Category Archives: Our Publishers

“Elements of the Comics Community Have Really Pulled Together”: A Word With . . . C. Spike Trotman

In this week’s A Word With You, we chatted with C. Spike Trotman, artist, writer, and founder of the award-winning Iron Circus Comics, Chicago’s largest alternative comics publisher. They are the first comic books publisher to fully adopt a crowd-sourcing business model, and have raised over $1.8 million to date. Her best-known work includes the webcomic Templar, Arizona; the Smut Peddler series; and Poorcraft. Follow her @Iron_Spike.

So . . . how are you?

Busy? Put-upon? Incredibly stressed out, but simultaneously incredibly grateful things are so hectic around here. It’s been a helluva a year, but I am 100% cognizant of the good fortune I’ve enjoyed despite that. Iron Circus has some very briskly moving new titles, and an amazing crowdfunding campaign under its belt, our biggest to date. 2020 is the year from hell on a lot of fronts, but for us? Our trajectory has been upwards for years, but the incline got a lot steeper.

What’s the best (or worst) piece of publishing/writing advice you’ve received recently?

“Find an audience no one is serving.” I think there’s a lot of Follow The Leader in publishing (in LIFE, really), and the impulse, the trend is to do what looks popular, what’s selling thousands and thousands of copies. But the simple fact is, by the time you’ve HEARD about trends like that, it’s probably too late to exploit them that cynically.

Banned Book Club, our 2020 flagship title, has been in the works since 2018. We couldn’t have timed its release better with a crystal ball. It eerily suits the mood of the age, with all that’s going on; two weeks after release, and nearly half our print run, our largest single first printing ever, is already spoken for. But if someone were to really slam on the gas and try to make a copycat book right now, hoping for the same results? It wouldn’t work.

It worked for us because Banned Book Club isn’t about chasing a trend; it was about making a book we believed in, something that wasn’t already out there. And that really resonated.

What are bookstores or other cartoonists and publishers doing now that you are particularly excited about? Who is inspiring?

I am equal parts excited and terrified by all the large publishers getting into the graphic novel game. It’s a seismic shift. Random House, HarperCollins. Scholastic’s been around for awhile, of course, but things have really shifted into fourth. It’s sort of intimidating to think, “These are the people I’m competing with for talent.” But at the same time, these are the publishers who decided where the publishing industry goes. They decided what gets to be put on bookstore shelves. They’re bringing a lot of power (and organization!) to an industry that’s been underfunded and disorganized for decades, and that’s pretty incredible.

What does business look like right now? How are online sales and events working? You’ve always had a prominent online presence—how are you seeing the Iron Circus community (cartoonists, Kickstarter donors, customers, etc.) change and support each other?

I don’t think you’re gonna find a single soul that’ll claim the online convention replacements can hold a candle to the in-person events. The revenue, the attention, it’s just not the same as going to a show. And for my part, I like shows because they’re the best places to find new talent. I’m definitely having to work a little harder at that now that they’re not all in the same room with me for three days straight, ha ha.

And yeah, I’ve seen a lot of grassroots support attempts circling. Emergency funds, emergency grants, donations, and the online conventions. Some elements of the comics community have really pulled together, re-posting lists of artists now open for emergency commissions, or links to online stores. We all know it’s rough out there in general, but it’s especially bad now. And even if someone’s doing okay, they for SURE know someone who’s not, and they usually try to help.    

Do you have any new practices you hope to continue doing even after this crisis subsides?

Ha ha, given what I’ve just been saying, this sounds a little odd? But . . . now that we’re not doing conventions for a full calendar year, I’m considering cutting back considerably on our 2021 convention calendar, too. So it’s not so much a new practice we hope to continue doing as . . . a new lack of practice we hope to continue . . . not doing, I suppose.

