Smash Pages Q&A: Joamette Gil on ‘Heartwood’ and more

The publisher of Power & Magic Press discusses her latest anthology, editing and coloring, and more.

Joamette Gil is a comics artist, writer and illustrator, who’s contributed to The Nib, Oni Press’ Draw Out the Vote, Everyday Feminism, and elsewhere. She is a comics letterer who’s worked for Oni Press and Lion Forge. She’s also the person behind Power and Magic Press. She’s edited and published the acclaimed and award-winning anthologies Power & Magic: The Queer Witch Comics Anthology and Immortal Souls. She’s just finished kickstarting Heartwood: Non-binary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy, which is the first-ever all non-binary comics anthology

I’ve admired Gil’s artwork and her sense of design and color, and wanted to reach out to her to talk about Power & Magic Press, anthologies and color.

I always like to start by asking people, how did you come to comics?

Since I was 12, I knew I wanted to tell stories with pictures, especially tales centering on young women. I wasn’t a comics fan yet, but I loved cartoons, horror novels, and magical girl anime especially. Majoring in animation was my original goal until I learned that animators don’t necessarily get to contribute to the writing or design process of their films. That’s when I decided to turn to comics as my medium of choice (I got into them during high school – mainly manga, manhwa, and webcomics).

For people who don’t know, what is Power and Magic Press?

Power & Magic Press is my publishing imprint! Right now we just publish – and create! and edit! – comics anthologies designed to showcase the work of POC and LGBTQIA+ folks. Our primary mission is to create work opportunities for marginalized creators to express themselves authentically and get a higher-than-average paycheck for it. We’ve been at it for a little over 2 years now and already have Prism, Lambda, and Ignatz award nominations under our belts.

What do you enjoy about editing? How has your experience of editing anthologies changed as you’ve been doing this over time?

I enjoy seeing how different creators approach making comics first-hand. It’s also extremely rewarding to help someone do their best, at anything really! Part of the process for me is also curating the book, and that aspect is the most fun. Whether I’m inviting folks directly or doing open submissions, it’s an opportunity for me to discover who’s out there in different communities doing amazing work. Over time, I’ve learned how to best communicate what it is I’m looking for from contributors and how to set boundaries around content and working relationships. Saying “no” to things is the least fun part, but holy hell, is it a massively important part!

Do you want to say a little about what Power & Magic: The Queer Witch Comics Anthology and Immortal Souls are, for people who missed them when they first came out.

Absolutely! Power & Magic: The Queer Witch Comics Anthology (2017) was our first title, and it officially became a series when we added Power & Magic: Immortal Souls (2018) to the lineup. As a series, its overarching theme is “queer witches of color” because witches and queer women of color have some key things in common: they are marginalized figures, complexly feminine, and powerful in ways that make the patriarchy afraid. We’re almost completely sold out of Power & Magic now, but we plan to fund a second printing at the same time as the third book in the series, which there’ll be more to say about next year!

You just finished up a Kickstarter for the anthology Heartwood: Non-binary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy, do you want to say a little about the book and where the initial idea came from?

Heartwood is – as far as we can tell from a year of furious Googling – the first ever all non-binary comics anthology! The theme for this one is sylvan fantasy, so stories that center around leaving the world you know behind and venturing into the enchanted forests all around us. The initial idea came, in part, from my love of forest symbology in folklore and fairy tales, and in part from my desire for a collection of stories by people like me.

Related to that, I’m sure for this third anthology you were thinking about doing something different, you’re thinking about Power and Magic and the brand you want for the company, but also the community you want to build around it. I’m curious what you’re thinking about and what you want to do going forward with P&M?

With Heartwood, I mentioned that I wanted to showcase more stories by people like me. “People like me” was also the motivation behind showcasing woman-aligned POC with the Power & Magic series, and there are so many other aspects of my identity I’m still waiting to see portrayed well in my favorite genres – there’s being non-binary, being Latinx, being mentally ill, and so on. That’s sort of the core of my thinking right now when it comes to developing the P&M Press brand: “who am I, what do I like, which creators want the same things, and which readers want the same things?” I like to think of every story we publish as being “for everyone” insofar as everyone loves a good story, but appealing to folks “outside” of a particular experience is ultimately uninteresting to me. In a lot of ways, Heartwood was also about pushing P&M Press’ boundaries: how many people can we hire, how much can we pay them, how many invites vs open submissions, how many people can I edit at a time, how well will this fund? The hypotheses across the board were “more, bigger,” and I was mercifully right, hah. I eventually want to publish books by individual creators, so in addition to shining more light on less represented voices, every anthology is a chance to grow into a publisher that can do a solo creator justice.

I do also want to talk about your own comics work, and I wonder if you could talk a little about color. Having read a number of stories, seen a lot of your illustrations, whether you’re working in full color or even grayscale, you have this very thoughtful sense of design and color and how they interact.

Oh my, no one has ever asked me about color before! To be honest, color still feels like a mystery to me. I lean toward primary colors – with a heavy preference for dusky reds, that I try to fight – and often monochromatic palettes. I am very fastidious about balance and symmetry between shapes, though, and I would credit that for any of my successes with color, haha. That’s probably why I enjoy lettering so much, too: it’s all about balancing forms. In any case, thank you so much! A lot of my work is pretty straight-forward, educational stuff – often made when I’m feeling frustrated that a subject I think very deeply about is being vocally misconstrued on social media – but those pieces are more “utilitarian” to me whereas my autobiographical and fictional works are more fulfilling to work on.

You’re also a letterer. How did you end up lettering? Or maybe I should say, lettering other people’s comics?

You know? I might not be where I am today if I hadn’t started lettering. My first lettering gig was in 2010. At the time, I was freshly homeless and in the midst of applying to grad schools for clinical psychology (which clearly wasn’t going to happen anymore). I spent the next few months working on my Washington State certification to practice as a counselor and applying to every job opening I could find, from teen crisis shelters to Arby’s, but to no avail. Simultaneously, I reached out for commissions on DeviantArt – might as well put my drawing skills to work, too. The only person who responded was a long-time buddy who’d just started working on his dream to make comics. He asked if I knew how to letter. “Yes,” I lied! And that’s how I got around to learning. I kept getting work from him for many years, and it felt like a sign that perhaps what I should be doing was what I always wanted to do in the first place: tell stories for a living.

Heartwood comes out in March and I’m sure you’re going to be busy with that, but what else are you working on or what’s coming up?

While Heartwood gets finalized for the printer, I’ll also be gearing up for GeekGirlCon (in Seattle toward the end of October) and focusing on personal work through the end of the year. Open submissions for the next volume of Power & Magic are also on the horizon! The first volume is currently sold out except for about 15 copies for GeekGirlCon and a small batch of misprints we’ll be selling at half-price online soon.

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