By Will Ross
Cloudscape anthologies cater to the demand for local comic artist work
It began as a series of informal weekly meetings among comic enthusiasts, but when the turnout exceeded expectations, the concept of Cloudscape Comics turned into a reality. “I thought, ‘We’ve got enough people here, if you take a book, and we split it up, five pages per person, we can probably print a book,” said Cloudscape founder and president Jeff Ellis.
Founded in 2007, Cloudscape Comics is a community of Vancouver comic artists dedicated to giving worthy comics support. “Comics are, if you can believe, not a real money-making venture,” said Ellis. The non-profit society grants its artists exposure by releasing comic anthologies, each with a host of contributing artists and unifying them. When they cleared all of their stock of 250, another anthology followed. “We sold out of all our books and thought, ‘Well, let’s try this again,’ and that was Historyonics, the second book. We decided to push a little further, so we went to a bigger printer and sprang for maybe a thousand books.”
Their latest publication, 21 Journeys, is about travelling, but that theme leaves ample room for creativity. “You have straight-up stories from a bus, and then you’ve also got serial killers and people with obscure psychological disorders and suicide attempts, historical remembrances,” said Ellis. “So it really covers a large gamut.”
Cloudscape has released five anthologies, growing more ambitious and confident with each one. “We’ve learned more about the actual production of the book, and the quality of the content has also improved,” said Ellis. “We’ve seen a lot of success for our creators as well, over the years.” That success includes three self-publishing grants awarded to artists in 2010 by the Xeric Foundation, which has since discontinued such grants.
But Cloudscape is not only a haven for experts. It also exists as a place for beginners to learn about comics. “I see Cloudscape as a place to cut your teeth,” said Ellis. “You come here and, if you’re not quite ready, you can learn some things from some of the veterans and practice and improve your skill, and maybe get yourself to a point where you’re gonna be ready to strike out on your own.” The focus on community extends to every aspect of Cloudscape’s operation. “With Cloudscape, decisions are made communally, the money’s communal, the books are shared communally,” said Ellis. “I don’t think there’s anyone else doing what we’re doing.
That only makes the problem of distribution and promotion, already a steep hill to climb for comics, even more challenging. “There’s only one company that distributes comics to comic book stores in all of North America,” said vice-president Jonathan Dalton. “Most publishers will have a big industry all set up, and distribution deals with chain stores, and all those kind of things. We don’t have that, because we’re just Cloudscape. We’re just ourselves.”
There are, however, no illusions of becoming an industry power player. “We’re not expecting to be the next Marvel Comics,” said Ellis. “From day one it’s always been about sustainability.” So far, so good: since their first book, Cloudscape’s anthologies have gotten longer, moved from black and white to colour, and attracted notice from major artists — including cover art by Camilla d’Errico for their science fiction anthology, Exploded View.Ellis hopes that soon Cloudscape won’t have to ask its contributors for financial help. “Our goal is that we can make these books without it being a cost to anyone. Then we would be free to have those artists that we think really deserve to have their work in print, put them into a book, and not have to then pass the hat and expect them to fund it.”
If things go their way, Cloudscape could eventually lend a hand to artists looking to publish solo comics. “I would like to see Cloudscape bankroll an individual’s work, especially now that grants are no longer being awarded,” said Ellis. “If someone’s got an amazing comic idea and they just don’t have the money to print it, maybe we could be the people to help them do that.”
21 Journeys is available at most comic stores or on www.cloudscapecomics.com.