Our semi-regular Line by Line series, which we began running at the end of last year, features conversations with some of our favorite artists working in the comics medium. For this week’s interview, we reached out to the team behind 2dcloud, one of the most interesting and exciting independent publishers working today. The Minneapolis-based group is currently in the final days of a Kickstarter campaign to fund their Winter Collection, which features books by Andrew Burkholder and Austin English, a zine by Sarah Ferrick, and the first volume of an anthology called “Mirror Mirror,” edited by Blaise Larmee. Over a series of emails, Raighne Hogan, publisher of 2dcloud, discussed the putting out work of the present moment, working on projects in collaboration with artists, and the need for altcomics to be a sustainable industry.
Can you talk about the origins of 2dcloud?
Initially it was mostly just Maggie Umber and myself leading this vehicle from 2007-2010. Justin Skarhus, while with us from the beginning, became more involved over time. Roles have been sorta liquid. For our current incarnation, there’s sorta five of us — but we work very directly with the artists we sign, if that makes sense? Like, they work with us on production, marketing, social media, etc — we want them to be part of the conversation with these types of things. It’s important that their voice is a part of the process.
Like a lot of small labels, we started with an anthology and kinda grew from there. Organically and ineffectually. It’s easy to look back and say that we had a central vision from the start, but it really wasn’t until a couple years ago that the idea of what we could or would become properly coalesced.
I was on a train ride with Sarah Ferrick and we got talking about peer groups being essentially the center of our universes, and that’s when things clicked for me. Out of a very transformative weekend in Rhode Island with Sarah Ferrick, Leslie Weibeler, and Blaise Larmee, I realized that I wanted these people forever in my life. Friends. Peers. Artists that we publish. We don’t take on new people arbitrarily. We are interested in retention, in growth, in friendship — together. This isn’t to say that there won’t be conflict, that we are of one mind, that everyone we publish likes the work, let alone each other. But, I think, for a movement, for peer groups, for us as a publisher — disagreements, a level of antagonism, if somewhat guided, can be healthy.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about Scott Longo and the work he is doing at Sonatina as both author and publisher. The level of trust he affords his authors. It was something that I immediately wanted to emulate and implement in a way that would make sense for us at 2dcloud.
Was there something missing in comics that you wanted to see published?
Yeah, I mean, of course, but it’s pretty basic. Like, I wanted to see the work of my friends published. I wanted the type of work that I’d like to create as an artist and that my friends and peers wanted to create — for there to be an audience and a space where new exciting work was permitted.
I think far too often, when people want to reference art comics, Fort Thunder feels like the only reference point. And I think that is a failure. Much of the type of work that we are putting out now, is this raw, new thing — work for now. I guess, what I mean is that it would be nice to see new work, that is exciting and good, reach out and be seen prior to it getting vetted by whatever gatekeepers. There is just something very exciting about that. And to see a group of people working in that space, to see them succeed, to have them be part of something larger than themselves — like, I view a lot of what we are doing — it feels very much like a movement. By working with and retaining artists that are a part of this structural space, we can reshape much of the overall landscape.
Are there models outside the world of altcomics that you’re looking at for inspiration?
Well, I mean, a lot of things really. But tech and the indie games space mostly. It’s just super fascinating. The game space, in terms of how they’ve used distribution — really really smart stuff.
I remember reading this interview with Gabe Newell where he was discussing a small game developer in Texas creating a piece of software that got installed on more machines more than Windows at the time. I mean, that’s completely nuts, right? A 12 person team out-distributing the largest software company in the world. The piece of software was the game “Doom,” by the way. It was largely distributed as shareware and mail order. So more meatspace distribution vs digital — which makes sense as this was before the web was the prevalent platform it is today.
But yah, platforms like Steam created a space for highly creative, singular experiences to co-exist alongside more standard blockbusters. Like, suddenly, auteur driven experiences — indie games — the equivalent of zines or GN’s in a lot of ways, now were able to share the same road towards monetization. And sales were significant enough that it encouraged competition from Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, and later Apple. It also lead to documentaries like “Indie Games: The Movie” and micro-consoles, like the OUYA (both of which started out life on Kickstarter).
So, the parallels are this: there are awards, festivals, news sites, new distribution channels for the altcomics space that mirror a lot of the structures seen with indie games. If we could better harness some of these spaces — well, I mean, if this isn’t a roadmap for altcomics, I don’t know what is. All of the pieces are right before us, if we can come together, we make this happen.