A big part of Iron Circus’ growth has been shifting my own mindset out of the small-potatoes territory that the traditional comics small press is used to, and INTO thinking of ICC as a publisher in the more mainstream sense. There was a time when going to a convention and making, say, $10,000? That was the ultimate goal, the dream. But at the end of the day, the same way the NASA Space Shuttle program had to be retired, cuz as nice as they are, those things ain’t gettin’ us to Mars? I need to pull away from the hand-selling, direct-to-consumer conventions and start focusing on ALA Annual, BEA, other trade shows that are about a more comprehensive, higher-volume approach. Banned Book Club was pushed hard at ALA Annual in 2019, and we’re really reaping the benefits of that now. I want that kind of performance for all my books.

I’ll never tap out of comic conventions altogether; I love them. But I can see a future where we do, maybe . . . three a year. And leave it at that.

What do you hope for the future of indie publishing and bookselling?

More exposure! More shelf space and industry backing for adult graphic novels! More small press publishers on the shelf beside me, publishing weird and fun graphic novels for an adult audience.

C’mon, everybody, these MILLIONS of kids reading Dog Man and Drama are gonna wanna keep reading comics! Let’s MAKE SOME for them! Let’s meet that need!

What are you reading? Do you have anything you would pair it with (a food, a movie, another book, etc.?)

You mean besides what I’m currently publishing? I just finished re-reading Eleanor Davis’ The Hard Tomorrow. It’s just so horrifying and incredible and powerful and repulsive and compelling and, like, a lot of Octavia Butler stuff . . . maybe not the best thing to read right this second, if you’re look for escapism? But ugh, I love it. I’m orbiting it.  

Looking for a way to support independent bookstores? Make a donation to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (BINC), purchase a book online from your favorite bookstore, or visit

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“Everything is being stripped down to what’s essential”: Introducing A Word with You

Times are strange right now. We’re all looking for ways to stay connected to the book world we love so much, from the wonderful independent booksellers who champion our books to our publishers who put those books into the world. With that in mind, we’re pleased to introduce A Word with You, our new weekly feature where we’ll chat with folks from all over the publishing ecosystem to hear about what we should be reading, what’s inspiring them, and how they’re dealing with this global crisis.

Our first conversation is with Jason Leivian, owner of Floating World Comics. He opened the store in Portland, OR in 2006, focusing on a unique selection of mainstream, genre, literary and self published comics. It has since been celebrated as one of the most beloved comic shops in North America. Floating World branched out into publishing in 2008, starting with underground broadsheets and zines and then comics and hardcover art books available all around the world.

So . . . how are you?

I’m gonna steal a response from my friend Tom [Kaczynski of Uncivilized Books]: So far so good. But, ask again in a month.

What are you missing the most right now?

Friends, my customers and coworkers, Portland’s cheeseburgers.

What’s the best piece of bookselling advice you’ve received recently?

I’ve been very busy creating an online version of the store for mail order, scrambling to try and generate sales while our doors are closed. The best advice is anytime someone tells me to slow down and just do nothing for a while. Get some sunshine, relax in the backyard, pull some weeds out of the garden.

What are publishers or bookstores doing now that you are particularly excited about?

Floating World Comics

There’s a pretty good sense of unity with other booksellers and publishers. We’re all in the same boat. In the same way that we’re hoping to flatten the curve of the health crisis, I think that’s sort of happening with the economic recession that’s coming as a result. We got just enough relief (or offers of relief) to make it past April 1. We’ve got a while until the next round of bills are due. If we can share the burden, pass it around, pick it up again, repeat, we might be able to sustain.

That sense of unity is relatable on a spiritual level. Everything is being stripped down to what’s essential. Some of those discoveries are surprising to society. When we rebuild after this I hope that we’ve learned from the experience and can make resolutions.

There’s been a lot of rewarding moments—connecting with customers, people that care about Floating World, and the comics community here. It’s been endearing and inspiring.

I was emailing with one of the book printers that I work with in China and she was signing off all of her emails with warnings about the virus, which was just starting to spread in America. This was in early March. It was the same every time: Please take care of yourself, wear a mask when out, wash your hands, try not to be in public.

A week later she mentioned that they had a regular source of mask manufacturers and she could send some free masks with some paper samples I requested.

Another week later (March 19) everything on the calendar was getting cancelled, the shop was closing. I wrote to her asking about the masks. Are they N-95? How many could we get?

