Power and Magic Press: Challenging the White Male Dominated Comic Industry from Within
Joamette Gil, is the independent comic publisher who is carving a place for herself, POC, women and queer communities where representation and fair pay for creators is non-negotiable.
By Michele Maria Serrapica
“Comics are not just for kids” is one of the oldest battle fought by both comics authors and readers. There’s another battle though, which is always been concealed until few years ago when it became louder and more visible. We can name this one “Comics are not just for white dudes” and would be a mistake not to mention Joamette Gill amongst the top-rank officials.
Joamette is a queer Afro-Cuban illustrator, cartoonist and writer from the Miami diaspora who isn’t afraid of the literary battle to be represented. At the beginning of the 2016, she founded the Power & Magic Press, an independent comics publisher whose mission is the creative and economic empowerment of queer creators, creators of colour and creators at the intersection. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the second anthology of comic ‘’ keeping intact the publishing house’s two key ingredients – celebrating the magical, the intuitive and the witchy, whilst celebrating the talents of POC, queer and female cartoonists and protagonists.
The first Power & Magic instalment was a comics anthology about queer witches of colour. You are not the only comic artist I know that uses witches to channel their stories. I even know about artists who define themselves as witches. Witches are quite a strong medium apparently. But why? Are you yourself a witch? I’m going to speak no evil…
I’m not a witch per se, but I do identify with the witch as a feminist symbol. I think a great many women and femmes of my generation do, especially those who grew up watching magical girl anime like Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura. The influence is visible not only in comics but in animations like Adventure Time and Steven Universe. Magic is an accessible tool in fiction if you want to craft an allegory about power, choice, responsibility, and so on. Witches in particular have a varied history in fiction, swinging on a pendulum between good and evil and everything in between. The witch is as human as she is mighty, and I wanted to see women of colour take her on as an archetype.
And they indeed did it. The Power and Magic anthology was made of 15 short stories created by a team of 17 women. To do that, you founded the Power & Magic Press brand, you started a Kickstarter campaign, you basically made the transition from artist to publisher. What was the need that push you to do that? And when you knew you had to, how did you go about making it real?
A very specific incident pushed me over the edge. Fair pay was a hot topic at the time (early 2016) among comics creators after a survey of industry rates started circulating on social media. The situation isn’t pretty: very few comics companies pay their creators a living wage for their labor. Part of that is the devaluing of art as work even by publishing professionals. Another part of it is that comics as consumer items don’t pull in much revenue period. We can and should question how the pie is split, but at the end of the day, the pie is tiny. One company in particular (now defunct) made a blog post about the uproar and said something that lit a fire in me: “I let creators keep their rights.”
Here’s the thing: the idea of “letting” creators keep their rights comes from a place of entitlement. Creators own the rights to their work from the moment of creation, legally, and no one else is entitled to them except through purchase of said rights. As a creator myself, this attitude from a then-popular publisher did not sit well with me, and I decided that I was tired of being disappointed by low page rate offers and high entitlements to my creativity. As they say, if you want something done right, do it yourself.
I would never dream of claiming that P&M Press’s $100/page base rate is a living wage. I do however consider my forthrightness about that when talking to new talent an important step in improving conditions for creators. Regardless of the humble deal, I want people I work with to walk away thinking, “okay, I’ve learned that even though it was okay accepting that much for this project, I am worth more.” That said, I am already the highest paying publisher of my size and type, and paying creators higher rates with each successive project is one P&M Press’s core mission points.
My other core mission is to create work for creators who are underrepresented in the comics industry. The POWER & MAGIC series is above all an ongoing way to put money in the hands of women of colour (as well as non-binary creators of colour who still identify closely with womanhood in some way). They don’t all need to tell me they’re queer (as I know younger creators can be closeted), but the protagonists have to be. As a queer woman of colour, I’m tired of not seeing myself or my love in the stories I read.
As for how I went about making this happen, it was actually pretty simple. It was hard work, but there was nothing complex or inaccessible about the process. Thanks to social media and crowdfunding, honestly, anyone could do what I’ve done. All anyone needs is an idea, an internet connection, and a social network. A good idea mind you! It helps to pay attention to trends in the industry (what’s popular and with whom), not to mention knowing how to stay organized, communicate effectively, and manage time. (I want to emphasize here that I am a low-income person – poverty level low-income – so I’m not saying “anyone can do this” with middle-class blinders on. It costs zero money up front to do this.) The only thing I had to acquire was technical know-how: how does Kickstarter even work? How do I make a good one? How does one get paperback books printed? How do I get websites to talk about me? And for every task, there is a detailed article or 20 somewhere on the internet with all the answers.
How did the first book go? Have you personally reached what your goal was? And what was the comic world reaction? I’m pretty sure loads of people at least heard about it, however I was wondering if they publicly showed their interest. I am talking publishers and artists mainly, but I wouldn’t mind knowing what the endless shapeless fearless masses had to say.
The first campaign went perfectly! We met and exceeded our goal, so we were even able to pay creators more than originally planned. It got a huge amount of support from other artists on social media, which is unsurprising to me. The book was designed with comics’ missing links in mind (work by women, work by non-binary people, work about queer women, work about women of color), and no one is more invested in seeing comics grow in that way than the marginalised people who work for that industry every day. As for publishers, staff from various indies and micro-presses have been vocal in their support of what we’re doing, which means so much! All in all, the response to our Kickstarter was universally positive. We did experience some negativity during the submissions phase from people who were upset that white creators weren’t being solicited – but that’s a whole another barrel of fish.