There is such a wide variety of the kinds of work you’re publishing. Is balance something that’s important to you?
Absolutely. Well, it’s a curatorial approach, but it is a humble curation. Like, making a mixtape. Finding tracks that mix well together, that have meaning, that provide a grove and allow for discovery.
Balance is hugely important. The type of work and the authors we work with, that we seek out, on some basic level ought to be a reflection of the world we live in. Which is to say, like, how important is it to have authors from diverse backgrounds? Or to work with artists that happen to be women? I mean, and this isn’t like a PC thing — it’s like a true salon approach in some ways, where having artists from different backgrounds, practices, working with women and men — I mean, it just strengthens the field, showcasing possibilities and avenues of thought that maybe wouldn’t be examined so pointedly otherwise.
It’s also been helpful that a lot of the artists I follow have been very vocal about things they find contentious in regards to this industry. And if you want to serve them, your peers — to be part of this thing, it’s like, well, that has to be addressed.
With “Mirror Mirror,” what interested you in putting out an anthology series?
For us, I think the thing is that there is a need to see new works from new authors. To create a context that might not exist otherwise. But because there are so many anthologies out there, we wanted to do something different with it. It’s a unique vehicle, but to stand out, you really have to approach things different. Each volume of “Mirror Mirror” will circle and serve the altcomics scene, but each volume will also receive an editor unique to that edition. So, for our opening edition, we had Blaise Larmee lead that. He’s an amazing editor with a wholly unique voice and worldview. The work he’s done with Gaze Books, online and in print, with his personal practice — it’s just astonishing. And what he’s been doing with altcomics — I mean, he created a mood-board and it grew into a movement.
For volume 2, Julia Gfrörer and Sean T. Collins are editing. They’ve put together an amazing lineup that continues the series, but forks — allowing for their volume to be just as singular as the one with Blaise.
Can you talk about your use of Kickstarter and the idea behind the seasonal collections?
One of the ideas behind anthologies, one of the strengths, is bringing together creators and allowing for discovery. It is an incredible incredible sensation for an audience. The idea of our collections, is to echo and amplify that sensation for an audience, while also allow for longer works that can stand alone.
On the business side, it’s a straightforward way of maintaining cash flow. Which, when dealing with highly creative material, is a huge risk.
There are interesting ideas everywhere. Are you familiar with the company Xiaomi? They’re a smart phone manufacturer in China, doing some really interesting things in terms of distribution. Basically, they sell really really close to cost and make money via services. But it is all about scale. Comics is clearly nowhere near smart phone or apps in terms of market saturation. But, what if we could, for a smaller passionate group, sell them these gorgeous books at a significant discount and offer them a more intimate / direct experience? All while still offering premium products.
Ultimately, it’s about deepening relationships, growing an audience, pushing to make this a sustainable industry — because right now, it’s not. I mean, if artists who make this form their practice cannot have this, operationally, be their main gig, then it’s not sustainable. Like, that is an end goal. So, it’s a fight for mindshare. Awareness. A paying audience — an educational mission of sorts, where commerce is tied up in pushing for a greater awareness. And crowdfunding is made for these types of enterprises. Taking an idea away from gatekeepers, and pitching it to a public, in a very now way. For it to really take seed, it needs to have support. There has to be a movement behind it, a passionate urgency. And that is something altcomics desperately needs to approach a greater sustainability.
Are there other things you hope to be able to produce, outside the format of books and zines?
Definitely. Most immediately reading events and a film. Specifically a documentary about the altcomics scene. For both of these things we are taking pages from Lyra’s Hills excellent “Brain Frame” series, and ideas from “Indie Games: The Movie.”
I really can’t say enough about Lyra Hill and Brain Frame. She’s amazing. I mean, there have been other comics reading series, but Brain Frame became this larger cultural thing — bringing in people that maybe weren’t drawn to comics so much as to storytelling. And by having it be this regularly occurring event, it became a larger sticky thing, where burgeoning culture bubbled up.
Personally, I think it aided in making CAKE the success it is today. These types of festivals require a certain level of engagement and reoccurrence to be successful. And for my money, I think Brain Frame helped achieve that.
We’re trying to apply some of what we’ve seen there towards our Altcomics event series, while also allowing it to become it’s own thing. And these events directly feed into our documentary, as well as the magazine.
—Craig Hubert (@craighubert)
(Images courtesy of 2dcloud)