Monday, 9 November 2015

Catching up with Peow! Studio as they launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund 2016 slate [interview]

I've been an advocate of Swedish comic publishers, Peow! Studio, since coming across their books in early 2013, almost a year after their founding. It was in October 2013 that I first interviewed Patrick Crotty, Elliot Alfredius and Olle Forsloff (all of whom are artists in their own right), to discuss Peow's conception, and their hopes and plans for its future. The 2 years since have seen the imprint grow noticeably in visibility and popularity- tabling at a range of cons in Canada, North America, and the UK, as people becoming increasingly aware of their books and carefully-selected stable of cartoonists. It's not surprising that a clear aesthetic vision coupled with a synergistic attention to production -paper, ink, printing quality, etc.- (and the not insignificant decision to publish all their books in English) has resulted in a dedicated following and award nominations. I caught up with Patrick Crotty to talk about how things have been going, and what's changed, as Peow launch a Kickstarter to fund their (frankly amazing-looking) 2016 line-up.

It's been a while since we last chatted; can you tell us broadly what the past 2 years have been like; what's changed; how you've developed; any particular highlights or challenges? 
The past 2 years have been good. Elliot has a dog now. We've made a bunch of books and we've been travelling to festivals. For us, it feels like nothing really has changed, but is has. Mainly, we are making more books, and longer books. And they are selling out faster? Yeah, but also, for us as editors - that part has changed a lot. When we started, and we got to work with someone, we let them do 100% whatever they wanted because we were so happy just to be working with them, but now.. we ... are a bit more pushy, haha. What I mean is, we think a lot about how the books are written and how the panels and artwork are drawn.

We are more forward about giving critique and feedback and asking the artists to change things to make the general flow of the books feel better, because in the end, it's better for everyone, and its really important for making a good book! And some books we are reaaaallly proud of. Disa Wallander's book- Elliot did an amazing job helping arrange that book and hey it got nominated for Best Comic [Ignatz award] so that's nice. 

But going to festivals has been nice, we now have friends all over the place thanks to our books! And its cool because we know there are some people that get like every book we release and it's so fun because we send out the mail ourselves so we get excited and are like "OMG this person ordered again what a great customer lets put bonus stuff in here!" 

Has the progression been what you expected?
For us the progress has been a big surprise. When we started out, we didn't have a plan about how many books we wanted to make or where we were going, we just wanted to make books that we wanted to read, and make the books that nobody else was making at the time. But I think we've been reaching out to more and more people faster than we thought. We always feel like we aren't making enough books, because more often then not, our books are getting sold out in less than a year a year after printing. Like Disa's book, when we got nominated for the Ignatz, we only had 12 copies left of the book. So .. just things like that. It's hard to tell when we are living in a place that doesn't really do comics the way other countries do, we cant talk and compare to other Swedish publishers because we aren't even in the same loops.

Where are you today as a publisher - what are the things you're thinking about, your goals?
At the beginning of this year we had 3 goals. Make an offset book, Make a book that was over 100 pages, and get publishing rights to a foreign book. We did two of those three goals. Getting the foreign publishing rights might be something for 2017, maybe trying to do some fun French books or manga, because we are dorks. But for 2016, we want to do one hardcover book. 

And now, we really want to work with making books full time, and just be self sufficient on books. It's tough, but we've worked out a plan so we have tangible goals for how much we actually need to make and sell of each book. It feels so weird and business-y but... you really need to think about money A LOT, even if it feels like a weird thing to think about. But you gotta if you wanna keep on going. We don't get any state funding, and we don't have any investors backing us, or a rich dad that can help us out with infinity money, but somehow, we've "made it" and our print runs are on par or bigger than most Scandinavian comic publishers. 

We are doing a good thing, even if we don't know exactly how to get the money thing 100% right. But that's what we are really trying to do now, because we really love making books and .... well.. I love like every single person we have worked with, and I want them to succeed because *damn* we are all just barely getting by, but I really want that to change so that all of us can live like "regular people". We have always prioritized paying our artists, and ... it would be nice to be able to have enough money to be like "hey. we can pay you xxxxxxx, work on a book for a year because we believe in you "... That's the goal. 

But we've been doing this for three years now, for free..., but if we continue, we have to do it seriously, so that we can take our parents out to dinner. We need to feel more economically safe. That's really important.

Something people may not know about Peow! is that you also run an actual physical shop, selling comics and offering printing services. What does the shop offer/provide you as a publisher/business?
Once we got this new office space, the one that is not in a basement, we thought we could do something fun with the new space and start selling books that you couldn't get anywhere else. We only kinda wanted more small press stuff,  like things you couldn't get at the other comic book stores here . There aren't too many comic shops in Stockholm, and we don't want to steal customers from them by selling the same books, so we were just like.. lets have fun stuff we like. The shop was never made for profit, and its actually just a fun way to show the books we like and share them with people in Sweden, but its not really... a ... bookstore, hahah. Again, we had the extra space and we were like "lets have books here!!" But we've had some really fun customers from all over the world that have gotten stuff, and it's been nice to share our faves with people here because they don't know anything hahaha. 

But the printing service, that's been a big deal for us for a long time! Doing print jobs for people is Sweden has generally funded our day-to-day baseline costs, covering  the studio rent, internet, paper etc. basic stuff. 

We really are gonna give this one big big push to step up our game. We want to be able to make books as seriously as we can. We're moving over all of our printing to offset. It's kinda funny because when we started out we started reading Nobrow books and were like "we should do this". Haha! We just got our first offset book back, and its great. It even has that awesome "new book smell!!". 

