Smash Pages Q&A: Maggie Umber

The co-founder of 2d Cloud discusses their latest Kickstarter, their 2019 lineup, her latest project and more.

Maggie Umber is the acclaimed cartoonist behind the books 270˚, Sound of Snow Falling, Time Capsule and other comics. She is also one of the founders of 2d Cloud, which in the past decade has established itself as one of the most important comics publishers in North America.

Umber wrote a blog post recently about the state of 2D Cloud and her own health, and about how the company plans to move forward. The company has just launched Artist Book Boxes at the Center of the Universe, a Kickstarter for the company’s 2019 lineup. We spoke recently about her new book, what kinds of books 2d Cloud will be publishing this year and why they just couldn’t walk away from the company.

2dcloud had an incredible run, especially the last few years. You published books like Mirror Mirror II, which I think is one of the great recent anthologies, your own Sound of Snow Falling, and others. I don’t want you to get into everything because you wrote about your own health problems, but it would have been much easier for you and Raighne to simply say, “We did some good work, but we’re closing shop.” What was it that made you go, “We need to keep this going?” What does 2dcloud mean to you?

Thank you! The success of the label is one reason to keep it going. We work with the best cartoonists in the world. They work with us because we take huge risks that other publishers don’t take. Our dedication to artistic freedom and production value put us at the top of the game.

For 8+ years we paid our artists on time, but the risks took their toll. Nearly every book – even a lot of the mini-comics – cost us as much as buying a car. We want to continue 2dcloud in order to get our debts to cartoonists, publishers and creditors paid up and we want to push altcomics further into realms that no one else is venturing into. That being said, if this Kickstarter fails, we will scale down to a completely different company. We’re in water too deep to continue without support from loving readers!

2dcloud has been hugely influential in the altcomics community. Other publishers have definitely looked at what we’ve done and picked up on it. Whatever happens, I’m extremely proud of how much we’ve shaped the landscape.

So tell me about the new Kickstarter. You make the point that this is like the NPR pledge drive, which I think is a great metaphor. Do you want to say a little about how important the Kickstarters have been?

When we first started doing Kickstarters people were very upset with us. They said we weren’t “real publishers.” There was a huge stigma. However, Raighne and I saw it as amazing platform from which to collect pre-orders and build a community around 2dcloud. Eventually the tide turned and now everyone does them. Not doing them while we recouped the past two years killed our bottom line. I have no idea if this Kickstarter will be a success, but it will help us find out if there is still an audience for our books and give us a way to continue moving forward.

What books are coming out, and who are some of the people you’re publishing?

Artist Book Boxes At The Center Of The Universe, our current Kickstarter, is an unusual one for us. It’s a showcase of our entire catalogue. At a huge discount, readers can pick up curated selections of our back catalogue in addition to our current line-up.

As to our current line-up? It’s so good it’s unreal. Raighne handles all of our curation and he really topped himself this time. I hope enough people pre-order it through Kickstarter to allow us to print them. Here it is: Mirror Mirror 3 edited by Haejin Park, Paige Mehrer, Sophie Page; Copy Kitty by Kyung Me; Röhner by Max Baitinger; Yet Here We Are Dealing With The Things We Should Have Ignored by Tommi Parrish; Grand Electric Thought Power Mother by Lale Westvind, edited by Kim Jooha; Hotel Vibes by Chou Yi, edited by Kim Jooha; and Diary Comics by Tara Booth.

You also have a lot of different levels where you’re offering some great work for just $9 to getting the entire spring lineup. What were you thinking about as far as trying to appeal to different audiences?

We put out a diverse catalogue. What appeals to one person might not appeal to another. Taste is subjective! However, we offer collections to introduce readers to books and cartoonists they would like but haven’t heard about. This model allows us to publish lesser knowns in addition to bigger names. Also, obviously we like to have options for whatever people can afford.

270˚ is a book that will appeal to those of who loved Sound of Snow Falling. What prompted you to make another book about owls?

We had to cancel a few books right before they were due to our distributor which put us below our quota for the year. I said to Raighne, “Do you need me to make a graphic novel in two months?” He said yes.

It was a terrible time. I had just moved to Chicago, the company was falling apart, our friendship was in tatters. However, I’m a person that is incapable of giving up. Over the years, I’ve had awful things happen to me, but I can work through almost anything. I’m a machine.

The production work on Sound of Snow Falling was hell for Raighne. I made it before I understood bleeds so he had to do an insane amount of labor on it. He also did design work that was very rock and roll and I made him take it all out. Sound of Snow Falling is a book about a couple, but it came out as we were separating.

Doing 270° gave us the chance to collaborate together for real for the first time. I gave him paintings, he asked for an essay. I wrote it, then he asked for lettering coupled with illustrations. Then he wanted prints, more paintings and then more prints. He collaged everything together in InDesign in ways that look very different from the originals. 270° brought us back together as a publishing team.

Talk a little about The Man in the Blue Suit, which is your current project. You showed me some of the pages, and it’s a very different book from what people might know. Do you want to say a little about the book and the projects you’ve been working on more recently?

The Man in the Blue Suit is semi-autobiographical horror. It began as a book about the ballad character from The Demon Lover, James Harris. However, as I worked on it, everything that I thought about myself fell away from me. My entire being descended into darkness and there was no bottom. This book is the most personal thing I’ve ever made.

I’m a storyteller above anything else. I work in a lot of many mediums, from programming, marketing and video, to toys and comics. It’s always about storytelling for me. That’s why I enjoy doing Kickstarters. It’s a chance to tell a story. If I tell a great story, the Kickstarter succeeds.

Why should people care about the Kickstarter? What’s being offered that you haven’t mentioned? What’s your final pitch?

No one has to care about anything. If I’m boring and our books are boring, we don’t deserve anyone’s money. If you are captivated by 2dcloud, back our Kickstarter and tell your friends. Yes, we’re always late, disorganized and publicly make fools of ourselves often. We have hearts bigger than our brains. However, we put things into the mix that no one else has ever thought of before. The world will not be as volatile, imaginative and joyous without us.

Thanks so much, Maggie.

More information about the 2d Cloud Kickstarter can be found here.

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