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Indie Comics Spotlight: Hope Nicholson on Canada, collaboration, and crowdfunding
If it's vintage, there's a good chance that Hope Nicholson is into it. The Canadian publisher and editor has a penchant for classic clothes, art, and at the start of her career, comics. You see, Nicholson is a comics historian, and her research on Canada’s first national comic book hero, a 1941 creation named Nelvana of the Northern Lights who pre-dates Wonder Woman, led her to crowdfund the reprinting of several of the original character's works. The campaign caught the attention of fellow Canadian Jeff Lemire, and one successful Kickstarter later, Nicholson was a comic book publisher.
Since then, the Winnipeg native has published more comic book history-based work, like Sisterhood of Spectacular Women, Hit Reblog: Comics That Caught Fire, and Work for a Million due out later this year through her company, Bedside Press. Currently distributed worldwide by Diamond, Nicholson has several deals stateside with third-party publishers as well. Including AHComics (Moonshot) and Dark Horse Comics. Dark Horse regularly publishes anthologies that Nicholson edits. Including Secret Loves of Geek Girls, Secret Loves of Geeks and her latest, Pros and (Comic) Cons.
Nicholson spoke with SYFY WIRE during San Diego Comic-Con and shared some details on her life as an independent editor and publisher, teased her upcoming projects, and explained why securing independent funding is like leveling up in a video game.
Can you explain what it means to be a comic book historian?
People often try to put me on panels about historical comics, and I have to correct them because I write histories about comics. My specialties are 1940s Canadian World War II comic books, as well as Women's representation both on the page and behind the scenes in comic books. Those niches have given me a lot of information on the distribution system and changes in comic book history. As a publisher, that fascinates me. I wanted to learn ways that the industry has worked, what practices were successful, what wasn't, and what needed a different approach. There's no way you can learn that without actually delving into the history behind it.
How did you transition into editing and publishing comics yourself?
Well, that was mostly out of spite. There was no way to continue my work on the Canadian comics that I was researching without access to the original work because everything as out-of-print. I waited for years, hoping that someone would do a reprint collection. Everyone thought it was a great idea, but [no one would do it].
I knew where all of the archives and private collectors across Canada were. So, I teamed up with a friend of mine who also was interested in 1940s comic books and we pulled together a collection of rare Canadian comics for reprint. That's how the [Nelvana of the Northern Lights] Kickstarter campaign came about. I thought if it worked, then I'd figure it out how to be a publisher. And it did! All thanks to Jeff Lemire, a fellow Canadian comic book creator, how loved the idea and asked to do some pinup artwork for it.
You’ve mentioned before that Canada has a different way of supporting independent artists.
In Canada, you can get grants for different creative disciplines; music, art, writing, even publishing, as long as you fulfill whatever set of rules that they have. It's kind of like a video game, which is what appealed to me about the grant process. Not only is it free money, but having to check off all these boxes became a challenge. I was told at one point, “Just so you know, it doesn't matter how good your projects are, we're going to reject you for the first year. So you may as well apply for anything because we want to see that you're serious about this”. In fact, that's precisely what happened. My first stream of applications for both federal and provincial grants was rejected. But then the next round I got them.
Your current business model is crowdfunding each comic and then within that budget are operating costs and paying your creatives?
It started off that way. Now, because I have worldwide distribution through Diamond Book Distributors, it means that I can reduce the amount I need from crowdfunding and pre-sales. I know a good amount of books will sell in the direct market and the bookstore market. So that's been an enormous help and supplementing it with grant income is always helpful. But I still survive through collaborations with third-party publishers, like my work with Dark Horse Comics.
Is the Dark Horse deal also worldwide, or is it just North America?
It's worldwide. We work on projects where I curate collections for them, or I bring them projects and receive either a finder's fee or sometimes I get a percentage of the profits depending on how involved I am in the process. It's been great working with Dark Horse. They're very supportive.
You're known for your anthologies, what attracts you to that genre?
I’ve worked with artists who have just done a webcomic and writers whose only experience has been in like viral twitter threads, or who’ve had a run of successful fan fiction. I pair them up in anthologies with big names like Patrick Rothfuss, Margaret Atwood, Kieron Gillen, and Brian Michael Bendis. As a result, they get exposure to worlds and markets that they otherwise wouldn't have. In turn, this ups their power in the game and it gives them a jump start when they’re [new] or their career is at a low and needs a boost.
The bitter side is that I can cut anyone out at any point. The book doesn't depend on any single creator. If you don't meet your deadlines or if you are disrespectful to other creatives in the book, you're out, and it doesn't impact a thing. When you're working on an original graphic novel [and you run into trouble with a creative], you either have to cut the project out completely or put up with them for years. So, anthologies are a lot nicer in that way.
What are some of the upcoming projects that you're excited about with Bedside Press?
They're all my babies equally but I’m really excited about Broodhollow. Kris Straub is a friend of mine and the pitch for his webcomic [we’re adapting] is “Lovecraft meets Tin-Tin”. So basically it's a cute, 1930s, Cuphead-style story and artwork. But it's about a twisted town full of dark secrets and like anxiety manifesting as monsters. The first time I read it, I thought it was amazing. But no publisher wanted it. He has a strong fan following and raised over six figures to get it printed on Kickstarter, I couldn't understand it. Once I got worldwide distribution, I decided I would be the one to publish it and I'm going to do my best to get it on every bookshelf possible.
You recently announced that you’ve launched a mentorship program for comic book creators, can you give us some details?
This is for creators who can do a crowdfunding campaign themselves to get their projects funded, but they need assistance. For instance, they may know how to put together a book, but they don't know how to do budgets or marketing for a campaign. I'm a Kickstarter thought leader and I've mentored a lot of people unofficially over the years, I want to create a system where, I would be able to sit down, go over their campaigns with them and detail by detail, teach them how to use the program. So in the future, they can use [this model] to do whatever projects they want. If it is a fit for Bedside Press, I can help bring their book to a wider market through distribution. And if it's not, I can recommend other publishers they can pitch to, so they can still get on bookstore shelves.
What is one thing that you want to see change in the indie comic book industry?
The neat thing about comics is that at its very core, it's all about collaboration. You have a writer, artist, letterer, colorist, designer, editor, publisher, and sales team all working together to promote a book. I want to see more of that between the companies themselves as well. Every so often, like maybe twice a year at a sales conference, we’ll see it, but I want to see more sharing of knowledge. I want to see less, restriction of opportunities to help us all grow. Because if we all grow and it makes the industry stronger and more sustainable, which I think is good for everyone.