She sent pictures of the KN-95 masks, the Chinese equivalent of N-95 masks. I sent some of the photos to my Mom who can read and speak Chinese. We read about the rise of counterfeit masks from China, but saw that the factory we ordered from had been around for 5 years.

The minimum order was 1500 masks. We considered the risks. What if the masks didn’t work? What if they didn’t make it through customs? But I trusted my printing rep. I’ve had a working relationship with her for years. This was a personal connection that I trusted and her concern for us in America was genuine. She got FDA registration so they could get the masks through customs. My wife texted some friends to see if anyone wanted to place orders. One of her friends said she wanted to buy two entire boxes to donate to our local hospital. The next day my wife’s friend had thought about it and wanted to order another box. She knew someone who wanted to buy a box too, for their local hospital.

Jason with his wife and daughter

I’m guessing it’s not possible for a hospital to just place an order with random Chinese manufacturers. There are probably strict medical regulations that they can’t get around. But in a pinch this is a good workaround. We’re getting supplies to people today that will make a difference.

The first shipment arrived a few days ago. We distributed some to friends and then found a contact at the local hospital where we could take the donation. They were speechless. They were so grateful. We did a little post online and started getting thanks from health workers in our area.

I know that earlier I said the best advice was to slow down and do nothing. But my default is to do everything I can think of. If I know the work is good and worth doing, I do as much as I can until I’m exhausted.

What’s something good you’ve read recently?

I’m reading a book about the history of electronic music, told through developments in equipment and technology called Live Wires.

David Anthony Kraft’s run on Defenders is fun. Steve Gerber’s style is more intense, takes you on a trip. Kraft’s comics are like a six pack of cheap beer, easy reading. I’m interested in tracking down more of his work.

Read a bunch of Christopher Priest comics recently – his Deathstroke run and about half of his Black Panther run.

The Beautiful Ones, Prince’s unfinished memoir.

Looking for a way to support independent bookstores? Make a donation to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (BINC), purchase a book online from your favorite bookstore, or visit

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OLIO and Sweat Are Pulitzer Prize Winners

Even if you’re not an arts or literature aficionado, it’s likely you’ve heard of a little old prize called the Pulitzer. Going into its 101st year, the 2017 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced on April 10, and two Consortium authors received this incredible honor!

OLIO by Tyehimba Jess won in the poetry category, “For a distinctive work that melds performance art with the deeper art of poetry to explore collective memory and challenge contemporary notions of race and identity.” Though the Pulitzer is always an honor, it’s really no surprise, as earlier this year OLIO was named a finalist for the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, the 2017 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, and the 2017 Kingsley Tufts Poetry AwardOLIO’s win is a major milestone for Wave Books, with this being the first time a title from Wave Books has earned a Pulitzer Prize. As Matthew Zapruder, Editor-at-Large at Wave Books notes, “We are thrilled for Tyehimba, and truly honored to be his publisher. This feels like a victory for the entire independent publishing ecosystem, which supports exceptional artists like Tyehimba Jess and smaller presses like Wave Books, so we can continue to do this work and share it with readers.” OLIO is truly a title in a league of its own, a three-hundred page poetic masterpiece that weaves sonnet and song to examine the lives of the mostly unrecorded African American performers directly before and after the Civil War to WWI. Congratulations to Wave Books on their stunning first Pulitzer Prize winner!

Sweat by Lynn Nottage won the Pulitzer Prize in the drama category, “For a nuanced yet powerful drama that reminds audiences of the stacked deck still facing workers searching for the American dream.” As the first female playwright to win the Pulitzer Prize in Drama twice (Ruined won in 2009), Nottage gives a new meaning to breaking the glass ceiling. With Sweat, she crafts a tragedy about the working class of Reading, Pennsylvania. In the words of Charles Isherwood in the New York Times “From first moments to last, this compassionate but clear-eyed play throbs with heartfelt life, with characters as complicated as any you’ll encounter at the theater today, and with a nifty ticking time bomb of a plot. That the people onstage are middle-class or lower-middle-class folks — too rarely given ample time on American stages — makes the play all the more vital a contribution to contemporary drama. . . . If I had pompoms, I’d be waving them now.” Congratulations to Theatre Communications Group!

