We Interview Toronto Comic Anthology Lead Editor Steven Andrews

Behind every comic book (for the most part) there is an editor. Someone to bounce ideas off of. A person that assures a standard and continuity in the story and an extra set of eyes to catch errors and mistakes you may have missed. Steven Andrews has been the lead editor since the creation of the Toronto Comic Anthology since it’s creation in 2014 and has helped produce three volumes of comic book anthologies with a 4th one on the way. Steven took the time to chat with me about how the anthology has grown and his background.

What is the origin story of the Toronto comics anthology? 

We started the project back in 2014 when a handful of Ty Templeton’s comics students met at a bar and decided we needed to learn comics by making ‘em. Our original anthology pitch was for a Pirates Sword & Sorcery epic, but Ty suggested we focus on the city instead. It gave the book an instant hook, of juxtaposing familiar places with wild stories.
Students banded together, with writers pitching in to cover print costs while the artists donated their work, and we put together our first 90-page book. It was a lot of fun, but our inexperience with marketing hurt us initially. I remember moving only 50 copies in 2014, and wondering if I should just give up.
However, the creators involved were really excited about doing another book, and we got a lot of encouragement from the community to keep trying! When we put Volume 2 on Kickstarter, we only asked for $500, and I was seriously worried we wouldn’t get it. But it blew up as we finally connected with a hungry audience, and we were 1400% funded!
Just three years later, we’re on our fourth book, we’ve sold over a thousand Vol 1s, and we’re looking at some brand new anthology projects in the new year!
What was your involvement in the comic book industry before being the lead editor for the Toronto Comic Anthology?
I wasn’t involved in comics at all. I work as a casual game developer, and I went to those writing classes to learn how to improve the storytelling in those games. I’ve always loved telling stories, but I was never into comics growing up. But in those classes, I saw an opportunity to use the project management skills I learned at my 9-5 in a whole new field, and I started getting more passionate about not just enjoying comics but creating them.
Growing up in South Africa, there were exactly zero comic stores. Even today, I think there’s only 8 in the whole country. To me, comics were a children’s medium and not something a serious man should read, so I never did. Once I got to college, someone forced Bendis and Maleev’s Daredevil into my hands, and suddenly I started paying a lot more attention to the medium! Now my apartment is full of comics, and I help folks create more.
You have had some big comics pros write forwards for each volume of the anthology. Did you seek out relationships with the likes of Jim Zub, Ryan North and most recently Jeff Lemire, or did they express interest to you? 
One of the benefits of an anthology is that you can tap into your contributor’s connections. We’ve always sent preview copies of our books, explained our goals and our hopes, and we’ve found the comics community to be really supportive. The Toronto comics community is pretty fantastic!
With Jim Zub, I met him at a pub for a Seneca College event, and he shared a bunch of great advice about self-publishing. I emailed him some months later about writing a foreword, and he was happy to help out. He’s also been a big help in sending contributors our way, and we publish a number of his animation students every year!
For Ryan North and Jeff Lemire, I reached out through mutual friends and found them both really enthusiastic about supporting newcomers. Jeff Lemire sent back a glowing foreword about four hours after we first emailed him. Dude works fast!

Considering the number of comics Jeff releases in a month, I’m not surprised! 

Each year the anthology gets bigger and bigger.  What improvements have stuck out to you the most between volume one to volume 4 Young At Heart? 
The move to colour in Vol 4 is probably the biggest! We’ve also really improved our book layouts and print quality.
Back in 2014 on our first book, I didn’t know much about margins and gutters, and so pages were cramped, and comics were inconsistently sized. Our very first printing was through Createspace, so it was also on 55lb paper with pixellated dot-matrix printing. We’ve since switched to Marquis and moved to a 70lb stock, which resulted in a much better feeling book. Last year we printed a second edition of Vol 1, fixing my rookie design mistakes, and so the version you find on shelves now is indistinguishable in quality from the later books!
I want to say that our biggest improvement, though, is to our production process. After every book, the editors sit down to do a post-mortem on strengths and weaknesses and determine how we can make a better book next time. We also send out an anonymous survey to our contributors, so that we can determine what parts of the process caused them stress, and what they enjoyed. I’m very committed to each project being an incremental improvement over the last.
I think it’s important that every book experiments a little, and that we keep an honest, self-critical eye on our process.
You had mentioned earlier about new anthology projects for 2017 are you able to share any details at this time? 
We’re planning to have a 100-page apocalypse anthology starting in May, as well as a women’s horror anthology led by Allison O’Toole starting in September.
What do you look for specifically when you and your team consider submissions for the anthology?
We look for stories with unusual protagonists and viewpoints that reflect the diversity in Toronto. We try to find stories in underserved genres like sports, romance, history, and we shy away from too many superhero or zombie stories. Tasteful product placement of Toronto is a big plus!
We don’t want stories that depend on edginess or shock value – the mainstream comics industry has plenty of those already! We want stories with empathy and respect. Having a positive online reputation is important as well, as anthologies are very much a team effort.
I wrote up a whole summary of our process at https://torontocomicsanthology.tumblr.com/post/157757426850/how-does-an-anthology-choose-its-stories-heres for those who’re interested in the gritty details!

Check out the Kickstarter Campaign for Toronto Comic Anthologies 4th volume Younge At Heart here.

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