So, the first volume was about love and love relationships, even if it was not stated as a “main theme” of the book, the witches were dealing with very earthly and common problems sometimes. Before the next volume, you started a new campaign for an interlude anthology called Immortal Souls. You stated the themes this time though. And they involve necromancy and visions of death (as we can also see from some of the previews). Is it a step towards the dark side? Why this move?
IMMORTAL SOULS is definitely a step into darker territory while still keeping with the core spirit of the POWER & MAGIC series, which is “what happens when someone has great power.” Regardless of who’s represented in a story, the power dynamics are always incredibly interesting to me. Who has the most power, and when? Who has the least? Why? How does this affect relationships, romantic and otherwise?
In volume one, “The Shop That Never Stays” (by Gabrielle Robinson and Hannah Lazarte) is a story where magic’s role is mainly as a burdensome force rather than a gift. IMMORTAL SOULS ventures into that territory a lot more. These new witches are also gifted with abilities that inherently tread close to danger (death magic, leaving your body, etc.), and the people around them find it harder to accept.
Making IMMORTAL SOULS was sort of an exercise in going with the flow. Every story in it was originally submitted for inclusion in the original POWER & MAGIC, came very close to being accepted, and was ultimately rejected. The main thing they had in common was the reason for their rejection: recurring themes of death, spirits, and the beyond. There were enough excellent stories that complimented each other in this way, that a second anthology basically just fell into my lap. Preparation for IMMORTAL SOULS was already underway before the series even hit Kickstarter.
I’m a big fan of comics and I’ve always thought they are the most unexplored form of art in human history. Only few authors have been able to scratch the surface and go through it. But a more compelling issue is bouncing in my head since I found your project: are comics, at the end of the day, a reliable medium? I think that, if we don’t want you and everybody else’s efforts to be wasted time and energies, comics should be capable to shape people’s minds, to channel a more comprehensive vision of the world that goes beyond the western patriarchal and largely white values. Despite my being genetically and geographically part of this portion of humanity myself, I find it hard, if not impossible to still subdue to a society in which everything is analysed through a white Western straight man gaze. Even though I work and study every day to understand, I can only imagine how it actually is for whoever’s outside the WWSM club.
If the question is whether comics as a medium has some inherent power to change people’s minds, I don’t really believe it does. At least, I don’t think comics are any more (or less) capable of introducing someone to a new point of view than film, prose, poetry, one-on-one conversation, or any other possible form of communication. The thing that finally breaks someone out from their ethnocentrism is a very individual thing. A person can hear an argument a million times and not grasp it until the million-and-first time, just because it was put ever so slightly differently or strikes a nerve nothing ever struck before. Maybe they just never heard it set to music before.
I will say that I don’t think creating art is ever a waste of time, regardless of what it achieves. Art is a powerful vector for truth. Sometimes that truth is the ugliness inside the artist. Sometimes it’s a glimpse into a way of being that one has not been exposed to. It can be a culture-changing thing or even a small, selfish thing that brings just one person release or joy.
Although, it seems something is changing. Comics have been a form of art dominated by the circle quoted above for a very long time. Mainstream comics in particular, the worldwide famous superheroes run by the two biggest publishers in the States (and the world). But they have tried to become more diverse in the last five years, mostly through well-played (but temporary?) race-bending moves. Not only the characters, the artistic teams themselves are becoming more diverse as well with women, POC and queers joining the major publishers ranks. As a queer woman and comic artist yourself though, you might have a better vision of what is happening from the inside. You might already understand if this is a true turning point.
I do think we’re arriving at what I’d call a “true turning point,” but I don’t think the Big Two have much to do with that. They have been hiring more women, POC, and queer people than ever before, but it’s not saying much. In the past five years, Marvel has hired more black women writers than ever before. And how many was that? Two: Nilah Magruder followed by Roxanne Gay. In 78 years of existence, no black women had ever been hired to write Marvel comics before Nilah and Roxanne. I firmly believe that they would have never done it at all if we weren’t living in an age of social media where distressed fans and critics have direct access to make their voices heard. Large corporations are generally disinterested in change for the sake of social justice. “Will it make money? Will it appease customers?” Meanwhile, the past decade has seen a move toward rejecting publication altogether. Creators can now use Patreon and Kickstarter to cut out the middle-men between their undervalued content and the consumers that are hungry for it. And for creators who simply aren’t business minded or want to focus on their craft as much as possible, there are publishers like Oni Press, Hiveworks Comics, Dark Horse, Valiant Entertainment, Iron Circus, etc., with an explicitly diverse array of creators working with them. Not all indie comics publishers are on the ball as far as breaking up the White Boy’s Club they’ve become over the years, but there are solid alternatives and many people who care.
While we’re here speaking, your new Kickstarter campaign reached its end (and goal) already, but I’m sure people can still support you anyway someway.
Speaking of which, what’s the future of Power & Magic Press? Can you please share with us your next move and your bigger plan?
Oh absolutely! Volume 1 is still available for sale via Gumroad, to be joined by IMMORTAL SOULS in late Spring 2018. The overarching plan is to keep showcasing underserved creators and content, upping creator pay, and eventually publishing solo works by the best and brightest we meet along the way. In the short term, there are two more books to look forward to: the official POWER & MAGIC Vol. 2 (of course) as well as a completely new anthology by non-binary creators. The former will be taking submissions in 2018, whereas the latter will open for submissions very soon. (Keep your eyes peeled!)