In September 2013 I was contacted with the possibility of taking over the editor/organiser duties on Ashcan, a Brisbane indie anthology comic that had been operating since 2010, putting out nine issues in its time. Did I want to take over, seeing as otherwise the imprint would be discontinued? I consulted with my supervisor who suggested that if I curated a themed issue, it would count as research points towards my Doctoral studies. With the intention of learning as much from the experience as possible I said yes, and dreamed up the theme of Taboo True Stories. I emailed eighteen comic artist/writers whose work I thought was excellent, pitching my vision of a high quality, editorially controlled anthology that would be of sufficient quality to have a broader appeal than the previous incarnation (which was not editorially controlled in the same way). I created a Facebook group and added those people who replied in the positive, about a third of those contacted. I defined the theme to the group as below:
“Taboo true stories’ will be the theme of the book. Yes, its taboo, but it doesn’t have to be crude. In terms of language and subject matter I’d like to keep this PG 15. Think of how old episodes of The Simpsons were enjoyable for kids but also contained clever innuendos for the adult viewers. This means you will have to employ your powers of subtlety and creativity. You are all extremely experienced and versatile storytellers, I’d like this issue to reflect this. Lets try to keep it classy and intelligent! I know some people could see this as a restriction, however I’d prefer to look at it as a challenge. Think analogy, think metaphor, think laterally.
I was pitching a book without gratuitous violence, graphic sex, or explicitly depicted drug use. I hoped to produce an intelligent comic that, even if using these themes, did so in an oblique way that relied on metaphor, allusion, and symbology/iconography. I understood this was not an easy ask, which is why I assembled a team of experienced creators with a proven track record of quality output. I sent off a grant proposal to Arts Australia, applying for funding to pay the creators and to take Ashcan across the entire convention circuit of OZ, on the basis that it would be suitable for all ages. This, of course, was rejected.
Initial cover designs
October 2014 rolled around. I sent out a reminder, hoping for some initial pages or proposals. By November I had received a couple of scripts, and while they were interesting, unfortunately they were entirely fictionalised, in instances only loosely based on real world events taken from Wikipedia. I stressed again the importance of the theme, particularly the true part, in the context of autobiography.
Some examples of feedback:
What would be an acceptable level of taboo? PG15 seems like we could only get in “socially acceptable naughty” and not really “taboo”.
…what’s taboo these days AND ok for teens to read – I have some rippers but I don’t think they’d meet the age restriction.
If there WAS something in my life that was taboo (i cant think of what that could be even if there was) I wouldn’t want to do a comic about it! I say re-evaluate!
The theme was a real problem for many of the creators. Many of the creators were getting quite vocal in their reluctance to create a taboo story based on their own life. A couple dropped out. I relented, and relaxed the theme to True Stories, reluctantly removing the Taboo aspect.
Settling on a graphic style, a departure from previous illustrative covers.
By March 2015 I had received the first pages from a few of the contributors, and they were looking good. To cover the drop-outs I had contacted quite a few extra people, some of whom were able to come on board. I was past my projected launch date but things were progressing. By May I had received 32 pages of completed work and realised that, as the tenth issue of Ashcan, a comic that traditionally had around 50 pages, this would be a little thin. So I put out a call-out to the main Facebook page, and contacted quite a few more potential contributors. The task of getting free work out of talented people was harder than I’d anticipated.
Adding the existing Ashcan logo, but looking for a new take on the design.
2015 turned out to be a busy year, with the Doctorate culminating, a busy teaching load and three overseas trips. Ashcan sat on the back burner. I had contacted a number of people about contributing, with little success. I had an Indesign document with the pages I’d received, but most people hadn’t sent me their bio information, and I still needed to fill more pages. The cover was slowly coming along, and as I was responsible for all the editing, organising and compilation duties, including design and layout, everything moved at snail’s pace. 2015 came and went.
A change of colour and some tweaks and the cover is almost there.
By January 2016 I had finally managed to get all the information I needed and was saved by a couple of last-minute submissions that pushed Ashcan up to over 50 pages. I sent the completed file to Baden Kirgan at Jeffries Printing, who sent back a proof, which made clear an inconsistency of the quality of blacks across different stories. I had to then solve one of the conundrums of printing, which is, “what is black?” Apparently it is not just 100% black, rather also an addition of an exact quantity of Cyan and Magenta, which also meant all the pages had to be formatted to CMYK, not Grayscale as I’d previously thought. This also caused problems with the adjustment layers in my own pages, among other things. With some consultation with designers and the printer, a lot of time spent on forums dedicated to these sorts of problems, and another proof kindly provided by Jeffries Printing, we were looking on track. The choice was made to print in full colour, even though most of the pages are in black & white and grayscale, as printing in colour gives a rich black that B&W printing can’t match.
The final cover design
Finally, after a year and a half, Ashcan X is printed and ready to go. It looks great, and now all that remains is to get them out and into the hands of the readers. Its been an exhaustive process. I’ve learned that when dealing with creative people, particularly when getting work for free, I need to relax the reins of control. I lost a good deal of quality contributors by being too authoritarian, and not relaxing my ideas quickly enough. I also learned quite a bit about InDesign and how to wrangle work from a range of people. The next issue will be a much more relaxed affair!