By: Nicole D’Andria
This week I’m interviewing the co-editors of Dates Volume 2. This anthology of "queer historical fiction" focuses on happy endings rather than the tragic ones that often befall fictional characters in the LGBT+ community. The stories take place in a variety of time periods and settings.
Some of the numerous stories include a trans woman in 19th century Bengal, a young woman trying to become a doctor in the 1920s Dominican Republic, and two innkeepers staying strong in Mesopotamia during Hammurabi’s reign.
The project will only be funded if it hits its goal of $22,000 by March 25, 2017 at 3:00 PM EDT. Rewards include a digital ($10) or physical copy ($25) of Dates 2, bonus digital comics ($15+), a 2000-word historical fiction short about a topic of your choosing written by Gwen C. Katz ($100) and even more. You can check out their other rewards on their official Kickstarter page.
I spoke in-depth about the project with Dates two co-editors, Zora Gilbert and Cat Parra (Beyond 2):
|Cat Parra (left) and Zora Gilbert (right)|
Me: What inspired both of you to create this anthology, and the one before it?
Zora: It was kind of a grand culmination of things. The biggest and clearest was that in the spring of 2015, Cat was reading and watching a lot of historical fiction (which means I was reading and watching a lot of historical fiction), and we were both just really struck by the lack of canonically-confirmed queer characters. We were also both well and painfully aware of the tragic queer trope, and wanting more happy stuff to come back to instead of the doom and gloom and stress that comes from consuming media that might kill off the one character you most identified with. And honestly, we were itching for a project, and after coming home from HeroesCon that year and basking in all the awesome comics energy there, we just launched into it.
Me: The stories in this anthology avoid the tragic endings for characters in the LGBT+ community that we often see in other works. Why do you think these tropes exist? What are some of the most problematic examples of them?
Cat: I think they’re easy. People think of tragedy as the natural state of queer existence I think and don’t bother looking past that assumption. A lot of that comes from the real stories we hear but also from other fictional media. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle I think. Queer lives don’t always end happily, but sometimes they do, and I’d rather focus on that. I think one of the most galling examples for me was actually one of the inspirations for Dates. I was binge-watching The Tudors on Netflix and I think in one episode you find out a character is gay, they show him happy with a new love interest and maybe two episodes later he’s dead of the plague. There was no point in any of it.
Zora: The first time I can ever remember being confronted with the tragic queer trope was when I was watching Season 6 of Buffy and Joss Whedon decided to fulfil his dream of adding a character to the opening credits and immediately killing them off by destroying the show’s most functional—and, coincidentally, only queer—couple. I didn’t understand it or, really, why people were so upset at the time, but now when I think tragic queer it’s the first thing to come to mind and it’s one of the most egregious and galling examples I can think of.
Me: The central theme for this volume of Dates is progress. Why did you pick this theme in particular?
Zora: We picked progress because we wanted to emphasize growth and innovation. I feel like in the last few years I’ve learned about a ton of historical figures who were leaders during cultural shifts and also happened to be queer, or about queer figures who also happened to be great innovators (Glenn Burke and the high five is my favorite example), so I loved the idea of infusing queerness into events and periods that people often don’t associate with it.
Cat: I think it felt fitting too because the whole point of books like these is to sort of push things in the right direction. We really want progress so we made a book about it.
Me: As co-editors on the project, what tasks did you do individually and collectively to bring the anthology to life?
Zora: Did y’all know that there are like seven million things to do when creating a book because there really, really are. There’s not a 100% split on really any tasks—
Cat: I will definitely admit I do not do a lot of emailing or spreadsheeting.
Zora: Hahahaha, yeah, I’m the one who fields pretty much all the emails—I have them all go straight to my phone, which, you can decide how healthy that is—and do the nitty-gritty tracking work on who has stuff in, who has extensions, all that jazz. Cat is Chief Graphics Maker for social media and the Kickstarter page, while I tend to be the one to design stuff like print posters, and I also do all the final book design and layout. Both of us draft and edit copy (so much copy) on stuff like announcements, big group info dumps, tumblr posts, etc. We also always look over folks’ submissions at each stage of the process together, so even though I wrote all the feedback emails, each and every one of them was our joint editorial voice.
Me: How did you get in touch with some of the creators who are working on this anthology and get them involved with the project?