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11 Essential Women to Read for International Women’s Day (and Beyond)

Happy Women’s History Month to all the incredible women who have made our national story, and to all the innovative women who are continuing to make our story. In celebration, here is a list of eleven women novelists, comic and graphic artists, essayists, and activists who are creating heartrending, essential stories that you can read now. Pro tip: many of them have books coming out this year, so you can dig into their backlist titles AND have something hopeful to read in 2017.

  1. Rebecca Solnit: Dubbed the “Philosopher Queen” by ELLE Magazine, Rebecca Solnit solnitwrites approachable, intelligent pieces on motherhood, “mansplaining” (a term she coined), politics, gender binaries, and more. Her indie bestselling title Men Explain Things To Me is also now available in Spanish as Los hombres me explican cosas. In the floodbreak of the 2016 election, her title Hope in the Dark resonated with folks across the country, building to the March 7, 2017 publication of The Mother of All Questions, where she writes lines such as “Liberation is always in part a storytelling process: breaking stories, breaking silences, making new stories. A free person tells her own story. A valued person lives in a society in which her story has a place.”
  2. davisAngela Davis: Davis has been woke before anyone knew what that meant, and she’s still writing about it. With decades of thoughtful activism under her belt, Angela Davis has a depth of experience so essential for today’s people when it comes to our dialogue: race, gender, prison rights. If this doesn’t have you interested, read this: in 1969, President Ronald Reagan requested that she be barred from teaching at any university in the State of California because of her membership with the Communist Party. She was part of the Civil Rights Movement and tied to the Black Panther Party. Her Freedom Is A Constant Struggle hit multiple indie bestseller lists in 2016, but you can’t stop there—dig into her older titles, and you’ll find gold: The Meaning of Freedom and Other Difficult Dialogues is a collection of her speeches on racism, community, freedom, and politics, and she’s a bit of a Frederick Douglass expert, having penned additional essays for an expanded version of Douglass’s masterpiece: Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written By Himself.
  3. Arundhati Roy: If you don’t know this incredible novelist for her, well, novels, you’re arundhati-roylikely not paying attention. But as Signature noted in a long piece in early February, instead of riding on her fame for her first novel, The God of Small Things, in the last four years, Roy has become something of a political activist, writing about “power and powerlessness,” including India’s 1998 nuclear testing and its efforts to become a nuclear superpower, the American bombing of Afghanistan, fascism in India, and her ponderings on meeting with Edward Snowden. Before grabbing a copy of her new novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, read her searing works of nonfiction: Capitalism: A Ghost Story, Field Notes on Democracy, The End of Imagination, and Things That Can and Cannot Be Said. In her newest title available April 11, The Doctor and the Saint, Roy strips down the cultural sainthood of Gandhi and examines some of the uncomfortable and controversial truths about the political thought and career of India’s most revered man.
  4. Valeria Luiselli: If you thought 2016 was rough, you have bookends of Valeria Luiselli to remind you of the goodness of 2015, and look forward to 2017. Mexican born Luiselli wowed almost everyone who read The Story of My Teeth in 2015. The New York Times called her story of the traveling auctioneer Gustavo (Highway) Sánchez Sánchez “deeply playful,” and her novel addressed ideas about art and objects, even tmhieas the hilarity of Highway’s tooth collection of the famous (Plato, Petrarch, and Virginia Woolf included) ensued. But in 2017, Luiselli is taking on immigration, and there’s nothing fictional about this. Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions is available starting March 28, and is Luiselli’s record of conversations with undocumented Latin-American children facing deportation. This essential book humanizes these young migrants and highlights the contradictions of the American Dream, and the fear and racism so prevalent for the people who try to make this their home. More Luiselli titles to add to your list include Faces in the Crowd and Sidewalks.
  5. gabrielle-bellGabrielle Bell: “Quiet, pensive cartoonist creates fantastic, heartrending cartoons that stun world” could be the headline for Bell’s artistic career so far. Bell grew up in an isolated rural community, and then took art classes at community colleges, working dead-end retail jobs while she started her career as a cartoonist. Her titles include The Voyeurs, Truth Is Fragmentary, and her first full-length graphic memoir Everything Is Flammable publishing April 18 from Uncivilized Books. Whether you’re into graphic novels or not, make time for Everything is Flammable: spanning a single year, Bell tells the story of returning from New York to her childhood home in rural Northern California to help her mother put her home and life back together. In the narrative, Bell keeps acknowledging her issues with anxiety, financial hardships, memories of a semi-feral childhood, and her always tenuous relationship with her mother. Don’t take my word for it: Alison Bechdel (Fun Home) is also a fan: “Bell’s pen becomes a kind of laser, first illuminating the surface distractions of the world, then scorching them away to reveal a deeper reality that is almost too painful and too beautiful to bear.”