You're moving from risograph (which I think people associate quite strongly with your books) to offset printing- what's the impetuous behind that?
The riso has been a great thing for us. But. having a riso in Sweden is ... not so good. Anything riso related here is about 2 - 4 times more expensive than compared to the US or UK. The official (and only) riso supplier has stopped offering support for our machine. They can tell us what is wrong, but if something breaks, there is no way to repair it. We had a wake up call recently when some parts broke in the middle of printing Bio-Whale and we had a few days of death-grip stress and that's when we decided that we don't wanna be dependent on riso.

At the same time when we were at ELCAF it felt like 90% of the stuff there was riso printed. It's just.. over-saturated, and it's come to this point where it all kinda looks the same. Everybody has the same colors, and it's not as exciting as it used to be. We want play with different colors, and papers, and sizes. When I see that stuff, it makes me feel that riso isn't the thing that attracts me to a book. What's really important -for real important- is just good book design and great comics. That's what we want to be making. It doesn't mean we will stop using the riso. We will use it when we feel that it suits the project. Going into offset, we still have a riso mindset, about how we can use spot colors to play with our books to give them a feel that shouldn't be connected to any type of "printing process", it should just feel like a Peow book, not just a "riso" book.

Lastly, it's for larger print runs. Our books are getting longer and our editions are getting bigger, and it takes more and more time to print each book on the riso, and in the binding process, we would loose up to 100 books!  We really felt with offset, it takes so much off our shoulders, and it's fun because we are learning new things. it feels really fun actually! Reprinting books is gonna be an actual possibility now.

How big are you hoping for these print runs to be?
Aah, this is funny, I don't think most publisher talk about print numbers very openly. Our upcoming books are all gonna have a baseline print run of 1000, which is gonna be our new standard print run size. 

We've heard it's more than what most Swedish publishers are making. But I've also heard that even more well known US publishers have print runs less than that but we never here directly from someone. Print runs to me feel like a very secret thing that people don't like to talk openly about. It's like saying how long your penis is or something. Publishers might be nervous to share because ... even if you make really nice books, maybe they don't sell, or you don't wanna look small?? Or you are comparing those print runs to mega best sellers that constantly are being reprinted and feel bad.. Anyways, our goal is eventually doing min. 3k of each book. Give us 2 years huh. Help make this happen !!!

Can you tell us a bit about the books and authors that you're hoping to publish as a result of the Kickstarter?
Guillaume Singelin is coming out with a big sketchbook with us. We've been courting him for a LOOONG TIME and all those monkey and spaceman sketches he posted, the Space Quest stuff, were originally going to be for a real book with us! But it never happened because we couldn't get a good story worked out. But we kept in touch, and then PTSD gets mentioned and we are like.... WHAT? But it's so far off, 2017. We don't wanna steal him from his work, so we thought of what we can do and we are super happy to make this because there is a good chunk of brand new stuff, and it'll be our biggest book and... I mean.. It's Gui, he's the best!

Wai Wai's  book is for me one of the books I've been so so excited about. I read her Japan travel diary and thought it was amazing. She has this great style of being super tidy and organized but still drawing in this naive style that I really, really love. I had this idea that it would be so fun to have a detective book in this style. A detective story in the vein of Benson's Cuckoos, where it's soft and easy, simple mystery, or Masahiko Matsumoto's The Man Next Door (Breakdown Press). That old, compact, rental manga mystery. So we're working on that, and I'm really looking forward to it. I hope other people will pick it up, because I don't thing she's a well known in the US, but ... dang, its like the best mystery book that's gonna be out in 2016!

I am gonna be working on Internal Affairs 3. Yes. I have been working on it, but now I'm gonna make it come true. It's gonna be a big big book and there are gonna be some very long action sequences where I'm aiming for the knife fight from Appleseed.

Mathilde Kitteh (who did MGCL_GRL) and Luca Oliveri are working on a 2-in-1 shojo book. It's a sci-fi romance in the Wrecked Ship universe that Valentin Seiche created. For the longest time, all of us at Peow have wanted to make a romance book, and it's finally happening. Luca has a fun lighthearted story that is.. kinda.. sexy even. But his style is so nice, and it's almost like reading a book that was sketched out in Ghibli style. I keep on wanting to say "whisper of the heart". It's beautiful! Kiki is supposed to have a "dark" story, but from what I've read so far, its some of the best funny writing I've ever read and I had real human eye tears from reading it. 

And Mackenzie Schubert is working on a fantasy story about haunted fish that put people in a trance and lead them away from villages. Its' very weird. I want to call it fantasy, but it's touching in areas of fantasy/scifi that I have never seen before so it's hard to pinpoint. Mackenzie is one of the most exciting concept artists that we've come across and he is constantly blowing our heads off with really out-there knights/mechs. You should definitely check his work out, because it's hard to explain in text. But it's very very fun to see what he is doing because it surprises us so much.

Like many people, I use Kickstarter as a pre-order service, and am often put off because you never know if and when you'll get the books you back. What are you doing to make sure everything is delivered on time and things run as smoothly as possible?
Well, we need to get fully funded to make this happen. If we do get fully funded, then its green lights all the way. The books are well underway and it's just a matter of being able to pay for everything. We've been making books for 3 years, so it's common territory.  

What happens if you don't make your goal? Will the books still be published?
If we don't make the goal, then we will still make the books, but the release dates may be pushed forward a lot and we will be out with a lot of money. Also our future plans for books might be a bit weird. It would mean the artists will be paid after the book has launched (as opposed to giving them an advance payment). I really don't want this to happen, but.. yeah. If we don't make the goal we'd be pretty bummed.

You can pledge to the Peow! Kickstarter here

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