Cat: The biggest thing for us is the open artist call. We take online submissions at the start of the project and both times that’s brought in a lot of amazing talent. But the very first creators to sign on for the first volume were just friends and former classmates of mine from SCAD and CMU and they really got the book rolling.
Zora: For the second book, we brought back some folks from the first volume before open call, since we loved working with them and we liked the sense of continuity it brought to the books. I also want to give a special shout out to Erica Chan, cover artist extraordinaire, who’s been with us literally every step of the way and is one of our biggest cheerleaders (even though she’s in the book).
Cat: Sure, it’s called “Reflections of a Glassmaker” and it takes place in Murano, Italy in the 14th century. Tian, a Chinese Silk Road merchant, pays the eponymous glassmaker a visit and he brings him a good deal more to think about than silk. I think it’s a very sweet story about different forms of dependability. It’s actually a team effort, written by my good friends Jenna and Jesse Barnes (JJ Barnes for short) and then Effie Lee provided really lovely inks for my pencils. So there were a lot of cooks in this kitchen but I think we made a good meal, haha.
Zora: It’s so good, y’all.
Me: What do each of you think is the number one reason backers should pledge money to this project?
Zora: First and foremost? People should pledge to support our amazing, amazing group of creators. Every dollar that folks contribute to the Kickstarter campaign is a dollar towards pay increases for our contributors, and they deserve every cent. Committing to an anthology that relies on Kickstarter is an act of trust in the creators—trust that we’ll do the work to put the book together, organize the campaign, and push it hard so that the book gets published. That trust—along with the spectacular talent and skill that all our contributors have brought to bear in their stories—is incredibly humbling and inspiring.
Realistically, though, everyone has their own reasons for pledging! If you’re tired of sad queer stories, if you want a gorgeous book full of stunning artwork, or even if you want to dip your toe into historical fiction and learn about cultures including, but for once not limited to, the west, Dates is a great book and we would love ten or thirty of your dollars.
Cat: Pledge because you can get the book if you do. It is a good book that will make you feel good even if you cry a bit. I’d think that’s reason enough even if there wasn’t the rest of it.
Me: What tips can you give to editors interested in working on anthologies or editing comics in general?
Cat: Do your research. You need to know what you’re getting into, what your expectations should be, what work is already out there. Also, for anthologies, the buddy system is great. There’s a reason most of the anthologies you see are edited by two people––managing 30 creators is a lot of work. Also be organized?
Zora: Please for the love of god be organized. Lists and spreadsheets are my guiding light, my savior, my muse. I actually want to echo everything Cat just said—having a partner on any large scale project is important, but on anthologies that you’re running as essentially a fourth (in my case) job, it’s just... such a bad idea to go at it alone. A partner gives you someone to bounce your ideas off of and holds your hand when sending scary emails, and having someone there who’s just as in the weeds as you are at 2:30 am the week before the Kickstarter is a profound source of support.
Research is also essential. I wasn’t professionally trained in anything to do with comics or editing until after we started Dates 1, but as soon as we got semi-serious I sucked in information like a sponge. In June, I must have read the entirety of the Chainmail Bikini and Beyond blogs five times (major props to Hazel Newlevant, Taneka Stotts, and Sfé R. Monster) to understand how they scheduled posting and structured artist calls. I devoured Spike Trotman’s “Let’s Kickstart a Comic” (a must-read, honestly), and then between June and August I read every single thing I could find on timing Kickstarters, setting up pages, funding patterns, communication with backers… everything.
I could talk for hours about kickstarting anthologies, so I’m gonna wrap it up, but I do want to say that if anybody is interested in doing one of these things? Hit us up. We’re always happy to talk and share anything we know.
Me: Do you have any future plans for making a third volume of Dates? If so, what details can you provide about that?
Zora: Oh my gosh, we actually have to shut ourselves down in our chat every time we start talking about new ideas because we keep having them but really need to keep our heads down and focus on pushing this book, now, in the present. All I’ll say is that there is definitely more from Margins in the works, and if/when we do Dates 3 Cat is going to draw me as a newsie and it is going to be cute as hell.
Cat: I’d say it’s more likely than not because we cannot stop having ideas for it, but we can’t put any sort of timeline on it yet. If it happens I’m sure we’ll do another open artist call so that’ll be the big thing to look out for.
Me: Thank you for your time, Zora and Cat! If you’re reading this and are interested in backing Dates 2, check out the official Kickstarter here.
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