  6. Bae Suah: If you’re trying to diversify your reading list, look no further than this baesuahheavy hitting Korean writer, who has recently been translated into English. In Korean, her name is “Suah Bae,” and she started writing stories as a hobby. The stories took on lives of their own, and now she’s been translated into English multiple times (thank goodness!). A Greater Music follows a young Korean writer as she evaluates her romance with her rough and tumble metalworker boyfriend, and her deep feelings for her past lover, a woman named M. Her most recent title, Recitation, explores the emigrant experience through the ideas of memory and personhood. Read more about Bae Suah in this interview from 1 Brooklyn with her rockstar translator Deborah Smith (who also translated Han Kang’s Man Booker Prize winning The Vegetarian), and stay alert for her collection of short stories, North Station, publishing from Open Letter this October.
  7. janemaiJane Mai: If chic comics, feminism, and Instagram game had a love child, it would probably be Jane Mai. Mai is a freelance illustrator and comics artist from Brooklyn, and her “autobio with a bite” See You Next Tuesday is relatable for any twenty-something female. She doesn’t just tell her own story. On May 16, her collaboration with An Nguyen and Novala Takemoto So Pretty/Very Rotten: Comics and Essays on Lolita Fashion and Cute Culture publishes, and you won’t find a better cultural critique in comic form.
  8. Carmen Boullosa: This Mexican writer is a literary heavenspowerhouse: poet, novelist, and playwright, Boullosa is the trifecta, and her work is more relevant than ever. Her first novel translated in English is Texas: The Great Theft, which reimagines the 1850 Mexican invasion of the United States (complete with colorful ranchers, cowboys, and dancehall girls). She views border history through distinctly Mexican eyes, which couldn’t be a more critical perspective in our current dialogue. Lucky for us, Boullosa is still writing. Her title Before is part revenge novel, part ghost story, and all coming-of-age. Her newest title Heavens on Earth publishes June 20, and beautifully challenges the primacy of recorded history, transcending the barriers of time through vivid, urgent prose.
  9. Sofia Samatar: Of all the writers on this list, Sofia Samatar could be the one whosesamatar college writing class you’d most like to take. This Somali-American professor and writer creates incredible fantasy worlds in her novels A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories, and her first collection of short stories, Tender, is out April 11 from Small Beer Press. When asked why she writes fantasy, Samatar had a lot to say, “I’m this person from a mixed background, you know, Somali and Swiss-German Mennonite, that you don’t see a lot of, and that it maybe encourages me to imagine other ways of being.” Cliff note: her fiction is replete with strong female characters.
  10. Bernice McFadden: Her latest novel, The Book of Harlan weaves a young musician’s bernicejourney through jazz, Harlem, Paris, and life in a Nazi concentration camp. Bernice McFadden won the NAACP Image Award for The Book of Harlan, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg in her oeuvre. The author of nine critically acclaimed novels (pro tip: get a copy of Gathering of Waters immediately), McFadden started out adult life thinking she wanted to work in fashion (obviously, she’s still got the style—check out her NAACP award photos). After years of bouncing around to different big-industry jobs, McFadden landed on a year of unemployment, which launched her love of writing, and the world is better for it. Loving Donovan, Nowhere Is a Place, and The Warmest December are more required reading from this lifetime storyteller.
  11. Ursula K. LeGuin: LeGuin deserves many awards for her 87 years of life, many for her writing, many for her informed, gracious perspective on current events, including a recent letter to the editor explaining the difference between science fiction and ursulaalternative facts, which Entertainment Weekly covered in February. Since she started writing, LeGuin has been bucking the male stereotypes of the fantasy world, and winning awards doing it (including multiple Hugo awards, a Newberry Medal, a PEN award, a World Fantasy Award, and a National Book Award). The New Yorker covered her life and work in an in-depth feature last October, titled “The Fantastic Ursula K. LeGuin.” For a deep reading experience of LeGuin, check out Words Are My Matter: Writings about Life and Books, 2000-2016, with a Journal of a Writer’s Week.


