and work that is underrepresented in mainstream comic books and on most comic book store shelves. We called them “alternative comics” when I was a kid, but are more commonly now referred to as “independent comics,” “art comics,” or “literary comics,” depending on one’s predilections.
You launched and edited Mome in 2005 which was a quarterly anthology that ran until 2011. What did you learn from working on it and what are you doing differently with Now?
I’m not sure how many real world skills I have but editing anthologies is something I am pretty well versed at. I published almost 2700 pages of comics in Mome. I’ve edited three volumes of Dirty Stories, which ran over 350 pages of comics. I’ve edited hundreds of pages of samplers and free comic book day comics for Fanta over the years. It’s something I enjoy doing and feel I am in a unique position to pull off. When Mome ended, it simply felt like the right time, I needed a break and I think readers did, too. And now it’s the right time to revisit the format. Over the past couple of years I really just came to the realization that there were increasingly more good cartoonists out there than I could keep up with. That hasn’t always been the case. Now is my attempt to provide a platform for a diverse cross-section of the vast sea of small press work that is out there, at a very good value for the money. Comics are too expensive, generally speaking.
It’s very intuitive and organic. I have confidence in my skills and taste. There’s a certain alchemy to it. I tend to wing it in some ways, to keep some room for spontaneity and happy coincidences. I see strange convergences when I sequence a book that I can’t really predict until I’m sitting down with everything I’m considering.
When you approach cartoonists are you giving them page limits or restrictions?
No, as long as it fits in an issue. I am not going to run any serials.
You have a combination of very well known cartoonist like Gabrielle Bell, Eleanor Davis, Sammy Harkham, Dash Shaw, Noah Van Sciver and others who aren’t as well know known. How are you thinking about the composition of cartoonists and work and styles as you’re assembling issues?
Again, it’s very organic. With Now I really am imposing a mandate of diversity on myself, as an editor. That means several things. Both in terms of diversity of cartoonists, in terms of ethnicity and gender, but also in terms of style and content. It has given me more motivation to cast a wider net in the way I engage with comics, both online and in print. I don’t want to rely solely on my cartoonist pals, even though I know a lot of really great cartoonists. I think the first issue is a good reflection of that. I strived hard to make something that I think speaks to the quality and diversity of the state of comics in 2017.
Do you want to say a little more about casting a wider net, and finding people for this first issue that a lot of readers might not know about.
Well, I have spent much of this year spending a lot of time trying to really comb the corners of the small press and online to find potential contributors. The first issue includes a few of those recent discoveries, such as the painter and artist Rebecca Morgan, who did the cover for the first issue. She’s one of my favorite artists I’ve discovered in some time. Conxita Hererro is a spanish cartoonist whose work I discovered earlier this year through her book, Gran Bola de Helado, for Spanish publisher Apa-Apa. The second issue contains a great new piece by Anuj Strestha, whose work I was turned onto online. An Argentinian cartoonist named Ariel Lopez V. has done a great strip for the second issue. Just to name a few.
That’s how I discovered so many great cartoonists growing up. The 1980s was a real heyday for comics anthologies. Comics are really fucking hard to make. They take a lot of time and they don’t pay well, so you have to work on them in between day jobs. You can spend a lifetime trying to find the right process that works for you, let alone trying to make a graphic novel. The rise of the graphic novel has been a great thing for the medium of comics but it has also subtly discouraged the kind of experimentation that I think thrived in times past. I don’t necessarily mean “experimental” comics — I just mean allowing cartoonists an opportunity to experiment on their own terms in that never-ending quest to get better, to find your voice as an artist.I want to see cartoonists have fun, strut their stuff. I think that kind of work is inherently inviting to readers.
What do you think of the state of short comics right now? Both in terms of outlets for work and the work that people are producing
I suppose if I thought it was a robust environment I wouldn’t be doing this, but it’s not something I have strong opinion about other than I always want to see more of that work, and in more outlets. I think Now does fill something of a void out there.
I batted around a countless names that didn’t stick with me and solicited ideas from my coworkers and just wasn’t coming up with anything, even though I was also trying hard not to get hung up on the name. It wasn’t terribly important to me. Actually, it was probably the last detail I finalized, well after I had stories coming in. But then, one day, Now popped into my head, I don’t remember why. I immediately liked it, it felt resonant with my loose mission for the anthology, and lent itself to a potentially striking logo and graphic design. But I was convinced there must be a million magazines or comics with that name, I figured. But then I poked around and there was surprisingly little out there, so it just felt right. It felt like stumbling upon a valuable URL that no one had ever purchased before.
Now comes out three times a year and the first issue has just come out. Where are you in terms of production? Has putting it together changed your initial conception of the series?
I’m still wrapping up the second issue and have a few things lined up for the third, although I try to work one issue at a time, for the most part. Putting it together has definitely changed my conception of the series. Initially, I suppose I thought I would approach like it was Mome Vol. 23, because that’s what I knew. But in many ways subtle and not-so-subtle, I can see it is becoming a different thing — it’s own thing. It feels unquestionably more political to me, although not in an overt way that would be obvious from the content. But all art is political, and with everything going on in the world, I want Now to be a positive force for our culture, for comics, and for cartoonists.
It will come out three times a year and run roughly 100-120 pages per issue, in color and black-and-white, depending on the story. The first issue is $9.99 and I will keep it that low for as long as I can financially justify.