Three More Books You Actually Can’t Miss for WHM:

Rad American Women A-Z: A new classic, Rad American Women A-Z has spent time on the New York Times Bestseller list, been excerpted on Buzzfeed, inspired Halloween costumes, and is genuinely loved by librarians nationwide. If you don’t have a copy (or know another female who doesn’t) it’s high time you picked up a copy of this.

The Crunk Feminist Collection:  From prison abolition, to beauty parlor politics, to Rihanna, The Crunk Feminist Collection brings essays from the Crunk Feminist Collective together in print for the first time. With essays like “Sex and Power in the Black Church” and “Dating with a Doctorate (She Got a Big Ego?)” there’s very little that the Crunk Feminists won’t cover. Self-described as “critical homegirls,” the authors tackle life stuck between loving hip hop and ratchet culture while hating patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism. This published in January, so get your copy now!

And the Spirit Moved Them: The Lost History of America’s First Feminists: Written by activist Helen LaKelly Hunt, this takes modern feminism back to its roots before the suffragettes. Before Seneca Falls, black and white women joined forces at the 1837 Anti-Slavery Convention in the first instance of political organizing by American women, for American women. These women challenged slavery and the patriarchy, and they created a blueprint for today’s intersectional feminism. With a foreword by the legendary Cornel West, this book is sure to make waves, and remind us where we’re coming from.



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Colleen Dunn Bates celebrates 10 years of Prospect Park Books

Looking for a small press that focuses on authors outside the mainstream? Look no further than Prospect Park Books, based in Pasadena, California. Celebrating their 10th anniversary this year, Prospect Park Books’ founder, publisher, and editor Colleen Dunn Bates writes about her experience and doles out some sound wisdom for Literary Hub in a post published November 8th.

The long game aspect of the business frustrated Bates, but has given her a new understanding of publishing and patience, especially the accompanying learning curve: “It takes years to build a backlist, to find and build relationships with talented authors, designers, and staff, and to learn how to make budgets and forecast sales with at least a shred of realism.” However, the love of books and authors drives Prospect Park to keep publishing truly remarkable books.

“We never would have had our #1 bestseller, the debut novel Helen of Pasadena, if I hadn’t said, impetuously, passionately, and (at the time) foolishly, ‘What the hell, let’s go for it!'” Helen of Pasadena follows a wife and mother from (you guessed it) Pasadena whose life changes when her cheating husband gets killed by a parade float. Prospect Park has also fostered a relationship with author Michelle Brafman. author of Bertrand Court and Washing the DeadBertrand Court gives a close-up view of life in a suburban cul-de-sac, while Washing the Dead  deals with a woman confronting her family’s past after her mother’s death. Says the Washington City Paper about Bertrand Court: “Subtle and convincing… Brafman’s book works best in the way these characters interconnect from story to story, maintaining the reader’s interest as a novel should.”

Prospect Park publishes fiction as well as gift and cookbooks; Little Flower Baking  is a perfect example of one of their excellent cookbooks, a baking cookbook that won the Southern California Independent Bookseller Award for Best Nonfiction and has Leite’s Culinaria raving about the plum crumble pie, “a mutant combo in the best possible way.” This is a great gift for the holidays!lfbaking_cover_small

What final piece of advice does Bates give about the small press world? “Every book is our baby, every author is our family member, and there will never be enough hours or dollars to do everything possible to make it succeed. But we try anyway. Because we cannot imagine doing anything else.”


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